room to grow

Ah, summer. It feels like it’s been here for ages as we’ve had an unusually warm spring. I feared a cold dose of “June-uary” (aka days of rain as in January) so didn’t set some things in the ground as early as I could have, but that’s been okay.

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It’s so wonderful to have our garden beds full of rich soil and producing tasty rewards. We’ve been waiting for years to have room to grow like this and we’re making the most of it! In May I harvested my first ever good beets. In May! The carrots weren’t much further behind and the lettuce and chard crops have been amazing. I’ve also taken more than 12 pounds of potatoes from three plants to give the others room to grow.

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The garlic grew so quickly and so strong but then I think I forgot to water in our unusually warm spring. (I don’t recall ever watering garlic in past years) but they were showing signs of stress and it made sense… there was no moisture in the top 3″ of soil at least. In time that nasty rust took over so I cut off the scapes and ripped off every bit of rust-infested stalk I could. They were pretty sad looking for the month of June but wowsers, what a haul when I ripped them out of the ground (to make room for the leek transplants) yesterday.

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I’d never come across the dry bundle of onion sets in our garden centres before but over March break I did. Wow, they are so much easier than starting from seed and they’re prolific too! The bundle I had got split between 3 households and I got nearly 50 walla wallas. It meant there was no room for my leeks right away but we’ve been eating our onions for weeks now.

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One of the first things on my list this spring was getting rid of weeds. I wish I’d taken pictures of the mess I’d made with all the flattened cardboard along the sides of our property. It was pretty ugly but I figured it was the easiest way to keep from having to weed all the time. I’d wanted to avoid a lawn completely and put wood chips down where we used to have sand and weeds but it took a while to dig out the soil and build a support to keep the chips from landing on our neighbours lawn. At that time we added some plants (including a Japanese maple that should grow to obscure the view of our kitchen from the neighbours bedroom window) and some rocks to soften the edges. It’ll be a while before things fill in but for now I’m quite happy with the result.

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I was getting a little distressed with the lack of room for our brassicas, beans and peas and since the sale of the house next door didn’t immediately result in the construction of a carriage house or fence I convinced Kevin to build another box along the property line. I also found a spot for some blueberry bushes and an asparagus bed. I was a little late getting the asparagus started so we’ll have to see how that goes. I have some new starts in pots near the front door so I can make sure they’re healthy (since I lost a few in the main spot right away).

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Blueberries were a bit of a surprise. It started out that I bought one as a “just because” gift for Kevin a few months ago but it turns out I like them now too so we have 4 different bushes. There are two of the itty bitty 2′ x 2′ variety, a full-sized one, and another that’s in between. Yay for growing food! We also added 3 little apple trees earlier this year too – a 4-variety espalier, a golden sentinel (the stick kind you can grow in a pot), and a mini-dwarf honey crisp. It’s been fun to make space for all these much needed sources of nourishment and to watch them grow!

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In the “landscaped” parts of our yard the yard things are coming along. The vine maples are getting bigger, the bunchberry is becoming more carpet-like and the huckleberries…. oh, those are the best! I also like that the birds come to visit our trees and the smoke bush that hangs in from the neighbours side. I get to hear them at breakfast and dinner and watch them when I’m out on the deck for lunch. Oh and those rudbeckia’s are out of control big this year. I can’t wait for them to bloom.

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Home Hop, here we come

There’s been a frenzy of activity over here as we tidy things up and get ready to open our doors as part of the first ever Green Home Tour in our town.

Back when we were only dreaming about building our own place some day, we took part in some pretty cool tours in Alberta and BC. Some featured a single home, others featured lane way homes, and the most memorable included homes where each one was built with a different construction method, be it chip, slip and plaster; timber frame with straw bale; or faswall blocks. We learned so much from some great people and we’re excited to now be a position to pass the torch.

In getting ready for this tour, we’ve gotten to know some other fine folks in town who have built their own eco homes too. If you’re curious to see what has transpired we invite you to join us on Sunday October 26, 2014 between noon and 4 pm.

two years and two days

After a hectic couple of weeks we’ve got this weekend off to a relaxing start so far. The sun is shining, we’re both healthy and the garden is looking amazing, especially for this time of year!

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My how time has flown!

One year ago the guys were framing this house.

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And two years and two days ago we had our first telephone conversation with the previous land owner. Things definitely looked a little different over here back then!

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We’re so grateful for all the wonderful folks who have contributed in making our dream of a healthy, beautiful home come true!

LEED points vs behaviour modification

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Last spring I wrote about our decision to work with Wakefield (our builder) on making our house a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) qualified build.

I like to think that our approach to the LEED rating system is different from most. We’re really aiming to stick to our values rather than competing for bragging rights, but sometimes it’s a slippery slope.

Understandably, the LEED rating system can’t give credit for modifying behaviours, since those are user-dependent and not usually unique to a home or property. This is where we find our ideals and the rating system the most challenging.

We’re pretty committed to behavioural changes that reduce our footprint. For example, we have modest commutes for work, let yellow mellow, don’t shower daily and hand water our garden. Sure there’s room for improvement but neither of us are big consumers either, choosing to repair our clothes and make things from scratch when possible. We also like to repurpose things and buy second hand when it makes sense.

Since we’re building a new house the incremental cost of an energy efficient appliance or fixture is often inconsequential. We chose to go with new:
– water efficient shower heads (you wouldn’t believe how many months it’s taken to get a 1.5 gpm shower head, but it works!)
– water efficient toilets (3 Lpf, discussed here)
– water efficient faucets
– water and energy efficient clothes washer
– energy star fridge (options for our size that met this criteria without a lot of extra cost were limited)

In some cases though, it didn’t make sense for us to try and chase points. For example, we found a dishwasher that will do the job for $25 and it’s not energy star rated. Given that we prefer to hand wash most of our cook ware though, it seemed better to save the money and give this old dish washer a new life.

Currently there’s no credit in the Canadian system for having a vegetable garden and for most of the landscaping areas to gather points you need to have an irrigation system. I’m not really keen on irrigating period, probably because there have been times when I’ve had to haul my own water. Rather than cover our property in grass and other plants that don’t belong here, we’ve gone with a mix of native species and drought-tolerant plants. We’ve also made heavy use of mulches, with some of that yet to be done.

As far as our footprint and piece of mind go, growing our own food is still really important so we’ve built the beds in the front and extended the original garden patch in the back. That will still need watering so we’re working on installing a rain water harvesting system to help with that. Last weekend we finally put the tank into position and by next week we should be able to hook it up. The plan is to use a gravity feed system to irrigate the vegetable gardens in the front and back yard. It’ll be low-tech for sure, but then it won’t require additional energy inputs either.

Sept 13 - the rain water harvesting system set-up

Building a new home and navigating LEED has been quite the learning experience. It’s taken us a while to wrap up the details but we’re hoping to get there soon!

a different kind of stay-cation

Computer difficulties mean this post from a month ago is a little late in getting finished…

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Last weekend marked the start of our little stay-cation. The goal was to finish up the bulk of the landscaping so we could relax and enjoy living here a little more.

In addition to the garden boxes and river bed that we built on the weekend, we also got help from two of the guys who were with us through most of the build. The sun was intense but we were all motivated and it was really nice to work and eat together.

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In just one day we were able to get the front and back yards planted. There was a LOT of road base to dig up and replace with suitable growing medium before adding the plants, the bark mulch and soaker hose irrigation.

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I’m really excited about what we planted. As I’ve mentioned before, much of the vegetation is what we see in nature only a few blocks away: red huckleberries, vine maples, bunch berries and ferns. There are also some flowers for colour, grasses for year round interest and some Saskatoon berries. Next year I’ll add some more of the low-lying native vegetation such as bleeding hearts and false solomon’s seal. We also hope to get an apple tree in the sunniest spot near the shed and another tree for out in the front.

Planting at this time of year isn’t ideal (although rain is on the way) but by next year we shouldn’t need to water these things at all.

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Planting wrapped up shortly after lunch and then the guys also helped to level out of our driveway/deck approach and cleaning up the remaining construction debris. We were tired at the end of it all, but it felt so good to have it done.

The next day we tried to take it easy, tending to other things on our list, but before dark we had managed to use up all the mulch, make a dump run of the rotten stuff that came with our site, and place all our granite chunks in the patio space.

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That was one of the most amazing things of all. We had simply planned to bring the massive pieces closer to the patio and try cutting one or two. In about 2 hours though we had placed all but 3 of the pieces that we’d ordered and hadn’t had to make a single cut!

We still need to get more road base and sand to level things out since our slabs are of various thicknesses, but for now it will do.

For the next little bit we’ll just relax and enjoy. Levelling the patio, chipping the pathway and installing the rain water tank will just have to wait!

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getting the yard ready

Wow, what a weekend! It was the hottest pair of days we’ve had yet and we spent nearly all of it outside. We shovelled (and shovelled and shovelled) for most of the weekend. Because of the rain last weekend we had a LOT to get done.

Jul 12  the start of a river bed

On Saturday we started by moving dirt to accommodate the rocks we saved for the river bed last summer. Then we shovelled the vehicle full of little river rocks which we carried by bucket load along the river until it was full. By the end of the day we were quite happy with the results.

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On Sunday we moved to the front yard and were relieved to find that building vegetable garden boxes was a lot less exhausting than shovelling and hauling rocks on a hot, sunny day.

Jul 13 - a morning making veggie garden boxes

By coffee time we had the bottom box finished and by lunch time it and the one against the road.

Jul 13 - time for lunch!

There was a fair bit of rotten digging to get the last box placed correctly but it sure was nice to have a bit of shade as we finished things off and put our vegetable pots closer to where they belong.

Jul 13 - garden boxes ready to be filled

We couldn’t go in before dark so we spent the final hours of the day levelling out the patio area and preparing it for road base. We unloaded the couple of yards of material that was weighing down my vehicle, just in time for the sun to set.

Jul 13 - preparing for the patio as the sun goes down

Phewf! I hope this means the hard stuff is out of the way but something tells me there’s still quite a lot to get done!