Discovery Orchard

an orchard visitorLast fall, Colin and I decided to get going with planting an orchard of fruit trees.  Drainage ditches had been put in around our field the previous spring, transforming our sodden and squelchy ground into a walkable and plantable area.  Our ideas of October seemed well in advance of March, so we approached a local fruit growing expert, Bob Duncan, and asked for his suggestions for the varieties of apples to make up a cordon espalier orchard of about 40 trees.  We were interested in early, mid, and late season apples, with cross pollination dates and a variety of uses for the fruit, as well as a handful of pear varieties.  Bob has been growing fruit for 30 years on the Saanich Peninsula, and now has over 300 types of fruit on his property of less than 1 acre.  He specializes in dwarf apple trees, (over 200 heritage varieties of unusual and hard to find varieties), but also has over 80 varieties of pears, plums, peaches, nectarines, apricots, cherries, figs, grapes, kiwi, quince and medlar, over 30 varieties of citrus, and hardy subtropicals such as pomegranates, persimmons, loquats, feijoa, jujubes, and olives.  We know where to go when we are looking to expand our fruit harvest!

trees coming outBob put together a list for us and said we could pick them up in four months.  By mid February, Colin eyed up a bunch of trees on the perimeter of the orchard space and decided that they would need to come out first- small and unhealthy cedar trees that leach nutrients from the soil, and some fir trees sporting signs of rot.  A week later and the open field was littered with scrambling heaps of green branches, tops of trees, and a variety of thick and rotten trunks.  It was then that we got an email announcing the imminent pick-up dates for our trees, some of which were bare root and would need to be planted right away.

fencing the clearingWe spent the next two days clearing.  Our decision not to burn anything except in a fireplace left us separating all the debris into piles- the greenery and thin branches for the chipper, the thick branches to be cut up with the chop saw for firewood, and the trunks chopped into rounds for more firewood.  Colin picked up the trees, as well as metal fence posts, a roll of wire fencing, bonemeal, dolomite lime, an organic fertilizer blend, tree tags, tree strapping, a box of 16 post saddles, three bags of concrete, and a new shovel.  Luckily, there was a trailer full with two yards of sea soil sitting just down the road waiting to be sold, so we didn’t need to do an extra trip across the water to fill up with composty soil amendment.

post holesColin laid out the four rows, 2.5 feet wide and 35 feet long each, running north south and spaced with 5 feet between them, and began to dig four post holes in each row to support the wires upon which we would train the cordon trees.  We observed that we had about one and a half feet of nice topsoil, then a solid delineation of clay.  It rained quite a bit in the time of all this digging, and it became clear that the water filtering through the topsoil was hitting the clay layer and pooling, rather abundantly, in our holes.  This didn’t bode well for any tree roots that might be planted nearby, so we resolved that we would also need a drainage ditch running across the ends of all the rows and moving any water off to the side.  The gentle slope of the orchard area will help move the water towards the ditch.

We spent another day mixing concrete, filling the post holes and setting the saddles.  We hammered in the perimeter fence posts and ran the wire fencing around the outside of the rows, leaving a measured gap for an old garden gate.  Then we dug some more.  Colin removed the soil from the rows, a foot deep and two feet wide.  I amended the soil in wheelbarrow sized batches with sea soil, one cup of bonemeal and lime, and shoveled it back into the trenches, with a lofty 4 inch berm.  planting bare root treesThe bare root trees went in first- six pears, two peaches, a nectarine and an apricot- three feet apart with the main stems set at a 45 degree angle, pointing north.  (Except for the stone fruit.  These will be grown in a fan shaped espalier at the south end of each row, filling in the space created by the first tree planted at an angle.)  Our choice to train the dwarf trees in a cordon system was based on the understanding that this system results in a high production of fruit in a small space that can be attended to very easily.

apple treesOf all the 30 apple trees, there are 17 different varieties, most of which are a complete mystery to me.  The first apple tree that I picked out of the pile was named Discovery, and as I tucked it in I wondered what a Discovery apple looks like, tastes like, and what time of the season it would be ready to harvest.  In fact, knowing nothing about any of the varieties made me realize that this whole project was going to be one of immense discovery and learning; all the different flavours and timing and uses.  We have apples called Snow and Lodi and Karmijn de Sonneville.  I am familiar with the Gravenstein and Cox, but what will a Vanderpool apple taste like?  From getting these trees planted to pruning them, training them, and generally keeping them alive for the 3-5 years until they are in full production, (and beyond) will be a whole new subject of learning for me and Colin.

We still have posts to put up, and support wire, as well as a plastic roof system that will cover all the trees 2 rows at a time,  with Bob’s recommendation.  He has been struggling for 30 years to organically avoid blight and canker, and has come to the conclusion that it is all related to the high amount of moisture that we receive on the coast.  Adding the clear roof also allows us to put in those more water tender stonefruit trees (apricot, peach, and nectarine).  Bob Duncan can be found at Fruit Trees and More.

 

 

 

Spring Branch

We have a branch on the window sill of our dining table that we seasonally adorn throughout the year, and until recently it still carried the paper snowflakes that we made in the winter.  Last week, the emerging sun of spring engaged us in a morning of fluffy wool and felt, for a branch transformation into spring.  Of course, other ideas sprouted, and soon Cedar had sewn himself a bluebird head band.  Cedar and Taeven also made drawstring pouches from a book he has been thoroughly enjoying, The Boy’s Book of Adventure- The Little Guidebook for Smart and Resourceful Boys.  Over 40 ideas for outdoor activities and fun crafts.  (There is a girls’ book, too, but they are quite interchangeable.  Published by Barron’s.)

The following is an excerpt from Earth Wisdom, by Glennie Kindred.  This book has been on my shelf for many years, and I often refer to it at the times of the yearly changes for inspiration and insights.  It explores some of the Celtic traditions, knowledge and beliefs from Britain and Northern Europe and brings them forward to the present day.

Spring Equinox, Festival of Balance and Potential, March 20-23 (Northern Hemisphere)

“The power of the sun is increasing, the days are lengthening and the nights are shortening. We begin to feel empowered to reach out for what we want and to take risks, strike out on our own, go for walks and connect to the Earth again.

We can use the potential and fertility of this time to create opportunities for positive change in our lives and in the world.  At his point we are poised between opposite forces, light and dark, receptive and active, unconscious and conscious, inner and outer.  These can be united within us so that we are whole and balanced individuals.  This gives birth to actions that come from the heart.

At this time of year we can inspire each other with prophecies of hope, the power of “we” and our willingness and power to bring change into the world as we create opportunities for a bright new future.”  Glennie also offers an awareness of tree energies, and the role of the spirit of trees through Celtic folklore and mythology.

tree offeringsAnother way that we enjoy bringing intentional blessing and joy to the awakening earth is making decorations for branches outside with colourful pieces of wool, yarn, string, beads, bells, shells and whatever else we find that can be crafted into a joyful offering to the efforts of the blossoming plants.  Creations can be hung in the branches of budding fruit trees to bless the fertility of the harvest.  Alder trees, being the 3rd tree in the Celtic Tree Ogham*, represent balance and inspired action, and begin their rebirth in spring by bearing bright red catkins.  Hazelnut trees, bearing clumps of yellow catkins, are associated with creative change and inspiration, and willows are trees of intuition, inspired action, fertility, visions, dreams, and expressed emotions.  These trees all have an energetic commonality in the quick movement of water as a refreshing, spring clean quality, and so adorning these trees with bright celebrations of joy to be caught by the breeze also blesses the water that flows with new nourishment into the life that reaches out all around… including to and from ourselves.

*The Oghams were used by the Druids to classify, memorize, and store information.  The Tree Ogham is a means of communication through each of the 20 Ogham symbols carved into Ogham sticks or staves.  Each symbol, called a fedha or few, represents a tree or shrub and its underlying energy or wisdom.

 

Winter Weaving

saori autumn weaveThis winter, I finally got the chance to try making some warm winter wearables from a few pieces of weavings I have been producing.  Mostly I have been making scarves, but I really wanted to make a more substantial wrap or jacket.  The widest piece I can make on my Saori loom is 42cm (16.5inches), so I made a warp that was the widest possible and the longest possible from my supplies so that I would not run short.

The simplest plans for a poncho seemed to be two strips sewn side by side with an opening in the center for the neck hole.  I had lots of sturdy cotton green warp, and plenty of 100% wool in two shades of blue that came from the local second hand store.  I mixed it up with a multi-coloured merino in blues and greens and yellows, and I occasionally placed a line of light green roving for texture.  Using only these yarns, I experimented with all that can be done with three choices.  It was a new practice for me, especially with such a large piece to fill.  Usually I can’t help adding more and more variety.  Off the loom, I cut the fabric in half and sewed one half of it together down the sides.  I decided to leave the other half open, like a vest poncho.  I may add large buttons on the sides under the arms to keep it more securely closed all around, and who knows, I may decide to sew up the front, too.  I have passed it over to my mother to wear, so it is an open ended project depending on her comfort!

With the second piece, I was looking to make something more with more drape.  I picked up a single, large skein of a fine, almost lace weight merino and wool blend that had long, autumn toned colour changes.  In my buckets, I found two skeins of lace weight alpaca in two shades of green that I hoped would be enough for another wide, long warp.  Without interrupting the weft too much, I added accents and highlights whenever the bobbin and shuttle ran out and there was a slight break in the colour changes.  I had a ball of recycled silk sari yarn, two toned green alpaca, light green roving, blue roving, and some leftover bits of green and orange peace fleece wool from a knitted sweater project.  (Weaving satisfies my need to use up all the little bits of yarn from knitting.  They just can’t be used very easily otherwise!)  I was so happy with the feel and drape that I didn’t want to cut into it at all, and I wanted it to lie flat and simple as a garment  So I folded it once on an angle at the back, letting each side come down straight in the front.  I wove up another section using mostly black linen on the same warp, and added the same accents as in the rest of the piece, and used it across the back, sewing it to the sides and across the back fold of the other piece.  By adding a simple fastener at the front, it can be held together or left open.  For being so light weight, it is so warm!  Thanks to my daughter who took all the modelling photos.  A new role for both of us.

Archipelago- Exploring the Land

In continuing with the Archipelago game that we started with Spring Leaves last year, we have been exploring land formation, compass skills, and simple building, as well as going on the adventurous journey of arriving at our islands.  (Archipelago! and Archipelago Activities)  We have been introducing Archipelago to Lauren, our Spring Leaves facilitator for this year, and she has been excitedly offering some fun ideas and activities as well as joining us and hanging out as we trek around on our island adventures.

In the fall, we picked up with our game by building topographical models of each of the islands that were created on paper last year.  With lots of cardboard collected from the recycling depot, the children worked in their island groups tracing each of the 10 meter layers on to pieces of cardboard, cutting them out, then gluing them together to create the features of the islands.  They were glued on to an ocean piece, and then painted with beaches, lakes, rivers, and rocky peaks.  Everyone was then invited to choose a place on their island where they would imagine building a homestead.  We copied a compass rose on to each island to consider sun exposure, and the arrangement of the islands as a group gave the kids an idea of where their island sits in relation to their neighbors.

Next, we organized a trip to experience “arriving” at the islands.  Those of us who owned boats of some kind hauled them down to a launching point on a chilly but dry January day.  After arranging kids and adults in each boat, which included a canoe, a single kayak, and two row boats, we headed off to explore the coastline and find a suitable landing place in which we would settle our future homestead.  The tides were slack as we rounded a rocky headland, revealing a little bay protected by some outlying rocky islets teeming with inter-tidal life.  Sheltered mud flats housing clams and oysters stretched to the little beach, which helped direct a small forest stream into the ocean.

We hungrily ate our lunches and took in our surroundings a little further.  There was a beautiful clearing just back from the beach that the stream ran through, tumbling down a steep grade of thick, west coast forest.  After lunch we got out compasses to explore the directions, and we found that the beach faced southwest and the uphill slope of forest was to the northeast- a wonderful position for sun light exposure for warmth and plant growth, and a great place for water catchment.  We did some basic skills with the compasses, learning to keep the “red in the bed” while moving in any direction.

fireA few weeks later, we ventured out once again to our favorite outdoor home base, Limberlost- the undeveloped property of one of the Spring Leaves families’.  It was a frigid February day, with bright sunshine and crisp air, made more comforting by a large bonfire and thermoses of tea and soup.  The kids were making simple shelters from the forest- branches, bark, moss, fallen logs, and dry leaves.  Everyone’s was so unique and different, and some worked well and some didn’t, but all made discoveries about the skills, supplies, and teamwork needed to actually protect ourselves from the elements if we needed to spend a night or more outside with nothing from a store.  There was excitement about spending a night in their shelters in the warmer season.  In a second visit two weeks later, shelters were repaired and rebuilt, and new ones were made.  We used the compasses once again to determine the direction of each shelter from the central fire and the distance with counting out paces.  Thanks to Kenta for the shelter building photos!

In our homeschooling journey, being outside in all kinds of weather and using our hands to build and explore and learn appears to be one of the best ways to engage ourselves in a deep level- a level of really experiencing the land that we live on and rely upon even in a world where most of what we need comes from a store.  Especially in a world where what we need comes from a store!  Learning to be discerning about manufactured products in today’s availability of tomorrow’s garbage is important for our next generation.  What we need is inside of us.  What we need is often found in our local community.  What we need may also be bought with gratitude and understanding of where it comes from and who made it.  This is always a great reminder for myself as I move through the journey of life learning with my family and with the family of Spring Leaves.

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Our Veggie Van

our veggie van

1982 veggie Westy

It has been nine years now since we transformed our Volkswagon Westfalia diesel to run on straight vegetable oil.  Back in 2004, Colin and I acquired the 1982 westy from his relatives in California, and we converted it to run on veggie oil in 2005.  Volkswagon made this diesel model for the North American market only for one year, and shipped them to California in response to the gas crisis of the late 70′s.  Hence, these diesel Westfalia’s are rather hard to find.

German engineer Rudolph Diesel patented the diesel engine in 1892.  He experimented with vegetable oils and successfully used peanut oil. Ultimately, Diesel settled on a stable byproduct of the petroleum refinement process that would come to be known as “diesel fuel.”  In contrast to the other steam engines of the era, which wasted more than 90 percent of their fuel energy, Diesel calculated that his could be as much as 75 percent efficient.

In our quest to move away from being dependent on the petroleum industry,  we saw a useful endeavor in feeding our diesel engine used vegetable oil from the local restaurants.  As long as the oil is non-hydrogenated and filtered, we have had no problems while driving around for free.   A secondary fuel tank to hold the vegetable is the first step.  Vegetable oil is very thick (more viscus) compared to diesel, and thickens at cooler temperatures, so it needs to be heated up before it is sent to the engine.   The vehicle is started on diesel (or biodiesel) in the original fuel tank, and then switched over to veggie oil after the vehicle has been running a minute or two and has heated up.  We used the coolant lines from the radiator to heat the veggie tank with a hotstick (which is a metal rod that the coolant runs down and back up and out of and sticks down into our veggie tank) and a heated fuel filter/water separator system which the coolant lines run through as well.  In this manner the veggie oil is heated first in the tank, then again as it passes through the fuel filter.  Both fuel tanks send the fuel through a 6 port valve before the engine.  This is how you switch between tanks as there are 4 ports on the incoming side (a fuel line from each tank and a return line for each, carrying any fuel not used in the engine) and 2 ports on the engine side (again a line to the engine and the return line to the tanks).  We have a toggle switch on the dash board to switch between tanks.  Just before the veggie oil reaches the engine it goes through a small inline instantaneous electric heater about 8″ before the injector.  This is only turned on when we are driving on the veggie tank.  This is very helpful in our colder winter weather, but not as necessary further south.  Colin also looped the return line from the veggie side of the 6 port valve so that any unused veggie oil coming out of the engine (which is already hot) just goes right back into the feed line to the engine, again helping keep the veggie oil nice and hot.  We did our research and bought a conversion kit locally in BC from a company called Plantdrive.com which included the hotstick, fuel filter/water separator, 6 port valve, relays, toggle switch, inline heater and some wire, clamps and other necessities.  I think it cost us around $900 at the time.  Colin and our friend Dan both converted their vehicles together over a couple days.  We had a custom tank made out of 3/8″ hard plastic that is mounted in the space under the sliding door entrance to the van.  The tank sticks up at the rear end into the storage area under the rear seats.  This is where the hotstick, and fuel filter/water separator are also mounted.  The fuel lines run from there straight into the engine compartment and into the 6 port valve.  The conversion was fairly straight forward and Colin and Dan figured it all out and completed it about 8-10 hours (for both vehicles).  We have collected used veggie oil from most of the restaurants on Pender over the years, but now collect from one restaurant, The Hope Bay Cafe, because they change their oil regularly and prefilter as they put it back into the 16L totes that we collect it in (and they are close by and are nice people!)

We did what is commonly called a ‘veggie conversion’, but this doesn’t alter the engine in any way.  To get most diesel vehicles to run on vegetable you don’t actually change the existing fuel system, but add a second tank that will hold the vegetable oil.  Biodiesel is vegetable oil that has undergone a chemical process, giving it more viscosity even at lower temperatures, and so it can be directly mixed with and put into a regular diesel engine.

pump

our home pumping station

We have made long trips each summer, in which we carried with us the veggie oil we would need along the way.  We have often pulled into gas stations, only to fill up our veggie tank with our own little pump that runs off the car battery.  We use water from the gas station to clean the filter that we place inside the veggie oil container which is attached to the pump hose.  It feels pretty good to be one more step away from being reliant on the oil industry.  Recycling used cooking oils from local restaurants has been a huge benefit also for the restaurant owners, who normally have to pay to have it taken away, and for the multi-use availability of the veggie oil itself.  And we are happy driving around for free.

Solstice Advent Spiral Dance

spiral centerAn invitation from Joanne to the beautiful solstice celebration that was offered as a part of Spirit Moves dance night~

Dancers,

This Thursday’s Spirit Moves is a special one. It is not only our last dance of 2013 but it is also a Winter Solstice celebration. The evening is a sacred co-creation (including songs suggestions by many of you), a crystal bowl meditation offered by Yvonne, and with the help of Wendi and others, we will be creating an Advent Spiral, with evergreen branches.crystal bowls

Each of us will have an opportunity to walk through the spiral and light a candle at the central flame. As we travel into the spiral, we may also travel into ourselves~ a symbolic journey to our own central flame. Because at the heart of us all is a beautiful divine light. During this walk, it is up to you to find your own meaning, to set your own intentions or dreams.

Winter solstice marks the shortest day of the year. We acknowledge this darkness while we joyously celebrate the sun’s slow and steady return. It is an opportunity for spiritual renewal, and an embracing of hope through the darkness as the days once again begin to grow longer and warmer.

spiral starsDeep Mid-Winter drawing near,
Darkness in our Garden here – -

One small flame yet bravely burns
To show a path which ever turns.
Earth, please bear us as we go,
Seeking Light to send a-glow:

Branches green and moss and fern,
Mark our path to trace each turn.
Brother animals, teach us too
To serve with patience as you do.
We walk with candle toward the Light
While Earth awaits with hope so bright:
In the Light which finds new birth
Love may spread o’er all the Earth.
Deep Mid-Winter drawing near – -

May Light arise in our Garden here.~ N. Foster

dance spiralI invite you all to come and light a candle. Let’s move our bodies in celebration our own divine light and for the light we see in each other. When we shine brightly, we illuminate the path for others to shine too.  

I’m sure happy to spin around and around in this spirally galaxy (and on the dance floor) with you all.  

Messier 83 - Central regionIt was a beautiful night, with the reverberating sounds of six crystal bowls being played rotationally as people walked through the spiral.  Thank you Joanne, for these inspirational words and super swirling and joyful music to dance to.  Thanks to everyone who made the evening shine.

Bales of Insulation- A Full Report

exterior bamboo piningWe are heading into our third season of winter in our straw bale house.  Hard to believe really – I so clearly remember the feeling that the house would just never be done – but there you have it, two years later we are really beginning to see the way the design and materials of the house perform through the seasons.  Last winter was a relatively mild winter in an already mild climate zone, and the winter before we didn’t really move in fully until January, so getting a sense of how much wood we might burn and how much our heating/electrical costs would be throughout the winter months has only just begun to be obvious.

winter sun bouncing off the pond

winter sun bouncing off the pond

Our three forms of heat are the wood stove, hydronic in-floor heating, and passive solar orientation.  The winter sun arches across the sky, sending it’s light and heat into our east and south windows (when it is out!) staying entirely above the top of the trees of the ridge across the valley of which we face.  At certain times of the spring and fall, the light of the sun bounces off the pond below us which lights up our ceiling with ripply light- an unplanned bonus!  We have an earthen floor in the front room, which noticeably absorbs the warmth and retains it into the evening.  The wood stove sits on a two foot tall stone hearth and is backed by a short cob wall, both of which absorb sun heat as well as stove heat.

In floor heating tubes covered by 3 inches of cob sub floor

In floor heating tubes covered by 3 inches of cob sub floor mass

Our in-floor heating is divided into two zones, one for the bathroom and north side of the house, and one which circulates the front south room.  They are set to come on if the temperatures of the rooms drop below 19 degrees celsius.  The front room heating has never come on, and the backroom zone clicks on early in the mornings of the coldest days of winter.  The tubes are embedded under 3 inches of cob, which then also retains heat for longer.

We primarily rely on the wood stove for immediate heat.  This year we lit our first fire on November 20th, and mostly because we were nostalgic for that first cozy fire.  We kept the fire going for about an hour, and then we were too hot.  We have found that we really only need to light a fire around four or five o’clock, depending on the temperature outside, and let it die down around nine, otherwise it gets up to 25 degrees!  upraised wood stoveWe have been having a cold spell right now, where temperatures fall towards -2 or -3 degrees at night (oh my!), and then we might light a fire at three in the afternoon.  Our evening fires keep the house sitting at 20 until late the next day.  Last year, this translated into our using less than half a cord of fire wood in the whole season.  We have an older style stove that doesn’t have any of the newer reburning/efficient innovations, and our space is 920 interior square feet.

The southerly exposed room of the house is lowered by two steps, (which is where the wood stove is) and so the heat tends to naturally move towards the north side of the house as it attempts to travel upwards.  If we leave one window open in the loft of the back room, the heat is pulled even more into that space.  Another design feature of the walls themselves are the wrap- around construction – meaning that the bales are continuously wrapped around the outside of the timber frame, leaving no thermal breaks except where there are doors and windows.  We used double pane thermal glass with argon gas and a low-E squared coating.

west side, south side

south and west side- wrapping bales, sun exposure, and roof overhang

I love the heat that a wood stove gives, but I am not excited about the amount of wood and trees that need to be burned.  It is not entirely a “clean” way of heating.  Eventually we will have three wood stoves on our property – this one, one in the work shop, and one in our addition to this house.  Luckily, Colin’s business of crafting furniture from salvaged red cedar means that we have a lot of  great kindling and fire wood just from his waste.  I am comforted to know that we can potentially heat our spaces for years on just a few dead or cleared trees.  We took out a few trees when building the house, and haven’t even started using them.  This fall, I chopped almost two cords of wood from those trees, which will potentially be three years of wood.  The less wood we go through the better – we even find that turning on the stove to make dinner warms the space efficiently some nights.  Certainly, if we have friends over in the evening, lighting a fire usually leads to opening some windows.

Straw bales reportedly  have an R value of 30-60.  The building code requires that insulation needs to have an R value of 20 in walls.  We have experienced this amazingly efficient quality of insulation, in the winter and in the summer, when the inside of the house is cool and refreshing on hot days.  With a 3 foot overhang of the roof blocking out the sun’s light in summer and the rain in the winter, I am ever more convinced that straw bales are a fantastic way of providing natural temperature control in any climate.

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