Saturday, 30 April 2011

First Planting April 29th, 2011

Well, I've gone and done it now.  I couldn't help myself.  I tried to wait but I just couldn't :)  My hotbed at the south side of the garage was begging me to plant.  The soil is warm deep down and earthworms abound.  It's sheltered, protected and the soil is amended and turned so I threw caution to the wind and planted a little sampling of cooler weather crops.  I put in 2 types of beets (golden and ruby), some lettuce, swiss chard, peas and kale.  Just a bit of each, with hopes of harvesting some of these at the end of May to early June when my tomatoes (currently indoors) will go into this space.  If I lose what I've just planted (I'm expecting to lose at least half of it), it's not a big deal as it took me all of 10 minutes to plant.  Because I used old seed (that I didn't really take good care of due to being busy with the renovation), I sewed the seeds rather thickly in hopes of maybe half of the seeds actually germinating.  If they all do, great - I'll simply thin the rows.  Remind me of my foolishness will you, in 2 weeks when we have a late frost/snowfall?  *sigh*

We have grand plans for a 3 sided greenhouse here up against this exterior wall. I've got some windows and lumber for it - we just need some time to do it when the other pressing things are taken care of.  The goal is to have it up and functioning for next Spring's planting season.  We'll see how things actually unfold ~ I hold my plans ever loosely :)

The main garden has changed overnight.  In forking over some soil again, I discovered earthworms in nearly every turning!   Wow, what a difference a day makes!  We had rain most of the day yesterday and I'm wondering if that had something to do with it.  That, and the warm sun today made for some very toasty soil out there.  The chickens went positively WILD for the worms, gobbling them up faster than I could move to turn over another section of soil.  We are lucky that our garden area is quite sheltered, there's a tree belt on 2 sides and the garage on the third side, creating a nice microclimate that hold warmth and keeps the worst of the wind out.

The picture below shows the view from our garage roof.  All of what you see was built/created in early Spring of 2010.  The coop is in the corner, with 2 runs (one to the side and one out front).  We like to have 2 separate areas to put the chickens for rotational purposes plus breed separating should the need arise.  The main garden is L shaped, and is heading for an expansion this year!  This picture only shows about half of it's size.  We use chicken wire on rebar posts to keep the hens out of the garden area at certain times (seeding, etc).  The picture of the painted coop (named the Henitentiary) is later in the Spring of 2010.  Much greener and all dolled up!

This picture below is what keeps me getting up each day.   You can see that all of my pictures on the blog to date are very brown and drab (that's the way it is here in early Spring), but look out!  This picture below is late Spring/early Summer.  My veggie garden grew well and fast in our rich soil  I can hardly WAIT to get the main garden planted!

Back to reality....  Things aren't looking so great with the fruit trees right now.  Due to all the snow we had, a good many of them are waterlogged.  I have no idea what to do about it - they surely won't survive if things don't dry up out there very soon.  Maybe I should use a bucket and scoop as much water out as I can.  Not even sure if that would do much as obviously, the soil below the surface is saturated.

Kelly ended up accepting some overtime this weekend, so he won't be home in the daytime until NEXT Friday.  This puts our siding and tilling (if we till) on hold until next weekend.  Probably for the best as it's still rather wet in spots out there.  I'm going to tackle some housework and perhaps some sewing this weekend, as well as get the berry beds cleaned up and prepped for the season of growing!  My indoor seedlings need some attention.  A good many of the plants need to be transplanted and fertilized so I've got lots to keep me busy while Kelly is at work all weekend.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Back to The Thrift Shops!

On Thursdays, when one of my daughters has a class in town, I have an hour to check out our 2 local thrift stores.  If I'm really efficient, I can check them both out in that time as they aren't very far apart.  I scored a few treasures yesterday!

This large solid wood salad bowl is a fantastic find.  I've been looking for one for a long time, but most of the bowls I've seen were in really rough shape, or were not solid wood - instead made from glued pieces of wood.  This beautiful bowl was made in Canada by Baribocraft (no longer in existence) from one solid piece of wood (teak, I think), and is in nearly new condition.  Baribocraft manufactured solid wood pieces until the 1970's and I am elated to have found it for just $3.00!   In my searching, bowls made my this company are in demand and fetch quite a bit of money online.  That doesn't really matter to me - I'm just thrilled to own it now and I'm not planning to sell it after such a long search to find one :)  I've washed it with a mild dish soap (although I won't be soaping it in the future) and oiled it lightly with olive oil.  I can't wait to make my Dad's famous caesar salad dressing in this bowl and I'm dreaming of one day finding individual bowls to go with it.

My next find is a large 8 cup pyrex measuring cup in nearly new condition for $2.00.  This is something I will use very frequently, especially with jam and canning season upcoming...  I'm imagining it full of jewel colored chopped fruit :)  I also find these measuring cups really handy for making sauces and reheating things in the microwave.  It's a great size for stock, too!

Additionally, I found 4 very attractive shirts for myself in either new or nearly new condition.  They varied in price between $1 and $2 ~ certainly worth the money!  I hate paying full retail prices when I know that I can get what I need for far less.  When I am in the retail shops and I see a cute top for myself for $50, I can't bring myself to pay that when I KNOW I'll find something similar for under $5 at a local thrift shop.

I found some very pretty hand painted vintage Staffordshire dishes with a darling pussy willow pattern on them.  I didn't buy them even though I wanted to (they were so sweet!).  They were in great condition, and I LOVED the pattern but I really don't need them.  The set was far too small for us and I just couldn't justify spending the money on them, so they sat for someone else to discover.   All in all, it was a successful trip, not in quantity of items found, but in the quality and serviceability of what I did find!

I'll end this post with a picture of an egg that one of our hens laid this morning :)  It's nearly 3" long!  My kitchen scale isn't working, so I can't weigh it, but it's HEAVY!  We are noticing that the eggs are getting bigger each day now that the chickens are spending all of their days out of doors.  We watch them scratch and peck for bugs and worms and they even catch flies in mid air!  All the extra protein seems to really boost the egg size and I can't help but think that the sunshine and fresh air is also doing them a world of good!

Thursday, 28 April 2011

To Till or Not To Till

That is the question!  I am seriously wondering about the effect of tilling on the structure of the soil.  In the late fall, I added 40 large garbage bags of dry leaves to the garden, and in January, we spread 3 months worth of manured coop straw from 40 chickens.  Again, in March, we once again mucked out the coop and spread out the contents onto the garden soil.  All in all, it was a decent amount of amending.  The photo below shows about 1/3 of our garden and you can see the straw sitting on top.  Due to the fact that we literally had to throw/pitchfork it over to the garden from the coop area (as there was 5' feet of snow on top of it when we put the straw on) it didn't quite make it all the way to the back area.  We'll have to get out there and spread it around a bit very soon.

Nothing had been dug in - the leaves and straw were all simply spread out or thrown on top of the garden.  Add 5' of snow, and a long cold winter, and you have a recipe for some serious decomposition underneath.  Now that things have defrosted, and the snow has finally melted, we are left with some spectacularly loamy looking soil (albeit a little soggy still).   As a tentative test, I inserted a pitchfork into it and was shocked to discover how little resistance there was.  The fork slid in like a hot knife into butter.  Hmmmm...  maybe this layering really does work.  I've not seen much in the way of worms just yet, perhaps they are still too deep to see.  They won't surface until the soil warms up and thaws out deeper down.  The picture below shows what the soil look like underneath the straw.

So the big question remains...  do we till the garden?  I know that shallow digging will add some air into the soil which is needed - the surface looks very compacted and "sealed" if such a description is fitting for soil...  with all the moisture and the weight of the snow, surely things must be a little compressed at the surface.  I'm confident that a little shallow digging would really be of benefit.  This next picture shows the state of the surface of the soil where there is no straw/manure on top ~ it's kind of compacted looking and it really needs some air, I think.

Enter into the equation a husband with a deep, burning manly desire to get on the little red tractor and get things stirred up!  He has been looking forward to tilling the garden for months and months.  It gives him great satisfaction to do so and as I've seen, that little tractor and it's rear tiller can REALLY get things aerated and fluffy.  Last year, if you stepped on the soil after it was tilled, you could sink down 6" into the garden!

So, the questions remains...  do we shallow till or not?   Our garden is very large and turning it over by hand would take days and days (that I don't have).  Any advice about soil structure is greatly appreciated!

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

The Art of Repurposing

One thing I have learned in my 21 years of marriage, homemaking and parenting is that nothing stays the same.   Needs change continually as our families evolve, and our methods of managing everything change in response to that.  Our family lives very differently now than we did when we first married and we started having children.  Goodness gracious, we live very differently now than we did just 2 short years ago!

Because a household is constantly evolving and changing, repurposing household items is an excellent skill to develop and dare I say necessary in the quest for living frugally.   Many needs around the home can be easily filled with a little ingenuity and some good old fashioned elbow grease.  It is deeply satisfying to be able to "shop the house" to find a suitable solution to a pressing need without going out or spending any money.   Sometimes this means moving an underused item from one area of the home to another area where the need is greater.  Other times, this means modifying something or using an item in a totally different context to fill a need.

For instance, we have a very crude small handmade narrow dresser made of painted plywood that is of no use to us in the house ~ it's just too small to hold anyone's clothes (although it worked well for many years to hold baby clothes).  I have been eying the drawers thinking that they would make great seedling boxes!  They are nicely shaped and as they are sturdy, they would work very well for such a task.

Our 18 year old son needed a way to store his ever growing collection of vinyl LPs and we no longer needed the cubicle shelf unit in our playroom now that we have donated most of our toys.  The cubicle boxes were removed (and will be repurposed) and the unit was moved into his room and is now used for album storage.

Our 14 year old daughter has a very tiny room and has chosen to give up her headboard to gain the extra inches in her room (really, it is THAT small that even inches count).  I was all set to take it to the charity shop when I realized that it would be great in the garden to support a climbing plant.   I have many humorous things in my garden to tell you about but that's for another post :)

We have a potting/garden bench that is simply an old rickety buffet that was falling apart.  We don't need a china cabinet in this house as we have a built in china cupboard.  My husband repaired this piece of furniture many times over the years when we were using it for it's intended purpose, but when we moved to our current home, we no longer needed to continue holding it together to serve as a china buffet.   We took the doors off and placed it out by the garden area to begin it's new life as a potting bench for me!  It's long, narrow and just the right height for me to work at.

When we first married 21 years ago, we bought a solid oak entertainment wall unit to hold our bulky tube TV and electronics.  This piece served us very well for many years in our living room, and for many years after that, as a toy storage cupboard in our playroom.  As we no longer have an indoor use for this piece of furniture, my husband took his reciprocating saw to it, cutting it in half horizontally, creating a much needed shelving unit and a work bench for the tractor shed.  This picture shows the back of the top half of this unit ~ it's waiting installation in the shed on Kelly's next day off.

When we replaced the water storage tank in the basement this fall, we decided to keep the old tank to refit it as a rain barrel.  It will collect water off the garage roof and I'll use this water for my garden.  It isn't pretty, but with a flowering climbing vine planted to grow and disguise it, it will do nicely. This has saved us $50 (the cost of buying a rain barrel).

These examples are all of larger scale items but there are many opportunities to repurpose smaller items in and around the home.

We have a small dome play tent that the kids used to play in when they were younger.  It's too small to play in now that they have grown, so I've decided to carefully cut it in half along the seam lines and use the nylon fabric for shading my seedlings and the chickens.  Last year, we provided a shaded area for the birds using landscape fabric, but over the summer it got torn and ragged.  I'm thinking that the nylon will serve us better this year.  I've saved the tent poles to use as garden stakes :)

Shortly after we moved in, we found an old broken collapsable TV antenna in the attic of this house and although it doesn't work as an antenna, it will make an EXCELLENT trellis for a climbing vine so I've saved it.  In the picture below, the antenna is folded up but fully opened, it's really big!   I think I'll put it up against the garden shed for my sweet peas :)   Excuse the horrible condition of the shed door, it is in dire need of a paint job but it's a low priority item until Spring planting is done.

At my sewing table, I have several pair of tattered pants that are waiting for me to turn them into summer shorts.  A simple cut and hem job will provide needed shorts for our 6 year old son.  I've got a very large, long floral linen blouse (from the thrift store) that I'm planning to cut up and sew into summer napkins.  I paid $2 dollars for the blouse and will easily get 6 or 8 much needed napkins out of it.

In the kitchen, I use an old crockery insert for a crockpot (found at the thrift shop) as a vessel for my sourdough starter.  It sits on my counter and is the perfect size and shape for this task.

The list of re-purposed items in our home is endless and ever changing.  That all said, there is a delicate balance between keeping stuff around that might be useful one day and tossing out useless clutter.  When I am looking at an item that I no longer think we need in our home, I challenge myself to think of an alternative use that could fill a current need.  Many times, I am able to put the item back into useful service in another area of our home.  If I can't think of a possible use for the item and I really haven't the space to store it, I freecycle it or donate it to charity.  Anything of true value gets sold.

We are fortunate to have more storage at this property than we did in the city.  This means that I am able to store items for future use.  I am picky about what I keep - I don't want to clutter up the place with useless things, but I have learned that having a store of items on hand that can be repurposed is very valuable and good for the budget.

Lastly, I've learned something even more important than the skill of repurposing.  I've learned how to be a better shopper.  If I determine the true need to purchase something, instead of buying an item to fulfill just one need, I now look for an article that will perform many duties for me ~ something neutral, flexible and durable with the potential for providing many years of use rather than just meeting an immediate need.   Chances are, such an item will be more than worth the money invested in it :)

Monday, 25 April 2011


Each week, we see tangible progress on the house and slowly, as the snow melts, we see glimpses of what's to come in the way of garden progress.  The soil is demurely revealing itself after a long hibernation under a thick blanket of snow.  A nice stretch of sunny days will hopefully take care of some evaporation over the coming weeks.  I have my fingers crossed for May long weekend planting but I have my doubts given how water logged the soil is.  In the picture below, you can see our chickens grazing in my garden area.  There is very soggy looking soil in the rear of the photo and of course more snow in the background.  There's no rushing this process... it's out of our hands entirely :)

Kelly has been hanging siding at the front of the garage, and what a difference it makes in the look of the place!  The winter snow and frigid temperatures came before he could get the job finished, forcing him to put away the tools and tarp the stack of siding.  Honestly, he was so tired from a long season of hard physical outdoor work, I know he secretly welcomed the forced stopping point.  The garage was exposed plywood for the whole winter and it looked rather shoddy - now it's looking much cleaner.  Here in Alberta, many people use vinyl siding due to the fact that our harsh climate is really hard on paint and stain.  Stucco is very expensive, as is Hardi-board, so we've stuck to a cheaper solution that we can install ourselves.  It has a 20-25 year life span, needing only cleaning and no other maintenance.

The cold frames are now planted with greens and I couldn't resist planting a package of lovely heirloom cascading petunia seeds.  They are supposedly quite rare and are very beautiful with their uniquely shaped star shaped flowers.  I can't wait to see them grow and bloom.   This woman cannot live on food alone ~ flowers are a must for me, so I boldly claimed half a cold frame to start them.  My intent is to fill my hanging baskets with these lovelies, leaving the deck pots dedicated solely to food production (herbs and some patio/cherry tomatoes).   Dashing out to the deck to pick fresh herbs while cooking is much more convenient than running all the way to the garden.  I get horribly side tracked, picking a few more things, weeding here and there - checking for eggs, and then many minutes pass before I remember that I have things cooking on the stove.  Sound familiar, anyone?

Speaking of getting side tracked - I've set several alerts on my cellphone to remind me to lock the chickens in at night and cover the cold frames.  One forgotten night can lead to DISASTER on all accounts (frost, coyotes and fox).   I've also set an alert to remind me to open the cold frames in the morning so I don't "cook" my new seedlings ~ the temps get VERY high in there in the daytime so I'll have to monitor them closely.

Tweaking my garden plans is continual these days as is succession sowing seeds (in the house).  My goal of doubling the garden size this year has left me wondering if I've got enough plants started.  That's a good job for today although my distractibility is at an all time high with so many chores calling my name.  The garden shed needs cleaning out, the chicken coop needs another muck out, the trim needs painting, the new beds need marking out, the raspberries need pruning... ahhhh, so much to do and only 24 hours in a day!

I wanted to mention a tip that served me well this winter keeping rabbits from stripping the bark of our fruit trees.  I wrapped chicken wire roughly around each trunk all the way from the soil level to the first branches.  I made sure to use many layers to create a barrier that rabbits couldn't chew through and it seemed to work.  We frequently see rabbits stripping bark off of deciduous trees in late fall and winter when there isn't much for them to eat.  This can and does kill trees!  We invested a lot of money and time planting our orchard last Spring and I wasn't about to let the rabbits decimate our trees.

More news on the garden front ~ my 100' row cover for the brassicas arrived in the mail.  We have terrible problems with white butterflies laying their eggs in the brassicas and in just a few days an entire crop of brassicas can be destroyed.   In talking with the neighbours (successful local organic gardeners), they all agree that covering the rows is the only way to successfully harvest ANY of these crops here.  Alrighty then.  One 100' row cover.  Check.  I'm nothing but obedient when it comes to the advice given by people who have grown all their food organically across our country road for 40 years.

Another challenge I face at this time of year is feeding my family when I am so busy dealing with the demands of Spring.  I have found that making a huge batch of homemade pizzas is the perfect solution.  Everyone can help themselves as needed or we can simply broil one to warm it through and crisp it up which takes just a few minutes.  The investment of an hour of my time yields us many quick and easy meals/snacks that are healthy as we add vegetables and use home-made dough made with whole wheat flour.  When I have home made garden tomato sauce - wow is it EVER good!  I'm out of that sadly, so we use store bought bruchetta instead, which is a nice flavourful alternative.   My husband loves to take cold pizza to work as a nice change from sandwiches.

I've had several loads of laundry out on the line this weekend for the first time this year!  What a nice feeling to be able to smell those wonderfully fresh clothes and linens and of course save electricity.   Honestly, one of my favourite things in life is crawling into a freshly made bed with line dried sheets on it.  So fresh and inviting, especially after days like we have had recently - full and very busy :)

91 Years of Wisdom

My dear Grandmother celebrated her 91st birthday over the weekend!  We hosted a lovely family dinner and she received some beautiful gifts.   We presented her with an orchid corsage and a chocolate birthday cake loaded with her favourite toppings ~ whipped cream and fresh strawberries!  It was a lovely day to honour a lovely lady ~ Happy Birthday, Grandma!

Friday, 22 April 2011

Spring Robins

How perfectly beautiful, on the first say of Spring to awaken to the glorious sound of robins chirping outside our open bedroom windows!  There couldn't possibly be any way to describe in words how truly amazing Robins sound and open windows feel after 6 months of winter!  We have been on "sensory overload" these past 2 days between the chirping, the sun and tiny blades of green grass daring to poke out.   Bliss of the highest order!

These sweet little eggs were crocheted by my Mom ~ isn't she talented?

We've got family staying through the holiday weekend and my Grandma's 91st birthday to celebrate, so I'll likely be scarce until early next week.  Much cooking, preparation and celebrating to do!

Enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Pushing The Limits

We did it.  The frames are in!  With overnight temperatures hovering between -5C & -10C, it's impossible to plant even cool weather crops this early.   We could easily get more snow and temperatures will likely dip even further at least once more before things really warm up.  The frames look pretty good considering they were made entirely of scrounged/repurposed materials.  They are all a little different in size, simply because the material we were working with dictated the size of each box.  We opted to have the lids fit in place over the frame, rather than hinge them as Kelly was worried that opening and closing them (on hinges) would lead to pinched fingers and cracked plexiglass.  Smart guy :)  Not to mention we'd have to buy hinges and we don't want to do that!

This protected bed is along the sunny, warm, south facing wall of our garage. Even without the benefit of cold frames in place, the soil is astonishingly workable and already thawed to a spade depth.  The rest of my garden (approximately 20 feet away) is literally still under a foot and a half of snow (as evidenced in the photo below)!

The radiant heat from the foundation and the reflection of the sun's rays off the exterior wall seem to work wonders at speeding the melt/thaw in this little gem of a spot.  The temp was 50C in the cold frame this afternoon (with the lid closed)!   Our outdoor ambient temp is 10C this afternoon.   I think this is the warmest day of 2011!

We have a really crude composting system in this garden bed.  Quite literally, we dumped compostables on top of the bed in the fall and it all gradually broke down under the cover of snow over the course of our long winter.  I dug it all in, but there is still evidence of our crude system.  Orange peels and egg shells decorate the soil like little gems sprinkled on black velvet.

Our soil here in this part of Alberta is rich, fertile and BLACK.  For this, I am thankful for as I came of (gardening) age on the West Coast.  While it's beautiful and mild there (meaning a long growing season), the soil is very sandy, acidic and trying.  Here on the prairie, the soil is rich and black as night.   When the farmers till the land the fields look like enormous quilts.  Black and green and golden blocks, all set against a brilliant blue prairie sky.  It's breathtaking...  and the smell!   The earth here smells black (does black have a smell?).  It's heady and earthy ~ almost like the soil is trying to compensate for the painfully short growing season.

But I digress....  back to the frames.  I'm hopeful that they will coax the earthworms up from their deep winter sleeping place.  There wasn't a single worm to be found in my digging the other day.   Ah well, it's early yet ~ the worms haven't yet received the invitation of warmth given by the frames.  In time, they'll come up to begin their season of hard work near the surface.

By the time these frames finish *their* work of helping me coax a little (early) fresh food from the earth, it will be warm enough to begin our planting in earnest.   This little sheltered nursery bed will transform itself (naturally) into a hot bed ready to receive our waiting tomato and pepper plants all in perfect timing :)   

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Back To The Farm!

We were back at our friend's farm this morning as our beef cow was picked up yesterday and brought to their farm for finishing.  We jumped at the chance to see the cow in person and have another look around the farm.  Things are changing rapidly as the weather warms up and the babies are born!  Our cow is the brown one on the right (we couldn't get too close and they were a bit jittery with the kids ~ they are just getting settled in).

The new lambs we visited a week ago are noticeably bigger!  Their coats are coming in nicely and oh, What Fun to snuggle these little critters again :)

The pigs are doing well, and were enjoying the sun out in their pen, but when we went into the barn to see the lambs, they came scrambling in looking for some attention.  We are astonished at how bristly their coat is ~ it's like petting a scrub brush!

The Jersey cows are loving being out of doors in the milder weather.  There are new calfs expected in June and July!  They are very friendly and curious animals, loaded with personality.  Such a great life they have and so well tended they are.

I thought that you Aussie gals might like to see a picture of our Hills Hoist!  I bought the biggest one they make as we have a large family and we do approximately 20 - 25 loads of wash per week.   I bet you gals haven't ever seen a Hill's Hoist with snow on the ground!!!!  That's our chicken house, "The Henitentiary" beyond the gate and our garden is all to the left of the coop.

Here's our tractor still outfitted for snow removal with the auger and snow thrower on the front and chains on the tires.  We'll be switching it all over soon to the cutting deck to keep the grass mowed through the summer months.  Not yet though, as we could still get a good dump of snow right up into May!

Reece spent some time this morning priming the bases for the cold frames.  We were going to leave them unpainted, but as the wood is not treated (don't want the chemicals leaching in the soil), we know it will rot in just a few short seasons.   We opted for a latex primer that we had already (leftover from the renovation) so it didn't cost us anything extra.  I promise, a post WILL follow soon about the placement of these frames - I can't hardly wait to get them installed!  The soil is warm and workable in the sheltered spot we've chosen, so with the frames in place, look out!  We will have home grown greens at the table before you know it!

Monday, 18 April 2011

Root Cellaring

I have to admit that I'm growing a little anxious about storing this year's harvest.  Last year, we ran out of stored produce in December, so keeping food for longer than a few months wasn't an issue.  This year, with my plans for a larger garden, and more time to actually tend said garden, I'm anticipating and planning for a much larger harvest.  My goal this year is to double what we produced last year which means that adequate storage is in order.  I'd say it's as important (if not more important) as all the planning, planting and tending...  I'd hate to waste all the hard work that I KNOW will be invested - heck I've ALREADY invested time in planning the garden as evidenced by the stack of books and papers strewn about our kitchen.

One of the books that has helped me think about cellaring is Root Cellaring, Natural Cold Storage Of Fruit and Vegetables by Mike and Nancy Bubel (pictured above).  It's a great book with lots of practical information, but there has been another FREE and very helpful source of information (one that I encourage everyone to tap into).... The Neighbours!   We have great neighbours - they are long time residents out here in the country, having raised their family here.  Their adult children live on the same property in their own homes, raising their own children literally on the land they grew up on.  I love that :)  These 3 families share a LARGE garden and they all work it together.  It's an excellent arrangement for all involved.  What all this means to me, is that I have a wealth of information about gardening/food storage IN THIS LOCALE, right at my fingertips.  Each area has it's own quirks, and we won't have the same issues that people in the city might have.   Never underestimate the power of knowledge passed on from a seasoned gardener/food preserver/keeper IN YOUR LOCALE.  That information is like gold!

What I learned this past week (from this family), is that it is indeed possible to keep potatoes until May in the garage, on the concrete floor, in burlap sacks or heavy paper bags IF the garage is heated (just enough to keep the frost out), and adequate moisture is provided.  We already heat our garage to said temperature so that's not going to cost us any more than it already does.  A simple pan of water placed nearby at floor level keeps moisture levels up and also indicates freezing temps at a glance.  It's brilliant in it's simplicity!  Potatoes are the largest crop that we need to store as this point, so this information is valuable to us especially since it comes from someone who has been successfully using this technique for decades right across the road in a nearly identical garage!

As for everything else (carrots, onions, squash, etc...) we plan to ventilate our basement storage room using a brilliant technique that a local urban homesteader uses.  After insulating the room well and weatherstripping the door, he uses 2 holes cut into an exterior wall to ventilate.  One cut up high near the ceiling to let warm air out, and another hole with PVC pipe fitted and caulked into it, angled straight down to floor level for the cold air return  (a "sweep" fitting installed up near the top will help get the correct angle to the floor.  Of course, both holes MUST be adequately and securely screened for rodent/insect control.  This fellow takes a bucket with a little water in it each time he goes down to the cellar, and he splashes a little water around on the concrete floor to boost humidity.  He then (ingeniously) uses the now empty bucket to bring up his veggies to the kitchen.  Total simplicity at it's finest.  This we hope to duplicate in time for storing our bounty!

The kids worked quickly this morning on some writing and math, as we had a friend arrive late morning to play for the afternoon.  I managed to pique their interest over lunch about doing some physics experiments this afternoon ~ I introduced the topic of "Speed of Falling Objects".  Much discussion and mental math ensued  :)   A book I love to use for physics is pictured above.  It's largely discussion and experiment based which is perfect for those who prefer to learn while doing.  It's loaded with lots of questions to get one thinking...  I find that lunchtime is a great opportunity to discuss any topic.  Some lively conversation takes place at our table, often amid the "in progress" mess of the mornings projects strewn about.  Our table is rarely totally clear, lol.  As well, I read out loud at lunchtime quite often, as a chapter here and a chapter there really add up when we are moving our lives outdoors with less and less time snuggled up with books and blankets...

Paige was busy stick weaving this morning with a kit she received as a Christmas gift.  It's from Lee Valley tools here in Canada.  It came totally complete and is a snap to get going on. She loves it and is creating a scarf for her little doll friend.  Mind the funny expression, she was tolerating (barely) the interruption in her train of thought....

More on the cold frames tomorrow.  They are built, but not yet assembled - they needed to dry overnight.  They look great considering the were made from entirely scrounged materials!  Here's hoping we have them positioned and some seeds planted in there VERY soon!

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Cold Frames Today!

The view out my kitchen window this morning  :)

Hubby is intent on building cold frames with the 3 younger kids today.  We have a sheltered spot that faces south, at the side of the garage, and we think it's the perfect spot to situate a few cold frames.  We have some plexiglass kicking around from when Kelly replaced the crude "double paned" windows in the garage a few weeks ago, and plenty of scrap lumber. Should be a good project for today!   We'll plant some greens and the kids can monitor their progress as well as track the temperature readings in the cold frame vs. the ambient temperature outside.  Our days are usually above zero (ensuring snow melt), but the nights dip down to around -10 C making frost protection more than necessary for another month.  The other issue to contend with is ground thaw.  Even when all the snow melts, it takes a few weeks to thaw out the soil.  It can be workable at the surface, but digging and planting are out of the question until the frost works it's way out the deeper ground.  I'm sure all this cold weather talk has you wishing you lived in a cold climate, hey?  hehehehe...

The basement got well and truly "tackled" yesterday as planned.  We managed to say "farewell" to the five 8' banquet tables that housed a large Playmobil city for the long winter months.   Ahhhh....  it feels so good to have that packed up!  The kids will be thrilled to bring it out again come the first heavy snowfall, but for now, we shift our activities and our energies out of doors where fresh air and soil await our lungs and hands!

Books remain scattered throughout the house, evidence of learning taking place no matter the day of the week.  I've spied the kids reading about various topics these past few days all fuelled by a desire to learn and know more about something.  Questions abound.  Messes multiply.  One of the hardest things about Home Education is the constant clutter and mess.  I'm just being real here.  When you are home all day busily learning and exploring, things pile up!  Books, art supplies, science experiments, toys...  Sometimes it just gets on your nerves a little bit, but that's just part of the process.  So, we let things unfold and we teach and learn, and try to pick up at anchor points in our day (meals namely).

I ground some wheat this morning (specifically, Gold Forest Grains organic hard red wheat) and made my usual 4 loaves plus a double batch of blueberry muffins.  All will be gone by bedtime, between lunch, snacks and packing lunches for tomorrow.  My husband and 2 oldest sons take lunches each day.

All in all, a good day planned with much to do with the family!  I'll (hopefully) update tomorrow with pics of the finished cold frames.  Enjoy your Sunday, however you keep it :)