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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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!
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.
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.
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!