Early mornings in Illinois

I would not call myself a morning person, but there is something magical about those early moments in the day. Time to be alone and enjoy the quiet of the farm. Time to be productive and tackle a little bit of work. Sarah in Illinois–also not a morning person–has come to appreciate her morning routine. She is here today, sharing a bit about how she starts her day.

Having chickens requires me to get up a little earlier every morning to tend to them. This isn’t the easiest for someone who readily admits she is not a “morning person.” However, I do enjoy the fact that everything is a little more peaceful just as the sun rises. It also allows me to spend a little one on one time with Blitz. We like to play ball and visit with Ruff the barn cat.

These two have comically become good friends.

I think because it is early morning, and they both are still a little groggy from sleep.

When I leave the barn I usually pat Ruff on the head and her head is always soaked in Blitz’s slobbers.

I have begun to really enjoy this quiet time in the morning. It helps remind me to slow down and look around.

Are you a morning person? What do you enjoy about the start of the day? Do you have a pair of unlikely buddies around your house?

Aww. It’s great to meet your Ruff, Sarah. I wonder how she and Ralph would get along. Baxter and Ralph’s relationship is definitely not as buddy-buddy as Blitz and Ruff’s. I would say Ralph tolerates Baxter. She definitely does not allow him to slobber on her. It’s great that Ruff and Blitz have become such good friends.


Moments and happenings

Barn cat on a stump

Going into this past weekend, I was a bit anxious about what I was going to be posting on the blog this week. I had nothing written, and unusually I didn’t have any ideas either.

The thing about the farm though is that something always happens. We do something or see something and that becomes something to remember and share. Some moments are simple, some are bigger.

But together, they make up life here at the farm and are part of what makes living here so special.

Saturday morning started with Matt and Bax heading out for their walk, and Ralph sitting on her stump waiting for them to come back. She does this often. Last weekend she meowed after them the whole time they were gone.

But when I came out to snap her picture, she hopped off the stump and came to get attention from me instead. This weekend, I was more stealthy and managed to get a few shots of her. Queen of the farm on her throne.

Barn cat on a stump

After the photo session, I took my  book and went out and sat with her.

The quiet of a Saturday morning. The summer sunlight. Our amazing cat. This beautiful land. A simple moment that was a special start to the weekend.

Reclaiming the jungle

Landscaping is a multi-phased project here on the farm. I’m not entirely sure what phase we’re in now, but I looked back through the archives and the first time I posted about this area of the property was four years ago. Holy moly.

The back of the house has been a wee bit overgrown. As in we just let it go. Not the prettiest view out the kitchen window.

Overgrown weeds at the back of the house

There were so many rocks and weeds it was unmowable. But I wasn’t prepared to put in the work to make it a flower garden either.

We left it alone. Surprisingly, it didn’t improve.

Then two years ago we covered most of the mess with a tarp. Which wasn’t really much of an improvement either.

Tarp covering the backyard

We left it alone again. For two more years.

But at the start of this July, I finally lifted the tarp.

Hello rocks. Fancy finding you here. But the weeds had mostly died, so that was a bonus.

Picking up rocks

With some raking, digging, leveling, a wee bit of sawing and mowing for some of the more stubborn brush, and finally seeding and watering, we ended the day with something that we thought could someday be a lawn.

Seeding the backyard

The local wildlife came by to check out the transformation. The snakes particularly seemed to enjoy the cleared dirt.

Milk snake

Our usual inspector came by too. Hello Ralph. And hello sprouts!

Ralph inspecting the newly sown grass

Three week later, hello electric green lawn.

New lawn

We still have some blending to do and a few thin spots to fill in (plus I’d love to break up that concrete beside the steps).

And of course that black tarp is still hanging around. Hopefully the weeds closest to the house die over the next few weeks and I can seed that area this fall. Who knows what phase we’ll be at by that point.

Do you have an overgrown area that you’re reclaiming? Have you ever used the tarp technique to deal with weeds? Are you a seed or sod person? Is anyone else’s property overrun with rocks? Who else has snakes slithering by?

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?

Chicken update from Illinois

Sarah in Illinois has made it through her second week of raising chickens. She’s back today to report on what she’s learned and how things are going. See her first post introducing her flock.

So far things with the chickens couldn’t be any easier. Each morning I open the coop, make sure they have water and some food. Each night they return to their coop about 7:30, and I close it back up. That’s it. They are not laying eggs yet. They should be old enough in the next couple weeks so I look for eggs every day just in case.

I will give you a quick tour. We made a coop inside one of our barns.

I have access with both a full door and a lid to lift off of the nesting boxes.

The chickens have a roost with plenty of ventilation. I do plan, however, to add another roost up a little higher.

They have access outside to the pen that was for Treu. I knew from the beginning that they would easily be able to fly over the fence, since there is no top to it. I was just hoping that with all the room and shelter under the trees that they would just prefer to stay inside.

Have you ever seen chickens laugh at you? I am pretty sure I have.

Here they are very clearly not inside the pen!

And the funny thing is, once they get out they don’t always remember how to get back in.

I mentioned in my last post that Toothless may be an issue. And she has been. I don’t think she has any intentions of hurting the chickens. She just thinks of them as her own personal toys. She loves to run right up into them when they are huddled together and just watch them go flapping and squawking away.

Here she is sneaking up on them, you can see one of the chickens has hopped the fence to get away from her.

It was funny the first time, but it is not something I want to encourage and I can tell the chickens are nervous when she comes around.

One night I went to close the coop, and I only counted 3 chickens. I quickly ran outside to see where the fourth one could be. Toothless had her cornered in the bean field.

I knew at that point I had to do something quickly.

I now have a squirt bottle of plain water that I keep out at the pen. Any time I see Toothless lurking around I give her a quick squirt of water and she goes running. Obviously I can’t sit out there all day and keep watch so I am hoping she gets the hint quickly.

Otherwise, I am just enjoying them. I go out to their pen every day after work and watch them peck the ground. I have given them tomatoes and cucumbers from the garden and I love to watch them chase each other and play keep-away.

So far they haven’t found our garden. They can’t see it from the pen. I am hoping it stays that way. I don’t want them to have their own private buffet. But as I mentioned above, have you ever seen a chicken laugh at you?

Anyone else new to raising chickens? Have any advice on getting Toothless to behave? Any predictions on when I will get my first egg?

It sounds like your girls are doing well, Sarah. With our chickens and ducks when I was growing up, my Dad put a mesh roof on our run. Treu’s run looks pretty big, but a covering of some kind would help keep the chickens in and Toothless out. We also put straw in the nesting boxes, even when we had shavings in the coop itself. I’m not sure if that makes a difference for encouraging them to lay or not.

Chickens in Illinois

Exciting news from Sarah in Illinois. The new additions that she’s been working for all season have arrived!

Last weekend was very busy for me, so I am going to let pictures so most of the work for this post.

They’re here:

Chickens eating a tomato


I haven’t had much time to spend with them but I have already determined a couple personalities. I keep saying that I am not going to name them, but I am sure it will eventually happen.

This one is the boss. She is the leader and the noisiest. She is the first one to make noise as I walk up.

Bossy chicken

This one is shy. She is the last one to approach me, the last one to come out of the coop, the last one to try the new piece of food I give them.

Shy chicken

This one is the tallest and always has her neck up high and reminds me of a lookout for organized crime.

Young brown chicken

I haven’t determined what personality this last one has.

Chicken from the front

I still have a lot to learn, but as I write this, I have kept them alive about 32 hours! So I consider that a win.

I have two outdoor cats and I have been very concerned how they would react to them. One really couldn’t care less about them. The other:

Cat walking amongst the chickens

Black cat in the grass

I guess time will tell.

This is so exciting, Sarah! Have you had any eggs yet? What kinds of chickens are they? I think I see a Plymouth Rock and a Rhode Island Red? Shy and Lookout look different from the breeds I’m familiar with. Good luck with kitty. Hopefully it’s just a case of curiosity.


Update and a new adventure in Illinois

Sarah in Illinois is back today with a bunch of updates on what’s happening at their home. Hint: some new additions are on the horizon.

This may be a disjointed post. I had been working on a project, and I thought I would be done before I had to send this week’s post, but it didn’t turn out how I had planned. (Argh. So frustrating when that happens, Sarah.) I will be sure to include why it didn’t work and I had to regroup in a future post.

This post will be a little bit of an update and share what I have in the works.


Tiger stripe kitten

As of when I am writing this, the black kitten has been reserved and the tiger-stripe is still waiting for a new home. The mother cat has been to the vet and spayed so I will not have to be in this situation again.

The cutting garden

Zinnias in a mason jar

There are about a half dozen different varieties of flowers that are growing. Right now the only one ready to cut is the zinnias.

Three zinnias in milk bottles

Future posts

I hinted in one of my comments a while back that I am getting chickens! My neighbor has been raising several chicks and offered four of them to me. They will not be ready to lay until about September, but I can get them as soon as I have a secure place for them.

So my free time has been spent reading and reading about chickens and working on making a secure coop for them. I have never had or really even been around chickens so this is all a new learning experience.

Some of the books I have been reading include (not affiliate links):

I think I am ready to start this adventure. I have been told that I am overthinking everything and that chickens are a lot easier than I am making it out to be. I hope so! I will be sure to post about my adventure and in the meantime, any advice would be appreciated.

Cute kitten, pretty posies and exciting news–this worked out to be a post after all, Sarah. Congratulations on the chickens. I confess, I’ll probably take the same approach as you when it comes time to add birds to our farm. Your forethought just might make you a more successful chicken farmer.

Having grown up with backyard chickens, my best advice is to make sure to collect the eggs a couple of times a day. We got a bit lazy and our hens started eating their eggs. That was a hard habit to break!






June garden update

Sarah’s last post was her final report in our Dueling DIY garden challenge. She’s back today to share how her vegetable garden–and a couple of other things–are growing.

I thought I’d take this time to give a garden update. We have had an unusually cool start to spring and that means several of my plants got a late start. Thankfully though the temperatures have been rising and our garden is really starting to catch up. I will give a quick rundown of most of my crops. (Note: We got 1.5 inches of rain the day before I took the pictures below.)


This is my first time raising asparagus so I really don’t know what to expect. I know that the first year or so I am just supposed to let them grow and that’s what I’ve done. Most of the plants don’t look very good, but maybe next year they will grow back even better. I am just using a wait and see method.

Asparagus going to seed

Brussels Sprouts

One of the plants that got a late start. I am hoping they recover quickly.

Brussels sprouts plants


At this point I can say that the tops look really good. Hopefully it is looking just as good underground.


Also got a late start but really seems to be recovering. I planted 4 pickling cucumbers that didn’t make it though. That is disappointing.


I have planted 3 varieties. And they have all taken off like crazy. I have picked some for salads, but I am ready to make some kale chips this week.

Leaf lettuce

Even with a late start, our lettuce looks healthy, and I have picked a few salads worth so far.


We have green peppers, red peppers, jalapeno and several other varieties. The plants are all fairly small at this point so I hope they take off soon.


We have planted both a traditional russet and a thin skinned red potato. Like the carrots, the tops look great. I hope that means good things are happening in the ground too.

Rows of vegetables in the garden


The onions are very healthy. We really need to add them to more of our dishes so they don’t go to waste.


Note for next year… plant less radishes. Seriously, we planted way too many and I am afraid they will go to waste. Anyone have any recipes or suggestions other than putting them in our salads?

Rows of vegetables in the garden

From right to left: lettuce, radishes, green beans, cabbage and potatoes


Also my first year for rhubarb. When I first put it in the ground I was worried that it wouldn’t make it. Several leaves died off. But this week I noticed two really healthy new leaves so I think it is on the mend.


Spaghetti Squash

The plants are looking great! I have left plenty of room around them to plant pumpkins hopefully in the next week or two.

Spaghetti squash


The plants look very healthy. This is one crop that Steve really wants to expand on next year, so we may have to add on to our garden again!

Sugar Snap Peas

Probably my favorite plant of the garden. I usually eat them before they even make it into the house. This is one plant that prefers cooler weather so I hope that I see some pods before it gets too hot here.


Definitely our most used crop around here. Besides eating them straight out of the garden my mother-in-law cans tomato juice, and I plan to make salsa and pico de gallo. So it is a good thing that we have plans for them because I have planted 24 plants!

Actually, the plants that I started from seed are finally looking healthy enough to transplant so we will be nearing 30 plants.

They are all different sizes so I am hoping they ripen at all different times!

Tomato plants

I have a few things that I am still hoping to plant, but I am very happy that our garden is really looking great this year.

We do have two more things that we are growing around here:


Jan asked for an update, and I am always happy to spend more time with these two before I find them new homes.

They turned 5 weeks as I write this, so we have another week or two before they are ready to leave. They are eating dry food pretty well and they are definitely becoming more active.

Kittens wrestling

If anyone from my area is reading this, I am still looking for homes for them if you are interested!

Striped kitten

Ahh. Super cute, Sarah. Too bad Illinois is a bit far away, because Ralph could use a sidekick. Congrats on the garden growth. Things are looking promising.

Garden Dueling DIY Week 4

Sarah in Illinois and I are in week 4 of our Dueling DIY challenge.We’ve been making slow progress on our gardens (you can check out the progress in our previous posts), but recently Sarah’s attention has been directed elsewhere.

Distractions. It sounds a lot better than: “I am really far behind and worried that Julia may very well win the competition.”

What has me distracted?

Bad weather:

Weather forecast

A full day of shopping at an antique/craft market and then shopping at a HUGE garden center with my mom and my brother’s girlfriend:

Antique shopping

Antique shopping

Plant shopping

My purchases: rhubarb, cucumbers, spaghetti squash, rosemary, parsley, fun flowers and a micro cherry tomato plant. (I can’t wait to see what it produces!)

And then finally a surprise litter of kittens:


I mean, seriously, who can get any work done when you have this to cuddle?


I knew that one of my cats was very likely pregnant and when one day she was noticeably thinner, I started searching. She hid them very well and it took me four days to find them. But now that I have, I can’t stay away. I will be sure to find homes for all of them as soon as they are old enough but until then, I get to love on them!

Thankfully I did take advantage of some beautiful weather the last few days of April, and I made great improvement to the landscaping on the north end of the house. I hand washed the siding to remove all of the green that has been building up.


Dirty siding


Clean siding

My mom gave me two of the roses I had planted when I still lived at home and I transplanted to this bed.


However, until I get some mulch, I can’t mark this off my list. So I hate to admit it, Julia, but I cannot mark a single thing off this week.

  • Make some kind of designated area (possibly raised bed) for annual vegetables such as asparagus and strawberries — Area is tilled and asparagus planted but strawberries need planted and needs border
  • Neaten, and define north flower bed and add mulch — So close!
  • Divide mums and spread around deck
  • Make a designated gardening area complete with workbench

I am very aware of how few days are left in this challenge. So I am going to dig down and find the drive to make these last two weeks count (between kitten snuggles)!

Yawning kitten

Okay. Sarah definitely wins in the cuteness category. And some of the shopping and roses are in the gardening category, even if they’re not on the to-do list. I’m ahead for now. Hopefully it stays that way for the next two weeks.

Garden Dueling DIY Week 3

Sarah in Illinois and I have entered into a friendly competition this spring to help us get our gardens in shape. We’re now at the conclusion of week 3 of this Dueling DIY, and I’m sharing my second update. You can check out all of the previous posts here.

It was just noon on Sunday. I had a long list of things that I wanted to do in the garden, but I was running out of steam. I managed a few more hours before I hobbled retreated indoors. (Sarah, take note that I said the garden claimed a temporary victory. I am not conceding anything yet in this DIY duel).

I still don’t have any dramatic before and after pictures to share yet. But I can report some progress.

The big accomplishment so far is edging the garden.

Our garden is 2,462 square feet, which means, if I’m remembering my geometry formulas correctly, its outer perimeter is roughly 175 feet. Whatever the distance, it felt like it took a very long time to go around the whole outer edge.

Here’s what the edge looked like at the start. Ugh.

Edging a weedy garden

Here’s the progress shot.

Edging the vegetable garden

And here’s the final.

Wood "curbs" to edge a vegetable garden

We used the fence posts (or in the case of the image above, the telephone pole) as “curbs.” I’m hoping they accomplish two things: 1) Keeping weeds out of the garden. 2) Keeping small critters from crawling under the chainlink and into the garden.

Matt cut the fence posts to length with his chainsaw and then we dropped them into the shallow trenches that I’d dug around the perimeter.

Remember this picture from my last update of all of the materials for the garden?

Materials for the garden update

We’re now down to a single pile of posts (and some firewood).

Fence posts

I also made a dent in the lumber part of the pile when I went on a marathon stake making session.

An electric mitre saw is perhaps not a conventional garden tool, but I wanted a lot of stakes.

Cutting garden stakes with a mitre saw

How many stakes? I couldn’t find the energy to count. More than 10 gallons worth.

Pails of garden stakes

The stakes came into play with my plan for the other half of the fence posts: the raised beds.

My plan is to build shallow raised beds just around the outside edge of the garden. These will host asparagus, grapes, rhubarb, sunflowers, and probably beets, lettuce and who knows what else.

Again, I’m using the fence posts as curbs, and I’m holding them in place with the stakes.

Shallow rustic raised vegetable garden beds

After digging my way around the outside of the garden, I have no desire to do more weeding, so I’m giving the lasagna method a try within the raised beds.

I used cardboard for my base layer. (Die weeds, die).

Using cardboard to kill weeds in the vegetable garden

Then I covered that with a layer of straw mulch that has been composting in the garden since last fall. I was surprised how much the straw has broken down already. I think it should be good food for the new beds.

Straw mulch

Four yards of topsoil arrived yesterday morning, so I will top up the beds this weekend.

The raised beds were where I lost my mojo. I had a small sledge for hammering in the stakes, but swinging the hammer over and over (and over and over) was surprisingly tiring. So I’ve made it halfway around the garden.

I know it’s halfway because I’ve marked the centre aisle with our super long rope. The picture below doesn’t look like a lot of progress, but you might be able to see the curbs at the far right waiting to be set in place.

Unfortunately, you’re also able to see all the weeds. Matt got the rototiller running with no trouble, which got us very excited, but as soon as he started to till it stalled. And stalled. And stalled. So frustrating. So the straw and weeds and ash are all still sitting on the soil.

Gardening progress

One place the weeds are gone is in the red raspberry row. Woo-hoo for small victories. (The twine is to mark the row until I get a proper trellis in place).

Raspberry row marked with stakes and twine

A bigger victory is how much the raspberries have expanded. Look at all those little plants. This is going to be good. And the black raspberries next door–while still weedy–also appear quite healthy.

Raspberry sprouts

My usual gardening sidekick is Bax. It was nice to be a trio this weekend thanks to Matt’s help with the fence posts. However, as soon as Matt was done cutting, Bax was more than ready for bro time–indoors. Apparently he’s only interested in gardening if he can work on his tan at the same time. The weather was cloudy and drizzly, and as much as dude likes to pretend he’s an outdoor dog, he’s a fairweather outdoor dog.

Thankfully, Ralph is much tougher than her brother, so she braved the weather to keep me company. And unlike the sunbather, she actually participated, inspecting the raised beds and even assisting with some weeding.

Ralph in the garden

Ralph in the garden

Eventually, though, even I gave in and retreated to the indoors. (Ralph as always stayed outside).

However, there’s still some more progress inside. Tomatoes (Sicilian Saucers) and peppers (a random mix) have sprouted, and I transplanted our tallest watermelon sprouts already.

Watermelon sprouts

We cut our seed potatoes down to isolate individual sprouts, and they’re firmly at the grody stage. We really need to get them in the ground this weekend.

Chitted potato sprouts

The weather forecast is supposed to be bright and warm this weekend, so I have high hopes again for progress and productivity. However, I’m away from the farm a bit (have to remember Mother’s Day) and… guess what… picking up my grapes. I’m excited to have my first vines. Finger crossed I can keep them alive and help them grow the way they’re supposed to.

Before I get to that, though, let’s go back to my original to-do list. I can cross at least a couple more things off.

  • Hang the gate
  • Edge the garden
  • Build raised beds around the perimeter (half done)
  • Build trellises for the raspberries, tomatoes and squashes
  • Start a few seeds indoors
  • Till in the ash, straw and manure

Three weeks to go, Sarah. We’re halfway through this Dueling DIY. Are you going to make it? The garden may have kicked my butt last weekend, but I’m going to be back and better than ever in just a few days. Watch out.

What progress have you made on your spring projects at your house? Any tips for lasagna gardening? Or building raised beds? How about growing grapes? Or keeping a rototiller running? Do you have any furry gardeners at your house?