Categories
fauna homestead QoTD thinking big wild inklings

“Busy as a Beaver”

Beaver sketch, painted with acorns, wild grape, avocado pits and oak galls. Based on a b&w photograph by Hope Ryden.
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For 2024, I’ve resolved to be busy as a beaver.

But not busy as the beavers in my cartoon-simple conception of them, but busy as wild beavers are. And it seems I need to practice a very different way of being busy, if I would like busy beavers to recognize me as kin.

Thanks to these beautiful observations by Hope Ryden (from her book “Lily Pond: Four Years with a Family of Beavers”), I have some idea where to start:

“…Despite the descriptive epithet often applied to the species, beavers are not ‘busy’ animals. On the contrary, they normally proceed at a leisurely pace, unburdened by outside pressures. One stick at a time they drag up on their house, one load of mud at a time they push onto their dam. After doing a certain amount of work, they take a break to feed or groom or play or just float about in the water.

Few species, in fact, appear so oblivious to stress as does Castor canadensis. House wrens, for example, build their nests in a kind of frenzy, as if tyrannized by their seasonal timetable. Not beavers. … One handful of mud at a time, they scooped from the bottom of the pond. And, pressing this against their chests, they paddled slowly to the dam, and shoved it up into the crest. As unhassled as they appeared, however, they were in fact accomplishing two tasks at once–deepening a channel and raising the height of a dam.

Beavers work like that. Interrupting one operation to transport its byproduct to a site where that debris is wanted…

All waste products are recycled: dredged mud becomes house insulation or dam sealant; debarked food sticks become house or dam lumber; wood chips (fallout from a tree-felling operation) are brought to the lodge and spread on the floor for bedding. In this admirably relaxed manner, the efficient beaver accomplishes an enormous amount of work. Watching [beavers] is like attending a morality play, and I often thought I ought to take a lesson from it.”

~Hope Ryden, “Lily Pond”
Categories
homestead

Little kitty, big dreams

Despite his perfect pike position, one of the judges still only gave Oliver a 9.8, on account of he is a cat. 🐈🏊‍♂️
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So many exciting things coming up this year, here at The Little Homestead That Could Code.

Updates on past projects (like the holz hausen, potato storage A/B testing, overwintering herbs, and maintaining our 100ft driveway without salt or fossil fuels…) and upcoming ones (growing asparagus from seed, new Orpington chicks!) are coming soon. Along with some very exciting news from the open source software side of our little operation… ✨

But in the meantime, please enjoy our landlubber kitty who dreams of diving.

Have a good rest of your week folks ♥️
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Props to Laura Corrigan for her assessment that the judge must have been a dog. 😂

Categories
D-I-Why Not homestead

Holz Hausen!

My first off-brand, extra rustic Holz Hausen! If you know what these are, and lovingly craft them yourself, please look away. I mean you no harm or offense.

A Holz Hausen is a self-supporting way to season firewood — to dry it out before burning. Some folks use it as an all-in-one: both to dry green wood and store it. So when I needed to relocate our firepit wood off a rack this week, it was time to try making one of these aesthetically pleasing little scamps.

I usually see “holz hausen” translated as “wood house”. But Translate refuses to corroborate that. I couldn’t convince it “hausen” meant “house”, no matter how many leading questions I asked. Google much preferred “hausen” to mean: “live”, “hang out”, “wreak havoc”.

Wood for living, hanging out, and wreaking havoc. A fine definition for what takes place at a firepit. (Only the best wreaking havoc that is. In the language of social change, the kind of havoc wreaked by “positive deviants”…)

We visit with friends and family outside these days, and the firepit is a nice focus for wintry socializing. It’s also where I like to putter solo in my downtime. The firepit might as well be invisible for all I look at it over the summer, but when winter rolls around, I feel a driving need on Sunday mornings to pull on a snowsuit and go fry eggs in the snow.

Our firepit burns all our oversize and/or gnarly wood. By definition, wood is only there if it is a PITA. Which also means that my raw material was rough.

But I am part of the generation who believes nothing is unstackable, so long as you are humming the Tetris theme song. (Fun fact: It is called “Korobeiniki”, and is a very fun song to learn to play on ukelele.)

And I am surprised to find the Holz Hausen handled all our outlier wood like a champ! At ~4ft around, mine is half normal size, so there was a lot of improvising. And yet, though it’s only had a few days to prove itself, this island of misfit wood seems to be one solid little structure.

As our friend Em eloquently put it: “It’s a nice place where order and chaos meet… and have tea.”

Cheers to that. May order and chaos sit together in balanced companionship more often. ☕🌳

Categories
D-I-Why Not gardening homeMADE homestead

Unwrapping the greenhouse experiment

Well that’s a wrap — maybe unwrap? — on the Great Car Tent Greenhouse Experiment 👍
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🎪✨: The verdict is 8/10, would-do-again. We had an excellent year (for us) in green peppers and eggplants. Chiles and jalapeños did well. And an unexpected bonus of two pawpaw seeds germinated in there! Those are now planted on the hillside, with chicken wire protection against the wild roving rabbits of winter…

🌱🥉: The tomatoes did meh, though I’m not sure why. We got fewer in the greenhouse than from the much shadier raised beds. The lemongrass was fine but not riotous. The carrots hated it. The basil was content and industrious.

🌱✨: I try to be like that basil. These efforts are not about being perfect. Or self-sufficient. I don’t think either of those things really exist. Like it or not, we’re all tied to each other to survive. So it’s not about off-grid, but a better grid. Fewer trips to the grocery store for world-weary produce and packaging. More trips to a farmer, or the garden.

💚♻️: And to do my part in that grid, I figure I have to try and pitch in with what I’ve got. Which means trying and learning and failing and trying again.

🍓❄️: When I’m in the garden in the summer, it’s hard not to just stare at everything going “wrong”. Seeds that don’t sprout, produce that doesn’t produce. I had loads of failures this year, as always. From peas to beans to lettuce to carrots. Some even resown so I could fail twice (or more) in one year. Fail fail fail fail.

🐿️🌰: And yet…here we are. Heading into winter with a freezer partially stocked with our own fruits (mulberries + raspberries) and veg (beans, beets, green peppers, tomatoes). And other goodies literally draped around the place. Chile pepper garland, braids of garlic. A little pile of potatoes. Willow dried for Abbie. Teas and herbs for us. Seeds.

And a whole growing season of trying and learning under our belts, with more ideas germinating for next year.

🐿️🔥:I think those ideas need to be cold stratified though, so I’m gearing up to wind down with some glorious hibernation, nestled by the fire till spring.

Have a great weekend folks!
🌬️🌱🍃

~Kate

Categories
foraging homeMADE homestead wild inklings

Checking the Jelly Snares

I made wild grape jelly for the first time a few years ago. Y’know how when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail? Well once you’ve enjoyed homemade wild grape jelly, everywhere looks like a place to grow wild grapes… Old display stand? You could grape that. Extra bit of fencing? You could grape that.

🍇🌳: We haven’t planted any grapes here. They were here before us and they’ll probably be here after. Wild grapes are all over Ontario. Once you start looking for them you see them everywhere.

🧗‍♀️🍇: But we’ve set up a few places here to encourage wild grape to bear fruit in spots we can actually get to. Grape likes to climb, so sometimes it runs right up to the top of a tree. Where it dangles my jelly dreams out of reach. Look up, way up, and I’ll call Rusty… and tell him we’re out of jelly.

🍇🚧: But grape also likes to move side-to-side along a nice fenceline. So a couple of years ago when we installed a new fence, we also coaxed the grape growing nearby onto its wires. I checked it today to find it is very happy in its new home! Grapes on grapes on grapes. Enough for both us and the wild critters to snack on. Jelly is back on the menu boys!

🍇=🥒✒️🧵: In honesty the jelly is mostly for Neil, but I use wild grape to make a couple of other things here too. The leaves are perfect to pop in fermenting pickles, and I use the berries to make ink, and the vine to make drawing charcoal. In a pinch, I’ve used the vine as twine.

🍇☠️: A word of caution — wild grape is all over Ontario roadsides, but so are pesticides and poisons. Many cities (including ours) spray their roadsides, so be very very picky about where you forage wild foods. Toxic lookalikes like Canadian moonseed also exist. There’s no shame in enjoying a nice homemade strawberry jam on toast if you don’t feel you can forage safely. Strawberry jam is delicious.

Hope you’re having a grape week folks! 💜

~Kate

Categories
homestead

Cleaning House

Doing a little “house cleaning”…

The Maker’s Dozen offices and home and workshop activities all operate out of one building — a log house. (🏡🛠️🍽️🖥️🌲🌱🐓🐇🐈)

🏡❤: This is the start of our 8th year here. When we were looking in the area, both this house and the “conventional” one across the street were for sale. Looking at this house, Neil said “but wouldn’t it be like living full-time in a cottage?” to which I replied “EXACTLY”.

🌬️🏡: But all homes require love and maintenance, including log ones. The wood requires a little physical or chemical intervention to keep nature from reclaiming it too quickly.

The previous owner refinished the whole house just before we bought it, and we’ve been coasting on that “just” for a looong time. A couple of years ago we realized that “just” was pretty stale. Time to get on it…

🏡🤓: So working on the logs has been one of my summer projects. We didn’t know anything about log homes when we moved here (or septic systems or wells or forests or chickens or…). We’ve sought out experts and amateurs ever since, and met and learned from some great people. Folks who know more than us, and generously share their tips and techniques. Any mistakes we make taking care of this house, well, they’re ours to live with. Literally.

🏡💦: For the log house curious, here’s the program we’re following. Each wall needs to be: washed with log wash, treated for any insect penetration, any damage patched up with a special epoxy, large (~1/2”) upward facing checks filled, and finally restained (if needed) and a fresh top coat applied. The great part of DIY is we can do it a bit at a time. We’re spreading it over a few years — this year is the high priority/high exposure bits. Fitting this work around other work. Grabbing the sunny days, being grateful for the rainy ones that fill the water tanks. (It takes a lot of water to wash a house…)

❓: We’re happy to share what we’ve learned and experienced about log home living. Any silly or obvious or weird or curious questions, just ask! Will I know the answer? Definitely maybe!

Have a good one folks!

~Kate

Categories
gardening homestead

Car Tent Greenhouse, update!

🌿🚧: The car tent greenhouse experiment is growing along great! Sure, as a prototype, it’s a little janky to look at. (When the setting sun hits the sheathing tape just so… Okay, it doesn’t exactly take your breath away.) But when I change what I focus on, I usually change what I see. Right now, I’m focusing on food growing where there was none. And that’s a beautiful sight.

The car tent is home to tomatoes, hot peppers, sweet peppers, eggplants, lemongrass, cilantro, basil. All growing up a lush green leafy storm. I’ve already grown my biggest eggplant to date. Granted, that eggplant is currently about two inches long. But as I’ve never grown eggplant before, it wins by default. Success!

🐌🍻: Busts and booms often arrive together, and I won’t prettify the story. While the car tent greenhouse has been zooming along, the raised beds have been riding the strugglebus. Many of my transplants, lovingly grown from saved seeds, got munched by slugs. So I grew some larger, planted those as replacements, and the slugs were like “sure, I could eat”, and obligingly had seconds. So I got even larger plants from a neighbour’s farm. And the slugs were like “you shouldn’t have!!” and mangled (slug-gled?) those too. Plants A, B, and C, chomped.

🦙🌱: Last year I made beer traps, which worked well, until a raccoon came by who was thrilled we had beer-marinated slugs on the menu. This year, I’ve tried and failed at using wood ash. At the moment, I’m using wool fibre — which seems to be working?? It’s definitely working at making me look like an eccentric old lady. But I take that as high praise, since it’s my life’s goal to become an old lady who doesn’t give a damn as young as possible. (Eccentric old ladies really know how to live.)

We expect to fail a lot our first many years growing food here. And to lean heavily on the local farmers who ensure we still have food when we do (thank you farmers!!). The important bit is to learn, and try again. Because y’know what they say — Sometimes slugs, sometimes eggplants.

It’s going to catch on any day now.

Have a great weekend folks! 🎪

~Kate

Categories
flora homestead

Ninebark

Neil took this beautiful photo the other day of an eastern tiger swallowtail on our ninebark shrub.

I hate ninebark shrubs. Also, ninebark shrubs are one of my favourite plants.

The ninebark in our yard is the legacy of a previous owner. It is a good size and prominently placed. I would never have planted ninebark here. This nursery variety one is called “summer wine”, branded to evoke warm afternoons and pleasing things. But to me, a child of the 80s, it is the colour of repressively brutalist elementary school buildings and suburbia. It belongs to a landscape of pressure treated stacked railroad ties and salmon-coloured patio stones. To me, it is “morose maroon”.

It is not… to my taste.

But when we moved in here, we left all the plants as-is for awhile. We didn’t know much, but we knew enough to know what we don’t know. So we gave ourselves a few years to learn about what was already here, and kept a light touch with our horticultural changes. We added, but we didn’t take away.

We moved in during summertime. When our first spring came the next year, we discovered the ninebark exploded with baubles of tiny pink and white blooms. Alright. That’s a solid +1. But that’s still many months of morosity.

A couple more years along, and my love of and fascination with insects was beginning to blossom. In the springs that followed, I realized that the ninebark was covered, absolutely covered, in what looked like tiny buzzy bees. Each spring and early summer the shrub literally hums, throbs and pulses with life.

Now, 7 years later, the ninebark is still here, in pride of place. And it is welcome to stay as long as it likes. Because now I know that it is a much needed source of early food and shelter for all sorts of flying things. Yesterday a hummingbird perched on the tip of its branches. The tiger swallowtails flutter through it, birds build nests under its canopy, and the tiny buzzy bees are a sure sign more blooms are on their way.

I recently learned there are two more ninebarks here, struggling to survive in poorly suited sites. I dug them up out of the ground — and moved them to better locations. You can’t have enough ninebark.

Have a great week folks! 🌿🐝

~Kate

Categories
D-I-Why Not gardening

Room to grow

Every year I’m way behind on giving my plants proper supports. It’s always a mad dash of posts and strings and in the end it looks like an overgrown harried spider is trying to grow tomatoes.

Not this year I thought, as my peas blossomed and quickly and optimistically climbed into thin air. This year, this year, I shall build them a proper trellis. After a bit of research into maximum heights, and considering the other posts in the garden, I settled on this experiment. Ripped down 2x4s for the framing, scrap plywood for corner bracing, and chicken wire for climbing. I retrofitted the structure onto the existing raised bed by drilling in dowels to the corner posts.

Got it all built and installed, and then, almost as an afterthought, double checked which variety of peas I planted this year.

Tom Thumb.

Grows to about a foot tall.

On the plus side, I’m super on top of things for next year. 😂

Have a great weekend everyone! 🌿

Categories
D-I-Why Not gardening homestead

Vegetable Parking Only

This year marks our first car tent “greenhouse” experiment.

I like to prototype with whatever’s at hand, to see early on if an idea has legs, or if we should change course. No point running far and fast towards a dead end. 🚧

🎪-🚘=🌿: I’d really love to have a greenhouse here, but we don’t have one, and I’m not sure exactly the best spot to build one. We also don’t have a garage. But that means we do have a car tent. So maybe that double negative can equal a positive?? No garage + no greenhouse = greenhouse!

🎪-🚘=🐔: I put up and take down the car tent frame each winter. But sometimes the car tent spends its summer vacation trying out different jobs. Our first summer with chickens, it was our chicken run. I really don’t like the car tent, but I sure like how it helps me prototype my dreams!

🎪☀️: This year, the car tent is seeing how it feels about life as a “greenhouse”. Our driveway might be the sunniest spot on our property, though our gravel driveway isn’t exactly arable land. So I built half the car tent frame on the side of the driveway. Then we wrapped it with leftover clear vapour barrier plastic, with the original car tent doors on the ends. I took all our large pots, plus some generously gifted us from our neighbours, popped them inside, and potted up our more heat and sun-loving seedlings. That’s a pepper’s POV in the photo. It’s noticeably sunny and toasty in there, and the plants seem to be thriving. So far so good! Now I just have to remember it doesn’t rain inside the car tent…

(🍓: That’s a foreshadow shadow on the plastic — chokecherry shrubs I hope to harvest later this year. More experiments coming!)

Always worth a look around to see if something you already have is secretly something you don’t. 💡

Have a great week folks! 🌿

~Kate