Hope grows in the garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maple moon

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

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

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

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

Home Goals 2022

Last year I returned to annual home goals with some pretty big projects (garage, mudroom, treehouse). It was motivating and fun, and I’m looking forward to more this year (though some lower budget projects, as I’m also rebuilding our savings).

Here is what’s on my list for 2022.

Mudroom

The mudroom ended 2021 as pretty much a blank slate. It had a fresh coat of paint, but no decor and storage was pretty makeshift. Built-ins are still the plan for this room (the ones below would be perfect, thanks), but they’re down the road a little ways. For now, I’m looking for some make-it-work-but-less-makeshift storage and some pretty finishing touches for the room. First up, painting some dressers.

Source: Crisp Architects

Garage landscaping

The garage landscaping will likely be our big project of the year. I’d like to pave the driveway and add a patio and some steps for the mudroom and living room (like the beautiful stone steps below). This project will require some professional help. The DIY portion will be spreading some topsoil and grass seed around the garage. Matt’s Dad bought me a load of topsoil for Christmas, so we’re ready to go as soon as the snow melts.

Source: Renaissance Landscape Group

Plan for the worst

Natural disasters and personal tragedies throw people’s lives into chaos every year. I want to protect Ellie and me and the farm, as much as possible. Some of the things on my list for this year include digitizing important documents, making a household inventory, packing a go bag, updating my will, and streamlining our finances. (This book has tips to address all of these and more.) These are not fun tasks, but I know they will give me peace of mind.

History

It’s been very special to connect with the woman whose family first owned this farm, and I’m looking forward to learning more from her. I’d also like to go farther back in the farm’s history and learn more about the Indigenous people who lived in this area and do more to acknowledge their history. This beautiful book that I received for Christmas has been very inspiring.

Pond shore

The pond shore returns for its annual appearance on this list. This year, I’m hoping to continue to clear the shore toward the creek and finally build a little bridge across.

Source: Atlanta Trails

Vegetable garden

Hope springs eternal for the vegetable garden. Ellie has picked some things she’d like to grow this year, and I’m hoping that interest translates into more time in the garden. I feel like I learned a good lesson last year: the garden–even if I achieve a low maintenance level–needs attention. Fingers are crossed that I give it more of that attention this year.

Source: Charles Dowding

Barn

Our beautiful big barn. I love this barn, and I want to preserve it. There are a few cracks in the foundation and a few leaky spots on back roof. I’ve had some people out to look at the foundation, and their assessment has been that the barn is in pretty good shape. Though they’ve also provided me quotes to restore the foundation, and the estimates are expen$$$$$ive in the extreme. One thing I can do is eavestrough. This will be a relatively inexpensive way help to ensure water runs away and protect the structure.

I am excited by what we have planned for this year, and I’m looking forward to sharing more with all of you.

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?

Looking back at Home Goals 2021

I returned to annual home goals last year after a four-year break. It felt good to be focused and have some projects to work on through the year. And I feel like I did pretty well at accomplishing my goals.

Here’s a look back at what happened around the farm in 2021.

Garage addition

Our biggest project last year (biggest home project so far) was the garage and mudroom. These spaces have made such a difference for our home and how we use it. There are a few things to work on still (Home Goals 2022 coming soon!), but I am so happy we did this renovation.

Playground expansion

The treehouse playground was a highlight of last year. Both for the actual building and for the fun Ellie has playing on it.

Pond shore

The pond shore is my perennial home goal. Last year, we cleared a little more of the shore, though I didn’t do as much as I hoped and I didn’t build a little bridge across the creek. What is clear, we enjoyed, though. I had bonfires almost every week with my friends over the summer, and Ellie and I make regular visits to the little waterfall.

Vegetable garden

I would classify the garden as a fail last year. I tried mulch, but didn’t build proper raised rows. And I didn’t spend enough time in the garden to maintain it. We did grow a few things, and I feel like I keep learning every year.

The last big junk pile

The last big junk pile is pretty much gone and our new compost area is built. I have a bit more to tidy this spring, but the view out the dining room window is vastly improved.

Bedroom refresh

I thought my new duvet cover might inspire other changes in our bedroom. That didn’t happen. (My Mom did gift me with new pillows for Christmas.) The space is working well enough. Though I still think a closet reorganization would be lovely.

History

I was able to keep in touch with the woman who’s family first owned this farm over the last year. In fact, I have a story of a special tree planting to share soon.

Black and white photo of two children sitting on top of a wood gate

The garage, mudroom and treehouse are the big wins of last year. The garden is the big fail. But overall I am really happy with what we accomplished. I work best when I have specific projects to focus on, and I’m looking forward to setting new goals for 2022.

What was your biggest accomplishment at your house last year? Did you have any fails? Did you set any home goals?

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?