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.

Wading into the vegetable garden in Illinois

Illinois is soggy for Sarah these days, so her gardening is on hold. But before the flood arrived, she got a great start on planting. She’s sharing some of the progress in her update today.

Julia may be “tiptoeing into the vegetable garden” at her house, but we have to wear muck boots in our garden right now.

Well, no I wouldn’t even attempt to step one foot in our garden. This morning before I wrote this post, our garden looked like this:

And they are predicting constant rain for the next 48 hours for our area with a total of 5 to 8 inches according to our local weather. So all of our gardening has been put on hold.

However, I want to share what we accomplished before the rain began.

We like to get our potatoes in the ground on Good Friday, and we were only a day late. On that Saturday we were able to plant potatoes, carrots, radishes, lettuce and kale. The next day we got a hard rain. We didn’t get much volume of water. It just fell hard.

I am learning every day about gardening and farming, and what I learned is the rain somewhat compacted the top layer of soil in the garden and then it dried. So when I went back to check on what I had planted a few days later there was a “crust” of soil on top of the seeds.

The radishes were able to break though but the more fragile plants like the carrots and lettuce were not able to break through the “crust.” It looks like we will be replanting those crops.

About a week later Steve and I got several more things in the ground.

We planted two holly trees.

Two cherry trees and four grapevines. Steve set three poles for our grape vines that we will eventually string with cable. Of course right now the vines are about 12 inches tall so not much support is require yet.

Three blueberry bushes.

Then we planted cucumber, sugar snap peas and new asparagus crowns in the garden.

I have planted trees before, and my mom has always taught me the importance of watering. In fact, she has told me, “water every day for a week, every week for a month and every month for a year.” So every day after work I made sure to do that.

Of course, I get a little break right now with all of this rain.

When it does dry up, I have a few plants ready to go.

I have some cabbage, bell peppers and tomatoes sitting near my window. I try to start tomatoes from seed every year and as I have mentioned before I really struggle with it. I had bought Black Krim and San Marzano seeds, and I have starts that are about 3 inches tall but they do not look very healthy.

A family friend of ours starts hundreds of tomato and pepper seeds every year and gives us nice healthy plants. I told her of my struggles and she said that she does use grow lights but she also plants by the moon. That is something that I have heard of but never attempted myself. I think I should really rethink that though when I look at her plants.

This year she brought Celebrity, Early Girl, Better Boy, Rutgers, Roma, Orange Slice, Sunny Boy, Jet Star, Brandywine and a cherry tomato.

We divide all of the plants up between my parents and my brother, so I have a small selection to plant at our house. I hope to mark all of the varieties clearly so that I can keep somewhat of a record of which varieties I like best. I love that she not only gives us strong healthy plants but also we get so many to choose from.

My mom also brought me a couple of Mr. Stripey tomato plants for my garden so we are going to have a rainbow of tomatoes to choose from this year.

Of course that is if we ever see dry ground again.

Oh, Sarah. That’s a ton of rain. Good for you for making so much progress, though. You have so many great plants. Hopefully the weather cooperates for you this year and you harvest a ton of great food.

Tiptoeing into the vegetable garden

Raspberry canes

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

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

There are a few things that needed to happen sooner.

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

Uncovering grapes that have been wrapped in burlap

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

Rhubarb early in spring

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

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

Methinks we’re going to have lotsa potatoes.

Seed potatoes

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

Asparagus

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

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

Forsythia of ’17

Forsythia blossoms

If you’ve been following the blog for awhile, you’ll know that every year I measure the progress of spring by our forsythia.

Five years ago when we first moved to the farm, we had a huge bunch of blooms at the beginning of April. Every year since then, I’ve snapped a picture on April 2 to gauge how this year compares. This year, I somehow missed that. Oops.

After two years of beautiful blossoms, though, our forsythia floundered. In 2014, 2015 and 2016–the last three years–blossoms have been few and far between.

But this year, they’re back.

Blooming forsythia bushes

It’s a huge improvement over the last few years.

Forsythia through the years

I’m so glad that the forsythia is flourishing again. Even better, there are some extra bushes that I’ve never noticed before at the edge of the front field.

I don’t think I’ve shared this view of the house before. This gives you a sense of where our house sits in relation to the barn and the fields. (To take these pictures I was standing in the front field).

Farm in spring

Forsythia bushes in bloom

I love seeing spring take over the farm.

Grey days

Two grey days, exactly three weeks apart.

Snowy field in mid March

I swear as of this week I’m seeing the fields turn green. I can handle grey skies when I feel spring is coming.

Field at the beginning of April

This bird’s eye view is courtesy of a deer stand at the edge of the back field.

Looking down from the deer stand at Baxter on the ground

A great way to see the farm. But too tall for puppy.

Deer stand

As excited as I am for the green, last night we had a few snow flurries. C’mon spring!

What’s the weather like where you are? Are you seeing signs of spring?

Digging in the dirt

Tulips in the garden

Dirt under the nails, dirt on my jeans, digging in dirt. It has started.

It felt so good to get out in the sunshine on the weekend and start to weed the flower gardens.

Considering that last year it didn’t start at all, I had a bit of work to do.

A full year without weeding meant the garden was overgrown 6 months ago. After everything died off over the winter, it looked terrible.

Overgrown flower garden

Two heaping wheelbarrows later, it looks better, but a little bare.

Cleared garden

There’s plenty of room to grow. And it seems like the bushes, irises, sedums, tulips and other plants are all alive. So it should fill in quickly.

How are your gardens looking? Have you done any weeding yet?

Pick up sticks, farm style

Baxter behind a fallen tree

One of the common springtime jobs is picking up the branches and twigs that have fallen into the yard. When your yard is 129 acres, this job goes to another level.

I’ve written before about our trails and how we haven’t done a great job of maintaining them. Early in the winter, a decent size tree came down right across the entry of the west trail.

Cleaning this up will be much more than just picking up sticks.

Fallen tree across the trail

But for now, we’re letting fallen trees lie.

Last week, Baxter and I clambered over it to check out the rest of the trails.

This is actually a magic time to walk the trails. We’re not slogging through snow, wading through (much) water, battling masses of mosquitoes or dealing with overgrown grass and brush.

The trails are wet though. Matt and his Dad had laid a catwalk through the first marshy section, but it floated away a little while ago. We can sneak around on the right edge of the trail, but, of course, a tree has fallen to block the way. It’s a choice of hurdle or limbo and don’t fall in the water.

Hiking through the marsh

Farther along, we have an actual creek crossing. This section never ever dries up and will be deep and fast flowing in a few more weeks. As you can see, the catwalk in this area has also washed out.

Crossing the creek

The willow on the other side of the creek has lost a large limb.

Fallen tree branch

Deeper into the woods, we climb to higher ground and the forest changes to evergreens–including new trees that have sprouted in the middle of the trail.

Hiking through an evergreen forest

At the end of the trail, we reach the east boundary of our property. Looking to the north, somewhere on the other side of this marsh, is the other half of our trail network.

Overlooking the marsh

Baxter and I backtracked so that we could check it out too.

The east trail is not nearly as wet. There’s a creek at the entrance, but an old corduroy road topped with a plank makes crossing easy.

Corduroy road

The east trail has the same tree issues as the west, though. We’ve had a super windy winter, so some fairly large trees have fallen.

Baxter under a fallen tree

Baxter under a fallen tree

I’m on the lookout for a brigade of forest rangers with chainsaws who want to give me a few weeks of free labour.

If they are wearing hip waders that would be great.

Wading in the water

Bax and I did discover a few things that could help with our water issues.

At the edge of the back field are a couple of large piles of tires. Aren’t these ugly? I still think we could upgrade our catwalks using these as “piers” and laying skids across them to make a boardwalk.

Tires thrown away in the woods

Alternatively, we could channel the water with these culverts. I continue to be amazed at what’s been abandoned and dumped on the property.

Culverts

For now, barring the arrival of any forest rangers, I’m happy to just enjoy the farm and our trails. And that’s my plan for the weekend.

What are your plans for the weekend? Do you do pick up sticks at your house in the spring?