Making room to run

Back in the spring, I stopped in at our tractor dealership. I love our tractor, Wiley. I particularly love his attachments–mower deck, front-end loader, snowblower–and covet more–backhoe, auger, rotary cutter.

On this particular day, I was particularly coveting the rotary cutter.

A rotary cutter is a heavy-duty mower, sometimes called a bush hog. It can go through thick brush. It can hit rocks and stumps without breaking. It can even take down small trees.

In our constant campaign to beautify/tame/maintain the farm, clearing brush is an ongoing undertaking.

The thing about anything to do with the tractor is it isn’t cheap. So when I came home and told Matt I’d gotten a quote on a rotary cutter, I wasn’t sure what his reaction would be.

His exact words were, “You’ve been talking about this since we moved here, woman. Just buy it.”

Alrighty then. One rotary cutter coming our way.

Woods rotary cutter

It took us a while to get the rotary cutter running. Eventually, our tractor guy came out for a farm call to walk us through it (five years in and we’re still country newbies). But last weekend we got cutting.

And Matt loved it as much as I did.

Matt did the septic bed. He wanted to cut the little trees so that their roots don’t get into the drainage area. It’s hard to see, but at the top of this slope behind all of those weeds is the house.

Clearing brush with the rotary cutter

It took Matt very little time to get his confidence. While I avoided trees that were more than a couple of inches in diameter, Matt had no hesitation about mowing them down.

Clearing brush with the rotary cutter

Clearing brush with the rotary cutter

Clearing brush with the rotary cutter

The puppy liked all of the new smells that we uncovered.

Clearing brush with the rotary cutter

We also uncovered a few rocks and stumps, but the cutter powered through.

Rock scraped by a mower

Matt soon had the septic bed nice and clear. (The house is behind me in this shot.)

Cleared septic bed

After Matt had his turn, I took mine in the meadow. This is what happens when I ask my husband to take my picture. I end up with puppy butt.

Baxter watching the tractor

He did manage to resist Baxter’s charms long enough to get a few action shots.

Clearing brush with the rotary cutter

At the end of the day, there was plenty of space for the puppy to run.

Baxter running through the meadow

And a nice clear view from the pond up to the house. Well, clear except for the pines, but there’s no way we’re taking those down.

The mowed meadow

Gotcha Day 4

Baxter hiking on a boardwalk through the marsh

I haven’t written as much about Baxter on this blog since I started writing for ThatMutt.com. But Mr. B is still our favourite dude and a huge part of life at the farm.

I love that he’s by my side as I work on projects or walk over the property. And I love that he’s opened up other opportunities for me, like writing for ThatMutt.com, or connecting with our off leash hiking group.

Baxter came to live with us July 7, 2013, so last week was his fourth gotcha anniversary.

I’m keeping up my annual tradition of writing a letter to Baxter (inspired by Tracey at love lives on). It’s posted at ThatMutt.com.

Here are my letters from year 1, year 2 , year 3 and Baxter’s adoption story.

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?

Grey days

Two grey days, exactly three weeks apart.

Snowy field in mid March

I swear as of this week I’m seeing the fields turn green. I can handle grey skies when I feel spring is coming.

Field at the beginning of April

This bird’s eye view is courtesy of a deer stand at the edge of the back field.

Looking down from the deer stand at Baxter on the ground

A great way to see the farm. But too tall for puppy.

Deer stand

As excited as I am for the green, last night we had a few snow flurries. C’mon spring!

What’s the weather like where you are? Are you seeing signs of spring?

Pick up sticks, farm style

Baxter behind a fallen tree

One of the common springtime jobs is picking up the branches and twigs that have fallen into the yard. When your yard is 129 acres, this job goes to another level.

I’ve written before about our trails and how we haven’t done a great job of maintaining them. Early in the winter, a decent size tree came down right across the entry of the west trail.

Cleaning this up will be much more than just picking up sticks.

Fallen tree across the trail

But for now, we’re letting fallen trees lie.

Last week, Baxter and I clambered over it to check out the rest of the trails.

This is actually a magic time to walk the trails. We’re not slogging through snow, wading through (much) water, battling masses of mosquitoes or dealing with overgrown grass and brush.

The trails are wet though. Matt and his Dad had laid a catwalk through the first marshy section, but it floated away a little while ago. We can sneak around on the right edge of the trail, but, of course, a tree has fallen to block the way. It’s a choice of hurdle or limbo and don’t fall in the water.

Hiking through the marsh

Farther along, we have an actual creek crossing. This section never ever dries up and will be deep and fast flowing in a few more weeks. As you can see, the catwalk in this area has also washed out.

Crossing the creek

The willow on the other side of the creek has lost a large limb.

Fallen tree branch

Deeper into the woods, we climb to higher ground and the forest changes to evergreens–including new trees that have sprouted in the middle of the trail.

Hiking through an evergreen forest

At the end of the trail, we reach the east boundary of our property. Looking to the north, somewhere on the other side of this marsh, is the other half of our trail network.

Overlooking the marsh

Baxter and I backtracked so that we could check it out too.

The east trail is not nearly as wet. There’s a creek at the entrance, but an old corduroy road topped with a plank makes crossing easy.

Corduroy road

The east trail has the same tree issues as the west, though. We’ve had a super windy winter, so some fairly large trees have fallen.

Baxter under a fallen tree

Baxter under a fallen tree

I’m on the lookout for a brigade of forest rangers with chainsaws who want to give me a few weeks of free labour.

If they are wearing hip waders that would be great.

Wading in the water

Bax and I did discover a few things that could help with our water issues.

At the edge of the back field are a couple of large piles of tires. Aren’t these ugly? I still think we could upgrade our catwalks using these as “piers” and laying skids across them to make a boardwalk.

Tires thrown away in the woods

Alternatively, we could channel the water with these culverts. I continue to be amazed at what’s been abandoned and dumped on the property.

Culverts

For now, barring the arrival of any forest rangers, I’m happy to just enjoy the farm and our trails. And that’s my plan for the weekend.

What are your plans for the weekend? Do you do pick up sticks at your house in the spring?

 

Second year for syrup

Tapping a maple tree

It’s maple syrup season again on the farm. Or we think it is.

This is only our second time tapping our trees, so we’re still pretty much guessing. Temperatures are supposed to be above freezing during the day this week and below at night. From what I’ve read and what we learned last year, that’s sap weather.

Last year, we were impressed by how easy it was and how much syrup we made. In fact, we still have syrup left. We just don’t eat enough pancakes at our house.

But we’re not letting that stop us. We enjoyed making syrup last year, so we’re going to do it again.

Like so much of what we do on the farm, this is an experiment, so we’re learning as we go.

Lesson #1: Make sure the drill battery is charged (and the back-up too) before you start tapping. Mr. Dewalt had to hang out for a little while until the bit could spin enough to get him unstuck.

Drill stuck in a tree

Matt has picked a couple of new trees. The only issue is they’re not the easiest to access. More incentive to clean up the brush and junk along the edge of the field.

Tapping maple trees

The other three buckets went on our most productive trees from last year. (Can you spot the puppy?)

Tapping maple trees

Now our fingers are crossed that the weather cooperates and the sap starts flowing.

Staying in

Cozy night in the living room in front of the fireplace

Our living room is definitely a work in progress. I’ve shared bits and pieces, like our bookshelves, the sideboard turned sofa table with its display of family photos, the TV stand, the bar cart turned side table and of course our fieldstone fireplace.

Even though there are still things on my to-do list (just don’t look up to the stippled ceiling or giant green ceiling fan, okay?) we love our living room. In fact, this is the room we use the most at the farm.

We are home bodies and prefer to stay in most of the time. Over the holidays, the mattress company Leesa reached out to me and asked me to share the elements that make up my perfect night in. Since this topic is such a fit for me, I wanted to participate.

Most evenings, we come home from work, light a fire and then we have dinner in the living room. Since finishing the fireplace two years ago, this room has become the place we spend our winter evenings.

For me, a wood burning fire is essential to a winter night in. Building this fieldstone fireplace was a dream that I had for years, and it added such country character to our home.

While a brown couch is not the most popular decor choice, it’s a very livable piece of furniture. This is the first piece of furniture we bought when we moved into our first house, and it’s almost 10 years old and still comfortable. We sit, watch TV, eat, sleep and work on this couch–and, yes, doggies are welcome too.

Baxter snuggling on the couch

Obviously, the throws (or as I grew up calling them, afghans) are functional and not just decorative, especially on a cold winter night. Leesa has a blanket to go with their mattresses. It looks super cozy and warm–a great option for staying in, whether you’re snuggling on the couch or dozing in bed.

For me, I’m all about incorporating personal and family pieces in my decor and these knitted afghans are completely that. My Grandma, who taught me how to knit, made the one draped over the back of the couch, and I knit the one with the flowers.

Rounding out my perfect night in are my favourite two-legged guy, a few candles, my favourite fizzy drink, a salty snack and some good TV–we love Ken Burns’ documentaries and are making our way through Baseball (not an affiliate link) right now–it’s so good.

Since moving to the farm, we’d rather be here than anywhere else. Having a living room that’s truly for living is the perfect encouragement for staying in on cozy winter nights.

Are you a home body or do you like to go out on the town? What makes a perfect night in for you? Any other documentary fans out there? Do you have any afghans at your house?

Disclosure: I’m not receiving product or financial compensation from Leesa for this post. This is simply a topic that resonated with me, and I liked the idea of being part of this series with Leesa. Learn more about the Leesa mattress

Christmas writing elsewhere

One week to go before Christmas. I. Can. Not. Wait.

We’ve hosted our annual Christmas party and done a bit of decorating. Baking and finishing off Christmas presents are on the list for this weekend.

I’ve also written a few Christmas posts for some of the other sites I contribute to.

On That Mutt I shared my tips on how to make sure your dog is comfortable during a party. I think it’s pretty clear that I’m biased when it comes to Baxter, but seeing his facial expressions during the party are worth the click in my opinion.

Here’s a sample for you: the most hopeful puppy in the whole world staring at his favourite person (Matt’s Dad) and his favourite foods (turkey and squash). He’s very hard done by, in case you were wondering. I have some actual helpful tips in the article too, not just cute dog pictures.

Baxter eyeing the buffet

Since moving to the farm, I’m embracing more and more a rustic, natural style. On homify, I wrote about Christmas decor without the kitsch.

Country Living room by Vanessa Rhodes Interiors

And since it’s been years since we’ve had a Christmas tree at our house, I also shared some ways to branch out beyond the traditional Christmas tree (although I can’t see a Christmas tree wall decal ever being our style).
Walls & flooring by Vinyl Impression

Are you ready for Christmas at your house? What festive things are you up to this weekend?

The last straw in the vegetable garden

My approach with our vegetable garden is to view it as a big experiment. I do a bit of research here and there, but mostly I dive in and cross my fingers.

We added two new crops this year that I view as experiments: asparagus and grapes.

Asparagus isn’t really a huge experiment. I know how it grows. We like to eat it. However, most people grow asparagus from crowns. I started ours from seed. This means it will be probably four years before we harvest any asparagus.

Nurturing our asparagus along is an experiment.

My very basic research on asparagus told me to wait until the ferns turn brown, then cut them down and top them with compost and straw. This weekend, I judged that the ferns were brown enough.

Asparagus ferns in fall

You can see that our asparagus are very spindly. I’m not sure if this is because they’re brand new, or because I planted them in the raised bed, which is filled with what we discovered is very poor triple mix.

Tiny asparagus spears

Either way, they need some coddling. While this bed could probably benefit from some compost, I’ll leave that for the spring. For now, I just covered the asparagus stumps with a healthy layer of straw.

Straw mulch in the vegetable garden

I also applied the straw to our other experiment, the grapes. I fully admit that I have no idea what I’m doing with the grapes. Despite the reading I’ve done, I’m not at all clear on how to prune them, trellis them or just in general care for them. So I’m making it up as I go along based on what I think I’ve read.

Our grapes are new and they’re a little exposed on the outside of the garden on the edge of the field. So I figured some mulch might help to insulate their roots.

Grapes mulched with straw

As often happens with me, once I get started, I got a bit carried away.

After mulching the asparagus and grapes, I thought, “Why don’t I just roll the whole bale into the garden and see how far it goes?”

I wasn’t entirely sure I’d be able to move the bale on my own, as Matt and I have always done it together up to this point.

It turns out I can. Not easily, but I can.

Mulching the garden with straw

Between hacking at it with the pitchfork and unrolling it, I covered about half the garden.

Straw mulch in the vegetable garden

Those big round bales are full of a lot of straw. And this one was quite old, so the layers were very matted together. It always felt like a major victory when a large flake or one full coil peeled off.

So that brings me to my third experiment: seeing if a thick straw mulch helps to control weeds. My fingers are crossed–my default approach to gardening.

Gratuitous Baxter picture: Dude’s ears very rarely stand up. But an afternoon outside and a garden full of sniffy straw are exciting–or at least halfway exciting. He looks so ridiculous that I couldn’t resist sharing a photo.

Baxter with one ear up

Anyone have any tips on growing asparagus or grapes? Do you use straw in your garden? Or a different type of mulch? Anything else I should do this winter to protect my little plants?

How we installed a waterline for the vegetable garden

A big to-do on the garden task list is now done. We finally have a hose at the garden… and I’m so happy to cross this one off the list.

Hose in the vegetable garden

With the lack of rain we had this summer, we watered the garden a lot. However, the closest hose was at the driveshed. That was three hose-lengths away. I had screwed the hoses together back in the spring, and most of the time we kept them laid out across the yard. But any time I had to wind them up (like every time we cut the grass) it was a heavy haul.

Adding a tap at the garden was one of my Home Goals 2016. I already shared a bit of the misery that was digging the trench from the driveshed to the garden (ground so hard, summer so hot, rocks and roots so many, garden so, so, so far away).

Trenching a waterline to the garden

When I measured the trench, it came out a bit more than 100 feet. I spent a week visiting various home improvement stores and then specialty plumbing suppliers trying to find someone who would sell me 110 feet of irrigation pipe. All I could find was 100-foot or 400-foot coils. Ugh.

I bought 100 feet and crossed my fingers that we could splice on a small extra piece we had at the farm already and still make it to the garden.

But it turned out I was worried for nothing. When Matt and I unrolled the pipe and laid it in the trench, it easily reached the garden. Thank goodness for small wins.

The other thing I was worried about was our plumbing abilities. I had a plan, but I wasn’t sure if it was actually going to work.

We dug down to the waterline that ran to the hose at the driveshed. After turning off the water, I took a deep breath and cut through the waterline with the hacksaw. So much for my brand new work gloves.

Cutting a waterline with a hacksaw

Then we inserted a T. A note about these connections. They fit super, super tightly. We boiled the kettle and then Matt poured the hot water over the pipe and that softened the plastic enough that I was able to wedge the fitting into place. The clamps on either side provide extra insurance to hold everything together and prevent leaks

Adding a T connection on a waterline

From there, it was easy to connect our new 100 feet of pipe.

Running a waterline for a garden hose

At the garden, the pipe sneaks under the brick threshold at the gate and up the post. Look how much pipe we had. Exactly the perfect length. And look at the water flowing. We did it! And there are no leaks! Big wins all around!

Adding a hose at the vegetable garden

Backfilling the trench was much easier than digging it out. Wiley helped which was huge.

Backfilling the trench with the tractor

Baxter did not help. In fact he staged a sit-in (lie-in) to protest when Matt started to put the sod back down. “Dirt is good, dude.”

Baxter lying in the dirt

The finishing touches were clamping the waterline to the fence post and then installing a hose hanger.

Rather than a typical hanger, I wanted to try a metal bucket. I’ve seen a few other people do this, and I figured it would give us a place to stash nozzles or maybe even some garden tools.

Again, I spent some time running around to various stores trying to find the perfect bucket. Then I remembered a rusty old canning pot–one of our many gifts from previous owners. I knew there was a reason I didn’t throw that out.

I drilled a couple of holes in the bottom and then bolted it to the fence.

Using a pot as a hose hanger

Then I dragged the hose out to the garden one final time (except for seasonal shutdown, but don’t burst my bubble, okay?) and coiled it up.

Hose in the vegetable garden

Such a great addition to the garden. And this is actually our final to-do on our garden to-do list. This year has been all about adding the structure (raised beds, trellises, perennials) and functionality (gate, trellises, hose) to the garden. I think all of this is going to make a huuuuge difference next year.

The other thing that is going to make a huge difference–and that we have yet to do–is clean up. We have a whooooole bunch of weeds that I want out of there before winter sets in. That’s still a few weeks away though, as harvest is still going strong.

 

How is your garden growing? Does plumbing make anyone else anxious? How do you handle irrigation in your garden?

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