Summer lull

Little jalapeno peppers growing in the vegetable garden

Vegetables are slowly growing in the garden. Some of the hay fields have been cut for the second time. Lilies are blooming in the flowerbeds.

Summer goes on at the farm, and I’m enjoying it.

I’m going to take a week off from the blog to savour some more of my favourite season. I’ll be back next week.

Odds & sods

Ralph and Baxter relaxing on the driveway

Today is Civic Holiday here, so Ralph, Baxter, Matt and I are doing our civic duty and taking it easy. In that vein, I’m keeping it simple today with an odds and sods post.

  • The holiday Monday starts a week off work for me, so I’m looking forward to lots of time around the farm, a new writing gig, catching up with a few friends, and a bit of taking it easy. (But first I have a 17-year-old who’s excited to learn how to drive the tractor, so that means an extra pair of hands and a day of free labour for me. Yay!)
  • Later this week we’re headed into the big city to see the Toronto Blue Jays play the Yankees. The Jays’ season thus far has caused Matt hours of angst. Even if this week’s game doesn’t tilt our way, he’s excited to see the Yankees live for the first time.
  • Matt brought home our first peaches of the season the other day. They are so good. My favourite so far is sliced, tossed in a frying pan for a few minutes with maple syrup and then poured over waffles–a perfect vacation breakfast. I love fresh summer produce. Next on the menu, fresh sweet corn,
  • Thanks to humidity, we had a couple of big rainstorms last week. As in tree branches down in the wind and driveway washed out due to who knows how much rain in just a few minutes. Fortunately, damage wasn’t too severe and our sump pump worked the way it’s supposed to.
  • Two new-ish to me blogs are The Grit and Polish and Chris Loves Julia. I really enjoy their style–both writing and home. They both also welcomed new baby girls to their families over the last couple of weeks.
  • Once upon a time a long long time ago, Danica wrote a guest post for me. She and her husband are still working hard on their Hillside Casa. They had a crazy productive week last week–and still have a just plain crazy to-do list for the next two months. What they’ve accomplished is super impressive and they’re a great example of what DIYers can do.

Happy August everyone.

Moments and happenings

Barn cat on a stump

Going into this past weekend, I was a bit anxious about what I was going to be posting on the blog this week. I had nothing written, and unusually I didn’t have any ideas either.

The thing about the farm though is that something always happens. We do something or see something and that becomes something to remember and share. Some moments are simple, some are bigger.

But together, they make up life here at the farm and are part of what makes living here so special.

Saturday morning started with Matt and Bax heading out for their walk, and Ralph sitting on her stump waiting for them to come back. She does this often. Last weekend she meowed after them the whole time they were gone.

But when I came out to snap her picture, she hopped off the stump and came to get attention from me instead. This weekend, I was more stealthy and managed to get a few shots of her. Queen of the farm on her throne.

Barn cat on a stump

After the photo session, I took my  book and went out and sat with her.

The quiet of a Saturday morning. The summer sunlight. Our amazing cat. This beautiful land. A simple moment that was a special start to the weekend.

Canada 150 years and more

Canada 150 flag

This year is a special one for Canada. Tomorrow, the country officially turns 150 years old.

Canada Day is always a special occasion, and I enjoy celebrating it every year. This year, I’ve been thinking about it a little differently.

Over the past year, I’ve had opportunity to hear presentations by two Indigenous leaders, Senator Murray Sinclair, Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and Roberta Jamieson, the first woman elected Chief of the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. I’ve listened to a thanksgiving blessing and watched an honour song performance.

As I listened to these two impressive people and experienced these other special moments, I’ve learned and I’ve been thinking about Canada’s history. I am starting to understand more of the experiences of First Nations’ peoples and I have begun to think about my role in reconciliation with Indigenous people.

Roberta Jamieson highlighted that while the Dominion of Canada is 150 years old, our country has a long history that pre-dates 1867. As we celebrate 150 years, we can also remember and acknowledge this history.

I know very little about the history of the farm or the Indigenous history of this area, but there obviously is a history that extends beyond Confederation and much, much earlier.

Four years ago, we planted this little maple tree on the turnaround. My hope is that it stands for many years and one day grows as big as the large maple behind it.

Canada 150 flag

Roberta Jamieson said that the Six Nations’ philosophy is to take responsibility for their great-grandchildren’s great-grandchildren–seven generations into the future.

We are just a small moment in the life of this farm, this small part of Canada. I hope that we can do right by the generations–seven and more–that come after us.

Happy Canada Day to my fellow Canadians. And to my American readers who are celebrating next week, Happy Independence Day.

What’s eating all my grapes?

Grape leaves eaten by bugs

In case it’s not clear, I’m pretty much winging it when it comes to our grapevines. So I was thrilled to have the opportunity to talk with Brian Schmidt of Vineland Estates. Brian and the Vineland team have 118 acres of vineyards in Niagara.

Way more than our dozen vines.

Brian was extremely generous in answering my questions and talking me through how to care for our vines. He gave me a great confidence boost.

My main question was whether to pinch off any fruit this year so that the vines can focus on growing big and strong. Brian’s advice was that the key to long-term success is to not overburden the vines in their youth. So these baby grapes will be picked this weekend.

 

 

Baby grapes

Brian also gave me advice on pruning, trellising and pest control.

Pests are the one issue that’s arisen with our vines this spring. Some little worms are eating the leaves on our second year vines (the ones we planted last spring). The Lakemonts, which are brand new as of a few weeks ago, have too few leaves to be a target yet.

Little worms eating grape leaves

Our leafiest vines have been very hard hit.

Grape leaves eaten by bugs

Brian’s advice was to give our vines a case of dandruff. Not really. He was much more professional than that. He suggested diatomaceous earth. I’ve heard of DE before, but didn’t know much about it. DE is a powder made from “the fossilized remains of marine phytoplankton.” Brian described it as “eating glass” for bugs. Lovely image, but sorry bugs.

The nice thing about DE is that it’s safe for humans to eat, unlike many chemical pesticides.

I sprinkled it all over the vines last weekend.

Diatomaceous Earth on grape leaves

So far, the DE doesn’t seem to be doing the trick. In fact, there are more worms than ever. From the little bit of research I’ve done on DE, it sounds like it might be more for bugs with hard outer shells and more of a topical than an ingestible. The worms are pretty soft-shelled. They’re very easily crushed when I pinch them–which may be the solution I resort to.

I’ve given the vines a second dusting of DE, and I’m hoping that this might be enough to stop the infestation. I’d really appreciate any ideas you have. Anyone know what these pests are and how to get rid of them? Should I just be patient with the DE?

Connecting with like-minded folk in Illinois

Since starting our own journey in country living, I’ve realized that there are lots of people following a similar path, but each of us are doing it in our own way. Gardening, animals, permaculture, homesteading–everybody tackles things slightly differently.

There is a lot of information online or in books to help you learn how to do things and what works for you. However, sometimes it’s really nice to talk to people in person and learn from their experience first hand. Sarah in Illinois has found a group of like-minded family and friends who are doing just that.

Last fall a few family members and friends decided to start a small group with the common interest in gardening and homesteading. We had a very informal “meeting” where a few people shared areas that they had interest and knowledge in.

We discussed that when selecting a seed you may see words like open-pollinated, heirloom, hybrid, organic or non-GMO and what those words mean. We learned that if you plan to save some seeds from the crop that you plant this year, you must select an heirloom variety. A couple people brought extra seed catalogs that they had, and we talked about the suppliers that we have had good luck from in the past.

We talked about composting and that it is important to get a good mix of “green” and “brown” ingredients. We also looked over a list of things that you should never add to a compost pile such as meat, bones, pet waste, fats and dairy.

Another cousin brought up the topic of what you should plant and how much. She suggested making a list of, on average, what your family actually eats in a year. Then you can use this list to decide what you will use and also not overplant so that you don’t waste food.

She also gave us a list of books that she has used that she thought may be of interest (not affiliate links):

We ended the evening with a short demonstration on how to make your own yogurt, and a friend brought some for us to sample.

We joke that we are kind of nerdy, but when it is a topic that you are truly interested in, I don’t think you can get too much information.

Then we created a private Facebook group where we could share tips, pictures, successes and failures.

This week someone took a video tour of their garden, and we were all so excited to see it that several of us made tours of our own gardens. We all live in about a 30 mile radius, but this allowed everyone to view the gardens when they had time and it was very convenient.

It was so interesting to see the different crops, different sizes of gardens, different methods for weed control and really just about every aspect of gardening and small farm animal production. (My cousin has 11 goats!)

My tour ended up being 21 minutes long. I toured the fruit trees, the garden, the grape vines, my chickens, my compost pile and my herb garden. And I also rambled quite a bit.

I am going to put a few short clips on my Instagram so that you can view them.

As much as I have learned from my parents and in-laws on gardening, I feel like I have so much more to learn. But each year I have a better understanding, better results and a deeper love of growing my own.

Do you belong to a formal or informal gardening group? What areas of gardening do you want to learn about? Have you ever made a garden tour video?

If you’re nerdy, Sarah, I’m right there with you. This sounds like a really inspiring group to be part of. Country living is a constant learning experience, in my opinion. It’s great that your family and friends have come together in this was to share their experiences.

June 1

The house on June 1, 2017

I’m feeling a bit sentimental after five years on the farm. We have a special place, and I really treasure being here.

The house and the property have evolved since we arrived here five years ago. Looking back to April 2012, we’d added the flagpole to the turnaround, but the rest of the property–especially the turnaround–were still a disaster.

The house five years ago

In our second year, I started taking a photo each June 1. Everything is green and growing. It’s a nice time of year to showcase the farm.

In June 2014, we were still establishing the gardens, but things were looking much tidier than when we first started.

The house on June 1, 2014

This spring, we’re still making progress, and I’m so proud of what we’re building.

The exterior of the house itself has not changed as much as the interior or the rest of the property, but it will… someday. (And yes, I know our little maple tree is tilted.)

The house on June 1, 2017

I think it will be fun to look back at these June 1 photos in another 5, 25 or even more years and think about all of the memories we’ve made here.

Five years on the farm

How do you mark progress at your house? What time of year does your home look its best?

Robot vacuum pros and cons

Matt and Baxter watching the Neato botvac

My vacuum sagas are well-documented on this blog. There was the debate about whether we should get a Dyson. Then we answered that question when we went with Sebo. Most recently, I realized that no matter what kind of vacuum we have, I don’t want to push it around, so I started musing about robot vacuums.

Well, we have entered a new chapter in vacuum-dom. The robot era. That’s right. We took the plunge and bought a robot vacuum.

It’s been magical.

I don’t think our floors have ever been this clean.

The other weekend, we started the vacuum and then went out to cut the grass. We did two chores at once. On Friday, as Bax and I headed out for the day, I turned on the vacuum. I wasn’t even home, and my house was being cleaned. Magic.

When I’m home, I have so many things that I want to do/feel like I have to do that I wish I could be in two places at once. Now I basically can be.

We purchased the Neato Botvac D80–and yes, we purchased it. This is not a sponsored post. My sister has this vacuum and she loves it. She had done a lot of research to figure out which vacuum to go with and I trust her judgment, so I didn’t launch my own investigation.

Obviously, Neato is a hit, but I thought it might be helpful to delve a bit more into what works and, let’s be honest here, what doesn’t. Because as wonderful as Neato is, he does have a few shortcomings.

Likes

Horseshoe shape. I feel like this allows him to get into corners and get close to furniture. At the same time, his round back end allows him to escape if he’s in too tight of a space.

His strength. Neato is a strong little guy. We have thresholds at the doorway to each bedroom, and he bumps up and over them with no issue. The first time we put him to work, he climbed up onto the track of the patio door in the kitchen. Bumps and uneven floors are no problem.

Personality. This may seem silly, but Neato has been programmed as a “being.” He says, “Please clean my brush” rather than just “please clean brush.” I like that he has some personality and is not just a machine. (And this obviously fits in with the other furniture and equipment in our house that also has names, exhibit A, Wiley the tractor).

 

Neato D80 display screen

Easy to work. Neato has two buttons. That’s it. Push the Home button and he goes to work. Push the spot clean button and he does the four-foot square area in front of him. The display screen tells us what he’s doing (it’s a bit small, so the type may be hard to read for some people). The filter pulls out easily for cleaning, as do the brushes.

He works on multiple floor surfaces. Upstairs we have wood floors with the occasional rug. Downstairs we have mostly carpet, with vinyl sheet flooring in the laundry room and tile in Matt’s bathroom. Neato cleans each of them equally well and transitions between wood and rugs without effort.

He does a good job. Neato is persistent and goes under furniture, around chairs and into all of the nooks and crannies that he can fit into. These are areas where I will half-heartedly swipe the vacuum–if I bother at all.

Shortcomings

Neato is not speedy. He moves relatively cautiously and takes a little while to work the perimeter of the room before doing the centre. Since I’m not doing it, I don’t mind. He can take as long as he wants.

Neato needs a break. Even fully charged, Neato can’t finish either the basement or the whole first floor in one shot. Whether upstairs or down, he needs a break just over halfway through. He goes back to his base, recharges, and then goes back to where he left off. (Isn’t that so neat?) Again, this extends the cleaning time slightly.

Small dirt bin. Neato is not a big dude. The dirt bin has to be emptied after every cleaning session (not the half session I mentioned above). In fact, the first time he vacuumed the basement, the dirt bin was overflowing with dog hair (don’t judge me). Now that we’re vacuuming more frequently, the floors aren’t as dirty. But I still don’t think we could do two rounds without emptying the bin. However, there are no bags to deal with. It’s easy to pop out the bin, open the filter, dump the dust and hair, and close everything back up.

Dirt bin on the Neato botvac

I don’t understand him. Neato’s programming is pretty impressive. I don’t know how he does what he does. But his progress or his thinking is computer, not human. At the end of vacuuming, he says, I’m going back to my base–and then he heads in the opposite direction from his base. He shortly turns around and goes in the right direction, but the algorithm or whatever it is that drives him doesn’t make sense to me. Again, I can let this go, because whatever he’s doing is working for him.

You have to tidy up. Before setting Neato loose, Matt and I do a quick run around the house to pick up anything that might be on the floor, like shoes or dog toys or cords. If I’m vacuuming myself, I do this as I go, just tossing things out of my way. Neato takes a little more planning or preparation.

Neato has gotten stuck. Before getting a robot vacuum, one of the complaints I heard was that they get stuck. Neato hasn’t gotten stuck yet under furniture, but he has gotten stuck a few times on cords and once on the laundry room rug. I’ve now coiled up cords so that he can cruise under them, or tucked them under furniture, so that they don’t interfere with Neato. The laundry room rug gets rolled up and set on top of the dryer until Neato is done.

He doesn’t do stairs or walls. My sister laughed at me the first time she came over after we got Neato because the floors upstairs and down were pristine and the stairs were a mess. Likewise, those pesky cobwebs that form in the corners of the ceiling aren’t on Neato’s radar at all. So I still have to drag out Sebo to handle a few other areas.

Price. Neato is not cheap. After investing as much as we did in Sebo, I was very reluctant to spend just as much on a second vacuum.

Neato D80 vacuum

In the end, Neato has one benefit that outweighs everything. I don’t have to do the vacuuming anymore. That is a massive, magical win.

Who handles vacuuming at your house? Have you considered getting a robot vacuum? Does anyone else struggle with staying on top of the vacuuming? Or do you enjoy vacuuming?

New life for an old patio table

As the temperatures warm up, I love being outside. For us, being outside usually means working outside because the one thing missing at the farm is a good outdoor living or dining area. But Sarah has a great spot at her home in Illinois. She and her husband Steve recently tackled a project that upgraded a key feature of that area–the dining table. Read on to see the results. Spoiler alert, they’re pretty amazing.

One of the favorite spots in our yard is our deck. Several days a week we head there as soon as we get home from work and have a drink and discuss the day and throw the ball for Blitz. It’s also the spot we head to after a full day of sweaty yard work. We have a nice awning to sit under and a patio table and chair set to relax in.

However, the table was starting to show some wear. It is a metal frame and had two inset panels that were supposed to resemble slate or some type of stone. I am sure when it was new it looked very nice, but over the years the compressed material that made up the fake slate absorbed water and warped. It got to the point where we could not set a glass on it without it falling over. So we started talking about how we could replace it.

I wish I had taken a good before picture but here are the fake slabs that we took out of the table.

Our first thought was to put a thin board in the recessed area and then to tile it. I think that would have looked very nice, but our concern was how much weight it would add to the table. It is not a light table to start with, and we move it into our pole barn every winter to try to help it last longer. Plus, the backing for the tile would have to be pretty thick to hold up the tiles, and we didn’t know if there would be enough room for the backing, the thin set and the tile in the recessed area without really altering the table.

One day when we were looking for something in the barn, Steve saw a pile of old tongue and groove barn wood. He grabbed a measuring tape and said that it was even the right thickness for the area in the table. We talked about if we stained it dark and added some polyurethane, it might look kind of nice in the table.

We removed the fake slate and measured the barn wood to fit in the section of the table. Since it was tongue and groove the boards fit nicely together. Steve did have to add an extra piece of metal across underneath since we were now using several different boards instead of one slab.

With a nice coat of stain, we were pretty happy with the results.

Then we started talking about the two-part epoxy that we see on home improvement shows. I did a little research online and made a quick Amazon purchase. Two days later this arrived.

This is where I should tell you, this post is not sponsored. I paid full price for this kit. Famowood does not know that I exist. I chose this brand because of reviews I have read. I have not tried any other brands to compare.

We had to do a little prep to the table to pour the epoxy over it. There were small gaps and cracks and holes that we had to fill in so that the epoxy did not run out. We weren’t worried about anything staying in place permanently. Basically it just had to stay in place until the epoxy dried. So we just used some of the already opened tubes of caulk that we had sitting around and filled all of the gaps underneath. So it’s not pretty, but it won’t be seen.

The reviews that I read stressed to follow the directions exactly. So we did exactly what they said. We added equal amounts of part A and part B and stirred for six minutes, then put it in a new container and stirred for another six minutes.

My biggest concern was trapping bubbles in the epoxy. No matter how careful we were when we stirred, there were lots of bubbles in it. What I read online suggested using a heat gun to draw the bubbles to the surface.

Steve and I worked together at a quick pace because we didn’t know how much time we would have before it started setting up. So I didn’t get any pictures of this stage. I definitely recommend two people working a project of this size, especially if you do it in warmer weather. The day we chose to pour was cool so we had a little more time, but we still worked quickly. We used a squeegee to move the epoxy around and the heat gun to remove the air bubbles.

We had put newspaper down thankfully, because even with the caulk we had several drips. The instructions suggested pouring a thin coat first if you were pouring over wood. The wood was likely to release more bubbles into your epoxy. So we poured a first coat, waited the recommended hours then poured a second coat.

I think the final result speaks for itself.

We could not be happier with our table. I am so proud of the job we did and I can’t wait to come home each day and sit and admire it.

I want to call a few points to your attention.

1. We chose to stop adding epoxy at the point we did, and it did not fill all of the grooves between the boards. We liked this look, but I am sure if you wanted it to be completely smooth, a third coat would have filled everything in.

2. The epoxy kit we chose said NOT for exterior use. We know this. There is an awning over the patio that will shield most sun and rain and like I said, we take the table inside every fall. If you are looking to do a similar project keep this in mind and maybe look for a kit for exterior use if you are concerned with that.

3. Also, read the directions completely and have all of your tools (mixing cups, stir sticks, tape, squeegee, heat gun, etc.) ready when you start. There is a time limit to this product and you don’t want to waste time running around trying to remember where you put the heat gun.

Holy moly. What a transformation, Sarah. I’ve heard so much about epoxy, but I’ve never used it. Your results are really impressive. I like the addition of the barn wood. It’s great you were able to use material that you had already and extend the life of your table. I’m sure you’re enjoying your evenings on the deck even more now.

Makeover motivation from a mini One Room Challenge

It’s that time again. The One Room Challenge is taking over the blogosphere. It started last week and runs until May 10. More than 200 bloggers, 200 rooms and 200 inspiring makeovers.

I’m looking forward to all of the beautiful content arriving in my feedly over the next four weeks.

Once again this year, I’m not participating in the One Room Challenge. I’ve loved participating in the past and especially loved the results of our laundry room and master bedroom. But this time around, I don’t have a room ready for the six week timeline.

However, I do have a room mid-makeover. My office.

I’m thinking I can use the One Room Challenge and all of the activity of my fellow bloggers to motivate me to Finally. Finish. This. Room.

Office mid-makeover

So this is it. I’m setting a deadline, people. May 10. The office will be done.

Here’s my original to-do list, and where we’re at:

  • Scrape ceiling – Finished over the Christmas break–oh so long ago.
  • Paint ceiling, trim and walls – Finished over the Christmas break.
  • Add new shelf to closet – Finished and already filled.
  • Redo china cabinet and desk – Finished and partially filled.
  • Reupholster slipper chair – Finished and it’s oh so pretty.
  • Reupholster ironing board – Finished thanks to a lucky thrifting score.
  • Unpack all of my boxes and decorate – Started.

That last item is where I’ve been a bit stuck. I had so many boxes, which had been packed for at least five years–some of them longer. Also, decorating is kind of a big thing.

I know myself, and I know I’ll do better if I can break it down into smaller pieces.

So here’s the new to-do list of the remaining items:

  • Buy and install light fixture – I somehow forgot that I need a new light for this room since I removed and trashed the boob light that was here originally.
  • Unpack remaining boxes and organize china cabinet
  • Style china cabinet shelves
  • Sort and file paperwork
  • Install gallery wall #1
  • Install gallery wall #2
  • Reupholster seat of wooden chair

Totally doable, right? It’s mini compared to the full room makeovers other people are tackling through the ORC.

As slow as work has been on the office, it has been ongoing, even though I haven’t shared many updates. This weekend I made some progress on a few little shelves that will be part of the gallery walls.

Painting little shelves

I’m going to start sharing regular updates here to help myself stay on track. I’m not going to be sharing my makeover through the official ORC linkups on Calling It Home, though, because mine is so mini. I do encourage you to visit Calling It Home and checking out all of the projects for yourself.

And stay tuned here. Soon enough–with a little motivation from the ORC–I’ll be able to reveal the finished office. Four weeks to go.

Are you following any ORC makeovers? Official ones? Are you doing any makeovers yourself? How do you find motivation to finish off a makeover?