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?

Nesting instinct

We have a new tenant at the driveshed.

It took about a dozen false starts, but a robin has finally managed to construct a nest.

The start of birds nests at the front of the driveshed

Robin's nest

The streamers of grass waving over the door track caught the building inspector’s attention. Matt gave her a boost so that she could check the construction up close.

Ralph inspecting the birds nest

The mud wasn’t dry, but the robin got a pass nonetheless.

Robin's nest

Now she just needs to move in and start her family.

Is anyone constructing a new house where you are? Or do you have any birds sitting on nests? Who’s your building inspector?

El Niño

Are you having a crazy winter where you are? We’ve been through El Niños before, but this year is something else.

Temperatures have mostly hovered right around zero or above. It took nearly half the winter before we had snow of any significance.

Sun rising over snow covered farm

But it only lasted a little while before the temperatures shot up again and everything melted. (Note how even the grass has maintained its green).

Farm after snowmelt

Every so often, temperatures drop back into the polar vortex territory that we experienced for the previous two winters. But then they invariably rise again.

Thermometer showing -20

The wildlife is not reacting well to the fluctuations.

We had an extra cat take refuge in the barn. And snakes are coming out of their dens only to freeze in the snow.

Dead snake in the snow

On behalf of the local wildlife, Ralph came out of the barn to investigate where winter went.

“No, I don’t believe I see any snow on this ground here.”

Ralph looking for snow

Not trusting his sister’s bad eye, Bax came to help her look.

“Nope, I do not see any snow either… And I think I’m sitting in mud.” (He was.)

Ralph and Baxter looking for snow

A month from today we will officially be into spring. Do you think we’re going to have a winter between now and then?

What’s winter been like where you are? Are you seeing any unusual wildlife behaviours? Anyone want to join Ralph’s and Baxter’s search party?

Hard-working farm dog

You’ve read my perspective on mucking out the barn. Now Baxter shares his point of view.

Being a farm dog is a lot of work. The last few weeks, we’ve been cleaning out the barn.

Usually, Matt and Julia don’t let me in the barn.

They say it’s Ralph’s home, and she’s allowed to have her own space no dogs allowed. I don’t know what the big deal is. I don’t chase her too much. And I’m her brother. Aren’t I supposed to bug her?

The first time I came into the barn, it was very interesting. There were so many sniffs. Ralph was there too. And I didn’t bug her at all.

By the third weekend in the barn, I was exhausted.

Ralph was guarding her food dish, so I climbed into her bed. It’s a big pile of straw, but all of the nests are cat-sized. I turned and turned and turned, but I did not fit. I dug around and was able to make a dog-sized nest.

I gotta say. I’m a farm dog. But I’m not a barn dog. That straw was prickly. This is my not impressed face.

Baxter curled up in the straw

Ralph seems to like it for some reason though. She left her food dish and came over to give me dirty looks from the stairs.

Stand off over the pile of straw

Apparently I was still bugging her. My work as a farm dog and as a brother is never done.

Oh, Baxter. You have such a hard life.

Want more Baxter? Check out That Mutt tomorrow where I’m writing about his favourite toy. There’s even a give-away for your own furry friends.

Mucking out and working out

You’ve been hearing about me spreading manure on the garden pretty much all fall. However, this post has been an even longer time coming. In fact, it’s been sitting in my drafts folder since June 2012. Way back then, Matt and I mucked out our first stall.

I was responsible for raking up the old straw.

Mucking out a stall

And Matt was responsible for getting the straw out of the stall and into the field behind the barn.

Raking straw

We just used rakes, rather than bothering to find the pitchforks, and then we piled the old straw behind the barn. This stall became Wiley’s garage.

The previous owners of our property had boarded horses. When they left, they didn’t bother to clean out the stalls.

And this fall, three years later, we still had 14 stalls full of straw and manure.

We also had a brand new vegetable garden that had been super productive. If I wanted to keep it productive, I needed to replenish the soil.

That meant it was finally time to tackle the barn.

It took me about 9 hours spread over three weekends. There were more than a dozen trailer loads of manure, and I don’t even know how many wheelbarrow loads. There were two assistants, Ms. Scratches and Mr. Sunbather, neither of whom gave very much assistance.

Ralph and Baxter in the barn

There was no way to get the tractor or the trailer into the barn, so I wheeled all of the straw through the barn, up a plank and into the trailer. When the trailer was full, I towed it out to the garden.

I got very proficient at backing up the trailer through this project. It just fit through the gate on the garden.

I usually laugh when people ask me what my workout routine is. I own a farm. That means I work. No need for a gym membership. Here’s my version of a workout video. Repeat that about a 100 more times.

So it only took me three years (or really three weekends once I got started), but finally the stalls are clean.

Now to find a new workout…

Have you ever had to muck out stalls? Any tips to make it easier? (Not that I’m planning on doing it again). What’s a project that you’ve had hanging around for awhile?

Uncovering a favourite perch

So you have a spot like this in your yard, right? Somewhere that you just let things go a little bit?

Overgrown clump of weeds

My pledge this year is to not worry about the yard and focus only on the vegetable garden. But this clump of overgrowth at the edge of the south lawn finally got to me. My inner Edward Scissorhands came out (along with a pair of clippers, since I don’t actually have blades on my hands).

Who knew there was a dead curlicue bush, a mostly dead catalpa, a huge flowerpot and two stone benches hidden in there? (Well, we did, since we’ve seen them before… and put some of them there during our previous yard clean-up episodes).

Trimming bushes

The bush and the tree froze to death last winter. The big flowerpot is a gift from previous owners that I haven’t bothered to get rid of yet. The benches? Well, the benches belong to Ralph.

While she didn’t express gratitude (are cats capable of gratitude?), I think she appreciated our work.

The benches allow her to ascend to the perfect height for convenient scratching.

Ralph getting scratches

But most importantly, the benches allow her to assume a superior height over her brother.

Ralph and Baxter

So our landscaping meets with the cat’s approval, if not the dog’s. Now to convince Matt to get out his chainsaw and deal with those dead trees…

Do you have an overgrown spot at your house? Does anyone else’s animals “help” with the yard work? What furniture belongs to furry friends? Who’s the boss, your cat or your dog? (I think I know the answer to the last one… in my experience that relationship only goes one way).


Bounty of berries

This year is an incredible year for raspberries. We have canes growing all around the farm, and they’re all loaded with tiny berries.

Black raspberries

Black raspberries

I’ve never picked this many berries any of our previous summers.

Black raspberries

It took me awhile to pick them–not just because there were so many. I had to do it all one handed because this was happening on my other side. Oh Ralph, so helpful.

Ralph getting scratches

After harvesting the berries, I decided to harvest some canes. The plan is to have two rows of raspberries in the vegetable garden: one red and one black. I had already started the red row with canes from my parent’s garden,and they’re doing well. A few days after transplanting, though, the black canes aren’t looking so hot.

Black raspberry canes

Wilted black raspberries

I’m hoping I can convince them that they’ll be happy in the garden. I also have hopes that with a little domestication, hydration, fertilization and cultivation, I’ll not only have healthy canes but big and juicy berries.

Do you grow raspberries? Are they black or red? Who else has a four-legged helper for picking? Any tips for domesticating “wild” berries?

New thrones for the queen

It’s been almost two years since we got our new dining room table. I’ve been on the look out for chairs ever since.

I saw six at the Christie Antique show last spring, but by the time I made up my mind to buy them, they were sold. Argh. So frustrating. I mentioned to Matt the other week that I haven’t been able to get those chairs out of my mind. A couple of days after that conversation, I swung into a local antique store, and right by the front door was a group chairs, very similar to the ones I’d lost out on more than a year ago.

They were a style that I’ve always liked, even if they did not meet most of the original criteria I had for dining chairs:

  • Contrasts with, yet complements, the traditional dark wood table. — These ones pretty much match the table.
  • Reasonably price, especially as I wanted eight. — They were priced at $50 per chair, and there were eight of them.
  • Not upholstered. — Umm… not so much. Upholstered on the seat, upholstered on the back, both the inside and the outside.
  • Slightly country feel. — Not at all. This Chrystiane profile ties into the traditional side of my decorating aesthetic.

Despite not matching up with what was originally in my mind, I liked them, Matt was okay with them, and the price was right (especially after I talked the dealer down a bit more).

They came home with us.

While they were airing out on the driveway, our quality control manager, Ralph, performed her inspection.

Ralph the cat on the dining chair

“The seats seem adequately cushy, although you may want to reupholster someday.”

Ralph the cat on the dining chair

“The legs have a nice profile. The joints seem to be secure. Some of the casters are missing or broken. The finish could use a little work.”

Ralph the cat inspecting the dining chairs

“Some of the trim is coming loose in spots.”

Ralph the cat inspecting the dining chairs

“Overall, I think they’ll do. They have a nice style, and they cast good shade.”

Ralph the cat inspecting the dining chairs

For someone who lives in a barn, our girl has some definite opinions on furniture.

After vacuuming the upholstery and wiping down the wood, the chairs made their way into the dining room. (Ralph returned to the barn).

And here’s how they look around the table.

Dining chairs and table

Don’t the legs play nicely together?

Dining chairs and table

The chairs (and goodness knows the table) will all need to be refinished someday. I think I might try some Restor-A-Finish on the chairs first to tide us over. My Mom’s used it a few times and I’ve been super impressed.

The upholstery is another issue. Matt is not a fan of the blue. The fabric is mostly in decent shape, but it’s scratchy and faded. Reupholstering looks like it would be fairly basic, aside from the diamond tufts, but eight chairs, seats and backs (both inside and out) would be a lot of work–and I don’t think Ralph would help. It would be fun to try out different fabrics though. I’m pretty sure I remember Sarah Richardson using three different fabrics on chairs like this.

Overall, I’m pleased with the purchase, and very happy to finally have chairs that work with our table.

What type of chairs do you have at your table? Do you go antique shopping? Who else has a story of the antique that got away? What fabrics would you choose if these chairs were yours? Have you ever used Restor-A-Finish? Who handles quality control inspections at your house?