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?

The treehouse playground is done

The treehouse is done.

It went from a spark of an idea to a quick sketch to reality.

And I am thrilled.

It is such a fun place to play. Ellie and I spend a lot of time here. We read books, act out Frozen, eat pretend and real food (her outdoor play kitchen lives next door to the treehouse), play with dolls and stuffed animals. Everyone is welcome in the treehouse–even my Mom has climbed up.

I’m also really proud. It’s been a long time since I’ve built something like this. I had help at various points, but I did a lot on my own. It took figuring and muscle and time. But it was all worth it. It is solid and safe and fun and matches the picture in my mind.

I’m also excited because Ellie loves it. She’s mastered the tire ladder and keeps sliding down the firepole (with help). One day, she did circuits, sliding down the slide, running around to the tires and climbing back up, over and over again.

Want a tour?

I have always wanted a tire ladder. The playground at my elementary school had a tire ladder, and the memory of climbing up has stuck with me. Plus we have a large quantity of tires lying around the farm, and this was a way to use some of them up.

The tires are bolted to the wood frame of the treehouse and then to each other. To make the tires easier to climb, I realized I needed to convince them to slope, rather than hang vertical. I ended up digging a hole at the base of the ladder and sinking a couple of concrete blocks under the ground. I wired the bottom tires to the blocks and buried the whole thing.

Even with the slope, the tire ladder is not that easy to climb, especially if you’re really little or really big. So I added a regular ladder too. I built a simple sloped ladder out of 2×6 that is easy for little ones, Mamas and Grandmas to climb.

The slide was a kijiji find after I decided the slide I picked out of someone’s garbage was too broken. The kijiji slide still needed some fibreglass in a few spots, but it seems to be solid now.

The slide resulted in the biggest adjustment I had to make to the treehouse plans. I had built the deck at 5 feet high, which seemed to be the right height for our 10 foot slide.

At Krista’s treehouse, my inspiration, their deck had ended up too high, and they had to build a few steps down to lower the slide. I wanted to avoid that. But as soon as I propped the slide up onto our deck, it was obvious it was too high. Ellie bravely went down twice, but it was scary fast.

Rather than steps, I did a lower platform and attached the slide to that. Now the slide is fast, but not scary.

The firepole took a bit of figuring and sourcing. I ended up constructing it out of 1 1/2 inch metal electrical conduit. There is a joint, as we needed a bit more than the ten feet that was available at the store. But the joint is pretty low on the pole, so it’s unlikely anyone will have to slide over it. Just in case, I wrapped it in tape to make sure it doesn’t pinch or scrape anyone.

The base of the pole extends into the ground and is encased in concrete. At the top, the pole turns 90 degrees and is affixed to both the treehouse railing and the tree itself. It is solid. In fact, it’s my preferred way to get down.

The structure of the treehouse sits on 4×4 posts set on deck blocks. The joists are 2×6 and the beams are 2×8. The joists are also bolted to the tree.

I bought the main posts new, but most of the lumber is recycled. The joists, beams and 2x4s on the railings came from the deck in the old pool. The deck boards came from a local deck builder’s dumpster (with permission). The railing pickets I bought second hand off kijiji. I also raided our stash in the barn for extra pieces.

The platform is about 5 feet high at the tree, but because the tree is on a little mound, the edges of the platform are about 6 1/2 feet off the ground. The main platform is about 10 feet by 12 feet and the slide extension is about 2 feet wide.

We have a great view across the fields, and I can envision Ellie (or me) relaxing up there with a book someday.

This was a fun project to plan, build and now use. I’m glad that I was able to make it for Ellie.

Did you have a treehouse growing up? What would your dream treehouse have? What was your favourite part of a playground? Do you have a summer project that you’re particularly proud of?

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?

Treehouse playground

One year ago, as I was driving home with parts of Ellie’s new-to-us playset in my car, I spotted a slide at the end of someone’s driveway. It was cracked, but I couldn’t resist so I loaded it into the car.

As soon as Matt’s Dad and I set up Ellie’s playground, I started dreaming about expansion plans.

I quickly realized that a playground was not super complicated to construct, I had better quality lumber stored in the barn than what her playground was constructed of, I didn’t really fit in the playground, and Ellie was going to quickly outgrow the set.

When I saw this treehouse playground, everything clicked in my mind. We had a big pine tree near her current playset that would be perfect. We also had an old deck worth of lumber in the pool. Oh, and we had that extra slide.

Construction on the playground began after a timely text from a cousin. He asked if I needed help with anything, so I replied, “How do you feel about building a treehouse?” A week later, he helped me build the underlying structure of posts, beams and joists.

We made it as big as our lumber allowed. Roughly 10 feet by 12 feet. The platform is 5 feet up from the base of the tree, which was recommended for a 10 foot slide. It feels high enough. The tree is on a little mound, so the edge of the platform is 6 to 7 feet off the ground.

It’s big and tall and open to so many possibilities.

I contacted a local deck company, and they let me (and Matt’s Dad) dive through their dumpster to get boards for the decking. I’ve been slowly working my way through the decking for the last couple of weeks, and yesterday I finally finished it.

We have a collection of tires here at the farm, thanks to previous owners. I picked out 8 that are roughly the same size and have begun bolting them together to make a ladder.

I’m still on the hunt for a firepole (one of Ellie’s favourite activities at any playground).

And obviously we need a railing.

This very sophisticated crayon rendering might help you to visualize the final playground.

So far, we’re having a lot of fun building—and already playing on—the treehouse.

Did you have a treehouse as a kid? Where was your favourite place to play? What’s your favourite activity at a playground?

Busy, busy beavers

A month into living at the farm I wrote a post that was basically, “I think I saw a beaver? It wasn’t really a beaver, was it?” It turned out that yes, it was a beaver.

And they’re still here and busier than ever.

Ellie and I visited them on the weekend. She likes to throw sticks into the water for the beavers and climb the “beaver tree.”

Child standing on a tree in the middle of a large beaver lodge

Since we cleared the pond shore last year, the beaver lodge became visible. It wraps around the big willow–the beaver tree–on the shore.

Partially frozen pond with a large tree and beaver lodge on the shore

Occasionally over the summer we caught a glimpse of the beavers swimming in the pond or heard splashing during one of our campfires.

In the lead up to winter, the beavers added sooooo many sticks and sooooo much mud to their lodge. It is very large.

Close up of a stick in a beaver lodge

If you take the trail from the pond around the meadow and behind the barn, you come to the beavers’ logging camp. They’ve taken down about a dozen trees here. In the fall, Matt’s Dad came and cut up three trees that had fallen over the fence and across the path. He dumped the wood at the firepit by the pond. The beavers dragged every single log into the water. And then they went back and knocked over a bunch more trees.

Trees stumps cut by beavers
Child ducking to walk under a tree cut down by beavers

Apparently, “beavers store food (fresh branches) in the water around their lodges” in the fall. Then “in the winter, a beaver will swim out… to get food under the ice.”

This gives me a bit of comfort as the build up of sticks in the pond this fall has me worried that the beavers are planning to build a dam across the middle.

The weather here has been much too mild for the pond to freeze yet. And I can see where the beavers have broken through the ice to keep the water open. They’ve also still been coming up on shore to eat the bark off a variety of trees, including a huge maple.

Beaver damage around the base of a large tree

I’m a little worried for the maple and still concerned that the beavers are going to take over the whole pond, but I’m hoping we can continue to share the farm. I still think it’s so neat that we have beavers.

Do you have any interesting wildlife at your house? Anyone have any experience with beavers to share?

Home Goals 2021

It’s been a while since I’ve posted home goals. Looking back, 2017 is the last time I looked a year ahead and thought about what I wanted to change around the house and property. I was surprised it’s been that long.

But I am ready to think about home goals again.

It’s nice to feel this part of me coming back.

Here are some of the projects I’d like to tackle this year.

Playground expansion

The playground that we got for Ellie last year has been awesome. As soon as it arrived, I started thinking about how I could expand it. When I saw this set-up from heart of this home, everything came together in my mind (and in a hastily scribbled sketch).

Pond shore

Having déjà vu yet? Yes, the pond shore makes the list every year. And yes, with a lot of help we cleared the shore last year—or at least part of it. I’d love to clear a little bit more and build a little bridge so that we can cross the creek more easily.

Vegetable garden

Another item that always makes the list. Matt’s Dad and I cleared a lot of the weeds out of the garden last fall, and that gives me hope that I can maybe possibly hopefully manage one quadrant this year. I’d love to try raised rows, deep mulch and no dig. The promises of a low maintenance garden make me feel like the set-up would be worth it.

The last big junk pile

Between the garden and the tree line of the front field is one of our last remaining junky areas. It’s full of brush, skids, bricks, lumber, barrels, a basketball net and who knows what else. It’s in direct view out the dining room window, and I’m tired of looking at it every day. I’d like to finally tidy it up and mow the grass.

Bedroom refresh

I guess I should put at least one house project on my home goals list, eh? I saw before Christmas that Ikea has a new duvet cover in a pattern I’ve coveted for years. As soon as the king size comes back in stock, I’m planning to order it. I’m thinking a bedding refresh might inspire a couple of other changes. Paint? A different dresser? A better closet organizer? I have some ideas.

Source: Ikea

History

Connecting with the woman who’s family first owned this farm was a very meaningful experience of the last year for me. I am looking forward to continuing to stay in touch with her and learning more about this special place.

Black and white picture of a two story farmhouse surrounded by open fields

Even without goals the last few years, we’ve accomplished things around the house: demolishing the sunroom, redoing the dining room, setting up Ellie’s nursery (I have an update to share) and a new play area for her, clearing the pond shore, finally putting the finishing touches on the basement.

I’m proud of what we’ve done. But I’m also happy to be back in a more plannful frame of mind. It helps me focus–there’s that word of the year.

Stick with me. Let’s see what happens.

What are you aiming to do at your house this year? Are you focused inside or out? What would your dream playground have? Any tips for low maintenance gardening? Is there such a thing?

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?

Bonfires at the pond

Bonfire beside the pond

The sun is going down. The air is warm. Frogs and birds are chirping. The water of the pond ripples as bugs, fish and beavers paddle around. Within a circle of stones, the flames of the bonfire dance in the gentle breeze.

This is the idyllic night by the pond that I have imagined since we moved here. And it has finally happened.

For many years, I have proclaimed that clearing the pond shore is my one and only outside project for the summer. And for many years, I have failed to fulfill my dream.

Overgrown brush on the shore of the pond

You might recall that earlier this year I burned the shore. This cleared all of last year’s brush and grass. In a couple of weeks, the grass had started to regrow, but it was small and and soft and green—very mowable.

Controlled burn beside the pond

Matt’s Dad went through with his heavy duty loppers and chainsaw. He did battle with saplings, suckers and the beaver lodge (not dismantling it, just climbing around on it). It was brutal for him, but more brutal for the brush.

Burning all of it took two more big fires.

I mowed, our nephew mowed, my cousin mowed. Ellie and I added benches and moved rocks to make the firepit.

Soon, Ellie and I were making daily visits to the beavers and then friends came for a (social distancing) bonfire. It was as wonderful as I imagined.

Last weekend, Matt’s Dad, his oldest brother and our two nephews waged another battle. This time with the stumps. Once we started mowing, we discovered a few stumps sticking up high enough to catch on the mower. With axes, pry bars and shovels, they dug them all out—another brutal job, but one I appreciate so, so much.

Digging out stumps by the pond

We celebrated on Saturday night by gathering for a bonfire. It was the first time we’ve all been together since Matt’s birthday in March. At the start of April, I wrote, “maybe, maybe in a few months the shore will be green, quarantine will be over, and we’ll be able to walk down and sit by the water.”

Though restrictions are lifting across Ontario, we are still being cautious. But the shore is green and we’re able to spend time together.

I often sit by the pond for a few minutes in the afternoons when Ellie naps or in the evenings after she goes to bed. We still visit the beavers at least once every day. And bonfires have become weekly events.

Evening at the pond

All of this gives me joy and peace, even more than I imagined.

A simple deck switch in Illinois

In Illinois Sarah is enjoying outdoor living. She and her husband Steve made what turned out to be a simple change to improve their enjoyment of one of their favourite outdoor spots.

I’ve mentioned several times that Steve and I like to spend a lot of time on our deck. We designed and built it the summer of 2013. Then two years later we cleaned and sealed it.

We have gotten so much use out of it, whether it is just Steve and mefr or one of the several the birthday parties, 4th of July parties and girl’s night that we have had on the deck.

As much as we have used the deck, Steve had noticed that it could be improved. When we designed it we had two sets of steps: one directed towards a door of the house that we use often and one directed towards our garden.

However, after a few years of use Steve pointed out that we could really improve the flow if we moved the steps. What first seemed like a huge undertaking was really a quick change up. Thankfully the steps were built independently of the deck so after removing several deck screws the whole set of steps easily moved.

Then taking a few screws out of the railing and using a circular saw to cut it down we were easily able to replace it where we had removed the steps. Thankfully Steve has really good vision, because when he mentioned doing this I thought it was going to be a whole day of work and honestly it took less than an hour!

Moving the steps to a longer side did bring up a small issue. The stairs were narrower than the opening. Steve and I both felt that some tall planters would guide people towards the stairs and a railing wouldn’t be needed.

We found these planters at Lowe’s. To fill them we wanted something permanent that would look nice in the winter so we also purchased these bushes. Then we bought petunias and verbena for color during the summer. We could not be happier with how they turned out. (And yes that is Blitz’s very own baby pool in the background.)

Also I had to divide and move my mums around to fill in where the steps had been. We still need to decide what material and where we want a walkway but overall we are thrilled with the changes.

The deck just feels like it makes more sense this way and we sure like to spend time sitting out there and enjoying each other’s company.

Do you have a gathering spot at your house? Ever had a project that just wasn’t working and you made the decision to rework it? What flowers would you use to fill those big pots?

What a great switch, Sarah. I’m impressed that it was such an easy change for you. The planters are a good solution.

Garden beginnings in Illinois

Our vegetable garden is very delayed this year–and still mostly to be determined–thanks to Ellie. So I’m living vicariously through other people’s gardens. Sarah has made it through the early uncooperative weather that delayed her garden start. Planting has officially happened in Illinois and she’s sharing the details today.

If you read my last post, I mentioned that we finally made our way out of winter. Which means we had to jump quickly into planting the garden. We were about 4 weeks behind our normal planting time. As an example, we usually try to plant potatoes on Good Friday (this year March 30) and we were not able to get them into the ground until April 29.

Another problem that we are facing is that we seem to have jumped directly from winter to summer. We went from cold days and many nights of frost to 85F (29C) every day.

This is hardest on some of the colder weather crops like lettuce, kale, radish and possibly carrots. I went ahead and planted them but, they aren’t looking very hopeful.

Here are some of the other vegetables that we planted:

Broccoli

Tomatoes

Bell peppers, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, tomatillos, zucchini, pepperoncini peppers and
cucumbers.

And even though they got such a late start, I think the potatoes are going to make it.

Another issue we are having is that it has been very dry. So every day after work I fill two 5 gallon buckets twice and carry them out to the garden and water each individual plant.

There has been some discussion between Steve and I on running a water line out there. If that happens, I will be sure to document it!

Have you started planting anything where you live? Are you having any struggles with your vegetables? Temperatures? Rainfall? Do you get a workout by hauling water to your garden?

That’s a lot of water lugging, Sarah! I definitely vote for a water line, but in our experience running the line is probably as much work as hauling water all season. Perhaps rent a small backhoe if you decide to put one in. We transplanted a tree this weekend, so we’ve been hauling buckets, as there’s no way a hose will reach the spot I chose. That seems to be the extent of our gardening so far, so I will continue to enjoy your updates. Good job with all of your planting!