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?

Forsythia of ’17

Forsythia blossoms

If you’ve been following the blog for awhile, you’ll know that every year I measure the progress of spring by our forsythia.

Five years ago when we first moved to the farm, we had a huge bunch of blooms at the beginning of April. Every year since then, I’ve snapped a picture on April 2 to gauge how this year compares. This year, I somehow missed that. Oops.

After two years of beautiful blossoms, though, our forsythia floundered. In 2014, 2015 and 2016–the last three years–blossoms have been few and far between.

But this year, they’re back.

Blooming forsythia bushes

It’s a huge improvement over the last few years.

Forsythia through the years

I’m so glad that the forsythia is flourishing again. Even better, there are some extra bushes that I’ve never noticed before at the edge of the front field.

I don’t think I’ve shared this view of the house before. This gives you a sense of where our house sits in relation to the barn and the fields. (To take these pictures I was standing in the front field).

Farm in spring

Forsythia bushes in bloom

I love seeing spring take over the farm.

Digging in the dirt

Tulips in the garden

Dirt under the nails, dirt on my jeans, digging in dirt. It has started.

It felt so good to get out in the sunshine on the weekend and start to weed the flower gardens.

Considering that last year it didn’t start at all, I had a bit of work to do.

A full year without weeding meant the garden was overgrown 6 months ago. After everything died off over the winter, it looked terrible.

Overgrown flower garden

Two heaping wheelbarrows later, it looks better, but a little bare.

Cleared garden

There’s plenty of room to grow. And it seems like the bushes, irises, sedums, tulips and other plants are all alive. So it should fill in quickly.

How are your gardens looking? Have you done any weeding yet?

Garden plans in Illinois

Like me, Sarah in Illinois is also planning and dreaming of her garden. She’s making her list and checking it twice–and then checking it a third time thanks to some help from the family. 

Like Julia, I am planning my garden this year. I wrote this post, and then when Julia mentioned taking a week off I thought that I might have a few things to add.

Well, it turns out I have lots to add.

I have received several plant and seed catalogs. I usually buy many of my plants at a local farm store, but I want to place an order for some of the things that are not found around here.

I made a small list and asked Steve if there was anything he wanted to add to it. My list included a few seeds that we always plant, and I added a few new things to try. Namely, blueberries, tomatillos, pepperoncini peppers and Black Krim tomatoes.

Steve couldn’t think of anything he wanted to add, so I set it aside and went out to clean the chicken coop. I came back in and Steve and his daughter had all of my catalogs out and were making a list. And I mean, they were making a LIST. Many items were new varieties of vegetables that we have grown before but there are new plans for the garden and surrounding yard this year.

We will be adding 2 cherry trees, 3 blueberry bushes and 4 grape vines. We also threw in 50 new strawberry plants and 2 holly trees for the yard. This wasn’t completely a shock to me since Steve and I have wanted to add a fruit arbor to our yard for a while. I just did not know that it was going to be this year.

At our house I am the planner, thinker and researcher. Steve is more likely to throw things together and see how it works out. It is a good combination for us. But that means I am frantically researching how, when and where to plant these trees and vines and bushes before they arrive and Steve is likely to just start digging when they show up. Hopefully, I will have a rough sketch of where we will put them soon.

Another way that Steve is helping to prepare for the garden is that he tuned up our tiller. He also fixed a couple things that have never worked for us on it. It is a hand-me-down piece of equipment and it has worked as-is, but it is nice that he has fixed a couple of the features on it. All we are waiting for is for the temperatures to rise a little and the garden to dry up a little.

Last weekend I planted some lettuce inside. I just felt I needed to start something growing around here. And in a short time I should have some lettuce to add to our salads!

My next post I will be updating how I did on my “one project a month” goal. I have made some progress as I mentioned. But I have also had setbacks.

I came home to this mess.

Blitz had knocked the little pot of brown paint (for my Grandma’s statue) off the workbench and all over him and the floor. Thankfully it was paint and not stain like I had originally thought. That would have been a nightmare to clean off of him and the floor.

Are you planning to plant anything new this year? Do you have any advice for growing any of the new items we ordered? Have you had any help from your pet on a project?

Way to go, Sarah. Your plans (and Steve’s) sound great. Perhaps we can share grape tips. I’m also curious to hear how your holly does. I love the idea of holly, but have been pretty much unsuccessful with two different plans at two different houses (including this one where I killed an established bush).

Vegetable garden plans

Garden in winter at sunrise

We are officially in the month of spring. That means spring break–and that’s just what I’m going to be doing next week. I’m going to be taking a bit of time to hang out at the farm and hang out with my family. It’s going to be a week off from the blog as well. I’ll be back after the break.

The month of spring also means that garden season is dawning–even here in Canada. The green in the photo above is the winter rye I planted back in the fall. I did not expect it to be this green at this time of year, but it’s a very encouraging way to start the year.

I already talked about my plan to add blackberries and some more grapes this year. The order went in to the nursery at the start of the week.

So now I’m thinking about the rest of the garden.

As a refresher, we have a roughly 2,500 square foot garden. It is round, so our strategy is to divide it into quadrants. Raised beds run around the perimeter.

After a lot of work over the last few years to finish the fence, build the raised beds, build trellises, run a waterlineconstruct and hang the gate–and clear the garden in the first place–I’m looking forward to being able to focus on plants and soil this year.

I have a few themes that are guiding my plans.

Space planning

Last year I said we were going to use the whole garden. But I lied.

We only used three quarters of it. And the third quarter was filled with watermelons and weeds that we let run wild, so that was pretty much a cheat.

Watermelon vines growing in the garden

I realized as the summer progressed, that all of our plants could have used a little more elbow room.

We have a huge garden. There’s absolutely no need to cram things in. So this year, the plan is to give our plants lots of space and use the whole garden.

The easiest way to do that is to designate specific quadrants for specific crops. Specifically, tomatoes and potatoes will each get their own quarters.

Garden plan 2017

Crop rotation

The tomato and potato placement leads to my other priority for this year, crop rotation. Different plants draw different nutrients from the soil. Rotation is important to ensure the soil has a chance to recover.

From what I’ve read, potatoes and tomatoes are not the best of friends–as in you shouldn’t plant tomatoes where you grew potatoes the year before (and vice versa). My plan is to plant them in opposite quadrants so that we can rotate them (literally) around the garden each year and have a gap year between when potatoes and tomatoes grow in the same spot. (Does that make sense?)

Harvesting red potatoes

I’ve moved plants around each year but not considered rotation in a thoughtful, strategic, multi-year way.

To make the rotation work, the potatoes will grow in the same spot this year that they were in last year.

A few other things are staying in same place, more out of laziness than any strategy. The squash trellis was a success last year, and I want to use it again. However, it’s a bit of a monster (16 feet long by about 7 feet tall and about six feet wide). The prospect of moving it is daunting. The best place for the sunflowers is the south side where the sun is the strongest. I don’t think one year of repeats for the squash and the sunflowers will be too tragic.

Sunflowers on the weathered wood fence

Weed control

Oh weeds. Between 2,500 square feet of soil and my day job, I do not believe it’s possible for me to keep up with weeding the garden. Or at least I’m not willing to put in the time required.

So plan B. Mulch. Deep, deep mulch.

Straw mulch in the vegetable garden

I think I should be able to buy (or receive) some old bales of straw from the farmer who does our fields. Old bales that are already on their way to compost would be perfect.

The mulch will (hopefully) not only keep down the weeds, but as it composts it will add nutrients back into the soil.

Plant choice

The big lesson you hear from a lot of gardeners is grow what you eat. If you ask Matt, he’ll say potatoes (the Kennebecs were awesome), peppers (I’d appreciate some red bell peppers and Matt’s particularly interested in jalapenos) and onions.

For me, the fun of gardening is still trying unusual and new things. That means probably planting a row of our purple potatoes again (we have some of our Russian Blues left that we should be able to use as seed potatoes). Trying some different tomatoes (probably not our giant Sicilian Saucers again). And experimenting with eggplant, broccoli or cauliflower for something completely new.

Sicilian Saucer tomatoes

Oh and less zucchini. Again. We downsized to only a half a dozen plants last year and that was still way too many.

I’m excited for warm weather, longer days and the return of the vegetable garden. Until that arrives, I’m excited for a little pre-season vacation. I’ll be back in a week.

Do you have any garden plans yet this year? Any tips for things to grow? How about rotation or weed control ideas?

Making a compost enclosure

Like us here in Canada, Sarah has had some unusual warm winter weather in Illinois. She took advantage of the spring-like temperatures recently to do some building outdoors. Her compost enclosure is something I’ve considered for our farm, so I enjoy seeing how she tackled it.

Last weekend we had unseasonably warm temperatures. When the forecast said that we were supposed to hit 70F (21C–thanks for the Celsius translation, Sarah!) on Sunday I decided I had to do something outside. One of the projects that I wanted to work on was my compost pile. At that point, I literally had a pile.

Basically, I just threw my scraps and yard waste into a corner of the chicken’s pen. The chickens helped me by scratching and turning over the pile, but pretty much we just had a mess.

I have a pile of wood scraps in my barn so I had plenty of supplies to make something to corral my compost.

I started by taking a 2×4 and cutting it into four 42 inch pieces for the corners. I found some old scraps of wood siding to use as the slats. I cut the slats for the sides at 30 inches and the slats for the front and back at the 42 inches.

I first assembled the two sides. I laid them on the floor and used screws to attach the slats to the corner pieces.

I set both sides next to each other so that the spacing between the slats would be the same. (Blitz photobomb!)

Once I had the two sides done, I just had to connect them with slats for the front and back. I didn’t necessarily have to add slats to the front but it did help make the structure more stable.

Also, since I knew that the chickens would help me turn the compost over, having front slats also helps keep the compost inside.

Once I finished I was very happy with the outcome.

However, Steve pointed out something very important. Compost can get very hot when it is breaking down. The chances of my pile catching fire are very slim, but there is no need to risk anything, so I moved the pile away from the barn.

Now, all I have to do is add more scraps to the pile, turn it over occasionally and wait.

Compost is “black gold” for gardeners, so I am excited to turn food scraps and yard waste into a nutritious fertilizer for my plants.

This will be so helpful for your garden, Sarah. The enclosure seems like a good way to keep the pile tidy. Gardening season is coming soon!

Vegetable garden additions – Blackberries and more grapes

Vegetable garden covered in snow

I don’t know as gardening season ever really stops on the farm. Sure we’re not out in the garden every day like during the warmer weather (hello, -20 degree windchill and ice storm). But we’re thinking about the next season, monitoring our stores of vegetables and preserves, and enjoying the produce (curried butternut squash soup, yum).

But come February, I feel like it’s more socially acceptable to discuss gardening. I mean, we’re just 40 days away from spring, people. It’s comin’.

My plans for the garden this year are relatively modest compared to last year. Between our raised beds, trellises, hose and gate, the infrastructure is all in place.

The quadrant layout is working for us. So now I’m just thinking about how to fill those quadrants. (Reminder, here was last year’s plan).

Round garden plan for 2016

Top on my list is adding a few more perennials this year, and I’d love your input on what would work best.

You may remember that I tried to domesticate some wild black raspberries, and ended up ripping them out when they ran wild. So I have a row of raspberry trellis that’s empty. My established raspberries reproduce prolifically, so it would be easy to transplant some new canes into the empty row. But I’d love to try something different.

I’m come across Arapahoe blackberries. They’re supposed to be thornless, self-supporting (so not floppy like the wild raspberries), reasonably hardy for the Canadian climate and with smaller seeds.

Seed catalogues

The other addition I’m considering is more grapes. I’m a bit hesitant because I know nothing about grapes, and I’m not sure if the grapes I bought last year are going to be alive in the spring.

I bought eight vines last year, four red (Somerset) and four purple (Sovereign Coronation). In my mind, I’ve always considered 12–an even dozen–a nice number of grapes. Plus, I feel like four green would round out my collection.

Lakemont are supposed to be seedless, store well (my catalogue says “actually improves in cold storage”) and a “superior” table grape.

Anyone know anything about Lakemont or Arapahoes? Any other suggestions of berries or grapes to add to our garden?