Monday, September 19, 2011

Autumn Soon

So I'm sitting here making apple juice, to be tranformed into apple jelly tomorrow, the house is nice and cozy, I'm listening to the sound of the rain; and a mouse runs out from underneath the woodstove and just sits there, staring at me.  Yes, it's Fall again, and this time I don't have to go home; I am home. 

The leaves have started to turn already.  Just a slight tinge of colour, but unmistakably, a change:

Around six o'clock I went out and tended the potato patch.  If there's one thing I'm learning from vegetable gardening it's that you must have patience.  I have to resist the urge to fork up our precious potatoes ... they're still thickening up their skins underground.  Every evening I go around and cover up the ones that have popped their heads out of the soil ... if you don't do this they will turn green.

I just cover them up with a handful of soil and hope for the best.  In the meantime, something has been taking a bite out of a couple of our potatoes!!  Possibly voles??  Good job the cats are decimating the vole population!

The other thing that damages potatoes is the slug.  Here is one that I caught in the act:

Eww!!  DNW!!

While I was concentrating on the potatoes, Mr. Downy Woodpecker was in the mountain ash, mocking me.  I managed to take his photo:

We've also recently had a visit from a pair of Northern Flickers, which are also members of the woodpecker family.  This happy couple were on the lawn, getting worms:

A closer look.

The bees are still feverishly working away, and it never fails to amaze me how the garden rotates; no matter the season, there is always something that bears pollen, and presumably something else that needs to be pollinated.  The hollyhocks are still in bloom, and the echinacea and sedum have just come out.  Mallow, oregano, thistles and of course the roses are still blossoming even now.

Bee on echinacea.

Bee on sedum.

And in the woods, a black toad crossed my path ...

The other night I was amazed and extremely privileged to see no less than four deer in our garden.  They sauntered around the edge of the grass, nibbling here and there, then went on their way.  One bounded across the concrete posts for the cabin, white tail bobbing as she went!  I tried to get photos, but sadly it was dusk and my camera refused to focus.  This is the only shot I managed to get which shows any kind of image at all - there really is a deer there, if you look hard enough!  You can definitely see the catchlight in his eye ...

I wonder if this is who has been nibbling our grapes?!!

Never fear, there are plenty more grapes still on the vine!

I can't write a post about autumn without including one of the most famous poems of all time, which I used to know by heart, thanks to my English grammar school ... says it all, really.

Ode to Autumn, by John Keats

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'erbrimmed their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reaped furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers;
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, -
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing, and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Crop Report

Hey everyone, I thought it was high time I wrote an update on all the various things we have growing.  First off, the potatoes!  I thought I was going to harvest them today, but it turns out, on further research, they need to be left a while longer in the ground.  I did hike up a few  for dinner though, and here they are:

Looking good!  But apparently I have to wait until the vines have completely wilted away, which is normally around the time of the first frost.  The reason for this is because right now, although the potatoes are fine to eat, their skins are still too thin to be effectively stored.  So I have to have patience and wait for their skins to thicken up.

This is how the potato patch looks right now.  I have to sit on my garden fork for a few more weeks!

Luckily, there's a lot more to be harvested at the moment, more than enough to keep me busy.  I've already made blackcurrant jam, blackberry jelly, and redcurrant and blueberry jam.  There are still tons of blackberries ripening, so today I bought some more mason jars.

The other crop that is definitely ready to harvest are the apples.  I'm starting with the wild apples because they're already falling off the tree.

Plenty more where these came from!  Once I have a couple of boxes full, I'll make apple jelly and apple butter.

In the meantime, our other trees are loaded with eating apples, which will be ready to pick very soon.  I have to beat the moose to them this year!

The other thing I have to beat the moose to is the grapes.  I checked out the vine today and noticed that something has already started to nibble a few bunches.  I think I'm going to have a few dozen jars of grape jelly for the Farmer's Market ...

I'm no grape expert, but I'm wondering if these are Concord grapes?  They're green, quite small, round and firm.  They taste a little tart, but good.  I'm open to advice, as well as recipes!  We don't have our winemaking equipment here yet, but next year ... !

As you may remember, I'm trying to grow tomatoes in a pot, as well as herbs from seed in the garden.  I've had some success with the herbs, and the tomato plant is growing slowly.

Note: I've never done this before.  Does it show?

A nice crop of parsley.

Sage is doing well.

Thyme seems to need little attention to grow profusely.

My rosemary didn't germinate, but no matter - I discovered that rosemary is already growing in another part of the garden, along with oregano, golden oregano, and chives!

Flowering oregano, covered in ecstatic bees.

Golden oregano. According to my son (who is a culinary arts student) this is a euphemism among his classmates for another kind of - ahem - "herb" entirely ...


Now, I need your help with this one.  Anyone have any idea what this plant is?  It's growing in the herb garden, and smells like onions.

Mystery Plant ... ??

Last but not least, our pumpkins are doing great!  We planted them from seed, straight into the garden, and very late.  Behold:

We have seven plants, each of which has three or four pumpkins growing.

A bee on a pumpkin flower.  It's very important to have a healthy bee population in your garden, as they are the little workers that pollinate your crops.   No bees, no crops!

I don't know how long pumpkins take to grow, but I'm hoping by Halloween these guys will be a decent size!

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some freshly-dug potatoes to cook!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Going Back to Work for a Rest

There are times when we stop for a breather and say to each other "Have we really only been here since June?"   Knowing that winter is coming, and that we have to take full advantage of the time available, it seems like we've been working at this place for a lot longer.  Of course, as those that follow this blog know, we took possession in May 2010, but that first year was made up of a week here, a week there, as our suburban and city life permitted.

The other day we took a break and went for a walk around the grounds.  As we walked we realized that we were actually beginning to make progress.  When Paul was building the shed for the power and fuel storage, he remarked that it felt good to be building something from scratch instead of repairing something.  The house, gardens, and practically every system in the house had been in such a run-down state when we took over ownership, simply because it had stood empty for such a long time.  Everything we've done up to now has been repairing, fixing, tearing out and re-doing, let alone the regular maintenance that has to be done along the way.  With the building of the power house for the oil tanks, it finally seemed like we were getting somewhere.

One of the most important jobs that had to be done before winter was the undergrounding of the water line.  Last winter we had problems with the water line freezing, and although Paul did replace the entire line, it still needed to be buried in order to prevent it from freezing again.  We rented a trencher, which was useless, so we rented a backhoe.  It took a few days to dig a trench, and Paul definitely brushed up on his backhoe operating skills!  Between tree roots and huge rocks, not to mention climbing up the side of a forested mountain, this little backhoe certainly proved itself.

The trench must be deep enough to prevent the water line from freezing.  Paul dug down two feet, which hopefully will do the trick.

There goes another load of earth and roots.  Paul used the "thumb" attachment to move logs and downed trees out of the way.  Did I mention it was hot, humid and buggy?  Note the open cab, and Paul's full-face bug shirt!

After the trench was dug, the water line was dropped in and then came the tricky part: filling it back in again.  One crimp in the line caused by a rock would affect our water supply to the house.  Luckily, Paul managed to fill in the entire trench without causing any reduction in our water pressure.  For maintenance purposes, he marked every joint in the line with a piece of blaze orange cord.  This will make it easy to locate the joints if we ever need to dig up and repair a portion of the line.  A little forward thinking means less headaches in the future!

It wasn't possible to bury the entire 1200 feet of line, but most of it got done.  The rest will be wrapped in special insulation material.  In the meantime, talk about killing two birds with one stone: we now have a two-person wide, cleared trail, with no more fallen trees, trip hazards or huge rocks!

When we take stock of what we've done since June, it makes our head spin.  When Paul was done burying the water line, he went straight back to work on the power house (fuel shed).

He left a good eaves overhang because we get a lot of snow in the highlands.

Plywood sheathing goes up next.

Now that's a strong roof!

Plywood is on the walls and roof, with a coat of Thompson's Water Seal to protect against the elements.  We've got tarps on the roof for now because it was calling for heavy rain - and a good job we did that because for the next couple of days it poured!

Now, remember those sono tubes we'd had installed for the cabin back at the beginning of the summer?  Well, they had sat there through rain, shine and high humidity, and were beginning to rot in the ground.  Paul had been called back to work, and it was obvious that the tubes were not going to last until he got back.  The weather forecast said that heavy rain was imminent, and so we had to make a fast decision.  We called Ideal Concrete at 10 o'clock that morning, and they had a cement truck at our place by 12:30 pm the same day!   The guy was very helpful and we were delighted with their prompt and courteous service.

The cement truck arriving.

Using one of the "bigfoot" foundation bases as a funnel, Paul guides the cement into the tube.  The cement then has to be quickly tamped down using a sturdy piece of wood.  There are twelve of these tubes, three feet deep, and each one has a bigfoot base.

Hopefully we'll have enough cement left over to make this pad for our backup propane tanks.

The 12 sono tubes, each one with a bigfoot foundation, all filled with cement, then fitted with a metal plate.  And yes, we had enough left to do the propane tanks pad!

All done, and covered with plastic against the rain.  And just in time, because that afternoon it poured!

Now we can safely leave the cabin site until the spring, when we can start building!

It was an excellent decision to get the tubes poured that day, and now with this done, the power house framed and sheathed, and the water line buried, we finally feel as though we're making progress.

Aha!  You thought that was the end of this blog, didn't you?  Hold your horses because that's not all.  You know the phrase "it never rains but it pours"?  Well ... we noticed the bridge across the small creek that crosses our road was in a pretty bad state.  Most of the timbers were rotten and very soft, making it dangerous for vehicles, especially heavy ones (like, ahem, cement trucks).  And it just so happened that our neighbours (and the people we bought the house from) were having an open house for their woodlot on Friday and Saturday, with gravel trucks and school buses ... you get the picture.  So, we ordered the wood, got it delivered, and around midday Wednesday, Paul took the Suburban with the trailer down the road and started to dismantle the bridge.

Partially dismantled.  The hardest part of the job was pulling up the big spiked nails, as we needed to use them again.

You can see how rotten these 4 x 4s are.

Our lovely new bridge!  Once again, Thompson's Water Seal got slapped on, and a few shovelfuls of earth and gravel to protect the ends of the top planks.  And there's my husband, making some kind of triumphant gesture or is he giving me the finger I'm not quite sure.

First vehicle across the brand new bridge!

On he goes ... hold your breath ...


This bridge should last now for a number of years.  It was something that was on our radar, but we really didn't plan on having to get it replaced this quickly.  Nonetheless, it's a good job done and one less thing on our "to do" list.

Having been called back to work, and leaving on Friday, Paul took Thursday off, after announcing "I'm going back to work for a rest."

I'll update soon, with a crop report, and a visit from sixty school kids!