Catie George

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since Oct 20, 2016
Ontario - zone 5b
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Recent posts by Catie George

I would like to see a skill/task based on creating a business plan/financial planning/basic  economics. This can range in complexity from scratched out numbers on a pad of paper to fully researched with quotes from suppliers and average price data. I do these all the time in my head, and rarely manage to make one that makes sense for me to pursue (the ones that are, I don't have the startup capital or existing resources  to do ... yet).  I see a lot of businesses fail mostly because they fail to account for how much they will need to sell to cover their costs plus make a profi, or neglect to consider adequate startup capital, or.. As someone who grew up helping in a small profitable family business, it always hurts to see people lose money despite hard work just because they didnt figure out their numbers well, and i think good business planning is an often neglected skill, and it would be good practice to get people thinking about these things.

Completely unresearched examples thrown in as an example of a potential business plan, numbers will definitely vary based on where you live. Reducing expenditures is nice, but the government no longer accepts livestock  for tax payments.  

Calculating how much money they require per year (ie... I need 15000 per year to pay my mortgage, insurance, taxes, and living expenses) - if your business doesn't cover this, how are you going to make the remainder?

Calculate expected revenue and max possible/probable revenue (ie...if I sell 100 chicks at $5 each, I will make $500, I can only sell a maximum of 500 chicks per year with my current setup, $2500)

Calculate startup costs, fixed and variable costs ( building a new coop for 20 chickens will cost $400, (one time), buying chickens will cost $200, i need $10 of chicken feed per month, an ad in the paper costs $50, etc)

How much time will this take? How much labour? ( fixed amount of hours in a day, can't do everything... would another possible business be a better use of time? Do I have enough time to devote to this business to make it work?

Calculate payback period /break even point ( neglecting feed costs, and a lot of other things, I will pay back initial cost of chickens and coop after I have sold ($600+other costs)/$5 = # of chicks - until this point I won't be making money. This will take about x amount of time)

How and when will  I interact with/be available to customers- (fixed times, time of year, by arrangement, etc. How much time will this take? )

Consider value added or additional opportunities. ( ie, I can also sell 12 eggs for $5, or sell hatching eggs, or fully grown chickens, or having baskets of produce for sale by the door when people show up, or a flyer of other things for sale, or.... )

What can be done to make numbers better?( Ie better marketing of virtues of your chicks to get higher sale price, reduce feed costs, etc.... )

Consider how profitability will change - what are costs in second year? Will market reach saturation? how much demand for this kind of chicks is there and what is the geographic area? Who are the customers? How vulnerable is this to someone else entering the market and becoming competition ? )

If I don't manage to break even, how long can I tolerate the loss for? ( i believe most businesses take 1 yr + to become profitable, and fail around 6 months)

There are a lot of good books/ blogs/government papers out there on how to do this, a lot with more complicated formulas , but this would be the minimum I would like to see for a business plan.
6 days ago
I am a mid 90s millenial with a good job, and work lots of overtime. Its not going to be easy to get even a modest piece of property any time soon. At market price, a rented 1 bdrm modest apartment in the greater toronto area would take about half of my monthly take home pay. Luckily, my rent is half that.  Even saving more than half of my take home pay, ownership of land anywhere within 1.5 hrs drive of the gta would be 10 + years off. I keep waiting for the crash but... even a 30%crash  wouldn't make things much more affordable. And it's often easier/less upfront cost to buy a house, at least here, than raw land, because of the availability of mortgages. A small  lot a few hours from the big city might still be $150 000.

The only people I see getting ahead , even with good jobs, have their parents helping them with a downpayment  or  cosigning, or giving them free room and board for university and the first 3 to 4 years of work, paying for their school, or their car, often most of the above. My family wouldnt be able to afford to do that, and i am too proud to ask. Right now, I could buy something, with a mortgage 4-5 hrs from the city easily. I just couldn't find a job to pay for the mortgage payments. Or afford both rent in the city and mortgage payments elsewhere. So I spin my wheels and continue to save money unail something changes...

I have a lot of hope for my fellow millenials.  A surprising number of my friends/peers in the city are interested in sustainability and many of them, growing things. But most don't have the skills or experience to be successful, so they get frustrated, declare themselves to have a brown thumb, and quit.

I helped two friends go to my favourite local nursery this year and buy stuff.... one came away with cherry tomatos, strawberries, and herbs and flowers, the other watermelon seeds and a grape vine, and flowers. But they wouldnt have bought half as much if I wasn't there going, yeah, you can grow that! It's easy! No, that's not a great choice for that spot, how about this? They both had a lot of fun and really enjoyed their little gardens. I got another friend 'with a brown thumb' into indoor plants by giving her some easy care cuttings and helping her care for them and showing her how and when to water. She now takes better care of her plants than I do.  I was in a group of 5 people my age and I was the only one who had ever held a spade, let alone knew the proper name and how to step on the end of it to plant a tree. I volunteered a few years at a shared community garden, turning up the soil and incorporating compost. I could do one raised bed in the time it took 3 others -including  young muscular men- to do one bed. They would stop between each shovelful to rest. I think a lot of people my age have no endurance,  because they have never learned the rhythm of physical work.

These skills are not from me being a gardening prodigy. These are skills I picked up helping my parents garden, and refusing to be shown up at weeding or shoveling by my 80+ year old grandmother or 50 + year old mother. Gardening wasn't really a chore growing up, it was that fun thing i do with my parents where i get pretty flowers and tasty  food, so i researched a lot, and was given pretty much free rein to do stuff. Now, I teach others how to do stuff. Somehow the last few generations seem to have failed at passing on a lot of basic skills.  I had a community garden the  last two years. I have moved to a smaller city so I won't have one this year, and am quite depressed about it. All the community garden plots I know of have 2 + year waitlists, even though they are quite expensive. So yes, there is a desire to grow your own!

1 week ago
We did this ! Or rather a less pretty/tidy version. Wrapped a foam toddler bed in plastic garbage bags (or maybe an old mattress bag) And taped down really tightly with packing tape. Then simply bought two toddler matress fitted sheets and put one on the top the other on the bottom. When they got dirty/stinky/doggy tossed them in the washing machine. When they get really gross the sheets are cheap to replace at a thrift store.  Every few years you may need to replace the plastic. Our St. Bernard loved this bed and it was the only one we ever found that was large enough. Very durable too, it lasted the whole life of the dog and was still in grest shape. We had an expensive commercial dog bed made with ripstop nylon she refused to touch... maybe because of sliding or too thick padding?  This version looks nicer and neater though.
2 weeks ago
Raven - I saw you are still having difficulties the Amazon seller of the walking skirt pattern. That's really frustrating!!!  I am going to be optimistic and hope you will eventually get to do this project. I had a lot of fun with my version

If you ever get your money back, I'm still really pleased with the pattern I linked to. The woman who made it is a historical costumer/works in a museum, so it's based on a bunch of period skirts made with the same era of sewing machine you have. The instructions are very detailed and have diagrams/sketches of what to do, and the size range is good, with a clear sizing chart. I am not small, and there were still a few sizes above me. I like it enough that I am thinking of trying to figure out how to make this skirt into a dress pattern to wear to an event!

I saw that you were worried about fabric choices and wishing for a sewing-grandmother for advice. I'm not a grandmother, or a great sewer, but I'll pass on the advice I got from my mother while making this!  My mother sewed most of her clothing in her teens and twenties, did formal lessons, and is a perfectionist with sewing. She helped me with my skirt, and showed me some techniques to get a nicer product.

For fabric choices - anything without an obvious plaid/check/large scale pattern/directionality will be easier and cheaper for this pattern. If you start having to match fabric/patterns it will take even more fabric. I'd suggest making a muslin of the skirt before shelling out for 4+ m of expensive nice fabric. I used a thrift store bedsheet because I liked the fabric (a bit heavier than most sheets) and it was cheap. It required pretty much the entire king sized flat sheet to make it.  A nice linen, heavier cotton, or woven wool would work well, esp. if you line the wool (pretty much any medium to heavy weight woven fabric, except thick denim).  This pattern wouldn't be great for stretchy fabrics, knit fabrics, fabrics which are really loosely woven, or fabrics without body. I used a sateen cotton, and don't like the sheen of it.  You may be able to piece the fabric and significantly reduce how much fabric this uses.  

Some construction tips:
- In general, ironing is key. You should spend far more time ironing than sewing.
- Use the best quality thread you can. I used Coats, because it was on half price and I am cheap, but Gutermann sews much more nicely.
- Make sure you prewash fabric to remove any starch/sizing before cutting it.  
- While laying out the pattern pieces, rough cut them (bigger than the size you want) before pinning them onto the fabric. Make any pattern adjustments at this stage (for example I was a different waist and hip size, so graded between them - basically a straight line for this pattern). I like using a highlighter to mark the pattern I do want to cut to. You may, if you are short like me, take some length off the skirt if necessary at this stage  (or can forget like i did, and do it when hemming).  
- Lay fabric all flat when cutting out, and line up the grain line markings to be parallel (or perpendicular) to the selvedge edges. I had to do this on the floor. Measure (repeatedly) to make sure that they are perfectly in line. Pin in one place, then rotate around the pin until in line, then pin down the pattern piece completely, smoothing it/the fabric out as you go. Repeat for all pieces.
- Tailor tack/mark all pattern markings onto the pattern. For my fabric, I had to mark front/back as it was directional with a slight sheen, but really hard to tell.
- Cut out the fabric pieces roughly around the pattern pieces, if desired, to separate them before doing the detailed cutting.
- Make sure you iron EVERY seam OPEN before moving on to the next step (even if the seam is eventually folded over, this will look better.
- For the skirt - make sure you chose one direction to sew from and stick with it (don't sew top to bottom on one piece, and bottom to top on another).
- I top stitched my waist band, and used fusible cotton interfacing in the waistband + placket. This makes it stiffer, especially if you are using a loosely woven or lightweight fabric, and makes it look crisper. You could use a non fusible interfacing (or some fabric) for the same purpose, but my mother is very much of the opinion that fusible interfacing is the BEST THING EVER.  
- When doing the pleats - make sure you mark the pattern with both bottom and top, and really well iron them. The top of the waistband should look like a straight line if the pleats are folded correctly. Pin these in multiple places to make sure they don't shift while you are sewing, then baste with the largest stitch length on your sewing machine to keep them in place before you attach the waistband.

I am not sure what you have for tools, but all of the following were really helpful:
- Seam ripper
- sewing gauge (ruler with a slider)
- Sewing measuring tape
-Tailor's chalk
-Lots of straight pins

Potential things i would do if I were to do this again
- Figure out pockets - there is a tutorial on the site I bought my pattern from on how to alter for pockets
- Don't accidentally use a tiny stitch length, then realize that I made a mistake and need to spend half an hour with a seam ripper because the stitches are so small...
- Get someone else to measure me so I don't measure wrong and have to adjust sizing halfway through sewing (changing the size of angled pleats is a pain!).

I hope some of this is helpful!
3 weeks ago
Ok good glad you are prepared!!! And yes, I am from the Valley.

Definitely don't lose hope on the apples. Ours were common varieties from a big box store and failed but I did know of some old trees scattered about. With the right root stock and variety you should be okay, you may just need to try a few. I found stuff my dad bought from a box store failed and stuff I ordered bare root or bought from someone local tended to live.
1 month ago
I was raised not too far from Maynooth and Lake St. Peter. It's beautiful land but challenging to grow things.  Here's some random local insight. I hope some of it will help you with planning!

I am glad you have some higher land. A lot of rivers in that area have flooded in the past few years and done some damage to homes and cottages due to abnormal spring conditions meaning more water than normal needs to be released from dams... and that lake looks like it's dam controlled, which would  be why it doesnt usually flood. I have no idea what the creek banks look like but you may consider planting willow to stabilize it in case of flood? We had a friend lose a good portion of her lot, and almost her house a few years ago.

The farmers market on Saturdays in Maynooth is surprisingly busy with lots of local and often organic produce. Most people there are quite friendly and like to talk. Someone there may have suggestions for good varieties to try. Combermere's Madonna house raises much of their own food and has for decades. I heard they scoured old homesteads collecting local apple varieties and grafted them to some special cold tolerant apple rootstock.  They might be interesting to talk to and have an open house day and tours. There are a few localish nurseries that specialize in cold tolerant plants. I haven't bought from them but wanted to - golden bough tree farm and the hardy fruit tree nursery come to mind.

I grew up north of there in a cold valley. We had no success with anything not rated for zone 3 and several years had 2 straight weeks it wouldn't  rise above -30C. Summers can get quite hot(30-35 C +and very humid) although the nights tend to be cooler. The last few years have had long fire bans due to lack of rain. Keep in mind when looking at varieties that there are differences between Canada's system for agricultural zoning and the American one. We had moderate success with the University of Saskatchewan sour cherries, and with saskatoons, grapes, currants, and goose berries- they grew but the birds got most of them. Strawberries and rhubarb did well. Never bothered to plant raspberries,  blackberries, or blueberries as they are abundant in the wild. Zone 4 and 5 rated apples, grapes, and cherries died, as did many zone 4 and 5 perennials. They would live for a few years them die off affer a bad winter or a bad drought. We would have had more success if our soil was deeper and if we had mulched or fertilized prior to planting. Our soil was 10-50cm of orange brown silty sand with a scant few cm of topsoil, over bedrock. I only saw a moose twice but there are LOTS of deer , wild turkeys, and some black bears. We didn't have a deer problem and never fenced anything but we had dogs. Locals say the deer tend to spend the summers in the uplands and move down to the valleys to eat cedar and pine and have shelter from the wind in winter. Maybe try planting both in the uplands and in the valley?

That trail is likely to be very busy with ATVS in the summer and snowmobiles in the winter. I walked ATV trails occasionally or skied them but you have to be ready to jump off in a hurry. The ATVs/snowmobilers pay to maintain the trails and definitely think they have right of way. Definitely find a good lock for your shipping container and maybe try to keep it, any outhouse you build, and trails to it hidden from the trail. It's also a big hunting area so wear orange if you are out walking in the fall even on your own land. This is cottage country so the highways are often stop and go traffic north on Friday nights and south on Sundays during the summer.

Oh! And if you go in May and June bring a bug net, hat, and clothing that covers you completely including gloves and pants tucked into socks Blackflies like running water and bug spray isn't much help.

Good luck Kacy! I hope to see photos and updates in the next few years-especially about what grows. A lot of the things on your trial list are things I wanted to try when I lived there.  It sounds like a great project.  
1 month ago
I was really excited when I saw your original post - it looked like a perfect loose skirt for those really hot, humid days of summer. But the price of that pattern was more than I could justify as a learn-to-sew project and I didn't want to wait for shipping.

I ended up buying this pattern You print out the pattern and then glue it together. I ended up making the skirt out of a king-sized egyptian cotton flat sheet from value-village. It takes a LOT of fabric. I haven't put the waistband on or hemmed it yet, but it has been reasonably easy to sew so far and seems to fit well. It has a button  closure (which is a plus to me, as I hate sewing zippers).  I did have to read some of the instructions 3+ x before understanding it, and the placket was a bit of a challenge.

As far as making it look modern enough for everyday wear - mine's probably not, but it might be if you used a different fabric and hemmed it to the right length.
1 month ago
Thank you for the responses and the recipes  - I learned a lot!

a) Chokeberries can be called  Aronia berries, which sounds much nicer
b) You can make sugar free jam (and via more googling, the science for how this works)
c) Steam juicers are really cool and I want one
d) I need to invite myself back to the friend's cottage I picked these at in 4 weeks to pick more berries when they are actually ripe

I ended up making a hybrid recipe. I used sugar because I am sharing with my father who is NOT a believer in "health food" and the berries were underripe. I didn't add in peaches or other berries because I don't have access to any fresh and it seemed a shame to use store bought.

I used:

A bit less than 2 kg of aronia berries
3 c sugar
1 cut up lemon (as a source of pectin, and for acidity)

Simmered until formed a jam-like consistency. Delicious and really rich tasting! Canned in a water bath for 20 min in 250mL jars.

Thank you again for the help.

6 months ago
Anyone have a recipe for chokeberry jam?

I opportunistically picked about 1 kg of chokeberries (a blueberry/saskatoon relative) and about 2 cups of wild blueberries. Aronia melanocarpa/Photinia melanocarpa. Unfortunately, I can't seem to find a good recipe online, and as this will be my first jam making project (and 4th canning project) I don't understand canning well enough to make up a recipe.

The berries are bitter/astringent when raw with a bit of the almond-taste of saskatoons, but taste wonderful when zapped in the microwave with sugar. I want to make a jam with it, but have no idea where to start.

"Wild Berries of Ontario" says that: "they make a tasty and good looking jelly either alone or mixed with other fruits. These pomes are rich in pectin and can be added to low pectin fruits such as blueberries when making jam or jelly to get a stronger set".

Alternatively - can anyone explain how to tell if I need pectin or not, and how much sugar to add to make a long term shelf stable jam?

Many thanks!
6 months ago
Okay, this is my opinion... "Plugging" a leak in an earth dam is really hard. By their design, they leak. But it may be possible (and necessary for safety) to limit the leak and keep it from worsening.  

Before you start trying to fix it, I'd suggest some observation and research to make sure you understand what you are trying to fix and what tends to be successful (as a lazy person myself, I only wanna fix things once). It will also give you some reference to know when things are getting worse (if there is a risk of failure), and if you need to call in a professional.  

These are some questions that I would be asking myself if I was you:

-How tall is the dam? How much water is it impounding (height, not just surface area)
-What is downstream of it(up to a few miles) What is the consequence if it breaks, and who would be liable?
-What was it built of/how was it built - does it have any sort of core or protective outer layer?
-What maintenance has been done? Is it registered/listed with the state, or have you ever had an inspection done on it? What are the laws in your state/county for dams, dam inspections, maintenance, and what permits are needed for modifications/repairs?

At the dam itself, I would probably go for a walk. I'd look for:
-Is the seepage clear, murky?
-How far up on the dam is it ? Is it at the base ? Halfway up? (1/3 up would be typical).
-Has the flow increased since the last time you were there? What would you estimate the flow to be (garden hose, fire hose, kitchen tap, leaky faucet)? Is there any standing water at the base?
-What is the state of the vegetation on the dam? Does it change? Is there less vegetation at the bottom? Or more, because it is continuously damp?
-Is the dam "straight"? Are there any obvious bulges or depressions?
-What is the soil made of - can you feel it, does it have any sand, gravel? Wet some, roll it in a ball. Does it roll? (clayey) Does it crack (silty) does it roll but shimmer with water? (clay and silt).
-Is the area rocky? Is the bedrock close to surface?  (it's possible that the water is coming through the foundation, not your dam itself)

After doing all of this, I would try search terms like "seepage" "earthfill dam"  "embankment dam" and "piping failure". Essentially, you don't need a hole on the upstream side to see water coming out in a hole on the downstream side until things get REALLY bad. You will probably also see some stuff about berms, drains, and blankets being used a solutions. I'd also google "filter" - the idea is to to use a mixture of grain sizes to trap your dam in place by not letting the finer stuff wash away with the water and make a bigger hole.

Hopefully this will give you a better understanding of WHY your dam is leaking, and how people normally fix it... When you are deciding what to do, I'd also keep in mind (whatever you decide to do) that water is persistent - if you block one path, it will very readily move over and start seeping somewhere else. With dams, you want to do things as uniformly as possible, so pressure doesn't concentrate in any one area and cause it to fail.

2 years ago