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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The start of something new

At long last, the foundation work is underway.  The long, cold, wet spring has put us a little behind schedule but hopefully we’ll make up some time with the nice weather as of late.

Vanessa and I were sitting at the breakfast table last week when this hauled up outside our house.

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We stopped traffic on Highway 2

The huge carrying beams had arrived, the excavator was already delivered – so it was time to get underway.

First, make a cut in the topsoil to provide access to the sills – the first to be replaced.  Once all of the old sills are removed and replaced and the walls are re-supported, the house can be lifted and the excavation can start.

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So I thought I’d take you on the grand tour of what’s under our house before it all disappears.

Go ahead....after you.

Go ahead….after you.

The original foundation is hand-cut sandstone, dry-stacked to about 5′ high.  The mortar you see in the joints was applied sometime in the past in an attempt to keep some of the moisture out.

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All of these stones will be removed and salvaged from the foundation and stored at the back of our property.

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A lot of these stones will be used in-and-around our property as part of our landscape design as garden borders, retaining walls, walkways and steps to the deck.

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The stones are beautiful – all hand shaped and fit precisely for the foundation – and will have a prominent place in our garden.  But still – that’s a lot of rock.

The whole process for the new basement will take a few weeks, but while that’s underway, we’ve kept busy building our gardens.  The plants we started inside need to be transplanted so our first job is to build the garden beds.

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The areas we’re working in have never been farmed before.  Decades of grass growing waist-high and dying back every season has made the digging difficult (to say the least) but because of this, I suspect the soil is going to be very fertile.  We’ve easily got a couple more days of digging and tilling the soil before we actually plant anything.

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There are some vegetables that should have been planted by now, but with the disagreeable weather and the house demolition monopolizing our time, we will just have to make do.

Fortunately, out seedlings have been thriving inside our grow-op.  We’ve slowly acclimated the plants to living outdoors by daily increasing their outside exposure.

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Hopefully by this time next week, the veggies will be all planted and we’ll be starting on the new shed/chicken coop.

So, things are looking up.  We’re turning that corner that we’ve been waiting for – restoration instead of demolition.  We still have a lot ahead of us, but it’s a nice feeling that we’re into a new stage.  Until then, though, we continue working in the garden and getting our beds planted.  That in itself is like therapy.

Vanessa says: "ever feel like you're being watched?"

Vanessa says: “ever feel like you’re being watched?”

"No idea what you're talking about."

“No idea what you’re talking about.”

 

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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Well there’s something you don’t see everyday. Thank God.

Well, I guess I had that coming.

Shame on me for jumping the gun last week and started singing the praises of the spring-like weather.  That’ll teach me.  Call it karma, Murphy’s Law or just dumb luck, we got walloped with the biggest storm the Maritimes has seen in 10 years.

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More of a hurricane disguised as a blizzard, I think.  A blizzicane.  Or snownado.

I thought it would be fun to document the day with a series of photos showing the progression of the storm.

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After three sets of pics, I changed my mind and thought I’d leave it to your imagination.  There was no way I was going out in that mess unless I absolutely had to.   And I only had to twice: once to collect our airborne garbage bins (thought to be securely fastened to our front porch) and once to let Murdoch do his “business”.

Such a sad picture

Such a sad picture

It was after that trip that Murdoch said he wouldn’t go out there again unless he absolutely had to.  He didn’t.

"Outside?  Nope, I can hold it."

“Outside? Nope, I can hold it.”

Kidding aside, it was pretty intense.  Par for the course for local islanders, I’m told.  But with a half-gutted, one-hundred-and-thirty-year-old house, we felt every wind gust.  And we didn’t get away unscathed.

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We lost quite a lot of shingles on the north side.  The shingles were quite sparse on that slope to start, but now there are even less.  Oh well, it will make stripping them off in the spring much easier now that they’ve all been deposited in our yard.

Probably the highlight of the day was seeing our neighbor and his snow blower backing into our driveway.

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God bless you, Orville.  I don’t think I’d have the strength to do the driveway today – after shovelling the snow out of our second floor.

Wait.  What?

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Have to admit – I didn’t see this coming.

 

Yep.  With all the wall and ceiling finishes removed from the second floor – and with the 100 km/h wind and snow – and with more shingles blown off, well….

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Come on – you got to laugh.  Or cry.  I laughed and thankfully, so did Vanessa.  After the storm, this was a cake-walk.  And with our neighbors help, we hardly had any snow to shovel anyhow.  It was a breeze (a gale-force breeze, mind you, but a breeze nonetheless).

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But enough of that.  You’ve seen the footage, I’m sure, and we survived.  That’s the main thing, right?

As far as the house goes, until yesterday, our weather has been beautiful – sunny and clear – but really cold and windy, so needless to say, we didn’t do any of the demo I last spoke about: removal of the porch and rear addition.  They say the next couple of weeks will be milder, but wet.  Whatever the forecast holds, we’ll need to buckle down and get this done in anticipation of the foundation to start in May (or sooner, hopefully).

We haven’t been idle though.  We started a number of vegetable plants inside in preparation for the planting season.

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Leeks, asparagus, peppers (sweet and hot), and some tomato seeds have been sown – and are starting to germinate.  We’ll move them to our grow-lights shortly and start the next round of plants after that.

For now, I’ll bite my tongue about spring.  We know it’s coming.  When it’s ready.

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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Snow day

So the first major winter storm of 2014 hit us today.  Actually it continues to hit us.  As I’m typing, the wind is howling and the snow is blowing.  It’s not even fit for a dog today.

"Open this door!"

“Open this door!”

So demo and cleanup is ruled out.  Even though we filled our first disposal bin yesterday and managed to get an empty one exchanged before the snow started this morning, there’s no way I’m hoofing any garbage outside today.

So what’s one to do when the weather makes a detour to your plans?  You roll with it.

Whenever we get house-bound for any reason, Vanessa goes full-on-baking-mode.  Today was no exception – the jar of fresh biscotti and a couple loaves of homemade bread on the kitchen counter proves that.

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And as much as I’d like to just sit by the fire with a coffee and some of that biscotti – I kept busy too.

We bought a few bunches of fresh radishes this week to attempt something we hadn’t tried yet – pickling them.   And this is about as easy as it gets.

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Wash the radishes, cut off the tops and root “tails”, quarter them and add them to a mason jar.

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I’m sure slices would be fine – and probably easier for sandwich stacking, too.  In a small saucepan, boil 1 cup vinegar (cider vinegar would be nice, too), 1/2 cup water, 2-3 tablespoons honey (or sugar), 1-2 teaspoons salt and two or three cloves of sliced garlic and pour into the radish-holding mason jar.

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Allow to cool and store in the fridge.

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We didn’t water-bath these pickles for long-term storage – it didn’t seem necessary as we only one made one jar.  And to be honest, we’re probably going to eat all of these by the weekend, anyhow (they’re that good).  The radishes have a nice, peppery/pungent flavor that’s not like a typical pickle and retain they their crunch (because they’re not cooked, as such).  Guaranteed, we’ll be making these in a large batches come the spring with the radishes we grow in our own garden.

So, as it turns out, snow days aren’t so bad.  If it means you can’t do Plan “A”, there’s always Plan “B”.  And when you’ve finished Plan “B”, move on to Plan “C”.

Plan "C"

Plan “C”

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.