Second year for syrup

Tapping a maple tree

It’s maple syrup season again on the farm. Or we think it is.

This is only our second time tapping our trees, so we’re still pretty much guessing. Temperatures are supposed to be above freezing during the day this week and below at night. From what I’ve read and what we learned last year, that’s sap weather.

Last year, we were impressed by how easy it was and how much syrup we made. In fact, we still have syrup left. We just don’t eat enough pancakes at our house.

But we’re not letting that stop us. We enjoyed making syrup last year, so we’re going to do it again.

Like so much of what we do on the farm, this is an experiment, so we’re learning as we go.

Lesson #1: Make sure the drill battery is charged (and the back-up too) before you start tapping. Mr. Dewalt had to hang out for a little while until the bit could spin enough to get him unstuck.

Drill stuck in a tree

Matt has picked a couple of new trees. The only issue is they’re not the easiest to access. More incentive to clean up the brush and junk along the edge of the field.

Tapping maple trees

The other three buckets went on our most productive trees from last year. (Can you spot the puppy?)

Tapping maple trees

Now our fingers are crossed that the weather cooperates and the sap starts flowing.

A walk by the creek

Creek flowing over rocks

Care to join me on an evening walk along the creek?

We’ll start at the front of the property where water from farms to the north of us drains onto our land. It flows along the border of the front field, cuts under the driveway and then picks up another stream. From here it snakes along the perimeter of the corner field following the edge of our pine forest.

Creek

Partway along, we come to an old bridge that once connected the field to the forest. I discovered this bridge on one of my first rambles in the early months of owning the farm. I remember how excited I was, although I have yet to attempt to cross the bridge.

Dilapidated bridge

Some day, we may repair the bridge and establish some pathways through the forest.

Dilapidated bridge

As we near the mouth of the pond, the creek drops, swirling under trees, around boulders and over rocks.

Creek flowing over rocks

Unusual weather for January in Canada–five degrees and day after day of rain this week–has the water high and flowing fast, yet ice still coats the grass along the shore.

 

Fast flowing water in the creek

We end our ramble at the pond where the ice is melting in this January thaw.

Pond during a January thaw

Just one small problem, we’re on the wrong side of the creek and the bridge is out. Be careful getting home. 🙂

Have a great weekend everyone. May I suggest you go for a ramble?

Home Goals 2017

Alright. It’s officially time to start looking ahead. Time to share my Home Goals 2017.

Unusually, I’ve not been thinking about these for the past few months. Some of them have solidified over the last few weeks–one of them even started just before the end of last year. Some of them came together just as I was writing this post.

I think we’re getting to the stage where more things are done around the house–and the things that are yet to come are biggies. As in so big we’re not ready to tackle them yet (although I really, really, really want a garage).

However, there’s still enough to keep us busy for another year. Here’s what’s on the list.

My office

Turquoise and brass file cabinet from DIY Mommy

Source: DIY Mommy

Ahhh. My office. Finally a room of my own (thank you Virginia Woolf–not an affiliate link). I don’t know as I can convey the monumentalness of this project–except by making up words. Five years ago we moved to the farm. Since that time, moving boxes have been stacked against the wall in my “office.” I want to unpack and truly have a functional office. Finishing off my office will finish off another milestone for the house: the final bedroom.

The transformation is already underway. This is the project that Matt and I started right at the end of December–gotta keep up our holiday tradition of scraping a stippled ceiling.

Clean up the pond shore

Property clean up has been on my list every year. And every year I end up working on whatever spot shows up in front of me. This year I want to be a little more plannful. This year, I am cleaning up the pond shore–how’s that for an emphatic statement.

The pond is my favourite place on our whole 129 acres. And I haven’t been able to easily access the shore the whole time we’ve lived here. I’ve considered enlisting professional help, but I think if I put out a call, I should be able to find a few family members willing to wield chainsaws and weed eaters for a weekend.

Vegetable garden

The vegetable garden was our major project last year, and as a result I feel like we’re in very good shape to start this year’s growing season. However, there are a few things I’d like to add this year, like rhubarb, a second row of berries (maybe raspberries, maybe something else) and maybe some more grapes.

Most important, this year I am going to keep the weeds under control–another emphatic statement. I’m hoping a deep mulch will help me not spend my whole summer weeding.

Flower gardens

Last year our flower gardens were entirely neglected as the vegetable garden consumed all our time. This year I want to give them at least a little bit of attention.

I’ve dumped plants randomly in two beds at the front of the house, and they need a bit of organization. I’d like to add some more shade tolerant flowers to the turnaround.

I’m also planning to remove the flowerbeds at the back of the house (there are only so many hours in a day, and mowing is easier than weeding).

Basement

I’ve said it before. The basement has been hanging around long enough. This is the year we’re going to finish it once and for all–including fun art.

New barn cat

Ralph the barn cat

This one may be more of a farm goal than a home goal.

We have an outstanding barn cat in Ralph. So outstanding that we’d love for her to teach someone the wisdom of her ways. I’m not sure exactly how we’re going to go about finding her an apprentice, but we’re going to figure it out.

So there you have it. Six goals. Two inside, three outside, one alive. Some big, some small, one with a tail. Some easy, some tedious, some furry.

We’ll see how this goes.

Time to get started!

Do you have any goals for this year? What would you like to accomplish at your house? Any tips for introducing a new barn cat? Anyone want to help clear the shore at the pond?

That’s a wrap

If you’re looking for Christmas presents, fancy paper and pretty ribbons, you’ve come to the wrong place.

I did do some wrapping this weekend, but it was in the garden (yes, I’m still working in the garden).

I have wrapped our grape vines in burlap. I have no idea if this is the right thing to do or not, but, as I’ve said before, gardening is an experiment.

Wrapping grape vines in burlap

The grapes are brand new and they’re a wee bit exposed on the outer edge of the garden where it meets the field. I felt like a bit of additional protection wouldn’t hurt, and I had some burlap lying around, so a couple of weekends ago, I stapled a length of fabric to the fence.

Wrapping grape vines in burlap

Of course, I ran out and by the time I picked up more burlap, we’d had snow. A lot of snow–at least for us and for this time of year.

Wrapping grape vines in burlap

Since I could no longer open the garden gate–unless I wanted to shovel and I had been shoveling for a couple of hours by the time I had the brainwave to finish the garden–I tossed the burlap, the stapler and the scissors over the fence, and then climbed the fence myself. In case you’re wondering, climbing a fence in bulky snow pants and boots is not the easiest. But the snow makes a soft landing.

I was grateful we have a wood fence, because it was easy to just staple the burlap right to the wood. Where the bottom of the fence was buried in snow, I packed the snow against the fabric to hold it in place.

Wrapping grape vines in burlap

Then I ever so gracefully climbed out of the garden again.

This officially wraps up work on the garden for this year. (And no, I’m not sorry for the pun. That was completely on purpose.)

Foggy morning on the farm

Foggy morning on the farm

Last Friday we set record warm temperatures for November. But before the thermometer rose, the fog descended, making for a very murky morning walk.

Foggy morning on the farm

My favourite tree still stood.

Foggy morning on the farm

But it felt like the world ended at the edge of the farm.

Foggy morning on the farm

By the end of the walk, the sun had risen and the fog was burning off and the farm returned.

Foggy morning on the farm

I love seeing how the farm changes over a day, over an hour and over a season. Starting and ending my days here never gets old.

That time my husband dropped a 2×4 on my head

Or, as Matt tells the story, the time I followed too closely behind him while he was carrying–and dropping–lumber.

Head wound

Saturday afternoon was fall cleanup day here on the farm.

Remember this pile of lumber that I cleaned up back in the spring? I was so proud. I am woman, hear me roar.

Lumber pile at the edge of the field

Field after clearing the lumber pile

However, I really only did half the job. I brought it over to the barn, but not actually into the barn. I dumped it beside the silo.

Lumber piled outside the barn

Putting it into the barn was one of the tasks on my (mental) fall to-do list. After mucking all of the old straw and manure out of the stalls last fall, we have lots of extra space, and I knew one of the empty stalls would be perfect to corral all of this lumber.

I recruited Matt to help me, and we moved 6x6s, 4x4s, 2x8s, barnboard siding and assorted other lumber–including a few pesky 2x4s–into the barn. There is so much lumber, yet it takes up barely a quarter of a stall. Horses are big animals, people.

Lumber piled in a horse stall

Along the way we picked up the leftover fence posts that have sat by the garden all year, some other lumber, some metal posts–five piles in all.

Trailer loaded with old fence posts

I’m so happy that the property is looking just a wee bit tidier. Next year when we mow these new areas, it will look even better. I’m not sure Matt is quite as enthused yet. Especially since he’s our main mower.

Lumber pile cleaned up beside the silo

My husband knows me so well. When we came into the house at the end of the day, he asked me, “How much of that did you have planned, woman? I thought we were just moving the one pile by the silo when I agreed to this. I want to re-examine the contract. I think I might sue.”

I admitted that I had planned for three out of the five piles–the other two were just a bonus. I also reminded him of the original contract, which says, “for better or for worse.”

How did you spend your weekend?

First fire of the season

Saturday, I was outside in a chilly wind all afternoon. Unfortunately, I wasn’t at the farm, so I didn’t have physical labour to keep me warm.

Saturday evening, home at the farm, was all about big bowl of soup on the couch in front of the first fire of the season.

A chilly day spent outside means the first fire of the season

A post shared by Julia (@juliaon129acres) on

 

Sunday, Matt and I rearranged the woodpiles and took delivery of another load of firewood from his Dad.

We have a serious stockpile of firewood this year. It wraps around all three sides of the pool room.

Woodpile

We’ve gotten so much new wood this year that things have gotten a bit jumbled.

The rearrangement on Sunday was about putting the oldest wood in the most accessible spot: stacked on the side patio closest to the kitchen door. Then there is the original woodpile behind the pool room now expanded to four rows–we’ve never had four rows.

Woodpile

The newest wood is on the other side patio where it can dry for awhile–years given the amount of wood we have to burn through before then.

Woodpile

The fireplace is my thing, but the firewood is Matt’s. I gripe a bit about firewood taking over our house, but I appreciate all of the effort he puts into making sure I’m set for a cozy night after a chilly day.

How are you getting ready for winter at your house?

Vegetable garden highs and lows

I’m going to go a bit corporate today. Have you heard of a SOAR analysis? It’s a business planning exercise where you look at the strengths, opportunities, aspirations and results for a particular project. It’s a bit friendlier than the old-school SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats).

Today’s project is the vegetable garden.

Vegetable garden in October 2016

Matt and I officially harvested everything last weekend. We have more clean-up yet to do, but I feel like I’m ready to look at what worked and what didn’t… or, more positively, what opportunities there are for next year.

Strengths

Soil – We have a great garden, and I can’t really take a lot of credit for it. Our soil is fabulous, and I’m doing everything I can to keep it healthy (see opportunities below).

Trellises – I’ve written about growing our raspberries, tomatoes and squash vertically. It totally worked. We got great yields in much less space than we would have without the trellises.

How to grow squash vertically

Watering – This was a very, very, very dry summer. I was very thankful for our well, so that we didn’t have to pay municipal water fees. We watered every other day–more than is recommended by most gardening how-tos–but I think it made the difference between losing most of our plants (which didn’t happen) and harvesting a very impressive crop (which did).

Crops – In terms of impressive, the key successes this year were peppers and beans, which last year did next to nothing. Two new crops–sunflowers and watermelon–were also great successes. The watermelon took forever to ripen, but finally made it thanks to the hot summer weather continuing well into fall.

Watermelon harvest fall 2016

Our potatoes, tomatoes and zucchini were crazy prolific as usual, and the new versions we tried–ridiculously giant Sicilian Saucer tomatoes and Russian Blue potatoes–were fun additions.

Russian blue potato

Opportunities

Raised beds – Argh the raised beds. I love having the perimeter beds in the garden, but the soil we bought for them was not good at all. Weeds didn’t even grow. The asparagus, hollyhocks and some of the herbs eventually got some traction, but it took all season. The carrots, beets and onions were nearly complete failures. Some of the herbs just shriveled up and died.

Pathetic carrots

Dead lavender plant

I’m not sure what we need to do to remedy this next year. The soil was triple mix which is supposed to include compost, peat moss and top soil. However, our triple mix is very sandy and seems to be deficient in nutrients. I’m thinking all kinds of compost and manure might revitalize it.

Black raspberries – My attempts to domesticate the wild black raspberries that grow elsewhere on the farm was also a big fat fail. These plants can only be described as brambles. They’re thorny and floppy–and when they flop over, they root themselves into the ground making a big tangled mess. I channeled Sleeping Beauty’s Prince Phillip and dug them all out last weekend. I’m looking forward to finding a new kind of berry to plant in their place next spring.

Weeds – One of the things I wanted to try this year was using a deep layer of straw as a mulch over the garden to smother the weeds. Matt and I brought an old abandoned bale of straw up to the garden, but I never got around to spreading it over the garden. We didn’t keep up with weeding by hand, so the garden was very, very weedy. The deep mulch method is still on my list for next year.

Weedy garden

Plant the whole garden – Our garden is big. Last year we planted just half, but this year we made it up to three quarters . I ended up mowing the weeds in the empty quadrant all summer. Not the best use of space. I’m hoping that we can use the whole garden next year.

Aspirations

Maintain the soil – I’m learning that gardening is about growing soil, more than growing plants. Last fall I added ash and manure to the whole garden. This year, I’m aiming for more manure and some compost–especially in the raised beds. I’m also trying a cover crop for the first time, seeding one quadrant with winter rye. Crop rotation is another consideration that I’m realizing takes lots of advance thought–as in years in advance.

Slow-growing crops – Asparagus and grapes were two additions to the garden this spring. Both are going to be long-term commitments, and I’m hoping that they make it through the winter and thrive next year.

First year grape vines

New additions – I’m looking forward to adding more herbs to the raised beds and putting more thought into how they’re clumped around the perimeter of the garden. Another consideration is maybe a cutting garden, or at least dressing up the vegetables–and filling some of the vacant spaces–with a selection of flowers.

Results

Infrastructure – There’s another corporate, distinctly non-garden word for you. But I don’t know how else to describe the base structures that form the garden–and that as of this year are all done. Last year our big accomplishment was the fence. This year, we added the curbs, raised beds, trellises, gate and waterline. I’m looking forward to not “building” the garden next year and just planting it.

#Harvest16 – Once again, the garden was super, duper productive. We had more zucchini, tomatoes and watermelon than we could use–to the benefit of our families and co-workers. We’re hoping that our squash and potatoes last well into the winter. Any storage tips?

Garden harvest fall 2016

Preserving – I feel like growing your own garden soon leads to preserving your own food, and this year Matt and I dove in to canning. We pickled about 10 pounds of beans–I was skeptical, but they’re so good I can eat a jar on my own–and made nearly 12 litres of our own ketchup–Matt is a big user of ketchup and is very particular about his preferred brand… although he has now switched allegiances to our homemade version. We’ve also loaded up the freezer with beans, roasted tomatoes, grated zucchini and plan to add peppers.

I’m not quite ready to call this year’s garden completely done, but I am ready to call it a success. In fact, we have also fulfilled every single goal I had for the garden in my original Home Goals 2016 post. That’s an achievement.

How did your garden grow this year? Any tips for storing potatoes and squash? Or favourite recipes to share? Anyone have ideas for the soil in our raised beds?

Prickly pants

Pants covered in prickles

Our trails are a wee bit overgrown. After an evening hike with Baxter, I returned to the house and spent half an hour picking prickles off of my pants.

To be fair, I had ventured off trail for awhile when Baxter decided to choose his own adventure. (Did anyone read those books as a kid? I usually cheated and looked ahead to find what chapter I had to choose to get the good ending). However, half the prickles had already attached themselves to me before I left the path.

I asked Matt whether he thought a big strong man with a chainsaw might find his way out to the back woods. (Some trees are down too). He suggested a little strong woman could do it herself.

So much glamour and gallantry here on the farm.

Growing sunflower seeds

It’s been neat to watch the sunflowers go through their various stages of growth.

More than a month ago you saw the cheery blossoms.

A couple of weeks ago, the seeds started to come in. The spiky flowers in the centre of the blossom dropped off to reveal the tightly packed seeds.

Sunflower seeds

Sunflower seeds

It was about this time that the local wildlife seemed to discover the sunflowers.

I had hoped to get another photo this week, but the flowers have been nearly picked clean. Most of the seeds have been consumed.

The biggest culprits are the blue jays. Any time I walk past the garden, at least six jays erupt from the sunflower patch. We’ve also spotted chipmunks and squirrels.

So it appears that we may be buying bird seed again this year.