Expanding the Orchard

chojuro asian pear

Last fall we ordered 5 more fruit trees from Bob Duncan at Fruit Trees and More, our favourite fruit tree supplier.  This time we got 3 plums and two asian pears, all on a dwarf stock.  Bob did some initial pruning when we went to pick up the trees, and showed me how to bend out the remaining branches to encourage tiers of branches spread in a circle around the main leader.  I have tied down the branches while they are still bendable to encourage an open shape.  I planted the trees right away with a sprinkling of bone meal and organic fertilizer, watered them in well and later applied a thick layer of leaf mulch.  Here are the details of the varieties:

Seneca plum– large purple fruit, resembling Italian variety.  Ripens early september, with high quality eating plums also good for canning and drying.

Yellow Egg plum– large, oval yellow fruit with yellow flesh.  Ripens mid september, soft and sweet for eating and canning.

Stanley plum-Ripens mid september, European plum medium to large, excellent for eating fresh, cooking, or canning.

Nijisseki asian pear– ripens late august, medium round, greenish yellow skinned, firm and crisp, excellent eating quality.

Chojuro asian pear– ripens mid august, medium round, brown skinned, mildly sweet, firm and crisp.

asian pear and native berries

asian pear and native berries

The new area is to the west of the orchard that we put in two years ago, and is slightly shadier and wetter than the rest of the open space.  However, this was the only place we could expand the fencing due to our continued plans to have excavators and piles of building materials in the next few years.  I dug trenches for drainage to keep the areas where the bare root fruit trees were to be planted as well drained as possible.  I have been wanting to establish areas of berries, like blueberries, strawberries and raspberries, but I think this new area is too dark and wet.  I discovered that there are lots of native berries that produce abundantly, so I added a few plants each of evergreen huckleberry (growing 5-6 feet tall), lingonberry (2 feet tall), and wintergreen (ground cover).



Hummingbirds love the small, pink-white flowers like fairy bells of the evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum). Late in the summer, black-purple fruits form. Native only to the Pacific Coast (USDA 6-9), it likes acidic soil and can tolerate salt spray and strong winds.  The delicious fruit for pies, jam and unique toppings is an added bonus. In forested areas it can reach 15’ and spreads to form beautiful, dense stands. The glossy, dark green leaves are small and the new shoots are a bronzy red. In full sun, it dwarfs to 3-5,’ and the mature foliage often turns reddish purple.



Vaccinium vitis-idaea (lingonberry) is a short evergreen shrub in the heath family that bears edible fruit, native to boreal forest and Arctic tundra throughout the Northern Hemisphere from Eurasia to North America.  These plants thrive in moist, acidic soils from Massachusetts to Alaska, producing an abundance of healthful, cranberry-like fruits.

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbent) is a ground cover that produces the classically refreshing flavour of crisp mint.  The small red berries can be mealy, but are rich in vitamin c.  It is cold hardy and keeps it’s glossy leaves all winter, producing white or pink-tinged bell-like flowers.

new orchard

drainage trenches running between planting areas

Already established in the same area is a black elderberry (sambucus nigra) and three chokecherries that I planted in the margins of the original orchard area.  They are all now nice and tall and bushy, and producing lots of bunches of berries.  Last fall I made a jar of elderberry syrup.  We also have a small native red huckleberry, so I hope to see this corner of the garden flourish with series of all types that we, as well as the birds, can enjoy! dwarf fruit trees



Silver Circle Weaving on Etsy

silvercircleweavingI finally decided to test out the services of Etsy to sell my weaving online.  So far, I have been offering my creations at the local farmers’ market during the summer, and I have often received inquiries from visitors about how they can see my work online.  I have really only used this blog to post photos, but never really had a purchasing format.  I am hopeful that Etsy will help connect my hand woven creations with those around the globe seeking to support small home businesses focusing on hand made items.

Visit my shop:  Silver Circle Weaving

I also realized that I needed a name… so I did some research on spinning and weaving and the symbolic associations with Celtic mythology, which I have always been interested in.  This is what I found:

83117db14f606e3e121892b219b44076Arianrhod, Celtic Welsh Star Goddess of Reincarnation, is known as “Silver Wheel”, “Silver Circle”, “High Fruitful Mother”, “Star Goddess”, and Sky Goddess. She is considered by many to be a Moon Goddess.  She is a primal figure of feminine power, a Celestial Mother Goddess who through her role as Goddess of Reincarnation, rules fertility and childbirth.  Arianrhod also rules arts, magic, and manifestation. As the Goddess of the Silver Wheel she is associated with spinning and weaving.  With Her wheel she magically weaves the tapestry of life.

Things sacred to Arianrhod are the owl, wolf and the birch tree.  The owl has long been associated with death whereas the birch tree is the tree of new beginnings.  To the Celts, the wolf was associated with the power of the moon.  Thus, Arianrhod’s wheel circles the continuum from birth to death and to birth once again, and creating the journeys therein.

Her palace was found in the far north on the magical, rotating island of Caer Sidi, which probably means “Revolving Castle”. She lived there with her female attendants. The ancients believed that her domain and her castle, Caer Arianrhod, were in the Corona Borealis, the constellation of stars moving around the apparently motionless North Star.  Legend tells us that poets and astrologers learned the wisdom of the stars at Caer Sidi.

As “Silver Wheel”, Arianrhod was responsible for the souls of warriors who fell in battle. She gathered them aboard her ship, the Oar Wheel. and transported them to Emania, also know as Moonland.  In the Northern sky, whirling around the enduring stability of the north star, Arianrhod presided over the fates of departed souls, nurturing their journeys between lives.

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I like the simple image of a silver circle, and I hope to also create a little design to go with it.  I also hope to be offering more items with my hand spun angora fibre that I have been harvesting from my own french angora rabbits.  I am still in the process of learning the skills of blending and spinning the very soft and silky fibres so that I may integrate it within the weaving.

Diversity in Education

farm day It has been six months now since both of my previously home schooled children have been enrolled in a new educational program offered at the elementary school here on Pender Island.  Since September, they have been attending a full time class (four days a week here in our district) for grades 4-8 focusing on ecological settings- in a true sense of the word: relating to or concerned with the relation of living organisms to one another and to their physical surroundings.

Yes, it is a program defined by the use of the natural outdoors and skills relating to living outdoors, enjoying outdoors, learning about nature, and challenging the physical strengths and confidences of active bodies in nature.  However, in the way that permaculture is not just about gardening, ecological learning is not just about plant identification and learning the life cycles of frogs.

This new program, initiated by parents and supported by the school board, started in September 2015 with 24 kids ages 9-13.  Some of those kids were previously home schooled,  some came from the previously established classrooms, and some were new students to the island.  Much of the focus in the first month was establishing respectful student relationships and group dynamics, regardless of age or social circles.  Co-operative games, trust games, continual cycling of group configurations, and blanket academic games allowed the teacher, Steve Dunsmuir, to begin the process of observing each student and their abilities on many levels.

Steve Dunsmuir came to us from Saturna Island, where he founded and taught the successful SEEC program for many years.  Steve Dunsmuir designed the Saturna Ecological Education Centre as part of his master’s degree in Environmental Education and Communication from Royal Roads University. He has taught and learned with almost every age group from kindergarten to university over his 25+ years as a teacher, and enjoyed four years as a Faculty Associate for Simon Fraser University’s Professional Development Program. He has also learned much from his wife and six children and was surprised to be named “Outstanding K-12 Educator” in 2010 by the Canadian Network for Environmental Education and Communication (EECOM).

The PEEC program (Pender Ecological Education Community) was inspired by the format of the Saturna program, which has also branched into the Salt Spring hosted MYSEEC program for grades 6-8.  A similar program on Galiano has been created for the older students there, unofficially called MYGEEC.  “SEEC’s place-based approach to learning blurs the lines between school and the community so that both are one and the same. Our island is our classroom and our people and the natural world our teachers.”

forest daySo what do they do in a day?  It varies.  There are many project based activities that get attention during the week, like independent science research projects.  Sometimes a community member comes and talks or leads an activity, such as building books with cedar covers, or carving, or a presentation on archaeology.  The students participate in the school music program, and can take part in any lunch time activities or whole school events.  They have a buddy program with the primary grade class, and use the library, gym, and computer lab.  The whole class in engaged in a game called Archipelago, which is a multi-faceted experience ranging from geography and topography to native flora and fauna to writing skills, math, predictions, adventure, developing real and imagined skill sets for characters, and eventually creating settlements and pioneering skills.  They spend one full day every week at a local forest/farm, where they play games, develop outdoor skills (like fire, food and shelter), have Solo-tude time, write, build, hike, create spaces, and inhale a lot of oxygen, no matter what the weather.  They are learning to become Enviromentors, and will host days with visiting classes from on and off Pender, leading the visitors through games and activities.  As the weather improves, plans to explore further and for longer lengths of time are in the works.  One such outdoor adventure was a 7km hike, in preparation for the proposed plan of hiking the Juan De Fuca trail (Vancouver Island) at the end of the school year.  During their hike, the students looked for and found four geo-caches, (which they have all become experts at through developing orienteering skills with a compass), climbed Mt. Menzies where they had lunch overlooking a magnificent view of the islands, watched for and made notes of the various birds they saw, and looked at a small salmon hatchery in the Hope Bay stream were the eggs were “asleep” but about to release as fry.  The kids were also writing alliterative haiku poems, all day, according to an attending parent (of which there are usually a few, because we all feel like this is the school we all wanted…)

Academics have been expanded to fit the levels of the age spread, regardless of grade.  A math topic such as “the sphere factor” can be taken from basic circle and sphere calculations to complex formulas.  “Novel Ideas” are opportunities for any level of reading and writing skills to be exercised with reflection and comprehension.  Individualized spelling lists are given based on each students’ spelling errors.  A supportive relationship between Steve and the kids results in communication about challenges (not enough?  Too much?) and the ability to self evaluate is encouraged.  Parents have been invited for student-led conferences, where the kids take their parents around the class and explain the different activities and how they are doing, with Steve available for further open discussion.

Although much of this class is vastly different from when I went to school, some of it is not too different from what other “regular” classes have to offer.  I have highlighted here what appears to me to be normal opportunities, as well as the aspects that make PEEC an alternative choice for some students.  Diversity in education is a huge factor in raising diverse children in a world of diverse values.  My children are thriving in the class, in a way that as homeschoolers, they did not have access to.  I have heard nothing but positive comments from all parents of all the children enrolled, and that encourages me to believe that the PEEC class is off to a successful beginning.

For us, our journey as home schoolers appears to be over.  The term Life Learning, often used instead, is more aptly appropriate anyways.  Life has offered us a new direction, and we are all so very happy that it is a wonderful fit.

Angora Scarves

I have finally woven up two scarves using the skein of angora fibre that I spun from our chocolate french angora rabbit, Gustav.  I mixed it with some hand spun, hand painted merino from a Pender Island fibre artist, I Heart Ewe (iheartewe.etsy.com) that my daughter gave to me for christmas.  The two scarves are for each of us.

Truly, the softest fibre I have ever touched.  I look forwards to experimenting with more!

January Weaving

The (slightly) quieter schedule that engulfs us after the holiday swirl offers a perfect time to focus attention back at my loom.  After a recent trip to Knotty By Nature in Victoria for a new array of warp thread, including some shiny bamboo, I have been continually inspired to explore and play with many ideas and colours.

Moss & Arbutus- My first attempt to weave from an idea of composition that I originally drew.  Warp threads are bamboo, weft consists of merino, and baby llama/mulberry silk blend.  The white accents are hand spun angora collected from my own rabbits.  158cm long (63in.) x 27cm (10.5in.)  $75.

Fire- woven on the same bamboo warp as Moss & Arbutus, I used green baby llama/mulberry silk blend with Noro wool featuring long colour changes.  I played with the effect of clasp weaving using two yarns of differing thickness.  130cm (51in.) x 27cm (10.5in.)  $60.

Forest Windows was inspired by seeing small squares woven separately in a cloak somewhere online, creating little “windows” that opened on the sides.  Same bamboo warp as the above pieces, I used similar merino with the baby llama/mulberry silk blend, with moments of white alpaca.  145 cm (57in.) x 27cm (10.5in.) $65.

Pond is a tiny little neck warmer in the same hues as Ocean.  It is only 105cm (41in.) x 13cm (5in), and was woven on the same warp as Ocean, except that I split the warp and wove two separate pieces at the same time.  $35.

Ocean is a long expanse of blues, purples, and white with flecks of cream and deep green.  I used alpaca, merino, wool, and some locally spun and dyed merino on cotton warp.   Randomly placed spaces in the warp add some visual texture in the length.  This piece measures 195cm (78in.) x 32cm (12.5in.), and may one day become a piece of clothing.

All of these pieces are currently for sale.


Angora Heaven


Locally harvested!  100% French Angora, Gustav, the fibre machine. 

It has taken a bit of time, almost 6 months in fact, to finally catch the chance to spin some of the super soft angora fibre that I have been collecting from the three rabbits, Gustav, Rosey and Peter.  In the time that I have been learning to care for them, I have witnessed their own unique bunny personalities, as well as individual fibre qualities and shedding times.  Gustav has proved to be the manufacturing machine, with a grow back and release time of about 2 months.  I have collected a large amount of his lovely grey tinted fibre.  Rosey loves to hold on to her wedding gown cascade of pure white fibre, and resists many of my attempts to pull it out until just the right time, which is closer to 3 or 4 months.  Peter is a satin x french angora, and has very fine fibre that doesn’t seem to ever grow too long, and doesn’t produce the quantity that I get from Gustav, as he sheds somewhere in the middle of the other two.  Peter has a lovely orange brown to his coat.



My long term goal is to blend the angora with some other fibre, which means experimenting with carders to pre-blend the fibres together before spinning.  Since my time has been short, I have not been able to gather tools to test out before buying, so I decided last month to go ahead and try spinning some fibre 100% and without any carding.  Teasing out handfuls of lofty bunny hair which had been harvested straight from my rabbit, I gave it a light spray with water that had a few drops of jojoba oil and lavender oil in it, as was suggested by my most referred to book, The Nervous New Owners Guide To Angora Rabbits, by Suzie Sugrue.  That kept it from flying all around the room!  It was not too hard to spin, and I was inspired to keep the harvested fibre more orderly for next time.  The pieces that were nicely aligned spun up more evenly than the chunks that were tangled from the brush, or from being scrunched in the bag.


I made one large skein of 2-ply, 100% angora, and then a made another small quantity that was 2-ply, one of the ply’s being 100% alpaca.  The two fibres mixed wonderfully, and I think that once I get a handle on pre-blending, then the possibilities for creative mixing will become another source of heaven in my hands.

Marine Biology Beach Seine

beach seine netOur beautiful fall weather has offered some amazing days for outdoor explorations, especially at the beach!  As a snorkeler, I am always interested in finding out what is going on at different times of the year below the surface of the ocean.  Fish, however, are elusive, fast moving, and hard to identify as they scoot among the seaweeds.  So I was very happy to witness the workings of a beach seine collecting an array of fish that live in the nursery habitat of eel grass beds in the sheltered bays of the Gulf Islands.

Doug setting the seine net

Doug setting the seine net

Marine Biologists Doug and Jennifer Swanston came over from Vancouver for the day.  Jennifer has worked as a naturalist/interpreter for several groups, and has a BSc from UBC.  Doug Swanston has been working in the field of marine biology since the early 1980s, after graduating with his BSc from UBC.  He is involved in research as well as education.

eel grass beach seineA seine is a fishing net that hangs vertically in the water with its bottom edge held down by weights and its top edge buoyed by floats. Seine nets can be deployed from the shore as a beach seine, or from a boat.  Seine nets have been used widely in the past, all around the globe since the stone age.  Pre-European Maori deployed 1,000 meter long seine nets woven from green flax, with stone weights and light wood or gourd floats, and could require hundreds of men to haul.  American Native Indians on the Columbia River wove seine nets from spruce root fibers or wild grass, again using stones as weights. For floats they used sticks made of cedar which moved in a way which frightened the fish and helped keep them together.  Seine nets are also well documented in ancient cultures in the Mediterranean region, appearing in Egyptian tomb paintings from 3000 BC.  They are still in use today for fishing, but they also enable marine biologists to carefully collect samples of fish and other specimens for research, allowing them to be released with little disturbance.

setting the seine netDoug and Jennifer were working with a group of 24 children, from grades 4-8, who are a part of the Pender Ecological Education Community.  Doug began the day with some discussion of taxonomy and habitats; the classifications of seaweeds and grasses and the role that the different types have for different fish during the year.  The nursery habitats of the eel grass areas have been previously mapped, with help from the Seagrass Conservation Working Group, and are especially worth observing for fish populations throughout the year.  I have seen many types of small schools of fish while snorkeling, and the shallow, warmer waters protected by tall forests of the grasses with areas of sandy sea floors seem like the perfect place to hide and feed in relative safety from larger prey.

To set the seine net, Doug walked out into bay at the edge of the eel grass area and pulled along the floats of the net, leaving a rope going out of the water to the beach.  He continued to pull the net open as he waded, almost neck high, across to a large rock in the middle of the bay, and eventually came ashore with another rope.  Half the group was sent to one end of the rope, and the other half was to keep hold of the opposite side.  There were very controlled instructions, and an attentive atmosphere surrounded the kids, as movements were specific and closely monitored by Doug and Jennifer.  The group at the far end of the beach slowly pulled the rope towards the beach, while carefully walking along the beach towards the other group, who also began pulling and walking.  The idea was to make of the net a crescent shape, tucking the sides in towards the beach while leaving a gentle balloon out into the water so the fish were not startled or tangled in the net, but simply being herded in towards the beach.  As the net eventually came in closer, the excitement mounted, and Doug was wonderful at encouraging the interest but also outlining guidelines and procedures that will above all, ensure that the lives of the creatures being collected would not be harmed in any way- by being stepped on, dragged across barnacles and rocks, left out of the water, or suffering from scale damage due to too much handling.  To one concerned child he said,”this is a seine net!  If anything gets hurt, that would be insane!”

Once the net was pulled up closer to shore, the kids were encouraged to make an estimate of the number of fish rounded up.  Each child had a bucket with fresh sea water in it, and when the time came for Doug to really haul the net up, they each had the chance to scoop a fish for their own observations.  At this point, everyone was so excited- pointing and exclaiming and talking all at once, with questions and answers flying.  Silver and orange fish flashed in the vibrant green, while purple crabs clambered about and unknown creatures slithered.  Collected fish were named, shown, given seaweed to hide in, talked about, questioned, and eventually accompanied each student for a quick lunch break.  Doug was clear that the buckets had to be in a shady spot, and no hands were to be continually placed in the water, so the temperature doesn’t warm up.  Adequate oxygen levels needed to be considered, so a particularly large Whitespot Greenling was placed in a larger cooler of water.  It turned out to be a female carrying a belly full of eggs.

Doug went through the collected fish and made notes of what was found, as well as identifying to the group interesting facts about specific specimens.  Of particular interest was the bay pipefish, our local variety of sea horse, which depends on the eel grass beds entirely.  We also found a pen point gunnel, with beautiful eye stripes and a colour to match the eel grass itself.  There were lots of threespine sicklebacks, striped seaperch, pile perch, kelp perch, shiner perch, and tubesnouts, which congregate in large schools.  Doug estimated over a hundred fish were in the net, and as he pulled the net gently back out into the water to release them, he seemed quite excited that so much life was present and healthy in our local waters.

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