St. Bernard, Nova Scotia
Ah, Labour Day! Summer is over.
Well, technically, we still have a couple of weeks of summer left, but the weather has definitely changed to a more fall-like pattern. The warm, very dry conditions we have experienced for the last three months have given way to a couple of days of cooler, rainy weather. The total quantity of rain wasn't much to write home about (Well, okay, it was enough to write a blog entry about...), about 22 millimetres over the last three days, but we will happily take it.
Our cisterns for watering the garden were down to the bottom of the barrels as of last week, with only a few days' water left. We gladly accept the several hundred gallons of rain water that we collected, which will see us through to the end of the season's gardening.
The only thing is, the weatherman needs to work on his timing. Today was the annual Blackberry Faire, Denman Island's fall fair. It didn't actually rain on the parade, but it rained both before and after. Attendance, understandably, was well down from previous years.
The day starts with an 8.5 kilometre walk/run "around the block". The route starts and ends at the Community Hall, and follows our normal walking route around the square of Denman, Pickles, Lake and Northwest Roads. Because it uses part of Denman Road, the main tourist route to and from Hornby Island, the Fire Department provides traffic control for the first part of the route, and I was on the traffic crew. When I looked out the window before leaving the house, the weather looked not too bad. "I probably won't need rain pants," I thought. By the time I got to the Fire Hall, it was pouring rain.
After directing traffic, and stopping at home to put on dry clothes and pick up my rain pants, I spent most of the rest of the day at the Fire Department's tent at the fair, flipping veggie burgers. Every year, the Fire Department cooks burgers for the fair. That is the source of the smoke in the first picture. As the token vegan on the Department, I am the official veggie burger cook. I wasn't exactly over-worked. Apparently vegetarians are less likely to go out in the rain than meat eaters.
At 11:45 (the odd time chosen to avoid ferry traffic), the official Blackberry Faire parade began. At about 11:55, it ended, after travelling the entire length of both blocks of downtown Denman. Parade entries consisted of horses (the Denman Equestrian Society), floats (the Free Store and the Marine Stewardship Committee), antique cars (a Vancouver Island club that comes over here every year), the ambulance, and two fire trucks.
Meanwhile, Wendy was visiting the various craft booths and exhibits. Inside the Community Hall, they had the various contests for pies, wines, vegetable decorating, knitting, etc. She promised to bring me a piece of blackberry pie, but apparently none of the entries was vegan this year. (It must have been the rain again.)
Earlier in the week, before all the rain, Wendy and I just about finished building our new cat enclosure. The perimeter consists of one wall of the house, and about 120 feet of fencing. We dug a trench around the fence line and buried a few inches of chicken wire. Above that is four feet of steel mesh fencing, supported by metal posts. We will be putting some nylon netting, supported on wooden posts, over top of it to discourage avian predators. Access is via a door, conveniently attached to the pergola on our front entrance walk. We should have it finished tomorrow, and then we can let Owen outside when he starts to nag. An additional benefit of the enclosure is that I was able to remove the deer cage from around two vines and a rose, since they are now within the enclosure, which will make tending the plants considerably easier.
On Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, we had a major rainfall, a total of over 30 mm. Combined with the 20 mm we got on the long weekend, it made a significant contribution to the garden. In terms of our rainwater storage, it amounted to an additional 1500 gallons, enough to see us through the rest of the growing season even if we do not get any more rain.
The grass is noticeably greener this week. The raspberries have put on a ripening spurt, and we are now harvesting them daily. Our grapes are now ripe, and we can snack on them any time we are in the garden. This is the first year that we have been able to enjoy them in any quantity. The electric fence is working better this year, keeping the raccoons from stealing them.
Other harvests this week include plums and apples, both of which are starting to ripen.
The tree frogs seem to appreciate the moisture, too. Any time we were outdoors this week, we could hear them croaking in the forest. They have several different calls. The one we hear most commonly right now is a single croak. Often, this is doubled up into a classic "ribbet" sound. Then, in the spring and early summer, there is their mating chorus, which is familiar to anyone who has ever watched a movie with a night-time scene. The standard Hollywood frog chorus sound track is a recording of our Pacific tree frog.
Today, Wendy and I joined in an all-day seed-saving workshop. Seed-saving is a grassroots movement to re-establish a tradition of saving one's own seeds for gardening. Commercially available seeds are limited in the varieties that are available. Often, the varieties are chosen by the "manufacturer" for specific characteristics that have nothing to do with taste or nutrition. Many traditional crop varieties are in danger of extinction because so few people save their own seeds any more.
There are several advantages to saving one's own seeds. You can do your own selection and specialize in what works for your own area and circumstances. You can choose to breed for diversity. It costs nothing. Many heritage varieties have better taste and nutrient content than commercial seeds. A community of seed-savers preserves genetic diversity that is in danger of being lost.
The workshop was taught by Dan Jason of Salt Spring Seeds, and consisted of a tour of four large Denman vegetable gardens. Dan taught us the principles of collecting and storing seeds, and specific techniques for collecting seeds from different types of vegetables.
He also gave us a demonstration of grain harvesting techniques suitable for the scale of household gardens. Threshing can be done by hand (well, by foot, actually) using nothing more exotic than a specially built wooden box. Cleaning the seeds can be done using screens or sieves, by winnowing, or using compressed air.
There was a great deal of interest in the workshop from people on both Denman and Hornby Islands. More than 40 people from both islands attended. The recent economic downturn and the uncertain future seem to have motivated a lot of people to investigate food self-sufficiency. Here, this is taking the form of a renewed interest in small-scale agriculture. The group that sponsored the seed-saving workshop is planning more events on this theme in the future.
Owen is enjoying his new outdoor playground. He can track down smells and chase critters to his heart's content. He is fascinated by deer, and the deer, in turn are equally fascinated by him. We often see our resident deer standing near his enclosure peering at him as though trying to figure out exactly what he is.
This week started off with a meeting of DIRA, the Denman Island Residents' Association. It was supposed to be the annual budget meeting, where the various tax-funded organizations (such as the Fire Department) present their budgets for the next fiscal year for public comment and approval. However, there is trouble on the executive - two members have resigned over personality conflicts, so there was a need for a by-election to replace them. The meeting got bogged down in procedural wrangling over who was entitled to vote in the elections, and the regular meeting started an hour late. Wendy and I left at 9:30 pm, after only a couple of budget presentations, with the meeting still going fill-tilt. We heard later that they adjourned at 10:00 with most of the agenda unheard. Ah, the joys of small community life!
On a more positive note, there was considerable excitement in the community over the move of the medical clinic building. Though the provincial government pays our doctors' salaries, they do not provide the building from which they work. The clinic was set up a few years ago by the efforts of volunteers, with local fund-raising, and has operated out of that building for a couple of years. Since then, the property has changed hands. The new owner sold the building to the health care society for one dollar on the condition that it be moved elsewhere. A well-located vacant lot was donated. The society has been doing major fundraising for the last year or more, and Wednesday was the date set for the move.
During the preceeding week, volunteer crews had done the preparatory work of dismantling the front deck, shoring up the porch roof and disconnecting the plumbing. On Wednesday, the Nickle Brothers building movers jacked the building up onto big steel beams on wheels. At 8:30 in the evening, a time chosen to avoid conflicts with ferry traffic, they drove the building out of the parking lot, around the corner, through "downtown", to its new location. The Fire Department took care of traffic control, and Telus was on hand to move any low-hanging phone wires.
The clinic now sits up on blocks at its new site. They will have to build a foundation under it, connect the plumbing and electrical services and landscape the lot before it is ready for use again. In the meantime, clinic services are being provided out of a privately-owned building that was the old clinic before the current building was acquired.
The bumper sticker in the photo was seen on a Telus truck that was standing by to assist with the building move. It looked very official - I thought it would say "Frequent Stops" or some such warning. I was surprised when I got close enough to read it!
At home, I have been fine-tuning Owen's new playground. He enjoys being outdoors, and constantly meows to go outside. The first enhancement was a net suspended over the pen to discourage eagles from swooping down. However, most of the changes involved turning it into a maximum security establishment.
We are thinking of renaming Owen "Harry", after Harry Houdini, because it turns out that he is quite an escape artist. The first time he got out, we were eating dinner when he suddenly appeared on the deck outside the dining room window. We aren't sure how he got out that time, but we suspect it was over the fence. He tried digging under the fence, and I was glad I had anticipated the need for chicken wire buried several inches deep. He tried digging under the door, and almost succeeded in making a deep enough hole before we blocked it with a piece of wood. A permanent threshhold is pending. He doesn't like to climb the fence - too shakey - but he finds the door quite climbable. Several of his successful escapes were achieved by climbing the door to fence height and then leaping over the fence. So, I put up netting on either side of the door to prevent that. He then climbed the full seven-foot height of the door and leapt over the top of it. I countered by adding a wooden transom to block the top. The latest addition is a sheet of plastic covering the door to prevent climbing and the netting at the sides to prevent entanglement.
So far, the measures are working. Owen/Harry stayed in his pen today without any successful escapes, nor any attempts that we were aware of. It is a bit disconcerting to be in a battle of wits with a cat and to be unsure of whether or not one is winning!
Our Indian Summer weather has continued this week. It has remained warm and dry, though the temperatures have been dropping to a more fall-like range. Thay are forecasting rain for later this coming week, but we will believe that when we see it. Typically, a long-range forecast of rain gets demoted over several days to "periods of rain", then "60% chance of showers", then "30% chance of showers", then it turns out to be totally dry. Not that we're cynical or anything.
We have been harvesting more apples. The Gravensteins are mostly ripe, and the first Spartans are starting to ripen. In spite of the electric fence, a raccoon has managed to find a way into the garden and has been helping himself to some of the harvest. He cleaned us out of the remaining plums, though we did manage to get more than half the crop harvested before that happened. He also has a taste for Gravensteins. We are still getting a good raspberry crop, and we are harvesting carrots and beets as recipes require them. Our winter greens are coming along nicely.
My main project this week was to take advantage of the remaining dry weather to stain the decks at the front entrance and back door. I have been using a cedar-coloured waterproof stain, and I am quite pleased with the results. We have had to use the patio doors as our main entrance for a few days while the stain dries.
Speaking of decks, our main deck will need to be replaced next year. Actually, it needed to be replaced last year, but it will happen next year. In anticipation of that project, we got a good deal on a couple of truckloads of cedar deck boards. I spent a couple of afternoons this week carefully stacking them and covering them with tarps to store them until next year.
In the continuing saga of Owen's play pen, we went the entire week without a successful escape. It wasn't for lack of trying, as the truck delivering the lumber freaked him out and had him trying to get out. So, we think the design of the pen is stable for now.
Now, the problem is that, being a cat, he always wants to be on the other side of any door. When he is indoors, he wants out; when he is outdoors, he wants in. At the moment, he is carried to and from the play pen, which is obviously not a permanent solution. So now, I have started work on a catwalk that will connect the ground-level play pen (out of the picture to the left) with the existing covered pen on the deck. It is basically a wooden ramp, which, when finished, will be covered with chicken wire to form a secure tunnel between the two outdoor areas.
Not only will it allow Owen to come and go as he pleases, but it will allow Liesl to enjoy the play pen too. Right now, we don't take her out to the pen, because she is very skittish about being approached, and would be too difficult to bring indoors.
We have quie a healthy population of tree frogs on our property. These two individuals look quite different, but they are both the same species. There is quite a bit of variation in colour among individuals, and they can change colour in response to changing conditions.
Copyright © 2013 Keith Walker
Last modified: 20-May-2013