St. Bernard, Nova Scotia
The weather has turned summery this week, with temperatures peaking in the high 20s. Combine that with the last rainfall being over two weeks ago, and the forest fire hazard is already rising. Already, it is up to "moderate", and could easily reach "high" this week if we do not get some rain. There are showers and cooler weather in the forecast. We'll see if they materialize.
We have started watering the garden using our stored rainwater. Although we were not able to fill our new cistern before the rains ended, we do have 60% more water on hand than we started with last year, so our strawberries and raspberries should be okay. It would have been nice to have the whole 2500 gallons available, though!
Although the water is piped to the garden by gravity, the pressure is too low to do much more than fill buckets and watering cans. In order to use sprinklers or soaker hoses, it needs higher pressure, so I am planning to install a solar-powered pump. It is a good fit for an off-grid application, since you need the water most on bright, sunny days.
In the gardem, the weeds, of course, are growing like weeds! If I leave mowing the grass a day or two too long, it grows so long that the lawn mower, a motorless push-type mower, just pushes it over instead of cutting it. For such work, I have a scythe, which works very well on tall stuff.
Our strawberries are doing well, with lots of berries on the way. None have turned red yet, but we are keeping an eye on them. At the first sign of colour, we will cover them with white synthetic fabric, to keep the birds off them.
Our fig trees have leafed out very well. Although they are only one foot tall at the moment, they look healthy and vigourous. We have heard of people getting fruit from their fig trees in the first year, but we are not holding our breaths for that.
The wild roses are in bloom now, clashing with the scotch broom along the roadsides.
With the warm weather, we have been eating our meals out on the deck. It is a real treat to eat supper listening to bird songs. The main bird song around our place right now is that of the Swainson's thrush, a "tweedly-tweedly-tweet-tweet" that spirals upwards. The birds have been around for a while, but apparently they don't start singing this distinctive song until late May or June. It is particularly noticeable at dusk.
This week, there was a new exhibit at the art gallery. The artists were children from the Denman Island Elementary School. The paintings and culptures were a cut above the standard elementary school fare. In a community rich with artists of all types, in which many of the children themselves carry artistic genes, it makes sense that the school kids would produce top-quality work. The school brings in artists from the community to teach and inspire the kids. The results were definitely a cut above the kind of painting I remember doing in elementary school. I was particularly impressed by the watercolours, some of which were - well - artistic.
What a difference a week makes! Last week, we had started dipping into our rainwater reserves to water the garden. This week, not only do we not have to water, but both our cisterns are full to overflowing. Already this month, we have surpassed the total rainfall for the whole of last month.
Yesterday, with the tanks full and more rain in the forecast for today, I even filled a couple of rain barrels in the garden from the cistern, knowing that the water I used would be replaced within a few hours.
Since I had been keeping track of the water levels, I now know that each millimetre of rain gives us 25 gallons of water. Wednesday's rain amounted to almost 600 gallons! Our measly 24 millimetres of precipitation won't impress Albertans who got three times that in one thunderstorm last week, but it was pretty good for late spring here.
I have started collecting the components for another important part of the irrigation system: the solar-powered pump system. I have ordered the pump itself, and picked up the solar panel and marine battery this week. When completed, the system will provide enough pressure to operate several soaker hoses, without using any fuel or grid-based power.
Continuing the gardening theme, last night we attended a talk and slide show about pesticide-free gardening, by an entomologist from Saltspring Island. There is a movement on Denman Island (with its own committee of the Residents' Association) to try to make the island a pesticide-free zone, and this event was part of that program. Several island residents have severe chemical sensitivities, and moved here specifically to avoid environmental toxins. The move to avoid pesticides is in support of them, as well as to clean up the environment in general.
At the talk, we learned that the best way to control insect pests is to support a balanced ecosystem, in which the natural local predators can keep the pests under control. For instance, we learned that roses can be kept nearly pest-free by planing allysum (not garlic!) under them. The predators that would normally control rose-loving pests are attracted by pollen. Since roses are low in pollen, planting a species like allysum that has lots of pollen restores the balance.
Identification is a key to controlling insect pests, so we were encouraged to learn all about bugs.
Although lawns are not common here, quite a few island residents have what the speaker referred to as "LLOs": lawn-like objects. A wild meadow of natural weeds can be turned into a beautiful lawn (or LLO) simply by cutting it regularly at a height of two and a half to three inches (considerably higher than a suburban lawn), an ideal height at which grasses can dominate other plants without the need for weed-killers.
With nothing else picturesque happening this week, we can always count on the cats to be photogenic. Owen is particularly fond of lettuce. He doesn't eat it, though he sometimes has a taste, but he loves the smell of it.
This week's big event on Denman Island was the annual Home and Garden tour. It is the biggest event on the island all year, attracting visitors from all over Vancouver Island and even from the lower mainland, as well as many local residents. The tour is a fund-raiser for the Denman Conservancy Association, who are working hard to preserve as much of the island's ecosystem as possible. Each year, ten families open their homes, gardens or both to visitors.
The perennial favourite is the garden of our neighbour, Des Kennedy, famed author and gardener, whose garden (first picture) is the stuff of legends. The Kennedys' house looks like something from a fairy tale, and their grounds are a profusion of flowers of every shape, size, colour and fragrance.
After a warm spell in May, the weather for the last couple of weeks has been quite cool. However, the past week was pleasant and mostly sunny, and hopes were high for good weekend weather. The forecast, as late as Friday night called for "cloudy with a 60% chance of showers", not too bad. We were surprised, therefore, when we (and many other Denman residents, it seems) were woken up at 5:00 a.m. on Saturday by heavy, continuous rain. It poured rain all morning, accumulating almost 20 mm. Needless to say, the gardens were somewhat the worse for wear: peonies sagging and rose petals strewn on the ground. Luckily, the rain eventually stopped, and not all the flower petals were beaten off (second photo).
Denmaners are a hardy bunch, though, and the tourists presumably have enough Scottish ancestry in them that they would not skip out on tickets that had been paid for, so attendance on the tour did not seem to have suffered too badly.
The gardens include both vegetable gardens aiming for self-sufficiency and flower gardens filled with heritage roses. There are gardens of mind-boggling scale and small gardens whose soil has been painstakingly built up with straw and compost literally from bare rock. The houses range from historic log cabins to small owner-built cottages to huge ultra-modern houses.
One thing we noticed in the gardens was how late the flowers are this year. In some of the gardens that are on the tour every year, we are used to seeing all the roses in full bloom. This year, although a handfull of roses were out, the majority were no more than buds. This spring has been cooler than normal, and everything is at least a week behind schedule.
One plant that is almost right on schedule is our strawberry crop. We normally pick our first ripe strawberries on June 10th. This year, we picked the first berries on June 13th. Both our June-bearing and our ever-bearing berries came ripe at the same time. The June berries are big, fat, conical berries, like you see in grocery stores, except with twice the flavour. The ever-bearing berries are smaller and rounder, but just as tasty. The big difference is that, whereas the June berries will be finished by the end of the month, the ever-bearing berries will keep producing throughout the summer.
We had fresh strawberry shortcake for supper tonight. Yummmm!
My project this week has been to start assembling our solar-powered irrigation system. I have the mast for the solar panel completed and installed. This coming week, I will assemble the battery, pump and electrical components, and build a weatherproof box to hold them.
Luckily, we don't need the irrigation system yet. The weather has been cool and showery all week. The organic gardeners at the Saturday market are producing magnificent lettuce, but other crops are far behind schedule.
Our hydrangeas by the front entrance have been stalled for weeks with just a couple of blooms open in each cluster. The rest, apparently, are waiting for some warm weather to arrive. So are we.
Not everything is stalled, however. This week has been strawberry week. Every other day, I have been harvesting a couple of big bowls full of plump strawberries. Wendy has made several strawberry shortcakes. She cleverly froze some rhubarb last month in anticipation of this month's strawberry harvest, so we also had a rhubarb-strawberry crumble that was out of this world.
It looks like it will be a good year for other fruit, too. Our Gravenstein apples and plums have good crops developing, and both our pear trees have quite a few fruit as well. Last year, we had no pears at all, and the year before, only the smaller pear tree had fruit: a whole five pears, four of which were stolen by deer after somebody left the gate open. This year promises to be significantly better.
The grapevine is covered with clusters of buds. Last September, I sampled one of the grapes and decided that it was only a few days away from being ripe. The next day, someone (birds, we presume) had eaten every single grape! This year, we have cloth and netting ready to throw over it to keep the birds off when the grapes start getting sweet. The electric fence comes on automatically at night to keep raccoons out.
Over the summer, many of the community organizations shut down. One exception this year is the Islands Trust, one of our two local governments. The Denman Island Official Community Plan is ten years old and is therefore due for a review. During the summer, the Local Trust Committee (the part of the Islands Trust that governs land use on our island) will be holding several meetings to get input from the community about what direction they would like to see it go. I have been asked to facilitate one of those community meetings, an opportunity to apply some of my Conflict Resolution training. It should be interesting!
A couple of times a month, there are movies at the Arts Centre on Sunday nights. The week before last, we went to see Casino Royale, the latest James Bond film. (It is quite a departure from the traditional Bond films, rewinding history to make him once again a rookie spy, and making him generally more of a real character.) The film society has installed a DVD projector and screen permanently in the main room at the cantre. They set up about 20 stacking chairs for the audience, and they have fresh popcorn in the kitchen. Admission is a "suggested donation" of $4. It makes for a fun evening, since we know most of the other audience members. Everyone chats before the film begins, and shares their reviews of it after it ends. In true Denman fashion, we stack the chairs before leaving. We usually walk to the movies. The last couple of times we have been, it was light enough in the evening that we didn't need our flashlights to walk home.
Copyright © 2013 Keith Walker
Last modified: 20-May-2013