Saturday, July 26, 2008

mid summer update, at last

ok so its mid summer already! I guess we've been busy! Here is an update, with new photos, at last!

On the house front, Jonathan and our WWOOFers Ryan and Kevin and friend Oliver have finished laying bricks on the basement root cellar walls, made and installed opening vents in the root cellar, moved dirt piles and finished backfilling the root cellar, surveyed and layed out string lines for the footings, dug more footing holes, cut and tied rebar, and poured cement footings.

We had wished to be much further ahead than this by now, but that's what we hear from all builders. Our wood order from a local sawmill is not coming after many months of waiting, so plans B and C are in the works (as well as saving up for our own portable saw mill - thanks to the pine beetle, there are a lot of dead pine in our forests around here, so we might as well take advantage of this beautiful and valuable resource at our doorstep). There have been other reasons for the slow pace: our Solstice community reunion, work on and off the farm, people falling off hay trucks, the usual!

And oh yes, the latest addition to our family also took up some time away from the home site, Mandy the Horse. She is just what we wanted, older, retired, a well trained ranch horse, gentle, wise and a little quirky, unflinching around excited kids, neighbouring dogs and passing ATVs or motorbikes, and respectful of a single strand electric fence. She is actually more like a dog in many ways, loves to be at the picnic table while we eat, and stays close to the house without fencing her in. One of the perks of owning a horse is that she is walking chipper shredder composting machine, hence the huge manure pile we have already...a thing of beauty for any gardener! I should have a photo of that but don't...yet.
We had a great crop of hay this year, and a wonderful workbee with many community members coming out to help pick it up and stack it in the barn before the rain got to it. Unfortunately, one of our helpers fell off the hay truck and hurt herself badly. That meant a few days in a larger centre with a bigger hospital, and time recovering. Now she is back and helping lots even with one arm in a cast! What commitment! Lessons learned: no one gets to ride on top of a hay truck no matter how fun it looks, and no one helps us without health insurance...!!

WWOOFer Emma weeded and mulched the trees we have planted in the garden area at the house site. She and our son Jamie planted many many bulbs albeit not in the best season but what the hay...under and around the Gala apple, the Gravenstein apple, 2 apricot trees, and 1 purple flowering Locust, a nitrogen fixer and attractant to pollinators, fast growing, drought tolerant and pretty to boot. I also planted comfrey and horseradish under and near the Gala and an apricot to provide a living mulch, as well as medicine for the future.

Unfortunately i can't landscape close to the house right now, Zone 1 in permacultural language, which is where i will garden the most...but patience is required as it is still a construction site and will be for a while. No worries, we dug a heavenly bed for the asparagus, planted it and they are growing well, and next on my list is a raspberry and strawberry patch, as well as more fruit trees, though deer fencing is always an issue. More t-stakes and chicken wire for now. We also have a large area rototilled and planted with buckwheat, to get more organic matter into the soil, in an area we will plant with potatoes, beans, peas and a trial area for tomatoes - the sun is hot and long there compared to where we currently live a 10 minute walk away so we have high hopes for a big tomato patch. I dug up some carragana seedlings and moved them out there into their own nursery - this is another drought tolerant, nitrogen fixing, bee and hummingbird loving bush, which could be used as a living fence we hope. The deer will let us know eventually.

Meanwhile, we (that is us with the generous help of our WWOOFers) are growing some food right by our current dwelling, and growing root crops such as garlic, onions (sweet and storage), beets, with our neighbour who lives within laughing distance. This includes a 50 or so variety potato patch (that's reduced from 70 varieties!). My herb business flourishes and keeps me on my toes: here is a quick list of the herbs we have harvested so far this year, either from the wild or from our gardens here, in no particular order: arnica, raspberry leaf, yarrow, mint, anise hyssop, chamomile, calendula, plantain, oregon grape leaf and root, lemon catnip, monarda, johnny jump ups, roses, st. john's wort, vervain, horsetail, alfalfa, dandelion, chickweed. Oils and tinctures are infusing and being pressed on a regular basis. We've blended teas, made some new ones, made the Seven Herb Healing Salve, Hard Working Hands Salve, Baby Balm, Belly Balm, mixed batches of Mineral Mix, blended aromatherapy facial mists/room sprays, made bath bombs, bath salts and blended tincture formulas. Orders come in and the products go out...there is a constant buzz in the herb room with things in various degrees of dryness, boxes of products to be labelled on a rainy day, etc.

Other harvesting so far this year includes picking wild saskatoons, black caps, hooshum or soap berries, and domestic Queen Anne, sour and black cherries. I have made a makeshift solar dryer using metal shelves from old fridges, and plan to build a wooden box with a glass cover so as to avoid the plastic trays commonly used in dehydrators.

We have another WWOOFer coming soon who has an affinity for woodworking, as well as a friend of a friend and then that friend coming also to help us get more work done on the house. Phew!

We cannot say enough how much we appreciate these helpers coming here - not only have they traveled from all directions, and help us with all (well, most) aspects of our lives including playing with our son when we're trying to cook supper, or grooming Mandy, taking the compost out, or helping with the bottomless pit of dishes, but they also offer us a fresh vision, a new perspective, with their eyes seeing our place for the first time, and its been wonderful to have them not only meet our expectations, but exceed them.
I can only thank them profusely and hope that their experience here will prove to be a gift in itself for them.