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Wednesday, March 11, 2009


On the street where you live...

We've had an awful lot of rain lately. Our neighbour, Mike, woke us up at 4:30 this morning to let us know that water was flooding into our crawl space. He's the last cottage on the lane and we're the second last cottage. He said he was woken by the sound of water gurgling in his furnace. His place was completely surrounded by water and he was also letting us know that he was evacuating to his parents place. He's got an SUV that sits higher than the water so he can make it down the lane.

Lise and I grabbed flashlights, put our rubber boots on and took a walk around our place to see how bad things were. Yes, water was all the way up to our well. Looking along the north side of the house we could see that water was flowing into our crawl space but while the ground was soggy right around the other sides of the house, the chickens were dry. We also checked the shed because that's where our furnace and hot water tank are stored and everything was dry there too.

The water had risen halfway up our driveway and all the way down the lane. From the way the wind is blowing it looks like the lake is blowing water right towards our house.

Now that it's light, I went out to see if the water had receded enough for me to get into the city this morning and took this video.

Mike's back now and I can hear he's running a pump to pump out his crawl space. We don't have any mechanicals down there but I wonder if I should go rent a pump too? I'm going to make some calls.

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Saturday, August 02, 2008


Worm Day

It's been raining so much over the last few weeks that we've been neglecting some chores around the Lair. When you have a long to-do list you start with the most pressing item first so today, since it's a beautiful day, we are going to construct a second bin for our worms.

We began raising worms (eisentia foetida) in April to get their castings to use in our garden. These critters lay tons of cocoons and basically double their numbers every 60 days. By June our worms had multiplied to the point where we needed to move them out of the series of plastic totes we had started with. We had also inherited a few pounds of worms from other vermicomposters who were splitting their bins. 

We were up to our wazoo in worms and needed to build them a better home quickly. From all of our reading, we wanted to try using a flow-through bin system and after looking at a few designs, we built our own.

My daughter's boyfriend gave us a couple of 55 gallon barrels and we thought they'd make perfect worm bins. The one flow-through design we saw was a vertical bin but we thought for our first flow-through we'd build a horizontal one.

We put the barrel on its side and with our jig-saw cut panels out of opposite sides. The panel that is the "top" of the bin was cut wider than the panel for the "bottom" of the bin. I found a length of wire store shelving at the Habitat Restore (I love the Restore!) and for 2 bucks it made the perfect grate for the bottom of the bin.

We had some scrap 4x4 lumber laying around so we made a little yoke to set the bin on.

It was starting to rain so it was time to move our new bin into the shed and get the bedding ready for the worms.  We lined the bottom of the bin with a couple layers of damp newspaper. Then we added a layer of shredded newspaper, cardboard and straw to prepare the bed. Next, was the worms. 

In preparation for the move to their new home, we separated the mature worms from their cocoons. We hadn't fed the worms for a few days so we knew they'd be hungry when we moved them.

We emptied our smaller bins of adult worms, castings and all, into the new bin then fed them our special blend of food. All of our kitchen scraps (veggies, fruits, coffee grounds & egg shells) are kept in bags in the freezer. About once a week we thaw the scraps and grind them up in a food processor so we have worm food for the week. The photo above shows the mushed up food layered on top of the layer of worms.

The final step is covering the layer of food with shredded newspaper. This helps to keep the fruit flies away and effectively covers any potential smell. 

The only time we have ever had any unpleasant smell was when we over-fed the worms and allowed the bin to get too wet. This was easily remedied by adding more dry bedding and waiting a few extra days between feedings.

This is what the under side of the bin looks like. Here you can see the layer of newspaper we lined the bottom with. In time, as the worms above eat and deposit their castings, this layer will decompose leaving a layer of rich worm castings to fall into a recycling box we've placed below.

Today our cocoons have hatched and we have a couple of plastic totes full of adult and baby worms. They are quickly outgrowing these bins so we're building a vertical flow-through bin for them. Here's what the babies look like:

We may buy a couple more pounds of worms just to get us up to the production level we want for our chickens. If all goes well, we hope that by this time next year we will have enough surplus worms to supplement our chicken feed next fall and winter. Not to mention mounds of rich vermicompost for our garden.

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Friday, July 25, 2008


Chillin' with my peeps....

Ok, don't laugh but this has been a childhood dream of mine - I want chickens.

Somewhere deep inside this city-born gal lurks a farmer. Maybe it was all those summers I spent on my uncle's farm mucking out horse stalls or sitting on my grandma's porch shelling peas that caused me to harbour this desire. I can't say where the desire comes from but I do know that I've been the happiest I've ever been since moving out to the Lair.

This spring Lise and I decided to take a part of our yard and make it into a vegetable garden. Out of those plans, and with much research, we decided to raise composting worms (eisenia foetida) to use their castings as fertilizer in our garden.

We started with a couple of plastic totes and a few pounds of worms and now we have a 55 gallon barrel in our shed brimming with beautiful worms. We're using the totes as incubators for the worm cocoons and baby worms and will be starting another 55 gallon barrel very soon. Our neighbours tease us and call us the worm farmers and ask when they can expect to see us taking the worms out for exercise.

We were a bit hesitant to tell the neighbours that we had worms (yuk, yuk) but when we told them about our little worm ranch, they smiled and said, "We're zoned agricultural so you could have a cow in your yard if you wanted to." At first I thought they were joking but when I dug up the tax bill and deciphered all the abbreviations on the page, sure enough, we ARE zoned agricultural. While a cow would provide all the manure we'd ever need to feed our worms, I think our neighbours would have something to say especially as soon as the wind blew a certain way. Anyway I started thinking - gee, maybe I could have those chickens I've always wanted.

Our property is more wide than it is deep so we don't have much of a backyard. Having chickens would mean trying to figure out a way to keep them in a small space. Since we have more room to the front and side of the house, I thought I'd like to put them there. When Lise and I talked about that we discussed how chickens, if left in one place, can quickly turn a nice lawn into a not-so-nice lawn. So that meant we'd have to find some way to move the chickens around regularly.

The other thing we needed to consider was all of the feral cats in the area. Sure, we could nail a little coop together and let the chickens free-range in the fenced in portion of the yard but that idea seemed too much like tying a goat to a stake in the T-Rex paddock.

We've spent the last three weeks looking for solutions and finally decided we are going to build an ark. In North America this type of coop/run design is known as a "tractor" but in Britain, they call them "arks".

We bought a set of plans from Catawba Convertible Coops upon which to base our design and then I saw The Henley and fell in love. So with graph paper and mechanical pencil in hand, Lise and I are going to design something that incorporates the features of both. We're already arguing about the colour - she wants to paint it blue and I want to paint it barn-red with white trim so we may have some arm-wrestling to do.

The Harrow Fair is being held at the end of August and that's where I'd like to find some hens, so I'd like to have our ark built before then. I'm not sure which breeds are available in our area but there are two breeds I'm particularly interested in: Ameraucanas and Barred Plymouth Rocks. I've already warned Lise that when we go to the fair I'll be spending most of my time in the poultry barn chatting people up.

Meanwhile, I'll be cutting up wood scraps trying to figure out if I can cut these angles with a protractor and circular saw or if I really need to rent a miter saw. If all goes well and we still have all ten digits in place, we could have next year's spider problem solved and be eating our own eggs to boot.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008


Ashes, ashes, they all fall down...

The emerald ash borer has done some major damage to trees here in southwestern Ontario. I've read that 20 million trees are infested and will be killed by this invasive, alien species.

Just last week a crew from the township was in our area identifying trees to be scheduled for removal. Sadly, the big ash tree in the front of our house is one they have tagged. No word yet on when the cutting crews will arrive but we're not happy that we will be loosing such a beautiful tree and one which provides us with afternoon shade.

There is a small wood lot at the end of our lane where Lise does her bird watching. A family of red-headed woodpeckers lives in one of the ash trees in this wood lot and this tree is one of the ones marked for removal. On our stroll last night I must have counted 15 trees that have been tagged. Hard to believe that something smaller than a penny can do such damage.

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Saturday, February 02, 2008


Winter 2007 at the Lair

Took these photos just before the holidays.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007


The joys of home maintenance

This is the second house I have owned and I've come to the conclusion that maintaining a house is like threading beads on a string that has no knot tied on the end. I guess I could say that about kitchens too because just when you get all the dishes done, the counters wiped and everything put away, it's time to fix another meal. (sigh)

I remember my first night in my very first apartment. I went to the bathroom and there was no toilet paper. That's when it hit me, toilet paper doesn't magically appear from an endless roll. Somebody has to go out and buy it then put it on the holder. As a kid living at home these are the sort of things you take for granted - there will always be toilet paper, toothpaste and something edible in the fridge.

When I bought my first house, in the excitement of it all, I don't think it ever really reached the conscious part of my brain that I'd have to do stuff to keep it going. Yeah, I knew I'd have to dust but it never really dawned on me that owning a house means you have to do things like cleaning out the eaves troughs.

Miss Preen, my high school home economics teacher (gee, do they even teach home ec anymore?), was, I believe, negligent in not telling us that there was more to successfully running a home than knowing how to make a pot roast and sew a button on a blouse.

Maybe I shouldn't totally blame Miss Preen. After all in those days we were expected to marry some brawny guy who would take care of all the things that required the use of anything other than a 3 speed mixer. Well for some of us life didn't turn out that way and over the years I've had to teach myself how to do simple (and some not so simple) household repairs.

Last night's project was repairing a part of my kitchen floor. When we moved into the Lakeside Lair Desi, one of my chihuahua-rat terrier dogs, found a seam in the vinyl flooring and started to dig. I came home from work one day to find a large section of the vinyl had been ripped and chewed away. I was thrilled. The floor was icky enough when we bought the place but at least it was in one piece.

I cut that mangled section back and would hide it with a rug when company came but in the last few months the vinyl was starting to curl and it was looking worse and worse as time wore on. So yesterday on my way home from work I stopped in at Home Depot and picked up a few peel and stick tiles.

After supper I gathered my tools (yes sports fans, I do have tools), plopped myself down on the floor and went to work cutting away and squaring off the old vinyl. Then scraping off the paper backing and brittle glue, sweeping things clean and putting the new tiles down. These new tiles look nothing like the old floor but they were the closest in colour and at least now, it looks clean and shiny.

I plan to replace the entire floor next year with a new floating vinyl floor (another DIY project) but I'll have to wait until I pay off the new roof I'm having installed in two weeks.

Tonight's projects are two plumbing projects.

Project #1: The shower stall has had an annoying drip. Over the last week or so it's gotten worse. I figured it might be a washer or something loose in there so this morning, after Lise and I had our showers I took the shower faucet apart and brought the stem and little ball into Home Depot to look for a repair kit. I've got a little zip-loc bag in my car with tiny springs and little black rubber washers in it. Tonight I get to play with my set of allen keys and my big monkey wrench.

Project #2: Last night after watching the finale of America's Got Talent I padded to the kitchen for a snack. While trying to decide if I wanted a peach or a couple of crackers with liverwurst and mustard, I thought I heard water running and that's never a good thing. I kinda stood there for a moment trying to figure out where the sound was coming from when I realized that it sounded like it was coming from the other bathroom.

When I walked into the bathroom the floor was wet and the toilet was running (so I caught it - ba, da bum! lol). I lifted the lid of the tank and water was squirting everywhere! I shut off the water supply, got the mop and took a look at the innards.

That toilet doesn't have a ball float but one of those stack-type float contraptions. At the top of that stack is where the water flows into the tank. On my toilet, this is busted. So project number two tonight is to replace my toilet's innards. I've got that kit in the car too so between these projects I've got plenty to keep me off the streets and out of pool halls.

Anyway, when you own a house there is always something that needs getting done or fixed. At first the realization can be quite shocking but in time, like any adjustment, you get used to it. Look at me, I actually like going into hardware stores and get a kick out of watching the clerk's face as I try to describe the thing-a-ma-jig that attaches to the what-cha-call-it that I need to fix the doo-hicky.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007


Sunday Morning

Today Lise and I planned on visiting the Fujisawa Zen Gardens so I could play around with my camera. I got up, put on a pot of coffee and grabbed my laptop so I could sit outside and surf but when I looked out the patio door, this is what I saw:

Yep, that's rain. The local farmers will be happy about the rain but I'm not. It's raining so I can't sit outside, sip coffee and write. Bummer. Bigger bummer is that I have a terminally diseased roof so rain is not my friend right now.

Anyhow, back to this picture. This patio is where (weather permitting) I sit and write my blog. I live at the dead end of a dirt road and just beyond those trees is the beach. You can't actually see the lake in the summer because of the trees but you can hear it and the waves lull me to sleep at night.

This is the front of my house. Where the patio doors are is the original cottage. The part to the right is the addition. Even from this picture you can see how bad the roof is. (sigh) On top of the roof you can see my TV and wireless internet antenna, what you can't see is that I also have a satellite dish. We can't get cable TV, DSL or cable internet out here so without these gizmos I'd be stuck with snow-static, ghost filled TV images of the PBS station from across the lake in Ohio and dial-up internet. Cripes, I'd rather chew tin foil. So that explains why the roof line of my house looks like I'm the Mother Ship.

Lise and I wanted to get out of the house and do something outside today. With the rain it looks like we'll have to come up with a "plan B".

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