Thursday 5 October 2017

Garden Love: Past, Present, and Future

 Chadwick and I have lived in rentals the entire 5 years that we have been dating and now married. We have been so fortunate to have some form of gardening space in almost all the places we've lived. Its also worth noting that I. Love. Gardening. In the deepest part of my soul I love gardening. Its one of those hobbies that gives us that instant feeling of relief and calm when we start even if it takes us a lot of self-motivation to get up and do it. I think we can all relate to this feeling in some way with some hobby.

I didn't realize how much I need some kind of garden in my life until a few rentals in when building a garden was slightly out of the question.

But let's start back in our first rental. When Chad and I first started living together I moved in to his tiny attic apartment in Waterloo, ON. This was an attic of a detached home with a yard in a historic district of the city. Naturally all of our neighbours were minimum 40 years older then us and kept their yards immaculate. And we were not about to be the obvious renters with the ugly yard. I had dreams of galvanized pales brimming with lavender, calendula, and chrysanthemums sitting around a couple of aderondak chairs on our backyard porch. While some things (like this scene I just painted for everyone) didn't quite work out, here's what did.

We laid out our first garden and I read a lot from a book called The Urban Farm. This book was one of the easiest resource books to read cover to cover. The author covers so many ways to fit a full (and I mean full) garden into a very tiny space. She also talks at length about creating community co-ops for buying local/organic wholesale, and breaks the book up by season. I learned so much from this book. 

 So one of the first things we did was make the already existing garden much bigger, added good soil, and used natural fertilizers to prep the soil for our seeds. I then learned the difference between the space you think you need for certain plants and the space you actually need (i.e. planting 6 zucchini plants in a 3 foot square is not the way). This garden gave us an idea of how things will grow, spread, climb, and which plants the critters will go for. I even caught my first gopher in a trap which we promptly let go a ways away from our garden. We also grew everything from seed either straight out of the ground or under lamps indoors starting in February. We learned how to 'harden off' plants and understood quickly how much of your indoor seedlings you might lose in this process.

I honestly expected nothing with this first garden. I didn't know what the climate would do, I knew that some thing should grow pretty easily. But I was shocked to see that every vegetable we grew came up in fair abundance. This included zucchini's, 3 types of lettuce, onions, garlic, bush and pole beans, snow peas, spinach, swiss chard, tomatoes, peppers (regular and hot), egg plant, carrots, beets, broccoli, and butternut squash. We also learned a lot about certain diseases like blight and what to do about that.

 This was the last of what we pulled before moving across the country. I don't know why, but I really expected nothing out of those carrots. Now it just seems so silly to me....I plant carrots without thinking at all.

The gardening picked up again when we moved to northern BC although it was initially dismal. We were renting a home that our friends owned and they were away for only 6 months. So we weren't able to plant a full blown garden and had to focus on container gardening. I do really love container gardening, but as long as its purposeful to whatever I need. As in, I don't love container gardening exclusively. But that's what we had to do.

We also didn't invest in containers that actually felt inspiring to grow in. We used old buckets and poked some holes in the bottom for drainage. We had use of our neighbours greenhouse, but we found it to be fairly unregulated in terms of the temperature it would hold.

What we also learned was that because Kitimat is on the north pacific coast, the temperate climate and mild temperatures make it difficult to grow high yields. Also, the sun comes about around 4 am and sets around 11am. So most plants end up going to seed very early in the season before they produce fruit.

The last 2 seasons we've been living in our current home that we rent, the gardening has been much better. The home owners were avid gardeners so they left raised beds for us. We also have a small sort of greenhouse which has been lovely for transplanting and seedlings. Again, I have been trying everything and anything when it comes to the garden. I have such a curiosity to see what will grow and then have been trying in the following season to do research on the individual plants to give them a bit of a boost. It still has been a huge struggle with some things (like sunflowers oddly enough) growing really well and others (like tomatoes) not growing at all.

Our hope for the future is to have lots of space (acres) to expand our gardening to a small fruit orchard, bee keeping, maybe some animal husbandry, and really spend time learning about how plants grow where and when. There is always endless learning and lots of time to see how our needs may change our gardening habits. Updates to come!


A thanksgiving cabin

With thanksgiving being this weekend here and our schedule making it difficult for us to figure out if even the two of us will be able to sit down together for some turkey and apple cider, its got me reflecting on how we've spent some of our past thanksgivings here in the north. When we first moved here we really figured it would just be the two of us for thanksgiving ....both rare and an adjustment considering the size of our amazing family. We banked on a quiet weekend of further adjusting to our new home with a bit of turkey, maybe some stuffing if we were ambitious, but we never thought we'd be giving that up for something slightly different.

In case you may not know us that well yet, it might help to know how much we love being outdoors. So we partnered up with the Kitimat Snowmobile and Hikers Club to help put the roof on this gorgeous cabin they have been building this season up on Robinson Ridge. Chad has done his fair share of cabin construction, but what made this thanksgiving most interesting was our view of the ridge when we first got up there. Not everyday you come up a mountain this way.....

As a hike this would be a minimum 2.5 to 3 hour hike to the top if you're experienced so getting all of the materials up to the ridge point meant flying everything up in bundles via helicopter....including the labour. This was our first time seeing the ridge and what a way to see the intense effort this club has put into this cabin. Really incredible. This was also our first time in a helicopter. Best. Flight. Ever. I'm not a seasoned enough writer to do a justifiable description of the experience, but it's definitely made the top 5 for life experiences. 

So on this spectacular thanksgiving weekend, I'd just like to note that I am thankful for the great people and experiences here in Kitimat, you've always got a spot at our table. I'm also so thankful for my main man, Chadwick for remembering to pull out the camera while my brain scrambled to make sense of the experience. For these and so many other people and experiences we are truly thankful.


That time we moved to BC

Three years ago we a big way. Planning for and moving across Canada didn't really allow for much else in our lives, but we finally settled in and have soooo much to talk about from summer reviews to some of the new projects we are working on. 

But first and foremost, welcome to beautiful British Columbia. Our current home province and the little town of Kitimat. We both originally grew up in southern Ontario, but decided it was time to hang out in a very different part of our country. If your not sure about where that is located we are sitting pretty on British Columbia's northern pacific coast across from the Queen Charlotte Islands, also known as Haida Gwaii.

What prompted such a move? Perhaps a completion of education, a new job, maybe a general lack of patience and growing irritation with southern Ontario city life (we still love Ontario dearly), could be a need for smaller community, more outdoors, a change of scenery. Whichever the hard and fast reasons were, we packed up our whole tiny life into a 5' x 10' trailer, tarped it into a hyper-wrapped life-size 'bread loaf', tacked that bad boy onto our tiny truck and drove 5,500 km to northern BC. It was a weighty decision for sure, but something that I'm glad we never looked back on.

Our equally tiny apartment was a pleasant surprise in real life considering all we had were tiny pictures when we decided to rent it. Definitely not a diamond in the rough. More like part of the rough, but as a close friend of mine said when we left our old tiny apartment, "all the magic is gone from this place", and it's because I know we brought it with us for this place. Optimism was also key in this life changes we made that year.

Our first impressions......

...Kitimat is just what we needed.

Sunday 24 September 2017

Reaching Trace

We love homemade soap made with natural ingredients. We also love creating new recipes such as this little gem. This Sunrise Citrus soap recipe from Handcrafted Soap by Delores Boone,  is our first scented soap and I have to say if your the type who does their waking up in the shower, waking up to the smell of tangerines is a pretty refreshing way to start the morning.

The soaps we make here don't just form up into little squares of tangerine loveliness. The soap making process has a few intricate steps involved to get them to a safe and usable state. Chosen oils and a mixture of lye and distilled water get mixed together and heated at a low temperature to start the process of binding the oils with the lye-water mixture.

In our old little attic apartment we found it easiest to heat the oil and lye mixture in a slow cooker on a low heat setting. While the liquid soap is heating, we mix it with a hand mixer for about 5-10 min depending on the soap. 

Some soaps will take longer to mix than others. For instance, this Sunrise Citrus Soap ended up taking anywhere from 10-15 min. Homemade soap definitely requires a very novice understanding of science...specifically chemistry. Thus, we blame differences in mixing time on chemistry. The goal of mixing the oil and lye-water mixture is to reach a very important stage in the soap making process known as Trace.

Reaching Trace is sort of like a point of no return. It essentially means that you've emulsified the oil and lye-water mixture and you no longer risk the potential of these ingredients separating. You have completed the first stage of forming soap! You'll known when you've reached Trace because the soap will sort of look like pudding and will have ridge lines. 

Happy soaping.

Friday 1 September 2017

Canvas Covered Timber Frame

A 14' x 20' custom designed timber frame structure. Built out of northern west coast cedar, this timber frame involved hand-cut mortise and tenon connections, and various sized knee braces with the longest being 7'. This timber frame will provide 280 square feet of covered outdoor living space in the spring, summer, and fall.

This timber frame is designed to support a custom-made canvas cover for 3-season protection from the elements. This location sees a lot of precipitation, being located in Northern British Columbia, so the canvas cover was essential to have this part of the deck be useable during more than just the odd sunny day.

The 15 degree slope of the roof line for this timber frame was designed this way to a) follow the roof line of this 1980s log home and b) shed water. 

The corner post has been scribed to create a natural transition from the log to timber frame construction.

Happy Building.


Wood: The Pergola (Part 3)

The Raising

64 hours. The length of time in laboured hours it took Chad to cut and raise the pergola. Here's how he raised this beauty.

Chad braced the first raised bent with 2X4 lumber and clamps to stop the frame from twisting while being lifted and to protect the joinery.

Once the first bent was up and secure the braces come off and the second bent gets raised into the pre-measured and fastened metal collars.

An initial trellis rafter was put up and secured in place to provide stability for the two raised bents while the rest of the pergola gets raised.

Next steps involve joining the tie beam that bridges the parallel bents and the knee braces that support these connections. This step also happens on the other side of the pergola once other pieces are in place.

A second lateral beam is spliced together with the initial raised bent and joined with an end post and knee brace. This is done on both ends of the initial bents.

Every connection is held together with oak pegs that get hammered into the structure with the very necessary wooden 'caveman' mallet. A must have in every timberframer's toolbox.

The finishing touches include putting up the trellis rafters, fastening wood trim around the metal collars and putting in some mean timber stairs. You can also see in these pictures how the arch over the stairs came out that Chad cut with a chainsaw. You can see how the joinery was cut and the work involved before the raising here and here.

Happy Building.

Wood: The Pergola (Part 2)

Thought you folks might want an update on how the work's going on a recent post featuring a timberframed Pergola that Chad is building for a neighbour.

Things worth mentioning:
#1 Mortises can totally be cut without the use of a chain mortiser! Why is this good news? Because chain mortisers are pretty pricey. Here is the one Chad is after. It's in Chad's opinion that Mafell are some of the finest made woodworking tools currently on the market. Check out their philosophy if your interested and have a chance. Overall, it takes a bit longer to cut mortises without a chain mortiser (about 5x), so if your in a hurry....maybe splurge for the tools.

What you need to cut mortises without a chain mortiser:
1 1/2 " ultra smooth wood owl auger bit 
18 volt Metabo drill (The big selling feature on this drill for Chad.....the 3 year warranty on the batteries....unheard of)
1 1/2" and 2" Barr Framing Chisel
* A wooden mallet 

#2 Know your sawmill! The wood we ordered looked beautiful, but there were a few characteristics that made it tougher to work with. 

* Watch for timbers that are out of square. Out of square timbers can make layout difficult and makes it next to impossible to get connections to fit perfectly.

* Wavy timbers. This effect happens when the band (blade) on the sawmill is dull. Wavy edges also make layout a challenge since you have no totally flat/straight edge to lay your framing square against (Note: framing squares are used for laying out a timberframe).

* Watch for inconsistent sizing of timber. The timbers in this frame varied in dimension by over 1/2" making layout a challenge and adding the extra step of measuring each timber before cutting the joint that will receive that timber in a connection.

Really if you can, check out the sawmill before you order. If possible try to take a look at the timbers milled by your sawmill and look for any of the above potential issues.

#3 Build under cover! Although it's seems like such a romantic and back to the earth idea to do all your cuts and layouts in the great outdoors, you really don't want to be working in the rain.....this pergola was actually laid out and cut inside a garage, except for the trellis ridge pieces shown here. These cuts were done quite quickly with a circular saw, jigsaw, and a chisel. Chad is using a timberframer's chisel to square up the sides and basin of this notch. These were also stained outside before the pergola was raised, and were tarped until needed.

The client for this timberframe has rather tall son-in-laws so he was worried about the clearance of the pergola just under the eavestrough of his back deck. So, Chad agreed to cut a curve in the center cross-beam for this frame to account for those standing just under 7 feet. Oh yeah, they're the biggest son-in-laws I've ever seen. Due to a shortage of necessary tools (i.e. tools usually used for this cut), Chad used his faithful Stihl chainsaw (Larry) to cut this curve. It might look from this angle that he is totally off of his line, but this is actually pretty good practice for getting the cut accurate. Afterwards he went back and brushed down the rest of the wood to this line with the chainsaw to get a really smooth finish on the curve.

Oh yeah, 'shaving' the top of this curve really looks more like bouncing the edge of the chainsaw off the surface and moving it back and forth while trying to control the extent of the bouncing. Kind of like shaving a garden hedge.....just imagine the curve is a hedge. This takes control in order to not cut through the curve.

Let us know how your projects are going, and if you have any questions or comments related to this post or timberframing give us a shout at 


Wood: Open Season! (The Pergola)

9 months. We've been living here in Kitimat for 9 months. 9 months of which Chadwick hasn't been doing much building. When we first moved out here Chadwick was perhaps a little sick of building.....after 10 years of doing the same craft who wouldn't want a little bit of a break?! Imma Right?! In Ontario, Chadwick primarily worked at log home building and timberframing and considered it to be good work that kept his attention.

*I promise I'll do a full spotlight on his talents eventually*.

 After 9 months of different odd jobs and long chats, it is now clear that in order to be content, Chadwick needs to be building. It's not just "good work that keeps his attention" anymore. I think it was a few days ago that he actually referred to it as his passion. For. Real.

I mean, he totally built us some 'get through this apartment' furniture, and totally put way too much time into probably the best christmas craft ever on my request, but it looks like open season has finally started. Chadwick is once again timberframing.

So in the spirit of true craftsmanship, Chad. bought. tools. Not a lot of tools, but definitely some expensive tools. I'm no expert, but Chadwick raves about Metabo Tools. 

This week Chad has begun a design for a backyard porch pergola and spent this weekend cutting the knee braces needed for the structure. And I cannot be more excited. 

Currently the next tool Chadwick claims to need is a chain mortiser. These mortise joints were cut with a metabo drill and a wood owl auger bit. Joint corners were chipped out with a timberframing chisel. A much longer process, but just as accurate.
More to come! 

Also, if your super interested in any kind of timberframing let us know at or leave a comment!


Reclaimed Harvest Table with Benches

Large table with wide plank mixed wood top. Antique look with old nail and saw mill marks visible throughout the pieces. There are hand cut through mortise and tenon joints with cherry wedges in the benches. Three coats of oil based polyurethane have been applied to preserve the natural beauty of the wood. The table top measures 79" by 41" and the benches are 75" long.

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