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

Committing a garden sin

Asparagus is a lesson in patience.

Four years ago, I laid some teeny tiny seeds in the garden and watched them sprout teeny tiny ferns.

Asparagus sprouts

My plan all along was to transplant the asparagus once it got big enough. What exactly was big enough I wasn’t sure, but this spring I thought they were probably ready. (In fact, I would have liked to do this last year, but the whole new baby thing disrupted my gardening time.)

Then I looked online for tips and everything I read said basically, “Never, never, ever, ever transplant asparagus. If you try to transplant asparagus you will be committing a massive garden sin.”

Okie-dokie. Sounds great.

I think the main concern with transplanting is delaying your asparagus harvest even further. Most of the time when people plant crowns, the recommendation is to not pick any asparagus until the second year. With starting from seed, I had read we’d have to wait four years.

We’re in our fourth spring now, so technically we could have harvested. But having grown from seed, they were very tightly spaced in two parallel rows. I wanted them to have more room to grow big and strong, so I decided to dig them all up.

Two rows of asparagus crowns

Along with dire warnings, my online research did garner a few tips. I fortified the soil with a hefty dose of compost and manure, raiding the pile that’s been behind the barn since we moved here.

Emptying the backyard composter

Digging into the manure pile

The advice on actually extracting the plants was less helpful: use a fork to gently tease the roots from the soil.

Um. No. That was not happening.

The asparagus root system is incredible. I was more than a foot away from the plants when I encountered the first thick, ropey root.

I quickly resorted to a sharp shovel. Despite my merciless hacking, I tried to save as much of the roots as possible and kept big chunks of dirt around the crowns. I consoled myself that the plants looked like they had more roots than the crowns people buy, so I was at least as good if not better than nursery stock. Plus my plants were out of the ground for less than a minute.

Asparagus crown root

I dug a deep trench and spaced the plants about a foot apart. I heaped them with soil, manure and compost and gave them a good drink. To cap it all off, I added a layer of mulch.

Watering transplanted asparagus crowns

I ended up with about 12 plants. I probably could have divided the crowns a bit more, but I didn’t want to traumatize them more than I already had. Plus, I filled the whole space I had allocated in the raised bed and was running into the grapes.

Row of asparagus crowns in raised bed

It’s been nearly a month since the transplanting. We’ve had a lot of rain and the asparagus seem to be thriving. We have some nice chunky stalks, but I’m restraining myself from picking anything.

Asparagus growing in the garden

Hopefully the patience will pay off and next year we will have our first harvest.

Have you committed any garden sins? Do you have asparagus in your garden? Or any crops that are testing your patience?

 

Green eggs in Illinois

When I first learned there were chickens that laid green eggs, I immediately made up my mind that one day I would have some. Of course, our chickens are still awhile away. So for now, I’m continuing to live vicariously through Sarah in Illinois and her expanding flock–which now includes a green-egg-laying hen.

In my last post I introduced my new chickens and mentioned that while I was expecting to get three Leghorns, I got one surprise Easter Egger. If you remember I was waiting patiently to find out what color egg it was going to lay.

I should have emphasized to Steve how excited I was and how closely I was watching every day to see what was laid. Because one night I got home late and Steve collected the eggs for me. He said nothing about them. The next morning I was opening the carton and this is what I saw.

I texted him at work and asked why he didn’t tell me that we there was a green egg! His reply was, “oh, there was?” He clearly was not as excited as I was.

A couple days later I gathered my second green egg!

The green eggs are appearing a little more regularly now and you can really see how green they are when sitting next to the pure white Leghorn eggs.

I just can’t get over how beautiful the selection of eggs is.

Nature really does have the most beautiful palette.

That is a beautiful bowl of eggs, Sarah. What a treat to have that in your own backyard.

A baby, a cat and a peck of potatoes

Basket of potatoes

Against all odds, we have a harvest this year.

The best description for the garden this year was neglected. Back in the spring, Matt planted some potatoes. That was about the last time that we went into the garden. His parents took pity on us and weeded a few sections. But I had given up on picking anything this year.

Then one grey afternoon a few weeks ago, Matt decided to see what he could find.

Digging for potatoes

Accompanied by Ralph, the potato sniffing cat, and Ellie, the potato inspecting baby, they uncovered some bounty.

Ralph looking for potatoes

(Despite appearances, the baby is not freaked out by the potato.)

Baby admiring a freshly harvested potato

We celebrated the harvest with breakfast for dinner–complete with super fresh hashbrowns.

White and purple potatoes on the cutting board

There weren’t as many as we’ve had in past years, but there are enough for a few meals and some seed potatoes for next year. Because we’re not giving up. We will try again next year and hope that we have more potatoes than weeds this time around. Maybe we’ll put the cat and the baby to work earlier in the season next time.