St. Bernard, Nova Scotia
This has been a busy week, though I didn't get much accomplished in terms of projects around the place.
I had quite a few calls to fix broken computers, everything from virus infestations to setting up networks. I have yet to figure out why Microsoft has chosen to make networking home computers so difficult. There ought to be one big button that says "Network: On / Off". It shouldn't be rocket science.
I taught a two-evening class at the community school on Windows PCs for Beginners. (No networking involved!) Though the class wasn't full, there was enough interest and enough material to cover that I might offer an expanded version of it again in the fall.
The general consensus on the island is that spring is a full month ahead of normal this year. The daffodils have started blooming, something that normally happens in early April. In fact, there are flowers everywhere. The currant bushes and cherry trees are starting to bloom, and downtown there is a carpet of little blue flowers all over the lawn at the bistro.
One of our maple trees has big fat leaf buds on it, and alders all over are starting to show a blush of green as their buds develop. There are new shoots on our climbing rose, which never totally lost its leaves over the winter.
Starting tomorrow, we have someone coming to rebuild our deck. The existing deck is about 20 years old and is in rough shape. Outdoor wood here needs to be either pressure-treated or cedar because of the wet climate. This is neither; it is untreated douglas fir. Add to that the fact that it was poorly designed, with all the spans being too long, and the result is that it is becoming unsafe to walk on.
Rebuilding the deck is too big a job for me to do by myself. I can help on days when I am not working, but we will be leaving the design and most of the construction to a professional.
It will be a bit of a disruption, but it should be completed well before summer starts.
The cats are already experiencing the disruption. Yesterday, I removed their on-deck enclosure and the ramp that led to their outdoor enclosure. So that they are not totally deprived of access to the outdoors, I have built a temporary catwalk (literally) attached to the side of the house that will let them get from their cat door to the enclosure above the level of the demolition and construction. They might find it too scary to go out while there is hammering and sawing happening, but at night they will be able to go outside safely.
Just when we thought we could get used to the nice spring weather, Mother Nature threw a curve at us. On Friday, we had some funny-looking white stuff falling out of the sky and actually sticking to the ground. Such things shouldn't be allowed. Fortunately, the snow turned to rain after a few hours and it all melted again.
The snow was enough to make the carpenter who is working on our deck quit for the day. However, he has accomplished a lot in a week. The old deck on the south side of the house is completely demolished, and the posts are in for the new deck. If you look at my webcam, you will be able to follow the project's progress.
The project is happening in two phases: he will complete the south deck first and then demolish and rebuild the east deck. We are replacing it not a moment too soon: some of the old joists were in horrible shape. It will be nice to have a brand new, safe deck in place before the summer.
The cats are now quite used to their temporary catwalk attached to the side of the house. They aren't happy about construction noises, and they were a bit puzzled when they noticed something was missing outside, but in the evenings when things quiet down, they run in and out on the catwalk like it has always been there.
Down in the garden, I have been cleaning up the strawberry beds. There is no sign of life yet from the vegetable seeds I planted, but the garlic and rhubarb are both up and looking good.
I have already mentioned that the daffodils are starting to bloom, but there are a lot more flower buds waiting for some more warm, sunny weather. I planted a lot more daffodil bulbs last fall, so the property should look quite showy in a couple of weeks.
Today, the Permaculture Guild held another garden work bee. This time, we were doing general garden cleanup and making new beds in the garden of some friends of ours. With ten people working for a couple of hours, we cleared a large area of brambles and covered it in horse manure, cardboard and straw. By next year, with the addition of more compost and horse manure (they have their own horse), it will be ready to produce vegetables.
With the weather being marginal for outdoor work this week, I have been catching up on indoor projects. I did some enhancements for the Fire Department's website, and I finally got my well depth sensor completed. I have been taking manual depth readings of the well for a couple of years, but it was always my intention to automate the data collection. The completed sensor is not much to look at (a bit "Rube Goldberg", and, yes, the wires could do with being tied up), but it works well. I am now getting regular depth readings throughout the day, and will be able to monitor the seasonal drop in the level as we move into the dry season. Of particular interest will be the recharge rate, something I have always wondered about.
It is definitely going to be a good year for daffodils. Quite a few of them are flowering now and there are lots more on the way, both in our yard and all over the island. Yesterday, Wendy spotted our first tulip, under the apple trees.
In other spring garden news, I have finished weeding the strawberries and started mulching them with straw. Mulch seems to be the key to gardening here. Where the challenge is not encouraging things to grow, but rather beating back the jungle, mulch is one of the few non-toxic, labour-saving ways of dealing with weeds.
I dug a new bed in the garden that will eventually hold more raspberries. As with the strawberries, raspberries are something you can never have too many of. We really enjoyed having a freezer full of strawberries over the winter for home-grown desserts, and are looking forward to having more raspberries next year.
The really spring-like garden news is that this week I mowed the grass for the first time this season.
The major community event this week was a meeting to discuss a coal mine that is being proposed directly across Baynes Sound from us, on Vancouver Island. The proponents of the project have acknowledged that several salmon-bearing streams will be destroyed by the tailing piles, and everyone is concerned about air and water pollution which seem to be inevitable around coal mines, as well as truck traffic on the highway. The coal will be low-to-medium grade, to be burned in coal-fired generating stations in China, so the contribution to global warming makes no sense either. Knowing this government's position on such matters, we suspect that approval of the project is a done deal and that any environmental assessments will be nothing more than a rubber stamp.
The deck construction is moving along. We expect to see joists in place this week, and perhaps even some deck boards. The major event on the project was having the demolition debris, the remains of the old deck, hauled away.
This is chimney fire season. With the spring weather being warm enough not to need a lot of heat, yet cool enough to need some, people have been burning with their stoves damped down, which is conducive to forming creosote in the chimney. The Fire Department had a chimney fire callout last week and another this week. This week's callout happened just minutes before our weekly practice. We normally receive two test pages on our pagers on practice night, and a third test page is not uncommon if someone is having poor radio reception. We were rather surprised, then, when the third page turned out to be a real one!
I have started building a Stevenson screen for my weather instruments. My sensors are not in good locations right now, and putting them in a proper housing will improve the accuracy of my data. Though the sides of a Stevenson screen look like a venetian blind, you can't just use a louvered door for the side panels. Each side needs two sets of louvers, angled in opposite directions. Building them is a challenge to my woodworking skills, but the prototype turned out all right, so the design looks like it will work.
Yesterday afternoon, just after I had taken a shower, Wendy noticed that the water heater was making funny noises. When I checked it, there was a rusty trickle of water down the side and a puddle forming underneath. It appears that the leak had only been going for a few minutes, probably triggered by the temperature change from my shower. I quickly turned off the power, shut off the water and started draining the tank. Though contruction trades are one of the more popular forms of employment on Denman Island, there are no plumbers here. Plumber house calls are expensive enough at the best of times, but to bring one here from Courtenay would be outrageously expensive.
This morning, following the advice of one of my Fire Department colleagues who does appliance repair, I removed the heating element nearest the leak to inspect it, hoping that it was corroded. A bad element is easy and inexpensive to replace. Unfortunately, the element looked fine. The leak turned out to be from a bad weld on the tank. I made a quick trip into town, to Home Depot, and bought a new water heater. Believe it or not, the standard size 37 gallon tank in its box actually fit in the back of the car with the seats folded down (I guess that's why they call it a Honda Fit!), saving me the freight charges of having it delivered. Tomorrow, I have another Fire Department colleague who knows about such things coming over to help with the installation of the new tank.
We are not totally without hot water in the interim. I turned on the hot water out in the cottage, so we are still able to shower.
Owen the cat has a habit of bringing live mice into the house to play with. He doesn't hurt them and doesn't know that they are edible. This week, he did the same with a small bird. I saw him come in the cat door with something in his mouth and caught a glimpse of feathers. We made him drop it, at which point, the bird flew down to the basement to hide behind the washing machine. We were able to scoop it up into an empty margarine container that we keep handy for such purposes and release it outside, where it flew away, apparently none the worse for its adventure.
Spring continues to be ahead of schedule. The really early flowers - snowdrops and crocuses - were a month ahead of schedule. Now, we seem to be about two weeks ahead of schedule. The cherry trees downtown are in full bloom now, as are many other flowering trees and shrubs.
Among them are the wild currants, which are one of the preferred foods of the rufous hummingbird. Wendy hung out the feeders as soon as she saw flowers on the currants. Sure enough, on Friday, we saw our first hummingbird. There are at least two of them, perhaps more, buzzing around our feeders.
On Saturday, I attended a class on year-round gardening. Some of the long-time residents on Denman Island have learned to grow vegetables all year round. "Grow" is a relative term - most vegetables are dormant in the winter - but, if you have timed their growth properly in the fall, they will be harvestable all winter long. The class covered which varieties work best here and when to plant them to ensure that they reach a suitable stage of growth or ripeness before they go dormant. We did quite well this winter, considering that we didn't know what we were doing, using the ground as our storage medium for carrots and parnips, but next winter, we hope to have a wider variety of home-grown veggies for the winter.
The water heater I wrote about last week got installed, and is now working fine. I had to get my Fire Department colleague to solder one copper connector, but I was able to do the rest of the installation myself. It was not without adventure. One of my threaded connectors was seeping a bit when I turned on the water. Not a big deal, I thought, I'll just turn off the valve, drain a bit of water and re-do it. Except that the valve would not shut off - the same valve that I had just used to shut off the water during the installation. Okay, no problem, I'll just shut off the house main valve. Uh-oh, it won't shut off either. I finally had to turn off the power to the well pump and bleed the pressure out of the pressure tank in order to fix the offending connection. While I was at it, I installed a replacement shutoff valve in the line.
This week's major effort has been the completion of the first phase of the deck replacement. While I was at work last week, the contractor completed framing the substructure of the deck, cut the boards to width and planed them. (We had a lovely big pile of shavings to line the garden pathways.) Then, on Friday, I helped him installing the deck boards - he measuring and cutting and I drilling and hammering. We got it about 85% completed on Friday and finished it this morning. This afternoon, we started demolition of the second phase of the deck, on the east side of the house.
On the weekend, I worked on some of the house systems affected by the deck renovation. I had to reconnect the rainwater catchment pipes and design some modifications to them to accommodate the new deck structure. I also installed cable to the peak of the gable for a future reinstallation of my weather instruments. I am not planning to move the instruments yet, but access to the gable end will become much more difficult once the covered deck on that side of the house is completed, so I wanted to get the cable in place now, while I still can.
On Saturday evening, we attended the final concert in this season's Concerts Denman series. It featured the trio of Sal Ferreras, Celso Machado and John Reischman, playing a latin jazz style. It was an amazing concert. They played so well together that one could assume that they practice together daily. We were surprised to learn that they hadn't seen each other since last June, and that they put together their set list on the ferry coming over here. It must be nice to be that good!
Since there are no hotels on Denman, visiting performers are usually billeted in people's homes. We were furtunate to host Sal Ferreras in our guest cottage. He is a busy man, but we did get to spend some time with him at breakfast on Sunday before he had to catch an early ferry. In addition to being the dean of a music school and keeping up a performance schedule, he was the producer and creative director of the Aboriginal Pavilion for the Vancouver Winter Olympics.
Yesterday evening, Wendy and I were invited to supper at our friends Bentley and Danni's place, followed by a collating bee. Every month, our island's monthly newspaper has to be assembled by hand. Wendy has been doing this regularly for a while, but this was my first time. It is as much a social gathering as it is a work bee, with about a dozen people, each responsible for ensuring that their page makes it into each copy of the paper, and all talking about the latest goings-on at the same time.
Copyright © 2013 Keith Walker
Last modified: 6-May-2013