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! 💜



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!


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! 🎪


flora homestead


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! 🌿🐝


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! 🌿

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! 🌿


D-I-Why Not flora gardening homestead

TPS Report: True Potato Seed

🥔Tuber-u-lar experiment! My favourite flower might be the potato. Before we grew some of our own potatoes here, I’d never seen a potato flower. And maybe it’s because I find them so enchanting that I leave them be, and enjoy them as long as I can. And maybe it’s because I leave them as long as I can, that last year, one potato plant formed an extra surprise: a potato berry!!

The little green “berry” is the fruit of the potato plant. And since it’s not really how we grow potatoes anymore (by planting the tubers, we grow clones of plants instead), and is at least a little toxic to eat, it doesn’t get much fanfare or cultivation.

🐝: But if the weather is just right, and the variety isn’t sterile, and if you have some bumblerbees around, your pretty pretty potato blossoms might get pollinated, and you might end up with a potato fruit!

And if you’re the curious type (🙋), you might just wait patiently until that little green fruit is ripe, and lurk around your potato plant checking until the day it drops to the soil. And then maybe you lovingly scoop it up, and pop it in a little container to dry out and you put a wee “potato!” label on it. And all winter you walk past it on a shelf. And then when you start your seeds in early spring, maybe you crack that now dried up potato berry open. And though you don’t know what you’re doing, and you can’t really tell, maybe, maybe, you see seeds in there?? And you pop the potato berry pieces into soil and cross your fingers and then on THE BEST EARLY SPRING DAY EVER you see li’l baby potato plants!!

It is an awfully long way from sprouts to spuds. So I don’t know if these little potato bebes are going to survive all the way to the garden. But holy potato berries am I excited to try!

❄️🌱: Happy up and down and round and round start to spring folks!
For more info: Since we refer to the tubers we plant as “seed potatoes”, it’s dang hard to google this subject. (Search engines lump “potato seed” and “seed potatoes” as one). If you want to learn more, try potato apples, potato tomatoes or TPS (True Potato Seed). But not “TPS Report”, because you’ll need the right cover sheet for that.


homestead QoTD thinking big

There is no substitute for fire

“Television often gives focus to a room, but it is nothing but a feeble substitute for something which is alive and flickering… The need for fire is almost as fundamental as the need for water. Fire is an emotional touchstone, comparable to trees, other people, a house, the sky. But the traditional fireplace is nearly obsolete, and new ones are often added to homes as ‘luxury items’. Perhaps this explains why these showpiece fireplaces are always so badly located…

Less monotonous and less abstract than flowing water, even more quick to grow and to change than the young bird… fire suggests the desire to change… it magnifies human destiny; it links the small to the great, the hearth to the volcano, the life of a log to the life of a world.”

“A Pattern Language” by Christopher Alexander

🧣🧦: I like layers with my layers. So most systems at our place have backups or partners. We have an electric heat pump that keeps our home at “I hope you brought a couple of sweaters” warm. But to get truly toasty in the fall and winter and spring, we turn to our woodstove, Calcifer.

🍞🥓☕🧼👖🚿🐔: Besides heating our home, our woodstove has baked our bread, made our coffee, served up nice crispy bacon, and offered sweet blueberry cakes. The spent wood has become lye, and then soap to wash our dishes. The ash is added the chickens’ dust baths, used to fight parasites. I’ve made drawing charcoal from wild grapevine in its embers. It bakes potatoes, toasts marshmallows, and warms stew. Sopping wet clothes hang lazily around it, and with no effort on their part, are soon bone dry. Snow set out in buckets has melted down to emergency water. Because when the power goes out, the fire still works.

🤔: I don’t think woodstoves are necessarily The Answer To Energy Needs For All. Firewood is renewable, but complicated. But in the woodstove, the fire’s energy is visible and precious. It pushes me to use less, and think about it more. And that’s just not something I get from staring deeply into my thermostat.

Wherever you are folks, I hope you’re snug and warm.✨


fungi homeMADE homestead mushrooms

Mushroom log comes to FRUITion… 3 year update!

flora gardening homestead

Ap-pear-ent progress

There is that beautiful quote that society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in.

🍐👵: I don’t think there is an equivalent explanation for what happens when a middle-aged woman plants fruit trees whose pears she hopes to eat sooner rather than later. Though I’m hoping for neutral or better.

🤹⏳: We’re stretched here between the poles of permaculture and practicality. We try to pay attention, and gather good data before making changes to this scrappy scrap of land. With its spring flooding and summer droughts and rocks for soil and shade for days. But it’s always mixed with the urgency of needing to get things in the ground. So they can either start growing, or start failing so we have time to start again.

🤸🌳: Because we’re learning, so one thing we know perfectly is that we have a lot of failing ahead of us. So we try to fail on a worthwhile path, and fail forwards. That way, even when we stumble and fall, we’re still moving a little further in a good direction. 😉

Have a wonderful weekend folks! 💚