We have a lot more progress to show at the end of June 2019.
The soil remained our biggest hurdle to progress. Firstly, we needed to reinforce the driveway to allow the heavy concrete trucks to access the building site. Secondly, we needed to find a good solution for backfilling the foundation as our geotechnical engineer indicated that reusing the original clay soil would likely cause problems down the road. Some thirty trucks of gravel later we were back in business. Unfortunately this all took time.
June 11 marked the first day of work on building the steel structure. Since then, things have been going at great speed. The photo above was taken on June 19 and shows a good deal of the steel framing completed in just one week. As of today, the steel structure is complete.
The next major step is to install the structural insulation panels (SIP’s) on the roof and exterior walls.
On-site work on our new house started on January 25, 2019. It has been quite a process getting to this point, but we’re happy to see things moving. A big shout-out to our builders, Garrison Creek Construction, who have been moving things forward despite the challenges on winter in southwestern Ontario.
The biggest challenge at the start of the build was the weather. Our area got wrapped up in the Polar Vortex that hit in late January, meaning the crew were clearing the ground and excavating in -20 degree C weather. Then things warmed up and all the ice and snow turned into water, flooding the excavation. Water management became the focus for several weeks.
Once the water was under control, the forms for the footings were placed and a ground heater brought in to remove any remaining frost from around the footings.
Finally, concrete for the footings were poured on March 25.
With the footings poured and set, the next step is the foundation. Garrison Creek will be using insulated concrete forms which make for reduced energy losses out through the foundation.
2018 represented our first full year of gardening at White Tree Farm. Robin did most of the work on it, from planning to seeding to harvesting. All in all, it was a good first year.
As you probably could determine from the lead photograph, pumpkins and squash did very well this year. We gave a lot away and still had lots for soup and pie. All the varieties we planted did well.
Hot chili peppers did well.
Zucchinis matched our consumption and we were able to dry quite a bit for use over the winter.
Robin planted a lot of tomatoes and the results were mixed. The smaller varieties did well while the larger ones suffered a number of setbacks.
We planted too many cucumbers for the rate at which we eat or preserve them.
We should have planted more beans; the ones we harvested were good; we just eat more than we harvested.
Green peppers and watermelons did OK, but not great.
Things often seem to take longer than expected; house construction could easily be the poster child for this phenomena. It looked like things were going to get going in October, but here it is December and only now do we really feel things are moving.
Our major blocker was the need to have our septic plans completed before the house building permit would be issued. In hindsight, this makes a good deal of sense given the challenging soil makeup on which White Tree Farm is located. Test pits were dug (three of them!) and a full engineering design written up. This took a good part of November.
But the last week has been a flurry of activity. We met with the main systems designer from Garrison Creek and discussed heating, ventilation, electrical, plumbing and computer systems. Garrison Creek’s project manager was out at the property with the surveyor and laid out the basic footprint for digging the house foundations And today we picked up the approved building and sewage permits from the township.
Robin and I have put the extra time to good use. We’ve been focusing on the great room design and spent a weekend mocking up the new kitchen. This caused us to reconsider the design of the kitchen which created some nice benefits for the rest of the great room. We also had satellite Internet set up so we are now connected there as well.
It has taken almost a year and a half but we are finally moving forward on the construction of our home at White Tree Farm.
As we outlined in this post, we decided to engage BONE Structure as both the designer and the supplier of the main structural aspects of the home.
Over the years, Robin and I had collected quite a bit of information on what we wanted in the house design, so it took us some time to go through it all and make a final list of givens and druthers:
- A durable, low maintenance, low energy usage house
- Interesting architecturally but should echo the style of Ontario farm buildings
- Living/dining/kitchen on second floor; living /dining should face south towards Lake Erie
- Living/dining/kitchen in a great room arrangement
- Stairs to second floor close to kitchen and garage
- Mudroom near main family entrance and garage
- Five bedrooms in total
- Small bedrooms, each with an en-suite (sink, toilet and shower)
- First master bedroom for owners in one wing
- Second master bedroom for owner’s children in the second wing
- Smaller bedroom for grandchild adjacent to second master bedroom
- Shared bathroom
- Two additional bedrooms for guests and potentially one for elderly parent
- Two small offices
- One-car garage
- Separate formal entrance
- A covered porch area with views to the lake
- Fireplace in living room
- Library/game/music room
- Play room for grandchild
- Elevator to allow barrier-free access to second floor
We also spent quite a bit of time on the BONE Structure website looking at their designs and completed projects. One particular design we liked was the New Classic 32, which tied two traditionally shaped houses together via a connecting cube.
Once we had the contracts signed, we met several times with the designers, both face-to-face and via video-conference. BONE’s lead designer for our project, Ioana, hit the first concept design out of the park: Robin and I had only a few minor comments and clarifications. We’ve tweaked a few things in the meantime, but the drawing above remains very true to the first concept.
Because of the specialized nature of the BONE Structure construction, we decided to go with a builder who has had experience with them, Garrison Creek. Garrison built the BONE Structure house we visited in May 2017 and they agreed to take on our project. We’ve met with them on two occasions on site and are very pleased with the enthusiasm they all have for the project.
Can it really be the 2018 Easter weekend already?
Robin and I have been out at White Tree Farm quite a bit over the past month or so. What have we found? Winter 2017-2018 was a tough one and has impacted White Tree Farm in a couple of significant ways.
Firstly, we’ve experienced a good deal of erosion of the bluff at the south end of the property. We noticed in the summer of 2017 that a piece of land about 10 feet by 60 feet had sloughed down about 6 inches in the middle of the bluff. Returning in March, we found this entire patch of land had fallen away. This was probably a result of the heavy snowfall we experienced in December and January, along with a long hard cold snap and the subsequent warm-up. This by far was the most erosion loss we have seen since we bought the property.
Secondly, we lost a number of old trees at the corners of the properties. Many have been uprooted; others split by heavy winds. We definitely have some clean-up to do.
Finally, we walked a great deal of the area that we had 5000 trees planted in spring 2016. While the softwoods (pines, cedars, spruces, etc) appear to be doing well, we initially feared that the hardwoods we planted did not make out as well. But a couple of weekends later, Robin and I made a second, more careful, walk of the area and discovered many more hardwoods taking hold. We marked these young trees with surveyor’s flags so we can monitor their progress better.
We are also preparing for our first year of gardening. Robin has been growing seeds that will later be transplanted into the new beds at the farm. I installed two rainwater harvesters in the downspouts of the workshop. Collecting water for the gardening will be important for later on the year.
I’ve also got a new way of documenting the farm: a DJI Mavic Pro Platinum drone. I want to use for a number of things, the most important is tracking the changes in the bluff at the south end of the property. But the drone also gives the opportunity to take photographs like the one above, showing the namesake birch tree facing north across the fields of out neighborhood’s farm.
It is hard to believe that it is the end of August already; the summer of 2017 has flown past. There has been a lot of activity at White Tree Farm since the beginning of May. It is only now that we’ve had a chance to sit down and document it.
To start, we’ve moved back to Canada after 14 years as expatriates (five years in Houston, Texas and nine years in Amsterdam, the Netherlands). After spending a month transitioning in Calgary, we’ve moved full-time into our place in Port Stanley, putting us a mere 15-minute drive from White Tree Farm. So, since then, Robin and I have been spending most days at the farm.
To date, we have:
- Bought a tractor with a box blade, a rotary cutter and a front-end loader attachment.
- Built a heavy-duty 4’x8′ workbench for the workshop.
- Performed a lot of maintenance on the driveway, filling in low spots and leveling it along its length.
- Trimmed a number of trees on the property to improve access to roads and walking paths.
- Cleared the weeds out of the main areas around the workshop: the future gardens to the east and south as well as the land north. The weeds got out of hand in June and needed several hours to get them back in order.
- Built a hugelkultur raised garden bed with all of the tree branches, hay and other organic material we’ve been collecting.
- Installed a 6′ to 8′ gravel walkway around the perimeter of the workshop. We hope this will keep the weeds down in the future years.
- Built a new sign for the entrance to the farm.
- Rotary-cut a number of the fields that we plan on converting to gardens in 2018.
We still have a number of projects to finish this year. We purchased a 8′ x 16′ greenhouse kit which we will build just south of the workshop. This will help Robin to start getting ready for planting in 2018.
All in all, both Robin and I are very happy with the progress we’ve made during the summer of 2017.