Hope grows in the garden

Our garden is already underway for 2022–despite waking up to snow on the ground yesterday. Spring, where are you?

Ellie received a set of gardening tools and many packets of seeds for her birthday. She was very excited to start planting, so we have a bumper crop of tiny watermelon plants living in the dining room. I’m hoping the weather warms up before they become big watermelon plants.

The rest of her seeds are all crops that can be sown directly into the garden.

I’ve also been pruning the grapes a little bit. The grapes have been neglected (as has the rest of the garden) and they’re getting a bit wild. A longtime blogging friend, Kit, inspired me to give them some attention. I’ve not pruned as much as Kit did, as I feel like the shock might kill the vines. But I’ve tidied them up a lot, so I’m curious to see how they do this season.

I also have a line on some mulch that I’m hoping will help to subdue some of the weeds.

I aspire to have a beautiful and productive farm garden some day. We have been so, so far from that for so, so many years. I’m hoping that we can make a bit of progress this year. Ellie is extremely excited by her gardening tools (highly recommend this gift) and enthused about being helpful in the garden. So maybe this will be the year.

Are you planning to grow any food this year? Have you started your garden yet?

Maple moon

I love being outside at the farm during a full moon. Being able to see my shadow at night feels like a bit of magic. Last week we had a maple moon–a full moon that coincided with the sap running in the maple trees.

Once again, we have tapped our trees. The annual sap run and syrup making has become a fun tradition.

Ellie loves sample the sap as it drips from the trees and then monitor the sap as it boils on the stove. (We scorched our first batch, so she keeps an extra close eye now.)

Enjoying our sweet homemade syrup is a sweet treat for the rest of the year (as long as it lasts) and a continual reminder of the magic of the farm.

New compost bin

Every farm has a junk pile. For us, our junk pile was along the tree line beside the garden. As we cleaned up other areas around the property, this was the spot we stashed things that we didn’t want to deal with.

Past owners had piled concrete blocks, bricks, old windows and barn doors. We added a basketball net (left behind by those same past owners), planters (past owners), composters (past owners), wood fence posts, two big hay bales, and more barn doors. This is also the spot I chose to dump clippings and weeds from the gardens. It was unmowable, unruly and unattractive.

This year, I decided it was time to tackle the junk pile.

The old windows (all of which had broken) went to the dump. The barn doors (which had mostly rotted) were burned. The hay bales went into the garden. Matt’s Dad trimmed low hanging branches so the tractor could drive through. Bricks were restacked, and then we added more with the brick that we removed for the garage renovation. So the junk pile hasn’t gone away. But it’s tidier than it was.

All year I’ve slowly pushed the junk back closer to the tree line and mowed farther and farther from the garden.

The last thing I wanted to tackle was the garden dump pile. It was years of raspberry canes, flowers, shrubs, vegetables, plants and weeds. All just dumped on the ground in an ever expanding blob.

My solution to contain the blob was a new compost bin. Matt’s Dad collected some skids for me. I used leftover deck blocks and 4x4s from the treehouse (of random lengths), and I made a large three-sided bin. I only made three sides, as I want to be able to dump the wheelbarrow into it easily. I also figure with this design the pile might be fairly easy to turn.

Skids are a common material these days for compost bins, but most bins are four-sided. I’ll see how our three-sided bin works and adjust if I need to.

I built the bin and then used the tractor to push the existing pile of garden waste into its new home. Then I dismantled the composter behind the house and added its contents to the new bin. The composter, though convenient to the kitchen, had come apart and the plastic had warped so much that I wasn’t able to put it back together.

My new solution for kitchen waste is a five gallon pail with a lid in the garage. I dump the kitchen compost into the pail and once a week or so carry the pail over to the garden and dump it in the big compost bin. I think this will give us a better mix of brown and green materials and I like the simplicity of having all of our compost in one spot.

I did the final vegetable garden clean out last week and added this year’s clippings to the new bin. We now have a wide swath beside the garden that we’ll be able to mow next year.

Let’s have a spring to fall before and after, shall we? Then I am crossing the last big junk pile off my Home Goals 2021 list.

Do you have a junk pile at your house? Who else is trying to finish off outdoor projects before the weather changes? What kind of compost bin do you have? Any compost tips to share?

Vegetable garden 2021

This year in the garden we grew some stuff. Some of it we actually wanted to grow.

In my quest for low maintenance, we spread a bunch of cardboard and straw mulch around this spring. It did pretty well at keeping the weeds down… for a while. I have to realize that low maintenance does not mean no maintenance and every gardening method takes time and care.

The cardboard disintegrated (as it’s supposed to) and weeds came up. The weeds in our garden are obnoxious. Most of them are prickles, which are not fun to pull out. And since I didn’t pull any of them out, they grew big and then it became not fun to even walk in the garden.

Ellie and I did plant some things, though our seeds were old and we planted them late. Our yellow beans grew, but I didn’t notice because they were quickly consumed by our pumpkins. Our pumpkins were the bumper crop of the year. We got eight good sized white pumpkins. It was fun to grow these with Ellie and talk about the flowers and the fruit, watch them develop and then pick them together.

Sharing the garden with Ellie is the fun. She loves the raspberries and the grapes and eats them straight from the plants. Unfortunately, our raspberries weren’t super prolific and most of the grapes went to the birds.

A surprise late bloomer (literally) has been our blackberries. Our blackberries have never done very much, but this year we’ve had several pints. Our canes are finally multiplying and the weather has stayed mild long enough for the berries to ripen. The fruit is delicious. Very few berries make it to the house.

Someday we may have a lovely, productive, low maintenance (is there such a thing?) garden. I haven’t figured out how to make that happen yet. I pretty much accept that this is the season of life that we’re in right now. Instead, I enjoy the fun that we do have, from watching things grow to giving all of our families pumpkins to eating sun-warmed blackberries as big as my thumb.

How did your garden grow this year? What’s your favourite fresh-picked crop?

A sweet family tradition

On a whim, I decided to tap our trees a few weeks ago. It turned out to be exactly the right time. Just a few days later, the sap started to run.

Making syrup was something Matt liked to do. I didn’t tap trees last spring, but this year I decided I wanted to share the experience with Ellie.

We also need to replenish our stash. Matt started making Ellie a waffle in the morning, and it’s still her breakfast of choice.

Ellie has been in on every part of syrup making so far. Drilling the trees, collecting the sap, eating the sap right from the tree.

As I strain the sap, she inspects the cloth for dirt. Then as it’s boiling in the pot, she calls, “Use the ‘mometer!” (Our first batch of syrup burnt when we were distracted watching Frozen.)

She holds the strainer as I pour the finished syrup into jars and then swipes her finger around the bottom of the pan to lick up the sweet drips left behind.

Syrup making became a fun tradition for Matt and me, and I’m having more fun carrying this on with Ellie.

Do you have any spring traditions in your family? What family traditions are you sharing with your kids?

Goodbye grapes

Google reminded me the other day that this photo was taken a year ago.

Ellie picking grapes

First I went, “Aw. The cuteness!” And then I went, “Grapes? Really?”

I’ve been kind of casually watching our grapes, but not paying really close attention. I mostly felt that it would be awhile until they ripened.

But thanks to Google and another reminder from Instgram, I decided I should maybe go take a closer look.

When I did, I realized that even if I haven’t been paying attention, the birds have. Many of our grapes have been gobbled.

The blue Sovereign Coronations are gone. I found one and ate it myself. (Don’t tell Ellie.)

Grapes eaten by birds

The Somersets are still in the process of turning red, but it looks like as soon as one does, that grape is gobbled. I’m going to keep a closer eye, but I’m not sure how many I’ll be able to grab.

Ripening grapes

Ripening grapes

Japanese beetles are still doing a number on the leaves, though they’re wilier and fly away before I can flick them into my bucket of death.

I know netting grapes may  be an option, but that’s not something I’m prepared to do this year.

This year’s garden philosophy is see how it goes. In this instance, they’re almost gone.

But, the beauty of gardening is it comes back again next year and we get to try again.

How is your garden growing? Are you feeding any wildlife? Has harvest snuck up on any one else?

 

Garden update

Back in April, I said that my garden philosophy this year was to “see how it goes.” Wanna see how it’s going?

Weedy garden

Okay. That looks a bit dire. I have been mowing a few sections of the vegetable garden for the past several years. I let it go for a few weeks and it went a bit wild. But it has been reclaimed. Or at least cut down again.

Mowing the vegetable garden

I’ve weeded half the raspberries a couple of times, but I feel like I’m not making very much progress on keeping them weeded. My mission is to be able to easily pick raspberries this year. Hence the mowing. The berries are small, but a few are starting to ripen.

First ripe raspberry

Ellie picking raspberries in the garden

 

 

We have had suuuuuuper hot weather–exactly what summer should be, in my opinion. But we have had no rain. So everything is suuuuuuper dry. I’m sure the berries would be happier with some moisture, but I’ve not watered them yet.

There is only one more thing I’m paying attention to in the garden. The grapes. Look at all of these bunches of baby grapes! Aren’t they amazing? I am so thrilled there are so many grapes. I am hoping that they grow big and juicy and we’re able to get a good harvest this year, despite all of the neglect.

Unripe grapes

Also on the to-do list along with watering? Pick off the Japanese beetles. Ugh. So gross.

Japanese beetles on grape vines

The other highlights of the garden are things that have received no attention at all.

One hollyhock has returned. Yay! And a fair-size patch of milkweed has sprouted. I guess some good things come from neglect.

Pink hollyhock

Milkweed in the vegetable garden

The rest of our garden is not in the garden. Matt’s Dad bought us some tomato seedlings back in the spring, and rather than try to clear a spot in the garden, I decided to stick them in pots. So I moved a couple big pots to the front door and set up a little container garden.

Growing tomatoes in pots

There’s a hibiscus, some herbs and the tomatoes. They’re staked and suckered and string trained and everything. Since they’re at the front door, they’re also getting watered regularly because I can’t ignore them.

One pot is doing better than the other, but all the plants have some blossoms, so I’m hoping we see some fruit this year.

Overall, I would say the garden is going. It’s definitely not my ideal garden, but it’s working for me right now.

How is your garden growing? What are you picking? Are you doing any container gardening? Anyone else mowing their garden?

Gardening philosophy: See how it goes

Earth Day is this week, so it seems like a good time to talk about vegetable gardens. It also seems like a lot of people are planning gardens this year. Whether it’s a desire to be more self-sufficient, or looking for an activity to keep kids busy during quarantine, or the joy that comes from watching things grow, there are a lot of up sides to gardening.

I’m not sure what our garden plans are yet. I think the best description of my philosophy is “see how it goes.”

It’s hard to overstate the mess that was the vegetable garden last year. I had high hopes of weeding at least the outer raised beds, but only made it about a quarter of the way around in the spring before I gave up.

I blame the baby.

Ellie gardening at 1 year old

One year ago this week

We spend plenty of time outside–that’s our favourite place to be–and Ellie is pretty good at amusing herself while Mama works.

But the garden ground was too uneven for her a year ago when she was still unsteady on her feet. She spent most of her time in the garden frustrated. She took two steps and tripped. She fell down and couldn’t get back up. She got caught in weeds or plants. I felt like I was torturing the baby every time I tried to work.

We both found joy when the raspberries ripened. Ellie very quickly learned that any red berries were good to eat, and I loved seeing her reach for berries one after another. She still got tangled up, but she persisted because nothing comes between this girl and her fruit.

Red raspberries

In the fall, I really, really wanted to prune the raspberries. I didn’t do it the year before (again, blame the baby), and I knew we’d have a bigger crop and easier picking experience this year if I could get it done.

Between some early mornings, naptimes, and one baby-free day, I got the raspberries done. There were major weeds, many dead canes, multiple wheelbarrow loads, a lot of careful realignment of canes behind the wire trellises, and of course my favourite furry sidekick.

Baxter laying beside the pruned row of raspberries

But they got done and they’re looking great. Seeing the new leaves sprouting on the tidy rows brings me joy.

Some asparagus is starting to poke up–maybe this will be the year we finally pick some–and the rhubarb has emerged. A sandbox has also landed in the garden. Thanks to its arrival (and some temporary pet worms), the asparagus is already weeded.

Ellie playing in her sandbox in the garden

There’s more to do, but I’m adhering to my “see-how-it-goes” philosophy. No matter what, I’m anticipating more joy this summer with our girl.

Are you planning to grow any vegetables this year? Do you garden with your kids? Any tips for keeping toddlers occupied while working outside?

 

(For anyone looking for more garden tips, Amanda at Life at Cloverhill is doing an IGTV series where she answers reader’s vegetable garden questions.)

Embroidering with my great-grandmother

Embroidered fabric cutlery holder

I am one of those people who loves my “nice” dishes. I picked out a china pattern when we got married and I was grateful to receive crystal wine glasses as a wedding gift. I love pulling them out when we have a family dinner.

Some day, I hope I’m able to add a set of silver cutlery to my “nice” collection.

Even if I don’t have the silver yet, I have a place to keep them.

Rolled cutlery holders

I’m not sure what these are called. They have little sleeves for the various utensils, and then they roll up to tuck in the drawer. They protect the cutlery from scratches and keep them organized.

Rolled cutlery holder

These holders were made by my great-grandmother and me, which I think is so, so cool. (My great-grandmother died before I was born.)

A few years ago I was helping my Mom organize some things in her sewing room, and we found these holders. The spoon and fork ones were done, but the knives was barely started.

I haven’t done embroidery in years, but I liked the idea of finishing the set. I also liked the idea of having a place to store extra cutlery. While we don’t have a silver set, we do have lots of cutlery for those family dinners, and my storage technique was not ideal.

Cutlery stored in plastic cups

I especially liked the family heritage.

I tried to pick colours similar to the ones my great-grandmother chose and mimic her stitch patterns, and I’m really happy with how the set turned out.

Rolled cutlery holders

 

Do you have a silver, china or crystal set? How do you store extra dishes? Any other embroiderers out there? What craft or organizing projects have you been up to?

 

Grapes and goodness in the garden

Red somerset grapes

We have grapes!

Three years ago I planted eight grapevines, and two years ago I added four more. Every year since then I’ve cut off any fruit that has appeared with the idea that the plants need all their energy to grow big and strong, rather than growing grapes.

This year, I let the grapes grow, and I was so thrilled back in August when they were finally ready to harvest.

Bunches of red somerset grapes on the vine

Ellie was delighted as well. Girl looooooves fruit, and grapes are a favourite.

Ellie picking grapes

It’s been so exciting to watch the grapes grow over the season. Seeing the big bunches of unripe green grapes made me feel like I’ve been doing something right.

Bunches of unripe green grapes

I have I’ve felt like I’m fumbling along with my grapes ever since I planted them. Figuring out where to plant them, how to trellis them, how to prune them, protecting them in the winter, even my decision to cut off the grapes the last couple of years were completely me winging it.

As I watched the grapes finally coming on this year, I was worried something would happen before I was able to taste them. Blight, birds, bugs. Something would get them instead of me.

But nothing happened. The grapes ripened, and they were beautiful.

Unripe and ripe grapes

In the end something did get them instead of me.

Blame it on the baby.

Ellie learned very quickly that anything purple or red in the garden was ripe for the picking. She would happily stand there and eat grapes by the bunch.

Ellie eating grapes in the garden

The flavour of the sun-warmed grapes was unmatched. They were so lovely and sweet. The pop as I bit into them, the stickiness of the juice on my hands, the sight of Ellie opening her mouth to ask for another and then the feeling of a little hand smushing a grape into my mouth in return make grapes a favourite summer memory.

Basket of sovereign coronation blue grapes