Big City, Little Homestead

Living rural in the city is hip and urban – and you can, too.

Spring 2021: a long hiatus

Sorry about my long, long absence – I haven’t blogged in so long that the interface WordPress shows me is thoroughly unfamiliar, and between this novelty and overdue maintenance, I’m distractedly revising this post and taking forever to hit Publish.

In both 2019 and 2020 I had the intention to write a few posts… and I couldn’t bring myself to. I’d log in, do the routine maintenance, and, just like I’m experiencing now, a strong bout of snooziness overtakes me. And then the longer I fail to do something new and different here, the more I feel guilty. Not posting when-I-could-have is a lost opportunity to show thousands (at least several hundreds) of people the beneficial things I’d learned, or maybe the fun stuff I’d been up to that they might try.

The fact is, I’ve already set up my home with bird strike-proofing. I have a garden that grows food (or…not; last summer I got a grand total of 6 apple-sized tomatoes and maybe a pint basket of autumn-green, kitchen-ripened cherry tomatoes) and flowers and native plants. These may not be common, but they’re as quotidian to me as going through the motions of private daily life. So writing about them is not a constant inspiration, like they were when I was adopting new, green practices. They feel more like empty bragging: look what I have; hope you can do the same.

Since 2015 on this blog, I’ve been offering on a part-time, catch-as-catch-can basis to help people who’d like to convert their yards and driveways or apply window treatments to stop killing birds. However, the only inquiries I’ve received haven’t been relevant.* The blog has brought me no employment or other form of income. This isn’t to say that blogging’s been a waste of time; my original reason for blogging still stood: posting what I found interesting, testifying in support of the pro-bird, pro-environment research. But a sales vehicle it was not.

DIYs abound on the whys and hows to do the things I do, from mature organizations. The National Wildlife Federation, Canadian Wildlife Federation, American Bird Conservancy, the Xerces Society for insects and invertebrates, Flap Canada (Fatal Light Awareness Program), the National Audubon Society, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology all promote native plant gardening or bird strike prevention or both. You don’t need me to offer my take on it. I’m offering only what influence and social proof a blog can offer to the benefits of being this way as well as doing these things.

It’s also true that a lot of good work is done for free or on a goodwill basis, and yet still gets indirectly recorded in figures that add up to a social benefit and positive impact in the national GDP. One example I’ve seen from 80,000 Hours is that a charitable/non-profit/voluntary spend of $2 can end up having $50 of social benefit. So even if I haven’t received a monetary benefit here, and no one has engaged me to help them convert over to these (necessary!) green practices, I can reasonably hope I’ve contributed to an overall cultural change, and a mitigating, or positive, effect in the areas I’ve focused on.

Services still available…

If someone were to say “Hey, I want to do this, can you help me?” then I would, if you need me. Most of the efforts and adaptations here you can do by yourself, but depaving a driveway and putting in its replacement still requires planning, labour, and tools. And then we plant it, and you take it from there.

Personally, I’ve had no trouble at all, none, since I made my driveway green in 2015. I mow it a couple of times in the growing season. I enjoy admiring and using it. Come winter, I use maybe about 2 cups of salt and 4 cups of sand over the entire winter to keep my front walk from being slippery for the postman. A container of road salt lasts me for years (many years, actually). This saves the yard and the street and waterways some salinity pollution; mostly it saves me a lot of trouble and a little cost.

You can also do a lot of good by resisting the status-quo “expertise” pressure when the service people you hire for your landscaping try to keep doing what they’ve always done. (I still occasionally find a business card in my mailbox from some self-interested contractor who thinks my driveway would suit him best if it were paved.) Conventional landscaping is too often terrible; people trying to imitate it without the know-how then overdo it (and mow or chop down everything in their way). You have ready access to all the knowledge you need to make your world verdant. You are the protector of your property and all the things that can live on it and make it enjoyable. You’re the instigator of positive change in your neighbourhood.

…while I’m doing other things (2021 and beyond)

In 2020, everyone had to shut down activities in the face of uncertainty about human interaction. Now, it’s true: blogs are kinda passive; they don’t require much human interaction. But even with the niggling intention to do something for the blog, I just needed, wanted, couldn’t help but, redirect my attention to things where, having put them away while pursuing other work, I was finally allowed to catch up.

And thank God we all were forced to stop busy-work, stop socializing, and stop “networking” last year. (I put in scare quotes are because most networking is just logging the existence of other people you encounter in a personal raising-awareness campaign.) Never mind that it finally enabled our latent and long-desired-but-not-permitted ability to Work From Home and travel less (and therefore reduce congestion, pollution, and unnecessary energy use). It made me realize how much our every day, enforced sociability and FOMO was literally killing time, preventing reflection, and obscuring focus. Turning my back on public and equivalent digital life did me a world of good.

For right now, I can only promise to continue keeping the blog up for your perusal and research, and if I find something new or interesting to show, I’ll post it here or on my social media channels.

And one more thing before I go:

Renting it all out

All along, I’ve been an AirBnB host, renting out the homestead for a month in the summer to afford traveling somewhere else (since 2016: Oregon and California, England and France, and Boston). At other times, I’ve rented out a room (or two) on a short to mid-term basis. I’m now ready and willing to rent my home out for six full months of the year, preferably in 2-to-4 month periods in the spring, summer, and autumn, with a one-month intermission or house swap possible for an escape during the winter (I love winter and plan on being here from October to March, but with a planned getaway).

This may or may not be with the resident rabbits – lots to discuss – but it comes with the garden and the fish in the pond out back.

So, if ever you’re looking for a home-away-from-home during the warm half of the year, consider here a possibility. I love hosting people and I’m also itching to travel, both in Canada and, when international bans are lifted, worldwide. Having someone else enjoy the garden and the resident or local wild beasts would make me very happy. And you, too.

Now that I’ve shared all this, I feel all warm and fuzzy inside. And maybe I’ll take a short nap.

* All inquiries I’ve gotten on the blog have been from other content producers and associated business services.

More about that: bloggers and businesses that create or aggregate home-based blog content often write to seek a content boost, where they offer a social media post on my behalf in exchange for backlinks that would boost their page legitimacy in the SEO rankings. You can’t blame them for reaching out – helping other bloggers succeed is part of the game of building an online platform! However, participating in an unequal exchange such as this is kinda like paying $12 a month for a Yellow Pages subscription (which I did in 2016) in hope of having customers find your services, only to get phone calls from web development businesses who want to build you a website –  which you already have.

The moral of the story: The money to be made in the online content industry is the same as in the old-time gold rush: selling tools to prospectors. So blog if you love it. Invest some money in it, in order to save yourself time and expand the possibility of a bigger audience. Blog for business if you have a strong content plan and a team to help you. But if you have a business: focus on the business, and let the blog fit itself into that.

jane Sorensen

Milkweed seed offer, to plant before the ground’s too frozen

Oh, hai, long-forgotten blog, and my patient or happenstantial blog reader!

I have not died. While I may have disappeared, I haven’t gotten sick and/or completely wasted away. I simply took a solid year off, using COVID as a flimsy excuse while the rest of the world rediscovered the joys of gardening and baking bread. These were things that I was already doing, sometimes well, sometimes badly. Unfortunately for me this year, I couldn’t muster up the enthusiasm to blog about them. I was enthusiastically doing other very quiet things this year.

I can always talk about them in the coming year, and as a matter of fact, I do expect next year to go better in the garden. Two weeks ago, I had the city prune the locust tree that was casting too much shade to produce the bumper crop of tomatoes I’d hoped for. The tree will grow taller, and its twinned apple tree may also fill out and add shade in future years, but the opening up will let more sunlight hit the ground.

I also thinned more than half the violets from my prolific patch in the front yard and weeded out all but one or two clumps of the equally-prolific feverfew. Along the fence where the vegetables go, I added more mini-bulbs from the previous year’s tulip harvesting; these will not produce flowers for a few years, but each year that produces a leaf will strengthen the bulb for eventual flowering. Unless the squirrels get to them first.

A very satisfied squirrel, who wasn’t fazed one bit by my chasing him/her up the tree, tulip bulb in mouth.

Next year I may prune back the box hedge even further, but this year it was a source of great pleasure (and some nutrition) for my rabbits, who hid between the fence and the bushes and pruned them from the base to as high as Parker could reach, standing on his hind legs (he’s my main garden assistant). New bunny Willa, found in the park across the street on August 23rd, also taught the boys to resume their lawn-mowing duties.

New founding rabbit Willa
New rabbit Willa, the week after I found her, getting her used to the idea of outside-at-home. Soon after this, I let her out with my boys and she reinterested them in grazing.
Inspiring cooperation at the one job I give them

After having moved around a few more plants that I hope took root this autumn, I’m thinking of transplanting the milkweed to the back yard – rather: seeding it, and once it’s taken, remove all except the best-placed two to three from my front yard.

Which brings me to today’s offer

…which I posted on Facebook and Instagram and didn’t think to mention here until after Indian Summer was over:

As the caption says, there’s still some time to plant milkweed, because the seeds need to freeze to germinate. So long as you can scratch it into the soil and then add some compost, you can plant it.

I bought a lot of these milkweed packets as a gift for people subscribing to my mailing list. I still have about sixty packs to sell and donate. You can buy-1-donate-1 where I will donate a pack to an organization or establishment for every one sold, or buy-1-gift-1 to give to someone you know who will plant them. 1 pack for $2 or 3 packs for $5, postage included. Click the link to PayPal me, and include your address and which option you choose: Donate or Gift.

If you receive the seeds too late this autumn, you can keep them in the fridge (which is where I’ve been storing them) and plant them early next spring.

There. Blogging drought ended. I have a few more projects to tell you about soon. And if you have any questions or comments, I’d like to hear from you as well!

DIY: easy Acopian Bird Savers for apartment dwellers and 2nd floor windows

Acopian Bird Savers are a relatively inconspicuous (visible, but not unsightly) way to prevent bird crashes, guaranteed. They’re a light curtain of strings that wave in the wind, in front of your windows – so birds don’t mistake them for trees or sky.

They have a Build-Your-Own tutorial on their website; if you need a more custom solution or just want the materials done right from the get-go, you can order it from them online.

It’s fairly easy apply decals and UV liquid (remember, only useful for some bird species, not all!) by leaning outside and doing it, but the real fix — Feather Friendly — requires access and time to apply it properly. Feather Friendly is probably the most effective solution out there, and it’s meant to last. It’s easy to apply when you live on the ground floor, but not so easy at higher floors. But higher floors still need effective protection.

That means many apartment dwellers and homeowners who don’t have access to an extension ladder might find it troublesome to prevent birds from crashing into windows. (And because they don’t notice the crashes, they doubt they occur.)

I wrote this to help people who either have casement windows or modern sash-hung windows where you can tip the window inward in order to clean it. You need to be able to access the top of the frame of the window on the outside. Also, this DIY fix is affordable, and as it’s not a permanent alteration to the dwelling, you don’t need your landlord’s permission to use them.

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It’s summer – get your tulips 🌷🌷🌷 ready for replanting!

This quick tutorial on getting your tulips ready for next season is something I first posted on BCLH’s Instagram account. Please follow me there!

Did you know it helps your tulips if you dig them up in spring and replant them in the fall?

Preparing tulips for a beautiful garden begins when this year’s flowers have withered and you have the seedpods left on the stems. Deadhead them! Chop off the seedpods unless you’re cultivating for seeds, in which case you probably know what you’re doing (or else: do your research). Deadheading puts the plant’s energy back towards the bulb. For other flowers, it puts energy towards more flower production.

A deadheaded pink tulip

Leave the tulips for another week or so, and then dig them up (carefully). Keep them sorted by colour if at all possible! You’ll find that the bulbs have likely multiplied into smaller ones. (Dig deep, and carefully).

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