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In between bigger projects, we spent half a morning making some fast improvements:

Swapped out last years worn and faded-to-pink flag with a fresh one from the dollar store. $2.50
Set up a new laundry line in a sunnier spot. PVC coated cable, 2 clamps, 1 turnbuckle and some hooks $21.
Installed a magnetic mesh screen on our seldom used “front” door for better air flow.
Installs in minutes and the only tool required is scissors. Great value at $16
These herb (and cucumber) planters looked messy sitting directly on the deck and attracted a lot of debris, woodbugs, etc.
Getting them up on wheeled planter caddies looks neater and the deck stays cleaner. $27 for 3.

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Its so interesting to me to look at photos I have taken of the garden over the past few months, so posting some here to make them easily accessible. The first three were taken in the exact same spot. This is a flower garden that has tomato, rhubarb and strawberries co-planted.

April
May
June

And then there is my lower veg garden that was previously full of gladiolus and some shrubs.

Snap peas left. Beets in the middle and carrots to the right. Back row is sugar baby melon territory and a newly planted asparagus patch that should bear next year.
Plus bush beans front and centre. Melons doing nothing weeks later.
Snow peas and snap peas starting to flower. Melons still nothing. Its too cool this June and they are only getting about 6 hours sun in this location when there is sun at all. So next year either no melons or find a better spot. Snuck a second carrot planting into the barren melon patch as consolation
Neighbours Derek and Natalie gave me some sunflowers!

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I planted 2 plots of potatoes, 20 plants in all. And so far as I can see, topside, they are a huge success. They have not been nibbled like my radishes, or consumed completely by ants as happened to a whole row of romaine. They are big and vibrantly green, and still growing aggressively. I do sometimes wonder whether all the plants’ energy is going into the leaves and there will be no tubers to speak of. That would be disappointing.

I rummaged around two days ago and came up with one perfect, ping pong ball sized red potato, so feeling optimistic. I plan to dig up one plant in the first week of July, then hopefully harvest the lot two weeks later. The cooking onions are growing similarly trouble free and make me wonder if I shouldn’t just stick to these two crops as they are so trouble free and useful.

Here are some exciting moments in my life as a spud farmer:

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The new garden with 8 seed potatoes planted 8 inches down and with a heavy seaweed mulch.

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A smaller patch, mulched with dried leaves, sword ferns…

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A third layer of timothy went on top, then lots of seaweed on top of that

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New garden looking more tamed all the time, and potatoes coming up

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I’ve kept putting fresh seaweed on top, as this is a no-hill method. In future years, I will theoretically peel back this layer of mulch and plant under it again with fewer additions of fresh mulch on top

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So green and healthy in the early part of June

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This potato is hopefully a harbinger of many to come.

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When we purchased our cottage 12 years ago it came with three outbuildings.

The smallest was on the slope on the upper part of the lot which was so ramshackle that it was really only good for storing firewood.

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When we finally knocked this down as part of our Covid-19 Isolation campaign we found some hard evidence that this was once the original ‘privy’.

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At the driveway level there is a small but functional shed that we use mainly for garden tools, firewood, hoses, etc. It is in fairly good shape but is on the list for a make over this year – new roof, repair door, mouse proofing…

The priority for a makeover was the largest outbuilding, situated just outside our side door at the deck level. It measured only 6′ x 6′ with a low sloped roof and over the years it has been our tool and miscellaneous storage depot.

Time has not been kind to this shed and it became increasingly damp as the OSB walls and untreated foundations rotted.

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The old, dilapidated shed

The plan was to remove this shed and replace it with a larger and more functional one that would provide storage space for tools, but also function as a small workshop.

The first step involved the removal of the current shed which all went into a ten cubic yard disposal bin (along with the old privy, the rear deck and other bits of old lumber.)

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The old shed 6′ x 6′ floor was to be extended to 8′ which, due to the proximity of the property line meant extending the footprint 2′ forward onto the deck area.

But first a trip to Gibsons Building Supplies (GBS) for some treated lumber and other wood.

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Then: Dig out the old foundation and reset the concrete pads.

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The treated 2x8s form the foundation frame which is then covered with 3/4 plywood.

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The two long stud walls are prefabbed on the deck.

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The walls are then man (and woman) handled over and fixed in place.

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Side story… I was dragging my feet on placing an order for a door but had resolved to do it on the very morning walk that I came across a used prehung exterior door as a freebie on the end of a driveway. It even swung the right way! Called Lisa. Bring the car!

Door installed and front/back wall started.

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The structure was then clad in 1/4 inch plywood.

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Trusses can be a little tricky so I went for this clever kit that was purchased at Lee Valley Tools. A quality product that takes the guesswork out of it. I wanted significant eaves on the sides and 12″ roof overhang front and back.

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10′ 1×4 stringers screwed to trusses.

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Roof clad with 3/8″ plywood

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Shingle processing station

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Higher, steeper and scarier than the previous shed roof

Approximately 100 square feet of roof required three bundles of Malarkey shingles plus ten feet of flexi-shingles for the ridge.

We were fortunate to have such a great run of weather for this project.

Next up was to paint (matched the cottage) install gutters and the faux window – an old window frame with glass removed and a mirror glue on.

Inside view with rear window installed and plywood panelling. Metal bench, gym lockers, wire shelving and LED overhead light all brought over from our old family home. The vinyl plank flooring was left over from past bathroom renovation. Past time to get organized!

View from the doorway with peekaboo glimpse of Shoal Channel and Keats Island.


All that’s left to do is some door trim, and then we will extend the first 4 deck planks in front of the workshop so it “nestles” into the rest of the landscape like it has been there always. A final picure still to come, when these last tasks are completed. But first, we want to take a break for a few days!

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I’ve been tearing out plants and shrubs that I haven’t found sufficiently rewarding.

A small pine has been replaced by a spud patch, a fern and a mystery plant with two rhubarbs, and an unsuccessful attempt at a moss garden proved too sunny, so now I have shade tolerant veggies like lettuce and radish growing there.

The rose has been a hassle since day one. It grows like a weed, overwhelms the trellis, needs constant cutting back, and always leaves us bleeding. But its an old, old rose….so it stays, right? Not any more.

In an exchange of marital confidences, it recently emerged that we both loathe the rose. So I dug it out.

Just about to begin its massive spring growth.

Already beginning to mangle the trellis, again.

But now its in the trailer for its last ride to the green waste.

The rose occupied a premium spot, with lots of sun and well drained soil. There is some over spray from the watering system, and a trellis.

Vegetable seeds are scarce, but with some effort I finally tracked down some scarlet runner bean seeds. They have bright red flowers to attract hummingbirds, are heat tolerant, grow indeterminately and the more you pick the more they produce.

They should love this spot. Plus my opponents, the deer, would literally have to approach from the road to get to them, which they never have.

Rand built a quickie planter at the bottom of the trellis to tidy things up a bit, and hold some soil. And now we have more food on the way. They should be fun to watch grow as they are aggressive climbers.

Scarlet Emperor bean seedlings, each in a wreath of seaweed.

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Garden is in better shape than any previous year.
Social distancing enforced in the garden, before the big growth explosion next month
Soldiers and Sailors, a gift from my old neighbour Elaine.
Just learned that primroses need to be divided from time to time. Oops!
Trilliums. A protected flower in BC.

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What was under that deck? Lots of ferns, salal and blackberries…and some flat land!

A peek up at the former deck, from cottage level.

Quick, lets plant something!. I had 8 seed potatoes left, so in they went. Since big, bold deer are frequent visitors from the adjoining park, it will be tricky to fend them off.

Looking in the window.

For a start, I’m mulching my plants heavily with seaweed from the nearby beach. When I go for a walk with the dog, I take a 5 gallon pail and selectively fill it, being careful to not take too much from any one area of the beach, as it is an important part of the ecosystem.

A quick rinse and into the garden.

Opinions are split as to whether the seaweed needs rinsing or not. I give it one quick fresh water rinse to take off the surface salt. I have read that deer don’t like to eat seaweed. But I also know they love salt…Stand by for my report in the months ahead.

Rand picked up a faucet splitter that allows us to run a hose up to the new garden area. This will also allow me to keep the composter wetted. Big improvement.

There are 8 potatoes under those piles of seaweed. that mess in the background is the “door to Narnia” before I attacked it.

Behind the new spud patch, there is an area that was a hole in the now-demolished deck. My kids called it the door to Narnia.

And Rand used to sweep leaves into the hole. So now, under a stump, more blackberries and ivy vines, what do I discover but about 12 inches of dark rich compost!. So I spent the whole afternoon with a heavy maddock, chopping out huge roots.

Rand came up and sawed down an acacia (weed) tree that would impact the light. And I hauled a half ton of debris down to the utility trailer for next weeks trip to the Green Waste.

Nasty blackberry roots.
The door to Narnia is ready to plant.

I will keep collecting, rinsing and distributing seaweed, both up top, and as a mulch for the lower garden. Here are some advantages:

Its free, and plentiful

It has dozens of trace minerals and is touted as a perfect, balanced fertilizer.

It rehydrates with each rain fall or watering, and delivers its goodness to the roots by leaching seaweed ‘tea’.

It prevents evaporation of water by shielding the ground surrounding plants.

It is attractive to helpful critters like worms and pillbugs.

But slugs don’t like it because it has sharp edges when it dries, and is a bit salty.

It doesn’t contain seeds or other plant bits that can take hold in your garden. Other mulches can hide surprises like…foxtails!

Like peat moss, it aerates the soil. Unlike manure, it doesnt need to decompose before using. Pile it on, 4-6 inches deep. Or more. This stuff is gold.

The only question is, will the deer scarf it up as quickly as I can lay it down?

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Our lives are distilled to two realms: Inside the cottage or outside to work on projects and go for walks. Its all so simple. No need to keep track of the date, no need to plan days and movements around social events or the numerous groups we each belong to. So we go out whenever weather permits, and when we are tired, cold or wet – back in. Some other things going in and out:

The old sheds and deck went out.
And loads of new lumber came in.
Piles of weeds and other green waste went out…
And a fresh load of clean crush came in to be spread about.
This pine tree, which was getting a bit big for its britches, came out…
And a new deep planter for growing potatoes went in.

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It’s almost like we knew. We planned holiday travel for February instead of our usual May, and we blocked rentals on the cottage until late July so we could “enjoy it ourselves.”

And here we are, enjoying it as much as is possible in these unprecedented times. We can go out, work on the property until we are so tired we sleep deeply, and take a walk on the beach when we need to see a bigger piece of the sky. We are so lucky to have this option. Each day it sinks in a little deeper that this is likely to be our principle home this year. So, let the projects begin! Might as well make this time count.

We are rebuilding a shed, revamping the garden, tearing down an old deck, clearing massive amounts of overgrowth and then…well we’ll see. This may be the biggest transformation the place has seen in decades, so better document it here for our records.

A rotting and dangerous deck that predates us must go.
Ditto this shed, to be replaced with a larger and more weatherproof version.
This topsoil isn’t gonna spread itself.
But also making time (like that is hard) for health and wellness.

Hereafter: more pictures for the most part, to record our progress and our errily quiet lives at this most unusual time.

Sidebar, I’m going to learn how to drum via the internet, lose 4 pounds and reconnect with my core muscles.

These projects can’t mask the fact that the news is very distressing and I have to limit my consumption. So many people are in much more difficult circumstances than us, and the means to help are not clear as yet. Except of course, stay home.

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Recently, while out walking near Granville Island, we stopped at a coffee bar and Rand bought a giant apricot oat cookie thingy. It was amazingly good! Chewy, flavourful and filling but wholesome tasting, by which, I suppose, I mean not too sweet.

I looked online and found a very similar sounding recipe, which was gluten free and vegan.

While we are increasingly experimenting with meat free menus, I don’t see my love affair with dairy ending anytime soon.

And I definitely can’t be bothered to stock all the specialty ingredients required by this recipe (almond milk, coconut sugar, coconut oil, etc.) or to soak dates and blenderize all this lovely dried fruit.

So today I came up with a simplified version, and they are so good. Excellent right out of the oven for breakfast, and they would be a wonderful addition to a road trip. Had to write my modified version down right away, so I can make them again and again.

Update May 2020

I find this is a pretty flexible recipe: you can add a bit of flax seed, change the fruit or nuts, whatever. The key is to end up with a sticky but not wet dough, in order to pack the cookies into your dry measure mold (or a ramekin) and have them fall out of the mold onto your baking sheet, then hold this consistency through the baking process.

Ingredients

1 1/4 cup rolled whole oats

1 cup flour, can include some buckwheat or whole meal…

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

Half cup or more sliced almonds, rough chopped, toast them for best flavour

1/4 cup finely minced dried apricots plus….

3/4 cup chopped dried apricots

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup flaked coconut

1/4 cup melted margerine

1/4 cup buttermilk

1 tsp vanilla

Combine oats, flour, salt and baking powder in a large bowl. Stir in brown sugar and coconut.. then almonds, apricots.

Add vanilla to milk, stir into dry ingredients, along with melted butter. Stir to combine. This will not “come together” like a cookie dough, but it does take a few minutes of stirring to ensure all the ingredients get damp and sticky, so keep stirring.

If necessary, add another tablespoon or two of milk, one at a time, to get everything to a damp and clumping consistency. Now, use a 1/2 cup dry measure to mold into 8 large or ten medium breakfast cookies.

Bake about 15 minutes, at 350F, then check to see if they are slightly browned on the top and bottom edges. May need another five minutes, if not.

Cool on baking sheet for 10 minutes, then gobble ’em up.

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