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?

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?