Monday, 25 June 2007

Bird Roll Call

Yesterday I was out taking some pictures of the garden (again!) and decided to meander down to the bird feeders to see if I could be quiet enough and patient enough to take some pictures of the birds. I managed to get a couple decent shots with my little digital camera. After Tai Chi tonight I will post a picture of a female American Goldfinch that was at our finch feeder. [Edited to add: here's the picture!]

It seems to me that this year we have had an amazing variety of birds come to our feeders. So I decided last night to sit down and write out a list of all the birds we've seen in our yard. There were more than I thought! Some are with us year-round, and some come and go with the seasons. Here is a listing of the frequent, not so frequent and rare visitors to our yard:

  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Black Capped Chickadee
  • White Breasted Nuthatch
  • Blue Jay
  • American Crow
  • Black Billed Magpie
Not So Frequent:
  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • American Goldfinch
  • Common Redpoll
  • Pine Grosbeak
  • Tree Swallow
  • Evening Grosbeak
  • House Finch
  • American Robin
  • Slate Race Junco
  • Winter or House Wren (probably the latter)
  • Tree Swallow (there are lots around here, but not in our yard very much since the House Wrens chased them away)
  • White Throated Sparrow (just here during migration I think)
  • American Tree Sparrow (also just passing through)
One timers:
  • A hummingbird I scared away by flailing my arms because I thought it was a huge bee
  • Some kind of grouse, probably a Ruffed Grouse
  • A Great Grey Owl - Gord captured his remarkable visit on video!
This is a total of 23 kinds of birds! We have about six feeders of various types around the yard, and we've been putting blackoil sunflower seeds, suet and peanuts out for three winters now, and niger seed out for one winter. In the summer we put out everything but the suet, because it seems to attract too many crows.

Also for the past two winters I have participated in the FeederWatch program, which is where from November through March you watch your birdfeeders for as little as two hours in total over two days and then report back on line which birds you have seen. It helps the scientists at Cornell Univeristy Ornithology Lab keep track of migration patterns and the growth or decline in bird populations across North America. Plus it is a nice way to spend a couple hours on a Winter weekend.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

The Spaces In Between


It seems like life is often like that sentence: things and events crowded too close together without any gaps for reflection, or real enjoyment or appreciation.

I like how the Tao Te Ching talks about how 'empty' spaces are important:
Thirty spokes join in one hub
In its emptiness, there is the function of a vehicle
Mix clay to create a container
In its emptiness, there is the function of a container
Cut open doors and windows to create a room
in its emptiness, there is the function of a room

Therefore, that which exists is used to create benefit
That which is empty is used to create functionality

TTC Chapter 11, as translated by Derek Lin

A wheel wouldn't be any good if there was no space in the middle for the axle to fit into. And a cup that isn't hollow doesn't let you enjoy a nice cup of tea. And, except maybe in a Sims game, a room that you can't get into doesn't serve any purpose. Words have to have spaces in between them to facilitate their understanding. Life needs to have some of these gaps in it too, so we have the time to feel some contentment and peace, and so we can be properly functional as stewards of the earth.

This week has been a nice space in between for me. I have been off of work and have been able to enjoy being out in the yard, spending time with family, reading, catching up on some sleep, puttering around the house and doing all of that at a nice, leisurely pace. I've been able to enjoy the things I've been doing, even things like washing dishes, or weeding or cleaning out the guinea pigs' cage. I can stop and look out at the birds or the garden whenever I want to.

As Derek Lin says in his annotations to Chapter 11, "We simply can't do without emptiness."

Friday, 22 June 2007

Rain + Sun = Growing Garden

I can't believe how fast things are growing now! It seems like every day there is something new popping out of its little square. As of today the spinach, chard, beets, peas, both types of carrots and the cilantro are sprouting, and the oatgrass and radishes are really taking off! The lettuce is fabulous, but of course I cheated with that.

I can't believe how enthralled I am by this garden! I go out and check on it several times a day, since I've been on vacation from work this week.

It's hard to see in this picture, but if you look closely you can see a stick with six strawberry plants in front of it. This seemed to be the best place to plant these, since we are still expecting to plant grass on the adjacent lawn and so to plant them closer to the lawn would mean they could be disturbed when we are doing all of the grading and raking and such. They will get about 5 hours of sun in this location, which I'm hoping is enough. There are some wild raspberry plants in the vicinity, so that is a hopeful sign.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

To Kill-A-Watt or Not?

So last week I posted about some of the things we've been doing to ease up on our energy consumption, etc. One of the things was to unplug assorted appliances, lamps, radios when they were not in use. I wanted to get some hard data on how much electricity this would save, because I have to admit, going around unplugging things was not very convenient, but I would keep doing it if it were to make a reasonably significant reduction to our energy use.

I had heard about a gadget, the Kill-A-Watt, you could buy to measure how much power something was using while it was turned off, but still plugged into the electrical outlet. But in the spirit of not buying something I don't really need, I asked my dad if there was an alternate way to measure this type of power usage. He said yes there was, and promptly retrieved the pictured gauge and plugger-inner thing to show me how.

The gauge measures volts and amps and stuff. First, you plug the stripped wire cord into the outlet and then plug your electrical device into that. Then, with the gauge turned on to measure Amps, you open the caliper thing and close it around the black or white wire to measure how many amps are flowing. Then, since Watts = Volts X Amps, and the typical voltage of a North American electrical outlet is 120 V, you can easily figure out how many Watts are being used.

Here are some of the measurements I took while these appliances were turned off:

Amps Watts

TV combo

0.15 18.00
0.00 0.00
Cell Phone Charger
0.00 0.00
Phone/Fax combo
0.09 10.80
Ikea Lamp
0.00 0.00
0.00 0.00

0.02 2.40
0.06 7.20

So from this experiment I can stop worrying about unplugging the toaster and the cell phone charger, and I don't need to get too worked up about the microwave either, I don't think. But what about the biggest of these power leeches, the TV/VCR/DVD combo?

According to the gauge and cord device, the trio were using 0.15 Amps. To find out the wattage as noted in the chart, I multiplied this by 120 Volts to get the listed 18 Watts. To obtain kiloWatts I divide by 1000 and get: 0.018 kW. So lets say I leave the TV combo off, but plugged in, for 24 hours. This results in the usage of 0.018 X 24 hours = 0.432 kWhs of power. If I did this for the entire month of June I would use 12.96 kWh of power. According to my last electric bill, we are paying about 10.22 cents per kilowatt hour. So the TV combo will cost me 4.4 cents per day to leave it plugged in, or $1.32 per month. It costs more as soon as I turn the TV on, of course.

So is unplugging the TV worth saving a maximum of 13 kWhs of electricity per month, or 155 kWhs per year? That translates, at current electricity prices, to about 16 bucks a year? I'm not sure. At most I would unplug it overnight, which would save us, say, 12 hours of power leeching a day, or about 2.2 cents. It seems like it would be worthwhile to unplug things like the TV and computer combos when we go away on a trip or something, but probably not when we are home everyday. I think I can make more of a difference by just not turning on the TV or the computer as much!

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Sprouts II !

So I cheated a bit and bought some already-sprouted lettuces from Prairie Gardens and Greenhouses today. I had planned to do that, because I thought I had started the garden too late for lettuce. But my mom says that lettuce is actually a somewhat faster-than-average growing plant, so what I did was plant these sprouts now, and also some seeds at the same time, at her suggestion, to stagger the harvest (Mmmm...harvest). I got a variety pack of lettuce - I'm not really sure what types are in there, since the label stick just said "mesclun variety" or something like that. I'm calling the lettuce squares D2 and D3, a la that "You Sunk My Battleship" game.

The radishes are coming along nicely in spot A2, and in spot D4, the oatgrass has also sprouted. I may add a few more seeds in the oatgrass square, but I will wait a while yet to see how far they spread.

Gord came along with me to the greenhouse and we also decided to try our hand at growing tomatoes, so we got one fairly large plant which we have just planted in a 5 gallon bucket for now. I have staked it with some bamboo stakes, which I hope will do the trick. We also got a six pack of strawberries, a variety that produces an early and a late crop. We have to figure out the best place to plant these, since they need full sun.

Unfortunately, Gord called the Dirt Guy today and due to the recent heavy rains he is behind schedule and won't be able to deliver our dirt until next week. This really disappointed me. I'll have to do some thinking about why it dissappointed me so much. It's probably got to do with me becoming overly attached to things going a certain way (i.e., MY way), on a certain schedule (i.e., MY schedule). Maybe more on that another day.

Greenpa's Whole Planet Picnic

Greenpa over at Little Blog in the Big Woods has been getting a buzz going about the Whole Planet Picnic set for Thursday, June 21st, 2007 which is the summer solstice. I haven't done a lot of reading about the Picnic but essentially Greenpa is drawing attention to two very important things: 1) We're all on this planet together and 2) we have to start living within the planet's means, not our wants. So he's proposed that we celebrate the first thing on Thursday, and for the week afterwards, acknowledge the second thing by giving up something for "Earth Lent" as it were.

I'm not really sure what to do as a celebration, but probably we will just try and pay extra attention to all the cool things nature has to offer while we are outside in our yard or wherever we may be. I don't quite know what would be a good thing to give up either. It would have to be something that would benefit the environment, but that is also feasible for us to do.

Ah! I've just thought of it: I will give up refined sugar for a week. We have been buying some organic, local honey from a farm in Three Hills, AB that I can use instead, and that will dovetail nicely with our intention to become more locavore-y. There is an even closer honey farm in Bon Accord, AB, called Lola Canola (the "little apiary on the prairie" - how cute is that for a motto?) that I would also like to check out. I've just checked their website, and lo and behold, their aviary is only one Range Road over and two TWP roads north of our house - no wonder we have bees galore around here!

Monday, 18 June 2007

The Hippie Mower

A few posts ago I had whined a bit about the reel mower we bought. Well, thanks to my brother lending us one of his for comparison, we realized that we didn't have it adjusted right, which is why it was just folding the grass over, instead of cutting it. Once we had the reel adjusted low enough to just skim the cutting edge, things got a lot better! I mowed here and there around the yard for a while, until it started to rain. It is still much better to use it on grass that hasn't yet grown too long, so we will have to not fall behind in our mowing. This mower will also be good for cutting the new grass that will hopefully be growing later this summer, if we ever get our dirt delivered!

Later in the day yesterday I was pulling weeds out from underneath our little birch tree, all the while grumping about how noisy the neighbors' gas-powered weed-wacker is, spoiling my country quietude. I was feeling all self-righteously ticked off, until it dawned on me that they probably use a lot less energy and emit far less carbon than we do, because they live in a fifth wheel trailer attached to their small garage. It later occured to me that, on a larger scale, this is what we North Americans tend to do: feel superior because we are taking small steps (like changing our lightbulbs or buying flat panel computer monitors) to reduce our footprint on the earth, all the while looking down on people in developing countries because they still use propane cooking stoves. Time to re-evaluate that attitude. And time for me to stop grumping about the neighbors.

Sunday, 17 June 2007


Well, lookie here! Some little sprouts have already come up in the garden. My written labels have all washed away in the recent rains, but according to my grid, these little leaves are evidence of radishes! Gord loves radishes, and will be happy to eat the first one, in a couple more weeks maybe. It looks like I planted a few too many seeds per hole, so I will probably have to thin these out a bit.

The plastic fork in there is part of my grid-wide "cat deterrent system." I read about putting sticks into gardens and flower beds to keep cats away -- apparently they don't like to have to dodge around the sticks and so just don't bother. I will be very angry indeed if a cat comes along and digs in my nice clean garden!

Oh, and yes we are going to make an effort to eat more local food starting right way - more about that later this week...

Friday, 15 June 2007

Eat Local Challenge!

The Crunchy Chicken lady is challenging people to eat more local foods starting in the month of July. I have signed Gord and I up for it, even though I haven't yet asked Gord about it officially. We have been talking more and more about doing it though, especially since that is why we planted our own garden. CBC Radio has been doing a special on eating locally as well, with the McKay family of Edmonton choosing to eat a "100 mile diet" for a year, just like those people in Vancouver did/are doing.

The McKays have done a lot of research which will help us eat more locally, and we will also be going to more farmers markets in the area. I still want to go visit the Sparrow's Nest organic farm up the road from us in Opal, AB, and I would like to make it out to the Peas on Earth organic farm near St. Albert.

We also need to decide if we should get a small deep freeze to store any veggies that may miraculously grow. I have to research their energy consumption and see what we think about that.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

A Repetitious Wardrobe

I don't have very many clothes to wear to work. Pretty much I know what day of the week it is by what I am wearing, and so does everyone else. Frankly, I'm suprised no one has ever commented on it, to my face, anyway. I have always had the feeling that I should go out and buy more clothes for work so my wardrobe is less repetitious. I try to do this from time to time, but can't usually find anything that: 1) I like, 2) doesn't make me look fat, 3) isn't too expensive and 4) goes with the stuff I already have.

But today I happened across a blog about someone who wore the same brown dress for a year, essentially to stick it to the fashion industry and to make a statement about what society tells us we "need" to have or to do to look good and feel good about ourselves. So maybe I don't need to worry about whether it's Thursday and I'm wearing my black cords and pinkish jacket again.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

A Few Good Things

Gord and I have been doing a few good things lately to lighten our footprint on the earth. We are by no means even close to what No Impact Man and his family are doing, and we have a long way to go before we even get close to what the Austerity Rioters have started, but we're doing not too bad in terms of Crunchy Chicken's Low Impact Week goals. Here are a few of our good things:
  • Using our own cloth bags when we buy groceries.
  • I'm using a Diva Cup.
  • Unplugging as many of our appliances as we can when we're not using them (e.g., toaster, cell phone charger, rarely used lights, clock radios).
  • Turning off one light if we turn another one on.
  • Changing as many light bulbs as possible to CFLs - will change more when we can buy the proper sized bulbs for our other fixtures.
  • Using a programmable thermostat and keeping the heat low overnight and when we are away (but not too low for Corky and Scooter).
  • Line drying clothes occasionally - this has to become more frequent and I just have to get used to having some things be 'crunchy' when I put them on.
  • Using cold water for washing all but the dirtiest clothes.
  • Very recently starting our own garden (hee!)
  • Buying produce from farmer's markets when possible (there is one every Wednesday when we go to Tai Chi, so that is very convenient).
  • Using dishes and cutlery more than once before putting them in the dishwasher.
  • Composting (we have done this for almost two years now).
  • We recently bought a reel mower, but we're not too happy with it. We're not sure if we're just inept in our operation of it, or if it just doesn't work very well.
  • Conserving water via low water usage appliances, low flow, toggle- equipped shower heads, low flow faucets and toilets. We made these changes when we first moved in here in 2003 because we are on a cistern water system and have to have our water trucked in.
  • Planting trees - we bought two more little spruce trees to plant this week and will be planting 5 more aspen poplars in the Fall.
  • Switching to BullFrog Power for all of our electricity. This is a new service to Alberta as of June 5th and should kick in soon on our bill.
  • Hardly eating any meat - I'm lacto-ovo vegetarian and Gord eats meat maybe once a week, so we're doing pretty good there.
  • Using recycled TP and paper towels, and trying to use these sparingly. I have yet to find a decent recycled facial tissue. I may have to stop using those.
  • Taking my compostables home from work, like banana peels and cherry pits, to add to the composter when I get home.
  • Choosing items with less wasteful packaging, and avoiding take-out products.
  • Recycling virtually everything we can, from paper, to plastic, to glass, cans, cardboard, milk cartons, everything. We throw out very little -- most things can be composted or recycled.
  • Trying to buy fewer things overall. This is hard in our consumption-driven society, but we are getting better at it, I think.
There are more things I would like to start doing, but they will become harder and harder and more expensive too:
  • Installing a solar powered hot water heater.
  • Getting some solar or manual powered lamps, a radio and some proper batteries for power storage.
  • Replacing my CRT monitor with a flat panel version that uses less power.
  • Using less gas/diesel - this will be hard since we live 50+ kms away from work, one way.
  • Buying only local food and going without if it's not local (i.e., within 100 miles) .
  • Putting fewer things in the refrigerator - some people unplug theirs entirely!
  • Buying second hand items, including clothes. I'm reluctant to wear clothes that strangers have worn though, I don't know how to get over that.
  • Getting and learning how to use a solar oven. They sell them at the Earth's General Store, but I've never really looked at them closely - I will rectify that!
Time to have a nice cup of tea, I think, and ponder the myriad things....

The Garden is Planted!

I think I am about two weeks into the growing season but I finally got my square foot garden planted! It was neck-and-neck there for a while, between me and the mosquitoes, to see who would prevail, but I did it!

I first laid down two layers of weed barrier cloth, and then started mixing up my soil. I think I finally ended up with about 1/3 compost which we made ourselves over the past two seasons, 1/3 dirt that our local ants dug up for us, 1/6 coconut fibre (instead of peat moss) and 1/6 vermiculite. It reminded me of my old Tree Nursery days! Except that I had no fancy dirt-mixing equipment, just a wheelbarrow, buckets, a spade and my two hands.

It took me about 5 1/2 hours from when I started putting down the weed barrier cloth, to when I finished planting 14 of my 16 square foot sections. I have no idea if I've planted the seeds too close together or too deep, but I guess I'll find out. I'm not sure if the soil is deep enough either, but I will wait and see. I don't want foot-long carrots anyway!

The two sections with no label on them are for pre-sprouted lettuce I will buy from the Root Seller and plant there - it's cheating a bit, but what the heck, I want something to be growing. I do have two kinds of parsley, thyme, oregano, rue and chives growing already in my little flower bed beside the house, which I can harvest already (a bit at a time).

Here is the grid/list of things that I have planted:

Sugar Sprint Peas Rainbow Chard Senger Farm Spinach Leaf Beat
Red Comet Radish Slobolt Cilantro Feverfew Lettuce
SF Nantes Carrots Italian Sweet Pepper Glacium Flavium Lettuce
Chanteray Carrots Cutting Celery Basil Thyme Catgrass Oats

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Reducing Waste

I have been reading so many environmental/'green' blogs lately that I have really been feeling guilty about the amount of waste/garbage I personally generate. I have made a couple steps in the right direction though. For instance, this month was the first month that I used my Diva Cup throughout my entire cycle. It took a bit of getting used to, but I think it is going to work out fine! I'll only have to use tampons now and then and I will be creating a lot less 'feminine hygeine' waste in the long run. I may be able to give up tampons altogether, when I get better at using the Diva Cup.

I've also been trying to use a lot less toilet paper and fewer paper towels. I don't like the idea that trees are being cut down, mashed up and bleached so I can use them to wipe my butt and blow my nose.

No time to write more now, I'll have to blog again another day.

Sunday, 3 June 2007

New Beginnings

So I'm taking the plunge and starting a little garden. I have been reading a couple other people's blogs, and it seems like Square Foot Gardening is the way to go. So today, Gord and I made this 4 foot by 4 foot raised garden bed, out of some scrap lumber we had lying around in a pile. It took a lot longer than we thought it would to build, but it turned out quite well!

I have to get some weed barrier cloth to put down first, string up the grids, and then I will start adding my soil mixture. Apparently equal parts peat moss, vermiculite and compost is the way to go, but I don't want to use peat moss because it is a (virtually) non-renewable resource. So I will use 1/3 dirt that the ants around our yard have kindly dug up for us. And the rest will be compost and vermiculite. I hope to get the garden in by next weekend for sure! It is already starting to get kind of late in the growing season, but I will give it a whirl and see what I can grow.