Brush clean-up with a borrowed wood chipper

Back in the spring, I started trimming branches, brush and trees that had sprouted up around the farm. I kept clipping and cutting for weeks. (Matt’s Dad even came out to help with some bigger trees). By the time I stopped, I had two very large piles of brush.

I asked our farmer (who rents our fields) if I could borrow his wood chipper. He was willing to loan it to me, but when I asked if our tractor could run it he laughed at me. So I needed to borrow the chipper and a tractor. Well, the weather shifted soon after that, hay season started, and our farmer and his tractors were busy.

So the piles sat.

I waited until we were well into fall, and I reached out to our farmer again. A giant tractor and an equally giant wood chipper soon arrived.

And I got to work.

The chipper blasted through our brush. It was awesome. Matt’s Dad came over and cut a few more trees, so I added them to my pile and kept going. When I finished one pile, I moved the tractor (slightly terrifying to drive something that big) to the next pile and kept going. It took several days, but finally all the brush was gone.

I spent another day cleaning up and moving the piles of chips. I have one pile on the turnaround where it will be spread on our new flower garden next spring. I have another pile tucked beside the compost bin for wherever else we need it. And I still have half of the load that a local tree service delivered back in the spring. (Comparing piles, I estimate that I chipped another truck load.)

With my focus on no dig gardening, the chips will be useful. I’d much rather make the brush into something useful than burn it. Plus having all of the brush finally cleaned up feels like a big win.

Do you use woodchips in your gardens? Have you ever used a woodchipper? Or driven a big tractor?

Getting the vegetable garden ready for winter

Garden month kicked off in September. Now, in November (two months, but who’s counting?), I am declaring it done.

I am also declaring it a success.

You may recall that by mid-October I had one task left on my to-do list: clean up the vegetable garden.

My focus was on the one quadrant where Ellie and I grew some things this year. That quadrant definitely was my main priority, but two other quadrants also got some attention. That means three quarters of the garden is in pretty good shape for next year.

In our growing quadrant, I laid out planting beds and pathways mulched with woodchips. I had researched the best dimensions for no dig beds, brought my measuring tape outside, laid out one piece of string… and then I just went for it. We ended up with three wide beds. My plan was to seed them with a rye cover crop, but it’s too late in the season, so I covered them with leaves instead. We have ample supply of leaves right now.

I laid down cardboard under as much as I could, but I quickly ran out. Some weeding will be in my future, but hopefully the mulch is thick enough that it will help a bit.

Ellie wanted to plant some garlic (part of her birthday present to me). So we set up another wide planting bed and another mulched pathway in an adjacent quadrant. Then we tarped the rest.

Two quadrants done. Now onto the raised beds around the edge.

These beds hold our asparagus and grapes… and a lot of weeds. I’m embracing no dig, so my clippers got a workout as I chopped the weeds as close to the ground as I could. Around the grapes, I laid down my last stash of cardboard (pizza boxes) and topped them with more woodchips.

There was one last thing on my to-do list and it was outside the garden. So, so many weeds had grown up around the fence. I still don’t have a working weed eater, and the mower can only get so close. So my clippers went to work again, and I edged the outside of our growing quadrant. It didn’t take that long, so I kept going. Then I did a bit more and the whole perimeter was cleared. Next year, I will get the weed eater running and keep the edge tidy.

I was on a roll with my clippers, so I ventured back inside the garden and went to work on another section of raised beds. I managed to clear it. Then the mower handled a third quadrant.

Finally, I stopped. (Though I am coveting bundles of cardboard set out for recycling at local stores and eyeing the leaves that are covering so much of our lawn… I could mulch the rest of the garden and it would be so good!)

As it is now, three quarters of the garden are pretty useable. Since my goal at the start of garden month was one quadrant, we’ll definitely be ahead when spring comes.

To-do list over-achievement rarely happens for me. Does it for you? Are your gardens ready for winter? Have you planted anything this fall?

Garden month… part 2

Last month I declared September garden month. I was cleaning up, wrapping up, and setting up for next spring.

We have now passed the middle of October, and gardening month(s) is continuing.

The photo below shows some progress that has been made.

Ellie and I transplanted about half of the well garden to the turnaround, and I spread top soil.

Transplant well garden

I feel like the turnaround is a great start. The transplanting was a bit haphazard. We didn’t peel back all of the sod on the turnaround. There was no planting scheme. We didn’t get quite everything out of the well garden. But there are bright sides.

The plants in the well garden were so large that each plant split into many other plants, so we filled a large area of the turnaround. I can see where this garden is going, and I’m hopeful that we’ll make good progress next year.

Spread topsoil

The top soil had sat beside Ellie’s treehouse for nearly a year, so getting rid of the pile was a big accomplishment. In the end, it took me two hours with the tractor to spread and level it all. (I’m not very skilled with the loader, so finishing everything in so little time feels like a major win.)

The garage got a little top-up where the backfilling had settled, and then the rest went to the solar trench. It’s been eight years since that trench was dug and the ground has settled very unevenly. The tractor is good at finding the low spots and ends up spinning its wheels as they hover above the ground. Hopefully mowing will be a bit easier next year now that the worst dips are filled.

Clean up vegetable garden

The vegetable garden is the reason garden month is continuing. I pruned the raspberries, but that’s it. I am aiming to layout paths and rows in the quadrant that we planted this year, so that we’re ahead when spring comes. Ellie bought me garlic for my birthday, so we also have to plant that.

Maybe I can say garden month has successfully concluded and vegetable garden month is now beginning.

Is anyone else still gardening? What outside chores are you trying to finish off? Have you done any fall planting?

Garden month kicks-off

Happy September. Does anyone else feel like the clock is ticking? Yesterday we had our first cool temperatures and even saw a flock of geese flying over.

Fall on the farm always comes with a bit of pressure (or at least an ambitious to-do list flitting around in my brain). I know it’s not fall yet, and I said in my last post that I’m holding onto summer as long as I can. I am. But there’s a window here. So I am declaring September garden month.

I have some very specific tasks that I’d like to tackle this month, so that I am prepped for winter. Really, I’m looking beyond winter and ahead to next summer.

Spread topsoil

You may recall that my Christmas gift from Matt’s Dad last year was a load of topsoil. We have put the dirt to good use, but we still have a large pile left. I know exactly where I’m going to use it, and if I have a day with the tractor, I think I can get it all spread. Toss on some grass seed, and we’ll have a smooth(er), green(er) lawn next year.

Clean up vegetable garden

We had more success in the vegetable garden this summer than in many years. It’s still a complete disaster, but we made an itty-bitty bit of progress. I’d like to build on that progress by cleaning up what worked this year (zucchini, cucumbers, peas, raspberries), and getting one quadrant ready for planting next year. That means pruning, paths, rows, mulch, cover crops.

Transplant well garden

Garden in bloom in June

Anticipating that we will be building the driveway/mudroom patio next year, I want to empty the flower garden that’s currently in this spot. This garden is well-established, and I don’t want to lose the plants when everything is under construction. I always envisioned the turnaround being a massive flower garden, so I my plan is to use these plants to begin to fill the other half, which is currently grass.

Working on these tasks this month will hopefully give seeds and plants time to get established before winter and set us up for smooth(er) sailing next year. At least, that’s the plan. Ellie starts school next week, so I will have more time for projects (at least that’s the plan). Garden month, here I come.

Do you have any projects you’re working on this month? Anyone else feeling the pressure of winter looming? Share what you’re working on in the comments, and we’ll cheer each other on.

Home Goals 2022 mid-year report

We are halfway through 2022, so today I’m looking at this year’s home goals and seeing how I’m doing.

Before writing this post, I felt like I was doing pretty well (spoiler alert: after writing the post I feel the same way). There was a moment in the spring when things felt doable. Then another moment when everything raced ahead–as always happens in spring–and I felt like I’d never catch up.

I’m still not caught up, but I’m comfortable with where we’re at. And in some ways I feel like we’re ahead of the last few years.

Here is some of what we’ve been up to so far in 2022.

Mudroom

The mudroom sees a lot of action everyday as we enter and exit the house. But it has not seen a lot of action on the finish-off-the-reno front. All of the niggly little details are why the One Room Challenge is such a good event. I had five tasks on my mudroom to-do list. I have crossed two of them off–refinishing and hanging a mirror and installing a nightlight cover plate. I have another six months to install the pulls on the dressers, finish the key cabinet and hang art.

Garage landscaping

As I wrote last month, our “big project of the year”–paving the driveway, adding a patio and some steps for the mudroom and living room–is not going to happen this year. Ellie and I have spread topsoil and grass seed all around the garage, so the DIY portion of this project is done. I’m still hunting for contractors with the goal to line up someone before the end of 2022 to finish the driveway and patio next year.

Plan for the worst

I’ve made a bit of progress on preparing for the worst, but not as much as I want to (as I noted at the start of the year, these are not fun tasks). I’ve updated our home insurance and closed extra bank accounts. Still on my to-do list: digitizing important documents, making a household inventory, packing a go bag, updating my will, and making some notes for my executor. The extreme weather we have now, especially the high winds, reinforce how important some of these tasks are.

History

Connecting with the history of this farm is very meaningful, so this goal is one that I really enjoy. I’ve kept in touch with the woman whose family first owned this farm. I’ve also spent some time with the owners who lived here from 1980-2000, and last month met a woman who lived here from the 1950s-70s. I found out the original farmhouse burned around 1974, and her father built the house that we live in.

I’m trying to learn more about the Indigenous people who lived in this area, and work to acknowledge them and honour them in how I care for this land. Growing my understanding of this place is ongoing and deepens my relationship with the farm.

Black and white picture of a two story farmhouse

Pond shore

I made some good progress in the spring clearing more area along the creek and even started a little bridge. The phragmites are doing their best to erase my work, but I’m battling back. I’m also on the hunt for used decking for the surface of our new bridge.

Source: Atlanta Trails

Vegetable garden

In January I wrote, “Hope springs eternal for the vegetable garden.” I still feel that way. Ellie and I planted zucchini, cucumbers, carrots and peas, and they’re all doing well. Ellie ate the first raspberries off our canes over the weekend. We have a loooooong way to go to return the garden to a productive, manageable vegetable garden, but we’re doing better than we’ve done the last few years. So hope continues.

Barn

I’ve not gotten a quote yet for eavestrough on the barn, though this is still my plan for this year. I’m also considering that I may try to start demolishing the old chicken coop (is that phrasing tentative enough?). I really, really want to have birds. If I do some prep this year, perhaps next year when I have machines here for the patio and driveway, they can clear away the last of the rubble. Then I’ll be ready to build the new coop next year. Home goals 2023, here I come?

I am feeling good about what we’ve accomplished so far. We of course have done many more things than are listed here and have more plans for the rest of the year, including some beyond these goals. I’ll be sharing more as we go through the rest of the year.

But for the rest of this month, I’m putting the blog on vacation. I will focusing on enjoying summer–playing with Ellie, spending time with family, and of course working around the farm.

How is 2022 going for you so far? Do you have any home goals? What is your big project for the year?

Garage landscaping update

A year ago the south side of the house looked like this.

Now, it looks like this. Not a huge improvement. But we do have doors, lights and a place to sit.

Last year, the garage and mudroom was our big renovation. As I mentioned in my Home Goals post at the start of this year, landscaping around the garage was to be this year’s big project. However, it is not going to happen.

I have had absolutely no luck finding a landscaper. Four different companies came to look at the project. Two companies were not a fit. They do much bigger jobs and their view was much more extravagant than mine. Two other companies took measurements, promised designs and then I never heard from them again.

The upside of all of these meetings is that I have refined my vision of what I want for the side of the house. I want no pergola, no wall, no gable over the mudroom entrance, no built-in seating (thank you companies #1 and #2). I want a natural stone patio from the mudroom door to the edge of the stone wall. The patio will be one step up from the driveway. I want big stone steps leading up to the patio door. I want a simple asphalt driveway.

Initially, I wasn’t sure what I wanted for this spot. I put the benches and coffee table in place as a test to see if we’d use them, and we have (and yes, they’re currently crowding the patio door). We sit here all the time for snacks and even lunch. This side of the house gets lots of sun and is a nice warm (sometimes hot) place to sit. A proper patio with a bit of furniture would be ideal for us.

The size of the patio should give us a comfortable area to go in and out of the house without landing right on the driveway. It should also give us just enough space to squeeze in a comfy lounge seat along with a small dining table. We don’t currently have another place for eating outside.

I’m hoping that knowing what I’m looking for will help me to manage expectations for the next companies that I consult. And I’m hoping that one of them will be willing to take on the project for 2023.

In the meantime, I have resigned myself to plowing a gravel driveway for another winter and made a few upgrades to tide us over.

To fulfill a bit of my wish for natural stone, I added a (relatively) flat rock outside the mudroom to the make the step a little more manageable. I dragged an old mounting block from the barn to the patio door, so that we can actually come out that way if we want to.

Ellie and I also spread the topsoil that Matt’s Dad got for me all around the garage and seeded. Getting the pile of dirt off the driveway felt like progress.

Not as much progress as I was hoping for but some.

What’s your big project for the year at your house? Have you had to put any projects on hold this year? Who else is working on landscaping (big of small)?

Gonna make this garden grow

Inch by inch. Row by row.
Gonna make this garden grow.

Garden Song Written by David Mallet. Sung by Raffi.

Row by row is the best way to characterize the vegetable garden right now.

I had ambitions to make May garden month. As in get the vegetable garden in shape. Be ready to go by the start of June as soon as the risk of frost had passed.

That didn’t happen.

But my ambitions and Ellie’s enthusiasm for the garden have not diminished.

June (or the second half of June) is now garden month. We’re planting and weeding and mulching and building as we go. It’s not my preferred thoughtful, methodical approach. But inch by inch, we’re making progress.

Pullin’ weeds and picking stones, we are made of dreams and bones

My aim is to do a no-dig garden with mulched pathways between the wide rows. This has been my goal for years now, but maybe this year we get a little closer.

We have a mountain of woodchips piled outside the gate of the garden, thanks to a local tree company. We have piles of cardboard in the driveshed that I’ve been collecting since last year. We also have the mower, which has been my weapon against the grass and weeds that clog much of the garden.

I’m keeping my focus small. One quadrant. We have sowed cucumbers, carrots, zucchini and peas. If the plants get established and we’re on top of the weeds, perhaps the raspberries, asparagus or grapes may get some attention.

Plant your rows straight and long, season them with prayer and song
Mother earth will make you strong, if you give her love and care

Just like my current soundtrack, the vegetable garden is determined by Ellie. She is very excited for the garden this year. Her excitement doesn’t involve prep like weeding or laying out beautiful raised rows, but she does make it fun.

Inch by inch. Row by row.
Gonna make this garden grow

How is your garden growing?

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?