St. Bernard, Nova Scotia
Spring is well under way now. The daffodils are just about gone, but there are more flowers blooming every day.
In the garden, three of our four types of lettuce are up. Our new strawberries have already started flowering, and the old ones are looking very healthy. Similarly, the rhubarb that we transplanted from an unacceptable shady spot to a sunnier, larger bed looks like it might survive the transplantation, and our store-bought rhubarb is also looking healthy.
We have discovered that tree that we have labelled a "mystery tree" last year is another pear tree. Both pear trees have lots of flower buds. With luck, perhaps this year we can have more than the one pear we shared last year. It will help, of course, if the deer don't get them.
As you can see from the background of the second photo, there is still snow on the Beaufort Range across Baynes Sound on Vancouver Island, but it is receding fast. For all that we curse BC Ferries for their never-ending fare increases and fuel surcharges, they do provide nice flower displays at our ferry docks.
With several consecutive days of good weather this week, I have been working on enclosing the old kitchen door. Ever since last summer, we have practised not using it just to see if we'd miss it. Having achieved 100% compliance, we knew that we could safely board it up and not miss it.
This project is nearing completion. As of yesterday, the exterior is complete. There is rain in the forecast for the weekend, so that was a priority. On the inside, I have done the insulation and hung the drywall. Over the weekend, I will finish trimming the drywall and start on the slow process of plastering the joints. Even for such a small area as this, the process takes three days, since you have to let each coat of plaster dry before sanding it and applying the next.
As you can see from the photo, there is a cat door under the window. I will eventually make a winter weather door for it that will seal it against cold and drafts during bad weather. (The cats won't be able to use the door when it is sealed for the winter.) However, even in its present form, it will be pretty weather resistant. The actual door part is a plastic store-bought contraption that has an ingenious lock that can be set to allow the cats in-only, out-only, in-and-out or locked.
The next project, required before we can allow the cats to use the door, is to construct an outdoor pen for them on the deck. That is next week's work.
The window/cat door/cat pen project is complete. The play pen is quite roomy, giving the kitties room to run around, chase bugs, watch hummingbirds, sunbathe, and generally enjoy the outdoor life.
Owen in particular really likes it, and spends as much time as possible outdoors. He hasn't quite figured out the best way to operate the door: he tries to paw it first before pushing through. Liesl enjoys being outdoors too, but she is much more of a scaredy-cat and doesn't like the door. She will go through it, but only reluctantly. She doesn't understand the concept of pushing: she tries to claw the door towards her to open it instead of bunting it with her head. Still, she wants to go outside, so she will figure it out in time.
While Owen is more comfortable going in and out, he is still nervous about things beyond the safety of the wire. I went outside to take the third of today's photos, and, though I approached the pen slowly, talking to him, he hissed at me! Obviously, he didn't understand that I am the same Dad indoors and out.
The indoor photo shows the inside of the renovated area. This used to be the main door of the house, opening directly into the kitchen. The window, cat door, electrical outlet and baseboard heater are all new. The kitchen should be a lot more comfortable with the addition of a heater and without the drafty old door. The door itself was fine, but the installation was not exactly precision joinery, if you know what I mean, so a tightly-sealing window will be a big improvement, even with cats running in and out!
Other than renovations, my big excitement this past week was my first brush fire with the fire department. Someone had been doing a "controlled" burn in their back yard and it got away from them. By the time we arrived on the scene, the fire was climbing the hill into heavy forest with a following wind. Another five minutes and we'd have lost it! The incident commander actually called for helicopter support, though we got it under control before the chopper arrived.
The key to the effort was getting the hose up the hill ahead of the fire to slow its advance. You wouldn't believe how heavy an inch-and-a-half fire hose full of water is when you are hauling 150 feet of it up a steep hill! Luckily, we had a good turnout, so there were plenty of people to help.
Once we stopped the advance of the flames, we had to put out all hot spots. Because brush fires are notorious for rekindling, the technique is: if it's standing still, turn it over; if it's white (ash) soak it until it's muddy; if it's smoking or steaming, soak it; if it's dry, soak it. The entire area had to be saturated to a depth of six inches.
Obviously that takes a lot of water, and a key element in the department's operation is the use of tanker trucks. We have two tankers, and between them, they must have made a dozen runs to a pond, fetching a thousand gallons at a time.
When we finished, there were rivulets of mud flowing down the hill, and a sizeable area was blackened, including 10 or 12 feet up the trunks of trees. But we saved the forest. Had it gone up, several homes at the top of the hill would likely have been lost, so it was a very good save!
The garden is starting to look really good. Although we can't take any credit for it, it is a well-planned garden, with flowers of all shapes and colours blooming in succession throughout the spring and summer months. Right now, it is in full late-spring mode. The photo is a collage of what is in bloom today. Going clockwise from top-left, there are: lupins, daisies of some sort, clematis, columbine, some exotic-looking purple flower that we have not yet identified, lily, alium, more columbine, and bleeding hearts.
We really have no intention of doing a lot of work on the flowers. Our focus, once we have the time for it, will be on growing fruits and vegetables. If the flowers can thrive on neglect, they are welcome to do so, and we will enjoy them.
We have a couple of plantings of lettuce growing, and we plan to keep planting every couple of weeks so that we have a constant supply through the summer. The apples, plums and pears are looking healthy, as they should after having been pruned earlier this year. They all flowered well, and we are hoping for a good crop later in the year.
We are especially pleased with the strawberries. We had a good crop last year, and we are looking forward to more of the same this year. The photo shows the main strawberry bed, the plants that overwintered from last year. As you can see, they are loaded with blossoms. We have also planted two new beds with some everbearing strawberries, to extend the harvest throughout the summer. They will be light producers this year, but we expect them to fill in their beds and produce more next year.
Last year, we harvested our first berries on June 10th.
Of course, all that gardening requires water. The dry season started about three weeks ago, so we are starting to think about conserving our well water for the summer. Last year, we ran the well dry once; we are hoping to avoid a repeat. So, improving our rainwater irrigation system is quite important. It will be interesting to see how long our 1000 gallons will last, and how well it can be replenished by summer showers.
In order to better manage the rainwater system, I have just installed this Rube Goldberg contraption. It is a water distribution manifold. Water comes in from the cistern (top valve), and can be sent to the garden (bottom left valve), a 25 gallon barrel (bottom middle) or a hosepipe (bottom right). The barrel allows me to ration water. I can fill it from the cistern, then shut off the cistern valve and direct the water in the barrel to the garden. That way, I do not have to worry about leaving a sprinkler on and accidentally running the cistern dry.
The design of the manifold allows me to make additions easily, for example when we add a second cistern in a year or two.
The Victoria Day weekend marks the official beginning of summer, at least from a horticultural and tourism point of view. From now on, we will have to be more careful about being early for the ferry, since often during the summer it is full, and latecomers have to wait for the next sailing.
There are lots of activities happening this weekend. We are planning to attend the annual pottery tour and a celtic concert that is a benefit to fund the restoration of Denman's Anglican church. The new Denman Arts Centre is opening this weekend as well. Over the winter, volunteers have been hard at work restoring the historic house to turn it into studio and exhibit space for local artists. They have done a fine job on the exterior, and we are looking forward to seeing the interior. Photos next week.
With the long weekend and the beginning of summer, this has been an interesting week: lots happening on Denman Island.
The Victoria Day weekend started with the grand opening of the Denman Island Arts Centre. A group of local people purchased the historic building, which was in rather run-down condition, and over the winter restored it. It is now the home of Arts Denman, and includes exhibition space as well as studios for local artists. The grand opening was THE place to be on Friday evening. With all the visible progress on the exterior, everyone was curious to see what the interior looked like, so there was a big turnout.
Shortly after the Arts Centre opening, the crowd moseyed over to the Community Hall for a concert by a Celtic ensemble called, reasonably enough, The Celtic Ensemble. The group consisted of 18 musicians, mostly teenagers, including 11 fiddle players, some whistle and flute players, percussion and piano. It was a good concert, with lots of toe-tapping fiddle tunes and some nice solos.
Fortunately, there was a good turnout, because the concert was put on as a benefit for the restoration of the Anglican church (photo). It was built in 1917 and is in need of a new foundation and other work.
The other church on the Island is the United church, which is considerably older. It was built in 1889. Apparently it must have been restored relatively recently, because it appears to be in fine shape.
Also on the long weekend was the annual pottery tour. Several potters on the island open their studios to the public, and you can spend the day cruising from one to another. There are some really talented artisans here, and some of the work would have to be classed as fine art. Naturally, we would like to take home one of everything, but we exercised admirable self-control and limited ourselves to this sculpted raven, who now guards our front entrance.
It has been so warm and dry the past few weeks that I was afraid that the dry season had already started. No fear: on Monday, we had some major rainfall, filling up the rainwater cistern to the brim, and reducing the fire hazard back to low. The garden now needs some serious weeding!
The big excitement here this week occurred today when we got our new concrete garage floor poured. I spent the week getting the garage prepared: moving stuff out (and covering it with a tarp just in time before the rain started, fortunately), levelling the gravel floor, and laying vapour barrier plastic and rebar mesh.
This morning the concrete truck arrived and in a couple of hours, between Kenny, the concrete guy, Peter, our building contractor from last year, and me, we managed to get a nice smooth floor poured. I had some anxious moments as we neared the end of the pour, wondering if I had calculated the quantity correctly. It would have been terrible to run out two feet from the door. Luckily, I had calculated correctly, and we had enough left over for a small apron in front of the door.
It is still setting up as I write this, but by tomorrow, I will be able to start moving stuff back in. We have already carved our initials in the concrete.
The garage will become my workshop, where I can work on the various projects that need doing on any property. We have some furniture that will need refinishing, and when we fix up the cottage, it will need new cabinets, so now I will have a place to work on them.
Once the concrete pour was done, rather than sitting and watching it dry (tempting though it was), we headed out to the beach to participate in the second annual beach cleanup. Last year's cleanup was a big success, removing several tons of refuse from the various beaches around the island. Most of the garbage last year was washed up from the oyster farming operations in Baynes Sound. This year, apparently, in a public relations effort, the oyster growers' association tried to get their members to do their own cleanup before the public cleanup. It remains to be seen how successful they were. We had no trouble filling a couple of garbage bags with trash.
We had a nice day for it, too. Although there were showers in the forecast, they stayed over Vancouver Island. We sat on driftwood logs and ate our lunch while watching the towering cumulus clouds build up and the showers falling just a couple of kilometres away across the water, all the while enjoying sunny skies where we were.
Wendy has just put the first rhubarb pie of the season in the oven. Yum-yum!!
Copyright © 2013 Keith Walker
Last modified: 20-May-2013