109. Garden Fail – Birdhouse Gourds

On Thanksgiving Day, our (very) local neighbourhood gardeners and friends/family get together for the annual vegetable contest.

Now, I am not competitive at all, but I am a gardener, and I like a challenge and a deadline to jumpstart my creativity.

So in the spring I signed up to receive the little 3-seed packet for this year’s vegetable. We usually are challenged to grow something that matures near Thanksgiving (Canadian Thanksgiving, about 6 weeks before American Thanksgiving). This year’s vegetable was a birdhouse gourd.

All three of my seeds germinated. I planted two of them in pots, and one in the herb bed in the rooftop garden. These five gourds were all I could grow, and they are too small to dry out and use as bird houses. Our best gardener was able to grow a bunch that were big enough (about 14″ – 16″ tall.)

So I had to fake the birdhouse, by painting a black hole on each. Then, I faked actual (is that an oxymoron?) birds, too, by painting five of our favourite local birds right onto the gourds.

I have a bird colouring book the right scale for the gourds, so I traced the bird onto the gourd using a ball-point pen and tracing paper.

Then I painted them using the acrylic craft paint I had on hand. 

Of course, I needed a display box. I made one just the right length using scrap wood. The two sides are the last bit of what, in this family, we call “Grandpa’s Post.” Grandpa’s Post was salvaged from his workshop before the house that he built 60 years ago was torn down. It was a gorgeous piece of 4×4 fir, that I sanded down and intended to use for our bannister, but it wasn’t long enough.

The post sat protected in our crawl space, until our favourite daughter was making her bed, and she was able to use it for both footboard posts. There were two beautiful thin wedges left over, placed into the burn pile for kindling. I just couldn’t burn them – they were too precious to my heart. I trimmed them down to use in the box.

Sanded, then whitewashed the box. Inserted the gourds. Went to the contest. There were a bunch of clever and humourous entries, some done by children.

Won the prize. Obviously not for biggest gourd. The prize is re-awarded every year, thank heavens, because it is the ultimate in tacky. Witness yourself:

I have to keep it for a whole year, taking it out of hiding if any of our neighbours should pay a visit.

What’s green about this post?

  1. the gourds
  2. the gardening
  3. the recycling
  4. and the neighbours, who are green with envy that I have this fish-like thing in my house for a year

 

 

 

108. Little Bitta Fall Goin’ On

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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106. Garden Tour – First Day of Summer

We have been blessed with both sun and rain in good measure, so the garden is growing great. This is a picture-heavy post – no deep thoughts here, except to say:

Nothing brings more peace and meditation to my day than sitting or crouching in the garden, weeding, for an hour or so. The birds are diverse, and their songs and activities make my serotonin levels surge. Fortunately for me, there is no shortage of weeds to offer me those daily opportunities for quiet contemplation.

There are also garden pests – it seems like a new one pops up in profusion each year.

Pulvinaria acericola (cottony maple leaf scale)

Pulvinaria acericola (cottony maple leaf scale)

Tomato plants chomped on by deer

Tomato plants chomped on by deer

Unidentified greenhouse pest damage

Unidentified greenhouse pest damage

But right now is the best time in the garden. Here’s a shot of my medicinal garden.

and rooftop garden:

I have started to harvest raspberries:

The new beehive:

(The digging in the upper left of the photo above is the beginning of our Hugelkultur bed. We’re filling it with wood/log green waste, and our compost and mulch on top. It will require no watering all summer, adding to our existing xeriscaped yard.)

We have a small orchard beside the studio, with a frost peach, two apple trees, and raspberries. The deer broke into the fence, and did some damage, but I caught it early. This is not a great photo, but it’s hard to get a view:

Tireside garden

Tireside garden

and a bunch of other shots:

herb tower on deck

herb tower on deck

cucumbers in greenhouse

cucumbers in greenhouse

Mason bee condo

Mason bee condo

granny's roses

granny’s roses

I hope you enjoyed the garden tour at This Green House. Seeing it all in one post makes me appreciate our garden anew.

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104. Beekeeping

D has long talked of keeping bees.

I’m trying to encourage him to retire, yet I’m slightly trepidatious about it. Will I need to entertain him all the time? Or, will he develop/revisit some of his own hobbies and social circles?

To that end, I bought him a starter beehive kit for his birthday. Except, it was a little hard to conceal. When I brought it home, I was all in a tizzy. I had just returned from a couple of days in the city, and had to get the house ready and food shopping done for weekend company. Our nephew carried the kit into my studio, where I thought it would be safe from D’s observation, but when he came home a couple of hours later, he gave our great-nephew a tour of the yard, AND studio, so the surprise was ruined.

He is keen, though, and has read some books, taken a beginner bee-keeping course, talked to our friend who is a beekeeper, and ordered a “nuc” (for “nucleus”), which is a small starter bee colony centered on a queen (of course!.)  “Small” is a relative term; in this case it means 20,000 bees as a full, functioning hive has about 50,000 bees.  In fact, the hive will spend most of the summer growing and will not, as a result, produce much excess honey.  It will need most of its honey for the winter.

The race was on – he needed to build a bee deck to house his first and future hives.

In true Green Life spirit, I noticed a deck demolition going on in our neighbourhood, and thought the lumber being discarded looked re-usable. D picked up a truckload of it, then spent a full day removing nails. What a green hero in Carhartts!carhartt guy reclaiming lumberHe first needed to locate the deck in the yard. An open location that has southern exposure and gets sun almost all day (but has occasional shade) is best, as bees need warmth in the winter and especially in the morning. Even I have noticed that the bees only leave their hives in nice weather.

D built a substantial deck. He never does things by halves. I envisioned insubstantial rebar posts to hold the requisite electric fence. I say requisite, because we have black bears in our neighbourhood, and if you read Winnie The Pooh, you will know that bears LOOOOOVE honey (Bee Fact: it’s actually the embryonic bees – like grubs – that they like.  The honey is their dessert).

But, did I tell you D favours substantial? His bee deck, how can I say this, did not exactly blend in with the environment. I painted it the same green as the house (Behr’s Ponderosa.)  Bee books advise to shoot for “inconspicuous”, just in case neighbours (who are very rarely, if ever, bothered by nearby hives) are nervous.That helps.

D built a stand to perch his hive on, and installed the electric fence. It has about 6,000 volts but fear not; extremely low amperage – touch it and you’ll definitely feel it, but will be unharmed.From our garden shed, I requisitioned a ceramic green plant tray, and filled it with beach glass for the bees to stand on while they’re drinking, so they won’t drown.

Now, we’re ready for our new tenants.

D and his friend went to the city to pick up their nucs of Carniolan bees. Because the bees are coming to a restricted zone, where all bee hives are registered, the breeder has the nuc inspected for hive beetles before they leave her bee yard. The bee breeder simply transfers her 5 frames into the centre of their new hive, making sure that the queen is present.nuc transfer

Then, with all the openings sealed with tape and screen, so the bees don’t wander off while they’re being moved to their new homes, the new hives were put into the bed of our truck, strapped down securely, and covered with a damp drop cloth. D moved his nuc to the bee deck, and smoked the hive to calm the bees down before he released them to do their important work in our yard and all the yards of our neighbourhood. In the photo below, he is adding the food trough; he mixed about 2 litres of 1:1 water:sugar syrup as a starter.  Most bees don’t need to be fed at this time of year, but ours will need a couple of days to get oriented and find their flowers.

The bees lounged around for a few minutes, and then they started exploring. It was exciting!

So much to learn from and about these creatures. Welcome home, bees.

Sharing with: Amaze Me Monday, Rustic & Refined, Backyard Neighbour, Our Home Away From Home, Kathe With an E, Talented Tuesday, Savvy Southern Style, Poofing the Pillows, DIY By Design

96. Soap and Christmas

2015 christmas treeChristmas around here is uproarious. With 6-9 young adults and two dogs coming and going, games and food are constantly on the table, or in the case of the dogs, on the floor (for a split second.)In a rebellious moment, I decided to eschew all the traditional Christmas tree decorations and simply use the Chinese lantern (Physalis alkekengi) skeletons from the plants originating with a gift our niece gave me 3 years ago, plus pine cones, and birds. Thankfully, the ‘kids’ did most of the placement, so I didn’t have to climb those ladders.

The dishwasher and clotheswashers are in full throttle. Sauna and steam room likewise. Space heaters and seasonal lights, too.  We all use much more energy than little ol’ D and I use when we’re here alone.

The whole point of Christmas is to spend time together as a family. Over the years, we’ve reduced our commercial footprint to nearly nil. Now, we each contribute a small, often hand-made gift to each other’s stocking. Each year, I’m impressed anew with the thought and originality of each person’s contribution.hemlock with jack-o-lantern plant

I’ve long wanted to learn to make soap, and a short lecture at our local botanical garden got me started. I managed to make three kinds of soap (Skin Rx hockey puck, eucalyptus, and calendula/borage), some beard balm and beard oil, and foot soak for the stockings, and it was fun!

To make cold-process soap, the basic ingredients are lye, water, and oils. There are plenty of recipes online, and it’s important to learn about the process before you make a batch, because the lye can be dangerous, the proportions of oils to lye vary depending on the oils used, and the additives must be added at a certain stage. My goals are to use organic and vegan ingredients as far as possible.

I’m most proud of my hockey puck soap (so Canadian) – it’s got activated charcoal and a luffa sponge that I grew myself (seeds from West Coast Seeds.) Activated charcoal is often used in face masques to detoxify skin and scour out bacteria.

This is what the Miriam Sponge Gourd (loofa) looks like:loofah Collage

And here are my proportions for Hockey Puck Skin Rx soap (basic recipe courtesy of Lexi, the teacher):

19 oz olive oil (pomace), 15 oz palm oil, 8 oz coconut oil, 3 oz sweet almond oil, 6.1 oz lye (NaOH), 14.9 oz distilled water, 1 oz lemon grass oil, 1.5 oz activated charcoal, 1 loofa sponge

I lined a 3″ pvc pipe, 12″ long, with baking parchment paper, taped plastic to the bottom, inserted the loofa, and poured the batter all around (beaten to a light trace – you will learn about this when you research.) After 72 hours, the soap had dried enough to shrink it, allowing me to slide it out of the tube. I cut it with the paper still on, which helped to hold it together, using a sharp filetting knife.

For another stocking gift, I used some old (clean) socks to corral soap nuts, which are actually the husks of nuts grown in India (purchased at The Soap Dispensary in Vancouver, BC, Canada, also available at many online soap-making suppliers.) They create a lather, and the little packets should wash 6-8 loads of laundry.soap nuts

And, just to give you a little giggle, here is the floor below our poor Charlie Brown bush-found hemlock (I requested a fir), 4 days after we installed it:dropping hemlock needles Thanks for reading, and Happy Gnu Year.

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