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.

Making room to run

Back in the spring, I stopped in at our tractor dealership. I love our tractor, Wiley. I particularly love his attachments–mower deck, front-end loader, snowblower–and covet more–backhoe, auger, rotary cutter.

On this particular day, I was particularly coveting the rotary cutter.

A rotary cutter is a heavy-duty mower, sometimes called a bush hog. It can go through thick brush. It can hit rocks and stumps without breaking. It can even take down small trees.

In our constant campaign to beautify/tame/maintain the farm, clearing brush is an ongoing undertaking.

The thing about anything to do with the tractor is it isn’t cheap. So when I came home and told Matt I’d gotten a quote on a rotary cutter, I wasn’t sure what his reaction would be.

His exact words were, “You’ve been talking about this since we moved here, woman. Just buy it.”

Alrighty then. One rotary cutter coming our way.

Woods rotary cutter

It took us a while to get the rotary cutter running. Eventually, our tractor guy came out for a farm call to walk us through it (five years in and we’re still country newbies). But last weekend we got cutting.

And Matt loved it as much as I did.

Matt did the septic bed. He wanted to cut the little trees so that their roots don’t get into the drainage area. It’s hard to see, but at the top of this slope behind all of those weeds is the house.

Clearing brush with the rotary cutter

It took Matt very little time to get his confidence. While I avoided trees that were more than a couple of inches in diameter, Matt had no hesitation about mowing them down.

Clearing brush with the rotary cutter

Clearing brush with the rotary cutter

Clearing brush with the rotary cutter

The puppy liked all of the new smells that we uncovered.

Clearing brush with the rotary cutter

We also uncovered a few rocks and stumps, but the cutter powered through.

Rock scraped by a mower

Matt soon had the septic bed nice and clear. (The house is behind me in this shot.)

Cleared septic bed

After Matt had his turn, I took mine in the meadow. This is what happens when I ask my husband to take my picture. I end up with puppy butt.

Baxter watching the tractor

He did manage to resist Baxter’s charms long enough to get a few action shots.

Clearing brush with the rotary cutter

At the end of the day, there was plenty of space for the puppy to run.

Baxter running through the meadow

And a nice clear view from the pond up to the house. Well, clear except for the pines, but there’s no way we’re taking those down.

The mowed meadow

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?

Reclaiming the jungle

Landscaping is a multi-phased project here on the farm. I’m not entirely sure what phase we’re in now, but I looked back through the archives and the first time I posted about this area of the property was four years ago. Holy moly.

The back of the house has been a wee bit overgrown. As in we just let it go. Not the prettiest view out the kitchen window.

Overgrown weeds at the back of the house

There were so many rocks and weeds it was unmowable. But I wasn’t prepared to put in the work to make it a flower garden either.

We left it alone. Surprisingly, it didn’t improve.

Then two years ago we covered most of the mess with a tarp. Which wasn’t really much of an improvement either.

Tarp covering the backyard

We left it alone again. For two more years.

But at the start of this July, I finally lifted the tarp.

Hello rocks. Fancy finding you here. But the weeds had mostly died, so that was a bonus.

Picking up rocks

With some raking, digging, leveling, a wee bit of sawing and mowing for some of the more stubborn brush, and finally seeding and watering, we ended the day with something that we thought could someday be a lawn.

Seeding the backyard

The local wildlife came by to check out the transformation. The snakes particularly seemed to enjoy the cleared dirt.

Milk snake

Our usual inspector came by too. Hello Ralph. And hello sprouts!

Ralph inspecting the newly sown grass

Three week later, hello electric green lawn.

New lawn

We still have some blending to do and a few thin spots to fill in (plus I’d love to break up that concrete beside the steps).

And of course that black tarp is still hanging around. Hopefully the weeds closest to the house die over the next few weeks and I can seed that area this fall. Who knows what phase we’ll be at by that point.

Do you have an overgrown area that you’re reclaiming? Have you ever used the tarp technique to deal with weeds? Are you a seed or sod person? Is anyone else’s property overrun with rocks? Who else has snakes slithering by?

Hollyhocks

Light to dark pink hollyhocks

Every summer along the edge of the field behind my parents’ house a clump of hollyhocks would spring up. The tiers of blooms fascinated me, and I frequently tromped through the unmowed grass to admire them.

Last year, I planted some hollyhocks seeds in the vegetable garden. In last week’s guest what post, I shared a bud that appeared a few weeks ago. This year, at the entrance to the vegetable garden we have the most beautiful stand of blooms.

They range from the lightest blush pink to deep dark red.

Dark red hollyhock blooms

Hollyhocks feel farmy to me. They’re so beautiful and I love having them in the vegetable garden.

Hollyhocks are biennial, meaning that they bloom every other year. After seeing how well these have done, I went and bought another packet of seeds and sprinkled them over the soil beside these blooming stalks. These are supposed to self-seed, so I’m hoping that with the new additions we’ll have blooming hollyhocks every year.

Pink hollyhocks

Do you have hollyhocks are your house? Have you planted any flowers amongst your vegetables?

Canada 150 years and more

Canada 150 flag

This year is a special one for Canada. Tomorrow, the country officially turns 150 years old.

Canada Day is always a special occasion, and I enjoy celebrating it every year. This year, I’ve been thinking about it a little differently.

Over the past year, I’ve had opportunity to hear presentations by two Indigenous leaders, Senator Murray Sinclair, Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and Roberta Jamieson, the first woman elected Chief of the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. I’ve listened to a thanksgiving blessing and watched an honour song performance.

As I listened to these two impressive people and experienced these other special moments, I’ve learned and I’ve been thinking about Canada’s history. I am starting to understand more of the experiences of First Nations’ peoples and I have begun to think about my role in reconciliation with Indigenous people.

Roberta Jamieson highlighted that while the Dominion of Canada is 150 years old, our country has a long history that pre-dates 1867. As we celebrate 150 years, we can also remember and acknowledge this history.

I know very little about the history of the farm or the Indigenous history of this area, but there obviously is a history that extends beyond Confederation and much, much earlier.

Four years ago, we planted this little maple tree on the turnaround. My hope is that it stands for many years and one day grows as big as the large maple behind it.

Canada 150 flag

Roberta Jamieson said that the Six Nations’ philosophy is to take responsibility for their great-grandchildren’s great-grandchildren–seven generations into the future.

We are just a small moment in the life of this farm, this small part of Canada. I hope that we can do right by the generations–seven and more–that come after us.

Happy Canada Day to my fellow Canadians. And to my American readers who are celebrating next week, Happy Independence Day.

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?

June 1

The house on June 1, 2017

I’m feeling a bit sentimental after five years on the farm. We have a special place, and I really treasure being here.

The house and the property have evolved since we arrived here five years ago. Looking back to April 2012, we’d added the flagpole to the turnaround, but the rest of the property–especially the turnaround–were still a disaster.

The house five years ago

In our second year, I started taking a photo each June 1. Everything is green and growing. It’s a nice time of year to showcase the farm.

In June 2014, we were still establishing the gardens, but things were looking much tidier than when we first started.

The house on June 1, 2014

This spring, we’re still making progress, and I’m so proud of what we’re building.

The exterior of the house itself has not changed as much as the interior or the rest of the property, but it will… someday. (And yes, I know our little maple tree is tilted.)

The house on June 1, 2017

I think it will be fun to look back at these June 1 photos in another 5, 25 or even more years and think about all of the memories we’ve made here.

Five years on the farm

How do you mark progress at your house? What time of year does your home look its best?

New life for an old patio table

As the temperatures warm up, I love being outside. For us, being outside usually means working outside because the one thing missing at the farm is a good outdoor living or dining area. But Sarah has a great spot at her home in Illinois. She and her husband Steve recently tackled a project that upgraded a key feature of that area–the dining table. Read on to see the results. Spoiler alert, they’re pretty amazing.

One of the favorite spots in our yard is our deck. Several days a week we head there as soon as we get home from work and have a drink and discuss the day and throw the ball for Blitz. It’s also the spot we head to after a full day of sweaty yard work. We have a nice awning to sit under and a patio table and chair set to relax in.

However, the table was starting to show some wear. It is a metal frame and had two inset panels that were supposed to resemble slate or some type of stone. I am sure when it was new it looked very nice, but over the years the compressed material that made up the fake slate absorbed water and warped. It got to the point where we could not set a glass on it without it falling over. So we started talking about how we could replace it.

I wish I had taken a good before picture but here are the fake slabs that we took out of the table.

Our first thought was to put a thin board in the recessed area and then to tile it. I think that would have looked very nice, but our concern was how much weight it would add to the table. It is not a light table to start with, and we move it into our pole barn every winter to try to help it last longer. Plus, the backing for the tile would have to be pretty thick to hold up the tiles, and we didn’t know if there would be enough room for the backing, the thin set and the tile in the recessed area without really altering the table.

One day when we were looking for something in the barn, Steve saw a pile of old tongue and groove barn wood. He grabbed a measuring tape and said that it was even the right thickness for the area in the table. We talked about if we stained it dark and added some polyurethane, it might look kind of nice in the table.

We removed the fake slate and measured the barn wood to fit in the section of the table. Since it was tongue and groove the boards fit nicely together. Steve did have to add an extra piece of metal across underneath since we were now using several different boards instead of one slab.

With a nice coat of stain, we were pretty happy with the results.

Then we started talking about the two-part epoxy that we see on home improvement shows. I did a little research online and made a quick Amazon purchase. Two days later this arrived.

This is where I should tell you, this post is not sponsored. I paid full price for this kit. Famowood does not know that I exist. I chose this brand because of reviews I have read. I have not tried any other brands to compare.

We had to do a little prep to the table to pour the epoxy over it. There were small gaps and cracks and holes that we had to fill in so that the epoxy did not run out. We weren’t worried about anything staying in place permanently. Basically it just had to stay in place until the epoxy dried. So we just used some of the already opened tubes of caulk that we had sitting around and filled all of the gaps underneath. So it’s not pretty, but it won’t be seen.

The reviews that I read stressed to follow the directions exactly. So we did exactly what they said. We added equal amounts of part A and part B and stirred for six minutes, then put it in a new container and stirred for another six minutes.

My biggest concern was trapping bubbles in the epoxy. No matter how careful we were when we stirred, there were lots of bubbles in it. What I read online suggested using a heat gun to draw the bubbles to the surface.

Steve and I worked together at a quick pace because we didn’t know how much time we would have before it started setting up. So I didn’t get any pictures of this stage. I definitely recommend two people working a project of this size, especially if you do it in warmer weather. The day we chose to pour was cool so we had a little more time, but we still worked quickly. We used a squeegee to move the epoxy around and the heat gun to remove the air bubbles.

We had put newspaper down thankfully, because even with the caulk we had several drips. The instructions suggested pouring a thin coat first if you were pouring over wood. The wood was likely to release more bubbles into your epoxy. So we poured a first coat, waited the recommended hours then poured a second coat.

I think the final result speaks for itself.

We could not be happier with our table. I am so proud of the job we did and I can’t wait to come home each day and sit and admire it.

I want to call a few points to your attention.

1. We chose to stop adding epoxy at the point we did, and it did not fill all of the grooves between the boards. We liked this look, but I am sure if you wanted it to be completely smooth, a third coat would have filled everything in.

2. The epoxy kit we chose said NOT for exterior use. We know this. There is an awning over the patio that will shield most sun and rain and like I said, we take the table inside every fall. If you are looking to do a similar project keep this in mind and maybe look for a kit for exterior use if you are concerned with that.

3. Also, read the directions completely and have all of your tools (mixing cups, stir sticks, tape, squeegee, heat gun, etc.) ready when you start. There is a time limit to this product and you don’t want to waste time running around trying to remember where you put the heat gun.

Holy moly. What a transformation, Sarah. I’ve heard so much about epoxy, but I’ve never used it. Your results are really impressive. I like the addition of the barn wood. It’s great you were able to use material that you had already and extend the life of your table. I’m sure you’re enjoying your evenings on the deck even more now.

A whole clutch of wild turkey eggs

Clutch of turkey eggs

On Friday I shared with you a wild turkey egg that Matt had found while walking with Baxter. On Saturday while clearing one of our very over-grown areas, I found turkey eggs.

Look at these.

Nine turkey eggs

From the looks of the nest and the feel of the eggs, these are not from this season.

I’m a bit dismayed that this clutch was obviously not successful. But I’m ecstatic that I got to see this nest.

Ahh, I need some birds of my own.