Hollyhocks

Light to dark pink hollyhocks

Every summer along the edge of the field behind my parents’ house a clump of hollyhocks would spring up. The tiers of blooms fascinated me, and I frequently tromped through the unmowed grass to admire them.

Last year, I planted some hollyhocks seeds in the vegetable garden. In last week’s guest what post, I shared a bud that appeared a few weeks ago. This year, at the entrance to the vegetable garden we have the most beautiful stand of blooms.

They range from the lightest blush pink to deep dark red.

Dark red hollyhock blooms

Hollyhocks feel farmy to me. They’re so beautiful and I love having them in the vegetable garden.

Hollyhocks are biennial, meaning that they bloom every other year. After seeing how well these have done, I went and bought another packet of seeds and sprinkled them over the soil beside these blooming stalks. These are supposed to self-seed, so I’m hoping that with the new additions we’ll have blooming hollyhocks every year.

Pink hollyhocks

Do you have hollyhocks are your house? Have you planted any flowers amongst your vegetables?

Guess what?

whatisthis11

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a guess what post. I’m not sure this one is entirely fair, as the before and after pictures were taken a few weeks apart.

I’m thrilled to have this addition to the farm. Take a guess today, and I’ll be back on Monday with the answer.

In between, I hope that you have a great weekend.

Home Goals 2017 mid-year report

Hello July. Holy moly we’re already halfway through the year.

Halfway through the year means it’s time to take a look at how we’re doing on Home Goals 2017.

July also means summer vacation. I’m going to be taking a brief blogging break this week in favour of spending some time working on more of these Home Goals.

Office

The first room makeover of the year and the last bedroom to be redone. In case it’s not clear from all of the posts I’ve done about this room–including last week’s video tour–I’m loving this room.

China cabinet storage in the office

Pond shore

The pond shore was my one and only property clean-up goal this spring. However, between time, weather and then a broken arm, it didn’t happen. Argh. Expect to see this on the 2018 home goals list.

Instead of the pond shore, we tackled some other property clean-up. Matt and I burned an overgrown area behind the driveshed–but then I never cleared the rocks that we uncovered, so we haven’t been able to mow it, and it’s almost as overgrown as usual now. I’ve ever so slowly been tackling the jungle behind the house. So property clean-up hasn’t been a total skip this year. It just hasn’t been focused in the area I had hoped.

Cleaning up brush with fire

Vegetable Garden

The vegetable garden is off to a slow start, but a good one. The new blueberries, blackberries and grapes that I added are all doing well. The year-old grapes even seem to have recovered from their infestation.

I’m later than I would like on planting, so everything is pretty small still. Plus, so far I haven’t had any luck finding straw for our deep mulch experiment, so the battle against the weeds is being waged by hand. But between me and weeds, we’re even. I can’t say they’re winning yet, so I’m counting that as a win for me.

Weedy potatoes

Flower gardens

The flower gardens have been getting a bit more attention this year than they did last year. As a result, they’re–surprise, surprise–looking better than they did last year. The peonies were stunning, and we’re moving on to lily season.

I’ve added a couple of new plants–an astilbe and a white lilac–which will bring more blooms to our very green beds. Everything needs a good haircut–deadheading the spent blossoms and shaping up some of the very bushy bushes–so that’s the next to-do on the list.

Pink peony

Basement

I was really excited to share the basement TV area a little while ago. There are two more spaces in the basement that I’m hoping to show to you before the year’s out. They just need some art, some styling and a major tidy. Organizing the basement is tops on Matt’s list for the summer, so between the two of us, we may finish the rest of this space yet.

Basement TV area

New barn cat

We’ve decided that the best thing for Ralph for now is for her to continue to enjoy her days in peace and relative solitude. Our best girl is queen of the farm and doesn’t need a sidekick. So we will continue to be a one barncat farm for the foreseeable future.

Our barncat Ralph

Coop

This final task is a new addition for this year’s Home Goals courtesy of Matt. He is determined to have some hens to eat ticks next year, so that means we’re taking down the old coop and building a new one. I have lots of ideas about how to build the coop, but I haven’t entirely worked out all of the details of this project. I expect this one will take a little while. I guess I know what we’re doing this summer.

Old chicken coop

In fact, we’re getting a little start on the coop this week. With my few days off work, and Matt now on summer holidays, there will be gardening, weeding, organizing, cooping and cat scratching. Somewhere in there, there may be some relaxing too.

As part of my holiday, I’m taking the rest of the week off the blog too. I’ll be back next week with more news from the farm.

How are you doing on your projects so far this year?

Maintaining not building

Matt and I tilling the garden

Spring is a mad dash around the farm. There’s winter clean up, like picking up branches, and there’s summer prep, like putting the mower on the tractor. And before we know it, we’re weeding gardens, cutting grass and deep in the routine of outside work. I have this feeling that if I don’t get the gardens, lawn, trees, flowers, patio, barn, tractor, equipment, what-have-you set up right now, I’ll be behind all year.

However, this year it’s been feeling a wee bit different. It’s almost calmer. Almost.

For the first time, I feel a bit like we’re maintaining, rather than building.

Our first five years at the farm have been about so much work–reclaiming the overgrown property, establishing flowerbeds, making the vegetable garden. There are still pieces of that, but I feel a bit like the main parts are in place, and the way we work on the property is a bit more normal.

Overgrown flower garden

Cleared garden

Garden in bloom in June

I do have one big “building” project on my Home Goals list: clear the pond shore. When Matt broke his arm last month, we had to re-evaluate what we were going to be able to do this year. So the pond shore has been deferred. As the brush is already quite overgrown, I’m thinking it may be easiest to wait until next spring when it’s all died off again.

But good news, Matt gets his cast off today. And ready or not, summer has arrived.

It’s an ongoing battle to keep the farm somewhat civilized, but through a lot of work we’re in decent shape this year.

How’s spring going for you? How do you handle property maintenance at your house?

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.

A late start, but progress, in the vegetable garden

Vegetable garden at the beginning of June

Living in Canada, our growing season starts a little later than some other places. However, I’m feeling really late on the vegetable garden. You’ll notice I haven’t shared an update on the garden since my last one when I said I was trying to stay away from the garden. Unfortunately, I’ve been fairly successful at staying away, and I’m quite behind on the vegetable garden.

Everything starts with weeding. I got the raised beds around the perimeter and one of the quadrants completely weeded last weekend. Another of the quadrants still has our winter rye cover crop, so I’ll just keep mowing it. That means there’s roughly half the garden to go.

Winter rye cover crop in spring

As I’m weeding, I’m planting because if I wait until the garden is weed-free we won’t grow anything.

I put in our potatoes a few weeks ago. So long ago that I need to go back and weed them again and then hill up the plants. Between the rows I’ve laid down some black rubber to try and smother the weeds.

Potato plants

I planted four new grapevines.

New Lakemont grapevines

All of the eight vines I planted last year are alive. I’m not sure I can take credit for this, but I’m still proud to see them growing. We now have four Somerset (red), four Sovereign Coronation (blue) and four Lakemonts (green). All seedless table grapes.

Two-year-old grape vines

I also ordered five blackberry bushes to add this year. We have a thriving row of red raspberries that I got from my parents last year (they’re that bushy mass in the background of the photo below).

I could easily do two rows of raspberries–I’ve thrown out hundreds of canes as I’ve weeded the garden–but variety is the spice of life, so I’m trying these Prime Ark Freedom blackberries. The canes seem pretty healthy, even though they mostly look like sticks for now.

Blackberry canes

While I was picking up my grapes and blackberries I noticed blueberry bushes for $4 each. Regularly these cost $12-$16. I’m usually a fairly plannful gardener and don’t buy things on a whim, but $4 is too good of a deal, so four blueberry bushes came home with me. Two are Jersey and two are Brunswick.

Blueberry bush

I love the way the outer raised beds are shaping up. They are going to be home to perennials (mostly fruits and a few herbs). There is our asparagus (still small, but thriving).

Asparagus gone to seed

Then there’s our dozen grapes, followed by our rhubarb. I’ve left room for us to add more rhubarb plants when this one is ready to split.

Rhubarb plant

Coming around the garden we go into the blueberries. There are also lavender, sage, thyme and chives. I may plop some basil, dill and rosemary in here, even though they’re not perennials.

Sage plant with buds on it

We have some sprouts in the house, but they’re still pretty small–our theme of starting everything late this gardening season applies to everything. I want them to hurry up and grow because they really could go outside. But the garden isn’t quite ready for them, so I don’t mind them taking their time.

I still have plans to get some old hay bales from our farmer so that we can put a deep mulch on the garden. Hopefully that will mean I don’t spend all of gardening season weeding.

For now, even though I’m behind, I am very pleased with how things are looking. This is our third year with our garden and our second with it officially laid out with raised beds and trellises. It’s really taking shape.

How is your garden growing? Are you ahead or behind or on schedule? Have you added any new plants this year? Do you have any tips for growing blueberries?

Real life in Illinois

Unfortunately, nothing seems to be going well right now for Sarah in Illinois. But philosophically, she says, “That is life!” She is here today with a chicken, fruit tree and garden update.

I’d love to start this post with a tale of how I walk out into my back yard, with my dog at my side. We walk to the chicken coop where we lovingly pet the chickens, gather more eggs than we could eat, then walk over to the garden. We pick multitudes of strawberries, sugar snap peas, rhubarb and gaze at the full garden of healthy, thriving plants that will soon provide healthy vegetables to all of our meals.

Unfortunately, this is real life. And life doesn’t care about your plans.

This post will be full of things that have gone wrong. But I promise, I am keeping a positive outlook.

Chickens

If you follow me on Instagram, you already know what I am going to write here. One of my chickens died. I don’t know what happened.

Last weekend our neighbor texted Steve and said that she had some type of predator that has been getting in her barn, and it killed two of her young kittens. So Steve went to help her, and the plan was to set a live trap and hopefully catch the culprit.

The next evening I went to close up my chickens and I found the Rhode Island Red dead in the corner of the coop. The other three chickens are perfectly fine.

I inspected the coop and run and found no point of entry. There was no blood and no damage to the body of the chicken. So even though I have been on alert with my neighbor having an issue, I really don’t feel a predator killed my chicken. I think it must have had some problem that I was not aware of. But believe me when I say, I am keeping a much closer eye on the coop.

Fruit Trees

I posted a few weeks back that we had planted two cherry trees. I had ordered them through a seed and plant catalog, and they came bare root. If you have seen a small bare root tree, it basically looks like a stick.

I had confidence that with all the rain (more on that below) I would see some sort of life in our two “sticks,” but after about 4 weeks they showed no sign of life, no leaf, no bud. In fact one was very brittle and Steve was easily able to break the top off.

One day we were at our local “buy everything in one stop” store and there was a 4-foot cherry tree with healthy leaves and even a couple cherries hanging from it.

We decided it was time to give up on our “sticks” and purchase trees that were about 4 years further along in the growing process.

While we were there I told Steve that we should go ahead and pick up a peach tree. They looked healthy and peaches are Steve’s favorite fruit. He looked them all over, made sure the leaves looked healthy, made sure the trunk was straight and we made our purchase. When we got home, we dug a hole and when we lifted the tree to set it in, we saw the tag hanging off of it: Apple Tree ‘Pink Lady.’

We got a good laugh out of how both of us could inspect this tree so closely, look at the leaves that were obviously not peach tree leaves and still bring home an apple tree.

The next day we went back up and picked up two peach trees. We checked and double checked the tags this time.

Garden

In my last post, I talked about how much rain we had.

In 6 days we measured 9.7 inches of rain in our rain gauge. Since then I haven’t kept as close record, but I know for certain we have had at least another 3 inches. I looked online and our average rainfall for the month of May is 4 inches. We have had over three times our normal rainfall.

As I write this, the forecast is calling for 80% chance of thunderstorms tonight and 50% chance tomorrow. So the fact that I have ANYTHING growing in the garden is close to a miracle.

I have had to replant potatoes, but thankfully the second crop has broken ground and is much more likely to make it.

We also replanted cucumbers and sugar snap peas, and they also look much better.

Remember last year when I overdid it on the radishes? We we took a much better approach this year, and my crop is a lot more manageable.

However, our tomatoes and green peppers are showing signs of stress from the excess rain. The leaves are starting to yellow. We planted 2 green peppers on little mounds hoping that would help, but I am still not sure about them.

As you can see, our garden is struggling a little bit. But it is still early and I have high hopes that it will come around. Looking closely at my pictures, you can see I have some weeding to do.

As soon as it is possible we still need to plant green beans, squash, cabbage, watermelons and sunflowers. I will plant pumpkins sometime in early July for an October harvest.

That looks so, so soggy, Sarah. You’ve had some tough breaks. I love that you can still laugh about apple-peach trees and look ahead to a successful harvest.

Odds and sods

Collage of photos

We’ve had some ups and downs over the last couple of weeks, but tonight the first long weekend of the “summer” begins. We don’t have a lot of plans for this weekend, which is probably a good thing. There may be gardening. There may be hiking. I may simply sit in the garden with my book.

Here is some of what we’ve been up to, and some other interesting things I’ve seen recently.

  • One of the big downs was that Matt was in a car accident and has a broken arm as a result of the airbag. We’re very grateful that he was not more seriously hurt, and it looks like his car is going to be replaced fairly easily, so things are looking up now. Plus the blue cast that he chose put the Blue Jays on a bit of a winning streak–one that they can hopefully recapture this weekend.
  • While we’re watching the baseball games, I’m hoping I can multi-task and catch up on some of the One Room Challenge reveals that I haven’t seen yet.
  • I got a new phone two weeks ago. This is a huge upgrade over my four year-old Blackberry. I’ve been super impressed with the camera, which gave me one of my favourite pictures so far of Ralph surveying her domain from the barn.
  • Just because we can’t play favourites, there’s another cute photo of our other furry dude and some of his furry friends (are horses furry?)
  • Back to Ralph, I’m adding catnip to the garden for her this year. I came across this cat herb garden last week, and now I’m thinking our best girl might need a few other herbs too.
  • Another brilliant garden idea that I saw this week was this double-duty yard tool/yard stick for the garden–so smart.
  • Ending on one more up, trillium season is always special. I love seeing their flowers around the farm. We even have one blooming in our front garden.

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend. And to my fellow Canadians, Happy Victoria Day. How are you marking the weekend?

Wading into the vegetable garden in Illinois

Illinois is soggy for Sarah these days, so her gardening is on hold. But before the flood arrived, she got a great start on planting. She’s sharing some of the progress in her update today.

Julia may be “tiptoeing into the vegetable garden” at her house, but we have to wear muck boots in our garden right now.

Well, no I wouldn’t even attempt to step one foot in our garden. This morning before I wrote this post, our garden looked like this:

And they are predicting constant rain for the next 48 hours for our area with a total of 5 to 8 inches according to our local weather. So all of our gardening has been put on hold.

However, I want to share what we accomplished before the rain began.

We like to get our potatoes in the ground on Good Friday, and we were only a day late. On that Saturday we were able to plant potatoes, carrots, radishes, lettuce and kale. The next day we got a hard rain. We didn’t get much volume of water. It just fell hard.

I am learning every day about gardening and farming, and what I learned is the rain somewhat compacted the top layer of soil in the garden and then it dried. So when I went back to check on what I had planted a few days later there was a “crust” of soil on top of the seeds.

The radishes were able to break though but the more fragile plants like the carrots and lettuce were not able to break through the “crust.” It looks like we will be replanting those crops.

About a week later Steve and I got several more things in the ground.

We planted two holly trees.

Two cherry trees and four grapevines. Steve set three poles for our grape vines that we will eventually string with cable. Of course right now the vines are about 12 inches tall so not much support is require yet.

Three blueberry bushes.

Then we planted cucumber, sugar snap peas and new asparagus crowns in the garden.

I have planted trees before, and my mom has always taught me the importance of watering. In fact, she has told me, “water every day for a week, every week for a month and every month for a year.” So every day after work I made sure to do that.

Of course, I get a little break right now with all of this rain.

When it does dry up, I have a few plants ready to go.

I have some cabbage, bell peppers and tomatoes sitting near my window. I try to start tomatoes from seed every year and as I have mentioned before I really struggle with it. I had bought Black Krim and San Marzano seeds, and I have starts that are about 3 inches tall but they do not look very healthy.

A family friend of ours starts hundreds of tomato and pepper seeds every year and gives us nice healthy plants. I told her of my struggles and she said that she does use grow lights but she also plants by the moon. That is something that I have heard of but never attempted myself. I think I should really rethink that though when I look at her plants.

This year she brought Celebrity, Early Girl, Better Boy, Rutgers, Roma, Orange Slice, Sunny Boy, Jet Star, Brandywine and a cherry tomato.

We divide all of the plants up between my parents and my brother, so I have a small selection to plant at our house. I hope to mark all of the varieties clearly so that I can keep somewhat of a record of which varieties I like best. I love that she not only gives us strong healthy plants but also we get so many to choose from.

My mom also brought me a couple of Mr. Stripey tomato plants for my garden so we are going to have a rainbow of tomatoes to choose from this year.

Of course that is if we ever see dry ground again.

Oh, Sarah. That’s a ton of rain. Good for you for making so much progress, though. You have so many great plants. Hopefully the weather cooperates for you this year and you harvest a ton of great food.

Tiptoeing into the vegetable garden

Raspberry canes

I’ve been avoiding the vegetable garden. Not out of a lack of enthusiasm. I want to be in the garden. But I’m trying to be strategic about where I spend my time right now. I want to finish the office and I want to give the flowerbeds some attention. The garden has to wait.

I’ve set May as my start date for any serious work in the vegetable garden. I say serious because I can’t deprive myself avoid it entirely.

There are a few things that needed to happen sooner.

First is unwrapping the grapes. I had covered our new vines in burlap last year hoping it would help them survive the winter. Now that the temperatures are warmer and the sun is shining, I wanted them to have the benefit of the nice weather. I’m still not entirely sure how many vines survived the winter, but I feel like at least a few are alive.

Uncovering grapes that have been wrapped in burlap

I planted a rhubarb plant that I stole from my parents’ garden. Rhubarb has been on my list for a few years, so it’s exciting to have our own plant finally. This plant seems quite happy. Transplanting early in the season is working very well for me this year. The ground is wet, temperatures are mild, sun is shining. I’ve been moving a number of plants around and they all seem to be thriving.

Rhubarb early in spring

Matt and I cut up our seed potatoes. We planted our potatoes the first of May last year, and it worked out great, so we’re trying to get them ready. The cool thing about our potatoes this year is that except for one new variety our seed potatoes are all potatoes that we grew ourselves last year. We have Russian Blues, red and Kennebecs. The Kennebecs were our favourite last year and lived up to Karen’s hype. This year we’re adding Basin Gold, which are a big baking potato. Matt had bought these at the grocery store and they happened to sprout before we ate them, so into the garden they go.

I’m not sure where I read about this chitting technique, but this has worked for us the past few years. We cut the potatoes so that each chunk has about one eye. Then we let them dry out for a few weeks so that the potatoes don’t rot when we put them in the ground. I know people say these white stringy sprouts are not desirable, but they worked well for us last year and our plants seemed to grow faster.

Methinks we’re going to have lotsa potatoes.

Seed potatoes

The other exciting garden development–and one which I’ve done nothing for–is asparagus. It’s alive! Our scraggly little plants that we started from seed last year have begat a few slender stalks. Spindly might be a better term. A step up from scraggly, but not quite slender yet. Size does not matter in this case. The fact that they’re alive is a win.

Asparagus

We’re just a few days away from May, so my self-imposed hiatus will be coming to an end shortly. Then it’s full speed ahead on the vegetable garden. I’m excited with what’s to come next.

What gardening have you been doing? Do you have any transplant or potato growing techniques?