Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Our Gated Community

Farm gates that is.

Were installing farm gates. It will make passing through the fence lines a lot easier than the ubiquitous barb wire and pole gate.

We have five of them on the property and I want to convert them all to steel gates. A barbwire gate simply consists of the fence line attached to three or four light posts and stretched across a fence opening to be held by a couple of loops of wire at one side top and bottom. Just nasty things. Although economical I always end up fighting with the things despite stretching the poles and wire before attaching them. When the snow mobiles go through the riders invariably leave them down as they are such a pain in the ass to put back.

The first thing was to remove the old posts and roll back the wire. Pretty easy with a skid steer with a four -in-one bucket. Just have to be careful not to chomp them in half if we want to re-use them.

We are installing steel gates that we bought at an auction last year. Now there's a whole 'nother post. We discovered that a lot of the auctions around here are not quite on the up and up. Buyer beware to the max. We paid more for the "made in China" gates than we would have by buying them at the local feed store. And the feed store gates were better quality. When I asked the lady at the feed store what her gates were going for to see what kind of deal I got, she said: " why did you just buy some at the auction?" I guess I was far from the only one to think they were getting a deal.

The trick to installing gates, like everything else, is getting the basics, the structure right plumb and solid, before attaching the gate. We use strong pressure treated 6X6 posts. Separated by about seven feet. One ten footer for the gate hanger post and one eight footer for the reinforcing post.

We attach 4X4 and 2X4 's to the top and bottom of them and add a double cross of reinforcing wire. Bull strong. Skookum.

What made the whole thing easier was using a 12 inch post hole digger on Tom's skid steer.


Jo-Ann did the machine digging while I did the gesticulating and squinting and the hole clearing. After we level the post we backfill with the material we took out and tamp it all back in the hole, bottom to top. Which explains how we can dig a 12 inch hole three feet deep, put in an eight inch post and still use up all the dirt we took out.

When we get both sides done we will put barn board pickets up between the main gate hanger and support posts, about six feet of them. All the wood gets stained white. They will cover up the wire cross ties and make the gate look a lot nicer. It's practice for the main house gate, and maybe even the Savory Road entrance.

I use oil based solid stain instead of paint because it doesn't have to stay as warm while it sets. The latex acrylics, my first choice, want at least +12c for two days. Around here that's iffy, even in August.

We got up early this morning to get a start on them but after our morning walk and watering the garden we were so chilled we're in the house having a warming cup of tea. It was only about 0c when we got up and a brisk west wind blowing. Even with the sun almost a quarter way in the sky the temperature still hovers around 7c.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Strawberry Fields Forever..

Well, If I can keep the things living through the -30c winters.

We spent the last two days adding a strawberry patch to the side of the Shop. This time of year it gets sun through out the day.

We started by leveling out an area about sixteen feet long to put the railway tie retaining walls in. I pinned the ties down with rebar rods.

I then covered the inside with some heavy plastic tarp that I get from the hardware store. It's the stuff their lumber comes wrapped in from the mill.

We then filled the space with gravel, tamped it down, added a layer of geotextle on top to stop any weeds and put down a couple of inches of sand which we also tamped down. I also added a four inch drain pipe to take away any water draining on the beds from the roof. Then we selected six 18 inch truck tires, cut the tops off and placed them on the sand bed. Filled them with a fairly sandy, loamy mix we had made up previously and then added perlite and peatmoss.

While we were hauling gravel and sand for the bed we also brought down about eight loads to re-gravel the roadway between the shop and the house. No more plank walkways required.
And then the strawberries.

We will paint the pressure treated wood on top with the same stain as the shop. And probably add some water at a later date. I can use it for drip irrigating the strawberries and supplying water to the shop. We will also add some decorative crushed rocks around the tires and some selected "yard rocks", large agates, jaspers, common opal - we're Rock Hounds after all!

Today we install gates. But that's another post.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Bag Man Redux

As a mentioned in an earlier post we spent yesterday finishing the garden planting. We also added 16 more tires of spuds. Late Burbanks and Pontiacs. Jo-Ann had the brainiac idea of putting the smaller car tires on pallets so we could fill them up with planting soil at the pile and then just move them over to the garden where we placed them between the rows of truck tire. Works slick. Another local resource - used pallets. The local hardware store saves them up for me and then gives me a call when I have a trailor load. They are sure handy around the enterprise.

The spud-in-a-bag method is pretty simple. I used a small car or truck tire to hold the bag in place and then just filled it with soil after making sure I put a few holes in the bag for drainage.

After that we just planted the seed potatoes, eyes up and watered them. So far no spuds, but it's only been a day..
When the spud leaves start to poke through we will keep adding mulch to the bag to force the plant to grow vertically. Ideally the spuds should grow in the mulch.

We mixed a fairly sandy fast draining soil for use in the bags, and added a small handful of bone meal under each on. Our spuds are prone to scabs. This year we planted Russet Burbank and Red Pontiac. The pontiac is susceptable to scab, the Burbank isn't. Time will tell. We also rotated the crop from last year. We used Yukon Gold last year, great eating yellow fleshed spud but very susceptible to scab.

The garden is coming together. We will get the auto-magic watering working soon. today we are building a planter on the South side of the shop to put the strawberries in I got from my friend Ken.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Cows Come Home

As I mentioned yesterday it was freezing around here. Snow coming down. In Prince George, 175 klicks East of us, they had to get the snow plows out. A friend of mine saw five cars in the ditch at 9 a.m. on his way in to Prince.

Jo-Ann looked out the window and gasped: " There's cows out there!". Sure enough, the motley crew had arrived. Problem was the fence around the house was cut on the Northern side for Walapini and drainage ditch construction.

We swung into action. Jo-Ann driving a skid-steer bucket with all the fencing supplies. I handed her a bucket of jujubes and she promptly lost a major crown. Today were off to a dentist in Burns Lake. Well it's five degrees Celsius from frost as we speak! Jo-Ann has sworn off jujubes.

By the time we cobbled together a gate and patched the barbwire up the cows had disapeared. Only fooling I guess.

When we get some time probably tomorrow we will make a proper gate out of some steel gates we bought at an auction last year. I also want to make a gate at the end of the tire garden so that we have a more direct route from the pits to the garden.

One of the tools I end up using a lot of around here is a barbwire fence puler. Very handy for re-stretching barbwire. I am going to make a few mods to it to make it easier to attach it to an end post.

Any way a day off- to take Jo-Ann to the dentist (the only one she could find within 200 kilometres) And pick up some supplies.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Getting our Crap Together..

Sitting here this morning we are watching a bizarre scene out our kitchen window. Hummingbirds swarming the feeders oblivious to the snow storm behind them. Were having porridge to fortify us before the morning walk. What to wear? I put away the snow boots.. However Jo-Ann did pick up a couple pairs of Arctic wear socks at the trading post in town.

On a side note we are saddened to hear of the trading post's upcoming closure- if no one will buy it. It means a 100 kilometer trip to get propane. and good quality work clothes and the only chainsaw retailer from Vanderhoof to Burns lake. The reason seems to be that not enough locals are supporting local businesses. You can get it cheaper in Prince George. only 400 klicks round trip. And it has a casino..

During our walk yesterday we spotted the first flower of the season:


It's yellow and the greens are tasty.. Jo-Ann is knitting it a parka.

We spent the rest of the day planting the remaining bare tires in the garden. Except for some turnips that we are planting in a couple of tires ( Nine tires in total for 'nips and rutabagas) and some parsnips (one tire) that are soaking in the kitchen. The turnip seeds came from our crop last year and we are very interested to see if they will produce. We did a germinate test and they all seemed to sprout- a good sign. We will be adding a dozen more potato plantings and a few more tires of kale and what ever else meets our fancy.

We brought down a half dozen pickup loads of soil from the top foot of the the sand pit location.
Looks like really nice stuff - almost a sandy loam. Jo-Ann added some dried cow flops ( herbal magic brand ) while I loaded the truck. Here's s a pic of Jo-Ann getting her 'er, Sh*t together. For want of a better expression:
I just never imagined that collecting crap, the literal stuff, not the metaphorical meaning, would be something that I would be interested in. Ah well, one cow's crap is another man's fertilizer. And having priced that stuff out lately ( the non-organic kind) I do appreciate the free, natural stuff. And it's easier to spot than worm poop. Way bigger. Each tire in the garden seems to have a plentiful supply of worms so I am pretty sure we're getting a lot of worm poo - er castings. Must be good 'cuz the local green house sells it weight for weight with gold.

After we got the soil down near the garden - with supervisors Cleo and Xena taking a break from running back and forth:

We unloaded it in a pile next to our growing compost/dirt pile. The large pile is a lot of the topsoil with clay. For some fool reason I had removed it to make a "conventional" garden. Before realizing what 2b as a growing area meant.
Jo-Ann sifted it in order to blend it all together. I did the rock picking and sod removal. Worked really well.
I had to demonstrate proper earth moving techniques and I think she picked it up pretty well. 'Fer a gurl, who admits to never playing earth mover in a sand pile.
Who's idea was it anyway to show her where the horn was...

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Re-Tired Bag Man

Despite the 4C(39F) were putting in the garden. We are starting with Tomatoes, Squashes, Lettuce, Spinach, Carrots, Cabbage, Broccoli, Radishes.. I know it sounds weird, planting tomatoes in this weather - but they are going in mini green houses. All the veggies are. The big trick is to keep them from burning when the sun comes out.

As we are planting we are also adding tin foil to the top tire on the inside to reflect the light. It makes a huge difference. I am also adding sand, from our new found pit, and Perlite to loosen up the clay based soil. Actually a glacial alluvial mix. We also plant all the cabbage and squash through slits in a black geo-textile that lets water in, blocks weeds, and keeps heat in the soil. A high tech mulch. I have found a new tool for working in the re-tired garden. It's a three pronged garden fork that has an extending handle. Perfect for stirring up the soil. Here I am making a menacing gesture with it. Or I have gas. I forget.
You can see the difference between a tire that has been tin foiled on the left and one that was just painted white to the right. Still on the look out for a great wheel barrow. Or maybe a garden cart. Any suggestions?

We are only doing a quarter planting of Spinach, Lettuce, and Radishes. A full tire of each is far to much for two people to eat. However, the chickens are more than willing to help out with the Spinach. We just plant a quarter tire and come back in a couple of weeks and plant another and so on to keep us in greens for the summer. Before we get to munch on beet tops.

Later we will be adding some kale, and today - if we avoid the rain, spuds. I am adding more spuds by using the garbage bag method. Basically putting a large heavy duty garbage bag in a tire, cutting some holes in the bottom for drainage, folding it down and adding soil and seed spuds. As they grow we just unroll more of the bag and top with more soil or even chopped straw. When were finished we have a bag of spuds. And can recycle the soil and straw. The tire ( a small car tire in this application) just helps hold the bottom of the bag for stability.

You know your missing fresh from the dirt greens when you find yourself eating the lambs quarters as you weed them from the garden.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Chop Wood

We didn't have to carry water. It was falling from the sky.

It was too cold for Gardening yesterday. A couple of times on our morning trundle we hid under convenient spruce trees to wait out a hailstorm. I am thinking of installing benches to make the sites more comfortable. Maybe stash some rations for prolonged storms.

We decided to cut up the fir tree that had fallen down from the tree building. Most of the wood was fine with only the outside chewed up by ants. The top of the tree was too rotten and the bottom 5 feet had too many nails pounded into it. Makes cutting it with a chainsaw a dangerous and chain filing intensive operation.

I was using an old Stihl chainsaw with a 30" blade. I had bought it second hand and it seemed to be in pretty good shape. Yesterday I found out that the handle had been broken and then glued back together with some epoxy putty. After some hard starting, pulling on the cord, the putty let go. Jeez. Maybe I can find some parts on line. A new saw to replace it will run about $1200. I have three other saws, one electric, great for light jobs, and a small Husqvarna for limbing. It usually stays in the back of the truck in case we have to remove fallen trees on the way to town. A not uncommon occurrence - especially in the winter when the trees get a snow load and the wind comes up. I have another one that my brother Tiny gave me, a cast off from his log building operation, but I haven't been able to get it to start reliably despite adding a carb kit. Off to the saw shop to see what they can do I guess.

I split the wood into pieces suitable for the small upstairs heater which is all we're using right now.

The ants even helped out with the kindling as I gathered a bucket full of ant chewed wood that was all ready ant hewn to kindling size.

We collect bark that sloughs off birch trees in the spring and it makes the worlds best fire starter. A couple of strips, one match, some ant kindling, and instant upside down fire.

Jo-Ann handled the skidsteer and shuffled the split wood to a pile under the balcony, where it will stay dry. After this she used the bucket to clean up the aftermath of the logging operation. All while doing her knitting..

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Boyz 'N Toyz

My Brother Tiny just got a new toy. He plans on renting it out for light excavation work. The great thing about this one is that he has trailer that will handle it so it is very mobile, Unlike the big one that pretty much stays parked at our place.

During our morning walk today we had to huddle under a Spruce tree a couple of times to get out of the hail. Two days after the tomatoes went in the tires..

The tips of all the Poplar trees are quickly turning green. Almost over night. Yesterday we noticed, despite the near freezing weather, that they got greener as the day progressed- despite the atrocious weather. Mother Nature breaks out. Today on our walk between hails we even noticed strawberry plants starting to come out. These are the little tiny ones about the size of your little finger nail. I have never had the patience to pick a decent amount for a pie.

We are upgrading the entrance to the place. Complete with a tree arch and a white 2 X 6 fence. So fare we have the lumber and a plan. Project timing will be after a few we have on the go now.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Underground Green House Project

Among other things. When ever I mention that I am building an underground greenhouse I get the strangest looks. Its just the walls that are underground. The roof is transparent and lets the light in. It's based on the idea of a walipini, first used in Bolivia I believe.


Kind of a low tech method of getting some plants growing in inhospitable growing areas. Such as our 2b. Any way all good fun. I picked a site on the side of a south facing hill North of our Re-Tired garden to give ours a try. It's right where the excavator is digging.


Far enough that there is no shade near it and close enough that I can power it. Mine will be a little different in that I am berming it with tires that will have packed clay in them before I put the dirt back. I haven't decided on using green house plastic or the corrugated type for the roof. Probably the latter as it will have to carry a snow load. And I need to figure out how to insulate the roof during the cold times. Some type of slider made out of two inch pink styrofoam..

I know of one other fellow in Endako that has a semi underground green house and he does really well with it.
The sloping trench to the left is for an access steps that will lead to an insulated door. The trench on the right is for draining any water that gets in the place. It will drain from some drain pipe embedded in a foot of rock on the floor. The trench will get filled in as soon as I get the drain pipe in.

Ours will be a little bigger than 10 by 20 by 12 feet deep at the back - sloping to about seven at the south side. It is oriented E/W so that the Southern Sun will catch it all day long. There are calculations that you can google to get the exact angle of the roof depending on your latitude.

We are also cleaning out the fuel shed. It was full of crap, old moss in bags and rags and used oil in various sized drums and odd sundry containers, discarded paint, a bunch of two by four lumber ( that will be used for shelving) and a log stand that held a large gas tank that was removed.


We did find a couple of treasures: an old brass fire extinguisher, a one gallon metal pouring container and a galvanized oblong cistern with a tap.

Really the fuel shed was a fire hazard and prime range for our ubiquitous packrats. Jo-Ann tried to get in the place a couple of days ago to rescue a "Cleofied" cat and couldn't get past all the crap.
With the old tank stand removed I am left with a hole in the floor. The log I am sitting on just rests on dirt. The board my hammer is resting on holds up floor boards to the left of my hammer. I guess the weight of the stand and tank kinda supported the floor. Like a fat guy on a teeter totter, balance can be achieved - but nothing better move.. Mike Holmes would be shaking his head at the structure, or lack of. I wonder what he'd say about the outbuilding that was built around a couple of trees - one of which just fell down. "It's all gotta come down!"

We need a place to keep all of our fuel and lubricants. Away from the outbuildings and our house so that if a fire happens it wouldn't pose too great a danger. We also need a temporary storage for the stuff in the Red Shed as that is moving over to the Re-Tired garden for use as a Garden equipment and potting shed. Perhaps the red shed will even get insulated and heated. It will have year round water and power as we dug that in last year in anticipation of the move.

Anyway We have the fuel shed pretty much dunged and swept out now and we've stopped, mid day, for tea. Jo-Ann's been running the skidsteer and moving pallets and me, and a few close friends, around- when we get to the lazy stage, which makes the whole clean up process a lot faster.

She's not having any fun. It's just work, work, work..

I will have to do some restructuring of the shed in order to cover the six foot hole the tank stand was built in. And I will have to jack it up to level it. and then wire brush the galvanized siding on the outside and paint it fire engine red with white trim. And replace a broken window. After the plants get in the dirt.

And of course starting to plant. Cabbages, Carrots, Beets, Lettuce, Spinach, Onions Tomatoes, and of course Spuds. We picked up some tomato and cabbage sets at the local green house yesterday. Expensive way to plant and that is why I want to get the green house going for next year.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Making the Moats Out of Life..

Just the thing you want to see when your having your morning cupa and thinking" Darn rain - wanted to work in the Garden.." And I wasn't joking when I said I just took the winter tires off of the Toyota and the Van.


My brother Tiny came up day before yesterday and dug a swale, well moat around the North, or uphill side of the main house. This will capture all the spring snow melt that previously rushed down the roads and hillsides and flowed through the yard. One benefit of this will be to fill a new pond just west of the Garden. Splash party for the doggies. And if I make it big enough and put in a pond liner..and a diving board...hmmm.

Yesterday we tried out a new load mover in the back of Betsy Ford, the yard 4X4.

A poor man's dump truck.


The gravel was shuttled from the new pit we opened up. Kinda marred the ultra light landing zone, but I will flatten it all out with the Cat later. That load of gravel in the tail gate might not look like much but its a heaping bucket load. And about all the load handler can handle.


we put six loads of gravel on the driveway and guess who did the skidsteer work? I can't tell you because she is going to post pictures on her blog but her initials start with Jo-Ann.

The trick to making the load handler work is making sure the truck bed is clean and slippery.
Not bad for an hours work. After this we picked up a bucket full of rocks. Well I picked up the rocks while some other un named person gleefully drove the skidsteer.

While we were doing the driveway we looked up and spotted the second bear, the first one on our property. O.K. you will have to squint its the little black dot top of picture. I think it heard the dogs by then and dissapeared pretty quickly.
It will be interesting to see if they come any closer with two hounds baying at them.


I bet you recognized the coffee filters and grinds from Starbucks near my daughters home in Coquitlam. Here we just call it composte. And the world, and pile turns.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Big Iron

These are some photos of a couple of mowers. From what I can google they are turn of the century items. Obviously well made. I wonder if anything we make out of metal, especially farm equiptment will still be here a hundred years from now?
This is a John Deere:



The hub:
The cross arm:
Made in Moline:
And a Canadian mower. It looks "plenty skookum" also.
The name plate:
I can still see the John Deere green on the JD one but have no idea of the Frost & Wood colour. I would like to paint them and put them on some concrete pedestals down at the Savory Road entrance, as part of the entrance spiffy up project.

It's really neat to see how well made and consequently durable these things were. A little bit of spit and polish a cutter bar and a couple of well trained steeds and they could be put to use.