Building An Earthship In Darfield, B.C.

We are a family of five living in Darfield, BC.
Our house is six hundred square feet in total and we are feeling cramped.

We have decided to build an earthship!

So starts the adventure ...

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Paving shots -- Beause you don't see this everyday out your front door!

Food Miscellanea

I've been snapping a few photos during the last week of things I thought might be of interest to those of you who spend time in the kitchen.

We've been making our own yogurt for more than a year now. I bought a Tribest yogurt maker which comes with seven little jars. However, we found that we were making yogurt every night. The yogurt maker comes with two lids; one shorty that covers the jars and a taller one that will cover containers of your choice. I've been struggling to find a fairly large container that would fit in the tall lid but last week I found one!

I started making yogurt using the powdered culture from a health food store. It was disappointing; very runny. Homemade yogurt is not as thick regardless, because thickeners (cornstarch) are not being added.

My friend Irene put me on to using commercial plain yogurt as a starter and this has worked very well!

So I start with a gallon of milk (my new container can take a gallon). I heat the milk to a point where my honey will melt. Most people will heat the milk to past 200 degrees F to kill any supposed bacteria.

I then add honey to the sweetness we like. I should note here that we buy our honey in bulk from an apiary in Vernon, about 200 kms away. We buy our oatmeal in bulk from Rogers mill at the same time and make a day of it. If we happen to go in the winter, we spend the day x-country skiing at Silver Star.

For a big pail of honey (I think 30 kgs) we pay about $90. I re-package it in quart sealers and we store it in a cool dark place. It lasts us most of a year and it is our primary sweetener.

After the sweetened milk mixture has cooled to lukewarm (I'm sure there's an optimal temperature but I can't remember what it is) I add two really generous dollops of Astro Original Balkan style plain yogurt (6% fat content, no thickeners added). The key to the temperature is to make sure it is cool enough not to kill the bacteria in the yogurt starter. If it kills your yogurt starter your milk will not turn into yogurt. As you will notice we do not worry about the fat content of our dairy products. We don't eat processed foods and very little meat so we know our diet is naturally healthy so we don't mess around with products that have been tampered with to make them low fat/low salt/blah, blah blah.

In the spring, Katie and Irene's daughter, Christine, did a district-winning 4-H demonstration on how to make yogurt. They will tell you that chocolate flavoured yogurt is the best (just add some cocoa) but that you can add fruit, too, as long as it is already pre-sweetened. Fresh fruit should not be added to the yogurt at this time, as the low heat as it "cultures" can grow bacteria on the fruit. Our family likes to add apple butter just before we eat it. The apple butter is made from our own apples!

Here is the yogurt mixture in our yogurt maker. Eight to 12 hours does it! Then cool in fridge or you can eat it warm. I've been told you can take your home made yogurt and use it as a starter for the next batch but most of what I've read says that each successive batch will be progressively less successful. Because yogurt keeps fairly well, we just buy the starter from the store. My estimate is that it costs us $4.00 for a gallon of yogurt.

Here's a picture of some of my spices. I use canning jars and the white canning lids that are sold for about $4.00 for eight. My friend Lee-Ann got me on to this. The little 1/2 pint jars (wide mouth) just happen to take an entire package of no-name spices (no leftover spices in the bag). I then label the lid. Sometimes I'll need a larger jar and then the lid travels to the larger jar, rather than having to soak a label off a jar. Lee-Ann has a spice rack that takes the jars with the lids facing out. Instant identification! Sadly, during my spice container revolution we decided to build an earthship and felt that we shouldn't put time and effort into the pantry in the wee house. So my spices end up all higgeldy-piggeldy. But it's still a lot better than it used to be.

Just wait until we get our new pantry!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Blog Followers

We noticed recently that there are eleven declared followers of our blog! We hadn't been paying attention to the right hand side of things until recently so we missed it. Some of them we recognize, either by the photos or names...any chance the rest of you can identify yourselves? Do we know you? If not, can you tell us where you live and what your interest in our project is? That would be really cool. We like getting comments and feedback.

Road Paving

Well, it finally started more than a week ago. The long anticipated re-paving of the 8km stretch of Hwy 5 that goes through Darfield.

We've been complaining about it for years...the increased heavy traffic over even the last decade (it is a fairly major route from Vancouver to Edmonton) has mashed ruts into the highway. When it rains the ruts fill with water and it's more than your life is worth to actually drive down the centre of your own lane. I never go the speed limit in the rain as I've hydroplaned several times at the low speed of 80 km/h (the limit on our stretch is 90km).

The truth is, I'm sure there are worse stretches of road in B.C. I think. I know certainly from my cross country travels that Montreal and the province of New Brunswick took the cake for really crappy highways. However, we are really happy our little stretch is being re-done.

I'm not sure if it's been resurfaced since the highway replaced a dirt road in 1959. I've seen a picture from that year when they were building the highway and it was a HUGE change from the slow (but very important) thoroughfare that was once the road north.

We've noticed a few things since they started work. The first, is that the fancy paving machines break down. I've seen a few people under the...hood...trying to fix it. Secondly, either the equipment or the workers don't work well in the rain. On those days activity is scarce. Thirdly, our driveway (being wide and at only a slight angle to the highway) is a most desired place for a) parking broken down paving machines b)parking flagpeople's vehicles c) a convenient place to put bits of recycled ashpalt (I did manage to pull our driveway cable out of the highly compressed black stuff, since nobody thought to move it before dumping it) and d)taking a pee. We don't mind a-c too much but "d" kind of bothered us since the two or three fellas we saw walked up the driveway a bit and then went off the highway right of way and peed on our land. I took a picture of one of them (alas, his back was to me) with my super-duper 300 mm zoom lens but after MUCH thought, decided it might be tasteless to post it.

We often get people peeing on our property. During the summer I've watched tourists park their cars/trucks/minivans/RV's in our wide driveway and a) unzip b) pull down or c)rip off diaper and throw in ditch. Plus, every few weeks we have to go down to the highway and pick up a) A&W garbage from the Barriere and Clearwater stores b) Subway garbage from Little Fort and c) beer and pop bottles. Apparently Darfield is exactly one Pappa burger away from both Barriere and Clearwater... We have collected rather a large number of pop and beer cans that have been dumped in the middle of the driveway. We would like to think that this is driveby participation in our housing project but they are usually tossed directly from the door in a pile of bubble gum wrappers, used fast food wrappers, cigarette boxes and other items that can't be mentioned.

So peeing on our property (even though this contributes to the well being of the men working on our new stretch of highway) kinda ticks us off.

But otherwise they are doing a great job!

I have noticed sitting here that there's a large thumping noise on the highway every time a semi truck passes by. I think they stopped paving tonight just south of the driveway so there is a seam (uneven pavement) that the trucks are walloping over. It makes me jump; I'm not used to the noise...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Rational Environmentalism

The closest brush I've had with active environmentalism was Christmas in 1987 when I was returning to university in Ottawa after the holidays. I was walking down the aisle of the plane and realized that David Suzuki was sitting very close to me.

I stopped to say hello and to exchange a few words (he was flying to Ottawa to speak at a committee meeting or royal commission, or something). As a journalist in training, I thought it was great to even have these few words with somebody after whom a scholarship in my journalism school was named. More recently, as I've reconnected with my cousin Gerald and his family over the last year, I learned he works for the Suzuki Foundation, although apparently Mr. Suzuki isn't seen frequently around Foundation offices. (Drat, there goes my re-introduction!)

But that's it! I've never marched on city hall in support of the environment, I've never handed out pamphlets calling for action against multi national companies polluting the earth. I've never chained myself to a bulldozer and I've never even considered myself an environmentalist. The word itself used to be a dirty word, especially in rural areas like ours that depend on natural resources for its income.

I found it quite amusing to be wished a happy Earth Day last April 22nd by my friend Jan Darby, who went on to describe us as "Eco Warriors". Not only is Jan just a fun person, but she has a sharp and unusual sense of humour, which we like very much.

Other friends have laughed at us for describing ourselves as fairly normal. Because of some of our decisions over the last decade we seem to have acquired a reputation (among our non-BC friends, anyway) for doing the unexpected and taking some less traveled roads. Chucking our well paid Toronto jobs for our own log home business was the first thing that seemed to place us firmly outside of the fast lane. Living through the wildfires of 2003 seemed to awe and entertain many of our friends and family. Choosing to live in a trailer relatively mortgage-free instead of sinking money into a "real" house was also a decision that was unheard of outside of a few like minded folks here in our local area.

But many of these things didn't visibly set us on our so called course of environmentalism. So, what led us to decide to build one of the greenest of green homes?

It actually began almost 20 years ago. When Chris graduated from U of T engineering school, he almost immediately enrolled in the masters program, with a specialty in sustainable energy. He completed a few courses part time but the rest of his life intruded. The chance to assist his parents in their own wood-based business in Vermont presented itself, and our marriage and subsequent family took precedence shortly after. But he was always reading and musing and wondering about sustainability.

When we had TV I used to watch lots of news stories about global warming, pollution, oil spills, you name it. Instead of calling me to action, they would instill in me an overwhelming sense of hopelessness in one person's (my) ability to make a difference. And honestly, I'm not fond of scare tactics, even if they are true. I think that if you can give people something small to accomplish, that is within their reach, the environmental movement, at the grassroots level, will have much more success.

Our real foray into environmentalism came when times were tough for us in the early years of the business. We, out of necessity, began choosing less expensive, and less unfriendly options. We heated our home with wood (using the trim ends from our business which were from beetle killed pine) over heating it with oil or electricity. Choosing energy efficient appliances years before we heard anybody else talking about it. Buying food in bulk because it cost less. It had the additional benefit of generating less packaging.

Soon, we began to realize that we were generating less garbage. Far less. We began to wonder how little we could generate and in the last year reduced our output by another 1/3. Chris' interest in vermi (worm) composting over the last 15 years took off last year as he expanded his worm bins. They still can't take anywhere near the vegetable scraps we generate, so he built a traditional composting bin system and I was given a tumbler through the freecycle network. Now we compost our scraps and my Dad and Gail's kitchen scraps. AND to the amusement of many of our friends, Chris is successfully composting sheep's wool.

For the last 10 years we have been recycling our cans, plastic and bottles. I have been slowly replacing plastic in our kitchen with glass or stainless steel. I'll admit I succumbed to the "plastic" leeching scares and have decided to err on the side of caution.

Last year Chris established us as novice gardeners. The pleasure of eating food grown by your own hand is immeasurable. We dove into preserving this fall in a big way and that opened up a whole new community to us! Knowing that you can grow enough vegetables to last through the winter months is empowering. It's healthy, it cuts down on fuel costs in trucking food all over the world, and it connects people, defying gender, age and temperament.

In terms of our business activities we always believed (and most loggers, too!) that our forests can be sustainable if practices are changed. Our biggest beef is that too many of our trees are leaving our country without Canadians getting full value (financially and environmentally). We could keep 7 people employed full time for a year processing 25 homes with the wood (dead standing pine that was either used or deteriorated beyond usefullness) that a big supermill would process in a few weeks, employing waaaayyyy fewer man hours per board foot. A supermill might get paid between $250 and $300 per thousand board foot of processed wood, while our log home operation might end up with a value of $2500 per thousand board feet. We used fewer fossil fuels to generate that income and we were extremely good at dealing with our waste. Wood shavings went to local farmers for farming uses and then were eventually composted. Trim ends were used to heat homes.

That's value added wood processing! And while many would argue that our log home operation couldn't possibly be an environmentally friendly activity, we certainly felt good about many of the things we were doing...

To us, recycling, gardening, reusing, mindful use of resources, just makes sense. It's a RATIONAL approach to environmentalism and one that many, many, many of the older folks who live around us, have been living for most of their lives. I see the over 70 group of people smiling rather tolerantly when they hear young folk talking about gardening, canning, composting and re-using...this has been their lives and is not something new at all!

But during the last two generations we've gone beserk! Here's an excerpt from one of Chris' recent posts. (I love this analogy!)
We took what resources we needed to expand, attached economic values to them and trashed them at the end of their obvious use to us. The resources we took and the wastes we dumped into the environment were like a pebble thrown into a pond ... the surface rippled and then was still again.

Our unparalleled and successful growth as a species means that our global economy has now caught up with (some would say overwhelmed) the capacity of the world to accommodate it. We are now rolling boulders into the pond with the enthusiasm of little kids, and no parents are telling us to stop before we kill all the goldfish.
Although this sounds like a very radical stance on Chris' part, you will see (if you've read the post) that he would probably also describe himself as less than extreme on the environmental front. We both try not to be overwhelmed by the bad news, instead trying to make a difference by doing the things we think our family can do and to have fun doing it.

So, despite the fact that Jan will tout us as Eco Warriors (it makes good copy, after all, and makes me giggle!) we really are neither radical environmentalists, nor part of the fringe element. Earthships, or any other sustainable building practice, are just an extension of common sense thinking about our resources and something that ended up making a lot of sense to us.

Pouring the last 1/2 tires!

Last weekend Linda and Grant Hallis arrived to help us with the last poured cement half tires. They are selling their home on Vancouver Island and are looking for land in the interior of BC. If anybody knows of 50-100 acres of sunny, south facing land, let me know! Here are some pictures of our work on the house. Thanks for the help Linda and Grant!

Updated expenses

Here are our updated expenses. Not too much higher than last time as we've only spent money on another roll of poly and some backfilling costs from Alvin.


HPO Homeowner Exemption Permit $425.00
Building Permit $1,504.00
Septic Approval $157.50


Excavation $4,480.00


Tire Walls (inc. poly, Metal Lath + portland cement) $573.04
Perimeter drain (inc. PVC pipe and fittings, filter cloth) $528.46
Thermal Wrap (inc. poly, rigid insulation, tuck tape) $3,781.10
Nails/other fasteners $16.12
Tires $0.00
Dirt $0.00
Tire press $0.00
Cardboard $0.00



Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What the blog doesn't say...

While re-reading my previous blog entries, I came to a startling realization. I've noticed that my blog entries read like the Christmas letters we used to write.

It started this morning as I was scrolling through our blog entries. We both do that sometimes to make sure what we've written late at night still makes sense the next day. Because we no longer always read each other's postings before publishing, it's also a chance to catch up on what's spilling out of our heads... Chris also tags my entries with proper labels (he's stopped asking me to remember to do it myself). My main objective, however, is to check how my writing looks in terms of flow, and to check for spelling mistake and typos.

Last fall when we started blogging, I was pretty anal about my spelling and grammar. As we got busier, less so. I used to go into the edit function right away when I caught a typo/spelling mistake and change it. I did this as fast as I could, cringing, and hoping not too many people had read the entry yet. I'm not sure if I was half expecting Professor Scanlon to be reading it and to give me an 'F' in my comment section (my journalism peers will understand the panic in this statement!)

Some of the mistakes are interesting. There's the usual 'on's' for 'of's' and double 'the's'. I noticed recently that I used 'chilling' instead of 'chilly' as in "it was a bit chilling in the morning". Almost NY ghetto-like in its syntax. (In my NY ghetto-ignorant opinion, anyway!)

Probably the most amusing was after Chris and I had made both sweet and dill pickles. I posted "Chris' sweet pickles are yummy." I didn't catch this until minutes after posting when I was entering the same statement on my Facebook page. Needless to say I removed it lickety split from our blog. I sat in front of Facebook, however, repeatedly hitting the 'delete' key to no avail! Stupid bug.... I finally gave up and commented on my own post about how it could be taken the wrong way. My friend Keren from Kitchener helpfully pointed out that it could have been worse without the 's' on the end of 'pickles'!

I digress. The infamous Christmas Letter. For those of you who started writing AFTER the internet (and blogging, Facebook and Twitter) was firmly and insidiously entrenched in our lives, Christmas letters were the way we -- and a lot of other people -- used to update family and friends on happenings through the year. I LOVED Christmas letters, both writing them and receiving them.

These letters were glorious, both the ones I wrote and the ones we received! We were all so great. We had a great year. The kids are perhaps among the cutest, smartest and funniest in the world. The dog is funny. We are still totally in love. We are so...great. Apparently, not too great for words!

In the early days of computers (darn, did I just date myself?) we would type in our update, print out multiple copies on Christmas paper bought from a store (that we either walked to or drove to; forget online sales). We'd spend a night stuffing envelopes and writing addresses and killing a bottle of wine.

When we finally got email my Christmas letters totally went out of control. Pages and pages of blah, blah, blah, and eventually pictures taken on our very first digital camera. No more envelopes or stamps and eventually no more wine, after I spilled a glass on a keyboard one late December 24th night, making our Christmas letter a New Year's letter.

To keep my blatherings under control, Chris hijacked the process every other year, keeping things to a sane level of greatness and minimizing the strain on our CPU and hard drive storage.

I guess because Chris and I have always chosen paths that stray from the norm, we have inevitably received a lot of comments from our Christmas letters and emails. Comments such as, "wow, you guys are pioneers", or "you should write a book" and "what an experience for you as a family." With the start of our blog, we're now getting these comments from perfect strangers! The internet is an amazing thing.

On one hand, it's kind of neat to be glorified like this. Wow. Who (but us) knew we were that great??? I must miss it (we stopped Christmas letters a few years ago) because it feels like my entries are like mini-Yuletide missives. I have to admit that Chris has moved beyond a seasonal writing schedule and has developed a thoughtful, insightful, and slightly self-deprecating/amusing style of writing. At least one of us has matured in the Language Arts!

So it's confession time. There's lots that happens in between my blog entries that I deliberately leave out, despite the fact it may be relevant and interesting to our project.

For example, there are several topics that are completely off limits: our religious beliefs or non-beliefs, the nitty gritty of our finances, and sex. Sorry, just won't talk about these except where it concerns livestock and poultry. And really, have you ever tried to discuss Buddhism with an $8 randy rooster???

There are also a few topics that the kids have asked us to NEVER POST ON THE BLOG! For obvious reasons I can't tell you what these are.

But we also scratch other things that can be pretty illuminating. For example, there's the missing post where Chris and I are standing on the newly excavated building site with the dripping water line sticking out of the bank (because it ran through our building site and we had to cut it), arguing about how we were going to supply our little house with water for the summer and then, possibly, winter. One of us wanted to deal with it right away and the other wanted to put it off until winter (when maybe we wouldn't have to deal with it because we'd be in a new house). Did this fly? Hah! Nope, nope, nope. So the argument continued until stony face met stony face and one of us stomped off. I won't tell you which was which, but I can tell you that I've never seen Chris stomp.

How about where we "discussed" propane appliances vs. electric? No pictures for that missing post. Or how we were NOT going to make the pantry smaller to accommodate "you-fill-in-the-blank." In fact, the blog entry title could have been: "DON'T TOUCH THE PANTRY! Wife sleeps under kitchen sink to accommodate food storage in tire house." Or even more to the point, "Don't touch the #*^$@ pantry!"

I'm on a roll.

There were more than a few times this summer where I was beat from the heat and snuck into the house to make myself a single glass of ice tea. Just for the sheer relief of it. To all the volunteers (and Chris), SORRY, SORRY, SORRY. I do feel guilty about

I never posted the picture of the kids at the barn screaming at each other to feed the lambs, that he/she did it yesterdayI'mgoingtotellMomifyoudon'tdoitnow! I also never wrote the four-in-a-row expletive I uttered when I dumped apple cider vinegar in my 32 quarts of apple butter (instead of just apple cider). I've never blogged about our ongoing power struggle to keep our little house tidy and who feels they do the most to accomplish, not tidiness, but the holding-at-bay of germ warfare in the kitchen. (Actually this could be pretty funny, but feelings on this one can be raw on both sides, even at the best of times! Ditto for the Mt. Everest of all laundry piles.)

So this morning I ditched my typo/grammar searching mission --no more worrying about old Journalism profs tut tutting over my writing -- and I've now been re-reading entries from a year ago, trying to confirm if this is actually true! Generally, I can sum up most of a year's worth of postings like this:

"We're great, look what we're doing, look what we believe in, see our well adjusted and busy kids, see what I'm doing now?, don't we have neat friends? isn't Chris great? Aren't we FUNNY!!!!????

Wow! Have I been misleading? Hmm. Nope. We do write fairly true to actual events and our personalities aren't much different than what you read (although I do think I'm much more outgoing here than in person!)

So, believe everything you read. Because, after all, Chris IS great and the kids ARE well adjusted and busy! We've also been known to be funny and crack a joke or two or laugh at ourselves (and other people!) We do want you to see what we're doing and to share with you what we believe in environmentally.

But I'm writing this to tell you that the really interesting stories seem to lay between the lines....(lay? lie? darn!)

The Age of Stupid

The Kamloops branch of the BC Sustainable Energy Association showed the movie The Age of Stupid last night at Thompson Rivers University.

The movie is essentially a collection of documentaries highlighting environmental degradation around the globe. The documentaries are well done and certainly make you question what is happening to the environment.

These mini-documentaries are tied together by an apocalyptic narration pointing to inevitable negative consequences for people (possibly extinction of humanity by 2050) unless dramatic steps are taken now in how we live.

I have a difficult time with the climate change and global warming debate. I believe that human activity is dramatically altering the world's landscape, and that fossil fuels are having (and will continue to have) long term impacts on the environment, temperature and human sustainability. I also recognize that the best efforts by scientists to accurately predict and model future events can be ... unreliable (I am trying to be polite). So I always try to take imminent disaster scenarios with a grain of salt; things may turn out better, or we may be in deeper s#@t because of something that nobody expected!

So, although I find myself in support of the changes advocated by this narration, I think that at best it is preaching to the choir and at worst brow beating the majority of people who simply do not want to contemplate their own extinction (who would?)

I guess the question that a movie like this leaves for me is what is the next step? How do we motivate change among the majority of the population who do not wish to think or be threatened in such stark terms?

We are used to thinking in economic measures about our world as these measures have worked for us for a long time. We use GDP as a measure for the wealth and vitality of our society, and compare everyday items in terms of their dollar values.

These measures worked for so long because the world ecology surrounding our man made economies was huge in relative terms. We took what resources we needed to expand, attached economic values to them and trashed them at the end of their obvious use to us. The resources we took and the wastes we dumped into the environment were like a pebble thrown into a pond ... the surface rippled and then was still again.

Our unparalleled and successful growth as a species means that our global economy has now caught up with (some would say overwhelmed) the capacity of the world to accommodate it. We are now rolling boulders into the pond with the enthusiasm of little kids, and no parents are telling us to stop before we kill all the goldfish.

The paradigm of endless growth that has worked so well to guide our expansion has run into the reality of the limited carrying capacity of our planet. We need to be thinking about the world as an ecology, and measuring our success in different ways. This new thinking requires a cognitive disconnect with beliefs and assumptions that have been ingrained since birth for most of us, and consequently we are incredibly resistant to this thinking. Despite overwhelming contrary evidence we continue to chase unrealistic visions of the American dream while the world seems to collapse around us.

At the end of the movie there was some time set aside for discussion, and to ask what can be done locally. There is a rally in Kamloops on October 24th at the Farmer's market in support of is 'building a movement to unite the world around solutions to the climate crisis--the solutions that science and justice demand' according to its website. Specifically, this rally is to convince world governments in advance of the Copenhagen Summit (where a global treaty on climate emissions may be hashed out) that we really do want the treaty to have some teeth. In the past I have steered clear of political involvement, but I hope to make it to this rally!

Also, I think it is important to reduce the issues involved to a size that can be managed individually. We risk being overwhelmed by a message of imminent worldwide calamity to the point that we do not want to get out of bed in the morning, much less take a step in a new direction.

In our family we continue to try and make decisions that reduce our impact on the environment and align us with what we believe in. Sandra and I are planning to take a trip this winter using the accumulated air miles that we have 'earned' on our credit cards to get us free airline tickets to our destination. I am hoping to convince her to go to New Mexico so that we can see finished earthships to give us ideas in our own construction project.

Unfortunately, last night's movie reminded me of something I have known for a while. Airline travel has extreme negative environmental consequences. I find myself caught between justifying a flight that I have already 'earned', or traveling in a more sustainable fashion. After all, its just one flight, we are only two people ... what difference can it possibly make?

I wonder how Sandra would feel about driving to New Mexico ...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Potato Famine

This summer I planted potatoes in six stacks of tires.

The hope was that in each stack the potatoes would grow to the top tire and start potatoes in the entire stack of tires instead of just below the surface of the top tire in the stack. I was giddy with excitement as I hoped for over fifty pounds of potatoes per stack!

I have dug through the first two stacks and removed maybe five pounds of potatoes in each one. I am crushed!

I did get potatoes in the top tire, but very few anywhere else. I am suspicious that the soil I used had too much clay in it. It packed down in the lower tires and it was almost impossible to dig without a shovel. I think the soil needs to be much more loose for this to work.

Next year less clay!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Ninety bales of hay in the barn, ninety bales of hay, take one down, pass it around...

This afternoon we drove 2.5 kms south to the Curlew Farm, owned by the Simpsons. This is the farm where we've been buying hay since we started 4-H last year.

Pam and Pete keep cows and horses but sell their extra hay to others. We were lucky; we've been busy and have put off getting stocked up. Pam had enough for us, but not much more. We were a bit worried as we had been hearing of a hay shortage on the prairies. Most places either got too much rain or not enough and I believe B.C. farmers have been selling and shipping more this year and for better prices.

After pointing us to the right area, Pam left and we loaded up the 16' trailer with 54 bales and brought them home. On our second trip we hauled 36 bales. We figure 90 bales will keep us going until Curlew Farm starts bringing in the second cut of hay next year.

Second cut hay is more desirable because the grasses are finer. Sheep are more picky than cows and leave less of the second cut behind. First cut hay is $5.50 a bale and second cut is $6.00. This is pretty much par for the course price wise.

Although we were eying all the hay conveyors as we drove home, we lifted our bales to the loft using equipment we already had. We off loaded from the trailer onto the forklift forks and raised the stack of 12 bales to the loft opening.

It was not extremely difficult work but it got us warmed up a little! As you can see we had another really sunny day, although it was a little windy and cold, about seven degrees Celsius. It's hard to complain. Some Octobers are really wet, or really cloudy and cold.

We have a handful of chores left to do to take care of the livestock this winter. First is to place an immersion heater in the lambs' self waterer. The second is to remove the chickens' self waterer;
the kids will water them each day. Next year we will bury the waterline to the chicken coop. We also intend to cut a small opening in the loft floor directly above the hay feeder in the barn so the kids can simply drop hay into it from above. We hope this will limit the amount of hay that is going to insulate the ground directly in front of the barn (when they toss it down). We also have to vaccinate and de-worm our new lamb. I'm holding off on this until I talk to Janet Huber, the kids' 4-H sheep leader. She may be pregnant (the lamb, not Janet!) and I need to figure out what is safe for Hershey right now.

Tomorrow the kids will work on their livestock record books in the morning and then we will head up to Tom and Steph's cabin. Looking forward to a bit of relaxation (after we help dig holes for fenceposts!) Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!

The U walls are done!!!!

We are finished the 10th round of tires! We had the Morrison family drop in for a few hours to see the house and they picked up a few shovels and hurried things along while we talked. Thanks for the help! I counted after and we (and many volunteers, thank you thank you thank you) have filled 762 tires! We have just under 200 to fill on the front wall next spring. They will be in a straight line and will be smaller car tires. Easy peasy!

Today we catch up on other chores: hay for the barn loft for the winter and we will finish preserving our apples. I still have to try Josh's chutney recipe and we are loving the apple juice so much we will make more!

Sunday takes us to Tom and Steph's cabin for turkey and Monday finds us adding a layer of rigid insulation to our thermal wrap in anticipation of backfilling on the 16th.

Next week is our anniversary (14 or 20 depending on whether we celebrate marriage of togetherness :) !!) so we are taking a few days off to go to the theatre, out to dinner, spend some time together without the kids (thanks Dad and Gail) and do what every couple does to celebrate 20 years together...go to an equipment auction! Chris is eying a snowplow blade and I'm curious what the small stock trailer will go for.

Friday, October 9, 2009

So close!

Today Tom, Steph, Chris and I filled and packed 27 tires. This leaves thirteen tires to be packed tomorrow. Unfortunately we won't have their help tomorrow (they are busy getting ready to make a big turkey dinner for 19 people at their cabin near Bridge Lake, B.C.) but thirteen tires shouldn't take us more than a few hours.

We are already looking ahead to what we can do before winter and I think we have accepted that we will not get the roof on before snow flies. We will move forward with the bond beam and I will be extremely happy if that gets poured this fall. Then, on good days, I can sand our weathered round log beams and then stain in the shop (heated). When they are stained and dried we will put them on the bond beam, putting them in place as we go. Might be able to work on other parts of the roof if we get a spate of really good weather this winter, but we are happy poking along and getting other parts lined up for a fast start in early April.

Dad showed up today with 31 tires giving us enough to finish the walls. What a relief. Although we will need to collect some 225 tires for the front wall in the spring, completing the 235 tire collection is a major milestone!

On a completely different note, the rooster took a run at me today! He can be a little aggressive to say the least. I think he is being "henpecked", though. When I let the chickens out today his feathers looked more than a bit ruffled and I think I saw blood on them.

Here are a few photos from today (none of the rooster going for me!)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Making great progress on round #10

Today my brother Thomas and sister-in-law, Steph, came to help with the tires. It was a bit chilling in the morning but we had some great sun later on. We had to stop at about 2 pm for piano lessons, but still managed to get about 24 tires filled with their help.

Steph brought leftovers for lunch: Chana Masala, some spicy lamb chops and spinach paneer. That together with a few quarts of our apple juice, pita bread, my homemade relish, roasted tomatoes and samosas (which came up from Vancouver with Steph earlier in the week) we had a spread that I wish we could feed all our volunteers!

They will be back tomorrow and hopefully we will get slightly more than 24 filled, leaving us with only 10-15 to complete on Saturday.

My father picked up 13 more tires in Kamloops today, leaving us with only 17 more to complete round #10. He will swing by Insight Tire and Auto in the morning to see what they have. We could be in good shape to be done by Saturday!

On the 16th Alvin returns to finish backfilling the tire walls and then he will remove his wondrous backhoe for the season. This will leave us in good shape to be able to work on the roof from the outside of the building.

Chris and I have been re-reading and plotting our next steps. We will be doing a continuous concrete bond beam on top of the tires. The forms will be made from setting pop cans in really stiff mortar. We finally start to use the many pop cans everyone has been donating to our non pop-drinking family!

My father, who recently sand blasted the outside of his log house, has got Katie started on collecting dry sand for us as we intend to sandblast our round beams for the house. Then, I'm going to stain them before we place them on the roof.

The big question is whether we will go past pouring the bond beam this season. A lot will depend on the weather. Two people this week have said an early cold winter but I think they were reading the same almanac, personally!

On the 17th we have another couple coming to help for 3-4 days. We should just be starting the bond beam then so they will be learning along with us! I think this activity will be very easy for the kids to involve themselves in; it should be like playing in the mud!

Here are some photos of today's work!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Me using the tire press eight feet in the air. If you look closely, the toggle control now has an extension of about four feet enabling me to use my foot to operate it. That's the 10th and final row I'm working on!

The only broccoli I managed to successfully grow this year.

The chrysanthemums last hoorah.

Our wild onion patch. Still haven't pulled them. September gave them a real push on size.

Dad's apple tree. Not totally picked yet!

Hugo, playing in the sun.

Chris, waiting for me to put the camera down.

Chris and Hugo. This would have been a good spot for me to use the zoom...I think I can zoom in on this picture, too, after taking it. Things to figure out.

The southwest corner of the house.

Lovin' the camera!

I've only set it to automatic and haven't read even one page of the manual yet, but already Chris is yelling at me, "we're never going to get any work done!" (Endorphins are alive and well, thanks! This is how we should all feel after a bout of consumerism, instead of that let-down feeling we get soon after!)

I can tell I'm going to have fun with this thing.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


After a day in Kamloops meeting with some coaches from the Overlander Ski Club--Chris and I are head coaches of our Barriere Club -- we came home and processed more apples.

The apple juice was so good, we made more. This time Chris used our potato ricer to recover apple sauce and it worked much better. We made 8 quarts of apple juice (about 2 gallons) and recovered about 10 quarts of apple sauce. I seem to still be having some issues with head space/tightness of rings as inevitably I have at least one jar pop open in the canner, letting loose apple goo.

I'm not sure what we will do with so much apple sauce but the kids do like to eat it all on its own...

I swung by Wal Mart today and took a picture of all their crushed cardboard. When I was there months ago they wouldn't let us take any and I was quite struck by the irony of this as we were parked by their bales of crushed cardboard. T his is a much smaller pile than when I was there be fair to Wal Mart (cack, did I just extend fairness to them???) other big box stores also refused to give us cardboard.

The pictures in this blog posting will be the last ones I'll post using the kids cameras! Today we bought a new digital SLR camera (yay, yay, yay!). After 6 months of research and questioning need vs. want we decided it was time.

I bought a manual SLR back in the late 80s when I was still in Journalism School and I simple loved it. I took it everywhere until the repair bill for it in early 2000 made its maintenance uneconomical. Since then we've had a series of campact digital cameras but I've yearned for more ever since.

I compared prices on the Nikon D-90 for several months and discovered the prices were no better in the U.S. Plus, a Canadian repair shop would not honour the warranty on a U.S. purchased unit. I checked ebay and look at used units. But today The Future Shop put many of its cameras on sale (open box, which meant we didn't get a box for it). We've purchased many open box items over the years and are quite happy to save hundreds of dollars to leave the box behind (which we usually throw away as soon as we get home anyway). For the camera and a universal lens we ended up paying about $250 less on these two items than was priced several days ago. And Chris asked for an additional discount for buying the "package". He pushed it a little further by asking for a camera case thrown in but that appeared to be the threshold! We were offered a discount on that too, but Chris remembered I already had my old camera case. So the sales person gave me a bit more of a discount on a high transfer memory card.

Chris has learned over the years that the big box stores have a lot more room for profit and that it is acceptable to ask for a lower price (something we do not go for at smaller, independent stores). I have been amazed at how much lower a salesperson will go and how quickly. I am still not good at this. We are quite polite when we venture into bargaining and are always conscious of frugal vs. cheap.

As we left the store, Chris turned to me and said, "How are the effects of that endorphin rush? Run out yet?" Nope, nope, nope! I had a full caffeinated coffee right after the purchase, too so I've been pretty happy all afternoon and evening!

I hid the camera tonight to avoid the kids putting fingerprints all over it but might sneak a few minutes later tonight to put it together. Here's the body of the camera.

Check out the blog late tomorrow night to see some of my new photos!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A little bit of everything...with photos!

In no particular order:

Provincial Winter Fair - We took three kids and five lambs to the Winter Fair in Kamloops September 24-29th. We rented an 18 foot RV (bliss) and stayed in the campground with all the other 4-H families. The KXA site (Kamloops Exhibition Association) oversees a number of organizations, including the racetrack, some sort of rodeo association, the Provincial Winter Fair (PWF) and others. So our campground was actually in the center of the racetrack. Fortunately no horses were racing during this time.

Friday was a flurry of Ivory soap, blow dryers and carding brushes. The kids managed to get their lambs coiffed but a few of them needed to be prodded along by the sheep leader. Friday was showmanship for the pre-clubbers and Helen placed third in her heat in this event. She still has another year in pre-club so we expect she will do well next year, too!

Saturday was showmanship for Katie and Stephen and they both placed well in their respective heats, with Katie moving on to a championship round. Katie game fully tromped around on her cast. We made a fast trip back to Barriere ER the day before to have the cast replaced due to a sore spot inside. Believe it or not it would have taken longer to wait at the RIH ER in Kamloops!

Sunday was weight classes for the lambs and while the lambs did well, it was Helen's lamb that moved on to a championship round, placing 2nd in her heat to get there. Sadly she did not move on from there. But, placing so high meant on auction day her lamb was one of the first to be sold (supposedly better prices).

Monday was auction day. I'm starting to become immune to the tears after two years of watching young kids leading their animals to the holding pens, sobbing their hearts out. Helen's lamb sold for $300 to somebody we knew locally. We had arranged buyers for both Katie and Stephen's lambs and Stephen was quite upset that Chris bid on his on behalf of the Pandoh's (Pawan and Simita, who paddled Bowron with us this past summer). It has taken the better part of a week for him to get over it.

Chris and I had an interesting time keeping the bid up to the price my brother Tom would pay for one lamb and for the Pandoh's lamb. The auction is very much pre-sold and the lambs typically go for more than they would at market because so many generous people like to support 4-H kids. Needless to say, with Chris being sick, our bids back and forth went somewhat awry, resulting in the auctioneer calling out to me "Hey lady, you still in???" when I assumed Chris had already bid the next dollar amount and I was walking away...hey, those guys talk too fast!!!!

Just prior to PWF, Terry Prehara, the woman who sold Katie and Stephen their ewe lambs, emailed us to let us a know that a friend of a friend wanted to find a good home for a Khatadyn lamb. This breed has hair! It is also considered a meat breed and can lamb every 7 months. Apparently the rest of her flock was taken down by a bear (including the ram that may have impregnated this lone survivor). Not to pass up on free livestock, as well as add to our "pets" we gladly accepted this lovely ewe. Her name is Hershey and she is very sweet. We are not sure if she is actually pregnant yet but the next few months will tell. If she does lamb in the spring, I'm thinking of showing one of her offspring as an open lamb at PWF just to see what the judge does! The hair on these lambs is very coarse, more like a donkey or horse. The tails aren't docked because it is the wool on "normal" sheep that mats up and gives the sheep infections. This is simply not the case for Hershey. So another new experience for us!

On Thursday of this week the KXA gave notice that it will no longer operate off the grounds...their landlord (the First Nations Band in Kamloops) gave them a $100,000 + tax notice for last year, with an indication that it will be twice as much this year! The KXA simply does not have the money so the PWF may be looking for a new home...the North Thompson Fall Fair grounds in Barriere has been put forward as a possibility. It did raise the question with us as to whether the kids would see the proceeds of their auctions, but I believe the auction ran through the B.C. Livestock Association...I haven't heard to the contrary so we are patiently waiting for the kids 4-H cheques to arrive as usual!

Our fall has been dominated by preserving. We have done pickles, jam, applesauce, apple pie filling, apple butter, apple chutney, roasted tomatoes with salt, brown sugar, balsamic vinegrette, olive oil (recipe available to anyone who wants it!). A few weeks ago I bought 300 quart size wide mouth canning jars for a total of $44 and the couple who were moving threw in their canning shelf! Chris spent a day setting everything up in the lunchroom (one of the two rooms in the shop building we keep heated in the winter). It looks amazing and although we have put our canning on it, it barely makes a dent as the shelves can hold about 500 jars!

The apple trees on our property that Chris pruned in the spring (half an hour with the chainsaw) surprised us. The apples are huge this year and are actually quite tasty. In past years they have been tiny and inedible. My dad's apple tree on the bordering property produced this year with its usual lovely apples and we found that mixing the two varieties makes great apple juice. I canned the first batch using old gem jars with glass lids and rubber seals and it worked just great. I love the fact the rings are re-usable. Chris, in an attempt to recover apple sauce during our juice making adventure, built a simple press. This worked, but not well and after about one quart of apple sauce recovered from a load of apples, he gave up. We have since been coveting proper apple presses and steamers! I did dig out my potato ricer which worked not too badly. We've found several free plan sets on the internet (notably Mother Earth News) and with our spare time this winter (?) may try to build one. The trees are still fairly loaded with fruit, so we may give juice another run in the next few days.

After a season of canning I've compiled a wish list: First a bigger kitchen. I hesitate to complain too much about mine as our friend Kim Robinson has been canning this fall in an RV kitchen! Second, a stainless steel funnel. I have a plastic one and it makes me a little nervous. Third, a magnet pen to pick up snap lids from hot water. I've been prying them apart and getting a shot of hot water all over me when I do. Fourth, lots of BIG pots to cook in. Fifth, a bigger stove. I've been daydreaming about a canning shed, independent of the house, with its own gas stove, etc. etc. I wake up when I realize my house still needs a roof. Sixth, an apple sieve. Seventh, a cherry pitter. We didn't do cherries this year, but last year I yearned for one.

Piano lessons have started again and I am working toward sitting my Level 2 exam next year. I'm doing scales and getting to do a lot of classical music. I actually love classical music, although I don't know much about it. Right now I'm working on a variation of I'm a Little Tea Pot, a Ragtime piece and Entree in A Minor. I'm really enjoying it. Chris has decided to stick with more popular music as he is not much interested in exams any more.

The kids decided not to take strings this year in school. We are somewhat relieved about this as the rentals were costly (about $600-700 for the cello and violin) and we didn't really feel they made a lot of progress in the instruments compared to their piano instruction. Katie, who had the option of taking band this year, opted to take Fine Arts because of the Drama component. Her desire to learn the guitar hounded me all summer and last night I agreed to dig out my guitar and teach her to play. We both think that piano gives them a really broad based musical foundation that they can take with them and learn any instrument...we still have a flute in the house (mine, which I still play occasionally), and although I hesitate to mention it so where they can read it, I think my brother Tom's trombone is still at Dad and Gail's!!

This week I attended Katie's Grade 6 class to McQueen Lake just outside of Kamloops. The school district owns this camp and it is an Environmental Learning Centre. I chaperoned a group of six girls and I have to say it was o.k. There was hiking, orienteering and population control activities (about wildlife, not the grade 6 class!) I became distracted when I heard that the School Board maintenance guys Chris and Mark were on site exchanging the solar inverter for the site. McQueen Lake's wash house is composting toilets (6 per side) and has a solar tracking system. I got into a really interesting discussion about sustainability with Mark and Chris and learned that NorKam Secondary has a solar project that is tracked on the internet. I invited myself and Chris to look these guys up sometime and check out all the green initiatives our school board is involved in.

The first night it took me an hour and a half to settle the girls. Apparently 11 year olds are still fascinated with gas in the basement, something I though only 11 year old boys would still be interested in. That, combined with belting out Taylor Swift songs, made for an interesting musical show. At one point I threatened to get a big pointy stick if anybody talked again, but apparently I wasn't scary enough as this seemed to be really funny to them...

Several weeks ago Stephen decided it would be a really great idea to have a rooster. He's very keen on trying to hatch our own chicks next spring. We have explained to him that our hens have probably had the brooding instinct bred out of them, but he does not seem put off by this (I'm not sure he even understands it!). After reading Barbara Kingsolver's tale of getting her commercially purchased turkeys to breed in her book Animal Vegetable Miracle, I was more than open to giving our own fowl experiment a chance.

To give Stephen credit, he browsed the Buy and Sell, Craig's List and Kajiji looking for deals on roosters. He called people to ask questions about breed, age, virility (although he described it as being "able to do the deed") and price. After a week of checking around he found a rooster in Barriere for sale for $8. He set up a time and today he and Chris and Helen picked up the rooster. He is kind of neat and crows a lot which I find hilarious. Although it appears he can "do the deed" I'm wondering if all 25 girls might be a bit much for him. We need to do a bit of reading to see if we should get him a few buddies...

There's a photo of Chris here which he thinks is pretty good and he's given me "permission" to use it. And, because I don't appear often on this blog, I've included one Katie took of me when I found out I won the Best Bread baking contest (did I mention I got a big red and white rosette?). This is the photo I had to submit to Fleischman's to get my prize. Yes, I'm sunburned!

We are still depending entirely on the kids' cameras for photos, but on a promising note, I did hear Chris say it would be nice to take really good pictures! And, even though he may think he's a closet Luddite, I'm counting on the gadget guy coming out of him when we look at that Nikon D-90 on Wednesday!

We are starting round #10 tomorrow on the house. With 4-H, school, McQueen Lake and some nasty viruses we picked up since school started, the house has been ignored. But today Chris moved some dirt around and we will re-start in the morning. Tonight we will start re-reading about bond beams with an eye to getting that going when round #10 is complete. If anybody is interested in coming out to help, let us know!