Garden Dueling DIY Week 3

Sarah in Illinois and I have entered into a friendly competition this spring to help us get our gardens in shape. We’re now at the conclusion of week 3 of this Dueling DIY, and I’m sharing my second update. You can check out all of the previous posts here.

It was just noon on Sunday. I had a long list of things that I wanted to do in the garden, but I was running out of steam. I managed a few more hours before I hobbled retreated indoors. (Sarah, take note that I said the garden claimed a temporary victory. I am not conceding anything yet in this DIY duel).

I still don’t have any dramatic before and after pictures to share yet. But I can report some progress.

The big accomplishment so far is edging the garden.

Our garden is 2,462 square feet, which means, if I’m remembering my geometry formulas correctly, its outer perimeter is roughly 175 feet. Whatever the distance, it felt like it took a very long time to go around the whole outer edge.

Here’s what the edge looked like at the start. Ugh.

Edging a weedy garden

Here’s the progress shot.

Edging the vegetable garden

And here’s the final.

Wood "curbs" to edge a vegetable garden

We used the fence posts (or in the case of the image above, the telephone pole) as “curbs.” I’m hoping they accomplish two things: 1) Keeping weeds out of the garden. 2) Keeping small critters from crawling under the chainlink and into the garden.

Matt cut the fence posts to length with his chainsaw and then we dropped them into the shallow trenches that I’d dug around the perimeter.

Remember this picture from my last update of all of the materials for the garden?

Materials for the garden update

We’re now down to a single pile of posts (and some firewood).

Fence posts

I also made a dent in the lumber part of the pile when I went on a marathon stake making session.

An electric mitre saw is perhaps not a conventional garden tool, but I wanted a lot of stakes.

Cutting garden stakes with a mitre saw

How many stakes? I couldn’t find the energy to count. More than 10 gallons worth.

Pails of garden stakes

The stakes came into play with my plan for the other half of the fence posts: the raised beds.

My plan is to build shallow raised beds just around the outside edge of the garden. These will host asparagus, grapes, rhubarb, sunflowers, and probably beets, lettuce and who knows what else.

Again, I’m using the fence posts as curbs, and I’m holding them in place with the stakes.

Shallow rustic raised vegetable garden beds

After digging my way around the outside of the garden, I have no desire to do more weeding, so I’m giving the lasagna method a try within the raised beds.

I used cardboard for my base layer. (Die weeds, die).

Using cardboard to kill weeds in the vegetable garden

Then I covered that with a layer of straw mulch that has been composting in the garden since last fall. I was surprised how much the straw has broken down already. I think it should be good food for the new beds.

Straw mulch

Four yards of topsoil arrived yesterday morning, so I will top up the beds this weekend.

The raised beds were where I lost my mojo. I had a small sledge for hammering in the stakes, but swinging the hammer over and over (and over and over) was surprisingly tiring. So I’ve made it halfway around the garden.

I know it’s halfway because I’ve marked the centre aisle with our super long rope. The picture below doesn’t look like a lot of progress, but you might be able to see the curbs at the far right waiting to be set in place.

Unfortunately, you’re also able to see all the weeds. Matt got the rototiller running with no trouble, which got us very excited, but as soon as he started to till it stalled. And stalled. And stalled. So frustrating. So the straw and weeds and ash are all still sitting on the soil.

Gardening progress

One place the weeds are gone is in the red raspberry row. Woo-hoo for small victories. (The twine is to mark the row until I get a proper trellis in place).

Raspberry row marked with stakes and twine

A bigger victory is how much the raspberries have expanded. Look at all those little plants. This is going to be good. And the black raspberries next door–while still weedy–also appear quite healthy.

Raspberry sprouts

My usual gardening sidekick is Bax. It was nice to be a trio this weekend thanks to Matt’s help with the fence posts. However, as soon as Matt was done cutting, Bax was more than ready for bro time–indoors. Apparently he’s only interested in gardening if he can work on his tan at the same time. The weather was cloudy and drizzly, and as much as dude likes to pretend he’s an outdoor dog, he’s a fairweather outdoor dog.

Thankfully, Ralph is much tougher than her brother, so she braved the weather to keep me company. And unlike the sunbather, she actually participated, inspecting the raised beds and even assisting with some weeding.

Ralph in the garden

Ralph in the garden

Eventually, though, even I gave in and retreated to the indoors. (Ralph as always stayed outside).

However, there’s still some more progress inside. Tomatoes (Sicilian Saucers) and peppers (a random mix) have sprouted, and I transplanted our tallest watermelon sprouts already.

Watermelon sprouts

We cut our seed potatoes down to isolate individual sprouts, and they’re firmly at the grody stage. We really need to get them in the ground this weekend.

Chitted potato sprouts

The weather forecast is supposed to be bright and warm this weekend, so I have high hopes again for progress and productivity. However, I’m away from the farm a bit (have to remember Mother’s Day) and… guess what… picking up my grapes. I’m excited to have my first vines. Finger crossed I can keep them alive and help them grow the way they’re supposed to.

Before I get to that, though, let’s go back to my original to-do list. I can cross at least a couple more things off.

  • Hang the gate
  • Edge the garden
  • Build raised beds around the perimeter (half done)
  • Build trellises for the raspberries, tomatoes and squashes
  • Start a few seeds indoors
  • Till in the ash, straw and manure

Three weeks to go, Sarah. We’re halfway through this Dueling DIY. Are you going to make it? The garden may have kicked my butt last weekend, but I’m going to be back and better than ever in just a few days. Watch out.

What progress have you made on your spring projects at your house? Any tips for lasagna gardening? Or building raised beds? How about growing grapes? Or keeping a rototiller running? Do you have any furry gardeners at your house?

Solar panels two years later

Two years ago we flipped the switch on our solar panels. It’s hard to believe we’ve had them that long. They’re still a bit of a novelty for us, and we check often to see how much power we’re generating.

Solar panel array

Last year, I took a look back at our first year, remembering some of the highs and lows, and calculating how much we’d made and how long it would be until we’d made as much money as we invested in the panels.

I’ve been waiting to do the same thing again and see what progress we’ve made.

Last year, my calculations were only based on part of the year. While the panels were live as of the end of April, we didn’t receive our first cheque from the hydro company until July. This year is the first time we have a full 12 months of payments.

Just in case you’re new to our solar saga or don’t remember all the details, we’re part of Ontario’s microFIT program. Under this program, we install solar panels, and then the power that we generate goes back into the provincial grid. The province pays us $0.396/kWh. You can read about the whole saga of Going Solar here.

But now onto this year’s report.

The grand total that we made on the solar panels last year was $4,473.91–up just a bit more than $850 over the year before.

So what does this look like? Something like this. The golden yellow is this year and bright yellow is last year.

Bar graph of income from solar panels

We had a better fall and winter this year compared to last year. Everybody knows it was a much milder winter, but it was also sunnier.

I was often amazed when Matt told me at the end of the day how much we’d made. When the sun’s in the southern hemisphere, it sometimes doesn’t matter how bright it gets during the day. The angle of the sun is just so bad that there’s no way our panels produce at their max. But even in the depths of winter we had days where we were making double digits, which was a huge win.

The other huge win this year was finally getting our HST refund. This is the 13% sales tax we pay in Ontario on pretty much everything–including the labour and materials to install our panels. Because we run the solar almost like our own small business, we’re able to claim a portion of the tax–in the amount of more than $4,000.

Our other big numbers were finally setting a new daily record when we finally broke the $28 mark and making $831 more than we spent on electricity for the whole year.

Because it was such a mild winter, we didn’t have any issues with snow on the panels like we did last year. Even the ice storm wasn’t a big deal.

In fact, now that we have them, we really don’t have to do anything–except count the deposits to our bank account.

Solar panels

Last year, I estimated that it would take about 9 years and 4 months before our income equaled the investment we made in the panels. When the panels were first installed, I thought 8 1/2 years was a realistic estimate. Using this year’s numbers, the payback period would be just over 9 years.

This is definitely a long term investment, but the money is only part of the equation for me. I really feel alternative energies like solar are something we need more in the world. And I feel like I have a personal responsibility to support these alternatives as I can.

At the farm, we rely on our own well for water and our septic for sewage, we have geothermal for heat and air conditioning, and we generate power for the grid through these solar panels. Plus we’re preserving 129 acres, doing our best to be responsible stewards of our own little chunk of the earth.

Shoe tree

In the city, shoes dangling over the wires mean you might not be in the greatest neighbourhood. Out here in the country, we do things a little differently. Although I’m not sure what the meaning is of the shoe tree.

Literally, a tree covered in shoes.

Shoe tree

There are fancy shoes and casual shoes. Big shoes and little shoes.

Shoe tree

Sandle shoes and boot shoes and fuzzy shoes.

Shoetree

And of course, Canadian shoes.

Shoetree

I think the fact that we have a shoe tree says less about the neighbourhood and more about the people who live here.

Crazy country folk.

Garden Dueling DIY Week 2

Sarah in Illinois and I have entered into a friendly competition this spring to help us get our gardens in shape. We’re now at the conclusion of week 2 of this Dueling DIY. (Week 2 already, yipes!) Sarah is here today to share her first official update. You can check out all of the previous posts here.

Lots of rain and cool weather has continued here, and I was running out of time to work on this week’s challenge. I was getting nervous because I could just picture Julia having beautiful weather and getting ahead of me. (Ha-ha-ha. Be afraid, Sarah. Be very afraid). I was able to do a second till of the garden Tuesday before another round of rain came through, but that was as far as I had gotten.

However, the forecast called for perfect weather Sunday, and I had a list a mile long to work on. Of course at the top of the list were projects on our challenge. I can’t mark very much off of the list yet, but I sure got a great start.

The first thing I did was divide up my two big mums and spread them around the deck.

Splitting mums

I was easily able to make 7 different clumps of plants. I dug holes and planted them and watered them well.

Transplanting mums

While I was doing that, Steve changed the oil and put new blades on the mower. Then I mowed while he tilled the garden for the third time and then we decided where our “annual garden” would go.

We made a few first passes over then new garden, but I still have to make some type of borders and plant it.

The foreground is our new bed for plants that won’t get tilled up every year such as strawberries and asparagus and in the background is our yearly vegetable garden. You can see the fencing ready for the cucumbers and sugar snap peas. And in front of it is the hill for our row of potatoes.

Tilled garden

The beautiful weather also meant it was time to bring out our deck furniture from the barn. I got everything scrubbed and hosed off. I let it all sit in the sun to dry and then we set it up on the deck. We finished our hard day of yard work with brats and shish-kabobs on the grill and ate it outside on the deck. It was a perfect end to a perfect day.

Despite all of that hard work I was only able to check one thing off of my challenge list:

  • Make some kind of designated area (possibly raised bed) for perennial vegetables such as asparagus and strawberries.
  • Neaten, and define north flower bed and add mulch.
  • Divide mums and spread around deck
  • Make a designated gardening area complete with workbench.

It may not look like much was accomplished, but I am setting myself up for the kill! So how was your weekend, Julia?

Oooh. See how she throws in that little jab at the end? We’re pretty much tied up right now. Sarah and I have each officially crossed just one thing off our lists. However, I have big plans for both Matt and me this coming weekend. Watch out, Sarah.

Sprouts

Sarah in Illinois will be sharing her update in our Dueling DIY gardening challenge later this week. I couldn’t help sharing a small–very small–garden update of my own today.

We have sprouts!

Watermelon sprouts

Two of the seeds we planted last week have sprouted. These are sugar baby watermelons.

There are 36 little soil pellets in this container, so we have a lot more sprouts to go. And we have a long way to go until the garden is ready for these sprouts. Dueling DIY continues.

Do you have any sprouts at your house? Have you ever used pellets like this before? (This is our first time). Any watermelon growing tips?

Nesting instinct

We have a new tenant at the driveshed.

It took about a dozen false starts, but a robin has finally managed to construct a nest.

The start of birds nests at the front of the driveshed

Robin's nest

The streamers of grass waving over the door track caught the building inspector’s attention. Matt gave her a boost so that she could check the construction up close.

Ralph inspecting the birds nest

The mud wasn’t dry, but the robin got a pass nonetheless.

Robin's nest

Now she just needs to move in and start her family.

Is anyone constructing a new house where you are? Or do you have any birds sitting on nests? Who’s your building inspector?

Garden Dueling DIY Week 1

Fire in the field

In this Dueling DIY garden challenge, I am on fire. Literally.

These were my jeans at the end of Saturday.

Burned cuffs on my jeans

And this was the back of my neck at the end of the weekend. Ow-ee.

Sunburned neck

If you’re new to this Dueling DIY series, Sarah in Illinois and I are undertaking some friendly competition to help us get our gardens in shape this spring. You can check out all of the previous posts here.

Now, if you look again at that top picture and squint through the smoke, you might notice that the fire is some ways away from the garden itself–that big round thing with the fence around it.

Fire in the field

Blame it on my pyromaniac tendencies. Blame it on the other outdoor task on my 2016 Home Goals list–general property cleanup. Blame it on the first nice weather of the year. I got a little bit distracted over the weekend.

I cleared a stack of about a dozen incredibly heavy metal siding panels that had been hiding in the weeds on the south side of the garden.

Sheets of metal siding

Wiley and me moving the siding

Then I cleared the weeds themselves–using my preferred method of fire.

Burning weeds in the south field

Burning weeds in the south field

I cleared a very large pile of lumber at the edge of our centre field–and lit some of the really punky stuff on fire. (I might have a problem).

Lumber pile at the edge of the field

Field after clearing the lumber pile

I cleared a stack of old fence posts beside the driveshed.

Pile of old wood fenceposts

I’ve moved these fence posts once before, picking them up from where they were scattered around the property and tucking them behind the driveshed. I had to remind myself a couple of times that I had moved them before, and I could move them again.

Moving the fenceposts

These things were heavy. The very last one was the girth and almost the length of a telephone pole–not even close to a fence post. Example 8,694 of why I don’t need a gym membership.

Moving the fenceposts

But I digress. All of these clearing tasks do actually have something to do with the vegetable garden.

The fence posts are going to become the “curbs” around the outside of the garden and the raised beds.

Some of the lumber from the field is going to be trellises for the tomatoes and stakes to hold the curbs in place.

The metal T-posts that were mixed in with the lumber pile are going to be the trellises for the raspberries.

So my big accomplishment in this Dueling DIY is that I have amassed all of my materials. A whole lot of materials.

Materials for the garden update

My other accomplishments are on the non-heavy lifting side: I ordered seed potatoes and grape vines, and we’ve started some watermelon, tomato and pepper seeds inside.

Here’s my original to-do list that I shared last week. I can cross just one thing off.

  • Hang the gate
  • Edge the garden
  • Build raised beds around the perimeter
  • Build trellises for the raspberries, tomatoes and squashes
  • Start a few seeds indoors
  • Till in the ash, straw and manure currently spread over the garden

But here’s how I’d calculate my scorecard so far:

  • I cleared the weeds from a space roughly equal to the size of the garden. Maybe this means fewer weeds to go to seed and infiltrate the garden itself.
  • I am prepped–and stocked–in the garden materials department.
  • I moved a telephone pole all by myself–in fact the equivalent of several telephone poles if you put all of those fence posts together.
  • And I lit myself on fire.

Beat that Sarah.

Thanks to everyone who shared their garden/spring to-do lists last week. Please share your progress. How is your spring project coming? Are there any pyromaniacs out there? Who else gets distracted from the primary project? What are you working on in your garden?

Painting with a smaller brush

Look what I made.

Painting of four ladies dancing

I haven’t painted in a very long time. I mean, aside from walls, ceilings, furniture.

My friends set up a girls night at a painting class.

Girls night at painting class

These paint and sips–wine is on offer along with paint–have become very popular in our area. Everyone paints the same painting as the artist talks you through the process.

This is the painting we were copying.

Painting class

The artist talked us through the background and then adding the bodies–paint a heart, add arms and very long legs.

Painting class

Add necks and heads and then dress them with swooshes of pink and blue and yellow and red. Accent it with white. And know when to stop before the colours all blend together–that was the most valuable part of the class. The instruction to put down my brush and walk away.

Painting class

I felt a bit like Degas.

Painting class

As the paintings took shape, it was neat to see how they were each slightly different, depending on the colours we chose and our own approaches.

Painting class

I deviated from the plan when it came to the very end. The ladies are dancing on grass, so the curtains in the original painting didn’t make a lot of sense to me. I added some tree branches instead.

Painting class

I can’t say that dancing ladies are my usual style when it comes to art, but I’m thrilled with how this painting turned out. In fact, I think I might give this another try on my own.

This painting high on a wall at the artist’s studio makes me think I might be able to do a rendition of my favourite furry fellow.

Shaggy dog painting

It was fun to be creative in a different way than usual.

Are you a painter? I mean, of actual paintings? Have you ever been to an art class? Or a paint and sip?

Looking for sawzall suggestions

One of the major perks of being a daughter of a contractor is the tools. Not only do I have access to all of my Dad’s tools, he also gives me tools when he upgrades.

That is the case with my hand-me-down vintage Sawzall.

Vintage Milwaukee Sawzall

Now I appreciate this saw. It’s come in very handy. But I think it’s time that I upgraded for myself.

My biggest complaint with this saw is the cord.

Cord and plug

I would love to have a cordless sawzall. But I have no experience with cordless sawzalls. Even the one that my Dad uses currently has a cord. So I’m looking for advice. Any suggestions of what to look for when I go shopping? What do you think is the best brand? Is a battery powered sawzall actually powerful enough to saw all?

Spring Garden Dueling DIY – The Challenger

This week I kicked off a Dueling DIY Challenge to help get the vegetable garden ready for planting. Sarah in Illinois is my opponent in this challenge, and she’s here today to share her to-do list. Another Sarah, she of Ugly Duckling House and one of the original Dueling DIYers, issued another challenge yesterday–she admonished Sarah and me to “throw down.” I’m not usually one for smack talk, but I’ve seen Sarah’s to-do list, and I think I’ve got this.

There’s nothing I love more than a little friendly competition, whether it is during bowling league, golfing, or predicting the outcome of professional football games. So when Julia suggested a competition that would also help me get my garden and yard in better shape, I was all for it.

Last weekend I looked around the yard and garden and made a list of things that I really want to get done.

Our temperatures have been unseasonably cool so far so I still have not made any type of raised bed or containment for my asparagus and strawberries. Remember I stuck them in a pot temporarily? Well, they are not going to last there much longer.

Asparagus and strawberry plants

If you look closely, the strawberries are already blooming. And I really don’t know what to say about that asparagus other than it needs planted badly!

I have a small flower bed on the north side of our house that needs some attention. It needs mulch and the division between it and the yard either needs neatened up or maybe a more permanent border.

I shared this picture of my mums back in October and said that I wanted to divide them and spread them around our deck. Now that they are starting to come up, it is time to do just that.

Deck with mums

For my final and most ambitious project, I want to make a designated gardening area. I have pinned a few gardening benches on Pinterest.

While cleaning out one of our barns this weekend I found what will make a perfect bench top and that gave me the kick to get started on a work area.

So here is my summary:

  • Make some kind of designated area (possibly raised bed) for annual vegetables such as asparagus and strawberries.
  • Make a designated area (or raised bed) for a new cutting garden.
  • Neaten, and define north flower bed and add mulch.
  • Divide mums and spread around deck
  • Make a designated gardening area complete with workbench.

I am inspired Julia, let’s go!

Let’s go indeed. Bring it on, Sarah.

The woman can’t even control her asparagus. Yup, I’ve got this.