First snow

First snow on the barn roof

Light dusting of snow on green grass

Snow on a round hay bale

Snow on fallen leaves

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Foggy morning on the farm

Foggy morning on the farm

Last Friday we set record warm temperatures for November. But before the thermometer rose, the fog descended, making for a very murky morning walk.

Foggy morning on the farm

My favourite tree still stood.

Foggy morning on the farm

But it felt like the world ended at the edge of the farm.

Foggy morning on the farm

By the end of the walk, the sun had risen and the fog was burning off and the farm returned.

Foggy morning on the farm

I love seeing how the farm changes over a day, over an hour and over a season. Starting and ending my days here never gets old.

Winter rye cover crop in the vegetable garden

Winter rye sprouts in the vegetable garden

Look at our pretty green sprouts.

Fall in Ontario is about brown. Gardening season is done. Leaves, grass, flowers are all pretty drab. But we have one new crop growing.

This is our winter rye cover crop in the vegetable garden. It’s our first time trying a cover crop.

We love our garden and how productive it is. So we’re working hard to maintain the quality of our soil. Last year, I spread straw and manure all over the garden. This year, we’re going with so-called green manure.

In the spring, we’ll cut the rye and turn it into the soil.

Have you ever grown a cover crop? Do you have any green growing at your house?

That time my husband dropped a 2×4 on my head

Or, as Matt tells the story, the time I followed too closely behind him while he was carrying–and dropping–lumber.

Head wound

Saturday afternoon was fall cleanup day here on the farm.

Remember this pile of lumber that I cleaned up back in the spring? I was so proud. I am woman, hear me roar.

Lumber pile at the edge of the field

Field after clearing the lumber pile

However, I really only did half the job. I brought it over to the barn, but not actually into the barn. I dumped it beside the silo.

Lumber piled outside the barn

Putting it into the barn was one of the tasks on my (mental) fall to-do list. After mucking all of the old straw and manure out of the stalls last fall, we have lots of extra space, and I knew one of the empty stalls would be perfect to corral all of this lumber.

I recruited Matt to help me, and we moved 6x6s, 4x4s, 2x8s, barnboard siding and assorted other lumber–including a few pesky 2x4s–into the barn. There is so much lumber, yet it takes up barely a quarter of a stall. Horses are big animals, people.

Lumber piled in a horse stall

Along the way we picked up the leftover fence posts that have sat by the garden all year, some other lumber, some metal posts–five piles in all.

Trailer loaded with old fence posts

I’m so happy that the property is looking just a wee bit tidier. Next year when we mow these new areas, it will look even better. I’m not sure Matt is quite as enthused yet. Especially since he’s our main mower.

Lumber pile cleaned up beside the silo

My husband knows me so well. When we came into the house at the end of the day, he asked me, “How much of that did you have planned, woman? I thought we were just moving the one pile by the silo when I agreed to this. I want to re-examine the contract. I think I might sue.”

I admitted that I had planned for three out of the five piles–the other two were just a bonus. I also reminded him of the original contract, which says, “for better or for worse.”

How did you spend your weekend?

Odds and sods

 

Preserves and homegrown apples

It’s been a busy week–really a busy month (or months)–so I’m taking it easy today with a quick list of the odds and sods that have been happening recently:

  • One of my very best friends left a whole package of homemade preserves, muffins and fresh apples on our driveway gate this week. We’ve been friends for more than 30 years and still live less than 10 minutes from each other. Life gets busy and we don’t see each other as often as we’d like, but we’re still connected. Little moments like this are what friendship is all about for me.
  • The 30th anniversary issue of House and Home was full of great rooms. A lot of the old favourites were some of my memorable spaces too. Kim Cattrall’s ocean front home (seriously, she stood in the ocean and then sat on driftwood for two pictures) is pretty special.
  • Our warm fall lulled me into a false sense of security. We’ve had windchills, negative temperatures and even snow over the past week. I need to get cracking on the annual seasonal shutdown. This weekend’s to-dos are remove the tractor mower deck and turn off the outside water.
  • Speaking of cold weather, I’ve started knitting again–and am teaching a whole bunch of people at my day job how to knit too. Yet another pair of my favourite slippers from French Press Knits are on my needles right now.

Is anyone else feeling like there aren’t enough hours in the day right now? Or the things I want to/need to do are too many for the time I have available? Obviously, my friend (who is also mom to two little boys) has found some deeper level of productivity than I have yet uncovered.

First fire of the season

Saturday, I was outside in a chilly wind all afternoon. Unfortunately, I wasn’t at the farm, so I didn’t have physical labour to keep me warm.

Saturday evening, home at the farm, was all about big bowl of soup on the couch in front of the first fire of the season.

 

Sunday, Matt and I rearranged the woodpiles and took delivery of another load of firewood from his Dad.

We have a serious stockpile of firewood this year. It wraps around all three sides of the pool room.

Woodpile

We’ve gotten so much new wood this year that things have gotten a bit jumbled.

The rearrangement on Sunday was about putting the oldest wood in the most accessible spot: stacked on the side patio closest to the kitchen door. Then there is the original woodpile behind the pool room now expanded to four rows–we’ve never had four rows.

Woodpile

The newest wood is on the other side patio where it can dry for awhile–years given the amount of wood we have to burn through before then.

Woodpile

The fireplace is my thing, but the firewood is Matt’s. I gripe a bit about firewood taking over our house, but I appreciate all of the effort he puts into making sure I’m set for a cozy night after a chilly day.

How are you getting ready for winter at your house?

Vegetable garden highs and lows

I’m going to go a bit corporate today. Have you heard of a SOAR analysis? It’s a business planning exercise where you look at the strengths, opportunities, aspirations and results for a particular project. It’s a bit friendlier than the old-school SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats).

Today’s project is the vegetable garden.

Vegetable garden in October 2016

Matt and I officially harvested everything last weekend. We have more clean-up yet to do, but I feel like I’m ready to look at what worked and what didn’t… or, more positively, what opportunities there are for next year.

Strengths

Soil – We have a great garden, and I can’t really take a lot of credit for it. Our soil is fabulous, and I’m doing everything I can to keep it healthy (see opportunities below).

Trellises – I’ve written about growing our raspberries, tomatoes and squash vertically. It totally worked. We got great yields in much less space than we would have without the trellises.

How to grow squash vertically

Watering – This was a very, very, very dry summer. I was very thankful for our well, so that we didn’t have to pay municipal water fees. We watered every other day–more than is recommended by most gardening how-tos–but I think it made the difference between losing most of our plants (which didn’t happen) and harvesting a very impressive crop (which did).

Crops – In terms of impressive, the key successes this year were peppers and beans, which last year did next to nothing. Two new crops–sunflowers and watermelon–were also great successes. The watermelon took forever to ripen, but finally made it thanks to the hot summer weather continuing well into fall.

Watermelon harvest fall 2016

Our potatoes, tomatoes and zucchini were crazy prolific as usual, and the new versions we tried–ridiculously giant Sicilian Saucer tomatoes and Russian Blue potatoes–were fun additions.

Russian blue potato

Opportunities

Raised beds – Argh the raised beds. I love having the perimeter beds in the garden, but the soil we bought for them was not good at all. Weeds didn’t even grow. The asparagus, hollyhocks and some of the herbs eventually got some traction, but it took all season. The carrots, beets and onions were nearly complete failures. Some of the herbs just shriveled up and died.

Pathetic carrots

Dead lavender plant

I’m not sure what we need to do to remedy this next year. The soil was triple mix which is supposed to include compost, peat moss and top soil. However, our triple mix is very sandy and seems to be deficient in nutrients. I’m thinking all kinds of compost and manure might revitalize it.

Black raspberries – My attempts to domesticate the wild black raspberries that grow elsewhere on the farm was also a big fat fail. These plants can only be described as brambles. They’re thorny and floppy–and when they flop over, they root themselves into the ground making a big tangled mess. I channeled Sleeping Beauty’s Prince Phillip and dug them all out last weekend. I’m looking forward to finding a new kind of berry to plant in their place next spring.

Weeds – One of the things I wanted to try this year was using a deep layer of straw as a mulch over the garden to smother the weeds. Matt and I brought an old abandoned bale of straw up to the garden, but I never got around to spreading it over the garden. We didn’t keep up with weeding by hand, so the garden was very, very weedy. The deep mulch method is still on my list for next year.

Weedy garden

Plant the whole garden – Our garden is big. Last year we planted just half, but this year we made it up to three quarters . I ended up mowing the weeds in the empty quadrant all summer. Not the best use of space. I’m hoping that we can use the whole garden next year.

Aspirations

Maintain the soil – I’m learning that gardening is about growing soil, more than growing plants. Last fall I added ash and manure to the whole garden. This year, I’m aiming for more manure and some compost–especially in the raised beds. I’m also trying a cover crop for the first time, seeding one quadrant with winter rye. Crop rotation is another consideration that I’m realizing takes lots of advance thought–as in years in advance.

Slow-growing crops – Asparagus and grapes were two additions to the garden this spring. Both are going to be long-term commitments, and I’m hoping that they make it through the winter and thrive next year.

First year grape vines

New additions – I’m looking forward to adding more herbs to the raised beds and putting more thought into how they’re clumped around the perimeter of the garden. Another consideration is maybe a cutting garden, or at least dressing up the vegetables–and filling some of the vacant spaces–with a selection of flowers.

Results

Infrastructure – There’s another corporate, distinctly non-garden word for you. But I don’t know how else to describe the base structures that form the garden–and that as of this year are all done. Last year our big accomplishment was the fence. This year, we added the curbs, raised beds, trellises, gate and waterline. I’m looking forward to not “building” the garden next year and just planting it.

#Harvest16 – Once again, the garden was super, duper productive. We had more zucchini, tomatoes and watermelon than we could use–to the benefit of our families and co-workers. We’re hoping that our squash and potatoes last well into the winter. Any storage tips?

Garden harvest fall 2016

Preserving – I feel like growing your own garden soon leads to preserving your own food, and this year Matt and I dove in to canning. We pickled about 10 pounds of beans–I was skeptical, but they’re so good I can eat a jar on my own–and made nearly 12 litres of our own ketchup–Matt is a big user of ketchup and is very particular about his preferred brand… although he has now switched allegiances to our homemade version. We’ve also loaded up the freezer with beans, roasted tomatoes, grated zucchini and plan to add peppers.

I’m not quite ready to call this year’s garden completely done, but I am ready to call it a success. In fact, we have also fulfilled every single goal I had for the garden in my original Home Goals 2016 post. That’s an achievement.

How did your garden grow this year? Any tips for storing potatoes and squash? Or favourite recipes to share? Anyone have ideas for the soil in our raised beds?

Prickly pants

Pants covered in prickles

Our trails are a wee bit overgrown. After an evening hike with Baxter, I returned to the house and spent half an hour picking prickles off of my pants.

To be fair, I had ventured off trail for awhile when Baxter decided to choose his own adventure. (Did anyone read those books as a kid? I usually cheated and looked ahead to find what chapter I had to choose to get the good ending). However, half the prickles had already attached themselves to me before I left the path.

I asked Matt whether he thought a big strong man with a chainsaw might find his way out to the back woods. (Some trees are down too). He suggested a little strong woman could do it herself.

So much glamour and gallantry here on the farm.

Growing sunflower seeds

It’s been neat to watch the sunflowers go through their various stages of growth.

More than a month ago you saw the cheery blossoms.

A couple of weeks ago, the seeds started to come in. The spiky flowers in the centre of the blossom dropped off to reveal the tightly packed seeds.

Sunflower seeds

Sunflower seeds

It was about this time that the local wildlife seemed to discover the sunflowers.

I had hoped to get another photo this week, but the flowers have been nearly picked clean. Most of the seeds have been consumed.

The biggest culprits are the blue jays. Any time I walk past the garden, at least six jays erupt from the sunflower patch. We’ve also spotted chipmunks and squirrels.

So it appears that we may be buying bird seed again this year.