28 August 2008

Speaking of seeds

Watch all four parts if you have the stomach for it.

Arugula already

It never ceases to amaze me how a tiny little seed, given some warmth and moisture, will decide to become a plant - and then proceed to grow. I've been following the action in the arugula row all day. There was nothing visible in the row this morning at 0730, but a whole bunch of them have popped up over the course of the day. Maybe OLN will broadcast the highlight reel.

26 August 2008

Today in the garden

I planted a whole bunch of veggies today:
  1. Cherry Belle radish
  2. White Globe turnip
  3. Scarlet Nantes carrot
  4. Cosmo-Savoy lettuce
  5. Chioggia beet
  6. Sylvetta arugula
  7. White Russian kale
  8. Osaka Purple mustard greens
  9. Wild Garden chicory
  10. China Choy chinese cabbage
  11. Roquette Salad arugula
  12. Rhubarb Chard
Some of these don't stand a chance of maturing before winter, but they can all be eaten when small. At least one cold frame is in the works, which will keep lots of things going until late fall/early winter at least. All of these veggies will tolerate cool weather and mild frosts. More garden beds are on the agenda this week.

Introducing.....Dobby the Garden Toad

24 August 2008

The Free Range Kid is home!

Madeleine is finally home after spending most of the summer with family and at camp. She is happy to be here, but I think it has more to do with high speed internet than parents. The great thing about our new arrangement of me being a peasant and her homeschooling is that summer isn't over until it's actually over. We have no arbitrary first day of school to spoil the fun. And no Labour Day weekend spent schlupping through overcrowded big box stores carrying a list of school supplies (no substitutions!) muttering unseemly things about teachers, malls, children and why can't a backpack last more than one year?

We've had lots of questions about our plans to homeschool this year. I'll attempt to answer them here, keeping in mind that everything is subject to change as conditions warrant.

If we had to attach a label to what we plan to do, it would be unschooling, but I'd rather not get dogmatic about it. I think it would be more correct to say that we're living free range and learning as the natural outcome of living. I'll act as facilitator, mentor, guidance counsellor, parent, and whatever else I'm capable of as required. We'll try to get involved in "real life" activities according to our interests and energy levels.

Q: Are you going to follow a curriculum?

A: No. We're not going to do school at home, and we're not going to "do" the arbitrary list of learning objectives as set out by any government or school board department.

Q: Will you do standardized testing?

A: Eek! No.

Q: How will she learn ______?

The quick A: The same way she learned to walk, talk, ride a bike, read, care for her rats, knit, identify reptiles and absolutely everything else.

The longer A: The question has some built in assumptions that deserve questioning. The first is that there are important things in life that can only be learned in a school-ish environment. And some of these important things need to be learned in a specific order. And no one would want to learn them unless they were in a structured environment and it was mandatory. When Madeleine figures out why she needs to know how to graph a polynomial equation, there will be no shortage of resources available to us to help her learn. It may be a book, something on the internet, some software, a tutor, or a correspondence course, or maybe I'll be able to reach back into the dusty corners of my memory and show her. Of course, there are all kinds of things that she may never know she wants to know, unless she is exposed to them. But that's true for everyone, not just kids. As an adult, I have never felt the need to go the the government of Ontario web site to check that I have achieved a sufficient understanding of the complete curriculum for grades k-12. Of course, if I went through this exercise, I'd have to make sure that I started at the beginning and worked my way through in order, so as to make sure I had the proper foundation for the rest. Or, here's a radical notion: I will never bother to check my skills and knowledge against an arbitrary list, and it will make no difference to the rest of my life. Likewise, Madeleine will learn everything she needs to know to do what she wants to do.

Q: What about friends?

A: There obviously isn't the same opportunity to interact with kids of the exact same age, if you're not confined with them for several hours a day. We'll be seeking out opportunities to interact with people of all ages, and maintain friendships outside of school. I'm not convinced that a typical middle school environment is the best for social enrichment, anyway.

And so, with the confidence of the inexperienced, we start our free range learning adventure.

21 August 2008

Making the beds

Today we built the first 2 raised beds for vegetables. Raised beds were the only option on the very thin soil that is prevalent on our hill. The limestone bedrock is only 4 - 10 inches below the surface. We've built 4 ft. x 8 ft. beds of double height 2X6 lumber. The beds are oriented east/west to maximize sun exposure.

After building the beds and placing them in their final resting places, Luc knocked down the weeds inside and out with the weed wacker and lawn mower.

We covered the bottom of the beds with several years worth of old bills and documents. Before we moved, I started shredding this stuff, but it was extremely time consuming and hard on the shredder. I didn't want to just put this stuff with account numbers and personal information out in the garbage or recycling, so using it to suppress weeds at the bottom of our vegetable beds seemed like a good idea. We soaked it all before adding the topsoil.

Yesterday, a big load of topsoil and a smaller load of mushroom compost was delivered. We filled the boxes with roughly 70% topsoil and 30% compost. I decided against buying triple mix, because I thought it would have too much organic matter (two thirds) which can affect the ability of plants to absorb nutrients.

The finished beds with the lovely dark and fluffy soil mix. I'll add a complete organic fertilizer before planting. Even though it's late August, I plan to plant spinach, lettuce, carrots, lots of green leafy stuff, garlic and peas. I'll be using a cold frame to extend the season for the carrots and greens.

18 August 2008

Back from the French River

We've just returned from our visit with friends at their cottage on the French River. We had a fabulous visit with great company, delicious food and beautiful scenery. One of the highlights of the trip was a pontoon boat trip to the Five Finger Rapids, which is a spectacular example of Northern Ontario landscape (rocks, trees and water). René, who captained the boat, is a wealth of information on the human and natural history of the French River, and charming to boot. I highly recommend seeking out René's Cruises in Noelville if you are ever in the area.

11 August 2008

An unusual amenity

We have a labyrinth at our new house. A real live, visible-from-space, classical seed pattern turf labyrinth. A labyrinth is distinguished from a maze by the fact that there is one single path to the centre and the reverse path leads you out. It is impossible to get lost. You set your feet on auto and go, losing sense of direction and distance as you progress through.

It's built on an alvar meadow and the paths are solid limestone. There are wildflowers, frogs, snakes and fossils all inhabiting the labyrinth.

The limestone provides a glimpse into life in a tropical sea 400 million years ago during the Ordovician period.

All in all, a beautiful place to wind up.

04 August 2008

Good clean fun

I appreciate a well hung clothesline. I admire women who maintain order in their lines and I fancy myself one of them. I know that we can be an intimidating bunch. I lived, for years, next door to a woman who I imagined was scrutinizing my clothesline closely (not you, Kathy!) and it made me nervous. My problem, I know.

I don't actually know any men who regularly hang clothes, and I really can't imagine any man I know hanging a decent line. I was once accused, by one of these men, of being anal for pairing the socks on a line. As if they magically pair themselves at any point in the laundry process.

My fantasy clothesline is attached to a white clapboard house on the edge of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Of course, the sun is always shining, and it's always a good drying day. In my fantasy the freezing rain never blows sideways and it never rains on almost dry clothes.

This post will no doubt generate a few hits from googlers who are most definitely not looking for pictures of clotheslines.


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