Jess Dee

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since Mar 10, 2011
Prairie Canada zone 2/3
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Recent posts by Jess Dee

One thing to keep in mind, especially if you are buying a larger place, is that cleared land, left to its own devices, will often degrade to a state where it is not 'natural' but is also not really useful to humans.  My place had been cleared at some point (from forest), then left for a decade or so with nobody mowing most of it.  What I have now is a scrubby tangle of invasive introduced bushes that may provide some food and habitat for various species, but that are also extremely difficult to get rid of, pose a fire hazard, and basically mean that most of my potential space is actually unusable without investing a huge amount of backbreaking work and/or money to hire equipment in clearing it.  

The upshot of this:  if you are getting a large amount of land that has been cleared, you need a plan for how to manage the acreage you are not using right away, to make sure it remains in some sort of useful state for when you get around to it.  That might mean leasing it out for grazing, or getting a tractor and mowing it for hay, or something, but don't think you can just 'get to it' some years later without it changing a lot in the meantime.  

That said, I have ten acres, and wish I had at least 160.  In my climate, ten acres is not enough to manage livestock on without buying hay, even if it weren't mostly scrubby.  Land is pricey here, though, and we have a lot invested in this particular bit of land now, so we're probably stuck with what we've got.  
3 days ago
My family always used wheat for hot have to keep it really dry (no challenge here, as it is arid, but maybe more of an issue in humid climates).  It does have a smell when it is heated, but I find the smell pleasant and soothing, like baking bread.
4 days ago

Steve Thorn wrote:
Awesome list Jess!

I love how you listed varieties you have had success with, great info!

Thank you! I hope it is helpful to someone.  One of my own early frustrations was knowing that apples would grow well here, but not being easily able to find / figure out which ones would work for me.  My list is by no means exhaustive, but might help someone find a starting point.  I was surprised at how many things really do grow here, but, on the other side, it can be quite a challenging climate for fruit and nut trees.  It is -42 C here today.  I guess it will weed out the marginally hardy.
1 week ago
A few caveats for our place, but I'll share our experience - we don't provide 70% of our own food - not even close.  However, we do eat a lot that we have produced, and trade some of our produce and eggs for other things.  If I were guessing, I'd say we produce 100% of our late-summer and fall veggies, 50% of our veggies through the winter, almost none of our fruit (yet - the trees are still young), and 100% of our eggs.  We don't currently produce any of our own dairy or meat.   We also don't own a tractor, so things like lawnmowing, fencing, and snow removal take us a lot longer than if we'd had one.  

We moved here 8 years ago, with a couple of cats and a couple of dogs.  We've got 10 acres with a run-down house that was vacant and untended for quite a while (more than 5 years) before we bought it.  The house was solid, but needed some immediate repairs, and the yard and outbuildings were a mess.  There were no fences when we moved in, and the barn was not usable, so we converted a large granary into a barn of sorts.  

Our first year here, we grew a massive garden, and also got three more cats (for the barn), 50 chickens, two alpacas, and 4 goats, one of which was in milk at the time.  We grew over 500 lbs of potatoes, and similar amounts of carrots, beets, and squash, much of which we donated to the food bank, because we had no idea how to preserve it.  I also wore myself out trying to preserve a years' worth of tomato sauce while working around a full time job, learning how to milk goats, and dealing with the learning curve on chickens, alpacas, septic tanks, and cisterns.  In retrospect, I'm surprised we didn't give up and move back to town.  Oh, and I discovered I was pregnant shortly before chicken butchering day.  That sucked.  I still don't cope well with that wet feather smell.

So, that first year, while dealing with the learning curve on 1) chickens, 2) goats, 3) alpacas, 4) gardening, 5) orchard planting and management, 6) farm systems (septic tanks, water pumps, fencing, etc), 7) home renovations, 8) food preservation, and 9) local culture.  I'd say I was putting in about 60 hours/week (around a full time job and commute), and my husband was putting in 90+ hours/week.  I don't recommend it.  We ended up selling the goats and alpacas, and my husband has now instituted a rule that I am not allowed to introduce more than one new species per year, though he's a little more flexible on the flora than the fauna - I think I snuck in three new veggie species last year.  

Now, eight years in, having gotten past the learning curves on most of the big stuff, we probably put in about 20 minutes a day in winter (livestock and pet management, plus some planning), and maybe a couple-few hours a day during the growing season, much of which is in hand-watering new trees during dry spells, as well as putting up the summer produce (beans, raspberries, etc).  There is always the big planting push which takes all of our attention for a couple of weekends in the spring, and the big harvest push, which takes up a few weekends in the fall.  

We normally grow 600-700 onions, 200-300 (+) pounds of potatoes, 80-100 winter squashes, 40 pounds of carrots, about 30 pounds of beets, an unknown amount of green beans, but enough to feed 4 people a generous serving every day or every second day from when they start until the frost gets them, plus a bunch for the freezer, enough tomatoes for fresh eating for four people, zucchini out the wazoo (when we have enough for the freezer, we start feeding it to the chickens), 20 + pounds of parsnips, and various soft fruit (raspberries, strawberries, currants, etc).  There are also the miscellaneous things like asparagus, rhubarb, chard, sunflowers, and such that are nice during their season, but don't really produce a large amount of our diet.  We also get a lot of eggs, but there is a glut in the spring and summer, and few in the winter.   I make all of our own jelly and jam, mostly from foraged berries and crabapples.  We still buy a lot - all of our grains, dairy, and meat, most of our legumes, fruit, and some vegetables in the winter (particularly brassicas, as we struggle to grow these, and I love cabbage).  We also buy feed additives for the chickens, and food for the other pets (cats and dogs).

The upshot of this is that it is hard to predict how much time you will put in on any one thing, but I can say with some certainty that it will be at least three times as much as you expect for the first year or two you do something you haven't done before, and that each species of animal counts separately, as do the garden and orchard, as well as preserving.  If you haven't dealt with rural life before, add in more time for learning household systems (septic, for instance, or wells, or wood heat), as well as adjusting to rural life, where things can be very different from the city in many aspects, from how you shop (possibly infrequently, if you live far from town) to how you socialize.  Once you are over the initial learning curves for each thing, it really gets a lot easier, and the amount of time things take drops dramatically.  

If every person in your family is 100% on board, you'd still be better off to start with just the orchard, the chickens, and a garden that is about 1/10th as big as you think you want, at most.  Once you have those things down pat, think about adding in the larger livestock; it will save you a lot of heartache.  That is assuming you're not commuting very far to your job, and that any homeschooling takes up a small part of your day.  To be honest, with home renos, a job, and homeschooling, I would consider just planting the orchard and a very small garden for the first year.  

However, hindsight is 20/20, and if I had it to do all over again, there's a fair chance I would still bite off way more than I could chew.  It's hard to overcome the enthusiasm, and the sense that I want ALL OF THE THINGS, RIGHT NOW,  especially after a couple of decades of dreaming about moving to the country.

Good luck to you :)
1 week ago
I'm in north-central Saskatchewan, Canada, zone 3 on the edge of zone 2.

Fruit trees and berries I've had luck with, that have survived at least 3 winters without special care:

Chokecherries (they grow wild here)
Serviceberries (also grow wild here)
Pincherries (wild)
Highbush Cranberries (wild)
Hazelnuts (the Beaked Hazelnut grows wild here; there are also hardy hybrids)
Wild Roses (wild)

Apples, including Honeycrisp, Battleford, Norland, Frostbite / Minnesota 447, and Rescue (crab)

Pears, including Ure and Golden Spice (I have several other varieties, but they haven't made 3 winters yet)

Plums, including Pembina and Brookred (again, I have others, but they are pretty new).  Black knot is endemic in the local wild chokecherry population, and in some ornamental trees in the towns / cities, so some plums won't do well here, even if they can survive the actual winter.

Grapes (particularly Valiant; I am experimenting with others)

Haskap / Honeyberries

Sour Cherries (particularly Carmine Jewel and the other University of Saskatchewan sour cherries)


Strawberries (planted in the ground, not a raised bed, and with straw or snow cover; however, there are also wild strawberries here)

Red Currants

Black Currants


Mountain Ash

Rugosa Roses (particularly Hamsa)

I also have apricots, burr oaks, aronia / chokeberries, hawthorns, and butternuts, but they have only been through one winter.  I have been told black walnuts, hardy kiwi, chums, and shagbark hickory can do okay here, but have not planted any yet.

While they are not fruit, per se, rhubarb and asparagus do well here, as do hostas, nettles, and sunchokes.

I don't have any on my property, but blueberries grow well in acidic soil in areas in this zone.  My place does not have acidic enough soil for them to be happy.

1 week ago

William Bronson wrote:Jess,  if you are starting with water from the roof, maybe skip digging?
Aluminum down spout is pretty cheap, maybe run the water along the surface, through lengths of down spout to where it needs to go.
Very little digging, just enough to keep it going downhill.
Hide it with a raised path of dry stone, or run it  just below the surface and cover it in stepping stone.

That's an interesting idea.  I will look into that.  Thank you.
1 week ago

Tyler Ludens wrote:I haven't had much problem with wood chips floating away.  My kitchen garden paths are basically trenches first filled with wood and soil, and then covered with wood chips.  My entire garden has wood buried in it and it is improving every year in water holding capacity and soil quality.

I definitely want to incorporate more water holding capacity overall, but in this particular case, I need water moving capacity.  If the water is held where it comes from the downspouts, it is virtually useless, as I can't plant anything but lawn in that particular area, due to the needs of my water and septic systems.  I need to move that water to a different part of the yard, where it can then soak in and be useful to my pollenator and herbal gardens.  

I know there is a guy in Calgary using weeping tile to move water around an urban yard to where he wants it, and it looks like a very effective system.  I just wish I could accomplish something similar without the plastic.  
1 week ago

Tyler Ludens wrote:I would try seeing how the mulch-filled trenches work without the plastic tile.

Have you tried this?  What kind of mulch would work best?  The trenches will be extensive (probably 100+ feet in total), and dug entirely by hand, so it will basically be a one-shot deal.  
1 week ago
Hi, Folks.

One of my plans for the next couple of summers is to start converting a lawn area around the house to a diverse, mostly perennial, multi-species pollenator oasis and herb garden.  We capture rainwater from the roof in rain barrels, but they typically overflow in a normal rainstorm; I would like to do a better job of directing the overflow to useful places.  My original thought was to dig some trenches to direct the water where I wanted it, and bury weeping tile in those trenches (likely under wood chip mulch) to allow smaller amounts of water to be spread out over a larger portion of the area; however, those trenches, when covered in mulch, would be the main paths in the garden, and I am not certain the weeping tile would hold up to foot traffic.  In addition, I am not thrilled about adding plastic to our environment.

Has anyone tried any alternatives?  Suggestions?

1 week ago

Mick Fisch wrote:My daughter wants to buy a few thousand Romeo or Juliette cherry seeds.  Does anyone know a source?  

If you are talking about the University of Saskatchewan dwarf sour cherries, they are propagated by tissue culture.  I have at least one bush of each, but they are not yet bearing.  I could probably get my hands on a few hundred Carmine Jewel seeds (from the same line) by late summer / early fall, but I don't know if they come true from seed.  
2 weeks ago