Finding our waterfront

Remember how clearing the pond shore was my one and only outdoor home goal for this year? And how at the mid-year report I said it wasn’t going to happen?

It’s happening, people.

Our keen 17-year-old nephew who loves being at the farm had a day off from his summer job, and he wanted to learn how to drive the tractor. If you’re driving the tractor, you might as well learn how to use the front end loader, the new rotary cutter and tow the trailer.

So I went through the basics of a hydrostatic transmission and what levers did what. We hooked on the rotary cutter and I pointed him at the pond.

Here’s how things were looking after last weekend’s mowing of the meadow. I swear there’s water on the other side of all of that grass and brush.

Overgrown brush on the shore of the pond

I was super impressed with our nephew. He was calm and confident and careful.

Mowing the overgrown grass around the pond

Mowing the overgrown grass around the pond

Loading firewood with the front end loader

A morning of work cleared about half the shore on the east side. The remaining thickets are hiding all kinds of logs and stumps. So we have more work to do, and I need to set Matt loose with his chainsaw, but the progress is awesome.

This vantage point still doesn’t show you much of the water, but I swear it’s there.

Clearing overgrown brush on the shore of the pond

Clearing overgrown brush on the shore of the pond

This deep in the summer, the pond is a little mucky, but it’s still my favourite part on the property.

Pond in the summer

Pond in the summer

Our nephew totally made my summer.

Raspberry report

Raspberries

Raspberries equal summer for me. I grew up picking them in my parents’ garden and making jam with my Mom. In fact, at Matt’s and my wedding all of our guests received a small jar of homemade raspberry jam made with my parents’ berries.

Now we have them in our garden.

It’s been two years since I transplanted canes from my parents’ garden. They have spread and sprouted new plants and this year they are bearing fruit. Lots and lots of fruit.

We have one row that’s about 16 feet long, and now at the peak of raspberry season we’re picking about 3-4 pints a day.

Although I’m mostly picking partial quarts because I ruined a couple of pints when I accidentally fermented some berries by leaving them on the counter too long.

Soggy pints

Quarts of raspberries

Our plants are super dense with lots of canes. In fact, the row could likely benefit from some thinning. I think a few less canes might encourage more fruit or at least let more light or air get to the fruit. This bird’s nest was buried deep in the plants. I had no idea it was there.

Bird's nest in the raspberries

The wire trellis that we built has done a good job of keeping the canes upright and contained, so the row has been easy to manage. We added some woodchips between the raspberries and blackberries, trying to keep weeds down.

We’ve had a good amount of rain during this growing season, but I think the berries could have benefited from a bit more watering. They’re a wee bit small. With a bit more water, they might grow bigger. Something to keep in mind for next year.

Small or not, we already have plenty of berries. In fact, it’s been hard to keep up. I’ve made jam, a galette, muffins, stirred lots into my yogurt and pints are still stacked in the fridge.

Raspberry galette and jam

We could have even more, but I’ve not been super enthused about picking after I get home from work. I’m expecting to find some very ripe berries this weekend. They should be good candidates for more jam.

We may not need wedding favours this year, but I’m sure our family will still enjoy jam in their Christmas packages.

Are you enjoying raspberries at your house? Any raspberry recipes to recommend? Or growing tips to share?

Home Goals 2017 mid-year report

Hello July. Holy moly we’re already halfway through the year.

Halfway through the year means it’s time to take a look at how we’re doing on Home Goals 2017.

July also means summer vacation. I’m going to be taking a brief blogging break this week in favour of spending some time working on more of these Home Goals.

Office

The first room makeover of the year and the last bedroom to be redone. In case it’s not clear from all of the posts I’ve done about this room–including last week’s video tour–I’m loving this room.

China cabinet storage in the office

Pond shore

The pond shore was my one and only property clean-up goal this spring. However, between time, weather and then a broken arm, it didn’t happen. Argh. Expect to see this on the 2018 home goals list.

Instead of the pond shore, we tackled some other property clean-up. Matt and I burned an overgrown area behind the driveshed–but then I never cleared the rocks that we uncovered, so we haven’t been able to mow it, and it’s almost as overgrown as usual now. I’ve ever so slowly been tackling the jungle behind the house. So property clean-up hasn’t been a total skip this year. It just hasn’t been focused in the area I had hoped.

Cleaning up brush with fire

Vegetable Garden

The vegetable garden is off to a slow start, but a good one. The new blueberries, blackberries and grapes that I added are all doing well. The year-old grapes even seem to have recovered from their infestation.

I’m later than I would like on planting, so everything is pretty small still. Plus, so far I haven’t had any luck finding straw for our deep mulch experiment, so the battle against the weeds is being waged by hand. But between me and weeds, we’re even. I can’t say they’re winning yet, so I’m counting that as a win for me.

Weedy potatoes

Flower gardens

The flower gardens have been getting a bit more attention this year than they did last year. As a result, they’re–surprise, surprise–looking better than they did last year. The peonies were stunning, and we’re moving on to lily season.

I’ve added a couple of new plants–an astilbe and a white lilac–which will bring more blooms to our very green beds. Everything needs a good haircut–deadheading the spent blossoms and shaping up some of the very bushy bushes–so that’s the next to-do on the list.

Pink peony

Basement

I was really excited to share the basement TV area a little while ago. There are two more spaces in the basement that I’m hoping to show to you before the year’s out. They just need some art, some styling and a major tidy. Organizing the basement is tops on Matt’s list for the summer, so between the two of us, we may finish the rest of this space yet.

Basement TV area

New barn cat

We’ve decided that the best thing for Ralph for now is for her to continue to enjoy her days in peace and relative solitude. Our best girl is queen of the farm and doesn’t need a sidekick. So we will continue to be a one barncat farm for the foreseeable future.

Our barncat Ralph

Coop

This final task is a new addition for this year’s Home Goals courtesy of Matt. He is determined to have some hens to eat ticks next year, so that means we’re taking down the old coop and building a new one. I have lots of ideas about how to build the coop, but I haven’t entirely worked out all of the details of this project. I expect this one will take a little while. I guess I know what we’re doing this summer.

Old chicken coop

In fact, we’re getting a little start on the coop this week. With my few days off work, and Matt now on summer holidays, there will be gardening, weeding, organizing, cooping and cat scratching. Somewhere in there, there may be some relaxing too.

As part of my holiday, I’m taking the rest of the week off the blog too. I’ll be back next week with more news from the farm.

How are you doing on your projects so far this year?

Office befores and afters, plus a video tour

I’m loving my newly decorated office so much. There has been sewing, crafting and working–it’s such a fun inspiring space. Even better, everything is still tidy and organized. I’ve been wanting to do a video tour for a little while, so I thought the office would be a good place to start.

Usually in my room makeovers I post a before and after. However, the office was such a blank slate that the before is pretty basic and blah. As well, I didn’t make any major changes so the layout–the window, the doors, the closet–are all the same. Comparing a before and after doesn’t seem very dramatic in my opinion.

Office before

Office after

However, there were befores and afters for some of the elements in the room, so I thought today I’d share some of those as well as the video.

The nook

The video tour gives you a good look at the weird little nook just inside the office doorway. This spot’s makeover started a few years ago when I removed the weirdly high shelving, built a little dresser and hung a bulletin board. What could have been a really awkward part of the office has become a really functional command centre.

Nook before

Office command centre

Little dresser

The search for furniture that fit the little nook was long and challenging. I wanted something tall, but it had to be narrow and not too deep. Plus, as usual, it had to be cheap. I ended up finding a pair of nightstands that fit the space perfectly. And when stacked on top of each other, they made a tall narrow dresser that holds everything from tools to notepads.

Two vintage night stands

Tall narrow dresser

Desk

I’m going waaaaay back in the archives for this before picture. This was what the office looked like when we first bought the farm. The green desk (along with a lot of trash) was left by the previous owners, and I drafted it into serving as my sewing desk. When it came time to makeover the office, it was more than time to makeover the desk too. With fresh white paint, rich dark stain on the top and sparkly hardware on the drawers, it’s become a bright, feminine piece of furniture.

Messy office with green desk

Sewing desk

China cabinet

The hardest working piece of furniture in the office is the china cabinet. It holds so much stuff while keeping it all nicely organized and allowing space for display.

Vintage china cabinet

China cabinet makeover

Slipper chair

The slipper chair was the most complex reupholstery project I’ve tackled. I love that I’ve been able to give this family heirloom a new life in our home.

Reupholstering a slipper chair

Slipper chair upholstered in Brissac Jewel by P Kaufmann Fabric

The office ended up taking awhile–five years since we moved to the farm. I tackled little projects here and there before finally diving into the big makeover at the start of this year. I’m so happy that everything has finally come together in one finished, functional and pretty space.

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.