Garden plans in Illinois

Like me, Sarah in Illinois is also planning and dreaming of her garden. She’s making her list and checking it twice–and then checking it a third time thanks to some help from the family. 

Like Julia, I am planning my garden this year. I wrote this post, and then when Julia mentioned taking a week off I thought that I might have a few things to add.

Well, it turns out I have lots to add.

I have received several plant and seed catalogs. I usually buy many of my plants at a local farm store, but I want to place an order for some of the things that are not found around here.

I made a small list and asked Steve if there was anything he wanted to add to it. My list included a few seeds that we always plant, and I added a few new things to try. Namely, blueberries, tomatillos, pepperoncini peppers and Black Krim tomatoes.

Steve couldn’t think of anything he wanted to add, so I set it aside and went out to clean the chicken coop. I came back in and Steve and his daughter had all of my catalogs out and were making a list. And I mean, they were making a LIST. Many items were new varieties of vegetables that we have grown before but there are new plans for the garden and surrounding yard this year.

We will be adding 2 cherry trees, 3 blueberry bushes and 4 grape vines. We also threw in 50 new strawberry plants and 2 holly trees for the yard. This wasn’t completely a shock to me since Steve and I have wanted to add a fruit arbor to our yard for a while. I just did not know that it was going to be this year.

At our house I am the planner, thinker and researcher. Steve is more likely to throw things together and see how it works out. It is a good combination for us. But that means I am frantically researching how, when and where to plant these trees and vines and bushes before they arrive and Steve is likely to just start digging when they show up. Hopefully, I will have a rough sketch of where we will put them soon.

Another way that Steve is helping to prepare for the garden is that he tuned up our tiller. He also fixed a couple things that have never worked for us on it. It is a hand-me-down piece of equipment and it has worked as-is, but it is nice that he has fixed a couple of the features on it. All we are waiting for is for the temperatures to rise a little and the garden to dry up a little.

Last weekend I planted some lettuce inside. I just felt I needed to start something growing around here. And in a short time I should have some lettuce to add to our salads!

My next post I will be updating how I did on my “one project a month” goal. I have made some progress as I mentioned. But I have also had setbacks.

I came home to this mess.

Blitz had knocked the little pot of brown paint (for my Grandma’s statue) off the workbench and all over him and the floor. Thankfully it was paint and not stain like I had originally thought. That would have been a nightmare to clean off of him and the floor.

Are you planning to plant anything new this year? Do you have any advice for growing any of the new items we ordered? Have you had any help from your pet on a project?

Way to go, Sarah. Your plans (and Steve’s) sound great. Perhaps we can share grape tips. I’m also curious to hear how your holly does. I love the idea of holly, but have been pretty much unsuccessful with two different plans at two different houses (including this one where I killed an established bush).

Project ADD

Sewing desk

Ahhh. A week’s vacation. What a treat.

Time with family, watching TV and a few movies, reading, writing, sleeping in.

In between all of this relaxing, though, I’m not sure what I accomplished last week. As you can probably guess, I begin most vacations with somewhat ambitious plans of things I’m going to do around the house. I’ve learned to manage my expectations and that I enjoy my vacations more if I don’t put pressure on myself to finish all the things.

However, I usually finish at least some of the things. Not so this time.

I feel like I’m coming out of this vacation with a whole bunch of half-started and un-started projects. Everything from a spring living room refresh, new pillows for the basement, a dress I’m sewing and of course the never-ending office makeover.

I’m usually pretty good about keeping myself focused on one particular project. So having a list of things that I want to happen all over the house is making me a bit twitchy.

But I’m also excited. Maybe spring is in the air.

Who am I? Where did this project ADD come from?

Some of these projects are dependent on each other. I needed to get the office set up again–or at least my sewing machine–so that I can sew the pillows and my dress. The new pillows in the basement will mean some of the other pillows move upstairs to be part of the living room refresh.

Another week off would be very helpful to get all of this done. But I’m happy with how last week went.

You may notice in the photo above that my slipper chair is almost upholstered. Just two pesky corners to go. And a morning at the local fabric district with my Mom means I have all of the supplies for my other various projects.

I’m looking forward to these spring projects.

Do you have any spring projects on your list? Do you like productive or relaxing vacations?

Vegetable garden plans

Garden in winter at sunrise

We are officially in the month of spring. That means spring break–and that’s just what I’m going to be doing next week. I’m going to be taking a bit of time to hang out at the farm and hang out with my family. It’s going to be a week off from the blog as well. I’ll be back after the break.

The month of spring also means that garden season is dawning–even here in Canada. The green in the photo above is the winter rye I planted back in the fall. I did not expect it to be this green at this time of year, but it’s a very encouraging way to start the year.

I already talked about my plan to add blackberries and some more grapes this year. The order went in to the nursery at the start of the week.

So now I’m thinking about the rest of the garden.

As a refresher, we have a roughly 2,500 square foot garden. It is round, so our strategy is to divide it into quadrants. Raised beds run around the perimeter.

After a lot of work over the last few years to finish the fence, build the raised beds, build trellises, run a waterlineconstruct and hang the gate–and clear the garden in the first place–I’m looking forward to being able to focus on plants and soil this year.

I have a few themes that are guiding my plans.

Space planning

Last year I said we were going to use the whole garden. But I lied.

We only used three quarters of it. And the third quarter was filled with watermelons and weeds that we let run wild, so that was pretty much a cheat.

Watermelon vines growing in the garden

I realized as the summer progressed, that all of our plants could have used a little more elbow room.

We have a huge garden. There’s absolutely no need to cram things in. So this year, the plan is to give our plants lots of space and use the whole garden.

The easiest way to do that is to designate specific quadrants for specific crops. Specifically, tomatoes and potatoes will each get their own quarters.

Garden plan 2017

Crop rotation

The tomato and potato placement leads to my other priority for this year, crop rotation. Different plants draw different nutrients from the soil. Rotation is important to ensure the soil has a chance to recover.

From what I’ve read, potatoes and tomatoes are not the best of friends–as in you shouldn’t plant tomatoes where you grew potatoes the year before (and vice versa). My plan is to plant them in opposite quadrants so that we can rotate them (literally) around the garden each year and have a gap year between when potatoes and tomatoes grow in the same spot. (Does that make sense?)

Harvesting red potatoes

I’ve moved plants around each year but not considered rotation in a thoughtful, strategic, multi-year way.

To make the rotation work, the potatoes will grow in the same spot this year that they were in last year.

A few other things are staying in same place, more out of laziness than any strategy. The squash trellis was a success last year, and I want to use it again. However, it’s a bit of a monster (16 feet long by about 7 feet tall and about six feet wide). The prospect of moving it is daunting. The best place for the sunflowers is the south side where the sun is the strongest. I don’t think one year of repeats for the squash and the sunflowers will be too tragic.

Sunflowers on the weathered wood fence

Weed control

Oh weeds. Between 2,500 square feet of soil and my day job, I do not believe it’s possible for me to keep up with weeding the garden. Or at least I’m not willing to put in the time required.

So plan B. Mulch. Deep, deep mulch.

Straw mulch in the vegetable garden

I think I should be able to buy (or receive) some old bales of straw from the farmer who does our fields. Old bales that are already on their way to compost would be perfect.

The mulch will (hopefully) not only keep down the weeds, but as it composts it will add nutrients back into the soil.

Plant choice

The big lesson you hear from a lot of gardeners is grow what you eat. If you ask Matt, he’ll say potatoes (the Kennebecs were awesome), peppers (I’d appreciate some red bell peppers and Matt’s particularly interested in jalapenos) and onions.

For me, the fun of gardening is still trying unusual and new things. That means probably planting a row of our purple potatoes again (we have some of our Russian Blues left that we should be able to use as seed potatoes). Trying some different tomatoes (probably not our giant Sicilian Saucers again). And experimenting with eggplant, broccoli or cauliflower for something completely new.

Sicilian Saucer tomatoes

Oh and less zucchini. Again. We downsized to only a half a dozen plants last year and that was still way too many.

I’m excited for warm weather, longer days and the return of the vegetable garden. Until that arrives, I’m excited for a little pre-season vacation. I’ll be back in a week.

Do you have any garden plans yet this year? Any tips for things to grow? How about rotation or weed control ideas?

Cool or creepy?

Bookshelves

One thing our home is lacking is bookends. I know. It’s tragic. You pity me, don’t you?

I will admit that as our bookshelves are filling up, there is less and less need for bookends. On many shelves, the books now go end to end, and I have a hard time squeezing in the decorative objets that I want to display.

However, I am still on the hunt for some bookends. So far, I’ve found them hard to find.

I’m only looking casually at thrift stores, so this hasn’t been the most active of hunts. I don’t want them to be super kitschy. I also want them to be cheap–hence, thrift store.

I came across this hand bookend last week. I immediately picked it up, but then I second guessed myself. Was it creepy?

Hand bookend

I bought it anyways.

Even if it is creepy, I think it works with Matt’s Stephen King collection.

Hand bookend

What’s your vote? Creepy? Or cool?

Second year for syrup

Tapping a maple tree

It’s maple syrup season again on the farm. Or we think it is.

This is only our second time tapping our trees, so we’re still pretty much guessing. Temperatures are supposed to be above freezing during the day this week and below at night. From what I’ve read and what we learned last year, that’s sap weather.

Last year, we were impressed by how easy it was and how much syrup we made. In fact, we still have syrup left. We just don’t eat enough pancakes at our house.

But we’re not letting that stop us. We enjoyed making syrup last year, so we’re going to do it again.

Like so much of what we do on the farm, this is an experiment, so we’re learning as we go.

Lesson #1: Make sure the drill battery is charged (and the back-up too) before you start tapping. Mr. Dewalt had to hang out for a little while until the bit could spin enough to get him unstuck.

Drill stuck in a tree

Matt has picked a couple of new trees. The only issue is they’re not the easiest to access. More incentive to clean up the brush and junk along the edge of the field.

Tapping maple trees

The other three buckets went on our most productive trees from last year. (Can you spot the puppy?)

Tapping maple trees

Now our fingers are crossed that the weather cooperates and the sap starts flowing.

Blog-iversary 5

When we moved to the farm five years ago, I’d been thinking about starting a blog for a little while. I liked the idea of chronicling our life at the farm and the process of renovating the house. I wasn’t sure how long I’d keep it going and whether I’d like being a blogger, but five years later, I’m still here.

This little blog is five years old. It feels pretty cool.

I love being able to look back through the archives and have a reminder of what’s happened over the past five years. This blog is always going to be personal for me.

But there’s obviously a public side as well. I love the connections that I’ve made with so many people and the opportunities that have come from the blog. Every year on my blog-iversary, I share some of the stats from the blog, which show some of these connections.

Over the last five years, the blog has had more than 273,600 views and 310 of you have signed up as official followers. I’ve published 782 posts–151 of them in the last year–and uploaded 2,991 pictures, graphics and videos.

Last year, 49,484 visitors dropped by the blog for 82,253 views. The average number of views per day were 222.

My blog is very small (and personal) and I don’t work very hard to promote it, but I’m proud of how it’s grown over the past five years.

Graph of blog views over five years

I’m always surprised by how visitors come to this blog from all over the world–155 different countries last year.

  1. United States — 53,539
  2. Canada — 15,204
  3. United Kingdom — 4,063
  4. Australia — 1,655
  5. Singapore — 1,071
  6. Germany — 831
  7. India — 464
  8. Ireland — 402
  9. South Africa — 380
  10. Switzerland — 362

Visitors to my blog by country

Five years into blogging, my most popular posts come from the archives. People are always looking for information about DIYing wood countertops and Ikea’s Strandmon armchair. Here are the most popular posts from the last year.

  1. Hardboard and six favourite projects
  2. Looking for sawzall suggestions
  3. Forsythia failure
  4. Vegetable garden dueling DIY challenge
  5. Harvest basket
  6. June garden update
  7. Painting with a smaller brush
  8. Our new summer project
  9. Garden Dueling DIY Week 1
  10. Close encounters of the turkey kind

I have to give credit to Sarah in Illinois for all of her posts over the past year. I’ve enjoyed reading about life on her farm.

I also enjoy connecting with all of you. Whether you leave a comment or read along quietly, I appreciate you following along on our country adventures. Thank you.

Five years ago, when I went to WordPress, claimed the Homeon129Acres name and pushed publish on my first post, I said, “This is the start of something.” Part of that something was going to be the farm, but for the blog I wasn’t exactly sure what that something might be. It’s been a cool journey and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next.

Making a compost enclosure

Like us here in Canada, Sarah has had some unusual warm winter weather in Illinois. She took advantage of the spring-like temperatures recently to do some building outdoors. Her compost enclosure is something I’ve considered for our farm, so I enjoy seeing how she tackled it.

Last weekend we had unseasonably warm temperatures. When the forecast said that we were supposed to hit 70F (21C–thanks for the Celsius translation, Sarah!) on Sunday I decided I had to do something outside. One of the projects that I wanted to work on was my compost pile. At that point, I literally had a pile.

Basically, I just threw my scraps and yard waste into a corner of the chicken’s pen. The chickens helped me by scratching and turning over the pile, but pretty much we just had a mess.

I have a pile of wood scraps in my barn so I had plenty of supplies to make something to corral my compost.

I started by taking a 2×4 and cutting it into four 42 inch pieces for the corners. I found some old scraps of wood siding to use as the slats. I cut the slats for the sides at 30 inches and the slats for the front and back at the 42 inches.

I first assembled the two sides. I laid them on the floor and used screws to attach the slats to the corner pieces.

I set both sides next to each other so that the spacing between the slats would be the same. (Blitz photobomb!)

Once I had the two sides done, I just had to connect them with slats for the front and back. I didn’t necessarily have to add slats to the front but it did help make the structure more stable.

Also, since I knew that the chickens would help me turn the compost over, having front slats also helps keep the compost inside.

Once I finished I was very happy with the outcome.

However, Steve pointed out something very important. Compost can get very hot when it is breaking down. The chances of my pile catching fire are very slim, but there is no need to risk anything, so I moved the pile away from the barn.

Now, all I have to do is add more scraps to the pile, turn it over occasionally and wait.

Compost is “black gold” for gardeners, so I am excited to turn food scraps and yard waste into a nutritious fertilizer for my plants.

This will be so helpful for your garden, Sarah. The enclosure seems like a good way to keep the pile tidy. Gardening season is coming soon!

Farm-iversary 5

This week marks five years since we’ve owned the farm.

Five years feels like a major milestone to me, even though we know this is our forever home. We’ve always looked at the farm as a long term commitment. And we knew the process of renovating the house and property would take awhile.

Sometimes, the “unfinished” parts of the house bug me a bit–I want a kitchen where the cabinets aren’t falling apart, a garage where I can park my car and walk right into the house, a bathroom that isn’t falling apart.

But I know those will come.

Mostly, I’m proud of what we’ve built here–what we’re building here–and how we’re doing it together. Over the past five years, we’ve accomplished a lot! We’ve put in a lot of work and money and time. With every project we’re making the farm our own and building the life that we want.

To mark five years, I’m looking back at some of the major projects we’ve completed:

The infrastructure

I don’t know what the exact title for this section should be. I think it’s clear that we bought a fixer-upper house. Before we got started on any of the more cosmetic renovations, we had to focus on the basic systems that run the house.

The basement

The basement was where our renovations started. One of the things that drew us to this house was its usable basement–many old farmhouses that we looked at had dirt cellars. But what initially appeared to be a nicely finished space turned out to be pretty much a disaster. So we gutted it back to the concrete and started fresh. It was still going to be usable. It was just going to take a little while–and an afternoon spent hauling a woodstove up the stairs by a rope attached to the back of my Dad’s truck.

We redid everything. We adjusted the floorplan slightly and then reframed, rewired, reinsulated, redrywalled, repainted, refloored, refurnished. Our first Christmas at the farm, the best gift was finally having carpet and a couch in the basement.

Matt and me after sanding drywall

Drywall was not the best of times either.

As I’ve mentioned, we still have a few finishing details that are hanging around, but I am so proud of the basement. The spaces that we created–new bathroom, laundry room, office, storage, family room, games area, reading nook and ping pong room–are so perfect for our family. And I feel like the way we organized the different spaces is the way the basement was meant to be.

Black and white shaker cabinets with chrome hardware in the laundry room

Main floor

The main floor has not seen quite the same level of transformation as the basement. Long term, it will be the focus of a major renovation. But in the meantime, we’re doing smaller fixes to make it ours.

Simple bright country mudroom

  • We painted the living room, built the wood-burning fireplace and added bookshelves. I have a plan to plank the ceiling in this room and dramatically improve the lighting someday.
  • The dining room is untouched except for our furniture.
  • The main bathroom is untouched except for a new toilet, exhaust fan and new/old light fixture.
  • The indoor pool room remains untouched except for removing solar blanket (why for an indoor pool?) and some garbage.

Fieldstone fireplace with barn beam mantel

Outside

I can’t think about the farm without thinking about the land. Our 129 acres with its forests, marshes, fields and trails is magical. We’re still figuring out how to take care of the property and how much we can handle.

We do not have a beautifully manicured farm–and honestly I’m not sure that’s the type of farm I want. However, there are enough weeds and brush and rocks and piles of junk that property clean up continues to be on our to-do list every year. We’re getting closer and closer to the maintenance point, rather than the clean-up point, I think.

  • We installed our low-tech security system, the gate, at the bottom of the driveway.
  • We planted trees along the driveway–talk about a long-term commitment. It’s a good thing this is our forever house, or else I would never see my vision of large branches arching over the driveway.
  • We are ever so slowly reclaiming the farm from the rocks, lumber, brush, trash and what have you that are strewn around. I cannot begin to think of how many loads of rocks we’ve hauled to the pile behind the barn.
  • The flower gardens we built around the front of the house are now fairly well-established. It’s been amazing to see them fill out every year.
  • Last year I feel like we finally crossed the line between having a vegetable patch and having a vegetable garden. I’m so excited to have this for the rest of our lives here at the farm.

Evolution of the turnaround flower garden

I think it’s clear that I love our life here. I love what we’re building together–from the home to the land to the gardens. It truly has become the best of times.

My Grandma’s vintage knitting patterns

I really hoped to have an office update for you today, but it was not to be. Soooooo many boxes. So much unpacking. So much fabric and wool. I’m making progress, but it’s a little overwhelming to figure out how best to organize it all.

However, one thing that is unpacked and organized is all of my grandmother’s knitting patterns. In my last update, I promised you a peak at some of these, so that’s what I’m giving you today.

This collection is so special to me. My grandmother taught me to knit as a child, but I didn’t really make anything wearable until I was a teenager. She talked me through my first mitts, sweater, lace, cables and gave me the confidence to tackle pretty much anything. Now, I’ve taught a few other people to knit and have even started a knitting group at work.

Inheriting her patterns means a lot to me, and I’m working to take good care of them. Some of the oldest patterns date to the 1930s, I think. On the tattered bottom left corner of this book is “Canada 1936.” I’m choosing to read this as a date.

Vintage knitting patterns from the 1930s

Her patterns span the years, ages and styles. Not all have stood the test of time, but I’m not getting rid of any of them.

Vintage knitting patterns

There’s lots of clothing (she knit for all of her 14 grandchildren and 16 great-grands–we have two more greats and one great-great now), and there are other things as well like afghans or these lace patterns.

Vintage lace knitting patterns

These Mary Maxim patterns are a particular treasure. Grandma knit the sheep and sailboat sweaters for my cousins, and then they were handed down to my sisters, brother and me. My Mom eventually passed them on to my cousin’s kids.

Mary Maxim is a Canadian company started in the 1950s. Their patterned jackets–often featuring Canadian wildlife–are some of their signature designs. Check out that beaver and maple leaf jacket. Doesn’t get more Canada than that.

Mary Maxim knitting patterns

These Mary Maxim mitts are another Grandma signature. In our family, we had the birds when we were growing up, and then when my sister was a teen she convinced my Grandma to knit her a pair of crocodiles.

Mary Maxim crocodile and bird mitts

I’ve knit these a bunch of times in all sizes, even including a tiny thumbless Crocodilly for my nephew #3 when he was very wee–and apparently freaked out by Auntie and her camera.

Knitted crocodile hat and mitts

The other highlight for me is this Beatrix Potter knitting book. I remember when my Grandmother got this as a Christmas gift. In fact, the card from my Aunt is still tucked inside the front cover.

Beatrix Potter knitting patterns

The patterns in this book are all interpretations of Beatrix Potter’s stories and characters. Some are vedy, vedy British and a bit dated. Benjamin Bunny tams anyone?

Benjamin Button knitting outfits

But the graphs and the characters are timeless. I think this Jeremy Fisher with his dangling legs is super cute.

Jeremy Fisher sweater

My sister is about to add another great-grandbaby to the family in a month of so. I’m enjoying going through the patterns and picking out something for my new niece–and giving her a memento of her Great-Grandma.

Vintage blue leaf dishes

Blue leaf serving dishes

I love pretty dishes and special serving pieces. I do my best to pull them out regularly and not leave them shut up in a cupboard.

This set of blue leaf dishes is particularly special to me. They came–kind of–from my grandmother.

Blue leaf serving dishes

I say kind of because only one piece–the one in the centre–actually belonged to my grandmother.

My grandmother entertained regularly, but I only remember seeing her use the blue dish once. It is made up of four leaf bowls, one round bowl and a pair of leaf salt and pepper shakers. They all fit together and sit on a lazy Susan.

Blue leaf serving dishes

Blue leaf serving dishes

Despite only seeing it once, it made an impression on me. I love the colour and the form of the leaves and the way it all joins together.

When I was in university I went to an auction and all of a sudden a familiar looking blue leaf dish was on the block. It was three leaves joined together with a little handle. I bought it (probably for less than $20) and excitedly showed it to my grandmother.

My Grandma was a very organized, very practical woman. When she died, items throughout her house were labelled with the names of who should inherit them. My name was on the blue dishes and their lazy Susan.

A few years later, I found another dish at a flea market. This one was a pair of leaves with a little handle. I hesitated, but eventually made my way back to the vendor and bought the dish (again for less than $20).

I’m so glad I did because I haven’t seen one since. There’s not a maker’s name on the underside, though they’re obviously all made by the same manufacturer. My grandmother’s set has her name on a fabric sticker on the bottom of each piece, a throwback to when she would take the dishes to church suppers.

Blue leaf serving dishes

I love that I’ve been able to amass a little set on my own. And I love putting them to use. They are perfect for Mexican night, when each dish is filled with its own ingredient. Set on the lazy Susan in the middle of the table, the big piece spins around so people can build their own tacos without having to constantly pass bowls around the table.

The double leaf dish holds fried onions and peppers, while the trio holds salsa, sour cream and guacamole (or as my MIL called it when we had them in to dinner, Guatemala. Sorry, Audrey. It was too funny not to share.)

Blue leaf serving dishes

Blue leaf serving dishes

We’re making our own memories with these dishes. Even though only one of them officially belonged to my Grandma, they all make me think of her and feel more good memories.

Who else loves dishware? Do you have any sets that you’ve collected over time? Or do you have any special pieces you’ve inherited?