End of season beauty in the garden

Hollyhocks in fall

The garden at the end of the season has its own beauty.

Our hollyhocks, which I loved so much when they were blooming at the height of summer, are still standing beside the garden gate.

Hollyhocks in July and December

The weathered wood fence, the barns and silo in the background, the sturdy stalks and the remains of the blossoms say “farm” to me as much as they did nearly five months ago.

Anyone know if I should be cutting back these stalks as I’m putting the rest of the garden to bed for the winter? Any tips for encouraging future blooms (I know hollyhocks are an every-other-year kind of plant)?

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Fall to do list – Report #2

We are officially in the month of winter now. (Happy first of December, BTW.) That means I have just 21 more days to finish my fall to-do list. And if I’m going by the weather rather than the calendar, who knows how long I have.

Anyone else feeling the pressure?

Here’s how we’re doing as we head into the final stretch.

1. Clean out the vegetable garden

I think I’m cutting my losses on the vegetable garden. Matt did a pass over one quadrant with the rototiller as he was running it out of gas. All of his work leveled out the dirt and uprooted the last of the weeds.

I’ve trimmed the asparagus and wrapped (most of) the grapes in burlap. Remember last year I did this in the snow? I was feeling pretty good about picking a mild Saturday before the snow arrived to get this done this year.

Then I ran out of burlap.

So this is almost done.

In keeping with the theme of cutting my losses, I bought two large tarps. My oldest nephew, who has been giving us lots of help at the farm, worked with me to spread them over half the garden. I’ve talked before about my love of tarps for killing weeds. So at least half the garden is tended.

Blue tarp spread over the vegetable garden

And lest there’s any confusion about what cutting my losses means, here’s the other half of the garden. Partially wrapped grapes, plants still in the ground, weeds, even the little sticks with the seed packets on top saying what’s in each row. Let’s just call this compost, shall we?

Messy garden in late fall

2. Remove window screens

The dining room is still the only window that is screenless. I will get to the others in the next 21 days.

3. Wash dining room and living room windows

Done at last update.

4. Put away the birdbath and put out the feeder

Done at last update. I’m loving watching the birds at the feeder as I’m working at the dining room table.

5. Bush hog the meadow, septic and pond shore one more time

This is another cutting my losses scenario. Not done. Won’t be done. Spring is soon enough.

6. Clean gutters

Matt’s done this once. Maybe one more to go?

7. Switch out the mudroom mats

Done just before our Christmas party. As in hours before. Great, except that I forgot the mat takes awhile to relax after being rolled up all summer. We had a variety of footwear and even a level and square spread around when guests arrived trying to flatten it out.

Here’s my post on how I DIYed a large mat for our mudroom.

8. Sweep the chimney

Done, as you saw in my post earlier this month.

Matt goofing around while cleaning the chimney

9. Vacuum my car

Still to come. Anyone want to arrange a detailing session for me?

10. Service the tractor

Matt and I took the mower deck off (as snow flurries flew around us). Then my cousin came over and changed the oil for us. Ralph and Bax supervised, until Bax decided he was bored and chased Ralph. He ended up in the house on a timeout, which may have been his plan all along. Dude’s work ethic is seriously questionable.

But my cousin’s is not. We’re very grateful for all of the help we get around the farm from our families.

Ralph and Baxter supervising the oil change on the tractor

11. Build a new coffee table.

Still to come.

12. Pick up the lumber pile beside the silo

Done, thanks to some more helpful cousins.

13. Regrade back and side of house

Another cut my losses. Boo. Add this to the spring list.

As fall progresses, I keep finding other things I need to do. Big things like putting away the hoses and turning off the outside water. Oops. That’s one not to forget (and now that I’ve remembered, it’s done).

I don’t like conceding defeat on these items. My mantra was, “Everything I do now is something I don’t have to do in the spring.” Because scaling up in the spring is as much effort as winding down in the fall. But c’est la vie. Everything is not going to be done.

But we’ll be done enough to be ready for winter.

At least my fingers are crossed that that’s the case.

How are you doing on winter prep at your house?

How we cleaned our chimney ourselves

Alternate title for this post “That time Matt’s Dad didn’t suffocate and fall off our roof.”

If you’ve been reading along here for any length of time, you know how much we enjoy our wood-burning fireplace and have fires nightly as soon as the weather turns cold.

It’s been three years since the fireplace was rebuilt and over that time we’ve never cleaned the chimney.

Before we fired anything up this year, I knew I wanted to address that.

Red brick chimney

Our go-to was Matt’s Dad. He heats his entire house with wood and cuts and splits all his own firewood. He’s our resource for all things fire.

He initially suggested dropping a heavy chain down the chimney and using it to knock off the soot. I was skeptical, but after a quick online search it seemed like that was a legit method of cleaning a chimney. However, consensus seemed to be that a brush was a more legit method.

Onto my Dad. I was pretty sure I remembered seeing a chimney brush and poles up in the rafters of the garage. After spending some time on a ladder peering around the garage, I found the poles but no brush.

So onto the store. I found a brush that I thought would probably fit our chimney and brought it to my parents’ house to try it on their poles. They didn’t fit together.

Back to the store, where I bought a handful of poles guessing at how many might be needed to reach the full length of the chimney.

Chimney brush in front of the hearth

Once we had the equipment, we needed to prep the inside of the house. I cleaned out the hearth, opened the damper and then covered the mouth of the fireplace to prevent dust from coming into the house.

Covering the fireplace to prevent dust during chimney sweeping

Covering the fireplace to prevent dust during chimney sweeping

Then it was onto Dick Van Dyke Matt and his Dad. (I asked for a Mary Poppins rooftop routine, but they were not in the mood. Although Matt did give me a strong man demonstration.)

Matt goofing around while cleaning the chimney

They popped the cap off the chimney and took a look.

Taking the cap off the top of the chimney

The chimney wasn’t too dirty. You can see the flakes of soot on the flue.

Soot on the inside of the chimney flue

They screwed the brush onto the first pole and got ready to sweep.

Chimney cleaning brush

Then this is where the suffocation comes in. Before he stuck the brush down the chimney, Matt’s Dad stuck his head in a large plastic bag–probably one that has a suffocation warning printed on it.

Cleaning the chimney

When he cleans his own chimney, my FIL does it from a ladder, which doesn’t give him much maneuverability. Therefore, there have been times where the wind has blown soot back in his face. The plastic helps to protect him from getting entirely dirty. On our roof, they could move around to avoid the wind if necessary.

The next stage was–to quote Matt–“dunk and scrub.” (My husband loves his movie references… although the line is actually “plunge and scrub,” but my darling husband maintains that “dunk” sounds better than “plunge”… or at least it does in his version of an Irish accent.)

My FIL dunked plunged the brush up and down in the chimney until the soot was removed. As he reached the end of one pole, he and Matt screwed on another section.

Attaching chimney sweeping poles together

Once they’d done the full length of the chimney, that was all there was to it. They put the cap back on top, came inside and pulled the plastic off the opening, swept the wee bit of dust out of the hearth, and we were ready for a fire.

Logs burning in the fireplace

Cleaning the chimney turned out to be pretty easy (so says the woman on the ground… but seriously, I know I could do it and you can too). I’m very grateful to Matt and his Dad for their work.

Here are my tips to clean your chimney yourself.

  1. Find a brush that fits your chimney. Our chimney has a 12 inch square flue. Most of the brushes I found in different stores were smaller and round. That works for my FIL’s woodstove, but not for our masonry chimney. Eventually, I found a brush that was an 8-inch by 12-inch rectangle. Even though it wasn’t the 12 by 12 that I originally had in mind, Matt’s Dad said that it worked very well.
  2. Buy extra poles. It turns out that two poles and a long arm (to quote Matt’s Dad) are enough to do our whole chimney. I bought five because I did not want to come up short. I’ll be returning the other three.
  3. Lubricate your poles. The poles screw together so that the handle of your brush gets progressively longer as you proceed down the chimney. Before he went up on the roof, Matt’s Dad gave the threads a shot of WD40 to ensure they’d easily screw and unscrew this year and for the years to come.
  4. Cover up inside. Tape a sheet of plastic over your fireplace opening. If you have doors on your fireplace, this step may not be necessary. With our open hearth, there was a good chance that soot and dust dislodged during cleaning would float into the living room. Covering the opening with plywood or plastic helps to contain the mess in the fireplace, where you can sweep it up later.
  5. Dunk and scrub (or plunge). Jostle your brush up and down inside the chimney. Be relatively vigorous–you want to knock off all the soot–but a bit gentle–you don’t want to damage your chimney.
  6. Watch which way the wind blows. It’s probably not necessary to don a plastic hood and face shield à la Matt’s Dad. However, chimney cleaning is a dirty job (another Mary Poppins clip, anyone?), so wear old clothes or coveralls, gloves and try to choose an angle where you won’t have soot blowing in your face.
  7. Do this yourself. Chimney cleaning is an easy DIY. It took about a half hour start to finish and in total our investment in the brush and the poles is less than $100. We’ll have the equipment for years. We didn’t get a professional quote on cleaning the chimney, but I’m certain that we would have spent more than $100 if we’d hired this out.

Now we can enjoy the fireplace, confident that it’s safe and clean.

How we cleaned our chimney ourselves

First snow and first fire

Snow dusting the split rail fence by the barn

Thursday night the flurries started, and Friday morning we woke up to our first dusting of snow this season.

The puppy was entirely over-excited until his feet got too cold (temperatures also fell incredibly far overnight) and then he was excited run back to the warm house.

Baxter surveying the fields after the first snowfall

Tire tracks across the field after the first snowfall

Baxter surveying the fields after the first snowfall

Snow on the barn roof

After all of the cold and snow, I was very happy to also have our first fire of the season this weekend. (Yes, that means our chimney is clean. One more task crossed off our fall to-do list. How to post to come).

Logs burning in the fireplace

I’m writing this in front of our second fire of the season, enjoying a quiet, cozy wind down to our weekend.

I hope that you all had a good weekend as well. What was the highlight for you? Any weather changes where you are?

First fire at the pond

I still find it hard to describe the feeling of being at the farm. It’s peace, happiness, pride, calm and so much more.

My favourite place at my favourite place is the pond.

Since we moved here I’ve envisioned walking along the edge of the water, a bench on the shore, maybe a little dock out into the water and a firepit.

On the weekend, one part of that came true–or started to–with our very first fire at the pond.

Fire on the shore of the pond

All of our efforts over the past few months with our new rotary cutter, the chainsaw, the nephew and the husband have gotten us much closer to my vision.

This fire was less of a campfire and more about cleaning up all of the brush that’s accumulated from our work.

Trimming brush

The pond shore was my main outdoor goal for this whole year. Then by June I’d given up on this plan after we ran into hiccups with a broken arm, broken chainsaw and other projects. That changed with the arrival of our mower and all of Matt’s and our nephew’s work.

Overgrown brush on the shore of the pond

Brush at the edge of the pond

Fire on the shore of the pond

My fall to-do list included mowing the meadow and the shore one more time, but I’m letting that one go now.

Hopefully, we can resume in the spring and push on towards my vision for my favourite place.

We’ll be closer than we have ever been before.

Fall to do list update

Baxter walking on a frosty morning

Back at the beginning of October, I posted my fall to-do list. I’ve had a month, and frosty mornings are coming more frequently. Have I made any progress to being ready for winter?

1. Clean out the vegetable garden

Pruning the raspberries was a big item I was thrilled to check off my list. The squash was our last crop to harvest. Now only clean up remains. A lot of clean up yet.

2. Remove window screens

Screens are off the dining room window. The rest will come down eventually.

3. Wash dining room and living room windows

Done. We can now turn off the outside water any time. Inside, my Norwex glass cloth made quick work of years of grime (seriously, years) and layers of puppy nose smears.

(I’m not affiliated with Norwex. If you’re looking for a good glass cleaner, I can’t recommend Norwex glass cloths enough. As I’m trying to be conscious of what chemicals I use in my home, I love that this uses only water. Plus it works the best out of lots of products I’ve tried for windows.)

Norwex window cloth

4. Put away the birdbath and put out the feeder

Matt and Wiley worked late last night, and they got this done by headlight.

5. Bush hog the meadow, septic and pond shore one more time

My handy nephew is coming to visit this weekend, and he’s enthused about practicing his tractor driving again.

6. Clean gutters

Matt’s done this once. More leaves are coming down everyday though and those pine trees never stop shedding, so I expect there will be at least one more session before winter.

Matt cleaning the gutters with the leaf blower

7. Switch out the mudroom mats

Still to come.

8. Sweep the chimney

The hunt for a right-size chimney brush took a little while. I think I’ve found one that will work, and I’m aiming to grab poles from my parents today.

Chimney brush in front of the hearth

9. Vacuum my car

Still to come.

10. Service the tractor

Wiley did his last mowing two weeks ago–and he was more than ready to be done for the season. He got stuck and I had to tow him again, and he hit a stump and threw a blade. Also, Matt’s not happy with how our little tractor is running. So a pre-winter check up is definitely in order.

11. Build a new coffee table.

Still to come.

12. Pick up the lumber pile beside the silo

Still to come.

13. Regrade back and side of house

Still crossing my fingers that this will come too.

Roughly two months ’til winter. That’s still enough time, right? Now that the weather has gotten colder, I find I’m less motivated, especially when it comes to working outside. I keep reminding myself that everything I do now, I will be grateful for in the spring.

How are you doing on winter prep at your house?

Squash harvest 2017

Wheelbarrow full of butternut and acorn squash

Squash seems to have become our signature crop.

The first year of the garden, we harvested 39 butternuts and about 70 acorns. Last year we intentionally planted fewer plants, but we still ended up with a tonne of squash (although I didn’t bother counting them… or at least didn’t record the count).

This year, we’re finally approaching a manageable number. This year’s squash harvest was 35 acorns and 11 butternuts.

Wheelbarrow full of butternut and acorn squash

Plenty for soups, side dishes and more. (Along with being our signature crop, they’re our signature food that we love to eat). I’m looking forward to trying this for my lunches.

Garden clean out is happening slowly. I pulled all of the vines off of our A-frame trellis and sent them to the compost pile. (I did not do any weeding.)

Squash A-frame trellis

Weeds or not, I’m calling the centre axis of the garden done for the season (as good as it gets is how we’re rolling this year).

Looking across the garden from the raspberry row to the squash trellis

Four quadrants and the perimeter raised beds still to go.

Hopefully I wrap those up before the snow arrives.

How to prune raspberries

How to prune raspberries

Pruning the raspberries was one of the items on my “putting the garden to bed” to-do list.

Pruning removes dead canes, opens the rest of the canes up to light and air and gives new canes room to grow.

The best time to prune is in the fall. The canes have finished fruiting. Leaves have died and fallen off. New growth won’t start until the spring.

The first step is to identify which canes are dead. You want to look for the canes that are woody. For our berries, that means I can see actual bark and it looks like the outer shell of the cane is peeling a bit. The cane in the centre of the picture below needs to go. The two on either side can stay to bear berries next year.

How to prune raspberries

Using sturdy clippers, cut the dead cane a couple of inches above the ground. Pull the cut cane out of the row and throw it on your compost pile. If your canes are very thick or tangled, you may need to clip the dead cane in half so that you can extract it from the row.

How to prune raspberries

It’s okay to have a little stump left behind. In a year or two, this stump will rot away.

How to prune raspberries

While you’re in your raspberry patch, now is also the time to weed (the last time this season). I also tuck the canes back under the wires of our trellis (here’s how we built our raspberry trellis). This contains the plants, helps them grow upright rather than flopping over and makes it easier for picking and care next year. You can see in the picture below one guy is on the wrong side of the wire (while his neighbour has bent over nearly backwards to grow within the row).

How to prune raspberries

At this time of year–especially while temperatures are still warm–the canes are pretty flexible, so it’s easy to bend and coax them under the wires. The result is a tidy row of plants with plenty of space to walk between the rows.

How to prune raspberries

How to prune raspberries

Has anyone else been pruning raspberries? Any tips to share? How are you doing on your garden clean up this fall?

If a tree grows at the farm…

Maple sapling alongside the driveway

Three and a half years ago, we got four maple saplings from Lowes. They were free and part of a giveaway in response to the ice storm we’d been through the previous Christmas. Three of the trees have survived, but interestingly they’re growing very differently.

We planted most of the trees alongside the driveway to further my ambition of having beautiful big branches arching over the driveway some day. One of these trees is the one that died. We planted the final tree on the turnaround. We already have a huge old maple that I love on the turnaround. But I’m worried that some day it may come to the end of its life, and I’d like to have a new tree established at that time.

The trees were all very, very small when we got them from Lowes, but they were all roughly the same size.

No longer.

For some reason, the tree on the turnaround is growing big and fat, while the two on the driveway are still fairly spindly.

Observe the one on the turnaround–with a handy maple leaf for scale.

Maple tree trunk

And now let’s walk down the driveway with our same measuring leaf.

Maple tree trunk

Does it seem weird to anyone else that these trees are so different? They’re supposed to be the same type of trees (red maples), planted at the same time on the same property and cared for neglected in the same way.

As I’m writing this, I’m looking out the window at the turnaround, and I’m wondering if this tree is different from the others. You can see in the photo at the start of this post that the driveway tree sports a crown of beautiful red leaves. The turnaround tree–which has many, many more leaves and branches–is still completely green. Hmmm. That would certainly explain why it’s growing differently.

Any other ideas? Any tips for tree care? I admit, my usual approach is to do nothing.