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?

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?

Home Goals 2022

Last year I returned to annual home goals with some pretty big projects (garage, mudroom, treehouse). It was motivating and fun, and I’m looking forward to more this year (though some lower budget projects, as I’m also rebuilding our savings).

Here is what’s on my list for 2022.

Mudroom

The mudroom ended 2021 as pretty much a blank slate. It had a fresh coat of paint, but no decor and storage was pretty makeshift. Built-ins are still the plan for this room (the ones below would be perfect, thanks), but they’re down the road a little ways. For now, I’m looking for some make-it-work-but-less-makeshift storage and some pretty finishing touches for the room. First up, painting some dressers.

Source: Crisp Architects

Garage landscaping

The garage landscaping will likely be our big project of the year. I’d like to pave the driveway and add a patio and some steps for the mudroom and living room (like the beautiful stone steps below). This project will require some professional help. The DIY portion will be spreading some topsoil and grass seed around the garage. Matt’s Dad bought me a load of topsoil for Christmas, so we’re ready to go as soon as the snow melts.

Source: Renaissance Landscape Group

Plan for the worst

Natural disasters and personal tragedies throw people’s lives into chaos every year. I want to protect Ellie and me and the farm, as much as possible. Some of the things on my list for this year include digitizing important documents, making a household inventory, packing a go bag, updating my will, and streamlining our finances. (This book has tips to address all of these and more.) These are not fun tasks, but I know they will give me peace of mind.

History

It’s been very special to connect with the woman whose family first owned this farm, and I’m looking forward to learning more from her. I’d also like to go farther back in the farm’s history and learn more about the Indigenous people who lived in this area and do more to acknowledge their history. This beautiful book that I received for Christmas has been very inspiring.

Pond shore

The pond shore returns for its annual appearance on this list. This year, I’m hoping to continue to clear the shore toward the creek and finally build a little bridge across.

Source: Atlanta Trails

Vegetable garden

Hope springs eternal for the vegetable garden. Ellie has picked some things she’d like to grow this year, and I’m hoping that interest translates into more time in the garden. I feel like I learned a good lesson last year: the garden–even if I achieve a low maintenance level–needs attention. Fingers are crossed that I give it more of that attention this year.

Source: Charles Dowding

Barn

Our beautiful big barn. I love this barn, and I want to preserve it. There are a few cracks in the foundation and a few leaky spots on back roof. I’ve had some people out to look at the foundation, and their assessment has been that the barn is in pretty good shape. Though they’ve also provided me quotes to restore the foundation, and the estimates are expen$$$$$ive in the extreme. One thing I can do is eavestrough. This will be a relatively inexpensive way help to ensure water runs away and protect the structure.

I am excited by what we have planned for this year, and I’m looking forward to sharing more with all of you.

What are you aiming to do at your house this year? Are you focused inside or out? What would your dream playground have? Any tips for low maintenance gardening? Is there such a thing?

Looking back at Home Goals 2021

I returned to annual home goals last year after a four-year break. It felt good to be focused and have some projects to work on through the year. And I feel like I did pretty well at accomplishing my goals.

Here’s a look back at what happened around the farm in 2021.

Garage addition

Our biggest project last year (biggest home project so far) was the garage and mudroom. These spaces have made such a difference for our home and how we use it. There are a few things to work on still (Home Goals 2022 coming soon!), but I am so happy we did this renovation.

Playground expansion

The treehouse playground was a highlight of last year. Both for the actual building and for the fun Ellie has playing on it.

Pond shore

The pond shore is my perennial home goal. Last year, we cleared a little more of the shore, though I didn’t do as much as I hoped and I didn’t build a little bridge across the creek. What is clear, we enjoyed, though. I had bonfires almost every week with my friends over the summer, and Ellie and I make regular visits to the little waterfall.

Vegetable garden

I would classify the garden as a fail last year. I tried mulch, but didn’t build proper raised rows. And I didn’t spend enough time in the garden to maintain it. We did grow a few things, and I feel like I keep learning every year.

The last big junk pile

The last big junk pile is pretty much gone and our new compost area is built. I have a bit more to tidy this spring, but the view out the dining room window is vastly improved.

Bedroom refresh

I thought my new duvet cover might inspire other changes in our bedroom. That didn’t happen. (My Mom did gift me with new pillows for Christmas.) The space is working well enough. Though I still think a closet reorganization would be lovely.

History

I was able to keep in touch with the woman who’s family first owned this farm over the last year. In fact, I have a story of a special tree planting to share soon.

Black and white photo of two children sitting on top of a wood gate

The garage, mudroom and treehouse are the big wins of last year. The garden is the big fail. But overall I am really happy with what we accomplished. I work best when I have specific projects to focus on, and I’m looking forward to setting new goals for 2022.

What was your biggest accomplishment at your house last year? Did you have any fails? Did you set any home goals?

New compost bin

Every farm has a junk pile. For us, our junk pile was along the tree line beside the garden. As we cleaned up other areas around the property, this was the spot we stashed things that we didn’t want to deal with.

Past owners had piled concrete blocks, bricks, old windows and barn doors. We added a basketball net (left behind by those same past owners), planters (past owners), composters (past owners), wood fence posts, two big hay bales, and more barn doors. This is also the spot I chose to dump clippings and weeds from the gardens. It was unmowable, unruly and unattractive.

This year, I decided it was time to tackle the junk pile.

The old windows (all of which had broken) went to the dump. The barn doors (which had mostly rotted) were burned. The hay bales went into the garden. Matt’s Dad trimmed low hanging branches so the tractor could drive through. Bricks were restacked, and then we added more with the brick that we removed for the garage renovation. So the junk pile hasn’t gone away. But it’s tidier than it was.

All year I’ve slowly pushed the junk back closer to the tree line and mowed farther and farther from the garden.

The last thing I wanted to tackle was the garden dump pile. It was years of raspberry canes, flowers, shrubs, vegetables, plants and weeds. All just dumped on the ground in an ever expanding blob.

My solution to contain the blob was a new compost bin. Matt’s Dad collected some skids for me. I used leftover deck blocks and 4x4s from the treehouse (of random lengths), and I made a large three-sided bin. I only made three sides, as I want to be able to dump the wheelbarrow into it easily. I also figure with this design the pile might be fairly easy to turn.

Skids are a common material these days for compost bins, but most bins are four-sided. I’ll see how our three-sided bin works and adjust if I need to.

I built the bin and then used the tractor to push the existing pile of garden waste into its new home. Then I dismantled the composter behind the house and added its contents to the new bin. The composter, though convenient to the kitchen, had come apart and the plastic had warped so much that I wasn’t able to put it back together.

My new solution for kitchen waste is a five gallon pail with a lid in the garage. I dump the kitchen compost into the pail and once a week or so carry the pail over to the garden and dump it in the big compost bin. I think this will give us a better mix of brown and green materials and I like the simplicity of having all of our compost in one spot.

I did the final vegetable garden clean out last week and added this year’s clippings to the new bin. We now have a wide swath beside the garden that we’ll be able to mow next year.

Let’s have a spring to fall before and after, shall we? Then I am crossing the last big junk pile off my Home Goals 2021 list.

Do you have a junk pile at your house? Who else is trying to finish off outdoor projects before the weather changes? What kind of compost bin do you have? Any compost tips to share?

Vegetable garden 2021

This year in the garden we grew some stuff. Some of it we actually wanted to grow.

In my quest for low maintenance, we spread a bunch of cardboard and straw mulch around this spring. It did pretty well at keeping the weeds down… for a while. I have to realize that low maintenance does not mean no maintenance and every gardening method takes time and care.

The cardboard disintegrated (as it’s supposed to) and weeds came up. The weeds in our garden are obnoxious. Most of them are prickles, which are not fun to pull out. And since I didn’t pull any of them out, they grew big and then it became not fun to even walk in the garden.

Ellie and I did plant some things, though our seeds were old and we planted them late. Our yellow beans grew, but I didn’t notice because they were quickly consumed by our pumpkins. Our pumpkins were the bumper crop of the year. We got eight good sized white pumpkins. It was fun to grow these with Ellie and talk about the flowers and the fruit, watch them develop and then pick them together.

Sharing the garden with Ellie is the fun. She loves the raspberries and the grapes and eats them straight from the plants. Unfortunately, our raspberries weren’t super prolific and most of the grapes went to the birds.

A surprise late bloomer (literally) has been our blackberries. Our blackberries have never done very much, but this year we’ve had several pints. Our canes are finally multiplying and the weather has stayed mild long enough for the berries to ripen. The fruit is delicious. Very few berries make it to the house.

Someday we may have a lovely, productive, low maintenance (is there such a thing?) garden. I haven’t figured out how to make that happen yet. I pretty much accept that this is the season of life that we’re in right now. Instead, I enjoy the fun that we do have, from watching things grow to giving all of our families pumpkins to eating sun-warmed blackberries as big as my thumb.

How did your garden grow this year? What’s your favourite fresh-picked crop?

Halfway through Home Goals 2021

I really like setting goals for the farm every year. With a large property, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done. Or pulled in a million different directions working on a million different projects.

This year has been feeling really good. I love being productive and making progress, and that’s what’s been happening so far.

At the start of the year, I identified seven projects or goals that I wanted to work on. (The original post has six because I wasn’t ready to talk about the garage yet, but it was definitely on my mind when I wrote the list.)

The goals were garage addition, playground expansion, pond shore clean-up, vegetable garden, the last big junk pile, bedroom refresh, and farm history.

Some of these goals are interconnected. The garage addition led to the playground expansion, as we used the wood from the old pool deck for the treehouse. The junk pile started to get organized (and downsized) because I needed a spot to stash the brick that were removed from the pool exterior. Part of organizing the junk pile involved tossing two old bales of hay into the garden for mulch.

With any home project, dominoes can happen really easily and it’s nice to be able to line them up intentionally. Here are some more details on how we’ve been doing with each goal.

Garage addition

The garage and mudroom are turning out so, so well. After thinking about this renovation for so long, I’m really pleased with the result. We are also so close to being done. (I owe you a look at the panelled and tiled mudroom.) We are waiting on doors. Person doors. Garage doors. We need doors. Once doors go in, trim can be finished and we can move in.

Playground expansion

I am almost as excited for Ellie’s treehouse/playground as I am for the garage. It’s big. It’s fun. And it’s something that I’ve done mostly by myself. It’s been a long time since I’ve built like this. I’d like things to be going a little faster, but bit by bit I keep making progress.

Pond shore

The barometer for the pond shore is can I mow it? Well, I’ve been mowing a little bit more shore this year. I clipped back brush and tiny trees. Matt’s Dad cut some more trees that had sprouted out of an old stump. Ellie and I carried everything to the firepit and had an epic blaze. We’re not ready to build our new bridge yet, but we have the beginning of a little path between two pines as I’ve always envisioned and we can access the waterfall more easily.

Vegetable garden

Ellie and I finally unrolled two old bales of hay and spread them over one quadrant of the garden. The hay (along with the cardboard I put underneath it) is doing a good job of keeping the weeds down for us. (Though everywhere else they’re as prolific as ever.) I haven’t managed to build any raised rows, but we have planted some tomatoes and a few other seeds. We were late and the seeds were old, but we have a few things growing in the garden for the first time in several years.

The last big junk pile

We’ve done dump runs, dragged brush to the burn pile, dug things out of the ground, picked glass out of the dirt and finally started mowing a little bit of the area beside the garden. In addition to being the dumping ground for who knows what, this spot is also my compost pile for weeds and other cuttings from the gardens. I’ve dealt with most of the who knows what. What’s left is piles of brush and leaves and weeds. Then the plan is to build a new compost bin that will contain the mess.

Bedroom refresh

The inspiration to refresh our bedroom was the new TRUBBTÅG duvet cover from Ikea. Which appeared to be out of stock for the first half of this year. It’s finally here, and now I’m wondering what else I want to do for this room?

History

Connecting with the woman whose family first owned this farm was a very meaningful experience last year for me. Due to lockdowns, we’ve not seen each other very much, and she’s not been out to the farm yet this year. We have kept in touch and I am looking forward to learning more about this special place.

Black and white photo of two children sitting on top of a wood gate

Progress is the theme for our Home Goals so far. Nothing is done yet. I’m not sure we’ll be completely finished any of them by the end of the year. But we’re making progress, and that makes me very happy.

It felt good to set goals at the beginning of the year. It felt like I was coming back into this part of myself that has been pushed to the background since I got pregnant, since Ellie was born, since Matt was sick.

It’s also felt good to work on these goals this year. Every day is a juggle of Ellie, work, farm, life. But the juggle has felt like a balance–of sorts–so far. I feel like I’ve made more progress this year than we have in a long time, and I’m excited to see what we accomplish over the rest of the year.

What have you been up to this year? How to you prioritize projects at your house? Are you feeling in balance? Productive? Motivated?

How to fight gypsy moths

Gypsy moths are an invasive species that is very destructive to trees. Caterpillars “feed gregariously.” If there are enough caterpillars, they may eat all of the leaves off a tree. “Severe defoliation can reduce tree growth and predispose trees to attack from other insects and diseases.” (Source)

We prize our trees here at the farm, and we’ve had some caterpillar damage the last few years. So last week, Ellie and I spent a morning scraping gypsy moth eggs off our trees.

Child standing on a ladder scraping gypsy moth eggs off a tree

I had noticed some pale patches on various trees and after a close look assumed they were egg deposits of some kind. Then, articles in a couple of magazines confirmed they were from gypsy moths. A very detailed article in our community newsletter advised scraping them into a bucket of hot water mixed with bleach. And to do it by May before the caterpillars hatched.

We were already into the first week of May, so Ellie and I got busy right away. We carefully examined our trees and scraped off any masses we found. A few had already hatched, though the caterpillars were still small and hadn’t crawled away yet. I was very glad to remove them before they moved onto the trees.

Gypsy moth egg mass with newly hatched caterpillars
Gypsy moth egg masses on a maple tree

We used a ladder to get as high as we could. We were careful to scrape as many of the eggs off as possible and catch them in the bucket, rather than letting them fall to the ground.

Gypsy moth egg masses and caterpillars in a bucket of water

We found the eggs on many of our maple trees. I’m sure there are a few we missed, and some that were out of reach. I’m hoping that we removed enough to prevent the trees from being severely damaged.

Our community newsletter also recommended wrapping sticky tape around the bottom of the trees to catch the caterpillars, so I’m planning on doing that as well.

The article concluded, “The more people that are aware and actively working to reduce gypsy moth populations, the better overall control we will have over this invasive pest.” I hope that this post encourages you to check your property for signs of gypsy moths.

Do you have any pests on your property? Are gypsy moths a problem in your area?

Quest for weed control in the vegetable garden

Our vegetable garden has been more of a miss than a hit the last few years, but I’m trying to get back in the game this year.

My first step has been prep. Years of neglect mean weeds are well-established throughout the garden. I’m not prepared to tackle the whole garden, but I’m going to try to reclaim a few areas. Rather than dig up all the weeds or till them under, I’m trying to suffocate them with mulch.

I first wrote about deep mulch gardening back in 2016. So this has been on my mind for a while.

I picked one quadrant (the others will not be planted and will be mowed or tarped), and laid down a whole bunch of cardboard.

We’ve had two bales of hay sitting beside the garden for a couple of years. I had intended to use them for mulch, but then gardening didn’t happen for a while. When the excavator was here a few weeks ago for the garage, I had him throw the bales over the fence (they had gotten too squishy for me to pick up with our tractor).

Ellie and I broke up the bales and spread the hay in a deep layer over all of the cardboard.

Between the raspberry rows, I laid more cardboard and then layers of bark that Matt’s Dad picked up when he was cleaning up some dead trees in the fenceline between the fields. They’re like really big woodchips.

It’s going to take a lot of work to get the garden back. If I’m going to have any success, I have to figure out a way to manage at least some of the weeds, and mulch is this year’s experiment. I feel like I’m already behind for this year, but I’m trying to remind myself that gardening is a multi-year undertaking.

The asparagus and rhubarb are up, though fluctuating temperatures seem to have slowed them down over the last couple of weeks (and weeds may be choking them). The grapes are alive, and I really need to figure out how I’m supposed to prune them. The raspberries look happy, including some new canes I took from Matt’s Dad last fall.

I have to dig out the weeds around the raspberries, asparagus, grapes and rhubarb. Then I’m going to try to put down more cardboard and more mulch wherever I can.

In the mulched quadrant, I’m going to plant annuals. What ones, I’m not exactly sure yet. I’m also not sure how I’m going to plant in the mulch. I may try to add soil and/or compost on top of the hay to make a raised row garden, or I may just scrape the hay back, punch through the cardboard and plant in the soil underneath.

There’s still lots to figure out, and we’re a looong way from having a thriving vegetable garden (unless you’re a weed… or a bee wearing pollen pants).

But it does feel good to be back in the dirt. And I’m glad to be trying out some of the techniques I’ve read about and thought about for a long time.

Are you planting a vegetable garden this year? Any tips for dealing with weeds? Or reclaiming a neglected garden?

Home Goals 2021

It’s been a while since I’ve posted home goals. Looking back, 2017 is the last time I looked a year ahead and thought about what I wanted to change around the house and property. I was surprised it’s been that long.

But I am ready to think about home goals again.

It’s nice to feel this part of me coming back.

Here are some of the projects I’d like to tackle this year.

Playground expansion

The playground that we got for Ellie last year has been awesome. As soon as it arrived, I started thinking about how I could expand it. When I saw this set-up from heart of this home, everything came together in my mind (and in a hastily scribbled sketch).

Pond shore

Having déjà vu yet? Yes, the pond shore makes the list every year. And yes, with a lot of help we cleared the shore last year—or at least part of it. I’d love to clear a little bit more and build a little bridge so that we can cross the creek more easily.

Vegetable garden

Another item that always makes the list. Matt’s Dad and I cleared a lot of the weeds out of the garden last fall, and that gives me hope that I can maybe possibly hopefully manage one quadrant this year. I’d love to try raised rows, deep mulch and no dig. The promises of a low maintenance garden make me feel like the set-up would be worth it.

The last big junk pile

Between the garden and the tree line of the front field is one of our last remaining junky areas. It’s full of brush, skids, bricks, lumber, barrels, a basketball net and who knows what else. It’s in direct view out the dining room window, and I’m tired of looking at it every day. I’d like to finally tidy it up and mow the grass.

Bedroom refresh

I guess I should put at least one house project on my home goals list, eh? I saw before Christmas that Ikea has a new duvet cover in a pattern I’ve coveted for years. As soon as the king size comes back in stock, I’m planning to order it. I’m thinking a bedding refresh might inspire a couple of other changes. Paint? A different dresser? A better closet organizer? I have some ideas.

Source: Ikea

History

Connecting with the woman who’s family first owned this farm was a very meaningful experience of the last year for me. I am looking forward to continuing to stay in touch with her and learning more about this special place.

Black and white picture of a two story farmhouse surrounded by open fields

Even without goals the last few years, we’ve accomplished things around the house: demolishing the sunroom, redoing the dining room, setting up Ellie’s nursery (I have an update to share) and a new play area for her, clearing the pond shore, finally putting the finishing touches on the basement.

I’m proud of what we’ve done. But I’m also happy to be back in a more plannful frame of mind. It helps me focus–there’s that word of the year.

Stick with me. Let’s see what happens.

What are you aiming to do at your house this year? Are you focused inside or out? What would your dream playground have? Any tips for low maintenance gardening? Is there such a thing?