Goodbye grapes

Google reminded me the other day that this photo was taken a year ago.

Ellie picking grapes

First I went, “Aw. The cuteness!” And then I went, “Grapes? Really?”

I’ve been kind of casually watching our grapes, but not paying really close attention. I mostly felt that it would be awhile until they ripened.

But thanks to Google and another reminder from Instgram, I decided I should maybe go take a closer look.

When I did, I realized that even if I haven’t been paying attention, the birds have. Many of our grapes have been gobbled.

The blue Sovereign Coronations are gone. I found one and ate it myself. (Don’t tell Ellie.)

Grapes eaten by birds

The Somersets are still in the process of turning red, but it looks like as soon as one does, that grape is gobbled. I’m going to keep a closer eye, but I’m not sure how many I’ll be able to grab.

Ripening grapes

Ripening grapes

Japanese beetles are still doing a number on the leaves, though they’re wilier and fly away before I can flick them into my bucket of death.

I know netting grapes may  be an option, but that’s not something I’m prepared to do this year.

This year’s garden philosophy is see how it goes. In this instance, they’re almost gone.

But, the beauty of gardening is it comes back again next year and we get to try again.

How is your garden growing? Are you feeding any wildlife? Has harvest snuck up on any one else?

 

Looking for battery powered weed eater recommendations

I love how the farm looks after the grass is freshly mowed. Tidy. Cared for. Green.

Until you look closely.

We have never, in all of the years we’ve lived here, edged the lawn.

So we’re a bit ragged around the edges. (Maybe that’s appropriate as that’s how I feel some days, too. Something the farm and I have in common.)

Untrimmed grass around the flowerbed

We have a big heavy-duty gas-powered weed eater that’s been hanging in the driveshed since we moved. But it’s heavy. It’s finicky. I cannot be bothered to fight with it.

But I would like to tidy things up a bit more. And especially with the vegetable garden, the pond shore and Ellie’s playground, some trimming is required. (Matt’s Dad has been coming over with his weed eater to keep the grass cut around Ellie’s playground.)

So I’m on the hunt for a new weed eater. Or non-brand name, string trimmer.

I want it to be battery powered. Light weight. Not huge. Easy to use.

I don’t need a super long-lasting battery, because although we have a large property, my trimming is going to be pretty limited. I do not have more time to spend cutting the grass.

I’ve spent some time watching reviews on YouTube and EGO is coming out on top. I may have been sold as soon as I saw its self-winding string loader (another trauma from our old weed eater). But I’m not familiar with EGO. One of my brothers-in-law has Ryobi battery-powered lawn tools. Matt’s Dad’s weed eater is an ECHO. I’m most familiar with Stihl. So I’m still shopping around.

And as part of my shopping around, I want to ask, anyone out there have any recommendations for a battery powered weed eater? Any favourite brands? Any recommendations for features that I should be looking for? Thank you in advance for your input.

 

Garden update

Back in April, I said that my garden philosophy this year was to “see how it goes.” Wanna see how it’s going?

Weedy garden

Okay. That looks a bit dire. I have been mowing a few sections of the vegetable garden for the past several years. I let it go for a few weeks and it went a bit wild. But it has been reclaimed. Or at least cut down again.

Mowing the vegetable garden

I’ve weeded half the raspberries a couple of times, but I feel like I’m not making very much progress on keeping them weeded. My mission is to be able to easily pick raspberries this year. Hence the mowing. The berries are small, but a few are starting to ripen.

First ripe raspberry

Ellie picking raspberries in the garden

 

 

We have had suuuuuuper hot weather–exactly what summer should be, in my opinion. But we have had no rain. So everything is suuuuuuper dry. I’m sure the berries would be happier with some moisture, but I’ve not watered them yet.

There is only one more thing I’m paying attention to in the garden. The grapes. Look at all of these bunches of baby grapes! Aren’t they amazing? I am so thrilled there are so many grapes. I am hoping that they grow big and juicy and we’re able to get a good harvest this year, despite all of the neglect.

Unripe grapes

Also on the to-do list along with watering? Pick off the Japanese beetles. Ugh. So gross.

Japanese beetles on grape vines

The other highlights of the garden are things that have received no attention at all.

One hollyhock has returned. Yay! And a fair-size patch of milkweed has sprouted. I guess some good things come from neglect.

Pink hollyhock

Milkweed in the vegetable garden

The rest of our garden is not in the garden. Matt’s Dad bought us some tomato seedlings back in the spring, and rather than try to clear a spot in the garden, I decided to stick them in pots. So I moved a couple big pots to the front door and set up a little container garden.

Growing tomatoes in pots

There’s a hibiscus, some herbs and the tomatoes. They’re staked and suckered and string trained and everything. Since they’re at the front door, they’re also getting watered regularly because I can’t ignore them.

One pot is doing better than the other, but all the plants have some blossoms, so I’m hoping we see some fruit this year.

Overall, I would say the garden is going. It’s definitely not my ideal garden, but it’s working for me right now.

How is your garden growing? What are you picking? Are you doing any container gardening? Anyone else mowing their garden?

A Mother’s Day tree

Planting a tree for Mother's Day

You know those fantasies you have as you’re growing up, where you envision your home and your family and your life someday when you’re an adult?

One of mine was very specific. I think this was when I was a teenager, even before I met Matt.

I would live on a farm. There would be a big house, a big barn, beautiful property and trees. Lots and lots of trees. We would grow our own Christmas trees. And every Mother’s Day, we would plant a few new Christmas trees.

I had forgotten about this plan, but it came back to me the other day. Ellie was playing outside and I was digging a hole in preparation for planting a tree. I had come up with the idea that I wanted to transplant a tree for Mother’s Day. That it would be a fun, life affirming, long-reaching thing for us to do together.

Planting a tree for Mother's Day

As I was digging away, the memory of my childhood vision came back to me. I am so grateful that I got to make it real yesterday with our girl–and our furry children as well.

Planting a tree for Mother's Day

Planting a tree for Mother's Day

Ellie swinging on her playset with Baxter and Ralph behind the new tree we planted for Mother's Day

Matt was forever teasing me about my “sticks.” If a maple tree shows up somewhere I don’t want it, you can bet I’m going to transplant it, rather than dig it out and throw it away. This has led to a lot of spindly trees, but they usually survive their relocation and hopefully someday this stick will be a big beautiful reminder of this special time with our little girl.

How did you mark Mother’s Day?

 

Gardening philosophy: See how it goes

Earth Day is this week, so it seems like a good time to talk about vegetable gardens. It also seems like a lot of people are planning gardens this year. Whether it’s a desire to be more self-sufficient, or looking for an activity to keep kids busy during quarantine, or the joy that comes from watching things grow, there are a lot of up sides to gardening.

I’m not sure what our garden plans are yet. I think the best description of my philosophy is “see how it goes.”

It’s hard to overstate the mess that was the vegetable garden last year. I had high hopes of weeding at least the outer raised beds, but only made it about a quarter of the way around in the spring before I gave up.

I blame the baby.

Ellie gardening at 1 year old

One year ago this week

We spend plenty of time outside–that’s our favourite place to be–and Ellie is pretty good at amusing herself while Mama works.

But the garden ground was too uneven for her a year ago when she was still unsteady on her feet. She spent most of her time in the garden frustrated. She took two steps and tripped. She fell down and couldn’t get back up. She got caught in weeds or plants. I felt like I was torturing the baby every time I tried to work.

We both found joy when the raspberries ripened. Ellie very quickly learned that any red berries were good to eat, and I loved seeing her reach for berries one after another. She still got tangled up, but she persisted because nothing comes between this girl and her fruit.

Red raspberries

In the fall, I really, really wanted to prune the raspberries. I didn’t do it the year before (again, blame the baby), and I knew we’d have a bigger crop and easier picking experience this year if I could get it done.

Between some early mornings, naptimes, and one baby-free day, I got the raspberries done. There were major weeds, many dead canes, multiple wheelbarrow loads, a lot of careful realignment of canes behind the wire trellises, and of course my favourite furry sidekick.

Baxter laying beside the pruned row of raspberries

But they got done and they’re looking great. Seeing the new leaves sprouting on the tidy rows brings me joy.

Some asparagus is starting to poke up–maybe this will be the year we finally pick some–and the rhubarb has emerged. A sandbox has also landed in the garden. Thanks to its arrival (and some temporary pet worms), the asparagus is already weeded.

Ellie playing in her sandbox in the garden

There’s more to do, but I’m adhering to my “see-how-it-goes” philosophy. No matter what, I’m anticipating more joy this summer with our girl.

Are you planning to grow any vegetables this year? Do you garden with your kids? Any tips for keeping toddlers occupied while working outside?

 

(For anyone looking for more garden tips, Amanda at Life at Cloverhill is doing an IGTV series where she answers reader’s vegetable garden questions.)

How to prevent leaks when you hook up your garden hose

I don’t think Matt and I ever bought a garden hose. We received hand-me-downs from our Dads. We found a few that past owners left behind. I even pulled one out of the field where it had been buried in the grass for a few years.

Unsurprisingly, none of our hoses are in great shape. But despite the kinked rubber and the bent fittings, our hoses don’t leak.

There is one thing that we have bought that helps to prevent leaks–teflon tape. I keep a roll in the driveshed, along with an adjustable wrench, so that they’re handy every time I’m hooking up a hose or a nozzle.

Using teflon tape and an adjustable wrench to prevent a leaky garden hose

Teflon tape, also known as plumbers’ tape, is a thin, white, non-sticky tape. Wind a couple of inches around the threads of a hose–or any plumbing connection–and it helps to make a tight joint that won’t leak.

The teflon acts as a lubricant, so that the two pieces of the connection can be screwed together more tightly–this is where the wrench is also helpful. After you finger-tighten the connection, turn it the rest of the way with your wrench.

How to avoid hose leaks

A consideration with using teflon tape is to wrap it so that when you screw on your hose (or nozzle or whatever you’re connecting) you wrap the tape further around the threads, as opposed to unwinding it.

Wrapping hose threads with teflon tape

You only need enough tape to wrap 2 or 3 layers over the hose, so don’t rip a huge long piece.

Our roll of tape lives in the driveshed, even staying there through the winter. The cold doesn’t seem to affect the tape, and we get a few years out of a roll.

Do you have any gardening tips to share? What gardening hand-me-downs do you use at your house?

How to prevent leaks when you hook up your garden hose

 

Burning the pond shore

On Saturday afternoon, I fulfilled a long-held dream. I lit the pond shore on fire.

Controlled burn beside the pond

No, quarantine is not making me crazy. Yes, we have interesting ways of passing the time here at the farm.

To recap:

  1. The pond is my absolute favourite place on this property.
  2. By mid-summer, we can’t get to the pond because the grass and brush is so overgrown.
  3. Every year I have plans to clear the pond shore.
  4. Every year I make very little progress.

That is the story of the pond that I have shared publicly.

Secretly I’ve been thinking for years about clearing the shore with fire.

There are the practical concerns, like not lighting the whole farm on fire. But nothing is as fast as fire for making a clean slate.

Controlled burn beside the pond

This burn took about an hour–one toddler naptime. And I did in fact manage to not light the whole farm on fire.

There’s still more to do. Saplings to clip. Rocks to pick. Firepit to finish. Dock to build… someday.

Firepit by the pond

But I should be able to mow a decent area once the grass starts to grow again. And maybe, maybe in a few months the shore will be green, quarantine will be over, and we’ll be able to walk down and sit by the water.

I hope that you are all doing well and are keeping busy and staying safe. Take care.

Grapes and goodness in the garden

Red somerset grapes

We have grapes!

Three years ago I planted eight grapevines, and two years ago I added four more. Every year since then I’ve cut off any fruit that has appeared with the idea that the plants need all their energy to grow big and strong, rather than growing grapes.

This year, I let the grapes grow, and I was so thrilled back in August when they were finally ready to harvest.

Bunches of red somerset grapes on the vine

Ellie was delighted as well. Girl looooooves fruit, and grapes are a favourite.

Ellie picking grapes

It’s been so exciting to watch the grapes grow over the season. Seeing the big bunches of unripe green grapes made me feel like I’ve been doing something right.

Bunches of unripe green grapes

I have I’ve felt like I’m fumbling along with my grapes ever since I planted them. Figuring out where to plant them, how to trellis them, how to prune them, protecting them in the winter, even my decision to cut off the grapes the last couple of years were completely me winging it.

As I watched the grapes finally coming on this year, I was worried something would happen before I was able to taste them. Blight, birds, bugs. Something would get them instead of me.

But nothing happened. The grapes ripened, and they were beautiful.

Unripe and ripe grapes

In the end something did get them instead of me.

Blame it on the baby.

Ellie learned very quickly that anything purple or red in the garden was ripe for the picking. She would happily stand there and eat grapes by the bunch.

Ellie eating grapes in the garden

The flavour of the sun-warmed grapes was unmatched. They were so lovely and sweet. The pop as I bit into them, the stickiness of the juice on my hands, the sight of Ellie opening her mouth to ask for another and then the feeling of a little hand smushing a grape into my mouth in return make grapes a favourite summer memory.

Basket of sovereign coronation blue grapes

Committing a garden sin

Asparagus is a lesson in patience.

Four years ago, I laid some teeny tiny seeds in the garden and watched them sprout teeny tiny ferns.

Asparagus sprouts

My plan all along was to transplant the asparagus once it got big enough. What exactly was big enough I wasn’t sure, but this spring I thought they were probably ready. (In fact, I would have liked to do this last year, but the whole new baby thing disrupted my gardening time.)

Then I looked online for tips and everything I read said basically, “Never, never, ever, ever transplant asparagus. If you try to transplant asparagus you will be committing a massive garden sin.”

Okie-dokie. Sounds great.

I think the main concern with transplanting is delaying your asparagus harvest even further. Most of the time when people plant crowns, the recommendation is to not pick any asparagus until the second year. With starting from seed, I had read we’d have to wait four years.

We’re in our fourth spring now, so technically we could have harvested. But having grown from seed, they were very tightly spaced in two parallel rows. I wanted them to have more room to grow big and strong, so I decided to dig them all up.

Two rows of asparagus crowns

Along with dire warnings, my online research did garner a few tips. I fortified the soil with a hefty dose of compost and manure, raiding the pile that’s been behind the barn since we moved here.

Emptying the backyard composter

Digging into the manure pile

The advice on actually extracting the plants was less helpful: use a fork to gently tease the roots from the soil.

Um. No. That was not happening.

The asparagus root system is incredible. I was more than a foot away from the plants when I encountered the first thick, ropey root.

I quickly resorted to a sharp shovel. Despite my merciless hacking, I tried to save as much of the roots as possible and kept big chunks of dirt around the crowns. I consoled myself that the plants looked like they had more roots than the crowns people buy, so I was at least as good if not better than nursery stock. Plus my plants were out of the ground for less than a minute.

Asparagus crown root

I dug a deep trench and spaced the plants about a foot apart. I heaped them with soil, manure and compost and gave them a good drink. To cap it all off, I added a layer of mulch.

Watering transplanted asparagus crowns

I ended up with about 12 plants. I probably could have divided the crowns a bit more, but I didn’t want to traumatize them more than I already had. Plus, I filled the whole space I had allocated in the raised bed and was running into the grapes.

Row of asparagus crowns in raised bed

It’s been nearly a month since the transplanting. We’ve had a lot of rain and the asparagus seem to be thriving. We have some nice chunky stalks, but I’m restraining myself from picking anything.

Asparagus growing in the garden

Hopefully the patience will pay off and next year we will have our first harvest.

Have you committed any garden sins? Do you have asparagus in your garden? Or any crops that are testing your patience?

 

A baby, a cat and a peck of potatoes

Basket of potatoes

Against all odds, we have a harvest this year.

The best description for the garden this year was neglected. Back in the spring, Matt planted some potatoes. That was about the last time that we went into the garden. His parents took pity on us and weeded a few sections. But I had given up on picking anything this year.

Then one grey afternoon a few weeks ago, Matt decided to see what he could find.

Digging for potatoes

Accompanied by Ralph, the potato sniffing cat, and Ellie, the potato inspecting baby, they uncovered some bounty.

Ralph looking for potatoes

(Despite appearances, the baby is not freaked out by the potato.)

Baby admiring a freshly harvested potato

We celebrated the harvest with breakfast for dinner–complete with super fresh hashbrowns.

White and purple potatoes on the cutting board

There weren’t as many as we’ve had in past years, but there are enough for a few meals and some seed potatoes for next year. Because we’re not giving up. We will try again next year and hope that we have more potatoes than weeds this time around. Maybe we’ll put the cat and the baby to work earlier in the season next time.