Archive for March, 2011

I know- what’s up? Two posts in as many days? No worries, it’s not a new trend, I just ran across an idea that I really like and thought I would share. It’s presented really well on the actual site, Global Buckets, so I won’t get into the details but in a nutshell it’s a very simple system for container gardening.

The boys (yes- kids) who designed it are brothers and they’ve put a lot of thought and research into this innovative but remarkably simple system. I don’t do a lot of container gardening but I do have some gojis that I’ll need to keep in pots for the first year due to our environment and I’m going to try this out.

How cool are these kids?


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Our weather has me a little concerned. At this time last year we were digging the foundation and rubble trench but here we are buried under several feet of snow with no sign of spring yet. Nevertheless I have started my seeds indoors hoping that any day now we’ll have fantastically warm days that will melt away the snow and allow me to start several new gardens before we start work on the house again.

I’ve mentioned before that our soil is absolute crap necessitating the building of raised bed gardens. Apart from hauling the materials- which can be a little labour intensive- they’re ridiculously easy to build and the plants loved them last year. I’ll be adding another couple hundred square feet altogether this year. My design is complete to make the most of rain capture and ease of maintenance and I’m ready to go! Anytime now…

Last year I built frames for the gardens using discarded wood, as well as some with rock borders, and a few very small ones using wagon wheels. Eventually I’d like to build up the walls using earthbags and plaster but given the limited time this year I’ll probably go with rock walls. We have a zillion rocks on the property and I like the look of rock besides.

Rather than just filling in the beds with purchased soil, I do sheet mulching which is basically a kind of ‘composting in place’. First I break up the soil. I don’t really turn it over, just break it in place twisting a shovel. Then add a little manure (just an inch will do), then about half an inch of newspaper (just the black and white- no glossy or color pages). Hose it down really well and top the newspaper with more manure or fresh grass clippings- just a bit will suffice. Top that with about eight inches or so of mulch. I have straw and leaves on hand so that’s what I use but wood shavings, broken down bark, or the like will work as well. I also threw in veggie scraps last year. On top of that goes a couple of inches of soil mixed with compost and then the final mulch layer- about two inches of chopped straw or whatever you have on hand. When you’re ready to plant you just pull back the top layer of mulch and plant your seeds in the soil/compost layer. (I skipped the final mulch layer last year, allowing some weeds to invade the space.)

Sheet mulching is really forgiving- you don’t have to be precise and you can throw a lot of stuff in there so long as you try to keep a relatively even balance. You do have to water the bed really well when you first build it. It shouldn’t be overflowing with water but quite damp and it’s amazing how much water the layers will absorb. Other than that, combined with some basic polyculture garden design, it was pretty much maintenance-free. I pulled a couple of weeds here and there but never actually applied myself to the task. I particularly enjoyed pulling up the carrots which slid easily from the nice fluffy beds, perfectly fat and intact.

The other thing I want to try this year is hugelkultur which involves collecting dead fall branches, piling them about two feet deep, stomping them down (I intend to dance on mine, no sense wasting the opportunity to dance), adding some straw and grass clippings and topping it off with about an inch each of soil and compost. According to Gaia’s Garden (one of my all time favourite books) potatoes, squash, melons and other vines do exceedingly well in this environment. I imagine raspberries and blueberries would probably do well too and I’ll perhaps try those next year.

Yet another option that I probably won’t get to this year is a dead wood swale which involves digging down about a foot and a half, dropping in dead fall, rotting stumps, and firewood, and backfilling the trench. Berries are particularly partial to this type of garden as it mimics their preferred natural environment. I would just love to have lots of blueberries on the property reminiscent of my days in the East.

Ah- I can’t wait! Soon I’ll be back in my element- in the mud, covered in bruises and cuts from hauling materials and building, sore but oh so satisfied at the end of the day. 🙂

wagon wheels

several styles of raised beds

rock bed, early summer

rock bed, mid-summer

surveying the scene- not quite ready!

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We don’t have television. I’m not a big fan. It only depresses me. But we do watch documentaries online and some news programs, between the CBC and Al Jazeera. I don’t know why people subscribe to cable when they can get everything online that’s worth viewing. Anyway- Friday, movie night for a lot of people so I figured I’d hook you up with two worthwhile films…

Inside Job” takes a look at the financial crisis and reasons for it, and is quite well done given some of the other crap that’s out there, and “Dirt: The Movie” is just one of my all time favourite documentaries. Really, really recommend Dirt. 🙂


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All of the really good ideas we’ve gone with have also been the simplest. Go figure. So we’ve been hammering out a plan for weeks now, trying to decide on the best possible stove top using the least amount of fuel. We worked with ideas using firebricks, and all sorts of designs, and we finally settled on a modified rocket cook stove. Simple.

Shane dragged in a barrel (yet another left behind by the previous owner) and we took the measurements before he set a fire in it to burn off the residue. We were hoping the paint would burn off too, as it has with other barrels, but it required a bit of sanding.

We used standard black stove pipe to build a sort of J-tube. Had to chop down a piece of pipe to get it just the right length but it’s a perfect fit now. Another length of stove pipe will be the riser, and we’ve got some old metal from a water heater that we’ll chop and use as a sleeve around the riser, to fill with insulation.

A chimney will exit out the lower third of the barrel and outside of the house. The whole deal will be insulated and plastered in so that it retains the heat where needed and doesn’t look like a hobo stove. I think with some creative plastering we can actually make it look quite nice. Pictures of the final product will have to wait- we won’t get this puppy in until the floors are done in the new house, but here’s some photos of the supplies to give you an idea of how it comes together. Simple and efficient.


A few basic measurements and calculations and we’re on our way.





















Cut a piece of stove pipe to extend the feed tube by 4 inches.

















That’ll be the J tube and riser.









The tin from an old water heater is perfect for cutting down and making a sleeve to hold the insulation around the riser.















Cleaning out the barrel.










Testing the draw on the internal unit. It draws surprisingly well, thought it might not at this stage. Now all that’s left is to cut a hole for the chimney and put the whole thing together.



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Note to self: build extra compost bins before the snow falls. Ah, but what would we do without a challenge? We had three compost bins, two of which are not being added to at the moment, waiting for spring and our trees. Well the third bin is officially full. Overfull. Compost doesn’t really heat up when the temperature ranges between -20 and -40 Celsius so it fills quickly.

Not a problem- just build a new one, right? Yep. Once several feet of snow has been shoveled out. So that was one of this weekend’s tasks. And we’re working on a modified rocket cook stove, I’ll have more details on that later…

Shane's tall but the snow's deep!

pretty full bin at the end

just about dug to ground


voila- a new compost bin!

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I’ve been reading about managing Solonetzic soils (again) and getting anxious to get out and start building some new garden beds. Our soil is classified as Solodized Solonetz and without getting into too technical an explanation, it means we have a lot of work ahead. But given all of the work and research by independent and government agencies put into developing these soils, I’m confident we’re on the right track with our soil building and raised gardens approach. In fact, there seems no other real option.

Recent announcements about rising prices have me a little concerned. Some of those prices- gas for example, and coffee, and fresh produce- have already taken a substantial leap. And living in a rural area, our costs for groceries are quite high to begin with never mind the fact that we often can’t get the same foods as our city neighbours. Gardening for us isn’t just something we hope to do as a past time. It’s necessary if we want access to fresh foods. Yes, I will also be glad to eat food that hasn’t been genetically modified and/or grown and processed with the addition of chemicals. But mostly I will be glad to eat when costs become prohibitive.

In addition to seeds and food we will harvest from the garden, we have stocked cans, assorted dried beans, rice, pasta, flour, grains and other supplies. We’ve been building our stock for some time now and have a pretty decent cache. Luxuries like coffee, cocoa, dark chocolate bars, and myriad baking supplies round out our cupboards. We’ve also stocked up on everything from Exedrin to lozenges, toilet paper, toothpaste, aluminum foil, and assorted first aid supplies- according to Procter and Gamble’s recent announcement, none too soon.

Can I just say this- being prepared is not something that should not be the sole domain of “preppers”. My grandparents weren’t preppers, and they always had a fully stocked basement. They bought everything from toiletries to food items when they were on sale and stored half of what they’d purchased as a matter of ‘good sense’. And they knew how to garden, harvest, and store foods. Not preppers- just solid, practical people who weren’t willing to depend on a never changing or ending cash economy to provide for all of their basic needs.

I understand some people’s hesitancy to accept the lifestyle we’ve embarked on. We’ve gone from city dwellers with good jobs who never gave a second thought to simply spending money on whatever we needed and wanted to owning an acreage in the middle of nowhere Alberta with less money than land, and plans to live in what amounts to a very large mud hut with primitive heating and plumbing. We don’t buy baked goods, we make them, we won’t vacation in planting or harvesting season, and we scavenge the transfer site with the same excitement as some people anticipate boxing day. I get it- it seems like quite the leap. But I worry about people who haven’t made any plans for the possibility of economically challenging times.

I have friends who admittedly live paycheque to paycheque and yet they still shop more than I do- just not for necessities. I’m really concerned for them. Some of them have children, some are single parents, many work in the general workforce without any specialized skills to protect them in times of downsizing. Rising food costs are a serious threat to their standard of living and job loss could result in total calamity. And still- they refuse to prepare. I just don’t understand the lack of any planning whatsoever.

This is not a Chicken Little lifestyle. I’m not running around screeching ‘the world as we know it is ending’, even though it very well may be is. (Okay, I won’t lie but I’m not screeching about it.) I’m simply preparing for inevitable change. Eating is important to me. So is staying warm. And I like to pee when the urge strikes, even when there’s a power outage. It’s the little things…

I understand that contemplating a radical change in lifestyle may be too much to bear, but are you prepared for change of any sort? Job loss, rent increases, rising property taxes, fuel costs, the high cost of ‘living’… What have you done to insulate yourself and your family from the impact of these possibilities? You don’t have to be a prepper to be prepared.

early stages of storage


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