Sunday, April 29, 2007

Garden Journal: April 29, 2007

It was another wet day today so we spent the early part of the day inside. Around 3:00pm the sun came out as the rain clouds began to break up. By 3:30pm it was so clear and warm outside that you would never believe that it was raining and cool only an hour earlier. We finished what we had started indoors and headed outdoors to get some of the garden chores done.

First thing on my list was to break up the 12 x 4 raised bed. We planned on putting a greenhouse up over that bed to create a nursery greenhouse for the tomato and squash plants. The soil turned out to be very rich and dark from the compost we added last year, but the soil was well below the level of the side boards. So the plan was to add a few bags of soil to increase the planting depth for plants that need deeper soil.

As luck would have it, the raspberries we planted in that bed last year decided they liked it there and had sent runners all over the bed. I turned the soil as best I could without destroying all the new plants. A few I broke from the parent root and planted elsewhere in the bed. We'll be placing a divider in the bed sometime soon to give the raspberries a 4 x 4 area to grow in while keeping at least part of the bed ready for vegetables.

Rather than putting another greenhouse up, PeterC suggested we move the greenhouse from the pea and spinach bed over to the larger bed. We set the greenhouse up over the larger bed and used a couple of boards to make sure the greenhouse was sitting on top of the bed rather than around it, as it had been with the first raised bed.

Quite a few maple seeds had sprouted in the first bed so we removed them and found that the peas and spinach were finally starting to come up. Little tiny green shoots all growing in a row. Anything outside the rows were weeded out. In a few more days we should begin to see proper pea and spinach plants rather than unidentifiable green shoots. We'll have to watch the weather closely for the next few weeks as we can still get an overnight frost which will kill off the new seedlings.

We brought all but three pots of tomatoes outside to be placed into the nursery greenhouse. The three we left inside were still quite small, only a couple inches high, where as the other were 6-8 inches high. We also placed the squash under the greenhouse. They weren't faring very well inside and we hope the natural sunlight will jump start their growth.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Adventures in Home Repair - Siding

It was another cloudy, dreary, drizzly day today. I didn't feel like doing anything but as always things came up. Earlier in the week we noticed that the lowest siding boards had buckled and was allowing water to get underneath. After checking the home repair guides and asking a few pointed questions about repairing sections of siding we thought we were prepared to tackle the job.

We pulled the offending siding off only to find out the interior cladding was warped, buckled, and rotten in places. Using the trusty Saws-All we trimmed out the worst of the cladding and that is when everything got interesting. The siding was 1 inch thick cedar that had been painted white over the years and repainted by us last year. The cladding was, well in truth we don't know what it is made from. It's at least an inch thick, but it isn't plywood. We had to cut a piece out that was 10 inches tall by 6 feet long and it was solid wood.

The house is a Century Home, which means it is somewhere between 90 and 120 years old. There are a lot of features that lead us to believe that it is at least 100 years old, but has been subject to numerous renovations. The root cause of the problem was work done sometime in the last 30 years or so.

Like most old homes in this area, the house has a stone foundation. Sometime in the last 30 years, thought we suspect more recent than that, the stones needed to be remortored and re pointed. Rather than doing that, the owners decided to parge the foundation using concrete. The parging butts up against and in most case sticks out past the lower siding boards. Well,as it turned out, the parging also overlaps the interior cladding and ocasionally the siding itself. Unfortunately, this allows water to run down the siding and into the house by wicking up the interior cladding.

So, we pulled the piece of cladding away from the house removing the rotted pieces right down to where the parging overlapped the bottom of the cladding. Behind the cladding we found that there was only a small amount of the cellulose insulation visible along with peach pits. I don't know if the peach pits were purposely put in the wall or if we found an old mouse nest.

Once the loose insulation was removed we could see the original 8 x 8" sill plate with axe marks visible. The studs are 6 x 6" on 48" centres. The original 1 x4" tongue and groove floor boards came out to the edge of the sill plate and the interior walls were build directly on top of floor. There was quite a bit of rotten wood around the base of the studs and a few of the visible floor boards so we scraped as much of that away as we could.

Next we took a trip into town and bought the thickest plywood we could find as well as some cedar fencing boards to cut into strips so we would have something to screw the plywood and eventually the siding too. Home Depot only sold siding in 100' amounts and it would take a week to arrive. Instead we purchased some 5/6" x 6" x 12' cedar decking planks which we plan to shape as best we can to match the existing siding. We also bought some insulation batting, to stuff up into the wall, a piece of aluminum flashing, a roll of fibre paper and a roll of tar paper, and some deck screws for attaching everything.

When we got home PeterC began stuffing the insulation into the wall while I cut the cedar fencing into the right size pieces to level off the sill plate and studs so that the boards would be even. We cut a piece of aluminum flashing to the width of the entire section and screwed it into place. We hope this will let any water that does get under the jury rigged siding planks, and new plywood cladding, to simply drip out harmlessly to the ground.

Next we cut the plywood to size and screwed it into place. On one end it is fairly even with the old cladding. On the other there is about a 1/4" difference but we can live with that. We used some silicon caulking to fill the gaps between the old cladding and the new, squeezing a little extra caulk into areas were water might continue leaking down into the parging. We left the lowest edge of the plywood open so the water could get out along the aluminum. And finally, we put a layer of the fibre paper over, stapling it into place as close to the old siding as possible along the top and side edges, the repaired area. By this time it was getting dark and the caulking needs 24 hours to cure completely.

Tomorrow we will take a piece of the removed siding and attempt to shave our cedar boards down to have the same profile. I hope we can use the skill saw, but if we have to we can use a plane. We'll install the new siding and caulk all the edges where it butts up against the old. Once the weather become a little warmer and dryer we will seal the wood and paint it white to match the rest of the house. We plan for this to be a temporary repair job until we can reside the entire house, but until then we want our repairs to be done well and last as long as needed.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Garden Journal: April 24-27, 2007

April 24, 2007 - We stopped at TSC on the way home and bought a 100 ft roll of 1 inch chicken mesh. It was just as well too. When we got home I found the squirrels had cheerfully dug up my beets again along with the Anemones I planted on Sunday. We replanted everything and spent an hour weeding both the planted garden bed as well as the flower beds. We set up a temporary fence until we can get home tomorrow to set up the mesh covers. That should annoy the squirrels terribly.

April 25, 2007 - Found out on the weekend that the red beetles we have been fighting for two years is the Scarlet Lily Beetle. Researched them on Sunday and found several references to Neem Oil. Stopped by the Orchard and Nursery shop and found a big spray bottle of the stuff. It was expensive but I was willing to pay it if it will get those beetles to stop eating my lilies.

Got home from and had to replant the the beets again. Got out that nice roll of fencing and put the fence around the garden. The fencing is actual taller than the posts which makes the top quite floppy. I'm hoping when a squirrel lands on it and starts swinging about, he'll change his mind and go elsewhere to dig.

Checked on the tomatoes we have hidden in the closet. They are getting quite tall. I think we are going to have to set up the second greenhouse and put them outside this weekend. They are a little spindly but maybe if we snip the tops off before we put them outside they will bush out and grow stronger for awhile.

April 26, 2007 - It was a tad cool today and overcast. We got home a little early tonight so we filled all the bird feeders and I checked the lilies. I haven't seen another beetle since Sunday. I'm wondering if they are hiding because of the cooler temperatures or if the four or five I squished Sunday were all the adults we had this year.

April 27, 2007 - It is cool and raining today. It makes it hard to get out and do anything especially when you put in a full day at your paying job. We have a few more weeds to pull out of the planted vegetable bed. They look like Maple seed sprouts so they will be easy to pull.

We have something coming up in the currant bed where, last year, I planted tarragon. I pinched the leaf and smelled it but didn't smell anything in particular. I think it would be awesome if the tarragon turned out to be a perennial in this part of the country and came back every year. I didn't do well with any of the herbs last year so this would make all the work I did with them last year be worth it after all.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Garden Journal: April 23, 2007

We got home late today due to working later than normal and having a doctor's appointment. I spent a few minutes checking the beds and repairing the squirrel damage. They love to dig in loose soil which means both the garden and the flower beds make perfect targets. I had to replant the beets and half a row of peas. We also did a little clean up on the yard.

The tomato plants inside are doing great. Most are over 3 inches tall now with at least three sets of leaves. I watered them well and rearranged them under the grow lights. Hopefully, the new arrangement will be more effective in providing the lighting they need. We're discussing setting up the second greenhouse and moving the trays of tomatoes outside. They'll be plenty warm enough under the greenhouse and they will be getting natural sunlight.

I read a book, I picked up Sunday, on growing vegetables. It discussed snipping the tops off tomatoes when they get tall enough. I think maybe ours are just about ready. It also gave me some ideas for keeping the squirrels and birds out of the garden. They use chicken fencing to create a row cover for each row of plants. I think we can modify this idea and create a row over the whole bed. Then, if we do get another frost or snow forcast we can just cover the wire mesh with plastic.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Garden Journal: April 22, 2007

Today, we cleaned out the four flower beds at the front of the yard. Many of the bulbs are coming up nicely, but winter took her toll. There are many bare spots in amongst the plants. We bought some bulbs at Canadian Tire and planted them in such a way as to fill in the empty places. A couple of the empty places weren't empty at all, instead the plants were just sending up shoots which hadn't broken the surface yet

While I was planting bulbs, PeterC hammered the edging back into place where frost heave had pushed it up. He also repaired the BBQ grill and set up our rain barrels under the downspouts. This summer the water from those barrels will be used to keep the garden and flower beds watered. Just one more way we can try to extend our resources as much as possible.

Earth Day

Earth Day, the day set aside to remind everyone about our responsibilities as caretakers of the Earth and all her creatures. According to, Earth Day is celebrated in 150 countries around the world on April 22 each year. Most cities have some form of celebration, put on by their local conservation group or possibly even a college campus. Some groups sell plants, others arrange for tree plantings, while others still offer speakers on conservation and the environment.

Here at Sparrow Haven, we try to make every day Earth Day. We think about, discuss, and try to do as much as we can to be responsible caretakers. Whether it is using fluorescent bulbs instead of incandescent, or making sure we provide an environment that caters to the needs of our furred and feathered friends who call Sparrow Haven home; we try to be thoughtful tenants of Mother Earth.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Garden Journal: April 15-21, 2007

It was a beautiful day today. It was 22ÂșC outside with a nice breeze. We opened all the windows in the house to let in some fresh air and spent a few hours outside working in the garden.

We cleaned up the second vegetable bed and all the flower boxes from last year. That large compost bin is working out great and is now 1/6 of the way full of old potting soil, twigs and branches, and the dried husks of last year's garden.

We have some form of moss growing in the garden bed we cleaned out today. Perhaps it can be transplanted to another part of the yard to surround paving stones. The soil is very heavy, sticky, and hard to break up. Before we plant anything in this bed we're going to add some sand, to help loosen the soil, along with the bags of compost we add every year.

The first bed couldn't be any different. The soil is dark and rich, and is loose and crumbly. Just the way garden soil should look. And, the soil was warm enough that I could dig my hands into it without getting cold. The section of bed under the greenhouse was only a little warmer than the rest of the bed.

With the weather looking good for the next couple of weeks and the fact we have the greenhouse to protect the plants, we decided it was time to plant our spring crops. In the section of the garden not covered by the greenhouse we planted four 4ft rows of Lincoln Homesteader variety of sweet peas, on either side of two rows of vine support netting, and a 4ft row of beets between the two support nets.
Under the greenhouse we planted a 5ft row of Green Arrow bush peas down the centre of the bed. On the south side of that we planted two 5ft rows of spinach. On the north side we planted a 5 ft row of lettuce and another row of spinach. After we were done we put the greenhouse back in place.

In truth this is still part of the experiment. If the uncovered vegetables have to be replanted but the covered ones do well, then we will look into putting a hoop greenhouse over all the raised beds next year or the year after. Most people around here wait until the long weekend in May or even June before they plant their gardens. Since the first frost can hit as early as mid-August, we have a very short growing season. If the greenhouse idea works, we hope to be able to extend our growing season by at least a month if not more.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Busy Hands - Evenings and Rainy Days

I like to keep busy, especially when I am sitting in front of the television at night. I've never been much for just sitting and "vegging". I've tried various crafts but this winter I took up carving and have completed two decorative projects that I feel are worth sharing.

These are photos of both sides of two different window braces we use around the house. They are functional items but I found the plain yellow pine needed something decorative. I chose to do some outline and chip carving to spruce them up a bit.

Bedroom Window Brace

Livingroom Window Brace

I find the oak leaves to be much more dramatic and very lovely when the sun is shining in the window, but there is something peaceful and graceful about the horses on the bedroom brace.

As my skill in chip carving increases I plan to try some of the more difficult patterns, repetitive geometric shapes and rosettes. I'll show them off if they turn out nice enough to share.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Gardening Journal: April 9-14, 2007

On Wednesday this week it was bright sun and warmish winds. I vowed I would plant spinach this weekend. Today the wind is bitter and it is rain enough to be annoying, so I have postponed my early planting until next week. Rain or shine I will plant spinach and a row of bush peas next weekend. That will be a full month earlier then any previous year and nearly two months earlier than suggested for this area. If the experiment fails I'll till it under and try again.

Since I couldn't play in the dirt outside, I played in the dirt inside. My tomato seedlings were doing so well with all their new leaves that I decided it was time to transplant them into bigger pots, thinning them out while I was at it. I could only find six of the 3" transplant pots at Canadian Tire this morning so I also bought a bunch of the 3" round plastic pots. I also bought some 6" plastic pots to transplant my butternut squash into.

Several people on the Homesteading Today Gardening forum said to bury the tomato right up to its first set of leaves. Apparently, tomatoes will send out little rootlets from its stem if it is covered in dirt. The extra rootlets will absorb more nutrients making the plant extra strong. It also reverses the leggy seedling issue we were experiencing.

I used the 3" round pots for the smaller seedlings, putting two in each pot. Each peat pot had sprouted at least two plants and with few exceptions they were all very healthy. I hated to throw away a perfectly good seedling, especially when we are likely to lose one or two to pest and weather once they get transplanted outside. If all goes well, in 2 or 3 weeks, I'll be transplanting all my tomatoes into larger pots and begin hardening them off in preparation for moving outside.

The 3" square pots I used for the tallest of the seedlings. They are the ones in the most danger of being bent and broken when we have to move them later. They were the first seeds to sprout and so grew stringy trying to reach the meagre sunlight from the windows. Now though, they have three or four inches of stem under good soil and we have them under grow lamps in our upstairs sitting room.

The squash was put into the larger pots, also burying their stems a few inches below ground. I'm hoping that they will do the same as the tomatoes and create a strong root system by sending rootlets from the buried stems. I've never tried this before so it is another great experiment.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Garden Journal: April 01-08, 2007

Last weekend we planted a tray of tomato seeds minus 5 pots, which we planted with winter squash. Today I noticed that we have 1/4 inch sprouts coming up in a couple of the pots. So, the seeds were viable despite being over a year old. I'm looking forward to fresh tomatoes and I am really praying that my little sprouts do better than previous years.

We've been using two black plastic compost bins to break down all our kitchen waste. Last fall the bins were almost full from yard waste as well so over the winter, when compost slows down to a crawl, the bins filled up completely. To alleviate that problem this year we built a large 3 x 3 bin this weekend.

We purchased the compost brackets from Lee Valley and used cedar fence planks for the sides. We've placed it near the garden so it gets lots of sunlight and close enough to let us easily remove finished compost into the garden. We plan to use this bin for the grass clippings, raked up leaves and branches, and as an overflow bin for the kitchen waste. Hopefully, we won't need to use it for that since our covered bins will not be filled with masses of grass and leaves.

The experiment with the small greenhouse as a cold frame seems to be working. What little sun we have gotten since we put it over the back half of the raised bed has warmed up the interior by quite a bit. Friday, while it was snowing out, PeterC stuck his hand inside the greenhouse to check things out. The temperature inside the frame was at least 5 degrees warmer than the temperature outside the frame. I suspect that if we could get a full day of sun, the soil inside the frame would warm up much faster than the uncovered soil.

If things progress and I decide this experiment is a success, we will be purchasing at least two more of these little greenhouses when the garden centres open. I can cover one section of each bed and I'll be able to use them not only for planting early but also as a place to put young seedlings until all danger of freeze and frost are over. I also hope to use them to extend my crops into November, especially the lower growing crops like spinach and maybe even lettuce.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Studio Renovations: Phase 3

PeterC and I are both sore and very tired today but phase three on the studio is now complete. Back in January we had decided we were going to renovate the spare bedroom, which I use as a studio, in several phases. We even decided on and purchased the wood look vinyl flooring in hopes of getting it installed at the next available long weekend.

That turned out to be this weekend. We took two days of annual vacation off this week in the hopes of getting into the garden. Since the flooring was waiting and Mother Nature was not co-operating for gardening, we figured now as as good a time as any. We planned to take it slow and easy, getting things done well if not fast. As usual plans were changed due to reality.

We woke early yesterday and while PeterC was taking the dogs for their morning walk, I began removing furniture from the room. When PeterC returned from his walk, he helped me move the larger items out.

We planned to remove the industrial vinyl tiles the previous owners had installed, but found that it was nearly impossible. They must have used a huge amount of glue as a good potion of it was still wet under the tiles we did manage to remove. We even attempted to pull up the plywood that the tiles were glued to but that also proved to be beyond our ability. In the end we decided to leave the tiles and plywood alone and lay our floor on top.

We pulled up all the old quarter round that was used as a baseboard and lay down a thin foam underlay to provide cushion for the new floor and to hopefully hide some of the unevenness of the underlying flooring. Once the foam was in place we began laying the flooring itself. PeterC was in charge of placement while I cut the vinyl strips to length, and notched as required to get around door frames and other protrusions.

We finished laying the floor at 4pm and decided to take a meal break. We also decided that, since this portion of the job had taken far less time than we originally had planned for, we had plenty of time to lay quarter round and a threshold, neither of which we had purchased yet. So in to town we went, blissfully unaware of the hours of frustration that lay ahead of us.

We arrived at Home Depot at 5:05pm and headed to the flooring department. There we were presented with several options of thresholds and quarter round colours. Unfortunately, not a single one of them matched the hickory colour of the floor. We compared and debated until we finally decided on Brazilian Oak, which was dark brown but more grey than red. Luckily they carried the same colour in quarter round. We purchased the needed implements of torture - nails, nail set, and screws for the threshold - and headed home. We walked in the front door at 6:45pm.

Four hours later, and at least three rebellions of brains and materials, we were finally putting the last piece of quarter round down. We had suffered from chips, breaks, nails that didn't find purchase, and after so many hours the inability of PeterC or I either one to figure out which direction we had to cut to mate our corners correctly. Thankfully, we did purchase extra of everything.

But it was finally over and we were very happy with the results. The floor looks great and is quite comfortable to walk on. Everything was moved back into the room last night and we officially called the project done at 11:00pm.