Our 2023 garden: seedling progress

This morning I got a picture of some of our seedlings, after refilling trays to water them from below.

There are still only two little pepper seedlings. The thyme and lemongrass don’t seem to be growing much. I think this might be part of why they need to be started so early!

The two drum gourd seedlings in one pot are still the only ones to have germinated. With using these biodegradable pots, it’s been interesting to see how the pot the germinated seeds are in dries out so much faster than the other ones. Even the square cells the herbs are in show noticeable drying out in the ones with the most seedlings. For this reason, I still mist them as well as water from below.

Last year, I remember my first zucca melon seeds never germinated, and I had to try again. I’m hoping I won’t need to do that again this year. The zucca and the drums need as much growing time as we can give them.

We’re going to have to start other seeds soon. That means rotating things out of the aquarium greenhouses and, for that, we still need to make a trip to the city to pick up the materials we need to build barriers and keep the cats out of the living room. When picking up eggs yesterday, I noticed they had lumber in their truck and asked about prices. Lumber prices have gone down a LOT in the last while, which is encouraging. The prices are still high, but not astronomical anymore.

The trip to the city will have to wait until after the van’s date at the garage to get the temperature gauge sensor replaced.

Still holding out hope that we’ll qualify for financing on the Caravan, but if I’m going to be honest with myself, the odds are not in our favour. Mind you, our situation wasn’t much better when we got financing for the Grand Caravan we got, years ago. Oddly enough, my husband being on disability gives us a more reliable income now than when he was still working. Nothing like moving to a new city for a 2 year contract, only to have the contract end after 6 months, instead!

Ah, well. Whatever happens, happens. We just need to deal with what’s in front of us.

Which, at the moment, means turning the living room into a cat proof plant room. 😁

The Re-Farmer

Our 2023 garden: first drum!

I spotted a hint of green while spritzing the pots in the aquarium greenhouse last night, so I was quite eager to check this morning.

This, my friends, is our very first African Drum gourd seedling!

I’m rather surprised that this sprouted first. The peppers we’ve got planted have yet to germinate, but here we’ve got one of the massive gourds breaking ground!

You can see the big, remarkably fuzzy, seeds on the far right of the above photo.

I’m quite excited by this! It’s going to be a challenge to get these to grow to full maturity, so the gourds can then be set aside to cure and dry for at least a year. The zucca melon are also supposed to get huge, but they are for eating, not crafting.

The inside of the tank is lined with insulation, and the tray is on a heat mat, but I do wonder if it’s still too cold for the peppers. They’re at the end of the tray right in the corner. I’ve considered rotating the tray, but if it’s too cold for peppers, then it would be too cold for the drum gourds and zucca melons. We have time to try again with peppers, if it comes down to that, but not the drum gourds or zucca melons. Maybe I can find a way to rearrange the onions and luffa seedlings, so I can shift the tray on the heat mat closer to the middle.

I think I’ll go do that now.

The Re-Farmer

Backordered seeds in, fuzzy butt, and trying to keep up

You’d think a city shopping trip would be more tiring than running errands with my mother, but nooooo

We are having another beautiful sunny day, though the wind has certainly picked up. I counted 23 yard cats while doing their kibble and warm water this morning.

I was just coming back to the house would I saw these two, finishing off the kibble on the cat house roof. I tried to get a good picture of Brussel, but she moved around and sat with her back to me.

I swear, that fuzzy butt of hers is bigger than the little guy beside her!

She won’t let me anywhere near her – I had to zoom in quite a bit to get this shot – but she’s less shy than her sister, Sprout, who runs off as soon as she sees me and doesn’t come back to eat until I’m back inside.


When planning today’s outing with my mother, I brought up getting Chinese food for lunch again. She said no, made a big deal of the cost, and that she could make lunch for us, etc. Well, I didn’t listen to her. I left early enough to pick up some parcels at the post office before they closed for 2 hours over the lunch period, so when I got to her town, I picked up lunch anyhow and showed up early. She laughed and nattered a bit about my not listening to her, so I told her that I wanted a treat. Only later, while we were eating, did she say that I must have heard her thoughts. She had been poking around her fridge for something to make for lunch, didn’t find anything she wanted, and wasn’t up to cooking, anyhow. She’d been regretting telling me not to bring food! The next thing she knew, there I was with lunch for both of us! So that worked out.

After lunch and a bit of a visit, we headed out to do her errands, getting groceries last of all. I stayed long enough to put everything away, then started getting ready to head home. My mother was all ready to make tea, but I told her I had to go. As usual, she started going on about how, if we visit her, we should plan on staying for a long time. I told her I do – that’s why I come over so early! So we can get a visit in, first. I must say, I was pretty tired by then, anyhow. My mother is 91 yrs old, has a bum knee and uses a walker, but that hardly slows her down at all! It takes quite a bit to keep up with her, that’s for sure. She didn’t push for me to stay, though. I know she was tired, too, and would probably go for a nap as soon as I was gone!

Once at home, I found one of our backordered seeds from Veseys was in the mail.

I’m looking forward to these. I keep hearing about how great Delicata squash is, but it’s not a good storage variety. This new Honeyboat variety is described as good for storage, so I figured it was worth trying. At 100 days to maturity, it’s going to be one of the earlier ones to start indoors.

This leaves one more packet of seeds on back order to come in from Veseys.

While at the grocery store with my mother, I noticed they had a couple of seed displays up. I was so tempted to get more, but we already have so much, and in varieties better suited to our needs.


… you can’t really have too many seeds, can you?

I resisted.

For now!

The Re-Farmer

Pretty Poser, and this is $171

We had another lovely day today! Nice and sunny, with a high of -9C/16F, and almost no wind chill at all. The cats are quite loving it, romping around in the sun and the snow.

I had the hardest time getting this picture of Pointy Baby! He kept trying to reach out to me, or my phone. I managed to catch a shot during one split second he gave me a pretty pose! I counted 24 cats outside this morning.

With my last trip to the city, where were very few things on my list that I didn’t get, and I wasn’t intending to make another trip so soon. However, I’m going to be helping my mother with errands tomorrow, and I don’t want to shop on the weekend, so I figured I’d better head out today, before some things start running too low. I went to the closer Walmart, with the possible extra trip to Canadian Tire to get more stove pellet litter. I ended up not needing the extra trip.

This is $171.11

They had hardwood pellets in stock this time, and the price has actually gone down! They were $5 each. At Canadian Tire, the hardwood pellets have gone up in price from $6.99 to almost $8, while their softwood pellets stayed the same price. The Walmart price had been comparable to the Canadian Tire price, but I’d only ever seen softwood pellets. These hardwood pellets are the same brand that Canadian Tire carries. So I got two, and I would have gotten two more, if I weren’t also getting kibble.

Their inventory of large kibble bags was low again, except for the super cheap no-name brand, which come in 7kg/15lb bags. There were no 11kg/24lb bags, so I picked up a couple of 9kg/20lb bags, plus their largest size case of canned cat food. They all cost just under $30 each.

I wasn’t able to find the usual shampoo and conditioner we use, in the big bottles with pumps. I haven’t seen those in quite a while, so I got smaller bottles of the same brand – two types with different oils in them – to try. They were on sale, at under $5 each.

The only thing on my list that was groceries was the icing sugar, but I also grabbed some red rooibos tea. My husband requested nacho fixings, so I got the giant jar of olives (which was cheaper than at the wholesale place!) and no-name brand tortilla chips. I got a couple of loaves of rye bread. I saw some bakery cookies for sale and got some salted caramel chip cookies as a treat, plus a variety pack of gum to keep in the van. One last extra was a couple of packages of biodegradable pots. All of these were between $3 and $5.

They didn’t have the larger size pots that I would prefer to use for certain seeds, but these ones will do for others. Eventually, when we’re planting seeds that aren’t as much of an issue for size or potting up, we’ll just use the red solo cups we have so much of. I expect we’ll need at least a couple more bags of seed starting mix, but not for quite a while.

Everything except the big bags and the canned cat food fit into just one of my hard sided grocery bags.

With this done, anything else we need for the month can be picked up locally, as needed. We will be making one more trip to the city, though, to get the materials we need to build a cat barrier to the living room. This is a project the girls are planning out and paying for, so they get to tell me when that’s going to happen! 😄

After the shopping was unloaded, we loaded the van up again for a trip to the dump and I headed out again. That’s a quick trip, at least.

Then, more running around tomorrow, this time with my mother’s car. After that, I should be able to play hermit again for a little while! 😄

The Re-Farmer

Our 2023 garden: starting gourds, peppers and herbs

What a beautiful day it is today! As I write this, we are at -1C/30F, and have yet to reach our predicted high of 0C/32F.

It’s a good thing it’s getting nice and warm. Yesterday evening, I went to set up the one of the new ceramic heat bulbs in the sun room. Before I did, I screwed it into the fixture and plugged it in, in the old kitchen, to test it.

It didn’t work.

So I took the heat bulb and removed one of the bathroom light bulbs to test it there.

It works.

Looks like the old light fixture is toast. This was something my brother had attached to a board so that he could use the heat of a light bulb to keep pipes from freezing in the kitchen, when this place was empty. We might have some other portable light somewhere that I could safely set up in the sun room, but if we do, it would be in one of the sheds or the barn, where we won’t have access until spring.

The sun room is above freezing, however, so the kitties will be fine. This morning, I counted 25!

Today I went through the packets of seeds to start indoors and selected these as needing to be started very early.

I was finding contradictory information about the Sweet Chocolate bell peppers. The package says to start the seeds indoors 8-12 weeks before last frost – but the days to maturity I found maxed out at 86 days! We could potentially start though by direct seeding by that, if the soil were warm enough right after our last frost date. I am considering planting more of them, when I do the other peppers, but we have so many varieties to try, I don’t want to take up the space, if we don’t have to.

The lemongrass will eventually end up in a large pot, while the thyme will be going into a raised bed in the old kitchen garden. They, and the peppers, will eventually need to be potted up at least once before going outside, so I decided to put them in the degradable square pots, so that can be done without disturbing the roots.

Because of the size the Zucca melon and drum gourds will get before transplanting, those went straight into the largest degradable pots I have for now.

But first, I needed to make space in the aquarium greenhouses.

I could fit only two trays of the onions in the small aquarium. The problem is, there’s nothing we have that fits in there that can be used as a drain tray for bottom watering.

We have a large jade tree that we had to cage with hardware cloth because the cats wouldn’t stop digging in it. I had to remove the top of it because the jade tree was starting to grow through the openings, so I used that to rig a cover for the tank. Last year, we used salvaged screen windows, but they were larger than the top of the tank and, even with weights, the cats kept knocking it about. I’m hoping this works. On the one hand, the openings are large enough that the cats could reach through and dig at the trays – the first year we used this tank as a greenhouse, the cats destroyed our onion starts by reaching through the filter opening in the tank’s lid. They were incredibly determined to get at those trays! However, the larger size mesh also means it’ll be harder for the cats to walk on it, so maybe they’ll just stay off?

We’ll see!

The luffa seedlings have joined the remaining tow trays of onions. I wanted to keep them in this aquarium greenhouse, since it’s warmer than the little one, thanks to the two lights above. One of the seedlings seems to have stalled and isn’t getting any bigger. The second seed in the pot hasn’t germinated at all, and probably won’t by now. I thinned out the extra seedlings that were in two of the pots. So we are probably down to three luffa. Hopefully, they will survive long enough for transplanting!

We now have four cells each of lemongrass, thyme and Sweet Chocolate peppers – those thyme seeds are so incredibly tiny! While I was sowing the seeds for those, I had six each of scarified zucca and drum gourd seeds soaking in water, and now each round pot has two seeds. The seed starting mix was premoistened and the surface got spritzed with water after the seeds were planted, but I also made sure to add a lot of water to the tray, once it was on the warming mat. I want those pots to absorb water from the tray, not the soil.

It should be interesting to see how these do, with being started this early! We won’t need to start more seeds until probably March, though I’ll have to double check on some of them. I think things like the Crespo squash and Boston Marrow could use an earlier start. We’ll have time to move things around in the living room to make space for trays as they get rotated out of the aquarium greenhouses while need seed trays go in.

Since the fixture used for the heat bulb in the sun room is broken, I won’t need the frame of the mini greenhouse to support it anymore. The mini greenhouse can be brought in and gotten ready, too. Plus, we should be able to use some of the plant hooks in the ceiling to hang the shop lights we’re using for grow lights, and generally have a much better set up than last year.

Which means we’ll have to make building a cat barrier a priority over the next few weeks!

The Re-Farmer

Our 2023 garden: two more, and who’s next?

We have two more luffa babies!

The second seeds in two of the pots are actually germinating!

When it comes time to thin them out, I think I’ll try transplanting the smaller ones. I know squash and gourds don’t like being transplanted, but the more seedlings there are, the more survivors we’ll have once they finally go outside. We’ll see.

In the next few days, we’re going to have to shift things around again. The small aquarium greenhouse will get set up and the onions will get transferred over. The luffa will be moved off the warming mat and set where the onions are now. The warming mat will then get the next batch of seeds.

While peppers and eggplant are often started this early in our climate zone, the varieties we have can actually wait a bit longer. What needs to be started next are the zucca melon and drum gourds, since they need at least a month longer to mature than we have between average frost dates. I’ll have to go through all the varieties of seeds that need to be started indoors and sort them by days to maturity to see what else we need to start this early.

And we still need to pick up lumber to build a barrier to keep the cats out of the living room, so we can turn the whole thing into a greenhouse. I’ll have to talk to my daughter about that, since she’s the one paying for it.

Well… time for me to start heading to the city and do some stock up shopping!

The Re-Farmer

Oh, what a lovely day!

It’s almost 6pm as I start writing this, and not only have we reached our predicted high of -10C/14F (my app says there is a wind chill of -19C/-2F, but I just got back from topping up the outside kibble, with no jacket on, and there was no wind), but it’s supposed to keep getting warmer overnight!

The grey tabby that has suddenly become friendly – it’s the one between the black tabby and the white and grey at the top – managed to sneak into the old kitchen while I was coming out with kibble. He not only let me pet him, but I was able to confirm he is male.

Now why can’t any of the females suddenly become friendly? They still won’t let us anywhere near them! The calicos and torties are pretty much guaranteed to be female. Not sure about the rest of the tabby cattens, besides Judgement and the newly friendly one.

They are just loving the warmer temperatures, and so am I!

I’d made arrangements to get some farm fresh eggs this afternoon. Then I got a message saying they had to make a trip to the city to try and find a part, so that got postponed until they got back. With the warmer temperatures, I’ve been feeling so energetic and antsy, I ended up going into town to pick up a few things, even though we were planning a trip to the city soon. I was home long enough to get a chicken carcass in the slow cooker to make stock when I got the message that they were heading home, so I was back on the road soon after.

Aren’t they beautiful? I love the green ones!

I am always so inspired when I visit this place. This is the same person we’ve been getting our cardboard from, to use while making new garden beds. Today, I got to meet their new additions – a pair of fainting goats, and two emus!

Emus are flippin’ huge!

This is in addition to their alpaca, horses, donkeys, hens, Guinea hens, and probably other birds I don’t know about. Once we have our coop, I’m hoping to be able to buy chicks from them, too.

While I did a small trip today, I’ve decided to do a big city shopping trip tomorrow. We’re expected to have a high from 0C/32F to 2C/36F, depending on which app I look at. I figure I may as well take advantage of the warmth. This time, we’ll be going to a different wholesale place, where I know I can get things like the big buckets of ghee and restaurant size bags of pasta. It’s time to restock pantry supplies we’ve been using when we weren’t able to make our usual big trips. We didn’t have the extreme cold we usually do, other than the past week or so, but with the holidays, December and January are always the worst months for making these trips. I’m actually looking forward to the outing, even though I’m not at all looking forward to the shopping!

My younger daughter has different plans for tomorrow. Getting back to cleaning the basement! The cats have made a mess of the new basement, and she’s using that as an excuse to do a deep clean and organization of the space. That basement, however, isn’t much warmer than outside, even with the extra insulation added around the base of the house in the winter. During our recent deep freeze, it simply got too cold to work down there. It should get much better, and stay better, from now on. She wants to get it to the point that they can paint the basement. White paint on the ceiling (which is the exposed beams of the floor above) and special anti-mold and mildew paint for the walls. I don’t know if they want to do the walls white, too, but definitely a light colour. There are quite a few lights down there, but it’s still really dark.

We have a lot of big projects planned for when things warm up. Too many, really. The girls are focusing more on the inside, and are also talking about getting flooring for the kitchen and dining room, and refinishing the kitchen cupboards. Outside, I want to get that mobile coop built (and if that isn’t possible, we’re supposed to be getting a shed given to us that can be used until we can do the mobile one). Another project that will take probably quite a long time, as we acquire materials, is the outdoor kitchen. First priority is the timber frame roof. Once there’s a roof, we can be more leisurely about what we build inside. One side will have a smoker, clay oven, a “stove” opening to fit a large wok, and a grilling area. Two sides will have moveable work stations, and the fire pit will be added. The eaves of the roof will be longer past the wall of one side, where my daughter wants to have a forge.

Since we aren’t able to build the outdoor bathroom where we want to, until after a number of dead trees are removed, I want to do another, smaller, cordwood practise building. We need a new garden shed, so we can build a smaller shed – about 6’x8′ on the inside – in the maple grove, where a couple of trees had been removed while the power lines were being cleared. That is less of a priority, but since things will need to be built in stages, as we get materials, we might actually be able to get started on it this year.

Of course, there are also the high raised beds that need to be built. The outdoor kitchen actually solves something I was trying to figure out. The dead trees that we need to take down are quite large around. Too large to be practical for the high raised beds. I was considering cutting them in half, length wise, but now I’m thinking they’d be extremely strong upright supports for the outdoor kitchen frame. We can cut the lower, thickest, part of the trunks to the length we want, and then use the rest of the trunk for the high raised beds. It’ll mean more trees need to be cut down, but we need to do that, anyhow. With more than 20 dead trees that need to be removed, that’s more than enough to do both uprights for the outdoor kitchen, and the high raised beds.

Of course, there is the garden that needs to be worked on, including building new, permanent trellis tunnels, and other mobile trellises and supports. Plus trees and berry bushes to plant.

Oh, and on top of all these projects, we still need to dismantle that shed with the collapsed roof. We’ll be salvaging parts of it for building projects, such as the chicken coop I want to build. Plus, if we get that done first, I can use the space to build the outdoor kitchen, leaving more space available for the eventual garden beds we’ll be making nearby, where we get much better sunlight.

Feeling so energetic as the weather warms is kind of dangerous. I’m starting to plan way too many things! In the end, how much we actually end up accomplishing will depend on weather conditions. Last year, the flooding prevented a lot of the work I wanted to do, and the year before that it was the extreme heat. But if all we manage is to dismantle the shed, cut down some dead trees, and start setting aside the logs to use for the timber frame, that would be good.

I am so praying for good weather conditions this year, for the garden and for all the work we need to do outside! The last two years have been so brutal, we could really use the break!

The Re-Farmer

One last day

This is it. According to the forecasts, this should be the LAST day we have stuff like this.

It’s been almost 2 hours since I took this screencap. We’re still at -28C/-18F, but the wind chill has gone from -37C/-35F to -40C/F. I don’t know what was different about this morning, but for the first time this winter, I was actually concerned about frost bite on my fingers. They HURT! I’m still doing short rounds, and the only extra thing I had to do was dump buckets of cat litter sawdust into the burn ring, and my fingers were hurting well before that.

The thermometer in the sun room, however, was reading about -17C/1F last night, while the outside temperatures had dipped below -30C/-22F. When their food was topped up for the night, it all went into bowls in the sun room, to encourage cats to stay in, or come into, the sun room. I think it worked since, this morning, there was still kibble and an almost full heated water bowl outside, while all the kibble in the sun room was gone, and the water bowl was occupied again.

Yup. This fluffy little bugger was curled up in the empty heated water bowl again. Look at that frost on his fur!

The lighting was better this time, and his nose actually looks pink instead of white, like it did in the last shot I got of him in there. You can see colour in his eyes this time, too.

I want to snuggle that baby.

Baby won’t let me snuggle him.


Our high of the day is supposed to reach -25 or -26C (-13 or -15F), depending on what app I look at, though the wind chill is supposed to be about -33C/-27F Yesterday, we had a hint of what was to come, reaching a high of -16C/3F. It was bright and sunny, and every time I glanced out the kitchen window, I was seeing cats running around and playing on the snow-clear sidewalk. The cats are really going to appreciate the back-side of today!

Tomorrow, we start to reach highs warmer than -20C/-4F, then warm up dramatically. One of my apps even forecasts 0C/32F on Monday! After about a week or so, it’ll dip down to the double digits again, but we are not expected to drop to -20C/-4F again, for the rest of the month. Possibly for the rest of the winter!

I’m glad things are starting to warm up tomorrow, though I will have to at least head over to the garage and try starting my mother’s car today. It’s plugged in, with its block heater, battery warmer and trickle charger, but… well, that car just does not like the cold, and has a very bad history of problems.

One of these days, we’ll have to invest in a heater for the garage. There used to be a kerosene heater in there, I’m told, that was used while vehicles were being worked on, but it’s among the things that disappeared before we moved here.

Tomorrow, I will be driving my mother to a medical appointment with a specialist in the smaller, closer city. She called me last night and, by the time we were done, we worked out a sort of schedule. I’ll head over early enough to pick up her prescription refills, since she doesn’t know if she’ll be home in time for them to deliver in the afternoon, and grab lunch. After lunch, we plan to leave early enough that, if road conditions are poor, we’ll still have plenty of time to get there. Then, depending on how long things take and how she feels, we might take advantage of being in the city so she can do some shopping. Since I also have parcels to pick up, and the post office isn’t open on the weekends, I’ll have to leave even earlier.

So I’m going to be out pretty much all day. While the temperatures are supposed to reach a high of -17C/1F, at the time I need to be leaving, we’re supposed to still be around -27C/-17F. Our current 15km/h (9mph) winds right now have the wind chill at -40C/F, and the predicted wind speed for the morning is -17km/h (11mph), which means that the windchill when I have to leave may be even colder than right now. Thank God we have a garage with room enough for both vehicles! Even if my mother’s car barely fits in the lean to addition it’s in. 😁

My mother’s car has a habit of not starting in temperatures like this. The van does better in the cold, but not by much! Plus, it’s so hard for her to get in and out of the van.

I’m really feeling the fact that we weren’t able to get that replacement vehicle!

But, we’re almost over the worst of it.

Isn’t amazing how the weather can play such a huge part in planning things out? Especially at a time of year when, if things go wrong, it can be life threatening. I’ve long had an interest in weather and climate but, since moving back to the farm, it’s become almost an obsession! 😄

The Re-Farmer

Bitter cold, and it’s the little things that are going to do us in!

I am SO glad I was able to get the big shop done yesterday!

The temperatures were expected to go down over the next while, but still be just below average. Of course, the forecasts change constantly it still wasn’t by much.

Yeah, well… this is what we were at this morning.

Just in case the image isn’t loading for you, just after 8 this morning, we were at -31C/-24F, with a wind chill of -41C/-42F Our high of the day is still supposed to be -20C/-4F, which is actually our 30 year average low for the day, but the record low is -36C/-33F, so it’s still well within the norm. Will we actually warm up that much by this afternoon? I sure hope so, because we need to go into town! As it is, I cut my morning rounds down as much as I could, basically just making sure the outside cats had food and warm water, and that was pretty much is. I only counted 19 this morning. Most were in the sun room, but the ones outside were actually dancing around with their paws from the cold!

I’m really not looking forward to tomorrow morning. We have a vet appointment at 8:30 am, and it’s supposed to be about -28C/-18F at that time. Any wind chill on top of that will be brutal. We’ll be using the van for this trip because, for all the problems it has, it still handles the cold better than my mother’s car.

Speaking of handling problems, I finally got tired of one annoyance last night and did something about it.

I added string lights near my door.

This corner has the door to the old basement, and the door to my office/bedroom, and it is always really dark. It’s not too bad during the day but at night, even with string lights around the mirror hanging opposite my bedroom door, it is ridiculously dark. Usually, that results in tripping over or stepping on a cat at my door when I try to go in. Yesterday, it was an annoyance when I kept having to go into the old basement to check on things.

Also, those stairs really, really suck. And not just because my knees are shot.

The set of string lights I had on our Advent wreath got missed when the Christmas decorations were put away, so I added batteries and taped it around the basement door. It’s bright enough that I can now see the door handles, and even grey or black cats on the grey mat under my door (to protect the floor from their scratching).

As for why I kept having to go into the basement: noises.

Too many out of place noises.

Our well pump, every now and then, makes a vibrating noise when it starts. Of course, it stops by the time I get down to check it, and everything looks fine, but it really bothers me. At least it doesn’t make the grinding noise it used to. We have figured out that it would do that when too much water was being used at once, such as if the water for the shower was turned on too full. The pressure tank was being emptied faster than the pump could refill it, so it would start grinding. It means less water pressure while we are taking a shower, but that’s a small thing compared to burning out our pump and losing water completely. The vibrating noise is something else, though, and I can’t tell if it’s coming from the pump or the pipes to the tanks. Nothing has changed down there, though, so there is no obvious reason for it to start making that noise. It also seems to be a winter/cold weather thing, but I have no way to tell.

The pump has been going off more often, too. Even when no one is using the water, I would hear it start up. Some nights, I’ll be awakened because it’s turning on again. I’m the only one who can hear it, since my husband sleeps with a CPAP, which makes just enough noise to drown most things out, and the girls are on the second floor.

The problem is usually the toilet.

Ultimately, though, the source of the problem is our water. It is so full of iron and minerals, it’s messing things up. We’ll need to get a plumber in to fix the bathtub taps because the build up is getting so bad, the hot water tap leaks, even if only the cold water it turned on! When the plumber was here to clear the drain to the septic tank for us, he did take a quick look to give us an estimate, and he thinks he can fix it, rather than have to replace it, but we’d have to take off and replace the tub surround, since that’s the only way to access the taps.

It’s the toilet that is having more problems now. There must be quite a buildup inside the refill hose, as hardly any water flows through it, and it’s taking longer and longer for the tank to refill. The entire inside, which is lined with Styrofoam insulation, is coated with iron, which is also interfering with the flap. Sometimes, after flushing, the flap doesn’t seal right, so the tank keeps draining about as fast as the water is flowing to refill it, so the tank simply doesn’t fill. Unless someone happens to use the bathroom soon after and notices it – because there isn’t enough water to flush! – it’ll keep going for hours. Which is how I end up being awakened by the well pump going off repeatedly during the night! All that needs to be done is to give the lever a wiggle; the flap will settle in place and the tank will finally start filling. Looking at the parts and pieces, though, what I’d really like to do is simply replace all the innards. It’s all so coated with iron and minerals, that would probably be the best way to not just solve a couple of small problems, but keep them from happening again for a long time.

Which leads me to another little problem we’ve been having, thanks to our water quality.

The bathroom sink.

This still has the original tap and faucet set, from the mid 70’s or so. When the water flow starts to get bad, we usually just unscrew a piece from the faucet, give the parts a scrub, then put it back. If it’s really bad, we’ll soak the pieces in CLR for a while. The problem just kept coming back faster in between cleanings, though, and getting worse.

Last night, I had the pieces soaking in CLR again, but when I put them back, the flow was even worse than before the soak and scrub. I gave it some extra scrubbing, but that made things worse again, not better. I tried clearing the openings more directly but, again, it just got worse. When I put it back in place and almost no water could go through anymore, I had to do something more drastic! I took the part in question (I don’t know what it’s called) over to my craft table and tried to clear the holes with a pin. Which worked on one side, but not the other.

After much fighting with it, I managed to separate the pieces.

The grey piece at the top of the picture wasn’t too hard to clean. Especially when I was eventually able to get out the two other pieces inside. It was all so full of rust and gunk, each layer needed to be cleaned before I could get the next one out. The openings are large enough, the T pin I was using had no problem clearing them of scale and rust.

The real problem was the green piece.

The conical part you can see, with the fine mesh of holes, was still clogged. The holes on the bottom are even smaller, much fewer, and barely visible. I cleared them with a pin as best I could, but it was just not working well.

Eventually, I did get it to the point that the conical part started spinning around. Only then could I figure out where the pieces came apart. After much fussing – and the use of a tiny screwdriver – I was finally able to pop the conical part off.

Well, no wonder we were having problems!

Note that this is AFTER multiple soaks in CLR.

After wiping them down, I set the conical part aside to soak in CLR again, while I used the pin to clear the holes in the other part – holes that are much larger on the inside than the outside! Eventually, I got it to the point that I could see through all the holes when I held it up to the light. Not all the holes you see in the photo go all the way through. There’s just the circle of holes around the outer edge, plus another circle of holes half way to the centre.

Then I took the pin and cleared every last hole in the conical part.

By the time I was done and everything was put back together, it was 2am.

One of my daughters happened to be using the bathroom, so she put the newly cleaned part back together with the other parts and screwed it all back into the faucet for me.

Then we stood there and watched in awe over how much water was flowing through, as we let it run to make sure there was no CLR residue left. It hasn’t flowed this well in decades!

Now, if we could just get the toilet tank parts to flow as well!

At least this was a small thing we could take care of ourselves. There’s another new thing that is stressing me out.

The furnace has started making noises.

Of course, with this cold, the furnace is turning on more often, and staying on longer. This house is not very efficient, either, so we lose heat quickly. For all the time the furnace is on, the upstairs is still very cold. There’s only one heat vent for the entire second floor, and the girls have not noticed any real difference since the roof was done. Ah, well. It would have been nice!

Last night, I kept hearing the furnace turn on and start making a strange vibrating noise which – like the well pump – would stop by the time I hobbled my way down the basement stairs to check it.

I ended up turning the thermostat down, so at least the furnace would turn on less frequently, and not stay running as along. Oddly, after I did that, the vibrating noise seems to have stopped completely! Which doesn’t make any sense at all.

What we need to do is get someone to come in and give it a check, and do any maintenance stuff it needs. The problem is, we need to set aside funds for a replacement vehicle. Funds that would normally cover the cost of such irregular expenses. It becomes a battle of priorities over the dwindling “unallocated funds” part of our budget, since rising costs for everything else keeps chipping away at that, too.

It’s all these little things that are going to do us in. The well pump. The septic. The furnace. The taps. The toilet. The lights. The outlets. etc. All these accumulative things. Yes, it’s an old house. This sort of thing must be expected. Especially since there’s very little of this that we can do ourselves, and our resources are so limited.

So we try to focus on the stuff we do have control over, and juggle the budget to find ways to pay people to come in for the stuff we don’t.

The crazy thing is, a significant portion of these problems are caused by our water. It’s simply to loaded with iron and minerals. What I’d like to do is add a filter to the line going into the well pump. A simple filter would extend the life of all sorts of things! There are types that can be cleared without having to open it up to change filters, which would require re-priming the pump. Adding a filter is not going to be done until the pump is replaced, and we’ve already had three plumbers not want to do that (my brother already bought a new pump and all the fittings) due to the risk of the foot valve, at the bottom of the well, disintegrating and losing our water completely. That would turn a job of a few hundred dollars into a job of several thousand dollars, because of the set up we have, and the lack of availability of parts we would need. The valve itself is cheap. It’s all the other stuff that would have to be done to get to it that gets expensive!

Yup. It’s all those little things. They sure do add up!

The Re-Farmer

Our 2023 garden: That was fast!!! and planning ahead

We had a light snowfall last night, making everything all white and fluffy this morning.

The outside cats didn’t mind it at all!

I counted 21 this morning.

Meanwhile, indoors, we have our first signs of spring.

When I checked the trays this morning, three out of four of them had onions sprouting. When I came back about an hour later, there were sprouts in the fourth tray!

I’m absolutely amazed by two things. One is, how quickly they started to germinate.

The other is, how much cat hair there is, all over the soil surface. These trays had lids on them. Where did all that cat hair come from? I mean, Beep Beep practically lives on top of the lights. She naps on them, rolls around on them, and even hugs them, so yeah… I can see some of her fur drifting down… but getting under the lids?

Yesterday, I marked on our communal calendar, two sets of dates. One was the number of weeks counted back from our last average frost date, June 2. This way, we can see at a glance that something that needs to be started 10 weeks before last frost, needs to be started around March 24, while something that needs only 4 weeks can wait until May 5th.

The other dates I marked was number of days counted back from our average first frost date, which is Sept. 10. We have exactly 100 days between our average last spring and first fall frosts. That’s the growing season we can mostly count on for frost sensitive plants.

For things that have really long days to maturity, it’s that “days before first frost” that we need to consider. If, for example, I have a gourd that requires 110 days to maturity, that’s May 23. If it needs 7-10 days to germinate, I would start them at least a week before that.

If I have something than need 90 days to maturity, that falls on June 12 and, by then, I could get away with direct sowing, instead.

One of the really useful tools I’ve found is the Farmer’s Almanac planting calendar. Most planting calendars just give number of weeks before first frost, because they’re meant to be generic. I can get that information from the seed packet. Farmer’s Almanac, however, lets you input your area code (or zip code, if you’re in the US). You can even put in your city (ha!) and province/state. It will find the climate station nearest you, then give you the calendar dates for starting indoors and transplanting, or seeding outdoors. It even gives you the choice of dates based on frost date, or on moon dates. Oh, and I discovered something very handy when I hit the print button on the web page. It allows you to remove things from the list that you aren’t growing, which greatly reduced the number of pages that got printed out!

It’s still a bit generic, of course, but the date range is pretty wide. For example, it tells me bell peppers should be started between March 24 and April 7. We have five varieties of bell peppers, and four of them are early varieties, so we could use the information on the seed packet to figure out which ones need to be started in March, and which can wait until April.

Of course, they can’t cover everything, so we still need to make adjustments. For example, their calendar says to start winter squash outdoors between June 16 and July 14. With some varieties, we could do that, but we’ve got some large varieties of winter squash that need more time to fully mature, so we would be better off starting them indoors. If we use the biodegradable pots that can be buried, that would reduce transplant shock.

We have always started summer squash indoors. I think, this year, we might direct seed them. The calendar says zucchini can be planted anywhere between June 16 and July 14, which is when we can expect the soil to finally be warm enough.

As for the things we’ll need to start the earliest, the herbs (except dill, which is direct sown) will need to be started at the same time as bell peppers; in March. The eggplants and tomatoes can be started in early April, melons can be started in early May, while pumpkins and watermelon can be started in mid May.

The direct sowing dates are pretty interesting for some things. If we decide to try growing radishes again, they can be direct seeded in early April – at the same time we’d be starting eggplant and tomatoes indoors. Carrots can be planted in late April, early May, which would be about the same time we’d be starting melons indoors.

All of which needs to be taken with a grain of salt. For example, the calendar says to start onion seeds outdoors in early May. Sets, sure, but seeds? Nope. There’s a reason people out here start their onion seeds indoors in January! Also, it has dates to start lettuce and chard indoors, but none for direct seeding. Who starts lettuce and chard indoors? I mean, sure, you can grow them indoors, but for transplant?

As it stands now, though, we won’t need to start anything else indoors until March 24, at the earliest.

That gives us February and most of March to get the materials we need and build a removeable door and frame, to keep the cats out of the living room, and out of the seedlings!

We’ll also need to build a barrier to block an opening in the shelf to the left of the door in the image.