Red soil and red sky

So with the foundation work chugging away, we finally have an opportunity to get our gardens planted.

Whenever we had some spare time over the last couple of weeks, we raked the old grass and straw from the garden area, laid-out the bed locations and tilled the soil.

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Last week we had a load of compost delivered to our place to help enrich the beds.  With time running against us, we didn’t test the soil or composition – we’re just trusting that the fertile soil of PEI doesn’t stop at our property line.

Speaking of fertile PEI soil: I suppose it’s only fitting that even compost in Prince Edward Island would be full of lobster bits.

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Once the compost was worked into the bed, it was time to start planting.  We started with the tomato beds – all from seeds started earlier this spring.

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In all, we’ve planted about twenty-four Roma tomatoes for sauces and canning.  In addition to the paste tomatoes, we also planted six each of four Heirloom-varities: Brandywine, Pruden Purple, Mountain Merit and Golden Cherry.

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With the tomatoes planted, we jumped over to the potato bed.  Not originally planned as part of our garden, the potato bed was a last minute addition.

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We never really thought we’d need to grow potatoes in PEI – we’re living in Canada’s potato capital, afterall.  Heck, we even have lobster in our soil!  So, like everything else, we went all-out and planted four types of potatoes: red potatoes, Yukon Gold, Russet and a purple-fleshed variety.

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Before the day was up, we planted two of our berry beds – raspberry and blackberry – and also got our asparagus bed planted.

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We’ve never grown asparagus before but have dedicated a 25-foot row for it – although it will still be a few years before we’ll actually be able to harvest spears to eat.

Finally, before we headed out for our drive, we finished up one more bed.

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Three types of cabbage, rutabaga, broccoli, broccolini, cauliflower, kale and collards.

All in all, not a bad start on the gardens.  We’ve still got the beans and peas to plant, as well as carrots, beets, sweet potato, corn, summer and winter squash, cucumbers, onions, garlic and peppers.

As of late, our backyard is taking on the appearance of a motocross course.  As exciting as it is having the foundation-work done, I’m really looking forward to getting the mess cleaned up.

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We’re still deciding where to use all of the island stone salvaged from the foundation….

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….and exactly how to get it all in place.  I do know, it’s going to be a beautifully landscaped property once we get to tackle that pile.

But as the sun was going down, we decided to take advantage of the remaining daylight to go for a walk on the beach.  A quick drive from the house and we arrived in Cavendish just in time to watch the sun set.

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Still early in the season, we had the beach to ourselves.  Tide was low and we walked along the shoreline to take it all in.

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I think this was the first time we really stopped to let it all sink in: this is our home.  We’re only minutes form the ocean in any direction from our house.

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With the sun down, we walked back through the sand dunes to the car.

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No matter how crazy the renovations get, we’re exactly where we want to be.  With the house.  With the gardens.   With each other.

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Today I ate a worm

I thought that would get your attention.

There it is.  Up on the roof.

There it is. Up on the roof.

Now before anyone calls PETW (People for the Ethical Treatment of Worms), I didn’t actually consume an earthworm.  It’s a metaphor (or a simile….or is it an onomatopoeia).  Sorry, English class was never my strong subject.

No – it’s a metaphor.  Imagine you’re on a long journey and you’ve reached a point where the only way you can progress any further is to eat a worm.  That’s where we found ourselves this week.  I had a worm to eat and there was no putting it off any longer.

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With our foundation guy ready to start in the next couple of weeks, I need to get the old chimney torn down – and that means starting at the top.  I haven’t been looking forward to this.  Not by a long-shot.  And excuses have been easy: “too cold”, “too windy”, “too much snow”, “still lots of time”, “I’m too hungry”, “I’m too full”, “my nose is itchy”.  You know how it is – lots of reason to not eat this worm, but it needed to be done.

So far, so good

So far, so good

Today was the day.  The sun was out, the roof was dry and the winds were calm.  The weatherman is calling for rain for the next few days – so here we go.

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I had to build some “steps” just to get some traction on the steep roof.  I tried a few times to just scramble up to the ridge but couldn’t get any grip.  These cleats gave me something to climb on, but needless to say, a 13/12 roof slope is still hard to get up.  That’s more than 45 degrees.

"Yeah - that's not too bad", said no one ever

“Yeah – that’s not too bad”, said no one ever

I’ll be honest, it’s not the heights that bother me – it’s the risk of falling.  Duh, right?  Seriously though, I’ve never had an issue with heights – bridges, buildings, CN Tower – no sweat.  There’s no risk of actually slipping overboard.  But perched up on the roof, swinging a hammer with nothing but the chimney you’re knocking down to hold onto?

Not pictured: a happy guy

Not pictured: a happy guy

Here’s the part where I say: it’s now done, I’m safe.  The chimney is down below the roof line and the hole is patched in until the foundation is done, then the roofer can do his thing.   I didn’t mention previously that I’d be doing this this week – my Mom’s reading this post afterall, but needless to say, I’ll be grounded on terra firma for the next while.

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Just ignore the missing shingles

Quite a view, though

Quite a view, though

With the roof now enclosed, we’ll be spending the next couple of rainy days taking the remaining chimney down from inside the house.

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We’ve got the rear addition completely gutted now and the shingle siding and trim removed.

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So the plan is to remove the chimney when it’s raining, and when the weather’s good, we’ll dismantle the remaining portion of the addition.

And only 1,823,522 nails to pull

And only 1,823,522 nails to pull

Vanessa’s been busy cleaning up the yard – raking up the old dead grass and straw – and burning whatever we can – including the cedar shingles from the addition.

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Murdoch’s been enjoying hanging out with us while we’re outside, too.  It’s been a long winter for him as well.

Enjoying the shade of the barn

Enjoying the shade of the barn

So, back to my original point: how do you eat a worm?  You just close your eyes and swallow.  Unless your “worm” means getting up on your roof.  In that case, I’d suggest keeping your eyes open.

Not so tough now are you, chimney?

Not so tough now are you, chimney?

A Change of Plans

So the demolition is underway on the back addition.  Initially, we thought we would simply remove and dispose of the structure altogether.

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What we didn’t know at the time was that the addition was near-original to the house.  A covered walkway/wood shed leading from the back door to an “indoor outhouse” was it’s original intent.  Past owners insulated and finished the space, and it’s current condition and use is not practical for our needs.

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So once we removed the interior finishes, we both had a change of heart.  We’ve decided to carefully dismantle the roof and walls to relocate and reassemble it near the rear of the property.

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I think I’ve settled on nesting it under the trees and use it as it as a woodshed/garden tool storage.  We do need (and planned on building) some garden/outdoor storage – and in using the original structure, we get to maintain it’s character and save some serious moolah since the material for the structure is already here.

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I will have to build new footings and floor, but the majority of the walls, roofing – and even sheathing – is reusable.

We’ve never wanted to just ignore the historic significance of this old home we bought.  But in the same breath, we also recognize that it’s current condition necessitates a full gut and renovation.  It will be our dream-home after all, so it still needs to meet our needs.  In relocating this structure and repurposing it for our needs, we can keep its historical ties and fill a need we have by reimagining it for another purpose.

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As part of our desire to be more self sufficient, we will eventually have laying hens for our egg needs and the new shed will be modified to incorporate a coop.  All in all, it seems like a win-win scenario for us.

Another week and another disposal bin in our driveway – although this will be the last one for a while, at least.  We spent a good part of today cleaning up around the back of the barn.  I just don’t understand how people can use their backyard as a dump.  Earlier this year (before the winter really settled in) we cleaned up as much as we could at the time.  Windows, flooring material, mattresses, a piano, wire, tarps, cans and bottles, Styrofoam and countless pieces of wood were left there over the years.  And now with the warmer weather and the grass having died back, we’re able to finally get rid of the last of the junk.  And wow – that feels good.  The only things left there is the oil-drum fire pit and the remains of an old tree trunk – now hollowed out and housing little critters for Murdoch’s enjoyment.

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In fact, while we were cleaning up, he flushed out a vole and quickly dispatched the little guy.  No, no sympathy here.

We also burnt away some of the tall, dead grass around the back yard.  The house has been though two summers without much garden care, so when we arrived in the fall, the grass was waist-high in places.

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Burning off the dead stuff seems to be the most practical option.  Either that or rent some sort of brush cutter before we put the lawnmower to it.

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We also uncovered our driveway.  We had “patches” of asphalt showing through our dirt driveway.  Turns out, our driveway is paved – just buried under years of grass, dirt and pine needles.

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Now cleared away, we have a nice, clean parking pad.  Raking up the old tall grass, we’ve also discovered a few spots of garden plants poking up.

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Looks like we’ll have at least a few beds of lilies around the house in a short while.

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And finally, fishing season opened here on Tuesday.  And yes, I did wet my line.  No, I didn’t catch any fish.  On the weekend, our temperatures soared to nearly 20 degrees and severe runoff from the snow pack thawing, combined with rain on Monday, caused quite a lot of flooding around the rivers.  All of the watersheds around our home had gone from babbling brooks to raging white-water rivers.  Needless to say it was difficult fishing.

It wasn’t all for loss though – Vanessa saw and took this beautiful picture of a heron in the river behind our house.

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We’ll give it a try again soon as things settle down in the rivers.  But I like the way my wife thinks.  She says the sooner we get the demo done, the more time we’ll have to go fishing.

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OK.  Where’s my hammer?

Distractions…..and extractions

Another week and another unexpected and unwelcomed delay.

Not that it really made much of a difference with the yesterday’s rain and all, but an stray sliver of bone in last night’s dinner resulted in an emergency trip to the dentist and an extracted tooth today.  So as per doctor’s orders, no heavy lifting, bending or straining that might cause the socket to bleed.  That puts our demo on hold again for a day or so.

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The weather has been in our favor this week otherwise and we did start demolition of the back porch.  We also got most of our storage out of the rear addition – readying it for demolition too.  I’ll have more of that to write about shortly.

So while sidelined, we distracted ourselves by starting some more of our vegetable seeds.

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We’ve been germinating our seeds in trays set up on shelving in our kitchen.  A space heater on low below the shelving provides the perfect temperature to get the seeds started and the newspaper pots reduces the stress of transplanting later – the pot and all will be planted.

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Most seeds don’t require light to germinate, but once they’ve broken through the soil, the energy stored in the seeds is used up and the small plants start reaching for light – this is when we move them to our “grow-op”.

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Upstairs and out of the way, we have another set of shelves equipped with fluorescent lights on a timer to provide 15-16 hours of light to the newly germinated seedlings per day.

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The seedlings need sufficient light to keep them from becoming too leggy and spindly.  We have the lights suspended from short chains and are able to raise the lights as the plants grow upwards.

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Ideally, you’d want to keep the lights to within one or two inches from the seedlings.  The lights are timed to turn off around 9:00 in the evening – and it’s quite a sight to see the upper level of the house lit-up like a greenhouse at dusk.

In addition to the asparagus and peppers started a couple of weeks ago, we’ve now started two flats of onions and the remainder of our tomato seeds – five varieties, totalling about 80 plants.

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As spring approaches we will also be starting some of our other plants – squash, broccoli, cabbage and lettuce.  And with the majority of the snow gone from our garden area, we’ll soon start preparing the beds for planting by the end of May or beginning of June.  That will be around the time our foundation is underway, so we’ll have time to tend the garden.

The spring thaw couldn’t have happened soon enough.  Next week, fishing season opens and I’ve already told Vanessa, regardless of the weather, I’ll be wetting a line when it does.

Until then, demo will resume as planned tomorrow.  And a little free advice:  be careful of little bone fragments when eating ribs.  You’re welcome.

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It’s official – spring is here! Time to start the garden plans

Well, Vanessa and I have been enjoying a few days off from working on the house.  After a bit of a snow/ice storm last week, the past few days have been beautiful.  It’s been sunny and clear – albeit a little cold – so we’ve been enjoying some time outside.

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We’re just back from a long two-hour walk with Murdoch on the Confederation Trail

Murdoch discovers the sunroof

Murdoch discovers the sunroof

and with a quick coffee-to-go, a drive up to Cavendish and along the shoreline.

....to see the sights

….to see the sights

....and a little wildlife.

….and a little wildlife.

And with the official first day of spring on us, we’ve been thinking planning dreaming of the planting season and the gardens.

We went to town over the weekend and got all of our vegetable seeds from Veseys for the spring.  One of my earlier posts (https://ouroldislandhome.com/2014/01/18/spring-dreaming/) outlined all of the vegetables we would be trying – and that hasn’t changed much.   I know it all sounds very ambitious – and it probably is – but we have nothing to lose.  It’s not like we’re pressed for space and don’t have the time to tend the garden.  We’ve settled on the back south-east corner for the garden – it’s a clear and wide-open area that receives sun all day.  The space around the house is being reserved for flower beds, patios, BBQ and entertainment area – and around the barn is the driveway, shop and (eventually) greenhouse area.

So with the location of the veggie beds determined, we now need the snow to go (who doesn’t, amiright?) and we’ll prep the area.  We have two huge rolls of black poly (plastic) to roll out over the bed areas.  We’re planning on eight beds – each measuring 10′ x 25′.  The black poly serves two purposes: first, it will inhibit any grass and weeds from starting to grow as the weather warms, and secondly, it warms the soil in anticipation of planting.  A number of our plants need warmer conditions: sweet potato, corn, tomatoes and peppers don’t like their feet cold.  Other crops are less fussy and can be planted as soon as the soil is workable.

We’ve planned an eight crop rotation.  Different vegetables can be grouped together in similar families.  Utilizing crop rotation, you change the location of each vegetable group from year to year.  This reduces the likelihood of a pest or disease problem overwintering and attacking the same crop in the same location of the following year.  For example tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and potatoes all belong to the same family and, as such, are susceptible to the same pests and diseases.  Because these plants all belong to the solanaceous or nightshade family, you wouldn’t plant tomatoes in the same plot that potatoes were planted in the previous year.  The goal is to have at least three to four years before the same crop-family is planted in the same location again.

So, here’s our rotation plan – the eight beds will be:

  1. Legumes: beans and peas
  2. Brassacas: cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, turnip
  3. Nightshades: tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, tomatillos
  4. Umbeliferae: carrot, parsnip, parsley, celery
  5. Lettuce and sweet potato
  6. Cucurbits: cucumbers, squash, pumpkin
  7. Goosefoot: beet, chard, spinach and Alliums: onion, garlic, leeks, chive
  8. Corn

And in addition to these eight beds, we’ll have permanent locations for the perennial plants: asparagus, rhubarb and berries.

Yup – that’s a lot of produce.  But think about this: one seed packet of broccoli costs $3.00.  A packet of 1000 carrot seeds cost about $4.00 and for $8.00 we bought 1000 corn seeds.  The list goes on and on.  For what we would spend on groceries in one week, we bought the potential for the same grown by ourselves – one hundred times over!

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We realize that’s far more than we’ll ever need – even canning, freezing and preserving as much as we’re able.  So we’ve already decided the surplus would be donated to needy families or a food bank.  Either way, our needs will be met and others will be blessed with the surplus.

Over the next short while, we’ll be starting some of the plants inside in anticipation of the last frost – transplanting around the end of May.  I’ll show you how we’re geminating and growing the plants before transplanting – and how we prepare the beds.

I’d love to hear what you grow in your home gardens – and any helpful tips you might have.  Until then, enjoy your spring!

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Spring dreaming

Fresh air, warm sun, digging in the soil, planting seeds……sorry, I was dreaming there.  It’s the same every year, though – by mid-January, we’re pouring through seed catalogues and making our wish-list for the vegetable gardens.  It probably makes it all the worse because of the early and (so far) harsh winter.

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The big difference for us is the space we have to grow our plants – and it’s a BIG difference.  Back in Ontario, we had the largest lot in our subdivision – a nice pie-shaped lot – but still a subdivision lot.  We used our 30’x150′ lot to it’s maximum potential, growing lots of vegetables (tomatoes, onions, spinach, peppers, carrots, beets, parsnips, peas), fruit trees (cherry, plum and peach) and berries (raspberries, blackberries and blueberries).

Now we have an acre of space to grow….things.  When I look out my window, I think “yeah, that’s a lot of space” but when I actually walk to the other end of the property and look back, it really puts the size of it into perspective.

Murdoch loves it!

Murdoch loves it!

So here we are reading the Vesey’s Seed Catalogue and making our list, checking it twice.  We’ve got a lot of work ahead as spring approaches – clearing and tilling the soil and preparing the beds for planting – but not until things dry out some more.  I’m just hoping that as early as winter arrived, spring will follow suit.

Here’s a look at what we’d like to plant:

  • Asparagus – takes a few years to mature enough to harvest, but a perennial that is very hardy and will continue to produce for years
  • Soy Beans – steamed in the shell with a sprinkle of salt (mmmm, Edamame)
  • Yellow & Green Bush Beans – freezes very well or pickle some “Dilly Beans”
  • Beets – a typical red variety for caning and a yellow version for roasting or grilling that doesn’t stain everything pink
  • Broccoli – never had much success in Ontario, but the cooler PEI temps may help
  • Cabbage – a summer variety for fresh use and a winter variety for storing and sauerkraut
  • Carrot – chose three types, all sweet and stores well
  • Celery – again, another vegetable new to us, but we’ll give it a try
  • Collard – we enjoyed trying and eating different greens last year, wanted to try this one
  • Corn – two varieties that mature two weeks apart so we have time to blanch and freeze portions
  • Cucumber – a “burpless” variety for salads and a standard pickling variety
  • Garlic – easy to grow and stores well, will never go to waste
  • Kale – have you ever had Kale Chips?
  • Leeks – freeze for use through the winter in soups and stews
  • Lettuce – a couple of varieties of Leaf and Romaine, planted in the spring for early use and another planting in the fall
  • Onion – two kinds, a storing onion and a red onion
  • Parsnip – added to soup and stew or (my favorite) roasted or grilled like fries
  • Snow Peas – for stir-frys or salads
  • Peppers – a couple sweet varieties and some hot (jalapenos and Hungarian wax for pickling and chilies for roasting Ancho)
  • Sweet Potato – not seeds but grown from vines – needs warm soil but does grow very well in Vesey’s test gardens
  • Pumpkin – small cooking variety for pies and loafs
  • Radishes – for salads and pickling
  • Rutabega – soups, stews and side dishes – can also be fermented like sauerkraut
  • Spinach – “I’m strong to the finish, ’cause I eats me…..”
  • Zucchini – love grilled zucchini with olive oil and sea salt
  • Winter Squash – a buttercup and butternut variety
  • Swiss Chard – greens
  • Tomato – two heirloom varieties, one plum-type for canning and a cherry tomato
  • Tomatillo – we grew it last year in Ontario but never got to use the fruit – we’ll be making Salsa Verde this year
I think that's good

I think that’s good

And that’s it for veggies.  I’ve also got my eye on a few apple trees.  We’ll likely plant a couple Macintosh trees for cooking and Honeycrisp for eating fresh, and of course we’ll also be growing my favorites: raspberries and blueberries.

When I get some time, I’ll sketch out what we want to do with the gardens.  Until then, happy daydreaming.