Garage landscaping update

A year ago the south side of the house looked like this.

Now, it looks like this. Not a huge improvement. But we do have doors, lights and a place to sit.

Last year, the garage and mudroom was our big renovation. As I mentioned in my Home Goals post at the start of this year, landscaping around the garage was to be this year’s big project. However, it is not going to happen.

I have had absolutely no luck finding a landscaper. Four different companies came to look at the project. Two companies were not a fit. They do much bigger jobs and their view was much more extravagant than mine. Two other companies took measurements, promised designs and then I never heard from them again.

The upside of all of these meetings is that I have refined my vision of what I want for the side of the house. I want no pergola, no wall, no gable over the mudroom entrance, no built-in seating (thank you companies #1 and #2). I want a natural stone patio from the mudroom door to the edge of the stone wall. The patio will be one step up from the driveway. I want big stone steps leading up to the patio door. I want a simple asphalt driveway.

Initially, I wasn’t sure what I wanted for this spot. I put the benches and coffee table in place as a test to see if we’d use them, and we have (and yes, they’re currently crowding the patio door). We sit here all the time for snacks and even lunch. This side of the house gets lots of sun and is a nice warm (sometimes hot) place to sit. A proper patio with a bit of furniture would be ideal for us.

The size of the patio should give us a comfortable area to go in and out of the house without landing right on the driveway. It should also give us just enough space to squeeze in a comfy lounge seat along with a small dining table. We don’t currently have another place for eating outside.

I’m hoping that knowing what I’m looking for will help me to manage expectations for the next companies that I consult. And I’m hoping that one of them will be willing to take on the project for 2023.

In the meantime, I have resigned myself to plowing a gravel driveway for another winter and made a few upgrades to tide us over.

To fulfill a bit of my wish for natural stone, I added a (relatively) flat rock outside the mudroom to the make the step a little more manageable. I dragged an old mounting block from the barn to the patio door, so that we can actually come out that way if we want to.

Ellie and I also spread the topsoil that Matt’s Dad got for me all around the garage and seeded. Getting the pile of dirt off the driveway felt like progress.

Not as much progress as I was hoping for but some.

What’s your big project for the year at your house? Have you had to put any projects on hold this year? Who else is working on landscaping (big of small)?

Gonna make this garden grow

Inch by inch. Row by row.
Gonna make this garden grow.

Garden Song Written by David Mallet. Sung by Raffi.

Row by row is the best way to characterize the vegetable garden right now.

I had ambitions to make May garden month. As in get the vegetable garden in shape. Be ready to go by the start of June as soon as the risk of frost had passed.

That didn’t happen.

But my ambitions and Ellie’s enthusiasm for the garden have not diminished.

June (or the second half of June) is now garden month. We’re planting and weeding and mulching and building as we go. It’s not my preferred thoughtful, methodical approach. But inch by inch, we’re making progress.

Pullin’ weeds and picking stones, we are made of dreams and bones

My aim is to do a no-dig garden with mulched pathways between the wide rows. This has been my goal for years now, but maybe this year we get a little closer.

We have a mountain of woodchips piled outside the gate of the garden, thanks to a local tree company. We have piles of cardboard in the driveshed that I’ve been collecting since last year. We also have the mower, which has been my weapon against the grass and weeds that clog much of the garden.

I’m keeping my focus small. One quadrant. We have sowed cucumbers, carrots, zucchini and peas. If the plants get established and we’re on top of the weeds, perhaps the raspberries, asparagus or grapes may get some attention.

Plant your rows straight and long, season them with prayer and song
Mother earth will make you strong, if you give her love and care

Just like my current soundtrack, the vegetable garden is determined by Ellie. She is very excited for the garden this year. Her excitement doesn’t involve prep like weeding or laying out beautiful raised rows, but she does make it fun.

Inch by inch. Row by row.
Gonna make this garden grow

How is your garden growing?

How we’re helping to save endangered bats

On Friday night I had my first bonfire of the season. They’ve become a Friday night tradition since COVID. A way to visit with my friends safely and stay connected. They’re also a chance to watch the bats that fly around the farm.

This week, we have a new addition at the farm to help us keep an eye–or in this case an ear–on the bats. An Anabat Swift acoustic monitor.

What is that you ask?

It’s a recorder that monitors bats.

I signed up for a community science project with the Native Bat Conservation Program at the Toronto Zoo.

For the next few nights, the monitor will be recording the calls of the bats flying around the farm.

Bats are very important ecologically. They pollinate plants, disperse seeds and help control pests like mosquitoes. They are key to a healthy ecosystem. But bat populations have declined dramatically over the last several years. There are 8 species of bats in Ontario and 4 of them are endangered.

Bats are hard animals to study, so scientists are sometimes limited in how much information they have on bats in a particular area. Bats are nocturnal, their roosts can be hard to find, they can be challenging to handle, and their behaviour varies by species and season.

Acoustic monitoring is a way to track and analyse bats.

Throughout the summer, volunteers like us are installing the monitors all over Ontario. The monitor records the bats for 4-5 nights, and then we pass it on to the next volunteer.

The team at the Zoo will analyse the recordings and determine what bats are found in a particular area (each species has its own specific call). Over the fall and winter, they will manually identify all of the calls one by one–thousands and thousands of calls.

The recordings will help the Native Bat Conservation Program to assess what species are found where, what time bats are active, and identify any sites where there are species at risk. The information will be contributed to the North American bat database and help to inform conservation efforts.

We will also receive a personalized report of what species and how many calls were heard at the farm.

I love seeing bats flying around at dusk, and I’m excited to learn more about the bats in our area and how we can help them.

Do you see bats where you live? Have you every participated in a community science project? Are you keeping an eye on any endangered species? Have you had a summer bonfire yet?

Odds & sods

I took an unexpected blogging break this month. Between spring on the farm, work projects and a little getaway, a lot of things were taking my attention.

I am still here.

One of the books I read this month was What Comes From Spirit by Richard Wagamese. This quote spoke to me:

“The Creator meant for me to write. Not to think about it, not to plan for it, not to wait for inspiration, but to write to honour the gift I was given. So I come here every day and I write something.”

Even though I haven’t been writing here on the blog, I have been writing.

It is nice to be back here, sharing my thoughts and some of what we’ve been up to.

The highlight of the month was a getaway with Matt’s family to Manitoulin Island. If you’re looking for a peaceful, private spot surrounded by nature, I highly recommend Rainbow Lodge. Fun fact: it had a previous life in a CBC show.

This chocolate cake was yummy, despite its weird ingredient list.

This book was heart-warming and fairly light. I had to hide it so I could actually do some work, or else I would have read it all at once.

The number of farms in Canada decreased 2% in the last five years. The new Census of Agriculture has lots of data about farming. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture breaks down some of the numbers.

It was lovely to have our little holiday away. However, there is no place like home.

“Long after the final i-gadget has been discovered, we’ll still yearn for hugs, kisses, and personal conversations. When we’ve traveled to the last exotic place and finished participating in the last recreational or entertainment venue on our list, we will want a haven and we will call it home.”

Folks, This Ain’t Normal by Joel Salatin

This week I’m hoping to take some time to catch up on projects around the farm and with some family and friends. It’s also election week in Ontario, so I will be voting. If you live in Ontario, I hope you will too. I’m considering winding up the week with our first bonfire of the year–a big part of my summers for the last two years.

How was May for you? What’s keeping you busy these days? Have you read any good books? What’s the weirdest dessert you’ve ever made? What are you focusing on this week?

Eight years of solar panels

One of the most significant environmental steps we took when we moved to the farm was adding solar panels to the barn. Last week marked eight years since the solar panels started to feed their power back into the grid.

Solar panels on the barn roof

Here is this year’s solar report.

If you need to get caught up, here are all of the previous updates and other details:

This year the panels generated $4,196.79. (We’re hooked into the grid, and the province pays us $0.396 per kWh). This is a lower total than previous years. The decrease is due to an accounting change, not a panel change. Our previous payments had included HST (a tax that we then remitted to the government). I cancelled our HST number for the solar panels, as it was below the threshold that required us to file, and it seemed simpler to not have to deal with it.

We still came out ahead in terms of what we spent on electricity, as we do every year. This year, we spent a total of $2,713.70, which translates to $1,483.09 in profit.

In my original estimates, I had predicted that year 8 would be the year that we paid off the panels. We may get there. We’ve earned almost 90% of what it cost to install the panels–just $4,366.60 left. (To be clear, we paid for the panels in full 8 years ago.)

I’m proud that we made the decision to install the panels. While my analysis is all financial, the environmental angle is extremely important to me. I would love someday to be truly off-grid and self-sufficient. Panel and battery technology have come a long way in the past 8 years, and I feel like that will give us the opportunity to do more in the future.

Does anyone else track their utility bills and compare each year? How are you “going green” at your house?

My Mother’s Day present to myself (plus a tool wishlist)

When it comes to gifts, I like to tell people what I want. For the past few years, I’ve taken it a step further when it comes to Mother’s Day, and I’ve bought myself a present.

The first time I did it, I bought Bluetooth earmuffs. They felt like a bit of a nice-to-have, but I knew I’d enjoy listening to podcasts when I was driving the tractor. The “nice-to-have” factor is hard for me. I try to be pretty practical and frugal most of the time. (I did buy used ones, so I felt better about having a bit of a discount.)

This year I bought a new-to-me cordless reciprocating saw (secondhand on kijiji). This has been on my wishlist for a while. We have so much scrub and brush around the farm. I thought a reciprocating saw was my best bet for pruning and trimming. It can get down in the dirt easier than a chainsaw (and is much lighter), so that I can mow right over the stump. Plus, not being limited by an extension cord was key. The pond shore needed more clean-up, and I was not stringing extension cords together until I could reach.

Note that I said “needed” more clean-up. The saw has been put to work, and I am loving it. I have cleared the pond shore, the septic bed (and then Matt’s Dad came and helped with a few bigger trees), one side of the pond trail and along the treeline at the edge of the front field.

The piles of brush are enormous, which leads to the next thing on my tool wishlist: a wood chipper. (For now I’m borrowing our farmer’s.)

Also on the list, a box trailer (so I don’t have to borrow Matt’s Dad’s) and a battery powered nailer (I am converted to battery tools).

Working around the farm makes me happy. Having the tools to do it is like a gift that keeps on giving.

Do you buy presents for yourself? How to you justify nice-to-have versus need-to-have? What’s on your tool wishlist?

Odds & sods

Doesn’t this photo illustrate what we need more of in the world? More nature, more compassion, more gentleness, more help. More children learning to be compassionate, gentle and helpful to nature.

As April comes to an end, I am hanging onto Earth Day. This month’s round-up is made up of things that have taught me, inspired me and helped me to think about the Earth and my place in it. I hope that some of them help you to do the same.

April’s links:

Pastoral Song by James Rebanks was a major focus of my last blog post, but I have to share it again and encourage you to read it for yourself.

May we raise children who love the unloved things

A creative sewing up cycle

Books are one of the ways I’m trying to help Ellie understand the world. Here are a few about climate change, environmentalism and the Earth that we’ve liked: We Are Water Protectors, I Am The Storm, A Rock Is Lively (this whole series is a great way to introduce science to little kids).

How did you mark Earth Day?

Listening to the land

In the future when I talk to Ellie about feeling the onset of climate change, I think I will start with the winds. The winds are so strong and fierce. More than anything I remember from when I was growing up. I feel like the winds are harbingers of more harshness to come.

I am not optimistic about climate change. I feel like we have passed the point of no return. I don’t see people changing their habits. I don’t see any desire to change our habits. I think that Ellie is going to face many struggles.

Last week I read Pastoral Song by James Rebanks. I read it in a couple of days, set it down for a day, and then picked it up to read it again. This time with a pencil and notepad beside me.

So much of what he wrote connected with me. But this passage hit hard, and I want to share it as I look ahead to Earth Day this week.

What will our descendants say of us, years from now? How will we be judged? Will they stand in the dust of a scorched and hostile world, surrounded by the ruins of all that exists today, and think that we, who could have saved the earth, were thoughtless vandals, too selfish or too stupid to turn back?

Will the future know us as the generation that pushed everything too far, on whose watch the world began to fall apart, who had so little courage and wisdom that we turned away from our responsibilities?

Or will our descendants lie in the cool green light of the oak trees we planted and be proud of us, the generation that pulled things back from the abyss, the generation that was brave enough to face up to our own flaws, big enough to overlook our differences and work together, and wise enough to see that life was about more than shop-bought things, a generation that rose above itself to build a better and more just world?

This is our choice.

I’ve been reading a lot recently. Thinking about farming and food and our world. Trying to learn about our land and figure out what is best for it.

A consolation for me when I think about Ellie’s future and climate change is this farm. She will be able to grow her own food if she needs to. The farm will hopefully be a safe place if she needs one. We will protect this small section of the world as best we can.

I often think of the farm as a refuge from the rest of the world, but Pastoral Song reminded me that we are part of the world, especially ecologically. Climate change doesn’t stop at the farm’s border. What happens in the fields across the road affects us, as does what happens in the Arctic, the Amazon and the English fells.

I am learning. I am trying to change. I am trying to do my best on this piece of earth that I am responsible for–and realizing I have a responsibility to the rest of the earth as well. I am trying not to despair.

The winds roared through the farm on Friday. Their sound fills my ears and blocks out everything else. I can’t hear Ellie. I can’t hear my thoughts. All I feel are the winds. They consume me.

Then, on Saturday morning, the air calmed. Ellie and I walked down the driveway to open the gate–the gate that connects us to the rest of the world. We heard a crow call as it flew over and Ellie cawed back. The sun beamed into the pines, beckoning the bloodroot that is rising from the forest floor. We stepped carefully as we discovered worms crawling all along the lane.

Nature was waking and our girl was listening. I’m trying to hear too.

How much of your furniture is new?

Recently, I did a mental inventory of our house. I counted 6 pieces of furniture that we bought new. All of the rest are hand-me-downs, handmade or thrifted.

The basement reading nook shows our mix: Strandmon wing chair (new, though it was a birthday gift), ottoman (made by me), stump table (made by Matt’s Dad and me), monkey art (hand-me-down from Matt’s Grandpa).

Reading nook with Ikea Strandmon wing chair

I’m pretty proud that we’ve only bought 6 things new. I like walking through a room and seeing all of the things that I’ve made or found or rehabbed. I think it makes our home personal. It also makes me feel capable when I reflect on all of the projects we’ve done.

The environmental aspect is really important to me as well. By reusing and recycling we’re reducing our impact.

Here are my 6 newbies, along with the year we purchased them. I’m curious to know what’s your number?

  1. Ellie’s dresser (2018)

Another good example of a mix from Ellie’s nursery: dresser (new–Matt’s parents covered half the cost as I was stricken with sticker shock from buying new furniture), bookshelf (thrifted and repainted), Strandmon wing chair (thrifted this time), ottoman (made by me), triangle table (hand-me-down from my grandparent’s cottage). I should note that the crib was new as well (a gift from my Mom). It has since been passed on, so it is having a second life.

Ikea Strandmon in the nursery
  1. Basement wingchair (2013)
  2. Basement ottoman (2013)
  3. Basement couch (2012)
  4. Living room couch (purchased in 2006 for our first house. Does this count as vintage now?)
  5. Living room chair (also from 2006)

This total does not include appliances, mattresses, lighting (though all of our lamps are second hand), or accessories (art, pillows, etc.).

If you look at the dates above our “new” furniture is not all that new. Holding onto things for a long time is another way to reduce our impact.

Furnishing our house in this way is financially beneficial as well. The Strandmon wingchair that I bought secondhand for Ellie’s nursery was less than half the price of a new one. Keeping the same couch for 16 years is obviously cheaper than buying a new couch.

Here’s a final mix from the basement TV area: sectional and ottoman (new), wood side table (hand-me-down from Matt’s Grandpa), lamp (thrifted and repainted), TV cabinet (made by my Dad and me), TV (new, but bought mostly with points), chair (won), Monopoly art (made by me).

Basement TV area

Mostly, I thrift and DIY for fun. This is what I like to do and I love furnishing our house in this way.

How much new furniture do you have at your house? Any great thrifting scores to share? Do you have any DIY furniture you’re particularly proud of?

Hope grows in the garden

Our garden is already underway for 2022–despite waking up to snow on the ground yesterday. Spring, where are you?

Ellie received a set of gardening tools and many packets of seeds for her birthday. She was very excited to start planting, so we have a bumper crop of tiny watermelon plants living in the dining room. I’m hoping the weather warms up before they become big watermelon plants.

The rest of her seeds are all crops that can be sown directly into the garden.

I’ve also been pruning the grapes a little bit. The grapes have been neglected (as has the rest of the garden) and they’re getting a bit wild. A longtime blogging friend, Kit, inspired me to give them some attention. I’ve not pruned as much as Kit did, as I feel like the shock might kill the vines. But I’ve tidied them up a lot, so I’m curious to see how they do this season.

I also have a line on some mulch that I’m hoping will help to subdue some of the weeds.

I aspire to have a beautiful and productive farm garden some day. We have been so, so far from that for so, so many years. I’m hoping that we can make a bit of progress this year. Ellie is extremely excited by her gardening tools (highly recommend this gift) and enthused about being helpful in the garden. So maybe this will be the year.

Are you planning to grow any food this year? Have you started your garden yet?