Sunday, March 19, 2017

Bring it Spring


It's been a long, cold and eventful winter, and I'm glad to finally see it's end. At the start of the season I had no idea where I'd be by the end of it, or that we'd get so much snow. Lesson learned, trust the almanac.

Moving out to the valley in the middle of winter was a huge risk for us, but I'm glad we made the move. Though it's not officially spring until tomorrow, we've been busy the past few weeks prepping our garden beds between the last couple winter storms.


The gardens are finally ready for planting. It took a lot of time and hard work to turn our compacted sandy, somewhat grassy yard into a rich, prime place to grow some food. Now that the topsoil and composted manure is turned in,  the grass is weeded out, and the beds are raked into rows, we can begin to sprout our seeds.

A lot of what we have will be started indoors over the next couple weeks, and after last frost the rest can be sown directly into the soil. We have 21 rows total between the two beds to work with, and a few dozen types of seed.

Our landlord was worried at first that we wouldn't have the time to maintain such a large growing space given how much we work, but so far even with shorter daylight hours we've managed to make it happen. It kinda helps that the van has been out of commission for drives to the city the past couple weeks, so I've had to skip out on the landscaping. Spending almost ten less hours a week stuck in traffic has given me more time to focus on other things.

My apprenticeship for instance. When I first started working with metal I wasn't as confident that I'd ever be good enough at it to make a living. But since I haven't been able to go to the city to focus on the landscaping, I've been working full time improving my metal working skills. It's another one of those things I'd never seen myself getting into but I'm glad I did.


Being contractors means setting our own hours, and since my productivity is improving we don't have to spend so many hours at work. We can indulge in occasional journeys down to the river to get our lines wet before work, finish a house, and still have enough daylight hours and energy to go home and play in the dirt.

Our lifestyle out here supports both my longing for a stable home base, and my sense of adventure. For once I'm finally able to get the best of both worlds. I have a place to call home in beautiful surroundings where I can garden and be comfortable, and I'm closer than ever to the wilds. It's taken a while for the reality to set in. Just a few months ago we had no real plan besides making it thorough the winter. And here we are, on the cusp of spring, ready to plant.. putting down roots in the valley. Thank the gods for our home sweet home.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Breaking ground.

It's been a long time since I've had a chance to reestablish Sandy Shores Farm, and I'm stoked for our new location. It's kind of ironic that I'd named the garden long before I even knew I would end up moving to the west. And here I am, on a farm on the river's shore, and our soil here is very, very sandy. Now that we have the first bed turned, we can think about how we will amend the soil.


After the snow melts again that is. It was nice and warm all week, and now we're amidst another big snowfall. We worked a couple hours a day all week to get a good start at establishing the first bed, which is now blanketed in a layer of the white stuff.


Collecting garden tools has been a slow go. All I have so far is the tools I have for work, a shovel and a hard rake. It's amazing what you can accomplish with so little and a lot of motivation. We used a pallet propped on an angle to screen the soil. As we tossed each shovel full of soil at the pallet, the clumps would roll down the slats knocking most of the soil from the grass roots. We could then easily remove the clumps of grass, shake them out and toss them to the side.


It was a long, somewhat tedious process, but every meter of ground we broke into was satisfying. After a few days we could visualize how we would lay out the first bed with our rows. I used my felco snips and a small hand saw to hack back some of the blackberry bramble from the far side of the bed to create a path. We spent the last few moments of daylight each day sitting in our chairs out by the garden to be, watching the sky change colours as the sun sank behind the mountains. What a feeling.


...


I've been trying to finish this post all week. The snow has since melted and we're at it again, building a box for our compost. There's another snowfall warning in the forecast, so we're trying to get done what we can before winter comes back around for it's final blow.


We've been out here for six weeks already. We moved out here when winter was full swing with big dreams for spring. Bit by bit the dreams are becoming our reality. The clocks turn ahead in a little over a week here, which means an extra hour of daylight after work for us to play in the yard.


The weather changes by the moment. When we came outside a couple hours ago it was sunny and warm. The temperature dropped right down and snow is falling up on the hill.


...



We had a thaw and a bit of sun yesterday in between snowfalls, so we grabbed some chicken wire when we went to town. Our landlord saw us out in the yard working, and said the yard looked really nice so far, and gave us the go ahead to start a second bed. We had a bit of an issue there when he said we could do whatever we wanted and then came back around and said we could only dig 8 feet of the far part of the yard. I'm glad he changed his mind.


Since we used our pallet screen to build the compost box, we had to use scraps of wood and the chicken wire to build a new one. We started turning the second bed using the new screen, and though it's taking a little longer, the soil is a lot cleaner. The next step is getting a dump load of compost. Once the snow melts. Again.


Sunday, February 12, 2017

The valley under ice.

Just days after the valley was slammed with an epic snowstorm, the temperature rose as the next system rolled in. Snow turned to rain, but the windchill froze everything on contact. We woke up blanketed in a sheet of ice. We made an attempt to get out of the driveway, only making it to the next property over before having to turn around. With all the ice, snow and slush on the road, gaining traction was impossible.

Shortly after noon, as we'd suspected might happen, the power went out. Our area was one of two hundred other outages across BC leaving tens of thousands of people in the dark. Thankfully I'd just finished my baking for the day, so I had some fresh made snacks to load up in my pack.


With not much else to do, I decided to go for a walk. The rain had subsided for long enough that I could bring my camera out and capture some of the epic scenes left behind by the storm. And meet some of our neighbours in the process.

A couple houses down, one of our neighbours with the farm tractor (the one that dug us out before) was clearing the driveway for the old man at the wood shop. I had a chance to say hello. The old fella struck up a conversation and noticed my camera, and invited me onto his property to get some shots.

He commented on the sheet of ice that coated the barn reflecting the daylight, and insisted I take a shot. He has dozens of bird houses that were strung with icicles all over the yard. Old machinery equipment and a canoe hanging outside his shop looked as though they had been frozen for decades.


As he pulled the door to the wood shop open I felt a pulse of warm air hit me. He had the wood burning stove pumping and it felt nice to be warm. He showed me around, and he had a few customer orders sitting up on tables ready to be stained. There's a local native woman that paints beautiful scenery, wildlife and folk art on panels of wood which he then inlays in his hand made hope chests. Their work is sold to locals in the valley.

After telling me a few stories and showing me every piece of work in the shop and all the types of cedar he uses, he showed me out of the shop. He said if I ever had nothing to do again, I was welcome back any time. I told him I'd be back some day with prints for him.


As I carried on down the road I was joined by an old black lab that lived on the horse farm. She led me down the gravel path looking back every so often as if to make sure I was safe. I stopped a few times to hear the trees splitting under the weight of the ice, sounding off like thunder as the branches and tree tops crashed to the ground. Ice bombs began to fall off the wires above. I'd have to tread carefully for the next mile where several giant trees lined the road along the river.


I made it to the middle of a long stretch of trees when I suddenly heard the cracking right above me. I tucked my camera into my jacket quickly and ran for it. Smash! I looked back to see a huge branch shattered to bits on the road right where I was standing. I thought to myself, now I've done a lot of crazy things to get a good shot, but this might just be up there amongst the most dangerous. My heart was pounding, and I kept on going.


Finally I crossed the bridge over the creek where the old man with the scrap yard was shoveling his driveway. I wasn't expecting him to say hello when I waved, but much to my surprise, we ended up chatting for an hour. I've passed him a few times driving by and I always wave, and he never seems very eager to interact, so I was pretty stoked about our conversation.

After our long talk and the show around the yard of his massive inventory of trucks and parts, I was on my way again. I'd just made it to the end of my road when the plow turned down. I jumped out of the way with an enthusiastic wave, we'd finally be dug out of the mess! Moments after I'd sent a text home warning of the incoming plow, I got one back saying the power had been restored. I took a few more shots and turned back.


Just in time too, when I was about a hundred meters from the house the wind picked up again knocking down all the ice. More rain blew in, and in less than an hour there was no evidence that our world had been coated in ice. I was thankful that I'd made it out for my walk when I did, had I not gone I'd have missed out on a photo opportunity of a lifetime. We don't often get weather like this here, and the conversations I had along the way made it an amazing journey.


Today the sun is out, and the air smells like spring is on the way. I'm so thankful that our roads will be safe again and all the snow is melting, as beautiful as it was. The adventure continues...

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Snowpocalypse 2017

Being stranded anywhere is one of my greatest fears. After a day and a half of nonstop snow, not seeing a single other vehicle drive down our road had me a little nervous. I know it's only a matter of time before it all melts, but we hadn't made it to town yet this week for our run, and our stocks of fresh foods are rather low. We have enough dry goods to last us a few weeks if need be, maybe even 6 weeks if we ration. I know we wouldn't be stuck that long, but I like to be prepared.


It's amazing how something so beautiful and pristine can become treacherous so quickly. How millions of teeny tiny little ice crystals can accumulate into several foot high snow drifts in the matter of hours. It's a lovely sight, and also a little nerve racking knowing we'd have to drive in it eventually. It's been a couple years since I've seen so much snow, and much longer since the BC coast has had a real winter. Not many people in the coastal area know how to handle their vehicles in conditions such as this. Being the first year I've had to drive in winter, I'm handling it quite well.

 
Just when I was beginning to have that sinking feeling that we'd be stuck for a while, one of our farmer neighbours pulled up with his tractor to dig us out. Country life is so much different than being in the city, I'm still often taken aback by the kindness of folks out here. Everyone helps everyone especially when the weather gets crazy. After two whole days of not seeing other humans, I literally jumped for joy to see the tractor digging out our van.

...

48 hours later, the snow finally stopped. We braved the roads to go check in on our job site, as we'd missed out on a couple days' work. Given how far out we live, and the distance we'd need to travel, we didn't leave the house unprepared. The van tote was re-stocked with water and canned goods, an extra canister of camp stove fuel, and a big lunch for the road. We fueled up at our nearest petrol station, putting a little more weight on the wheels. It might sound a little overboard, but if we were to get stuck out here it could be several hours before we'd be able to get a tow. If we ended up far enough off the road [and survived], it could be another day before anyone would find us. Better safe than sorry.

 
After an hour it started to come down again. We left immediately knowing full well it doesn't take long at this temperature for the snow to start sticking to the road, turning it into a slushy slick mess very quickly. Just as we were preparing to leave the job site, a local resident got himself stuck in a snowbank turning onto the road. Lucky for him we were the only people out there, and just long enough to help push him out. We stopped on the way home to grab a steel shovel to keep in the van, no time to shop for any groceries this time. With another foot of snow on the way, we wanted to make it home safely before the roads are buried.

...

I'm happy to be back home. Though the extra long weekend was unintentional, it's nice to finally have some down-time. There's not much else to do besides writing, experimenting in the kitchen, and of course a little Netflix and chill. That's when we're not busy looking out the window... nature never ceases to amaze us. We're so blessed to have the views that we do, not only of the mountains and the sky, but the seemingly hundreds of species of birds that inhabit the valley and river. Owls, geese, heron, dozens of species of duck, hawks and eagles, there's never a dull moment right outside our front door. We watched a few otters chasing each other through holes in the ice yesterday, not a care in the world about the storm.


The winds are picking up again, and the homemade chicken soup on the stove smells fantastic. It's about time I put away the computer and enjoy. Happy Soup-er Bowl Sunday everyone! Stay warm.


x

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Country life.

It's one thing to finally have a chance at a normal life, but it's another thing altogether to be able to build a life out in the mountains. When I first moved west, I'd landed in Vancouver. It was a little overwhelming at first to be in such a big city, but for the first year of my life out here, it was practically all I knew of BC. Driving opened up a world of opportunities for me. This is what I came here for.


Something that I missed the most about my hometown back east was the epic farmer's market. All the goods from local farmers available in one place a couple times a week. Now things are in reverse.. if I want farm fresh goodness, I just travel along my road until I find what I need. Everything else requires a trip to town.

Sunday has become town day. As it most likely is for a lot of the country folk. The few people that we've met so far out in our little community we've run into while going for the weekly grocery run. Of course we forgot to grab freezer bags on our last trip. One of those things you should always pick up if you need them or not! Forgetting things means going without, and the weekly budget must be tightly maintained.


Our cupboards are stocked with dry and canned goods, and the freezer is loaded to capacity with meats divided into portions for the carnivore, and frozen fruits for me. The trading post at the end of our road carries farm fresh eggs from a local farmer, and honey produced in fields we can see from our house. Now all we need is a little time to get down to the river to fish and our gardens, and we're set!

We finally had a clear night during the new moon. I was blown away by the amount of stars we could see from our front porch. It was so beautiful it gave me chills. I mean that could have been from the winter winds but, you know... it was amazing to see. I can't wait for summer nights to lay back in the reclining lawn chair and watch the sky.

Life out in the country flows at a much slower pace than the big city. People aren't so much in a hurry. Instead of cutting you off or rushing past you, people will slow down, hold the door and say hello. It's kinda nice to be more than just another face in an endless sea of people. There's more wildlife here in a twenty mile radius than there is humans, and those human connections aren't so much taken for granted.

Thankfully we will be around long enough to enjoy it for a little while. We were able to make the rent at literally the last minute. We knew coming out here at this time of year that money would be tight and we were taking a risk. A risk we believe was more than worth taking for the opportunity to enjoy the country life.

x

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Playing house.

When I was a kid, my friends and I used to play house. We'd set up a space in the basement or backyard to be our living space, and pretend to be adults running a little household. The kitchen was always the main focus, the hub of activity. As it should be. Having this place reminds me of those days, as I set up my living space and unpack a set of dishes that was given to me. It felt like Christmas morning unpacking all those goodies. The crockpot and toaster oven the most exciting to unwrap.


Washing dishes makes me smile. I feel like a big kid playing with my new toys when I load the laundry machines. It brings me great joy to sweep the floors and make my home tidy and cozy and clean. After several years of either not having a place of my own, or living in a dilapidated shanty that could never be made cozy and liveable no matter how hard you try, this house is such a blessing.

I was lucky enough to inherit a TV from a friend that moved back home, all his kitchenware, and a sweet reclining front porch chair. We picked up a couple comfy corduroy chairs for the living room for 25 bucks, and a freecycled tiny little dining set that fits nicely in the corner. I'm dreaming up what colour I'll paint the walls.


There's a decent sized steel storage bin out back, already equipped with a couple of shelves and cupboards. It appears that it used to be someone's workshop, and it shall be once again. Next month I'll start picking up what tools I need to get the gardens going, and thankfully have a safe dry place to store them.

I've drawn out our yard and mapped the approximate patten of the sun. The next step will be to decide where to plant everything and how big to make the main garden area. There will be a 20x20 foot space for the main bed, and we may build raised beds for the leafy greens, carrots and smaller root vegetables. It's like designing my own little world out in the valley.


As long as I can make the rent, that is. The only thing that sucks about being a contractor is having no guaranteed pay days. I have more than enough owed to me to cover the next month's bills, it's just a matter of getting it all together on time. Fingers crossed it all works out.. the adventure continues.


x

Monday, January 23, 2017

Taking it all in..


Finally after a week of living in our new home, we had a weekend off. And decent weather too. He stepped out on the porch with his coffee calling back into the house.. 'quick, bring your camera'. There were several eagles hanging out on the frozen river. It's the first morning we've had yet to just hang out on the front porch and enjoy simply existing in our new place. It seemed as though the local wildlife was celebrating.


We all were. The first day of the year with double digit temperatures that weren't in the negative. The sun even came out for a while to warm our bones. Standing in front of the house in the middle of the road, I still have a hard time believing that this place is my home. I get to build here, to grow.


I had my chance to see what was hiding under the snow, and there's much more space for gardening than I thought. I'm not sure yet what I want to grow or how to lay it out, but I do know that both sunflowers and leafy greens are a must. I'll need to start slowly accumulating gardening tools of my own so that I can get started prepping the land. There's lots of bramble to be cleared and debris to be raked up.

For us, aspects of regular life are a huge part of the adventure. Having housing stability is a newish thing. We have both been essentially floating for a long time. To have a place to nest and garden and enjoy the basic comforts of having our own home is still taking some getting used to. Things that most people in the western world take for granted are true blessings to us.


That said, the compromises that need be made for living partly off-grid aren't a huge inconvenience as we're used to having to make do, it's kind of like cabin camping with Netflix. I'm still in shock that we were able to get the Internet, and as the weather is still quite chilly, we're very grateful to be able to curl up to a movie in the evening, even if the only screen we have is my little laptop. So what if we have to boil water to do dishes and limit showers to five minutes. Who cares if we have to travel half an hour to the nearest grocery store. We are home.



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