I’m the cautious type. We get a plant and I say “Let’s see if it grows!” Then it grows and I say “Yes, but will it flower?” Then it flowers and I say “Let’s see if it fruits!” Then it fruits and I say “I know, but will the fruits ripen?”


Cherry tomatoes ripening, July 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Now if only it will survive the pounding rainstorms, and those nasty looking spiders that took residence among the leaves…

Over a year ago I wrote about our dashed compost dreams. We were still at the condo then and the trustees vetoed the idea of a compost bin. Well, a year later the dream became possible again and we purchased two Earth Machines. Here is one of them, the active one:

Our Earth Machine (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

We followed all the rules but still had a swarm of small black flies to contend with. Yesterday, however, when I turned the pile inside the Machine, steam and heat rose up out of it. The pile is cooking! We are doing it right!

We’re also implementing the simplest of a grey water system. When I rinse fruits and vegetables, I catch the water in the kitchen sink in a tub, and we use that for watering the plants. Amie loves her little yellow watering can.

Our “grey water” system (c) Katiren Vander Straeten

I splurged a bit with a gift card given to us by dear friends as a house warming present. I drove to the garden center in town and purchased:

  1. parsley
  2. cilantro x 2
  3. thyme
  4. rosemary x 2
  5. dill
  6. bay laurel
  7. nana curry plant
  8. genovese basil x 2
  9. mint
  10. oregano
  11. tarragon
  12. sage
  13. marjoram

A month ago we bought a large cherry tomato plant and it is over eight feet high now. We’ll have to use a ladder to harvest the highest fruits! There are lots of fruits on it, but they are as yet all green. We also have a smaller plum tomato plant and 4 belle pepper plants. Can you believe that a little bit over a year ago I had no idea that tomatoes grow out of flowers!

unripe cherry tomatoes (c) Katrien Vander Straeten unripe plum tomatoes (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

It’s not nearly the garden we envision, yet, but it feels so good to have made a start. Who knows, which of the perennials we’ll still be harvesting from in five years’ time?

Amie has taken to gardening. A month ago, after reading Caillou in the Garden, she planted some basil seeds in a pot and made a marker. Then she sat down, and waited. Now the wait is paying off:

Amie waits for the basil to grow (c) Katrien Vander Straeten Amie’s Basil (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Our woodpile has grown considerably and is no longer wobbly. Probably all this wood won’t be cured well enough by this winter, so we’ll have to buy three extra cords. Forking out the money for them will get us going on the wood stove purchase. We’ll probably get a chimney sweep to check out our chimney and to advise us about a proper stove. We’re very much leaning toward a stand-alone stove, so we can heat tea and stews on it.

Woodpile 16 July 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

And you know what: I made jam! Of the many blueberries I got a the Farmer’s Market. It’s only freezer jam, and amounted to only three jars, but what an accomplishment it was for me! And Amie loves it.

Mama’s Blueberry Jam, July 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

And last but not least, some of the wildlife, right in front of our house. One more reason to include a garden fence in our plans.

Bunny in our garden (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Today in the exceptionally clear air I happened to snap this:

House Finches Courting (c) Katrien Vander Straeten, 2008

These are House Finches. The red-headed one is the male and he’s feeding the female. This, I just read, is courting behavior. There were at least two males and two females around, possibly competing while a Hairy Woodpecker and a Nuthatch looked on. (Here’s a great page comparing the Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers – I think I’ll get it straight from now on).

Bird feeder: House Finches courting (c) Katrien Vander Straeten, 2008

Bird feeder: House Finches courting (c) Katrien Vander Straeten, 2008

We’re still unpacking boxes, and not the kind that can go down into the basement without being opened. We’re still considering bids for several major appliance changes, like the new boiler, insulation, and a good wood stove. We’ve taken our first stabs at composting and are battling swarms of small, black flies. We’ve assembled the sofa. We’ve had a dinner party in our new dining room: all of us around the table, good friends, fantastic food off the grill and several bottles of white wine and many more topics of conversation. And toasting.

Es gut.

And I’ve taken time to sit in our living room and stare out at the bird feeders, and to take pictures. I know it’s not quite what real birders do, but it’s the only way I know I will learn to recognize the most important species.

And here are some of them:

1 At the birdfeeder (c) Katrien Vander Straeten 2 dscf2748.jpg

3 At the birdfeeder (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

4 At the birdfeeder (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

5 At the birdfeeder (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

6 At the birdfeeder (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

7 At the birdfeeder (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

8At the birdfeeder (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

9 At the birdfeeder (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

10. At the birdfeeder (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

As for identification, I’m going to need some help with some of them:

(1) Adult male House Finch (2) same Finch and adult male yellow variant (?)

(3) American Crow

(4) Tufted Titmouse

(5) Juvenile Common Grackle (?)

(6) Adult female Red Cardinal

(7) Adult female American Goldfinch

(8) Adult male American Goldfinch

(9) (?)

(10) Woodpecker (Downy, right?) and Titmouse

The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America (c) David Allen Sibley, Knopf

I use Sibley’s Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America. I am sorta obligated to, because Mr. David Allen Sibley lives in the town over, but I like the book a lot: beautiful illustrations, little maps indicating the ranges, some information on habits and on voice.

Photograph of small farm on river bend

We’re moving ourselves and the rest of our stuff this weekend. Then we need to unpack, figure out which boiler and water heater to buy and who should install it. Then insulation. Then select the wood stove (any suggestions? the choice on the market is overwhelming, but we don’t want to go pellets).

And that’s it for the big things in the house. Some will unfortunately have to wait till next year: the solar water heater, for instance.

Then, finally, we’ll be turning our attention to the garden. Those.7 acres – isn’t it lovely, that though you don’t have a whole acre really, you still get to say point-seven-acres?

As I look at all that outdoor space, my big vision is looking too, over my shoulder. And I keep telling myself: keep the dream big, but take manageable steps. First things first: get the soil ready for next year.

As for the edible garden. Where and how to clear the stones and the brush and the saplings and the poison ivy for next season’s veggie and fruit garden? Where to get compost and mulch? Should we top it all up with some topsoil? What to fence in? Should we bring down some of the larger, more lovely trees to “make” sunlight?

As for the front yard. Due to the huge new leach field, most of it won’t be used for edible  or deep-rooted plants, so what to grow there then?

And what to grow in the “relaxation” and “entertainment” garden round back?

Dreaming big…

Choo-Chee the fox (c) Galina Kolev, 2008

(Choo-Chee the Fox by Galina Kolev, used with kind permission)

At the new house we’ll be seeing lots of foxes. I’m looking for a good book about them. It could be a fairytale or a picture story or a more scientific book (not too advanced). As long as it doesn’t reinforce the old stereotype of the wily fox who gets outwitted and has to go without food for another day.

Any suggestions?

Amie and I had just read a book about snails when lo and behold! One showed up on our doorstep, literally.

Snail June 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

That’s our doorstep.

Amie was enthralled. We talked about how it carries its house on its back, leaves a trail of mucus, can crawl up vertical surfaces and upside down (try explaining “suction” to an almost-three-year-old!). We checked out the movable and fully retractable tentacles: the two long ones on top ending in the eyes, and the two smaller, lower ones being the snail’s nose. Amie found that very funny and told me I was being silly.

We’ve always taught her not to approach or touch wild animals, but I allowed her to gently touch the snail’s shell. “If you want to touch a wild animal, always ask Mama first!” I guess we’ll have to specify that rule at some point.

Amie and snail, June 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Amie patting snail, June 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Have you seen the small CNN documentary video about the Dervaes Urban Homesteaders (of Path to Freedom fame)?

If you’ve followed the Urban Homesteaders, it won’t show you much that is new, except for that toilet/sin (approx. 2/3 into the video)!

Gaiam’s sink/toilet

The lid of the toilet water tank has been converted into a small sink. You wash your hands with new water and it drains into the water tank. It’s perfect!

Theirs seems to be a Gaiam system (picture above), but for the do-it-yourselfers I found a quick hack here. A more elaborate system that stores the drainwater under the usual sink and diverts it to the toilet can be found here and here.

No need to flush perfectly good drinking water down the toilet!