Maintaining not building

Matt and I tilling the garden

Spring is a mad dash around the farm. There’s winter clean up, like picking up branches, and there’s summer prep, like putting the mower on the tractor. And before we know it, we’re weeding gardens, cutting grass and deep in the routine of outside work. I have this feeling that if I don’t get the gardens, lawn, trees, flowers, patio, barn, tractor, equipment, what-have-you set up right now, I’ll be behind all year.

However, this year it’s been feeling a wee bit different. It’s almost calmer. Almost.

For the first time, I feel a bit like we’re maintaining, rather than building.

Our first five years at the farm have been about so much work–reclaiming the overgrown property, establishing flowerbeds, making the vegetable garden. There are still pieces of that, but I feel a bit like the main parts are in place, and the way we work on the property is a bit more normal.

Overgrown flower garden

Cleared garden

Garden in bloom in June

I do have one big “building” project on my Home Goals list: clear the pond shore. When Matt broke his arm last month, we had to re-evaluate what we were going to be able to do this year. So the pond shore has been deferred. As the brush is already quite overgrown, I’m thinking it may be easiest to wait until next spring when it’s all died off again.

But good news, Matt gets his cast off today. And ready or not, summer has arrived.

It’s an ongoing battle to keep the farm somewhat civilized, but through a lot of work we’re in decent shape this year.

How’s spring going for you? How do you handle property maintenance at your house?

What’s eating all my grapes?

Grape leaves eaten by bugs

In case it’s not clear, I’m pretty much winging it when it comes to our grapevines. So I was thrilled to have the opportunity to talk with Brian Schmidt of Vineland Estates. Brian and the Vineland team have 118 acres of vineyards in Niagara.

Way more than our dozen vines.

Brian was extremely generous in answering my questions and talking me through how to care for our vines. He gave me a great confidence boost.

My main question was whether to pinch off any fruit this year so that the vines can focus on growing big and strong. Brian’s advice was that the key to long-term success is to not overburden the vines in their youth. So these baby grapes will be picked this weekend.

 

 

Baby grapes

Brian also gave me advice on pruning, trellising and pest control.

Pests are the one issue that’s arisen with our vines this spring. Some little worms are eating the leaves on our second year vines (the ones we planted last spring). The Lakemonts, which are brand new as of a few weeks ago, have too few leaves to be a target yet.

Little worms eating grape leaves

Our leafiest vines have been very hard hit.

Grape leaves eaten by bugs

Brian’s advice was to give our vines a case of dandruff. Not really. He was much more professional than that. He suggested diatomaceous earth. I’ve heard of DE before, but didn’t know much about it. DE is a powder made from “the fossilized remains of marine phytoplankton.” Brian described it as “eating glass” for bugs. Lovely image, but sorry bugs.

The nice thing about DE is that it’s safe for humans to eat, unlike many chemical pesticides.

I sprinkled it all over the vines last weekend.

Diatomaceous Earth on grape leaves

So far, the DE doesn’t seem to be doing the trick. In fact, there are more worms than ever. From the little bit of research I’ve done on DE, it sounds like it might be more for bugs with hard outer shells and more of a topical than an ingestible. The worms are pretty soft-shelled. They’re very easily crushed when I pinch them–which may be the solution I resort to.

I’ve given the vines a second dusting of DE, and I’m hoping that this might be enough to stop the infestation. I’d really appreciate any ideas you have. Anyone know what these pests are and how to get rid of them? Should I just be patient with the DE?

Two tiny shelves

When I was working on my office, I knew I wanted to find a way to display two collections. One was my Red Rose Tea figurines and the second was china thimbles my MIL has brought back from various trips she’s taken.

The thing about both of these collections is that they’re small. I had the shelves of the china cabinet where I could tuck in a few thimbles or figures, but they’d be lost amongst the bigger items on display. I also didn’t want them on a tabletop where they took up space that could be a work surface.

I decided to do two small shelves.

First was a small floating shelf for the thimbles. This shelf was so small and the thimbles are so light that I knew it wouldn’t need much support and I could screw it right to the wall.

China thimbles displayed on a small floating shelf

I cut a piece of 1×2 to the length I wanted and then drilled two holes through the face of it. The holes served two purposes. The first was to make sure the shelf didn’t split when I screwed it to the wall. The second was to recess the heads of the screws. I made the holes slightly bigger on the front so that the screws would go into the shelf by about a quarter of an inch.

I painted the shelf the same colour as the wall and then screwed it into place. Then I filled the holes with woodfiller and painted over them. The shelf blends into the wall very well, so that it (almost) looks like the thimbles are floating.

The second shelf is ingenious, but I can’t take credit for it. I found the idea on The DIY Mommy. This shelf started its life as a cutlery tray. I lopped off the one segment that ran perpendicular to the others on my Dad’s tablesaw. Then I painted it white, and simply screwed it to the wall. It is exactly the right size for my collection of nursery rhyme tea figurines.

Red Rose Tea figurines displayed on a cutlery tray made into a shelf

I love having different things hanging on the wall, rather than the usual pictures and paintings. These two collections have a lot of meaning for me. Memories of the tea figurines that lived in my grandmother’s china cabinet, appreciation for my mother-in-law thinking of me and my love of sewing when she’s traveling.

Do you have any small collections? How do you display “smalls”? Have you built any tiny shelves?

A late start, but progress, in the vegetable garden

Vegetable garden at the beginning of June

Living in Canada, our growing season starts a little later than some other places. However, I’m feeling really late on the vegetable garden. You’ll notice I haven’t shared an update on the garden since my last one when I said I was trying to stay away from the garden. Unfortunately, I’ve been fairly successful at staying away, and I’m quite behind on the vegetable garden.

Everything starts with weeding. I got the raised beds around the perimeter and one of the quadrants completely weeded last weekend. Another of the quadrants still has our winter rye cover crop, so I’ll just keep mowing it. That means there’s roughly half the garden to go.

Winter rye cover crop in spring

As I’m weeding, I’m planting because if I wait until the garden is weed-free we won’t grow anything.

I put in our potatoes a few weeks ago. So long ago that I need to go back and weed them again and then hill up the plants. Between the rows I’ve laid down some black rubber to try and smother the weeds.

Potato plants

I planted four new grapevines.

New Lakemont grapevines

All of the eight vines I planted last year are alive. I’m not sure I can take credit for this, but I’m still proud to see them growing. We now have four Somerset (red), four Sovereign Coronation (blue) and four Lakemonts (green). All seedless table grapes.

Two-year-old grape vines

I also ordered five blackberry bushes to add this year. We have a thriving row of red raspberries that I got from my parents last year (they’re that bushy mass in the background of the photo below).

I could easily do two rows of raspberries–I’ve thrown out hundreds of canes as I’ve weeded the garden–but variety is the spice of life, so I’m trying these Prime Ark Freedom blackberries. The canes seem pretty healthy, even though they mostly look like sticks for now.

Blackberry canes

While I was picking up my grapes and blackberries I noticed blueberry bushes for $4 each. Regularly these cost $12-$16. I’m usually a fairly plannful gardener and don’t buy things on a whim, but $4 is too good of a deal, so four blueberry bushes came home with me. Two are Jersey and two are Brunswick.

Blueberry bush

I love the way the outer raised beds are shaping up. They are going to be home to perennials (mostly fruits and a few herbs). There is our asparagus (still small, but thriving).

Asparagus gone to seed

Then there’s our dozen grapes, followed by our rhubarb. I’ve left room for us to add more rhubarb plants when this one is ready to split.

Rhubarb plant

Coming around the garden we go into the blueberries. There are also lavender, sage, thyme and chives. I may plop some basil, dill and rosemary in here, even though they’re not perennials.

Sage plant with buds on it

We have some sprouts in the house, but they’re still pretty small–our theme of starting everything late this gardening season applies to everything. I want them to hurry up and grow because they really could go outside. But the garden isn’t quite ready for them, so I don’t mind them taking their time.

I still have plans to get some old hay bales from our farmer so that we can put a deep mulch on the garden. Hopefully that will mean I don’t spend all of gardening season weeding.

For now, even though I’m behind, I am very pleased with how things are looking. This is our third year with our garden and our second with it officially laid out with raised beds and trellises. It’s really taking shape.

How is your garden growing? Are you ahead or behind or on schedule? Have you added any new plants this year? Do you have any tips for growing blueberries?

Fun and games in the family room

Basement TV area

Way back when we started looking for our perfect farm, one of the things we wanted was a useable basement. Many farms come with old farmhouses which don’t typically come with great basements. Usually, there are rubble and stone foundations, shallow ceiling height, dirt floors and moisture.

One of the things that made this farm a winner was that it had a very, very useable basement. You saw the transformation on Friday of how we renovated the TV area. Today I’m delving into the details of how we decorated it.

It all started with these posters. These are Matt’s two favourite Monopoly properties. When I saw them on Lindsay’s blog, I knew I had to make them for him.

Monopoly posters

Theme is a bad word when it comes to decor, but we have a loose fun and games theme happening here in the basement. On the TV stand I made a die to serve as a bookend and on the ottoman we have a backgammon board tray.

I like these little pops of fun.

Dice bookend

Backgammon board tray

The other pop we have in the basement is colour. The base is neutral–the walls, carpet, couch, chair. The red throw, the green tray, the purple lamp and, of course, our pretty pillows all add personality.

The lamp sits on top of a wood cheese drum that came from Matt’s grandpa’s house. It’s too low to be used as a proper end table, but it’s the perfect height to give a bit of a glow when we’re sitting downstairs. And it’s the little touch of rustic that I’ve decided every room at the farm needs.

Purple lamp on a wood drum

I love these pillows. The stripe is bossy, a little bit retro and a perfect match to the bird fabric that  I used on our DIY ottoman (Crazy Ol Bird Midnight by Swavelle/Mill Creek). I love this bird fabric so much that I bought a lot of it, and I had plenty to make two pillows for the couch. (The stripe and the turquoise velvet pillows came with the couch).

Colourful pillows

The sectional is so comfortable. I love the chaise, I love that we have room for a huge number of people, I love that everyone can sit with their feet up. The ottoman also serves another purpose. The top hinges open to give us lots of storage.

Basement TV area after

The other half of the TV area holds–what else–the TV. My Dad and I made the TV cabinet five years ago when we were first putting the basement together. And it’s awesome.

TV cabinet with multiple video game systems

The goal with the TV cabinet was to hold all of Matt’s video game systems. He’s never been able to have them all hooked up at once, but here he finally does. There’s everything from old Nintendo and Sega to new Playstation and XBOX. The drawers hold games, controllers, cables and other accessories.

Video game TV cabinet

Beside the TV stand is the Austin chair that I won from Blogpodium. The boxy shape and grey fabric work perfectly with the rest of the TV area.

Chair with red throw

Baxter’s toys live in a basket under Austin–the basement is fun for everyone.

Dog toys

Our big renovation gave us a space. All of the little decorative details make the space. It’s personal and fun and perfect for us.

Basement TV area after

What’s your must-have for a fun family room? How do you feel about decorating themes? How do you mix neutrals and colour? Do you have a video gamer at your house? What are your favourite Monopoly properties?

Basement TV area before and after

This reveal has been a loooooong time coming. The seventh post I ever wrote for this blog was “Basement reno begins” –that was more than five years ago. A few weeks after writing that post I shared a to-do list, the plans and then celebrated when we finished demo. Five years ago this week, we had fixed the wiring, reframed the exterior walls and received new spray foam insulation.

Now, I’m finally ready to share with you the TV area. You’ve seen snippets of this along the way, and we’ve been using this room for the past four and a half years. But there were a few missing elements that have finally come together, so I’m ready to show it off.

Let’s take a walk down memory lane first, shall we?

This is what we saw the first time we visited the house. A gross cluttered basement with a random dude sitting in a chair (just kidding, that’s our real estate agent taking a break with one of the books that was left behind). Please note the ceiling fixture that was installed as a wall sconce (there’s a matching one just out of the picture on the right) and the giant woodstove.

TV area before

Somehow, we saw past all of this and bought the place. After several trips to the dump, we ended up with a cleared, if not clean slate. This angle shows you the half wall leading into the laundry room (which we removed) and the doorway to Matt’s office (which we moved).

Basement before

On the other side of the room, we have the woodstove, the matching pair to the ceiling sconce and you can get a glimpse of the ceiling fan, which was recessed into the ceiling so that it didn’t decapitate anyone. In my caption on this photo originally, I wrote “Picture a large, comfy sectional couch where the woodstove is and a big TV on the wall opposite the staircase.”

The main room before

Uh-huh. It’s a good thing I had a clear vision. We needed something to get us through the next six plus months of work.

We started demo. Byebye half wall. Hello new doorway. Byebye exterior drywall. Why are you still there ceiling sconces?

Basement demo in progress

Then we reframed the walls so that they were deep enough for more insulation, removed the ceiling drywall so that we could fix bad wiring and finally got rid of those ceiling sconces. I’m still proud that I was able to replace the ceiling fan with a fifth potlight and put them all on the same switch. Me! I did that.

The partially gutted basement

We hauled the woodstove up the stairs with a rope tied to the back of my Dad’s truck, our mason patched the hole from the chimney, and we left a little message on the concrete.

Matt + Julia 2012

With spray foam insulation complete, we started to approach the putting it back together stage. What followed were six months of drywall. So much drywall.

Installing drywall in the basement

Then finally paint.

Trim and carpet. (The crush to get the trim installed before the carpet arrived was tight).

Painting trim

Our new couch arrived just before Christmas 2012, and the basement was habitable.

Decor-Rest sectional couch with chaise

We’ve made tweaks (obviously) since then. Want to see what it looks like now?

Basement TV area

I have another post coming up that goes into all of the details on the finished space. But until then, here are a couple more before and afters for you.

Basement before

Basement TV area after

The main room before

Basement TV area after

This is by far our most significant renovation. I love that we saw the potential of the space, stuck with it through all of the hard work and created a hangout area that works perfectly for us. The fact that we did almost all of it by ourselves makes me very proud.

China cabinet makeover for craft room storage

China cabinet makeover

All the time I was thinking of making over my office, one element was a constant. I wanted to use a china cabinet as the main storage piece in the room.

I liked the idea of drawers, cupboards and shelves to give me a variety of storage options. I also liked the idea of using as much vertical space as possible.

More than a year ago, I found the perfect cabinet–or almost perfect.

It had drawers. It had cupboards. It had shelves. It was the exact width that I wanted, but it wasn’t quite tall enough. The shelves couldn’t even hold a magazine.

I thought I could probably rebuild the upper hutch. And fortunately I was right.

Vintage china cabinet

The cabinet was well-constructed–each shelf connected into the side supports with a tongue and pocket screws–but it came apart fairly easily. I cut off the tongues so that I could reattach them to the new side pieces that I bought. I was even able to reuse the pocket holes (but didn’t fill them because they’re under the shelves where I can’t see them most of the time). I bought new boards for the sides and one for an extra shelf–gotta get that vertical storage.

Pocket holes

Along the way, I did away with the two little drawers from the upper section. I really wanted to keep them, but I would have had to build two more drawers to get the look I wanted. Building drawers was more than I wanted to tackle. So I went with two shelves that were close together and planned to find some baskets that could work kind of like the drawers would have.

The base didn’t require any rebuild. I had thought about changing the feet, but then decided, again, that it was more than I need to do.

The base did get some special attention though. I stripped the top and stained it a darker colour (Minwax Provincial). The rest of the cabinet got my go-to Cloud White in Benjamin Moore’s Advance formula.

You may remember from when I first shared the makeover plans for this cabinet that I wasn’t sure what to do with the cabinet pulls. They’re wood and recessed into the doors and drawers. I gave them a light sanding and then gooped them up with some of the Provincial stain. It worked. The dark pulls against the white cabinet look okay to me.

Wood cabinet hardware

The white paint blends the new wood that I added with the old wood of the original cabinet. The worst of the scratches on the top are camouflaged by the dark stain.

Scratches on the refinished china cabinet top

The one wrinkle that I wish I had planned a little farther in advance is the baskets. It took me awhile to find the colour and weave I envisioned in the size I needed. And it turns out there’s just the slightest variation in the size of the baskets that I bought. I thought they were a pair, but one is just slightly taller than the other–as in it fits a wee bit tight on the shelf (see it below on the right?).

If I’d given myself an extra half inch on the shelf, or measured the baskets more carefully, it would have been a non-issue. Overall, though, this is a minor inconvenience in what is an otherwise successful transformation.

Storage baskets in the china cabinet

The best things about the china cabinet are how much it holds and how it helps to keep everything organized. The shelves easily hold magazines, and, confession, I even have a junk drawer for when I gave up on sorting so many things.

One last time. Here’s the before.

Vintage china cabinet

And here’s the after.

China cabinet makeover

I love this transformation.

Colourful creative office

Office after

My office. A space that’s completely my own. The last bedroom in our house. It’s done. And I’m so happy with how it turned out.

While I’ve used the word “office” to describe this room, it’s really a sewing, crafting, creative space.

It’s filled with the things that I like to do. The things I like the most and that mean the most to me (Bill!). I love that I now have an organized room that I enjoy being in.

Favourite things in the office

This wall used to be filled with boxes that had been packed since we moved in five years ago. Now, the thrifted china cabinet holds sewing and knitting supplies, magazines and memorabilia–and keeps them all organized.

China cabinet storage in the office

Sewing pattersn and knitting needles

Knitting and sewing supplies

Growing up, I never won a trophy. When we were dating, I mentioned this to Matt. One fall, after I ran my first 10K, Matt presented me with a huge trophy. It meant so much to me that he did that. However, the trophy was truly huge. I took it apart and then put it back together in a slightly smaller configuration, and it fits easily on the shelves.

Running trophy

Reconfiguring the closet was also hugely helpful to keep everything organized. Hanging up my big pieces of fabric makes it easy to see what I have and ensures that I’m more likely to use them.

Fabric stash hanging in the closet

When it came to art, I wanted to display some of my favourite things–like this collection of vintage hats. My Mom taught me how to sew. She learned from her mother–the original owner of most of these hats. In fact, my great-grandmother made one of the hats that is hanging on the wall.

I love the idea of a time where people regularly dressed up to go out, and hats were part of the outfits. I don’t live in that world, but I can still enjoy these hats by having them on display.

Vintage hats hung on the wall

The gallery wall is another showcase of my favourite things.

Gallery wall

The same grandma that taught my Mom to sew also had a collection of Red Rose Tea figurines. Often when we were leaving her home after visiting, she would give us a figurine to take home. A few years ago, I decided to collect a full set of the nursery rhyme statues. Between gifts and flea markets, I got every one. However, I’ve never had a place to display them. Now I do–along with a fun photo of my Mom and I modeling some of the hats.

Red Rose Tea figurines

Another small collection that is finally on display is my thimble collection. Matt’s parents travel a fair amount, and my MIL buys a china thimble for me pretty much everywhere they go. I made a really small shelf to go above my sewing machine, and it holds all of the thimbles perfectly.

A magnetic strip from Lee Valley, painted the same colour as the wall, holds sewing instructions where I can easily see them as I’m working.

Thimble collection

While I’m not an official participant in the One Room Challenge, which concludes this week, it definitely helped motivate me to finish off this room. I love that every item on my to-do list is crossed off.

You can check out all of the official ORC participants at Calling it Home.

Feminine blue and floral office

There are so many little details that make this room work really well for me. And I love the beauty and the sentimentality that I was able to incorporate as well. While the ORC motivated me to finish the office, the room itself is now motivating me to keep crafting. I’ve returned to some projects that have been hanging around for a little while and had a super productive sewing month where I’ve churned out a dress, jacket and several pillows. I’m excited by what else this room is going to inspire.

Thanks for following along on the makeover. Do you have a crafty creative space at your house? What helps motivate you to finish projects–whether big like a room makeover or smaller crafts? Do you have a favourite collection on display?

Snoring, storing and decoring in the office

Baxter dozing

My sidekick and I made some more progress in the office this weekend. To be truthful, my sidekick snored and snuggled his dinosaur. I made the progress.

Beyond making the office pretty, I want to make it useful, organized and tidy. Usually when it comes to storage, I make due with whatever freebies I can find–cardboard cartons, shoe boxes, containers destined for the recycling bin.

While sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. So for the office, I bought proper storage containers. Thanks to all of the sorting and tossing I’ve done, I didn’t need too many.

From a big cardboard box full of old school papers, I now have one–much smaller–plastic bin.

Plastic storage box

Six smaller containers hold all of my fabric remnants and fit perfectly into one of the cupboards in the china cabinet.

Plastic storage boxes

On the pretty side of the office makeover, I worked on the gallery wall. I’m actually not a huge fan of gallery walls. But I when I thought about everything that I wanted to display in the office, I realized that the best arrangement was to put them all together.

I am not a patient person, so I tried just laying it out on the floor and translating that to the wall. But it was hard to visualize. I traced each item onto paper and then taped them to the wall. I’m glad I took the time to map it out. It helped to finalize the layout–and realize that the initial placement was much too high.

Planning the gallery wall

Once I settled on the arrangement, I started hammering nails into the wall right away. But then I had to exercise some patience again. It was hard to get the pictures exactly where I wanted just by guessing where to place the nail. I took a minute to run downstairs and grab a paint stick and a screw. I don’t know why it took me so long to make this little tool. It made hanging the pictures so easy.

Paintstick picture hanger

I’m excited to show you the final gallery wall and the rest of the office next week when the One Room Challenge concludes. You can check out all of the official participants at Calling It Home.

Do you have a gallery wall in your home? How do you handle storage? Who else has a lazy sidekick?

Tiptoeing into the vegetable garden

Raspberry canes

I’ve been avoiding the vegetable garden. Not out of a lack of enthusiasm. I want to be in the garden. But I’m trying to be strategic about where I spend my time right now. I want to finish the office and I want to give the flowerbeds some attention. The garden has to wait.

I’ve set May as my start date for any serious work in the vegetable garden. I say serious because I can’t deprive myself avoid it entirely.

There are a few things that needed to happen sooner.

First is unwrapping the grapes. I had covered our new vines in burlap last year hoping it would help them survive the winter. Now that the temperatures are warmer and the sun is shining, I wanted them to have the benefit of the nice weather. I’m still not entirely sure how many vines survived the winter, but I feel like at least a few are alive.

Uncovering grapes that have been wrapped in burlap

I planted a rhubarb plant that I stole from my parents’ garden. Rhubarb has been on my list for a few years, so it’s exciting to have our own plant finally. This plant seems quite happy. Transplanting early in the season is working very well for me this year. The ground is wet, temperatures are mild, sun is shining. I’ve been moving a number of plants around and they all seem to be thriving.

Rhubarb early in spring

Matt and I cut up our seed potatoes. We planted our potatoes the first of May last year, and it worked out great, so we’re trying to get them ready. The cool thing about our potatoes this year is that except for one new variety our seed potatoes are all potatoes that we grew ourselves last year. We have Russian Blues, red and Kennebecs. The Kennebecs were our favourite last year and lived up to Karen’s hype. This year we’re adding Basin Gold, which are a big baking potato. Matt had bought these at the grocery store and they happened to sprout before we ate them, so into the garden they go.

I’m not sure where I read about this chitting technique, but this has worked for us the past few years. We cut the potatoes so that each chunk has about one eye. Then we let them dry out for a few weeks so that the potatoes don’t rot when we put them in the ground. I know people say these white stringy sprouts are not desirable, but they worked well for us last year and our plants seemed to grow faster.

Methinks we’re going to have lotsa potatoes.

Seed potatoes

The other exciting garden development–and one which I’ve done nothing for–is asparagus. It’s alive! Our scraggly little plants that we started from seed last year have begat a few slender stalks. Spindly might be a better term. A step up from scraggly, but not quite slender yet. Size does not matter in this case. The fact that they’re alive is a win.

Asparagus

We’re just a few days away from May, so my self-imposed hiatus will be coming to an end shortly. Then it’s full speed ahead on the vegetable garden. I’m excited with what’s to come next.

What gardening have you been doing? Do you have any transplant or potato growing techniques?