Mapping out your vegetable garden so you have a plan on paper once planting time arrives is a key component to a successful growing season. So is detailed note taking. I have a sketch of every garden I’ve ever planted, about 45 different drawings at last count, and I’ve never regretted the small effort it took to commit the plan to paper. As well, I am meticulous in writing down varieties, dates, first harvest, frost and any other pertinent details. So let’s talk about mapping out a vegetable garden.
Why a Paper Sketch?
Having a layout on paper ensures you have allocated room for every item you wish to grow. It ensures you don’t forget something or run out of room at planting time. It can also save time during the hectic spring rush of planting because you aren’t wasting time figuring out where everything will go. Continue reading →
With 40 years of off-grid homesteading under our belts, we can sincerely say that one of the keys to self-reliance is a successful vegetable garden. A well thought out, well planned garden can save time, effort and aggravation come spring and summer so why not spend some time this winter while the cold north winds are howling planning your vegetable garden for this coming season.
Hockley Lake Garden
Factors to Consider
If you’re a seasoned gardener, begin by looking back and assessing the previous year’s garden. This is where record keeping can be of real value. Refer to your notes to see what worked and what didn’t. What would you like to do differently? Would you like to try a new technique – maybe trying to grow cukes or melons vertically for instance? Perhaps you want to try a new variety of something or maybe even a completely new vegetable you’ve never grown before such as Witloof chicory or mache. Did you have a shortfall of any item and if so is the shortfall consistent from year to year? It’s normal in any given year to have an over abundance of an item while the next year it may not do as well but if you consistently run short of an item you may want to plant more this year. On the other hand, do you consistently have too much of something. So much that it goes to waste. If so, reducing the amount planted may be called for.Continue reading →
We’ve used mulches on our gardens from day one. Mulching is a key component to a happy garden in our opinion. There are a number of benefits to mulching. Let’s delve deeper into mulches and mulching.
Chipping Brush with Proper Safety Gear
Benefits of Mulching
It helps control weeds, keeps valuable moisture in the ground where it is best utilized by the plants, makes for a tidy garden, helps prevent soil compaction in the walkways, adds valuable organic matter to the soil helping to improve soil structure when that organic matter breaks down, adds nutritive value, keeps soil from splattering on your plants during rains and it keeps your strawberry fruits, squash, what have you, resting on clean bedding instead of directly on the soil. It also helps to maintain a more even soil temperature. Continue reading →
Dry beans, a homesteader’s staple should be in everyone’s larder whether they are a homesteader, prepper, city dweller or rural resident. As long as they are properly stored in a cool, dry location, they keep indefinitely without the need for refrigeration or freezing. They are versatile as they can be used in soups, stews, casseroles, chili and of course the proverbial pot of baked beans. As a bonus, they are nutritional powerhouses being exceptionally high in fiber, high in protein and cholesterol free (until an animal fat such as salt pork or bacon is added). And finally if you grow a garden, dry beans are easily raised requiring little attention until harvest time.
Living on the ocean is wonderful but fog and dampness are typical throughout the growing season. It’s not unusual to hear water dripping off the roof eave over night from high moisture in the air. And along with that dampness come diseases. Diseases such as potato blight and scab, both of which are fungal in nature. Let me tell you how we almost killed our orchard and half of our potatoes recently.
Sad Looking Apple Leaf
Assessing Plant Health
Part of gardening is being vigilant with plant health. A daily walk through the orchard and garden can tell the gardener a lot about the health and vigor of the plants. Disease can spread pretty quick so it’s always nice to watch for the first signs of a problem. Those problems might be insects as well. Here are some things we look for: discoloration of the leaves, ants and other obvious insects such as aphids, potato bugs and cabbage worms plus we assess the leaf structure looking for holes or curling. Continue reading →
Establishing an orchard is a big investment not only in money but in time and effort as well. At our new Nova Scotia homestead, getting an orchard underway was a priority last spring and continued this spring. Selecting what varieties to plant can be overwhelming especially when it come to apples as there are so many from which to choose. Factors we considered when selecting varieties included plant hardiness, the growing zone in which we reside, disease resistance, our intended end use of any fruit we harvest as well as our desire to have some Heirloom varieties in our orchard. See our post of Jan 29, 2018, Order Now for Spring Planting for details on all these factors.
Mulched Orchard Trees Just Coming to Life
We live in Canadian growing zone 5b, so to increase our chances of success, we tried to select varieties that are hardy to zone 5 or less. Because we want to keep our spray program to a minimum, disease resistance, particularly in regards to fireblight, was a major consideration so many of the varieties we selected take this into account. We also wanted the apple season to extend as long as possible by selecting a few “summer” apple varieties, “fall” apples and “winter” apples. Summer apples are supposed to ripen the end of August/beginning of September but are not long term keepers. Winter apples ripen in October, are meant to be stored for months and may even need time in storage to reach peak flavor. Fall apples ripen somewhere in between and have varying long term storage characteristics. Continue reading →
It’s good to be back after a long hiatus. The new book manuscript and pictures are in the publisher’s hands and we can now focus on our normal routine. As you know, we’ve been gardening for a long time. Not only for the enjoyment and satisfaction of watching a seed germinate into something edible, but for us, food production is an integral part of being self-reliant. A vertical grow tower is something new for us.
Vertically Growing Strawberries
There are many ways to grow a garden, but providing a seed a proper growing medium with adequate nutrition and water is as basic as it gets. How one goes about that is as variable as each of us are. Conventional till, no till, raised beds, vertical growing, greenhouses, hay/straw bales, container gardening, you get the idea. And for each of those methods, we all might try a tweak or refinement to improve the outcome as a variation.
Vertical Grow Tower
We’ve done a lot of this stuff and vertical growing has been a part of our annual growing techniques. We’ve always grown peas for example vertically on chicken wire fence run along the row for the peas to climb. Not only does it use space much more efficiently, but it makes picking a whole lot easier. I would argue that keeping the plants off of the ground keeps the plants healthier and allows air flow to help prevent diseases and mildews as well. Continue reading →
So!… Some might surmise we spent summer swimming, snorkeling; surely somewhat slouched semi-supine sipping sweet seven eleven slurpees by the seashore. Seriously? No way! We have been maxed out since we last wrote. Where do I even begin? Let’s give you the fall 2018 Nova Scotia off grid homestead building update.
Orchard and Garden
You know we planted the orchard and garden this past spring and most things did pretty well. We lost a couple orchard trees and plants but the majority are doing quite well. The everbearing varieties of strawberries, much to our surprise, gave us lots of berries and they’ve taken over the berry patch. I would normally pinch runners off and control them, but there’s another patch I want to establish so next spring, I’ll dig and transplant runners with the result being we’ll have 2 large beds going. That should be at least 150 plants.Continue reading →
One item I haven’t written about is waterproofing our foundation walls and preventing water problems in the basement. As a kid growing up, we lived in a house with a basement that became a shallow pond at one end during prolonged rains. The only thing missing was the stocked trout. It was a nightmare! For our current project we used drainage tile and foundation membrane to waterproof our off grid ICF home.
The first thing I have to say is please don’t attempt to do any wiring of any kind unless you understand electricity and the proper way to install electrical boxes and circuits.
Mounted Outlet and Wire Grooves
I don’t want to hear about any shiny red fire engines with lights flashing and siren blaring that needed to be called when the 12 VDC gizmo was wired to 120VAC and showed its’ displeasure by going full flame on. I’m not going to get into how to wire the house. But I will pass on some helpful tips on wiring our ICF off-grid home.Continue reading →
Gardens with the vegetables and fruits they provide are an integral part of our self-sufficiency plan. We derive a great deal of satisfaction in providing the majority of our fruits and vegetables. In order to get the best results, we put a lot of time and effort into making our soil the best that it can be. Let me give you the real dirt on garden soil.
July 19 2018 Garden
Dirt versus Soil
I haven’t looked up the proper definitions of dirt versus topsoil since in my mind, they are two very different subjects. For this conversation, dirt can be any layer of earth that may or may not support minimal plant growth. Whereas soil is a prime medium teaming with life and nutrients just waiting to give a seed a new lease on life. Continue reading →
It’s been quite some time since we gave everybody an update on our progress or lack thereof. Let me give you the spring 2018 update on our off grid homestead.
New House in Nova Scotia
We made it through the winter in the tent just fine. We lived with hat and coat on. While sitting on the sofa in the tent, we utilized 60+ year old wool blankets that were from my grandparents.
Finally, Into The House!
We made the move into the house mid–March and nothing has changed. We still live with our hats and coats on. It’s been a chilly spring and early summer. Even though I hooked up our wood cook stove, because the ceiling is uninsulated, we lose a lot of our generated heat through the ceiling. Add in the fact that when we moved into the house, the mass of concrete in the walls and the basement floor was frozen which didn’t help.Continue reading →
Imagine if you will, being outdoors and hearing a chugging sound in the distance and realizing that chugging is not a choo choo train coming. When you run down to the lake’s shoreline, four miles in the distance, you fix your gaze on a wall of intense undulating orange/red flames well above tree top level. Talk about getting instant dry mouth. By the end of the night, most of the surrounding countryside will be nothing but blackened, burned trees and ash; a heartbreaking sight! Let’s finish our series on forest fires and how we survived them. Continue reading →
You never want to look out your window or step outdoors and see a column of black/gray smoke rising from the nearby forest. That happened several times to us when we lived out in the Saskatchewan wilderness. Those experiences give new meaning to the word “fear”. Let’s talk about forest fires and how we survived them.
Surprise! Never Good to Walk Outside to See This
Fires are becoming a problem even in areas that rarely experience a forest fire. Climate change as well as the way forests have been managed in the past have some bearing on this. It is heartbreaking to hear on the news of lives lost and homes burned to the ground when some forethought may have been the key to surviving. Continue reading →
We’ve worked hard to build our new home’s foundation, walls, and floor and we need to cap this all off with a roof to protect our investment of time and money. Our homesteads in Maine and Saskatchewan had a standard gable roof and the roof rafters were cut and installed onsite. Along with the new experience we are having building with ICF, we decided to go with a hip roof all the way around and have it pre-engineered with structural wood members. Let’s delve into roof trusses and exterior roofing for a hip roof on our new off grid home. Continue reading →
Floor systems is the topic of today’s post. It’s actually more complicated than it would appear. In a standard stick frame home, floor joists are laid down on a knee wall or a wall top plate, sheathing is put down and voila! A person has their floor in place. But it’s not quite so simple when the walls are concrete. After considerable research and thought, I settled on one method of ICF floor system for our off-grid home.
First, let me explain the dilemma we faced. We planned on having a reinforced concrete wall right up to the roof with a total height of 15 feet. Within that height of 15 feet, we needed to have a first floor set somewhere in the middle. How does one attach a floor to a concrete wall? Continue reading →
Building a new homestead from scratch means establishing new gardens.
Not just a vegetable garden but an herb garden as well as an orchard. Now is the time of the year to get seed and nursery stock on order whether you are getting started for the first time, you already have gardens established or you are starting over as we are. A good use of these drab winter days is perusing seed and nursery catalogs – order now for spring planting.
Some companies may offer a discount as an incentive to order early and avoid the last minute rush. Ordering early also ensures availability is not an issue due to shortages or outages of stock or seeds. Frustration is studying the catalogs, making selections, then placing the order only to discover said choice is sold out. Ordering early minimizes the chances of that happening.Continue reading →
Update January 2019… We lugged the refrigerator to the local repairman who confirmed it is leaking refrigerant. He traced it to the refrigerator compartment that is inaccessible. It can’t be fixed and we were told to take our extremely expensive 1 year old C4P refrigerator to the dump. Inexcusable that there is an obvious defect and the engineering is such that the area cannot be accessed for repairs. It’s a total loss for us and a bad lesson in supporting an off grid product manufacturer. If the roles were reversed it would be unconscionable for me not to do right by the customer. I speak only of our personal experience.
Update October 2018… We recently noticed our one year old C4P refrigerator will not shut off and the refrigerator is not keeping our food cold unless we run the unit most of the day and night. The unit is out of warranty by roughly 12 days but I would argue, it has been gradually failing for awhile and we just noticed it. I was not allowed to talk with C4P repair techs or engineers but the local repair shop feels it is leaking refrigerant or the compressor is going. I won’t get into the hassles I’ve had with the company but suffice it to say, we will have nothing to do with C4P products ever again. C4P did not support us or the dealer.
This is a topic that is a key component to being self-reliant. How to keep food cold so it doesn’t spoil. A typical homeowner simply runs to an appliance store, selects a shiny new refrigerator from the vast display of models, arranges for delivery and when delivered, plugs in the new gadget and their food storage problems are solved. Little thought goes into the energy efficiency of the unit or whether it’s appropriate for an off-grid home. Let me tell you what choices we’ve made through the years to solve the off grid refrigeration problem.
This is the final wrap up on the basics of ICF construction we used on our new off grid home.
In my last post, I shared a ha ha sign “Somewhat Precise Home Builders” which is my tongue in cheek name for the contractor who has built our home, namely Johanna and me.
Top Plate Perfectly Level
But the carpenter’s level that I have resting on the very top course (double top plate,10th course, 15 feet up) angled across a corner, tells a different story. That bubble is dead on between the lines. It’s visual proof that if we start level, take our time as we work off that base to finish the top course, we remain level. In a previous post, I conveyed to you just how important the foundation was for everything being built upon it and here’s proof of that. I’ve put the level on top of all sides and on the floor in different locations. If we aren’t dead on level, the bubble is still within the lines. That’s as good as I can possibly hope to get. Continue reading →
With the approach of Christmas and Holidays, I figured I’d give everybody a quick update and then resume normal posts after the first of the year. Here’s our Christmas update on our Nova Scotia homestead.
Somewhat Precise Homebuilders Sign
We made a valiant effort but fell short of being able to get into the house by Christmas. Although the weather had been warmer than normal, that warmth came with copious quantities of rain. Several 2 inch drenchings in December and then the cold finally arrived.
Temperatures have gone down to about 10F (-12C) and highs are in the teens and 20’s Fahrenheit. This has definitely slowed us down. Cold temperatures in conjunction with the shortest days of the year and our progress is painfully slow. Continue reading →
All contents on this site are my opinions and experiences. I express and share my thoughts freely and assume no legal liability for this information. All readers are responsible to do their own due diligence in regards to the contents.