Thursday, October 29, 2009

One more stove story

We had another wood stove, in the workshop. Just after we moved to the farm we had an inspector out to look at our stoves. Was this one certified, we wanted to know. He took one look at it and laughed. Certified? No. Jerry-rigged from various scraps of metal? Yes. He advised us to remove it immediately and never, ever think of burning anything in it.

It took until this week to actually remove it, because it weighs about 350 pounds. We may take pride in doing things ourselves, but there are limits. We had some other heavy metal to get rid of: a set of lockers also in the workshop and an old cast iron bathtub developing a lovely patina in the bushes. So we called the local metal recylers and they came yesterday to pick it all up. It would cost us $50, but they would pay us a nominal amount for the metal ($12 as it turned out), and it would be kept from the landfill. We figured they would crush it and sell it as scrap metal.

It was not hard to say goodbye to this stove. It was kind of entertaining watching the young fellow with the crane manoeuvre the junk onto his truck. When he was done we got in car and drove over to the metal place to pay the bill. It was a hive of activity, with forklifts and trucks and bins and crushers, but off to the side was an area designated the "Open Air Retail" area, with all kinds of metal odds and ends someone might think were good for something: retail shelving, old brass pots and ornaments, pumps, motors, cogs, chairs and fences. And there, resting demurely beside an old wheebarrow and a bin of metal parts was our stove, already unloaded and for sale. For sale! It may have a future after all.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

We love our new stove

I admit I felt a bit guilty about doing away with our ugly wood stove. After all, this new lifestyle is supposed to be, in part, about living with less of a footprint. Why replace a perfectly good stove just because it's homely? We do deserve some credit for shopping carefully. We did consider particle emissions and BTUs - but only after we were hooked by this stove's fabulous good looks. But now that we have been operating it for about 24 hours, we have many more reasons to think we got a great stove. It's zero degrees outside this morning and it's so toasty warm inside that we're in t-shirts. Our old stove blazed hot then cooled down, but the new stove puts out a lovely, moderate, steady heat. It kept coals hot all night long so all we had to do this morning was throw a couple of logs on and voila - instant inferno! And it does such an efficient and complete burn of the wood that we can't even see smoke coming from our chimney, so it's even more environmentally friendly than the old stove. What more could we ask for?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Doing it ourselves

Say bye-bye to this ugly old wood stove, because it's the last time you'll ever see it. It was a beautifully functioning unit that heated all three levels of our house. It started well, drew great, and served its past and current owners for 15 years. But it's (shut your ears, stove) ugly.

We thought long and hard about what to do with this stove. We shopped long and hard for its replacement. Finally Kim just got tired of looking at the ugly old stove and got on the phone and found us our dream stove - with a twist. It's a sleek, stainless steel version that would have cost us about $3600 to buy and install. We did it for less than $1900, thanks to Kim. She found a used one (1 year old) we could buy from Morris in Crofton (that's Morris on the left). Morris buys used wood stoves (even ugly ones), reconditions them and sells them again, creating happy customers who pay less and keeping stoves out of the landfill. He does such a good job reconditioning stoves that the folks at the local fireplace store said, when you buy a used stove from Morris, it's like buying it new. Morris would even take away our old stove, pay us $200 for it, recondition it and sell it to someone who will love it better than we could. What's not to like about that?

Not only did Morris sell us a great new stove, he convinced us we could install it ourselves by just replacing some of the stovepipe. Which we did. We did it ourselves. We are chuffed, can you tell?

It finally stopped raining enough for me to start chopping down the masses of perennials I spent all spring and summer growing. That's what fall is about: chopping things down. I have overused my clippers to such an extent my right hand has turned into a frozen claw that can't open or shut without the help of my other hand. The sheer volume of decaying vegetable matter has overwhelmed our recently rebuilt composting bins,and I have no idea where we're going to put it all. Today Frankie kept me company, and at the risk of having too many cute dog photos, here's another one. I was taking a picture of this amazing shrub that had green, yellow and red leaves all on the same shrub, when Frankie wandered into the photo for a dignified pose - complete with leaf on head.

We noticed yesterday that the big bed of potatoes we had left in the ground had begun to sprout. Actually, it probably began to sprout about three weeks ago, and we only noticed yesterday. We read somewhere that you could cut back the plants once they began to die in about August, and leave the potatoes underground where they would keep well through the winter. Our plan was to make an occasional foray out to the garden for a digging session, to replenish our potato supply in the house. Well, whoever wrote that handy tip must live in a different climate than we do, because the potatoes underground apparently thought it was spring and started to sprout.

Digging up potatoes is kind of fun - it's sort of like digging for treasure. You gently put a pitchfork in the soil and hopefully turn over a batch of potatoes. Sometimes you do, sometimes all you get is a forkful of dirt. It's like a treasure hunt. Actually, what it reminds me of is a kids' show I watched when we lived in Edmonton in the 70s, where birthday parties would go to the TV studio and the birthday boys and girls would get to dig up a shovel full of dirt which the host would then sift in a sieve, revealing pseudo gold coins. Same thing every weekday, and for some reason I thought it was fascinating every day. Maybe that's why I like digging potatoes, too.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Cox Orange Pippins

We have two old apple trees, one a Pink Lady and the other a Cox Orange Pippin. Of course we wondered where the names came from. The Pink Lady apples ripened early, and when I peeled some for my first bowl of apple cereal and saw all the pink in the bowl, I figured that one out. The Cox Orange Pippins were a bit more of a puzzle, but only because we needed to wait until just this week. All of a sudden the previously green and mottled brown apples took on a beautiful red hue that added the last colour needed to produce a distinctly orange blend overall. Question answered.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Raining and Pouring

There's rain, and then there's rain. It's the second kind we've been having. Enough rain that our summer-dry pond filled up entirely in 24 hours. Enough rain to make working outside, which we have been doing, a bit of a challenge. Enough rain to make our boots and everything else mucky!

We have been putting fences around our youngest fruit trees, in a closing-the-barn-door-after-the-horse-is-gone attempt to protect them from the deer who have been visiting. Between his scent and his barking, Frankie was giving us some protection. But as we have found out, all it takes is one visit by one deer to really wreck your trees. So, armed with wire fencing, wooden stakes, a sledgehammer and a staple gun, we launched our defensive manoeuvres in the middle of a very rainy afternoon. Pretty quickly our hats were wet, our coats were wet, our pants were soaked and our dog was bedraggled. Our fruit trees were happy, though.

Probably because it has been about a year since Kim and I took possession of the farm, I've been thinking a lot about how different things feel from this time last year. The real test will be next June, which will mark the anniversary of when we left our jobs. But it's still interesting to look back to see what's changed, and what we've accomplished.

I think we have a more realistic idea, now, of the scope of the project we have taken on, and the work involved. When it comes to the garden (orchard, veggies and perennials) I think we've found it manageable - at least as long as all we're trying to do is feed ourselves, rather than growing for a market garden. When it comes to the house renovations, we're both feeling overwhelmed by all that is left to do. I keep reminding myself that we have accomplished a lot. We managed a difficult move in the midst of the snowiest winter for a long, long time. We painted. We learned how to lay slate tile and install baseboard. We managed a kitchen renovation. We have put on three new roofs - pumphouse, garden shed and wood shed - and built new raised beds for the vegetable garden. We had a great growing season, planted new fruit trees, and learned how to can tomatoes. That's pretty good, I think. We should try to remember that when what's left to do keeps us awake at 2:00 a.m.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Invader Identified

Thanks to a session with the binos and a little investigating on the web, our gutter-foraging birds have been identified: they are Varied Thrushes, noted for their sometimes aggressive defense of feeding territories and their preference for moss as a lining of their nests (hence the dumpster diving in our gutters). A group of these thrushes is known as a "hermitage," which doesn't seem to suit their in-your-face behaviour, or a "mutation," which better matches our feeling of being besieged in the middle of an Alfred Hitchcock movie.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Bird Invasion

It turns out we got the woodshed roof done just in time, because it has rained every day since then. The sky is grey, the ground is soggy, but the diffused, cloudy light is making all the colours in the garden more beautiful than ever. The dying hostas are a mango-like orangey-yellow, the peony leaves are turning mottled mauve, pink and green, and the Japanese maples are various shades of hot red, cherry pink and fiery yellow. Best accompaniment to the rain: the frogs are back with their croaking versions of dueling banjos.

We've been feeling like we're living in a Hitchcock movie the last week or so, ever since a large flock of birds came to visit. They're smaller than crows, mostly black with orange on their bellies and orange and black striped throats, and for some reason they really, really like our place. They're all out on the lawn eating when we get up in the morning, and then through the day if we come out onto the porch they'll all fly up from the bushes and swoop away. We think some of them are trying to nest in the eaves, and apparently they like all the gunge that has built up in our gutters, because they are pulling it out, flinging it all over, and sorting through it for the choice bits for their nests, leaving the ickiest guck for us to clean up. I think it's kind of fascinating, but Kim is more concerned for the integrity of our eaves, and has taken to flying out of the house waving her arms and cawing like a crow to frighten them away. We'll see if it works.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Garlic planting

According to the wise folks at The Farmer's Almanac, yesterday was the last day for planting garlic. It has to do with moon cycles. So despite it being a designated "Rest Day," I toddled out to the garden in my pyjamas (at 2 in the afternoon) to plant the garlic. We used 6 beautiful heads of this year's garlic which, barring any winter snacking from resident wild creatures, should yield 36 heads of garlic next summer. Our first experience with growing new plants from our own produce!

Monday, October 12, 2009

The woodshed roof is finished!

Well, almost... There are a lot more rivets to go in to make it really secure, and we need to add a gutter at the back, but it's on and we managed to do it before the rainy season starts.

We learned there is a lot of Math involved in putting on a new roof. For example, we needed to know the difference between a rectangle (the roof that we thought we were putting on) and a parallelogram (the actual structure of the existing wood shed). We also needed to know how to add and subtract fractions. For example (if you have Math phobia you may not want to read further) what is 25 feet, 5 and 3/8 inches minus 22 feet, 7 and 3/4 inches? And we needed to understand proportions, as in "If we lose 1/2 an inch of overhang over three metal panels (because the shed was not square), how many inches will we lose over nine panels?" All I can say is it's a good thing we were both Math teachers...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The ladder family

How many ladders do two women need to put a new roof on a woodshed? Apparently the answer is "Five!" Two extension ladders, two regular ladders and one little step ladder that aspires to bigger things.

Today is Kim's 50th birthday, and it has been a perfect day. We have been replacing the roof on the woodshed, and that occupied most of our day. It took us two days to remove the old cedar shingles and rotten plywood and haul it all to the dump, and today we got to begin putting on the new. We have opted for metal roofing, partly for its durability but mostly because we couldn't figure out how to haul full sheets of plywood up that high, which would be necessary if we used asphalt shingles. Metal roofing is more expensive, and has to be specially ordered to fit, but it only requires 1x4 strapping, not plywood. By the time we lost the best light today and were ready to go in for some supper, the strapping was done and the first metal sheet had been attached.

How does that make a perfect day? For me it was because today was most like my dream of what our life would be like, of any day we have had so far: the air was crisp, the sun was shining, and my sweetie and I were working together on a challenging project that used our brains and our muscles. There were lots of smiles all around today.

The chief purpose of fall in the country seems to be getting ready for winter. All over the neighbourhood people are laying in their supply of winter wood - most homes around here use wood stoves as at least one of the sources of heat, if not the primary source.There has been a lot of competition for "The Log Boss," the hydraulic log splitter we rented in the spring. We did manage to snag it for a few days in the middle of last week - one of the benefits of not having Monday to Friday jobs! It took two days to finish splitting all the wood from the trees we had taken down in the spring. Not only is our woodshed now packed, we also have six-foot high cribs all over. We think we probably split a total of six or seven cords, far more than we will need this winter. It will be an adventure to see how long we can go without turning on the electric baseboard heaters!

Our summer vegetable garden has officially been laid to rest, with the last holdout (the Kentucky Wonder pole beans) being pulled up a few days ago. Our makeshift root cellar (really just an unheated storage room in the basement) is holding our potatoes, winter squash (spaghetti, butternut and buttercup), garlic, onions and the produce we canned. The freezer in the workshop is almost full with more produce, as well as apple crisps and pies we made from the Pink Lady apples. We still have almost a tree full of Cox Orange Pippin apples. Some branches hang so low Frankie can reach up to snag one with his teeth - they are his substitute ball when he can't find a real one.

The nice thing about growing food here in Lotus Land is that the end of summer doesn't have to mean the end of the garden. We are already eating our winter crops of carrots, beets, rutabagas, spinach, chard and salad greens. Some of those, especially the more delicate greens, have to be under cover as the nighttime temperatures are within a few degrees of freezing. We're using floating row covers (sort of like thin fabric that just gets laid over top), poly tunnels and cold frames that fit right overtop of the raised beds. We have also planted some flats of salad greens that can be moved into the greenhouse if it really gets cold.

Some of you may not know that we had a close call with Petunia on the Labour Day weekend. She was mauled by an unknown dog, and we didn't find her until she was already in shock. Fortunately our new vet met us at the clinic, even though it was past 11 pm, and took wonderful care of her. She had surgery the next day, and spent a few more days in the hospital, but is now fully mended - she still has a few shaved patches that haven't fully grown in, but that just means her belly is beautifully, peach-fuzzedly soft to rub. When she came home from the hospital we got her a special new cat bed, which we moved down to the family room once she was feeling well enough to want to be social. Unfortunately there seemed to be some confusion between her and Frankie about which bed was actually whose...

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