Gosh! Winter Solstice is just around the corner, and I haven’t written anything in our blog for quite awhile!
So, let’s see … projects, projects, projects …
The flashing around the chimney has leaked since shortly after it was installed. We end up getting water in the chimney pipe, which makes the creosote wet and sticky, and very hard to remove with the usual chimney cleaning implements. We’ve developed something of a cycle with the @#$%& chimney. In the summer, we fix the chimney flashing which allows the wet creosote to dry out, and sometime in the fall, we get a chimney fire. Last year we had a real nasty one that burned out one of the joints and “undid” all the repairs on the flashing, so the whole system promptly leaked at the next rain, and kept leaking all winter.
This year, we put in a fancy rubber boot flashing and a snow splitter.
Initially, the roof repair wasn’t entirely successful … the first rain after the fix still caused a leak, and we had the buckets out. Of course, we had taken all the ladders down and put everything away. I guess Murphy was watching! Anyways, we got everything set up again, and I was back on the roof filling every crack and cranny I could find with silicone. Since then, we seem to be dry … but that might be famous last words!
Shortly after we finished working on the roof for the second time, we got a real taste of our first fall/winter storm. Of course, problems always come in clusters. The day before the storm, I was baking biscuits in the oven, when a sudden swoosh announced that we had yet another chimney fire. We managed to get it snuffed out without any obvious damage (even the biscuits survived), but we had a sleepless night as we waited for everything to cool down, checking to make sure there were no fires in the roof. We were really worried that the chimney fire had damaged the new flashing. Then the storm hit the next day … wild wind and lashing rain everywhere. We weren’t very certain that the roof repair was going to hold, so we were up all that night worrying about leaks … sleepless night number two. Luckily, everything held together, and we were dry in the morning. In spite of some pretty scary winds, no trees fell, and all our buildings held together. Things to be thankful for!
The Root Cellar
We needed to design an above-ground root cellar to store our root vegetables. We can’t dig anything into the ground, as the water table is so high during the winter rains that subterranean structures simply get flooded.
After some discussion and a few sketches, we ended up building a 4’ wide x 6’ long x 2’ tall log structure under the house. We peeled cedar logs, pinned them together, filled all the cracks with fiberglass insulation, and put a wrap of titanium underlay around the outside of the logs. Then we lined the inside with some pink 2.5” Styrofoam insulation and built an insulated cover for the top. Hopefully, this should keep the vegetables from freezing. I’m crossing my fingers … we really need to get a good storage solution for our root crops.
After several days of -5 to -6°C, the ground was hard frozen. Ken put a couple of containers of water in the root cellar to see if they would freeze, and happily, they remained liquid! Where is an old max-min thermometer when I need one! Looks like we are OK so far!
In spite of a slow start, our garden did reasonably well this year. We had good yields of corn, potatoes, beans, carrots, and pumpkins. I planted tomatoes in the greenhouse, but surprisingly, my volunteer tomatoes, which grew outside in various parts of the rest of the garden, did just as well as my greenhouse tomatoes. The brassicas, however, did very poorly this year, as we had a serious cabbage fly problem which pretty much decimated those crops.
I felt like our pumpkins were real “monsters”, but his was probably a bit of an exaggeration. However, all things are relative. To me, a person who has had little success with pumpkins in the past, they were huge, averaging about 2 feet in diameter. They were Styrian pumpkins, which produce naked edible seeds, and were not really expected to become fair winners in the size category. I brought the pumpkins inside once the weather got below freezing, and let them ripen on the shelf. For some reason or other, they didn’t keep as well this year as they have in past years, and I had to start processing them a little sooner than expected. Usually, I crack one open, and Ken and I get various pumpkin dishes for several days, and I dry the remainder of the flesh for future use. The Styrian pumpkins are fairly fine-fleshed for a pumpkin, and quite sweet and nicely flavored, so they are good for cooking more than just pumpkin pies!
Turns out that Brennan really likes pumpkin too. I’d never thought that pumpkin would be a dog treat, but apparently most dogs like pumpkin, and it’s actually good for them. Pumpkin processing can be quite humorous. While I clean out the seeds, which I dry later, Brennan sits by my feet, waiting for his share. As a result, very little pumpkin goes to waste, as he happily consumes the stringy bits while I chop up the rest.
A bunch of Magenta Spreen (a species of Chenopodium, similar to quinoa) grew wild around the yard this year (none of it was intentionally planted). I harvested it this fall and ended up with about 6 cups of fine-grained seed from about a dozen largish plants. The seed can apparently be added to flour to up the protein content. I think maybe it would be best in some type of savory dish … it is nutty tasting with a very slight bitterness, which would probably disappear when diluted with flour.
Although many of our tomatoes didn’t ripen on the vine – once the heavy rains hit, I harvested them all – I used a trick I learned from my mother to ripen most of them. If you store green tomatoes in cardboard boxes in the dark, they will eventually ripen. So, over the last couple of months, as the tomatoes ripened, I’ve been drying them over the stove and storing them in vacuum sealed glass canning jars.
I tried a bit of late fall planting this year as well. I dug up a few of the garden beds and added a mixture of seaweed and alder leaves to try to build up the soil. Then I planted some Red Russian garlic and 8 small beds of fall-planted grain (which should work better than a spring planting according to the fellow at Salt Spring Seeds). Unfortunately, my fall grain planting was a total failure. I woke up one morning about a week or so after planting to find rows of little holes drilled where I had planted the seed. I guess the grain had germinated, and a night time raider had come along and harvested all the sprouts. I hadn’t put up any nets, as the bird life was so quiet I didn’t think we had any predators about. Since I haven’t spotted the culprit, we still don’t know what kind of bird it was, but I’m suspecting a nocturnal grouse raid. I’m busy designing a grouse trap … anything that eats my garden is fair game as food for the table!
Fall harvest is always a time of surprises. My potatoes, which grew well this year, produced lovely large, clean tubers, but not very many of them. The yield was surprising low, but I’m putting it down to our rocky soil which tends to restrict the spread of the potatoes and the formation of new tubers. Next year, we are going to try to grow our potatoes in 55 gallon drums – the expected yield of a single drum is pretty much what each of my little potato patches yielded, and it is much easier to harvest the drums (no digging in hard, rocky, rooty soil). The carrots, which took so long to start this spring, produced a terrific crop. The only problem was that the voles have nibbled the tops off of many of them. Looks like I will be vole trapping again. I tried to catch some this spring, but with the garden coming up, they weren’t interested in anything that I used as bait for the traps. Maybe, now that all the roots are safely stored, they will be a little bit hungrier. Another surprising harvest was my sunchokes – a small 2’ x 4’ patch yielded over 20 lbs of roots!
Boat, Boats, Boats …
What’s the old saying – “A boat is a hole in the water into which you pour money”? Well, that pretty much sums up boat ownership.
On one of our trips to town during the summer, we hit a deadhead with the Awen. Fortunately, it just nicked our propeller, so we were able to get home, but at a much slower speed than normal. However, it was now necessary to put her up on the grid to check the damage. The prop didn’t look too good – it was missing a chunk out of one blade and the rest were pretty ragged. Time for a new one. Ken straightened out the prop and filed down as much of the rough spots as he could. In the meanwhile, I scraped all the barnacles, mussels, anemones, sponges, and tube worms off the hull. They were definitely slowing the old boat down, so she’s much happier without them. We try not to scrape much paint off these days. It costs a lot to repaint, although many people apply antifouling paint every year. We’ve been avoiding that, as it’s not very nice on the environment, and is very expensive to do.
We were able to find a “new-to-us” prop in Campbell River that would work on the Awen. Even used, props are not cheap – this one cost us over a thousand once all the machining to fit our shaft was done.
Then we had to get the Awen on the grid a second time. Amazingly, the “new” prop fit the shaft perfectly. We had ideal weather to do the job as well, so I can’t complain about that! The Awen is now traveling at a much more respectable pace, with the mussel colonies removed and the new (to us) propeller. So, boat problem #1 is dealt with.
The next problem was to get our other boat (the one we’ve been unsuccessfully trying to sell for the last two years) out of the water. It’s pretty clear that old boats are not selling, especially when you live as far off-grid as we do. Leaving the boat in the water is not an option – we’ve been worried about ice damage to the leg and a possible sinking in the winter for several years now. Also, the aluminum leg has set up a real electrolysis issue with the Awen’s prop – this was partially why the prop was so easily damaged when we hit the deadhead. So, for peace of mind and ease of pocket book, the old boat had to come out of the water. She is not light, and at 24’ long, not especially small either. However, after a fair bit of fiddly work, and Ken having to stand up to his navel in icy cold water, we’ve managed to get the boat out on the beach and as high up as we can on the highest spring tide. At this point, she’s in safe storage until we can get back to her and decide what to do next. That fixes boat problem #2 for awhile!
Cougars and Watchdogs
A while back, I let Brennan out at dawn to run about in the yard and do his business. Then I settled into the usual routine of getting breakfast ready while Ken fired up the stove. As Ken was looking out the front window, what should appear but our local cougar, an impressive-sized male, walking along the inside of our electric fence. We figure he either jumped it, or pushed his way through. I hope the latter, as he will likely have gotten a good dose of electrical shocks and may not wish to do it again.
The cougar turned towards the house, and leaped up through the gardens. We think he had seen Brennan and was going to try for a kill. In any case, all mayhem broke loose. Ken and I charged out on the deck – Ken with a big stick and me to try and bring Brennan up onto the deck with us so we could protect him. At this point, Brennan spotted the cat and started barking, so there was barking, growling, yelling, calling, and other such noises. The cat decided that was enough and crashed back through the fence.
We haven’t seen the cougar since, but we are wary now. Hopefully, he will keep his distance, and Brennan will keep a sharp lookout. This was the first time that he’s seen the cougar, although he’s now seen both black and grizzly bears, and has barked at them and chased them away. Looks like he will be a good watchdog!