29 March 2009

Green Homes Tour

We were invited to take part in the County Sustainability Group's Green Homes Tour this year, which forms part of the Quinte Sustainable Living Symposium event this weekend. Three bus parties turned up today (in wet and miserable weather, unfortunately) to get a tour of the solar hot water and geothermal systems in our basement, followed by a look at the greenhouse and at the solar panel set-up in the barn.

It was fantastic to meet so many people with similar interests to ours and Mike did a great job of transmitting his enthusiasm for the green energy projects that we've been undertaking over the last two years. There were a lot of pertinent questions and some good ideas for making the best use of the greenhouse and barns.

One thing that came up which we hadn't heard about before was a concern about using the rainwater from the house roof as drinking water, as the roof has asphalt shingles on it. People in two different groups mentioned that the asphalt can leach out unpleasant chemicals (including oestrogen-like ones) into the water. We hadn't come across this potential problem, so immediately turned to the Internet for answers when the last bus had gone. It turns out that the best way of ensuring that oestrogens are removed from water is to use a reverse osmosis system. Which is what we have, so that's quite a relief!

27 March 2009

Filling raised beds

In wet weather, the greenhouse raised beds sit in a puddle of water. To make sure that drainage in the beds wouldn't be a problem I thought it might be a good idea to put sand in the bottom of them. We still had a fairly large heap of sand left behind after the channel from the barn to the house was dug for the backup-power supply, so we didn't need to buy any. Thinking of the way you are supposed to put crocks into containers, I also decided to recycle the large pile of stones that I extracted from the vegetable garden in our first summer here. The pile didn't look that big, but became six (very heavy) barrow-loads.

After tipping in the stones and three tractor-loads of sand the beds had about an inch of material in the base:

Mike has been digging another channel for the stream on the western side of the property, which has given us some topsoil. Here he is with the front-loader of the tractor full of soil for the first bed:

I don't think he had enough opportunity to make mud-pies as a child. Here's a close-up of the contents:

After tipping in six loads, the first bed is now about half-full. The tractor had churned up the path so much that making any more trips seemed unwise today. We've left everything to dry out a bit before doing a bit more, perhaps tomorrow.

While I was away the spinach, lettuce and leeks I sowed in the greenhouse have germinated, but the peas I carefully sowed in the gutters seem to have vanished altogether. Hm, mice maybe? Will have to re-think and re-sow those.

Indoors I've sown peppers and aubergine seeds into trays in the electric propagator. I wasn't too impressed with the Hungarian Hot Wax chilli peppers last year, so this time I've gone for Cayenne and Tomato peppers. I'm also trying again with the Corno di Toro Rosso sweet peppers, despite a lack of any peppers managing to reach maturity last year. I'm hoping that a slightly drier summer and a better location in the garden (one that won't get waterlogged) will do the trick.

26 March 2009

Spring at Wisley

It has been a bit quiet around this blog because I've been on a longish trip away: first Amsterdam, then London, then Manchester, then Buckinghamshire, then Edinburgh and finally to Kent. All in eleven days, so it has been a hectic rush on occasions.

Last Wednesday was one of the more peaceful days in the mix, when my aunt took me out to the Royal Horticultural Society's gardens at Wisley in Surrey. I'd never been before, so this was a real treat. The daffodils, magnolias, hellebores and camellias were looking lovely in the warmish spring sunshine.

The dogwoods (Cornus sanguinea) were looking striking, too. I thought this one, 'Midwinter Fire', was particularly impressive.

The bursts of colour in the Alpine houses were beautiful.

Next door, in the rock house, the resident cat, Sunny, was having a luxurious bask in the sunshine, while pretending to be a plant.

I've been wanting to visit Wisley for ages, so am really grateful to have had this chance, and on such a beautiful day, too.

15 March 2009

Recht Boomssloot

I have only been in Amsterdam for three hours but have learnt a few things already.
  1. It is very easy to get lost while walking in the city centre
  2. The roads have wonderful names (the title of this post is the name of the street in the photo)
  3. I wouldn't want to be responsible for parallel-parking a car next to one of the waterways

14 March 2009

Trust, identity and paranoia

This is a bit off-topic, but I had an email this week from a researcher at Washington University in St. Louis. It read like this:
This is an invitation to participate in an online research study being conducted by Mr. Tal Yarkoni under the supervision of Dr. Simine Vazire at Washington University in St. Louis. The study investigates the relation between people's personality and the content and style of their writing, and has been approved by the Washington University Human Research Protection Office.

The study consists of a single personality questionnaire assessing your personality and background, as well as information about your blog (if you have one). You can choose to participate in either a short or a long version of the study, so your participation can take as little as 10 minutes or as long as 30-40 minutes.
The email address given in the text of the message was a Washington University one, but the email itself came from a gmail.com address. The website with the questionnaire wasn't an official Washington University one and, although the text on the questionnaire looked very legit, I wasn't entirely happy about taking part in the experiment, although it did sound interesting. I did a bit of Googling and found that there certainly was a real researcher by this name, so I sent an email to his 'official' email address, hoping to discover whether Tal was really behind this site and suggesting that the email was likely to put some people off taking part. Searching for the text of the email suggests that it has put off at least one blogger.

Anyway, the upshot is that I had an immediate reply from Tal, explaining that he used Gmail to send out the bulk emails and that Gmail would not allow anything other than a Gmail address to be used for this. He couldn't use a university server for the questionnaire because he needed particular software tools which weren't available on them. So if you're a blogger who has received this message, I feel honour-bound to let you know that it isn't some sort of confidence trick, but a genuine experiment. Tal told me that he's had a better response rate than he was expecting, so clearly not everyone is as paranoid as I am!

11 March 2009

Spot the garlic

The garlic I planted in October is just visible again against its mulch of hay, now that the snow has melted. The shoots look a bit sad and sorry for themselves at the moment, but I hope they'll perk up a bit as the weather gets warmer.

09 March 2009

Ice on the line

They were right about the freezing rain. Don't think I'd want to be hanging my laundry on the line today.

08 March 2009

Brief glimpse of Spring

Hung the washing on the line for the first time this year and then spent a couple of hours this afternoon in the garden and greenhouse. I cleared up the remains of the cabbages that I had failed to harvest before the frosts arrived last year. I also sowed some more lettuce and some leek and spinach seeds into trays in the greenhouse. Mike added a few more scoopfuls of sand to the wettest of the beds in the lower vegetable garden, which I raked into the soil. Or into small ponds, in some cases. Mike also dug another channel to divert some of the stream water away from the barn, which might help to dry the barnyard up a bit more quickly.

I've read about using guttering (eavestrough) to start off peas, so thought I'd have a go at that. In fact the gardener Sarah Raven recommends this for a variety of different vegetables in an article I found online just now. Including parsnips, which might be worth a go. I've never tried doing this before, but as our soil is so cold and damp at the moment (and as I now have a greenhouse to shelter them in!), I thought it was worth a try.

The only time I've seen people doing this, they've been using the semi-circular sort of plastic guttering that you get in the UK. All I had to hand was some old alumin(i)um eavestrough that must have fallen off the side of the small barn at some point. It's square rather than semi-circular, but I'm assuming that it will work just fine. It was quite long, so I got Mike to cut it into two pieces for me, then filled it with potting soil/compost. I've sown Oregon Sugar Snap II in the smaller length and Lincoln peas in the longer one.

Tonight we've got freezing rain forecast, so the fleeting look at Spring won't last long, but it was enough to fill me with enthusiasm for the growing year ahead. Yesterday was so hectic with the book launch we held at the library in Deseronto, that it was lovely today to reconnect with the garden. I'm even pleased to see that my fingernails have regained their trademark growing-season line of muck!

01 March 2009

Daffodils from Canada for St. David

Impressed, huh? Yes, beautiful daffodils flowering in this Canadian garden just in time for St. David's Day. Not something you see in Ontario very often.

Well, OK. I cheated. That's how my daffodils looked last year on April the 19th. So a little way to go before I'll see them flowering again. On the plus side, a thaw at the end of last week has melted enough snow for me to begin to see some signs of life. Here are the daffodils as they look today:

And I do believe those are small buds of growth on one of the rhubarb plants:
Even the spinach that was sown in September looks as though it might not be completely past it:
It's so lovely to be able to see the soil and the beginnings of new growth again. Even more so this year, as many of the plants are ones that I've set there. Last spring was our first in this house and I was waiting to see what would come up. This year I know what's in the garden and have put a lot of it there myself, so it feels different. Perhaps a little like the difference between a music teacher watching an unknown musician perform and watching one of their own pupils do so.