Monday, April 30, 2012

What comes after 2 days of Rain? ---- Monday

We had another cool and wet week but the brunt of the rain is over for now and the sun is shining. It's cooled right down again with evening temps dipping below freezing. Still, the sun is out today and since the kids have a day off school we're going to make another attempt at getting a 40x60 ft sheet of plastic over the greenhouse roof without the wind carrying it away like a kite with children attached. The wind is supposed to be light after lunch so we'll see. With the moisture in the ground now and the sun shining we'll hopefully see the lawn growing soon. We did put on some 17-17-17 fertilizer to give it a boost since it's looking thin and weak. You can't really be spreading liquid manure in a neighborhood where the neighbours are mere feet away from your yard. So to keep the peace we used slow release pellets instead. We didn't fertilize the garden area though, I'm going to dig in compost, leaf mold
and composted manure when I till it this weekend. I did overseed some bare patches in the lawn too but resisted the urge to plant oats as a nurse crop for the grass, it works great in pastures though because the faster growing oats provide shade and water deflection for the smaller grass seeds to get established.

Yesterday Steve and Chris built me some hen houses with a removable panel on the side for easy cleaning and egg retrieval. We moved the buff orpington chicks out with the 4 hens but the hens chased them pecked them mercilessly and generally beat the tar out of the new arrivals. I've seen hen fights before but this was bad so they are now separated and doing well. We might try to reintroduce them once the chicks are physically bigger.

The houses measure 4 feet on a side (4x4) and it takes 2 sheets of OSB or plywood to make one house. Additional materials needed are some 2x2 or scrap lumber for edging so you have something solid to screw into and also some hardware cloth for vent screening, screws and some angle brackets to act as a rest for the side panel, to stop it from sliding off. To remove the panel you just slide it up a few inches and it comes right off. The houses do have a few exposed edges so for year round use they need to have a waterproof covering and currently ours are simply tarped. Venting is very important because chickens do have a tendency to get damp in their houses so ventilation provides a drier and healthier environment. Each house has top and bottom vents as shown in the pictures and are covered in hardware cloth to stop rats and mink from getting in. A roost runs along the house and we cover the floors of ours with shavings from the feed store or the high school wood shop. Cost for each house was about $24 and end triangles were cut from a 4x4 piece of wood with the front panel being a whole piece and the back panel being the leftover pieces joined together. If you need better instructions, let me know. This shape makes it easy to attach a run and is good for a chicken tractor, especially if you add feet or wheels t raise the house off the ground. Ours will be outside in the summer and then in the barn for the wet season so they're fine for now. They're not beautiful but they're cheap and functional.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Loofah / Luffa

There are many exotic plants you can grow in a garden for eating, decoration or gift giving. One of the things we're going to grow in our tall greenhouse are loofah gourds. Yes, that hard scrubby thing you use for cleaning your back in the's a plant!

Loofah (or Luffa if you prefer) are a gourd that becomes fibrous around the shiny black seeds as the fruits mature. You have to provide support for the huge sprawling vines and a long warm growing season. Here in zone 5b we have the summer heat loved by these gourds, and the sunshine for drying them, but getting them started requires planning and a warm place for germination. Having the greenhouse will extend the growing season by weeks at each end and hopefully be enough to ripen some sponges so we can give them as gifts. The normal growing time for the vines is 200 days but we'll get them started indoors soon and then on a trellis in the greenhouse ASAP. It's something to try and if it fails, that's ok too. You never know until you give it a shot. I think I might train a couple of vines on the sunny warm side of the house too for an interesting conversation starter.

Peas are ready to go into the ground next week. While warm now, it's going to be -1c next week so I'm doing the fencing, digging and fertilizing this weekend and planting next week but only of my hardiest veggies. It's hard to be patient when there are so many lovely Spring days but it's important to wait for consistently warm weather. I'll get the prep work done once the ground dries out a bit and then have fun getting my hands dirty. Gotta run and get the kids off to school and then babysitting for a friend. Have a good day!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


We signed the last of the paperwork yesterday and so it looks like we finally own our own land! Can't even begin to tell you happy we are...and now when we build or plant something, we can actually enjoy it and benefit from it!

We had a little family dinner to celebrate last night and next week, once the deed is in our hands we're going to invite our family and friends out to the property for a ceremonial tree planting, if the weather is reasonable.

So I'm taking suggestions...what type of tree should it be? I'd like it to be practical ie. edible fruit or nut and hardy. I'm thinking we'll invite everyone out for a BBQ and survey party. We'll provide the food and the transit...everyone else can help with the measuring.

I'm so excited I'm actually giddy. Poor Steve, I think he's gone to work just to get a break from me :)

Thanks to you all for your love and support.


Monday, April 23, 2012

Roofing, an umbrella for your house.

We've talked about lots of building options so far, or skimmed over them at least. So now we're up to roofs.

There's more to a roof than just it's covering. The supporting frames underneath carry the weight of the roof itself plus often several feet of wet heavy snow. In Canada it's called the snow load, and building appropriately is critical in maintaining the integrity of your roof. By integrity I don't just mean a few leaks, I'm talking about avoiding collapse.

Several years ago in Victoria, BC (1996) there was an unusually heavy snowfall followed by some rain. The snow acted as a sponge and so the roofs, many of which were flat or had a shallow pitch, ended up supporting thousands more pounds of weight than they were designed for. Rather than clearing the snow from roofs the residents just did what they always do....waited for it to melt and run off. Unfortunately many roofs collapsed causing millions of dollars of damage to contents of homes and businesses. This picture is of a roof that collapsed in Alaska where they're used to snow.

Here in Nova Scotia, lots of wet snow is the norm and combined with hurricane force winds we get in the fall our roofs are exposed to both heavy loading and torsion forces. All these things take a toll and make roof integrity vital to having a safe and cozy house. There's a fantastic example of metal roofing improperly installed just about a half hour from here. Wind got under the leading edge and peeled back the metal roofing like you'd turn the page in a book. It's really quite amazing the power of the wind.

For us designing a house there are many considerations. Durability, cost, ease of installation, water collection etc. The thing that will help all these is the pitch. A steeper pitched roof sheds snow more readily, is virtually self cleaning, and lasts longer, regardless of covering material. A very old shingled roof will still shed a good deal of water due to the pitch even if it's in poor repair. That doesn't mean you can leave it's far better to repair a roof than to have rot and other problems develop in your house.

Covering choices can include asphalt shingles, wood shingles (thinner) or shakes (thicker), rolled asphalt sheets, slate, tiles, concrete products, sheet metal roofing, recycled plastic shingles or thatch. Each has it's benefits and depending on availability and the particular roof you're covering you should have a good number of choices. We are going to use metal roofing because it's available, reasonably priced and works well with our designed water collection systems and roof design. Our roof will have very simple dimensions and not a lot of angles, hills and valleys. The simpler the design, the lower the price and maintenance costs.

Speaking of costs...if you can install your own roof then you'll save a huge amount of money. That being said, you MUST use safety equipment if working on a high, steep roof. Please be careful. Some types of roofing can be installed easily, such as tab style asphalt shingles and some types of metal roofing. I'd recommend that you practice roofing your shed, chicken coop, any smaller project first so that you become comfortable and familiar with your materials before tackling your roof. It's a very important part of the overall structure of your house and needs to be done right. If you're lucky, you'll never have to replace your roof in your lifetime. The cost for metal roofing here in the valley is approximately $1 per square foot according to our local builders supply. Add to that the cost of felt and fasteners and we'll be budgeting $2 per square foot. For our simple roof it should cost approximately $6000 to cover a 1500 square foot area but it will depend on the final design we finish with. A 2 storey house with 750 sq. ft. on each level means a roof area of approximately 1500 Sq. Ft (double the floor area) as a rough approximation so $3000. It's just one more part of the house that needs to be designed and we'll have that all worked out over the next few months.

It's cool and wet here at the moment which is good because the ground needs the moisture and I just seeded some bare spots in my lawn so the rain is a blessing. Mother nature waters so much better than a hose and sprinkler does. We're off to sign Mortgage papers soon, and then the piece of land will be ours and we can begin to start lining up projects. It's so exciting and we know we are so blessed! I can't even begin to tell you how much this means to us! Have a good day. And take care of each other.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Can Chickens Fly?

Well, normally of course you'd think back to that great movie, Chicken Run. And hopefully have a chuckle. Yes, chickens can fly but not far so they have the ability to roost in trees and get safely down again, but not to migrate. It's a complex combination of factors such as their body weight and wing design. What homesteaders need to know is that some breeds can fly better than others. Some bantams can easily make it over a fence, and others can barely flap enough to raise the dust. If you're really concerned about them making a break for it then clipping the longest feathers, called flight feathers, will forestall a dramatic escape. But realistically, it's sometimes useful to be able to hop up into a tree if say a dog comes by and you want to be safe. What do we do? We leave their beaks, feathers and feet alone. Just let them be chickens.

Having said that, a chicken recently went to space on a solar radiation experiment. Don't worry, it was a rubber chicken used by some school children. Here's the video.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Building Your Own House

When we think of a typical house, it involves 2x4's, wood floors and siding of some type. Don't you think?

Well, there are many alternatives for all those steps.

Floors can be packed earth, concrete, plywood, boards, tile....and each of them has it's own unique features and costs. They also have their own benefits to home owners too. Some have thermal mass and work well storing solar heat, some are extremely durable, some are beautiful to look at. The trick when designing your own home is to identify what's important to you and then find the material that works for you. Don't limit yourself to what everyone else is doing. If you want something different then go for it.

The same is true of walls. You don't have to stick to layers of 2x4, drywall, plastic, plywood and siding. Things like strawbale, cordwood, underground or earth sheltered construction are recognized and approved building methods in a lot of places, they are just less common. Why? Because they are labour intensive so unless you are doing the work yourself it doesn't pay to build that way.

Most people don't build their own homes any more. Certainly not with their own two hands from the floor up. They might do some of the finishing work, hang drywall, paint etc, but they don't do all the work from beginning to end from foundation to roofing. It's been ingrained in our society that we pay someone else to build it for us because they know better. It's 'what they do for a living' so of course they must know best. And of course having a builder working for you means less thought, worry and stress for you. All you do is give them the plans and pay up the money. Only you don't pay up the money a lot of the get a mortgage and end up paying for the cost over a number of years plus interest. If you aren't worried about the money then that's great but if it's an issue...why not build your own home? I guarantee you will take a long time!

We had friends in Calgary who built their own home. He worked full-time and so he worked on Saturdays and evenings after work. He said that he figured out the amount of time he was spending watching tv was 3 hours per night and about 9 hours on Saturday. He decided to give up his tv and instead do something useful with his time so he built a house. Yes, working 2-3 hours in the evenings and a full day on Saturdays he gradually built a beautiful 3000 sq ft home just outside of town. Mind you it took him a long time. That only comes out to 25 hours per week and a regular construction crew is a half dozen guys each doing at least 40 hour weeks. Plus he was learning along the way and taking his the end it took about 3 years for him to finish. But after 3 years of work he had something to show for what would otherwise have been wasted time. His house cost about $120,000 including the lot if I remember correctly and is today probably worth close to $600,000 in Calgary's market. It's packed with interesting features and is a truly beautiful custom home. So do you think that was a good investment in time? Another way to look at it is this; if I build my house and it never increases in value (not likely) and it takes me 50 hours per week of labour from the family for a year, that's 2500 man hours in a year. If I paid someone a very low wage of say $20 per hour to include insurance and everything then that's $50,000 in labour costs alone to build and finish my home. Now of course electricians and plumbers are more than $20 per hour and in some areas you can't do that work yourself, you must have it done by a licensed tradesperson. But in general you can save a lot of the construction costs of the project by building it yourself.

You may know that construction companies get a break on the price of all their materials, right? So maybe they'll save you money that way? Well it's not usually cheaper because their dealer prices aren't passed on to the final customer, they keep the mark-up as part of their profit. But don't worry, you'll find that if you go to your local builder supply you should be able to get an account that gives you a sizable discount on all materials if you tell them you're wanting to build a house. I think 10% is average but you can check around. Find out about discounts for full pallets of materials and their return policy for unused stuff. Also find out about their delivery policy because free quick delivery is always a bonus as are good quality products in general and the ability to special order things not kept in stock. 10% discount on say $30,000 in materials (or more if you're building a big fancy house) is $3000. I don't know about you but I could get some nice counter tops or bathroom fixtures for that money! Plus you'll save the tax on that $3000 you didn't have to spend which means $450 less the gov't would be getting from you if you built in Nova Scotia.

The long and the short of it is this...if you can learn a new skill, find friends to help out, know your limitations and can hire contractors to do the things you can't (like electrical) then you should absolutely consider building your own house. Call in all the favours you can, let your friends know you need them, and make a community project out of it. You'll have fun along with the frustration but also the cost savings and the pride of having a house you built with your own two hands. How many people have that in this day and age?

I'm off to a service project, some post renovation cleaning for a friend at church. Hope you all have a great day. We're signing papers for the property on Monday so the days are counting down! Getting excited to be able to make plans, break ground, build our very own home and reap what we sow.


Building a Home Yourself

The first step after getting your land and getting ready to build, is to do a plan of the entire site and the decide where to put in the house, septic and well. We are fortunate to have several good potential house sites on our property.

The chosen site for our new home has the following properties:

Unobstructed south view for solar gain in the winter
Good access to a suitable site for a septic field
Close to the well site
Slopes south for a walk-out basement
Slope allows for earth sheltering of back basement wall
Off to one side, thereby out of the way of farm activities.
On higher ground and away from potential flood zones
Easy access to the road via a driveway (to be built)
Not too close to the neighbours for privacy
Overlooks much of the farm fields and pastures and hill beyond

It turns out that there are several suitable sites for building on this lot, and we'll likely put up a cottage at a later date since it's allowed by our zoning, but for now we're just worrying about getting up a barn, garage and house. We'll finish the main living area to a basic level and then gradually add rooms into the basement and attic. It's going to be an evolving project for at least the next five years I should think.

So on the note of building...let's start at the bottom up.


The foundation is what gives your house stability and strength. Having a good sound foundation that doesn't settle, crack or leak is very important. Especially to those who are having trouble with theirs. Some problems can be very hard to fix. So obviously avoiding problems is major concern for builders.

Steve is currently looking into the feasibility of using a wood foundation. I know it might sound crazy, but it's an approved building method in most places in the world and involves using pressure treated lumber, poly vapour barrier and gravel as the main components. If you can frame a house, you can almost certainly frame up a basement.

Some of the benefits are: cheaper than concrete, easier to build in bad/cold weather, uses less energy to produce than concrete, makes for a warmer basement underfoot, can be owner built, can be more soundproof, easier to finish than a concrete floor or wall.

Won't it rot? Your wood pieces are treated lumber that will resist insect and water damage but with a vapour barrier it's protected anyways. It's anticipate that a permanent wood foundation could last well over a hundred years.

Still think I'm crazy? I'll pinch some diagrams off the CMHC website and give you some links to check out.

Here's the CMHC main site, lots of good thinks to poke around it.

And CanPly, the plywood company who have a vested interest since they make plywood.

But the best site is this one. User friendly, informative, practical.

Go have a read if you have time and let me know what you think.

Have a good day!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Patiently Waiting

Hi there! Just in case you wonder what's up with us...the answer is nothing. Well that's not entirely true. We're still finding ourselves super busy which is typical of Spring in the country. For us it's a little different though because we're living in town right now, buying land in the country, and gardening and raising chickens wherever we can. Yes, we're farmers without a farm. But hopefully all of that is about to change!

I'm trying to not get overly excited for a few reasons. Firstly, both Steve and I have been disappointed before and don't want to get our hopes up only to later have them dashed. Secondly, we know that once the buying process is done, the real work begins. Right now it's just paperwork, sketches and plans on paper, research and inspections. As soon as that's all done the actual physical labour begins with fencing and building some small but sturdy barns. And a home for us of course, but that's going to take more time and money so we have to stick to our plan and do things in their proper order, not rush things.

That's one of the greatest things about this 'build your own farm' we're doing. We get to put exactly what we want where we want. Want a tack room in the barn? I can do that! Need a small space to brood chicks? I can do that too. Hate having a formal dining room but want a pantry and a cold storage? Done! We'll get to build a practical house for us that's also energy efficient and will hopefully save us a lot of money in utility bills over the course of our lives and will be a blessing to our children when they inherit it. Steve's got 10 more years before retirement is an option so by then we should have everything running smoothly, most of the kids out of the house, and be self-sufficient. Maybe that seems like a long time to some of you, but trust me, even the best laid plans have a way of evolving over time and taking longer than you think. We're basically working on the next 6 months, the next 18 months, and the next 3 years when planning. Since most outdoor work will happen in the Summer and Fall it makes sense to plan building activities then. Of course that doesn't mean the winters are idle. That's a good time for fixing fences, storing firewood and building materials for the upcoming season and getting permits arranged.

So we're patiently waiting for the lawyers to do their thing and draw up papers for us to sign. Shouldn't be long now.

Speaking of not long...Nicole's new book is available for pre-order on Amazon and Indigo so I'm eagerly awaiting The Ultimate Guide to Permaculture. Oh crumbs Helga...I still owe you a book!

This weekend is also the time to break out the tiller and get the gardens dug over ready for planting. The temperature averages are creeping up now so we're getting closer to being able to start some cool season crops like peas, leeks and leafy greens. Our 4 new layers will be here next Friday so we need a coop built for them too, a nice little portable one we can wheel around and eventually move out to the other farm. We're going to use the chickens as weeders and bug removers as we prepare the beds for planting and before we let them roam free during the day. We already know there's at least one local fox so we need to have a good predator proof set up before we even think about leaving the chickens out there overnight. Steve's working on an idea to have a coop door that closes automatically and opens automatically...I'll keep you posted.

In the meantime, thanks very much for your kind thoughts and prayers on our behalf. We feel very blessed to have you as friends, to have each other, and to have this opportunity to finally build a place of our very own. I can't wait to invite you over for a house warming party!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Our new land

The deal's still conditional...but by the 23rd we should have all the conditions removed and be ready to close. I'm meeting with our finance people tomorrow and then we'll go from there. I just though you might like to look at a couple of pics taken last fall.I can't seem to get them to format properly so please excuse the mess!

Monday, April 2, 2012

We Found Land!

I've just realized that the title of today's post makes me sound like I've been afloat for weeks, lol.

So, we didn't want to mention it until we were more certain, but today we officially made an offer on a piece of land here in the Annapolis Valley.

It's a little over 40 acres with a mixture of pasture, river and hardwood forest. The soil is good, it's not too rocky and with some drainage and fencing it could become a working farm in a hurry. It has zoning that allows everything from a farm to business to mobile home park, and the county says that they will allow cordwood or other alternate construction methods such as strawbale, so we're very excited. Yay!

We still have lots of hoops to jump through, financing, legal fees, perc tests etc. And of course we'll likely spend the next week haggling over the final selling price. But with any luck this piece of land will be ours before the month is out. And then I'll let you all see some pictures!

So if everything goes as planned, you'll be wondering what our plans are I'm sure. Well, once we've got a little money together we'll be digging a small test garden to see what grows well and putting up a cabin with a loft and composting toilet system. Then fencing and managing the land will take us through the winter and allow us to see it in all seasons...from snow to spring floods to summer again. Next year will be the busiest as we get it ready for full-time occupation and plan on building our permanent home.

Ooh I'm SO excited!

Gotta run and help a friend but back soon.