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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September garden update

Look! We grew a puppy again!

Baxter in the garden

We grew a lot of other things too. Yet again, this garden is crazy productive.

Sicilian Saucer tomatoes

Purple peppers

Butternut squash

First year grape vines

Watermelon

Watermelon

Asparagus

Acorn squash

Red potatoes

The puppy didn’t fit in the basket.

Not pictured are the zucchinis that just won’t stop and hundreds of cherry tomatoes (I roasted a bunch last night for all kinds of goodness).

What’s growing in your garden?

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Gotcha Day 3

Last week marked three years since Baxter came to live with us.

Inspired by Tracey at Oh Melvin and Yo Jake, I have a tradition of writing a letter to Baxter on the anniversary of his gotcha day. Now that I’m writing for ThatMutt.com, I decided to share my letter there this year.

I invite you to visit ThatMutt.com to share in the love.

Baxter and me

Want to look back at how we got here? Here are my letters from year 1 and year 2 and Baxter’s adoption story.

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Garden in June

Vegetable garden in June

Every night when I get home from work, I walk through the garden. It’s one of my favourite times of the day–outside at the farm, seeing what’s grown during the day, appreciating all of the hard work we’ve done so far.

The garden is finally taking shape as I’ve envisioned it would from the start–as in years.

Sprouts are growing, from hollyhocks to beets to onions and sunflowers.

Hollyhock seedlings

Beet sprouts

Green onions

Sunflowers

Some of the plants have gone beyond sprouting and moved onto blossoming.

Tomato blossom

Potato blossom

Marigolds amongst the tomatoes

Sage blossom

There are even signs of fruit on the raspberries and grapes–although I’m working myself up to picking the grapes, as the vines are supposed to focus on growing, not fruiting yet.

Raspberries

Baby grapes on new vines

I’ve planted herbs all around the perimeter, lavender, thyme, sage, rosemary, basil.

Rosemary plant

The biggest progress since my final Dueling DIY update are the trellises for the squash, raspberries and tomatoes. I’ll go into more detail on each of these as we go through the season, but here are a few snapshots for now.

The tomatoes are planted under a simple 2×2 wood frame. I’ll add strings once the tomatoes grow a bit more.

Simple wood 2x2 tomato trellis

Matt hammered 12 steel T-posts around the 2 rows of raspberries. I still need to string wire between each post to hold the raspberries upright, but the hard work was definitely the posts. So much hammering.

Raspberries trellised with steel T posts

The biggest addition is our squash trellis. Fingers crossed this works to corral the squash. We have a big garden, but I learned last year that it was no match for squash.

A-frame squash trellis

We have a few more tasks to do before we can officially move into maintenance mode: hang the gate and spread the straw for our deep mulch experiment.

But for now, I’m enjoying my evening walks and seeing the growth so far.

What’s growing at your house?

Icy Easter

Hello. How was your weekend? Did you have a good Easter?

Our Easter weekend ended up being extra long thanks to an ice storm that rolled through our area on Thursday. The storm closed both Matt’s and my work and turned off our electricity for 9 hours.

By Good Friday, the freezing rain had stopped, but temperatures had not risen, and a thick coating of ice covered everything.

Spring ice storm

Spring ice storm

Spring ice storm

Just days into spring, and our lilacs had their new green growth encased in ice.

Spring ice storm

The ground was covered in ice chunks from the trees and bushes.

Spring ice storm

Icicles dripped off the back of the bird feeder and at the front there was a steady queue for the only food available.

Icicles on the birdfeeder

In the garden, icicles hung from the top fence rail and the chainlink was augmented with its own icy shield.

Spring ice storm

Fortunately, we didn’t have much damage. The worst was losing just a few branches off the pine trees.

Spring ice storm

The weight of the ice is incredible. Normally, we can walk easily under these branches that are touching the ground.

Spring ice storm

Down the driveway, more branches overhung far enough that Baxter could reach them.

Spring ice storm

Temperatures finally started to rise on Saturday afternoon. Ice slid off the roofs and the cars in sheets. Slowly the branches returned to their usual heights as the trees shed their icy casings, shards shattering into the ground.

By yesterday, Easter Sunday, the farm was back to normal.

What was the weather like where you are? Did you do anything special this weekend? How did you celebrate Easter?

Deep thoughts on DIY from the dog

I’m excited to share that I’m now a regular contributor to ThatMutt.com. This gives me an outlet to write about dog training, care and of course my favourite dude, Baxter. You can read all of my posts at ThatMutt here. My latest post went up on earlier this week. A slight variation is below.

“I’d help you put up those curtain rods, but I don’t have a drill.”

Uh-huh? What about no thumbs, no vertical reach and a tendency to spend most of your time asleep, dude?

Baxter installing curtain rods

“You think a paintbrush makes up for not giving me a drill? This pooch likes power tools, lady.”

Baxter and his paintbrush

“Oh, and you made fun of my thumbs and my height. You’re on your own for painting that mirror. This is what I think of your paintbrush.”

Baxter avoiding painting

“Ahhhh… dreamland, where doggies have drills… and thumbs.”

Baxter dreaming of not painting

With Baxter’s help (or perhaps despite it), the guest room is now done. The reveal is coming up next.