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‘Shed’ Part Deux

Our first pandemic shed became a much needed workshop but didn’t really fulfill our need for secure storage. We both have ebikes now – practically essential in this very hilly town and also very fun – And then there is all the gardening equipment.

So as the pandemic dragged on and on, well it made sense to put time and energy to good use and rebuild the other dodgy shed that sits at driveway level. This one is in a much more felicitous location in that we had the materials dumped in the driveway by a big truck and all the work happened there.

We planned to build it together but my better half became obsessed and I just had to stay outta the way. Fortunately, I had my own big project on the go at the same time. So I was there at the beginning to excavate and build the wall, and then at the end where I played a big role in the priming painting and decorating. Otherwise, it was a one man job.

Here is the pictorial.

It wasnt quite as quick and easy as the pics might lead you to believe, but it was a lot easier than last years’ shed build. It gives us an amazing amount of quality storage and could very easily be converted to a comfy bunky at some future date.

Pretty proud of the fact that my guy can do something like this, just off the top of his head. Bring on the apocalypse, ’cause I like our chances!

When it became clear that we would still be staying close to home for a lot of this year,  I was resolved to create a vegetable garden on the sunniest spot available to me, no matter that it was super steep,  and covered in an avalanche of salal and huckleberries.

I decided I had the time and excess energy to sculpt this hillside by hand. And I needed to do some physical labour to help me sleep better at night. Here is a pictorial report on my progress.

First I would need a few safe steps to get to the bottom of my building area.
I dug ’em and my guy cut and screwed the steps together.
Then I took over again to add landscape fabric and gravel. The dog supervised throughout.
When I had proper access to the hilllside I used a mattock to start digging up the garden area.
Did a TON of sifting of dirt and rocks.
And once I had a large enough area dug up,  we worked together to build raised boxes from (damp and very heavy!) 4×6 treated timbers.
Top down view of the 2 terraced beds. The larger is planted with potatoes plus both seed and set spanish onions – a comparison experiment.  And on the far side I left room for a triple row of snap peas. The smaller, lower box is for succession planting of salad greens

Above the two built in terraced beds, I cleared and mostly leveled additional space for a cold frame and another 4×4 raised bed.
But wait! There’s more! I kept digging and leveling and made space for another raised bed just to the left.
I’m going to try the 3 sisters here but so far corn germination is only at about 50%
Onions and potatoes are doing well tho.
And overall, the transformation from the first picture in this post and this final shot makes me feel vastly accomplished. A few more gravelled steps for safety and some soaker hoses are all I aspire to for this year. I’m going to sit back and watch it grow!

Christmas Tree Farming

Last summer I cleared and dug up the flatish area where we had torn down an old unsafe deck behind the house. And I planted a garden there, watered, fertilized and fought off the brambles.  But at the end of the day…there just wasn’t enough sun.  The neighbour’s wildly overgrown and untended yard cast shadow even at midsummer. I ended up with a decentish crop of potatoes and not much else for my trouble.

But not one to let that effort go to waste, I thought long and hard about what I could do with this area.  It would be a nice spot for a bunkie, but Rand has built 2 sheds in 2 years so that would be a tough sell.

The answer came at Christmas time when we cut a fresh tree at a farm in Robert’s Creek and it was lovely…didnt drop a needle and we loved it. Less enthusiastic about the 80$ price tag because this was a small tree. Out cottage is 800 sf so the tree had to max out at 5ft at the tippy top to be slim enough for our space.

80$ for this shrub.

So this spring I ordered 3 Grand fir and 3 Noble fir from the local nursery. They brought in Grand fir and Douglas fir instead so I ended up with 4 of the former and 2 of the later.

A little less than 80$ for six nice treelings in one gallon pots.

The nursery man, Lorenzo, told me to put a banana peel in each hole. He may have been punking me. But I did it.

It will be a just a few years before these reach the proper size we are after, and then we will cut and replace 1 per year. The location is perfect for a small tree plantation. Aside from occasional weeding of the area, if I can keep them happy and growing through this first summer they will be established enough to pose little trouble and bring yearly happiness.

Worm Towers!

When I came across this idea while researching composting I was smitten! Enrich my garden soil and have a fun pandemic craft! Yes please.

UPDATE:

I cut some corners on my third tower and would do so again. The connector piece, the screen and the one inch cut all seem superfluous PROVIDED you have a lid on your tower.

In short, you need a pipe with holes drilled below ground level and a lid to keep critters out. That’s it.

For this final tower, I had painted a connector, so I added it. But once the connector goes on it becomes hard to get off if any grit gets in between it and the tower. So, following the KISS principle, I put a galvanized garden saucer over it and a rock to weigh to down. It was the easiest to make and the easiest to service. So my advice is to skip steps 2 and 7 below and focus on the tower and a lid.

At some future date I will replace this grubby rock with a painted one to indicate there are worms at work inside.

I will report back on this project, (DONE!) but for now, here is what I have done, based on a variety of on line sources including the Habitat for Humanity website and various YouTube videos.

Disclosure: Not an expert on composting, vermiculture, gardening or anything much else. Not selling anything. Ever.

This is going to be quick and snappy because it’s a simple concept. Please excuse the use of inches and feet. Apparently, I’m old.

What you need:

PVC pipe, PVC pipe connectors, a drill with a largish bit, a small amount of fine netting and then the sky’s the limit in terms of optional decor.

Step 1

Buy a length of PVC drainpipe (roughly 4 inch diameter) cut it into lengths of at least 18 inches and not more than 24 inches. I had a 10 foot length so 5 equal pieces for five worm towers

Step two

Cut a one inch round off each section of pipe and set aside.

Step 3

Drill 3/8th or 1/2 inch holes randomly in the bottom 10 inches of the pipe ONLY. Use sand paper or steel wool to smooth these holes and remove loose bits of plastic inside and out.

Randomly drilling 1/2 inch holes in one end only.

Step 4

Paint or decorate each piece of pipe plus one connector piece. Start with a spray paint suitable for plastic, followed by dollar store acrylic craft paint or whatever you have. Throw your imagination at this!

Once satisfied with your 2- piece design, spray liberally with UV proof clear gloss and allow to dry.

This one is a lighthouse design. If you couldn’t tell, that’s ok

Step 7

Cut a circle of netting 1/2 inch larger than diameter of connector piece. Place it over the 1 inch piece of pipe you cut off in step 2, then gentle and evenly mallet the 1 inch piece into the top side of your connector piece. It is now holding the screen taut inside the connector pipe. This will keep flies in or out or something….

Screening at mid point of connection piece, held in place with the one inch bit you cut off the tube.

Finally you need a lid because worms like it dark and moist. You can use an old tea saucer, a terra cotta potting saucer, or anything similar that covers the top of the connector pipe. If it isn’t heavy enough to survive the wind, glue it on.

I wanted a rounded shape for my top so I used a plastic bowl, and used a glue gun to affix it.

Final steps: Installation

Pick a shadier corner of your garden for summer and a sunnier spot for the cold months.

Dig a hole 1 ft. deep and place your tower, holes down and straight. Fill in the earth around it until all the drilled holes are covered.

Place a handful of dry leaves or shredded black and white newsprint in the bottom. Now put your red wriggler composting worms in the tube. A few hundred per tower.

Browns first for bedding.
Worms aren’t photogenic but there is one precisely in the centre of frame.

Next put in your chopped kitchen waste: almost any fruit or veggie you eat, they will eat though they aren’t fond of citrus and onions and garlic.

A bowl of chopped raw cauliflower waste and apple cores. Yum! Followed by (last layer) more leaves and some soil.

Now gently place your screened piece on top and then your lid if it isnt glued on. If your connector piece doesn’t slip on and off easily for refilling – perhaps because of paint layers – sand the top of the tube lightly and apply a bit of cooking oil with a paper towel.

What about now? Look a bit like a lighthouse now?
Ta Da!

Feed your worms once a week, and add a little water to your chopped kitchen waste each time to keep the tower moist. Always a few browns on top.

Remove the tower, clean it out (corralling your worms) and move it twice a year or so.

Important: don’t mix regular earthworms into your towers! Rumour has it the red worms will eat them!

A 2nd tower: Jack and the Beanstalk themed.

Its warming up, lightening up and we are revving up all the projects we spent the last 3 dark, wet months talking about. Finally.

The First Big Project is (another!) new shed. Last year’s model is really more of a workshop so we still need weather proof, vermin proof and highly functional storage space for boating equipment, gardening gear and our bicycles.

The existing garden shed was badly built, had a low ceiling and was awkwardly triangular.

Quaint but carelessly built by a former shed guy.
Not much useable space either.

So while I was tending to some family business, my guy had the fun of pulling it all down.

Exposed.
Collapsed.
And 2 loads hauled to Salish Soils in Sechelt. (Say 3 times fast.)

Next step was excavation. Beside the old shed was a rough embankment – the only bit of land in the front of the house not landscaped, in fact. So we fixed this by digging most of it up to gain more room for the shed. And then the embankment needed to be shored up with a retaining wall.

Excavating
Leveling.
Building a retaining wall

But all that dirt had to go somewhere so we built a long, deep new planter behind the wall.

But nothing could be planted in the planter because there were three stocky laurel shrubs there. We compromised by removing 2 of them, using an automobile jack!

Jacking out the laurels
Then we spent a lot of time screening the excavated dirt to put into the planter.
So, finally, the planter was filled with dirt (plus peat moss, compost and other soil components. And Rand could lay out the footprint of the new shed. Whew!

So that is a short version of the Getting Ready to Build a Shed dance we have been doing. Without reference to the hauling of boulders, or the dozens of loose bricks we found, the digging of posts and pouring of concrete, etc, etc.

So now on to the shed right? Nope. More retaining walls. Stay tuned.

Guest Room Update

We can’t have friends to stay and we dont know when that will change. But I dream of having guests: People to cook for and with, friends whose presence justifies that extra drink that now just makes me feel guilty, and someone new with whom to play board games and cards.

This desire, along with a decision not to rent our place this year to vacationers, was ample motivation to spend a few days improving our guest room.

2019 guest room. Someone had to sleep against the wall.

This room – every room in fact – was freshly painted with a matte white when we bought the place in late 2007. So repainting was not an early priority. It has; however, become increasingly desirable over the last few years. And no excuse not to do it right now.

Benjamin Moore has a new, extra durable paint called Scuffex. It’s not outrageously expensive either. I chose a pearl finish as the room is a bit dark and would benefit from a reflective lift. As for colour, as usual I went with my gut, quickly singling out a pale grey white called White Wisp. It isn’t a warm colour, which is what one craves just now, but the cottage is principally a summer spot, so I had to put myself in summer thinking mode.

The paint went on beautifully, and floor, ceiling, 5 panel door and window trim were all given 2 coats of gloss in BM Cloud White.

We replaced a cheap ikea ceiling fixture with a lovely nickel fixture that we wrote out of our sales contract when we sold up in Port Moody. I was so glad to find a perfect place for it. We also replaced the non- functioning dimmer switch.

We reoriented the bed so there is (some) room on both sides, then edited and rehung wall decor. We also painted up some found “free” shelves with trim paint and installed them at about 2 metres from the floor, to add a splash of interest and some high storage to an otherwise bare-by-necessity wall.

A shippy light fixture and some free, high shelves are favourite touches.

I washed the duvet and mattress pad, replaced all the pillows and polished the floor.

As usual, there are a few things holding me back from declaring the job fully complete. We are hoping to refinish an old piece of furniture to double as desk and dresser for this tiny room. And the baseboard heater needs to be replaced.

But in general, I am happy everytime I walk by the room and can’t wait to welcome our first guests of 2021. Whenever that becomes possible.

Meanwhile, we use this as Break Out space for our individual activities: puzzles and crafts for me, and music and gaming sessions via Zoom for my partner.

A more inviting space, just waiting for friends.

There was about a litre of the grey white paint left, so after a few days rest, I washed, taped and painted the small hallway outside the guest room.

I followed on with the trim and other doors off this hallway. Now I can’t stop. My room next, then the livingroom and eventually, a complete redo of the bathroom.

The hallway before it got a fresh coat of paint.
In progress. Lighting is not optimal, but this photo shows the soft grey shade of BM White Wisp as I started to paint the hallway.

This recipe came to me from a friend named Roberta. I have made a few changes, because that is what I do. They will be noted so that you can make the original recipe, if you prefer. I did not ask Roberta if I could adapt and publish this recipe, so, bygones Roberta.

This would be a great activity to do with kids because it is simple, and can be made quick-and-easy or slow-and-craftsy.

Just mix wet and dry. Easy Peasy.

It is not messy. It makes a lot of biscuits so not only will your dog love you, but you can also cozy up to the neighbourhood dogs and (not literally!) their owners – because who else do you actually SEE these days.

Makes a ton of dry dough…
…That really begs to be mixed by hand.

One more note. My dog is a super fussy eater. He is suspicious of food. Rarely accepts a treat from anyone but us and often refuses things I expect him to like. So when Roberta brought a charmingly wrapped bag of these for my dog, I anticipated a socially awkward moment when Farley turned up his nose. But he gobbled them up. In short, chances are very good your dog will like these, though they don’t include traditionally appetizing doggy ingredients except for a small amount of peanut butter.

I could prattle on for yonks, I suppose, but I am not selling anything here, and the salient facts are now stated so lets get to it.

INGREDIENTS

3 cups whole wheat flour

2 cups quick oats

1/4 cup wheat germ (I consider this optional)

1/2 tsp salt (Roberta’s recipe uses garlic powder, but garlic is not recommended for dogs)

1 + 1/4 cups water

1/3 cup creamy peanut butter

1 large egg.

OPTIONAL GLAZE (Not part of Roberta’s recipe)

1 Tbsp (heaped) smooth peanut butter

2 Tbsp hot water

METHOD

Preheat oven to 275 degrees

Mix all dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Now, blend the wet ingredients in a blender.

Add wet to dry and mix well, first with a spatula, and eventually with your hands, as the dough is dry and stiff.

Roll out half of dough on a lightly floured board to about 1/2 cm thickness.

Cut to size-according to the size of your pooch.

You can use a fancy cookie cutter – a bone, a squirrel? – but I just trim off the rough edges, cut the sheet into rectangles of an appropriate size for my 7 kilo dog, and then use my fingers to pinch them into an approximation of a dog bone. As shown below…

1. Pinch middle of rectangle with both thumbs and both index fingers.
2. Use one index finger to press lightly on the pinch point.
3. Use both thumbs to slightly flatten and spread ends to look a bit like a bone (or a lot like a bowtie!)

Now with regard to the glaze. I have a lot of time on my hands, and I thought these biscuits would benefit from an extra burst of peanut butter flavour. So I mixed peanut butter and hot water into a thin slurry and dabbed it on the top of the cookies with a pastry brush.

A little PB and some hot water dabbed on before baking makes a tasty dry glaze.
Note use of parchment.

One hour in the oven on parchment paper, then cool and store in an airtight container for three days (immediate supply) and freeze or gift the rest. Let me know how your dog likes them please.

The finished product. One of three sheets produced from this recipe.

There is time, O yes, there is time enough to amuse oneself with aliterations and acronyms. In this case P6 will serve as the yet shorter form for PPPPPP.

More simply, I’m creating a cache of well loved family recipes for my kids (and their cousins if they care to dabble.) Bonus, they are available to me wherever I find myself in years to come.

What will this include: Agne’s Swedish Meatballs, Jean’s Nuts and Bolts, Ginger Sparklers (aka Molasses cookies) and more.

When someone wants a family recipe, I’ll write it down here. Or where possible, snap a picture from my mom’s recipe book and add my preferred changes and comments.

NUTS And BOLTS

The family recipe, apparently originating with my Aunt Jean. But tweaks are necessary!

These Nuts and Bolts are the first thing I make in preparation for Christmas each year. Since they store well in a cool place, I start looking for cereal on sale in late November and often have these made before December 1st.

As noted, this recipe makes 2 roasting pans full or about 4 full 1 gallon ziplock freezer bags.

The first of two roaster pans.

The main tweak for this recipe is to DOUBLE the Worcestershire sauce to a full one quarter (1/4) cup. I believe this is the magic ingredient that turns your heap of cereal from a salty oily mess (prior to baking) into something more than the sum of its parts. But this is entirely up to you.

I also find that half a box of cheerios is plenty. My personal preference is for more shreddies. And I put in about 1 cup mixed nuts and two cups jumbo salted roasted peanuts. I use one bag of pretzel sticks and one of traditional small pretzels.

Store in a cool place, such as your garage, or you will open the bags each time you see them and snack all day.

A Pumpkin’s Journey

When I harvested my last spuds on Canada Day (July 1st) I had a few sugar pumpkin seedlings in pots so I jammed them in the fallow potato plot – where they did very little in the 3 weeks that I remained a vigilant guardian.

Then I went away from late July until early October, camping and visiting family members and friends in limited and responsible pandemic friendly terms.

I was pretty excited, on my return to Gibsons, as to what success I might have had with them. Short answer: Very Limited.

I could see where many small tender gourds had been nipped off neatly by the deer that roam the neighbourhood. And even in October there were dozens of flowers that would never produce fruit. But there were 4 lovely pumpkins that had managed to get beyond the size deer could consume. One got stem rot and one fell to a sharp toothed small varmint and finally there were 2.

Disappointing. But then considering the complete lack of care and attention they received…bonus! Here is the story in photos

A promising beginning. The deer love them at this size!
But they did not find this one
Enthusiastic vines showed no respect for garden walkways.
Halved and cleaned
Oiled and roasted
Scooped and weighed: 1.7 kilos
Pureed in batches and divided for scones, pie and the freezer
Pumpkin scones!

So was it worth all that trouble?

Truthfully, I’m not sorry I don’t have 20 ripe sugar pumpkins. That would be a lot of work and result in more than I could use. I would have been looking for someone to take most of them off my hands.

But it was fun to grow something from a single seed and then take it through its whole lifecycle to something I can eat. It gives me a real appreciation for my ancestors, who would have had this much of their own effort invested in most of their food…and also for modern food supply chains that mean I can open a can of pumpkin puree without – until now – giving it a second thought.

Staying home a bit more? We all are.  Here is a really good and simple recipe. You can make your own pizza, just the way you like it.

It’s worth investing in pans. Avoid the ones with a non stick coating as that finish will start to come off after you have used your pizza wheel on it a few times.

INGREDIENTS

1 and 1/2 cups water

2 tsp lemon juice

2 T olive oil

2 T sugar

2 T powdered milk or 1 T milk or cream (can be omitted)

1 tsp salt

4 and 1/2 cups flour

3 tsp dry yeast

METHOD

Place all ingredients in the listed order in bread machine pan and set for “DOUGH” cycle.

Always peek into the machine once it begins to mix. It sometimes happens that the paddle turns in the water below the flour.

If it isn’t mixing properly, insert a spatula along the edge of the pan to get the mixing of wet and dry started. Once the flour is being visibly pulled down it should be problem free.

Heat oven to 500F when dough cycle is finished and you are ready to form your pizzas.

The high heat is key to getting a pizzeria quality product.

Divide the dough into 2 equal parts if your pans are 14 inches or greater.  For smaller pans you can get three thin crust pizzas from this same dough.

Spray pans with a thin coat of cooking oil.  Wet hands very slightly and stretch one piece of dough gently into a flat thin shape. Place on oiled pan and working from the middle outwards, pull and press to stretch the dough towards the edges of the pan.  The dough will shrink back a bit so be sure to stretch it a little beyond where you want it.

Spread the dough with your desired amount of pizza sauce then top with shredded mozzarella  and all your favourite toppings.

Bake in the middle of your preheated oven for 10 minutes. Depending on your oven and your preferences, you may also wish to finish with 2 minutes under the broiler. If so check every 30 seconds!