Garden In

June 2, 2017

The garden is all in.

Changed things up in the garden again this year, and we are trying something different. Yes, I do like to try different things. My mom used to laugh at me because I was never content to do the same thing year after year.

I have been following Old World Garden Farms blog recently and they have inspired me.  Our rows this year are slightly raised. I dug out the paths between the rows, placing the soil onto the row, raising it slightly. The paths were then heavily mulched with old flax bales from our previous flax bale garage.

Each row is about 5 feet wide, wide enough for our rototiller to work up. This is a bit wider than I would like, but that is the size of our rototiller. The idea is that each year we will rototill the rows in the fall and spring, leaving the mulched paths intact. After the work in digging out the paths and mulching them, I am hoping this will make the spring prep on the garden easier. Just rototill the row and top up the mulch on the paths.

Right now the rows are bare earth. I will wait until the plants are up and established, then I will mulch the rows as well. The mulch in the rows will be tilled under in the fall, along with the garden refuse, to feed the soil.

Herb garden on south side of veranda

Also following Old World Garden Farms recommendations, I have done some companion planting. I have planted corn and beans together. The corn is a heavy nitrogen user and beans are a nitrogen fixer. The Iroquois used to plant corn, beans and squash together (called the three sisters), letting the beans climb up the corn and the squash run all around. I have tried that before without much success. Maybe the Iroquois harvested the beans dried at the end of the season with the mature corn and squash. That would make sense. But it doesn’t work as well when you are picking the beans young and green first, then the corn young and sweet and then the squash in the fall. However, I am trying planting bush beans at the perimeter of the corn. That way I can pull out the beans once they are finished and be able to get in and harvest the corn without them being in the way.

I am also trying some natural methods to control my biggest pest, the cabbage butterfly. I stopped growing brassicas – cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli, because they become loaded with little green worms, the larvae from the butterfly. And they are voracious, and can eat a cabbage head to nothing.  I refused to use insecticide. One lady in town told me the secret was to plant early, harvesting early before the larvae come out. I tried that last year and I did manage to get a few small heads of cabbage and cauliflower and some broccoli but it seemed such a shame to pull out the plants just as they were starting to produce. This year, I have followed some of their recommendations for repelling pests. I planted thyme and dill around the brassicas, which are supposed to repel the cabbage butterfly. I have also planted marigolds and nasturtiums, which are supposed to attract a beneficial insect that controls the cabbage butterfly.

In addition to these companion plants, Ken constructed ‘Brassica Cages”- nifty covers for the plants. Each cage is big enough for 3 plants and light enough that I can lift it to weed or harvest. Ken made each frame out of 2×2 lumber with hoops made out of plastic tubing we had left from an underground sprinkler system we had at a previous residence. The frames are covered in netting. We were going to use black screening, the kind you use to repair screen doors but its kind of hard to work with for this application and we did not have enough to do all the cages. And I found I had a whole bunch of white toule – you know the stuff you make bridal veils from. I had tons of it left over from some craft project years ago. We will see how it holds up but it seems to be doing the trick so far. Its really easy to water through and the plants get lots of light. On my last trip to the city I did pick up 50 feet of shade cloth, which is what is usually used. If the netting doesn’t hold up, we can drape the cages in the landscape cloth.

Three plants are in each cage. After planting I mulched them well to conserve water and reduce weeds. I also planted some kale seeds under the cages along with the cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli transplants. I am hoping that once I do harvest the plants, the kale and continue to grow until frost, protected from the cabbage butterfly.

 

 

 

 

 

Another idea from the Old World Gardens I used was their tomato cages. They are a combination of a tomato stake and a cage. Ken constructed one for each of the 16 tomato plants using 3 inch diameter saplings and fencing wire. We made ours a bit higher than called for as I usually let my tomatoes grow to over 5 feet tall.  They are pretty sturdy and I am sure will provide great support for the plants once they are loaded with fruit. The stakes I used previously often toppled over under the weight of the plant and fruit.

 

 

The mini greenhouse that Ken made this spring worked very well and the bedding plants thrived in the warm environment. Now that they are in the garden, I have planted most of the peppers, my two eggplants and the basil directly into the soil in greenhouse. I am hoping the warmer environment will provide a better crop for these heat loving plants. I buried a soaker hose in the soil and it is hooked up to the rain barrel. The soaker hose is just an old garden hose with holes drilled in it. It works really well. And I have now mulched the plants in the greenhouse and they seem to be loving this environment.


The hill area south of the house was tarped last year with black plastic to kill the weeds and grass growing there. We have removed the plastic and it did a great job in killing the weeds. Ken rototilled up the section and I planted the watermelon and squash there. I put old tires out and planted inside each tire. I am hoping the tires will provide a bit extra heat for the young watermelon plants and my plan is to mulch the area around the tires to keep the weeds down and conserve water. I had a couple of plants cozies (plastic tubes which are filled with water and surround the plant like a mini greenhouse) which I put around three watermelon. I will remove them once the plants start to vine out a bit more. I also planted a variety of flowers and sunflowers in between the tires, so once those are up I will mulch the area to keep down the weeds.

As you can see I am having a lot of fun in the garden this spring. Ken put up two pea fences for me and I planted one early – May 13, and one late (actually today, June 1) I am hoping to get an extended pea picking season.

While the weather has been nice – sunny and warm, there has not been much rain. Ken hooked up the watering system and we pumped water from the lake and gave the garden a good soaking today. Hopefully that will get all those beautiful green shoots popping out of the ground.

Its been wonderful to have a bit more time to play in the garden this spring.

Turnaround area planted with fruit trees, squash and sunflowers

 

 

I love trying out new ideas, and hopefully some of them work out. I will post again later when the garden looks more green and less like lots of black earth!

 

 

 

 

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Small Bedroom Complete

May 20, 2017

I love lists, and I love crossing things off lists! Another one checked off – the smaller bedroom on the main level is now complete.

The built-ins in a room really add to the time the room takes to complete. This bedroom has a built-in bunk bed, which the boys (Ken and Ken C) designed to go over the stairwell to the basement. Having the bunk bed required something to prevent sleepers from falling out. Ken designed a unique bookcase and headboard for the double bed in the room, which provides a rail for the bunk bed.

And the room also features a set of drawers which act as a staircase to the bunk while providing extra storage.

The other bedroom downstairs also has built-ins to be added, a desk style Murphy bed and storage, but we have no plans to tackle that soon. For now it is a functional guest room/office/sewing room.

Earlier in May, I was happy to post that the upstairs was all drywalled, taped and mudded and ready for painting. Since then I have been busy with a paint brush. It is all painted, with exception of the master bathroom. Ken is working on getting the trim up  – trim around all the windows and the trim where the pine ceiling and the walls meet. Hopefully that will all be complete soon. In the meantime it is super nice outside and we have switched gears and are tackling some outdoor projects. The garden is pretty much in and I hope to have a post on that soon.

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No More Dust – The Drywall Woes

May 8, 2017

We have just finished another two major milestones:

  1. Ken is pretty happy to see the end of drywall dust as well. After a day of sanding he was pretty dusty himself.

    The drywall is complete on the second level.  It’s been a long time in the works, but I am happy to see the last of drywall. A couple of weeks ago, Ken and Theresa were out and the boys finished the drywall in the upstairs bathroom. Last week, we had our good friend Nestor over and he helped Ken tape, mud and sand all the drywall upstairs. We used the Synko Dust Control Drywall Compound for mudding. It produces a ‘heavier dust’ so moist of it falls down to the floor rather than remaining in the air. It worked pretty good. After the boys finished sanding, I vacuumed the upstairs. The downstairs needs some dusting but faired pretty well. As you can see in the photo above, while Ken had a paddle full of drywall compound, he couldn’t resist touching up some dings in the downstairs walls. I guess I will have to repaint those walls now too!

  2. The bannister around the upstairs loft areas is installed on 3 sides, one more to go. The last side that went up, we sanded and varathaned the wood prior to installing it. However, the first 2 sides we did back in 2015, went up without sanding or varathane. We had a tight deadline to meet and we did what we could. I have been dreaded finishing that job, but since the house was dusty from the drywall we thought we’d bite the bullet and get it this nasty job done as well. NOT FUN!!! While the drywall compound might be pretty dust free, taking an electric sander to the poles was not. Some of them were in pretty bad shape and the electric sander was necessary if we wanted to get this completed this century. Ken sanded and I held the shop vac hose up and sucked up as much as possible. The spindles didn’t require an electric sander but it was tedious work doing each spindle by hand. It was a nasty job but at least everything is sanded now. Guaranteed the last side of bannister be sanded and varathaned outside, before it goes up.

To celebrate the end of dust and a beautiful day with little wind, we took our BFF (Best Furry Friend) for a canoe ride and had lunch on the lake.

Now that that nasty dusty part is done, the fun begins – painting!  I started today. It will take a few weeks but I am so excited to see it start coming together. Besides painting I will also varathane the bannister.

And while I am painting and varathaning, Ken is working on the build in bunk bed in the small bedroom downstairs. Once he has that done, I am hoping he will tackle the last side of the bannister. Wouldn’t it be great to have all that done! We had a raining day today – much needed, and soon the garden will need to be planted as well. Its going to be a busy busy May. But since we plan to take June off for a month with the grandkids, I don’t mind working extra hard this month.

 

 

 

 

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Mini Greenhouse

April 30, 2017

Tomorrow is the first of May, and things are beginning to green up here in Manitoba. The snow has disappeared, the days are getting longer and the temperatures are on the rise. Pretty soon it will be time to put in the garden. But for now, my transplants are still safe and sound in the sunroom.

The LED growlight we purchased seems to be doing a good job, especially for the tomato plants directly below it. However, all the plants seem to be healthier, less spindly than previous years. For next year, we will need to purchase two additional grow lights to ensure they all get enough light. And while they are doing okay in the sunroom, they really need to get out. A greenhouse is in the plans for a few years down the road, but for now we decided to build a mini greenhouse.

My plan for this year was to grow my peppers and eggplant under cover. A couple in town, Ernie and Ann, grew their peppers under a plastic tunnel a couple of years ago and got a bumper crop. Ever since they told me their pepper success story, I have been itching to try it out. I thought we could build a simple plastic covered shelter on the south side of the house. And why not have it double as a mini greenhouse to hold the transplants until they are ready to go into the soil?

The original plans for a simple plastic shelter seem to have gone out the window, since I discovered a stash of old windows. Ken replaced the windows for a friend a few years ago, and kept the old ones. They were perfect for this project – all 24 inches by 24 inches. So, four days later, my simple plastic shelter has become a beautiful work of art.

The greenhouse is 3 feet wide and 11 feet long. The base was made using 2×6 treated lumber, staked in place. An old hose was turned into a soaker hose by drilling holes in it, and is buried a couple of inches below the soil. It will attach to the rain barrel and, I am hoping, water the bed gravity fed. The area in front of the bed will become a shale path later.

The front of the green house is two feet high and the back is three feet high. Ken made sweet window panes for each window by making dado cuts in 2×4’s.

The roof is composed of five separate window panes, each able to open. The frames are as pretty as a picture frame – made out of leftover birch from the kitchen cabinet build and coated with a Behr finish. (The little bed at the east end of the greenhouse is the space left as Ken did not want to cut the 2×12 base board. LOL. I think I will try planting a fennel in that spot. And putting my garden gnome door there too. )

Since the front is only two feet high, I can reach in to do any weeding, planting, watering, etc. The sides – west and east, both have a window pane and a vented top panel to allow air flow. When it gets too hot, some or all of the roof panes can kept propped open with dowels, though I have yet to complete this part of the project.

The forecast for the next few days is warm (around 15C) and cloudy, and the nights are not forecast to go below zero. Should be perfect for transitioning the plants to the greenhouse. Fingers crossed, I will move them out tomorrow – my May 1 celebration!

 

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Completed Projects – Livingroom and Walk-In Closet

April 5, 2017

At long last, some of our projects have been completed. Back in the beginning of March, I posted an update on the living room and master bedroom progress. The final touches on the living room have now been completed. Funny how those little things like putting the door handles on just never seem to get done.

Livingroom – the big job in the living room was all the built-ins. There are 2 window seats, 3 bookcases, 20 cupboards, and 3 drawers. And after installing the doors on the cupboards, we decided that standard door pulls just did not do the doors justice and we went searching for our own ‘nature art’ door pulls. It was a bit more work, but I think the final product speaks for itself. Its is definitely a one of a kind room.

Here is a close up of a couple of the doors.


 

 

 

 

 

 

In order to speed up the drying of the handles, Ken made use of the warming ovens on the wood cookstove. I often use the warming ovens for dehydrating foods, and in this case, they made the perfect kiln for drying the twig handles.

 

 

 

 

Above the window seats are two false fronts, on these we put ‘tree art’ we found in the bush.

 

 

 

 

Finding the ‘tree art’ was an adventure. We tramped into the bush, carrying a ladder, looking for unusual shaped limbs. When I say we, I really mean Ken. Carrying a ladder half a mile through snow is not something I am good at.


When you find that perfect specimen, you climb up and cut it down.

 

 

 

 

Then you skin it, dry it and mount it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Included in the living room built-ins are cupboards and drawers built in the space under the stairs. The drawers were finished a while ago but the last two door fronts are now done too. These were a bit tricky (Ken’s favorite expression. LOL) as they are odd shaped. But they turned out pretty awesome.

 

 

The bottom cupboard houses the vacuum cleaner and Rhoomba. We have no carpets in the house, but I find the vacuum really handy for cleaning off the mop head after mopping the floors. And the Rhoomba is awesome for cleaning the floors and door mats. I love letting it vacuum the floors while I go for a walk.


 

 

The other cupboard is used for dishes for the dining room, which is in the sunroom just to the right of the stairs. The drawers hold dining room linens, cups and glasses.

The big alcove under the stairs currently houses a playpen full of kids toys. The original plan was to put Ken’s juke box in the space, but he still has not got it working after the move. At least when the kids come in June, the toys will be handy and the play pen will be used to block access to the stairs for the little ones.

Walk-In Closet – Off the master bedroom upstairs is a walk-in closet, and it is all done. Wow, after two years my clothes are finally out of suitcases.

The back of the closet has the hot water tank (located above the kitchen wood cookstove, which allows the stove to heat our domestic hot water and use thermosyphoning to circulate the hot water up into the hot water tank without using any electric power) and the stove chimney. The chimney is a Selkirk chimney and does not get hot to touch. You can see it above the closet unit in the picture.

The closet unit is composed of two sections, one for me and one for Ken. Mine has 8 drawers and a small hanging section, plus 3 small shelves. Ken opted for two drawers (on the bottom, you can’t see them in the photo above), 4 large shelves and a larger hanging section. In addition, there is room on top to store totes for out of season stuff. The whole thing is removable, should we ever need to replace the hot water tank. (The tank is a copper lined tank, so rusting out should not be a problem.)

To make the best use of the space, we put in hooks on the wall to hang belts and stuff. And beside the hot water tank and by the door to the bathroom, we put in extra shelves.

So nice to have the closet done. The master bedroom is also done, with all the trim put in and the doors installed.

What’s next? Right now Ken is taking a short break to go watch the Masters Tournament (golf) in Augusta Georgia, but when he returns next week we plan to get serious about finishing the bannister. And maybe putter at the master bathroom and the bookshelves for the small bedroom downstairs. However, spring has arrived in Manitoba so pretty soon the snow will be gone and once the yard dries up we will want to start with outdoor work. We will continue to putter away, but at least we are making progress.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Garden Expansion

March 20, 2017

Happy First Day of Spring!

Expanded garden

While it may not look like spring here yet, you can definitely feel it in the air. Yesterday was a balmy +6C and the snow banks were melting. Today is cooler and we have cooler weather in the forecast, but I think its safe to say we have seen the last of the -30C temps.

The project sounded simple enough in my head. Just take down a few trees. However, I got a huge surprise when I came outside and found Ken 3/4 through the cutting. We have never clear cut a site before and the sight of it turned my stomach. A mass destruction of about 50 trees! So glad we did not have to clear the site for the house or current garden.

Destruction of over 50 trees to make way for expanded garden

The trees are mostly down now, just a few more to cut. Still have the work of clearing out the branches, cutting and splitting the bigger stuff for firewood, removing the roots and brush and tilling the soil into a usable garden. Ken said he will have it ready for planting this spring. What a dreamer. I expect it will two years from now before it is planted.

 

 

 

 

And speaking of spring and gardens, I have all my transplants planted and sitting in the sunroom. Tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, eggplant and herbs. And I have hauled all my geraniums out of the root cellar and they are starting to regrow. We have ordered a LED Grow Light and are expecting it any day. The coating prevents the house from overheating in the summer but it does have its down side – plants don’t grow very well. I am hoping the grow light helps prevent them from getting too spindly. Eventually, we plan to build a greenhouse but for now, other priorities exist.

Day 1 of forcing tulips in water

Nothing says spring like tulips. I planted 50 or so bulbs two years ago in the turnaround. They bloomed last spring and I can’t wait to see them appear this year. However, since they are still under at least a foot of snow, that will not be anytime soon. Sister Sheila picked me up a bag a tulip bulbs on her trip to Amsterdam last November and I cold treated them in the root cellar. I am trying to force them in water using the message found on this link.

Day 10 of forcing tulips in water

So far they are growing well.

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Zero Waste Shopping

March 17, 2017

I was pretty excited to hear about Bulk Barn’s reusable container program. Starting February 24, 2016, you can bring your own containers into Bulk Barn and fill them with the products they sell. I have used a similar service at Vancouver’s The Soap Dispensary and loved it.  This week was my first opportunity to try out Bulk Barn’s new program.

Containers ready for shopping

Before heading to Bulk Barn, please review their Reusable Container Program on their website and make sure your containers meet their standards. Its pretty straight forward – glass or plastic, empty, clean, no rust, no chips, no bags. My containers are labelled because I am using my storage containers, but you don’t have to label them.

When you enter the store, find a cashier and get your containers weighed. They will mark each container with the weight. Then do your shopping. When you check out, the weight of the container will be deducted from the total weight.

Shopping all done.

While the program is pretty straight forward, I was not sure what I would find at the store. The success of this program will depend not only on the shopping public’s desire to reduce waste, but also from the stores attitude to the program.

I was pleasantly surprised at the service I received. There was a line up at the cashier when I entered the store, but when I asked what to do, another employee came out immediately to weigh my containers. While we shopped, the manager came out to speak to us about the program. After shopping, checkout was smooth and seamless.

I would normally price shop a bit, buying the bulk goods wherever I can get the best price. Bulk Barn has very competitive pricing on their products; however, with this new program, I am willing to buy all my bulk goods at their stores just to have zero waste.

It was a real treat to get home and just put my containers away. Normally I would have the job of transferring my purchased from the plastic bags to my containers. Then wiping out the plastic bags and storing them for future use.

A couple of tips:

  • Be sure your containers meet their standards.
  • Take a few extra containers with you for impulse purchases and sale items.
  • Chose containers with wide mouths that are easy to fill using Bulk Barn scoops. (My current container for Tapioca Starch has a narrow mouth and was difficult to fill.)

It is an exciting step forward for a main stream store to offer a Zero-Waste Program. I hope you will utilize it. The more successful this program is, the more likely other stores will be to follow their example. Use your shopping dollars to encourage the change you want to see.

 

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