St. Bernard, Nova Scotia
The fine early spring weather has continued this week. The temperatures have continued to be moderate, and we have had a mix of sun, cloud and rain.
I recently did a study of the length of the frost-free period on Denman Island over the years, using a combination of my own records and records from Environment Canada. The growing season between the last spring frost and the first fall frost has increased from about 165 days in the early 1960s to about 230 days now. Since that is quite a change, I double-checked by looking up the same information for the Comox Air Force Base, where the observations are made by professionals. The trend there is not quite as drastic, but shows the same overall tendency.
This year, we stand a very good chance of increasing the growing season substantially. So far in 2010, we have not yet had a frost!
All that fine growing weather means that the spring bulbs are doing very well. There are violets blooming downtown and in our garden. The snowdrop buds are open, we have lots of crocuses coming up, and the daffodils have put on a major growth spurt. We even have flower buds on the daffodils already! Downtown, Wendy noticed a Forsythia and what is probably a flowering almond in bloom.
On one of her walks, she also noticed this group of Muscovy ducks waddling along the road. According to people in the area, they appear to be feral ducks that have just picked that section of road to take up residence. I came by that way in the car a day or two later and they were still there. They have a rather lackadaisical attitude towards traffic safety and refused to get out of the way of the car. I ended up having to drive around them.
On Tuesday afternoon, the fire department was called out to a garage fire. It was our first structure fire in a year, and for many of our rookie members, their first ever. Our training over the past year paid off, and we worked well together as a team to put it out. It was rather exciting, as there were paint cans exploding inside and loaded propane bottles stored outside. We ended up pouring 25,000 gallons of water onto it to put it out. Trust me, that is a lot of water!
One of our major headaches at the fire was traffic control. We had to close off the only road to the Hornby Island ferry just when the ferry was making its last two runs of the day. In order to let the traffic through, we periodically had to shut down firefighting operations and break down the hoses to clear the road. Luckily for the frustrated Hornby residents trying to get home, the last ferry waited for them, otherwise, they would have had to spend the night on Denman.
Our main event this week was the World Community Film Festival in Courtenay on Saturday. It is an all-day festival of documentary films. It is physically impossible to see them all, since they run five theatres at the same time, but you can rent the videos later at a nominal cost to see the ones you missed. We watched a film about three Native teenagers in Washington state who filmed their own documentary on the effect of a nearby oil refinery on their community, a film on the Sea Shepherd Society's battle against the Japanese whaling fleet near Antarctica, a documentary on the 2007 popular uprising in Burma based on clandestine video smuggled out of the country, a film on conscientious objectors in the U.S. armed forces, and a film on small organic farms in the Pacific Northwest.
With the warm, moist weather of the past couple of weeks, Wendy has been transplanting baby trees. We have a surplus of young trees starting to grow in the meadow, where we don't want them, and a need for vegetation to screen a sight-line from the road. Transplanting is the obvious way to "cut two carrots with one knife."
The destination location is the old foundation for the cottage, into which we have dumped a truckload of earth. Wendy has been digging up two or three trees a day from the meadow, wheelbarrowing them to the old foundation site, and planting them along with lots of compost and leaf mulch. If even half of them survive, whe should, in a couple of years, have a good screen between the house and the road.
On Thursday, we attended a meeting held by the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL). While we have a small community library on Denman Island, it is not affiliated with the larger regional library and cannot do inter-library loans. We live in perpetual hope that the VIRL will establish a branch on Denman Island, so there was a large turnout for the meeting in the hopes that they would have something encouraging to report. Alas, they were more interested in finding out what we wanted in a perfect library. The clear response from the attending residents was that we don't much care what it is like as long as it is here.
The meeting featured a Powerpoint presentation, and would have featured a short video presentation on something-or-other, but a power failure at the height of the meeting cancelled those plans.
Surprisingly, quite a few people were unaware of the books-by mail service that the VIRL offers. Since we are considered a "remote" area - one that is not served by its own library - we qualify to get books sent through the post. It is a great service. We can go to the library's website and order the books we want. As they become available, they are mailed to us. We can keep them six weeks (twice the normal borrowing time), renew them for another six weeks, and there are no overdue fines if we are late getting them back. When it is time to return them, there is a prepaid shipping bag in which to send them.
This weekend, we drove down to Victoria for a short getaway. It was a chance to do a bit of shopping at Lee Valley and Mountain Equipment Co-op, eat at our favourite Chinese restaurant (the Lotus Pond), and, for the first time, visit the Royal B.C. Museum.
The museum had a special exhibit on the Coast Salish people, the native people of the Strait of Georgia and Puget Sound area. The exhibit is only there for another three weeks, so we were anxious to see it. We really enjoyed it, and it gave us a better appreciation of the art and culture of the people of this area. A specialty of the Salish culture is basket-weaving, and they had numerous examples of several different styles of baskets, mostly woven from cedar bark. Their art is recognizably "west coast", but is quite distinct from the better-known Haida or Kwakiutl art.
After seeing the special Salish exhibit, we saw most of the museum's permanent First Nations collection. While photographs were not permitted in the special exhibit, non-flash pictures are permitted in the permanent collection. We have still only seen a fraction of the museum, so we will likely be back to see more of it before too long.
We stayed at the James Bay Inn, which is located on a quiet residential street, only a 15 minute walk from downtown Victoria. It is an old building, with floors that tilt in odd directions, but nicely renovated. Since one of the things that we find most objectionable about cities is the noise, we were impressed by how quiet the location was.
Victoria has a reputation for being the "banana belt" of Canada, and this time of year is the best time to appreciate that. For all the bragging that I have been doing about how far along our flowers are here on Denman, everything is a couple of weeks ahead of us in Victoria. The cherry trees are all in full bloom, and there are all kinds of flowers blooming in people's gardens.
This week, the weather has been sunny, cool at night and warm in the daytime. We have had ground and windshield frosts, but no actual air temperatures below zero until last night the overnight low was -0.2°C, our coldest night so far this year.
The sunny weather has been great for flowers. There are crocuses blooming all over the island, and one field in the downtown area is covered with violets and little blue flowers that we have not identified. Daffodil buds are swelling and we have heard of some that are already in bloom.
With the warm, dry days, I have been working in the garden. I have been weeding and thinning the strawberry beds, which will soon be waking up, and, on Saturday, I planted several varieties of vegetables: parsnip, lettuce, beet, kale, carrot, mixed greens and chard. I might be a bit optimistic for some of them, but they will tolerate cool weather, and we are essentially frost-free already. The garden is getting good mid-day and early afternoon sun already, so soil temperatures will be starting to rise.
I have only planted one short row of each kind. I will plant more as spring progresses to produce a staggered crop. We don't want 20 bushels of lettuce to need eating all at once.
To make gardening a bit easier, I have built a much-needed back gate to the garden. Our compost bins are located at the back of the garden, outside the fence, but until now, the only gate was at the front. So taking materials to or from the compost bins involved a 100-yard trek with the wheelbarrow up and down hills. The new gate provides easy and direct access to the compost.
Some of our mornings in the last few days have been quite foggy. Yesterday, the fog at our place had burned off by noon. However, in the afternoon, we walked down the hill to the "downtown" area and saw this view of the fog bank covering all of Baynes Sound. While we were enjoying sun downtown, the ferry was blowing its foghorn all afternoon.
This week has gone by quickly.
Wendy offered to dog-sit next week for some friends of ours who have a whippet. He is a mild-mannered dog and gets along well with "his" cats at home, though he likes to chase unfamiliar cats outdoors. Neither we nor his owners could guess how he would behave with our cats. Would he ignore them because he was indoors, or would he chase them as "strange" cats? We prudently decided to have him visit for a couple of hours before committing to the arrangement.
So, on Tuesday, Elliot the whippet came for an afternoon visit. After sniffing around our house for a few minutes, he caught a glimpse of Owen. Whippets, as you probably know, are very similar to greyhounds. He went from 0 to 60 in one stride before he remembered that he was indoors and slammed on the brakes, sending a rug skidding across the floor. Owen decided to make himself scarce and ran outside, where he remained for the rest of the afternoon. Liesl was a bit more adventuresome and came out of hiding to check out Elliot, but decided against getting to know him right away.
Elliot spent the rest of his visit trying to find the cats. Although he is a sweet dog, he clearly terrified Owen, so we decided against the dog-sitting arrangement.
Later in the week, Owen had another adventure - we had to take him to the vet in Courtenay to have a bad tooth removed. He wasn't happy about being crated for the trip into town, but he was good with the vets and was fine, if a little groggy, when we brought him home. He didn't like having to eat mushy food for a couple of days, but he is back on solid food now and doing well.
On Friday, I had an appointment to visit a client to talk about setting up a website for him. We had literally just started talking when my Fire Department pager went off, calling us to a structure fire on the other side of the island. I very quickly apologized to my client and dashed off to the fire hall.
This has been a bad month for structure fires - this was the third one since the beginning of February. We had a good turnout of members and a very fast response time (eight minutes from the time of the page to the first unit arriving on scene), and the operation went smoothly, but unfortunately we were unable to save the house. Luckily, the occupants got out safely.
On Saturday, we participated in a work bee to help control English ivy on one of the Conservancy properties on Denman Island. English ivy is an invasive alien plant that was imported for horticultural use, but escaped. Half a dozen of us spent a few hours hacking and cutting the ivy on the bank above the beach. There is no way to eradicate it completely - it is simply too entrenched - but the Conservancy Association is required to try to keep it under control. The most important thing is to keep it from spreading any farther. It spreads by vines that sneak under existing vegetation to pop up 30 or 40 feet away from where it started. You pull on one rather small-looking vine only to find that it runs for yards and yards. We made a big pile of all the cuttings down on the beach rock where the cut pieces would find no soil to grow into.
While we were working, we were talking about the tsunami alert that had been broadcast for our area as a result of the big earthquake in Chile. British Columbia was not expected to get much of its force. The forecast for Tofino, on the outer coast was for a wave of only half a metre. They didn't bother to forecast a depth for the Georgia Basin, since the wave would expend most of its energy passing through the San Juan Islands and the southern Gulf Islands. Nevertheless, they did put all fire departments and emergency services in the area on alert. Our department's radio operator, who was one of the ivy-pullers, had to leave our group early to man the telephone at the fire hall.
Needless to say, no one detected so much as a ripple on the water.
This seems to have been the weekend for work bees. This morning, we spent a couple of hours participating in a permaculture work bee to build a hugelkultur bed for one of the island residents who is a serious gardener and orchardist. Permaculture is a gardening technique that aims to eliminate tillage as well as artificial fertilizers by preparing a bed that contains its own long-term supply of compostable material. A hugelkultur or "hugel" is made by digging a trench where the bed will be, saving the removed soil. Then the trench is filled with woody debris, such as the slash remaining after a logging operation. Other compostable material is also added. Finally, the removed topsoil is used to cover the now mounded up bed. The woody compost retains moisture and decays slowly, supplying nutrients to the crops grown in the bed.
We had a good crew of about a dozen people. The trenching work had already been done, so our job was to fill it with logs and branches. Within a couple of hours, the hundred-foot-long trench was full and ready for a machine to replace the topsoil.
Back at our own garden, I did some work blocking places where the raccoons had dug under the fence. Between the rocks that I used to block the opening and a new strand of electric fence in front of it, I don't think they will be using that access any time soon.
We have buds on most of the daffodils now, and some of them are showing colour. We expect flowers on the first ones any day now.
Now that the Olympics are over, we can finally get our sky back. For the last two weeks, the sky has been filled with military aircraft. Last Friday, they had a whole squadron of F-18s flying out of Comox. They were overhead continuously, two at a time, and the roar of afterburning jet engines was literally non-stop. Luckily, they didn't do that for the entire two weeks, but there has been more military flying than normal. For the entire duration of the Olympics, there has been an American AWACS radar plane circling overhead. It is going to be nice to enjoy the quiet now.
Copyright © 2013 Keith Walker
Last modified: 20-May-2013