The String Experiment
After adding yet another five tomato plants to the greenhouse – we moved them around and reset up the irrigation system to handle the additional plants. The indeterminate tomatoes in large pots were moved to the ground so they have the most space to grow vertically. Vertical is the theme of the greenhouse. After watching a number of YouTube videos of other greenhouse enthusiasts I decided to give the string theory a try. We placed three wires across the greenhouse. Two along the sides and one in the centre. Then for all the plants that need support and will grow up a string (cucumbers, melons, and tomatoes) we attached jute strings that either connect with the wires or wrap directly above on the rafters.
The cucumbers seem quite happy to have the support of the string and the space to stretch out. The melons aren’t all large enough to even reach the string but in time hopefully they too will grasp the jute and head upward.
Happy Yellow Flowers
The tomatoes will apparently need coaxing to use the string. I almost feel like I can watch the tomatoes grow in the greenhouse. They have been very happy with the heat and the drip irrigation system. The top of the soil looks dry but the water has been flowing out the bottom of the pots when watered. The plants all look so healthy and happy so I am presuming that the roots are having to find the water deep in the pots which is making them that much healthier. They seem to all be standing a little bit taller with the string supports.
Happy healthy plants make for a happy healthy gardener. Another little experiment I am trying is to place milk jugs full of water in the greenhouse on the north side. The theory is that they heat up during the day and release that heat at night which will help keep the ambient temperature a bit warmer on our cool Alberta evenings. Though I read that I should paint them black – I went with motivational statements instead which make me happy regardless of whether or not they are doing their job.
Gardening is a series of learning moments. This jute string theory is yet another opportunity for me to grow.
Filed under Cabin, Farm, Garden, Joy
The plants settle in to the Greenhouse
Today was a busy day of planting. We brought up a huge bag of self-serve compost and nine and a half bags of soil as well as some vermiculite to lighten the soil mix. We used it all and still need to fill a few large fabric bags. I also planted some corn, cucumbers, scallopini and tomatoes in the garden today. All the bending, shovelling, reaching, dragging, and walking – was followed with a few advils and some quiet time blogging! I am going to be sore tomorrow! Gardening is lovely but these annual planting days are absolutely exhausting.
The plants which were grown from seeds made the trip up to the cabin Friday night. The car was so full of soil and plants that we had to leave the cat at home this weekend.
The seedlings spent their first night in the greenhouse and then were potted in a variety of pots including fabric, plastic, and fibre. It is a year of experimentation. It will be interesting to see which pots, which tomatoes, which cucumbers, and which peppers we prefer – or at least which ones are successful.
After all the planting was completed the irrigation system was set up. We went for a drip irrigation set up and we are experimenting with two ten minute sessions per day to start. I have read that as the plants increase in size we may have to double that timeline. It can get quite hot in the greenhouse. We have seen the thermostat up to 50c but some days it is more in the 30c range. It is hard to say what the right amount of water will be when we are only here on weekends (and the occasional mid-week visit).
The steady flow of water
The greenhouse experience will be a season of learning. So far we are really excited to see how this experience goes for us. The optimism is palatable.
Filed under Cabin, Garden, Joy
Crab apple blossoms signify that Spring is officially here
Last fall we had a fully built greenhouse delivered to our property but then the snow came and so it sat and patiently waited all winter. Spring is here and we cut out the lawn, and pulled the greenhouse into some trenches that we dug. Now all nestled into its new home we had to install the floor, shelves and next the drip irrigation system.
The floor is dirt covered with garden fabric and then patio stones and pea gravel. It has the quaint country greenhouse feel that I wanted. I feel like I have travelled across the pond to a small town in the United Kingdom when I go into my little greenhouse oasis.
Inside we have installed some initial shelves that still need to be secured in to hold all the weight from the garden pots that will sit upon them. We will also add some lower storage shelves and hooks to provide for winding twine or hanging small pots. There is room for pots to sit on the floor or for us to even add a potting bench at a later date.
We still need to add the drip irrigation system…and of course all the plants! I hope to grow primarily tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and herbs. I will try some eggplants and melons as well. I would love to try a cold box inside the greenhouse in the fall and see if I can grow some winter kale and other greens throughout our freezing cold winter. The possibilities are endless!
The door is open – awaiting the opportunity to host some plants!
As we continue to work away at setting up the greenhouse my seedlings await in small pots by a warm south window in my house – waiting to be transplanted into large growing pots and to make the journey to this warm and welcoming greenhouse. The greenhouse awaits their visit.
Filed under Cabin, Farm, Garden, Joy
Imagine the cow, horse and chickens
On the way home from a difficult trip to visit my 89 year old father in the hospital, my son and I stopped on the side of the highway to appreciate these old buildings. The wind was blowing and my hair swept across my face. I imagined a couple living in this little house with their young children. Mom would have stood where I stood – wind blowing her hair across her face. She would have been out to collect the eggs from the chickens and to the milk the cow. Had a coyote taken another chicken?
She couldn’t look for the chicken right now as the cow needed to be milked. Two times a day she milked the cow. It made it hard for her to ever go into town with her husband. The children weren’t old enough yet.
In the barn she maternally strokes the cow and then sits on her small stool and methodically collects the milk into a metal bucket. Innately she appreciated the gift that the cow provided her and her family, but the drudgery of the milking and the cleaning of the straw was wearing her down.
The house is charming and small. Today it is instagram worthy and quaint but it must have been “home” back in its day. The fire would have warmed the house on those very cold bitter winter nights. Smoke billowing up the small brick chimney. Beds, a table and chairs and shelves covered with jars full of canned preserves to help get the family through the winter would have filled the space.
My son and I shared a few moments enjoying the history of this site. We have driven by so many times but it is a different experience to get up close and personal with it. We quietly took it all in. I cleared the hair from my face and we headed back up to our car. It was nice to travel back in time but I am happy to return home to my present time.
Filed under Cabin, Farm, Joy, Stuff
Winter is like a relative who visits and stays too long. At first there is the excitement of getting reacquainted. All those great memories you shared over the years. Cozy evenings by the fire, building snow forts, walking in the snow on a crisp sunny afternoon, and the glistening frost decorating the trees branches. But winter just stays and stays for months at a time. You wake up in the morning and look outside – and winter is still there.
While spring is arriving south of the border or out on the West Coast, here in Alberta winter keeps hanging around. Day in and day out winter continues to deliver snow covered fields, slippery sidewalks and cold that bites at your flesh when you dare to not cover up completely.
Winter, Winter Go Away – come back another day…
Spring will come, followed by a short but wonderful summer and then a colourful quick fall – and then winter will be back again. There are four seasons and yet winter monopolizes the year by staying for about six months. November, December, January, February, March, April…and even into May. Last year after following the rule of waiting until after the long weekend in May to plant seedlings – winter squashed my dreams of fresh cucumbers by killing my seedlings with frost. Over the winter months the garden is blanketed with snow but surely by May the growing season can begin?
We Canadians love our four seasons, our winter sports, our white Christmases, our fashionable parkas and knitted sweaters – but we also love to complain about how winter overstays its welcome. Winter – take the subtle hint and pack up and leave.
Filed under Cabin, Garden
With another gardening season behind me I began to investigate other options to improve my garden experience. A friend of mine who is a seasoned Alberta gardener purchased a greenhouse. Her greenhouse was an inspiration. The tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers filled the space like a tropical jungle.
Autumn – The Golden Hour
Selecting a greenhouse for our place came with its challenges. The winds can be as strong as 60-70kms an hour here. Any greenhouse we choose has to be able to handle the strong winds and the cold winters.
Winter arrives at the cabin.
We found a greenhouse that was made by a local farmer and delivered intact. It was made to match our cabin and delivered – just as the snow was coming. Around here the snow comes and goes and comes back again many times over our winter season.
Our little greenhouse has been moved into place. We will build some shelves and ready it before the spring. In the meantime I am excited about this new plan. Yet again I am heading into the gardening season with a renewed sense of optimism.
Good Morning Beautiful Little Greenhouse.
And now the planning begins…what will I try to grow in this wonderful little greenhouse?
Filed under Cabin, Farm, Garden
This February in Alberta has been unseasonably warm – relative to some of the very cold Februarys we have experienced in the past. It has been nice to get out and go for walks along the country roads. North of Calgary there is still a blanket of snow that covers the fields. Some days the sky and the ground are both the same hue of greyish white. It can be a little dreary when the sky isn’t blue but there is also a nostalgia in only seeing in black and white. It is like living in a 50s TV show or a film noir.
On this particular day it was just around the freezing level so there was no need for the extensive bundling that usually comes with an Alberta winter. I went out for a walk along the country roads. I could hear the scrunching of snow under foot with each step. The sound of woodpeckers and the occasional magpie could be heard in the woods as I walked past them. I could hear my own breathing increase as I headed up a hill. As I came around a corner and a pleasant decent down from a hill, I met up with the neighbour farm dogs. They were as happy to see me as I was to see them. We walked along the road together for a couple of kilometres. They would dart ahead to take in all the smells that were undetectable to me. Then they would suddenly fall behind me only to catch up by rubbing their warm snouts in my hands as they ran back ahead.
A simple pleasure. Enjoy each day. Enjoy each moment.
This past weekend after a hike down along the creek my friends and family found some interesting animal scats. What could it be? They were small smooth bullet sized pellets. After a few google searches of animal scats the hypothesis was that it was porcupine scat. Hmmmm…. we have not seen a porcupine yet. So back down to the creek they went and this time returned to the cabin with some actual quills that they had found near what used to be a beaver home. The hypothesis seemed to be correct. They set up the camera for the night and lo and behold…the mystery was solved – it is at least one porcupine living by our pond!
It never ceases to amaze me how the land here keeps delivering mysteries to us that result in more appreciation for nature. This past weekend we discovered our porcupine, saw a new bird species that we haven’t seen here before, and had two neighbour horses come running through our field in front of our cabin. Fantastic.
Even when the thermostat reads – 30 celsius the birds continue to amaze me. They look so fragile and vulnerable but they are designed to withstand such a harsh winter. While other birds head south for the winter, these little birds stay and flourish in the northern winter season.
I have noticed that at the bird feeder the rules change when the temperature drops. My suet feeders that usually only have one bird on them at a time suddenly have two or three. Different species of bird who would normally not come to the feeder at the same time now share the feeder dangling in the frosty air. Downy woodpeckers and chickadees, nuthatches and flicker woodpeckers – all doing what they need to do to survive.
As the temperature climbs back up on a Chinook day, the usual rules of engagement return into play. The birds take turns at the feeder and they only eat with their own kind. It is so interesting how in the face of adversity the drive for survival leads to a demonstration of increased communal behaviours.
The first lesson that we had to learn was to NOT put out birdfeeders with bird seed too close to the house. Beyond the mess that the birds made – the problem was actually that we were attracting mice. We would come to the cabin on the weekend to find small piles of birdseed inside. Once even in one of our beds! That was when we switched to suet style feeders which have been a big hit with the birds.
Our suet feeders attract woodpeckers (Downy, Hairy and Flickers), chickadees, nuthatches, magpies and the occasional other species. They provide endless entertainment to us and our cat who watches from the inside of the cabin. We use these feeders all year round.
This week I decided to try making my own suet. I found various recipes online but primarily relied on a no melt recipe. (see: Foods.com which reference Birds and Blooms Extra, contributed by Virginia Barnard).
I made a dozen suet blocks using this recipe:
Lard: 2 blocks (2 lbs or about approximately 900 grams)
Peanut Butter (Crunchy): Most of a 1kg jar
Flour: 2 cups
Oatmeal (one minute): 4 cups
Cornmeal: 4 cups
Sugar: I cup (I note that many folks choose to skip the sugar but I added it to make sure that my first attempt would attract birds!)
Bird Seed: 4 cups
I melted the lard and mixed in the peanut butter until they were liquified. I added the dry ingredients while the mixture was still warm.
I had saved old molds from purchased suet blocks. I took 12 empty molds and lined them each with a piece of plastic wrap.
I filled each mold with the suet mixture (approximately two soup ladles full) and then wrapped the excess plastic wrap around the edges.
I placed them in the freezer placing wax paper between the layers of molds.
Once frozen I removed them and placed them out for the birds. They have been enjoying the fresh suet all day! The plastic wrap that I used was very effective to make them easy to remove from the molds.
Filed under Birds, Recipes