September 25, 2007

Your Opinion Please

We're down to making the final material choices for our house, and we are having a really hard time deciding on the kind of siding we should use. We were originally set on fiber cement, but are now reconsidering cedar.
The benefits of the fiber cement include fire, rot and insect resistance, 30% recycled content (fly ash), and low maintenance. Cedar is esthetically pleasing, renewable, locally sourced, and also rot resistant, but may require slightly more maintenance. Cost is about the same for both.
Has anyone out there had any good or bad experiences with either of these materials? The houses on my mom's street are all sided with cedar lap and shake siding that is almost 100 years old, so it's obviously a durable product, and I definitely like that it's traditional in this area.
Our deadline is Wednesday afternoon - please help!

September 19, 2007

Crop Failure

Our cooler than normal summer did nothing for our tomato crop, which struggled from the get go. The plants grew nice and tall and looked healthy enough, but they set very few fruits, and the ones that did develop just sat there not changing colour. Even the mature plant that my mom bought at the nursery produced a few ripe tomatoes in early August, but then the rest just sat there. The alternating rain and cool weather was good for one thing though, producing blight.

I'd say that more than half of the tomatoes we got have succommed so far, and the rest of them are still as green as they were at the beginning of August. This is so disappointing - we planted about 17 plants, thinking that would give us plenty between the two of us for canning and salsa, etc., but it looks like we're going to have to buy all that stuff this year.

There are still some beauties hanging out there though! The above Speckled Roman is huge... are the Tiffen Mennonites. This variety (so far) seems to be resisting the blight relatively well.

I'm going to leave the tomatoes on the plants for the next few days, but it's supposed to start raining again soon, at which point we'll bring them in and let them ripen on the counter. My mom cut off most of the extra foliage last week hoping that it would hasten their ripening process and prevent the spread of the blight, so we'll see how that goes.

A couple of them are showing some promise, hopefully we'll be treated to a few fresh tomatoes in the coming weeks.

Some things grew well despite the weather, however. This huge zucchini (which looked very serpentine sitting on the kitchen counter) produced about 30 cups of grated flesh, which I froze in two cup amounts for use in soups and our favorite Chocolate Zucchini Cake.

Did anyone else suffer any major crop failures this year?

September 17, 2007

The Doors

We started the long process of refinishing our reclaimed doors a month or so ago, and I thought I'd talk a little bit about what's worked for us and what hasn't.

We started out giving the doors just a light sanding thinking that we'd rough the surface up a bit in preparation for priming and painting. The problem with that plan was the layer of latex paint that was improperly applied over the oil paint (no primer), leaving it to peel off and gum up the sander. We really weren't too keen on sanding the lead paint - we got a respirator and were very careful - but the sight of lead dust flying through the air (near our garden!) freaked us out, so we abandoned that plan pretty quickly.

Our second option was to use a product called "Rinse or Peel" by Biowash, which is an environmentally friendly paint stripper made with orange oil. It's a thick paste that you spread over the painted surface, and I hate to say it, but I really wasn't expecting too much. Imagine my surprise when we went to scrape the door about 15 minutes after applying it, and the paint pulled off in great gummy sheets! We ended up leaving it on slightly longer the next few times (about 30 - 40 minutes) in order to remove more of the paint layers, and that worked amazingly well, taking us down to almost bare wood.
The best part about this stuff is that you can scrape off the top layer of paste and reuse it on the next door (up to 5 times, depending on how many layers you're stripping at one time). It also kept the lead paint well contained and out of the air.

After we'd removed as much paint as we wanted (the above door was one of our first tries, so it's got a few more of the original layers on it), we used wood filler to fill in any chips, scratches, and unevenness. After a light sanding to remove any excess, the doors were cleaned up with a couple of coats of primer.

I know it doesn't look much different from the original photo, but in person it's got a much smoother and more stable surface than it did originally. We're planning to use an environmentally friendly paint on the doors (which will be applied at the house - I don't trust us not to scratch them in transit!), but I used my favorite conventional primer on them (CIL Smart Paint Anywhere Primer) instead of the "green" stuff, because I didn't want to run the risk of it ever peeling off (this stuff is fantastic, I've even used it to paint over ceramic tiles).
My favorite tool for getting a perfect finish when painting are these little foam rollers. They leave the paint so smooth and even that I often end up going over whole walls with them after we've applied the paint just to tidy things up.

As for the door knobs and hardware, which were also covered in multiple layers of paint, we tried a couple of different things. At Monica's recommendation we soaked them overnight in vinegar to soften the paint so we could scrape it off.

This worked pretty well, but we found that it seemed to remove too much of the finish on these knobs and turned them a different color than the plates (the one on the right). So we made a run to Value Village in search of a crock pot to try the method of slow cooking them, hoping that that might not damage the finish quite so much.

This method worked really well. We let them cook for a few hours while we were out, and by the time we came home home the paint practically fell off on its own, and it left more of the original finish intact (the knob on the left, above).

The face plate sitting on the edge of the crockpot in the previous photo had so much paint on it that it wasn't really budging after it's long vinegar bath, but after a nice soak in the slow cooker, it peeled off all in one shot. I would definitely recommend this method for removing paint from your old hinges and hardware, but the vinegar definitely works if you don't have a crock pot to dedicate to the job.

Here's how they look now. I thought I liked the idea of painting them black again, but after seeing them in their natural state, I don't think I'll be doing that!

After all this work, I think I'm beginning to understand why the original owner decided to replace these doors with brand new ones instead of refinishing them (okay, only sorta)!

September 13, 2007

A Few More Island Photos

No time for a real post tonight, but I thought I'd share a few more photos from our trip.

These two beauties are members of a herd of Highland Cattle at Ruckle farm (one of the original farms on Salt Spring Island). If I were to raise cattle, these would be my breed of choice.

My daughter took this one of the view looking up through the Douglas Fir trees.

September 10, 2007

Unusual Market Finds

A farmer's market is a great place to find unusual varieties of things that you'd never find in a typical grocery store, and this week I must have been in an adventurous mood, because I came home with several things that I'd never bought before.

This Rock Melon (back) caught my eye because it was so darn ugly, but it smelled absolutely heavenly, so I decided to bring it home with me. The Tiger Melon was something I considered trying in the garden this year, but didn't, so I thought it would be a good idea to test it to see if they're worth growing (they taste much like a Honeydew, but are the perfect size for one person). The Yellow Ruffled tomato was just plain pretty, so I picked it up too.

While savouring these farm fresh delights, it occurred to me that I had the makings of my own crop of unusual fruits sitting right in front of me, so I scooped some seeds from each one and set them out to dry (tomato seeds are easier to dry if you soak them in water for several days until the gelatinous coating on them dissolves).

Any guesses what this plant is? It's a Tea Tree (as in tea tree oil)! The anti fungal/antiseptic oil is difficult to extract from the leaves, but they can apparently be used in their natural state as a tea to soothe a sore throat.

I've bought these before, but they're another thing that I rarely see anywhere other than at the farmer's market - cheese curds. They're yummy little nuggets that are great for nibbling, but my kids have been begging me to make poutine with them (a dangerous French Canadian specialty which involves french fries topped with melty cheese curds and a generous helping of gravy). I can feel my arteries clogging at the very thought of them!
Aside from perusing the farmer's market, we've been busy trying to finalize plans for the actual groundbreaking on our property (frankly, at this point I don't even believe that's ever going to happen), planning activities for the upcoming "not-school" year, and doing a bit of preserving.
We picked 6 quarts of wild blackberries when we were on the island, which I froze, and I've also been busy making and freezing pesto. The basil plants that were spared from the food processor were frozen loosely in bags. The leaves will be crumbled into sauces to add a bit of summer freshness to our winter meals.
Before I go, can somebody please tell me how the heck I'm supposed to tell when a Green Zebra tomato is ripe?!

September 05, 2007

What I Did On My Summer Vacation - 2007

We're back from our holiday, feeling rested and relaxed, but wishing we'd had more time to soak up the atmosphere of our idyllic destination. We spent the entire week in a cabin on Saltspring Island, our favorite of the islands that lie off the coast of Vancouver. If you were around last summer, you might remember me going on at length about what a wonderful place it is. If you weren't and would like to catch up, click here (it's best to start with the post at the bottom).

We almost always camp whenever we go to the island, but this time we rented a gorgeous little cabin with my mom and stepdad (can you believe they still want to spend time with us when we're living with them already?!). Saltspring is known for its sheep farms, hence the sign at the door (it's not actually called the Whitbread Lamb Inn, the cabin is built on what used to be sheep pasture).

I spent a lot of time sitting here, reading or just taking in the surroundings.

We even had an outdoor shower at our disposal (which I never used because there was also a clawfoot tub inside). Besides, I would have felt a little awkward being watched by this guy...

This adorable Pacific Tree Frog could be seen regularly taking his morning siesta on the ledge overlooking the shower.

We saw lots of other wildlife as well, including ravens (it was so quiet there that you could hear their wings on the air even when they were hundreds of feet away), deer, and several snakes. My mom, stepdad, brother, and sister-in-law even saw orcas (we, of course, were off doing other things and missed it all)!

Watching the activity in the tidepools is always a fun way to while away an afternoon.

The gardens in front of the house were planted with lavender, which was buzzing with insect activity, and a favorite spot of the dog's.

Even though we didn't camp, we made sure we got to the park to take the annual photo on our stump.

I've got many more photos to share with you, despite the fact that my camera decided to quit working part way through the week. Luckily my mom is also a photographer, (and one who can afford the fancy equipment - I got to play with her Nikon all week!).


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