Halfway through Home Goals 2021

I really like setting goals for the farm every year. With a large property, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done. Or pulled in a million different directions working on a million different projects.

This year has been feeling really good. I love being productive and making progress, and that’s what’s been happening so far.

At the start of the year, I identified seven projects or goals that I wanted to work on. (The original post has six because I wasn’t ready to talk about the garage yet, but it was definitely on my mind when I wrote the list.)

The goals were garage addition, playground expansion, pond shore clean-up, vegetable garden, the last big junk pile, bedroom refresh, and farm history.

Some of these goals are interconnected. The garage addition led to the playground expansion, as we used the wood from the old pool deck for the treehouse. The junk pile started to get organized (and downsized) because I needed a spot to stash the brick that were removed from the pool exterior. Part of organizing the junk pile involved tossing two old bales of hay into the garden for mulch.

With any home project, dominoes can happen really easily and it’s nice to be able to line them up intentionally. Here are some more details on how we’ve been doing with each goal.

Garage addition

The garage and mudroom are turning out so, so well. After thinking about this renovation for so long, I’m really pleased with the result. We are also so close to being done. (I owe you a look at the panelled and tiled mudroom.) We are waiting on doors. Person doors. Garage doors. We need doors. Once doors go in, trim can be finished and we can move in.

Playground expansion

I am almost as excited for Ellie’s treehouse/playground as I am for the garage. It’s big. It’s fun. And it’s something that I’ve done mostly by myself. It’s been a long time since I’ve built like this. I’d like things to be going a little faster, but bit by bit I keep making progress.

Pond shore

The barometer for the pond shore is can I mow it? Well, I’ve been mowing a little bit more shore this year. I clipped back brush and tiny trees. Matt’s Dad cut some more trees that had sprouted out of an old stump. Ellie and I carried everything to the firepit and had an epic blaze. We’re not ready to build our new bridge yet, but we have the beginning of a little path between two pines as I’ve always envisioned and we can access the waterfall more easily.

Vegetable garden

Ellie and I finally unrolled two old bales of hay and spread them over one quadrant of the garden. The hay (along with the cardboard I put underneath it) is doing a good job of keeping the weeds down for us. (Though everywhere else they’re as prolific as ever.) I haven’t managed to build any raised rows, but we have planted some tomatoes and a few other seeds. We were late and the seeds were old, but we have a few things growing in the garden for the first time in several years.

The last big junk pile

We’ve done dump runs, dragged brush to the burn pile, dug things out of the ground, picked glass out of the dirt and finally started mowing a little bit of the area beside the garden. In addition to being the dumping ground for who knows what, this spot is also my compost pile for weeds and other cuttings from the gardens. I’ve dealt with most of the who knows what. What’s left is piles of brush and leaves and weeds. Then the plan is to build a new compost bin that will contain the mess.

Bedroom refresh

The inspiration to refresh our bedroom was the new TRUBBTÅG duvet cover from Ikea. Which appeared to be out of stock for the first half of this year. It’s finally here, and now I’m wondering what else I want to do for this room?

History

Connecting with the woman whose family first owned this farm was a very meaningful experience last year for me. Due to lockdowns, we’ve not seen each other very much, and she’s not been out to the farm yet this year. We have kept in touch and I am looking forward to learning more about this special place.

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

Progress is the theme for our Home Goals so far. Nothing is done yet. I’m not sure we’ll be completely finished any of them by the end of the year. But we’re making progress, and that makes me very happy.

It felt good to set goals at the beginning of the year. It felt like I was coming back into this part of myself that has been pushed to the background since I got pregnant, since Ellie was born, since Matt was sick.

It’s also felt good to work on these goals this year. Every day is a juggle of Ellie, work, farm, life. But the juggle has felt like a balance–of sorts–so far. I feel like I’ve made more progress this year than we have in a long time, and I’m excited to see what we accomplish over the rest of the year.

What have you been up to this year? How to you prioritize projects at your house? Are you feeling in balance? Productive? Motivated?

Quest for weed control in the vegetable garden

Our vegetable garden has been more of a miss than a hit the last few years, but I’m trying to get back in the game this year.

My first step has been prep. Years of neglect mean weeds are well-established throughout the garden. I’m not prepared to tackle the whole garden, but I’m going to try to reclaim a few areas. Rather than dig up all the weeds or till them under, I’m trying to suffocate them with mulch.

I first wrote about deep mulch gardening back in 2016. So this has been on my mind for a while.

I picked one quadrant (the others will not be planted and will be mowed or tarped), and laid down a whole bunch of cardboard.

We’ve had two bales of hay sitting beside the garden for a couple of years. I had intended to use them for mulch, but then gardening didn’t happen for a while. When the excavator was here a few weeks ago for the garage, I had him throw the bales over the fence (they had gotten too squishy for me to pick up with our tractor).

Ellie and I broke up the bales and spread the hay in a deep layer over all of the cardboard.

Between the raspberry rows, I laid more cardboard and then layers of bark that Matt’s Dad picked up when he was cleaning up some dead trees in the fenceline between the fields. They’re like really big woodchips.

It’s going to take a lot of work to get the garden back. If I’m going to have any success, I have to figure out a way to manage at least some of the weeds, and mulch is this year’s experiment. I feel like I’m already behind for this year, but I’m trying to remind myself that gardening is a multi-year undertaking.

The asparagus and rhubarb are up, though fluctuating temperatures seem to have slowed them down over the last couple of weeks (and weeds may be choking them). The grapes are alive, and I really need to figure out how I’m supposed to prune them. The raspberries look happy, including some new canes I took from Matt’s Dad last fall.

I have to dig out the weeds around the raspberries, asparagus, grapes and rhubarb. Then I’m going to try to put down more cardboard and more mulch wherever I can.

In the mulched quadrant, I’m going to plant annuals. What ones, I’m not exactly sure yet. I’m also not sure how I’m going to plant in the mulch. I may try to add soil and/or compost on top of the hay to make a raised row garden, or I may just scrape the hay back, punch through the cardboard and plant in the soil underneath.

There’s still lots to figure out, and we’re a looong way from having a thriving vegetable garden (unless you’re a weed… or a bee wearing pollen pants).

But it does feel good to be back in the dirt. And I’m glad to be trying out some of the techniques I’ve read about and thought about for a long time.

Are you planting a vegetable garden this year? Any tips for dealing with weeds? Or reclaiming a neglected garden?

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?

Goodbye grapes

Google reminded me the other day that this photo was taken a year ago.

Ellie picking grapes

First I went, “Aw. The cuteness!” And then I went, “Grapes? Really?”

I’ve been kind of casually watching our grapes, but not paying really close attention. I mostly felt that it would be awhile until they ripened.

But thanks to Google and another reminder from Instgram, I decided I should maybe go take a closer look.

When I did, I realized that even if I haven’t been paying attention, the birds have. Many of our grapes have been gobbled.

The blue Sovereign Coronations are gone. I found one and ate it myself. (Don’t tell Ellie.)

Grapes eaten by birds

The Somersets are still in the process of turning red, but it looks like as soon as one does, that grape is gobbled. I’m going to keep a closer eye, but I’m not sure how many I’ll be able to grab.

Ripening grapes

Ripening grapes

Japanese beetles are still doing a number on the leaves, though they’re wilier and fly away before I can flick them into my bucket of death.

I know netting grapes may  be an option, but that’s not something I’m prepared to do this year.

This year’s garden philosophy is see how it goes. In this instance, they’re almost gone.

But, the beauty of gardening is it comes back again next year and we get to try again.

How is your garden growing? Are you feeding any wildlife? Has harvest snuck up on any one else?

 

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?

Gardening philosophy: See how it goes

Earth Day is this week, so it seems like a good time to talk about vegetable gardens. It also seems like a lot of people are planning gardens this year. Whether it’s a desire to be more self-sufficient, or looking for an activity to keep kids busy during quarantine, or the joy that comes from watching things grow, there are a lot of up sides to gardening.

I’m not sure what our garden plans are yet. I think the best description of my philosophy is “see how it goes.”

It’s hard to overstate the mess that was the vegetable garden last year. I had high hopes of weeding at least the outer raised beds, but only made it about a quarter of the way around in the spring before I gave up.

I blame the baby.

Ellie gardening at 1 year old

One year ago this week

We spend plenty of time outside–that’s our favourite place to be–and Ellie is pretty good at amusing herself while Mama works.

But the garden ground was too uneven for her a year ago when she was still unsteady on her feet. She spent most of her time in the garden frustrated. She took two steps and tripped. She fell down and couldn’t get back up. She got caught in weeds or plants. I felt like I was torturing the baby every time I tried to work.

We both found joy when the raspberries ripened. Ellie very quickly learned that any red berries were good to eat, and I loved seeing her reach for berries one after another. She still got tangled up, but she persisted because nothing comes between this girl and her fruit.

Red raspberries

In the fall, I really, really wanted to prune the raspberries. I didn’t do it the year before (again, blame the baby), and I knew we’d have a bigger crop and easier picking experience this year if I could get it done.

Between some early mornings, naptimes, and one baby-free day, I got the raspberries done. There were major weeds, many dead canes, multiple wheelbarrow loads, a lot of careful realignment of canes behind the wire trellises, and of course my favourite furry sidekick.

Baxter laying beside the pruned row of raspberries

But they got done and they’re looking great. Seeing the new leaves sprouting on the tidy rows brings me joy.

Some asparagus is starting to poke up–maybe this will be the year we finally pick some–and the rhubarb has emerged. A sandbox has also landed in the garden. Thanks to its arrival (and some temporary pet worms), the asparagus is already weeded.

Ellie playing in her sandbox in the garden

There’s more to do, but I’m adhering to my “see-how-it-goes” philosophy. No matter what, I’m anticipating more joy this summer with our girl.

Are you planning to grow any vegetables this year? Do you garden with your kids? Any tips for keeping toddlers occupied while working outside?

 

(For anyone looking for more garden tips, Amanda at Life at Cloverhill is doing an IGTV series where she answers reader’s vegetable garden questions.)

Grapes and goodness in the garden

Red somerset grapes

We have grapes!

Three years ago I planted eight grapevines, and two years ago I added four more. Every year since then I’ve cut off any fruit that has appeared with the idea that the plants need all their energy to grow big and strong, rather than growing grapes.

This year, I let the grapes grow, and I was so thrilled back in August when they were finally ready to harvest.

Bunches of red somerset grapes on the vine

Ellie was delighted as well. Girl looooooves fruit, and grapes are a favourite.

Ellie picking grapes

It’s been so exciting to watch the grapes grow over the season. Seeing the big bunches of unripe green grapes made me feel like I’ve been doing something right.

Bunches of unripe green grapes

I have I’ve felt like I’m fumbling along with my grapes ever since I planted them. Figuring out where to plant them, how to trellis them, how to prune them, protecting them in the winter, even my decision to cut off the grapes the last couple of years were completely me winging it.

As I watched the grapes finally coming on this year, I was worried something would happen before I was able to taste them. Blight, birds, bugs. Something would get them instead of me.

But nothing happened. The grapes ripened, and they were beautiful.

Unripe and ripe grapes

In the end something did get them instead of me.

Blame it on the baby.

Ellie learned very quickly that anything purple or red in the garden was ripe for the picking. She would happily stand there and eat grapes by the bunch.

Ellie eating grapes in the garden

The flavour of the sun-warmed grapes was unmatched. They were so lovely and sweet. The pop as I bit into them, the stickiness of the juice on my hands, the sight of Ellie opening her mouth to ask for another and then the feeling of a little hand smushing a grape into my mouth in return make grapes a favourite summer memory.

Basket of sovereign coronation blue grapes

Committing a garden sin

Asparagus is a lesson in patience.

Four years ago, I laid some teeny tiny seeds in the garden and watched them sprout teeny tiny ferns.

Asparagus sprouts

My plan all along was to transplant the asparagus once it got big enough. What exactly was big enough I wasn’t sure, but this spring I thought they were probably ready. (In fact, I would have liked to do this last year, but the whole new baby thing disrupted my gardening time.)

Then I looked online for tips and everything I read said basically, “Never, never, ever, ever transplant asparagus. If you try to transplant asparagus you will be committing a massive garden sin.”

Okie-dokie. Sounds great.

I think the main concern with transplanting is delaying your asparagus harvest even further. Most of the time when people plant crowns, the recommendation is to not pick any asparagus until the second year. With starting from seed, I had read we’d have to wait four years.

We’re in our fourth spring now, so technically we could have harvested. But having grown from seed, they were very tightly spaced in two parallel rows. I wanted them to have more room to grow big and strong, so I decided to dig them all up.

Two rows of asparagus crowns

Along with dire warnings, my online research did garner a few tips. I fortified the soil with a hefty dose of compost and manure, raiding the pile that’s been behind the barn since we moved here.

Emptying the backyard composter

Digging into the manure pile

The advice on actually extracting the plants was less helpful: use a fork to gently tease the roots from the soil.

Um. No. That was not happening.

The asparagus root system is incredible. I was more than a foot away from the plants when I encountered the first thick, ropey root.

I quickly resorted to a sharp shovel. Despite my merciless hacking, I tried to save as much of the roots as possible and kept big chunks of dirt around the crowns. I consoled myself that the plants looked like they had more roots than the crowns people buy, so I was at least as good if not better than nursery stock. Plus my plants were out of the ground for less than a minute.

Asparagus crown root

I dug a deep trench and spaced the plants about a foot apart. I heaped them with soil, manure and compost and gave them a good drink. To cap it all off, I added a layer of mulch.

Watering transplanted asparagus crowns

I ended up with about 12 plants. I probably could have divided the crowns a bit more, but I didn’t want to traumatize them more than I already had. Plus, I filled the whole space I had allocated in the raised bed and was running into the grapes.

Row of asparagus crowns in raised bed

It’s been nearly a month since the transplanting. We’ve had a lot of rain and the asparagus seem to be thriving. We have some nice chunky stalks, but I’m restraining myself from picking anything.

Asparagus growing in the garden

Hopefully the patience will pay off and next year we will have our first harvest.

Have you committed any garden sins? Do you have asparagus in your garden? Or any crops that are testing your patience?

 

A baby, a cat and a peck of potatoes

Basket of potatoes

Against all odds, we have a harvest this year.

The best description for the garden this year was neglected. Back in the spring, Matt planted some potatoes. That was about the last time that we went into the garden. His parents took pity on us and weeded a few sections. But I had given up on picking anything this year.

Then one grey afternoon a few weeks ago, Matt decided to see what he could find.

Digging for potatoes

Accompanied by Ralph, the potato sniffing cat, and Ellie, the potato inspecting baby, they uncovered some bounty.

Ralph looking for potatoes

(Despite appearances, the baby is not freaked out by the potato.)

Baby admiring a freshly harvested potato

We celebrated the harvest with breakfast for dinner–complete with super fresh hashbrowns.

White and purple potatoes on the cutting board

There weren’t as many as we’ve had in past years, but there are enough for a few meals and some seed potatoes for next year. Because we’re not giving up. We will try again next year and hope that we have more potatoes than weeds this time around. Maybe we’ll put the cat and the baby to work earlier in the season next time.

Tomatillo harvest and salsa verde

Sarah has been trying for the past few years to grow tomatillos in her garden in Illinois. This year, she finally has a success story–and a recipe–to share.

I have had an ongoing battle with trying to produce tomatillos.

Two years ago I planted seeds directly into the garden and nothing broke through the ground.

Last year, I grew one beautiful plant, but I was not aware that tomatillos need two separate plants for cross-pollination.

This year I tried one more time. I made sure to plant several seeds and two came up. They grew very close together so they looked like one plant but I made very sure that there were two separate plants growing. I marked it clearly so no one accidentally clipped it with the tiller. And I waited.

The plants looked so healthy and the telltale little lanterns started sprouting from almost every branch. This is exactly what I ended up with last year but the difference is, this year I could feel little spheres filling out inside the lanterns.

I knew they were ready when they burst trough the husks.

As soon as I had a few ready I knew I wanted to make tomatillo salsa (sometimes called salsa verde). (See Sarah’s post on how she made her harvest basket.)

I found this recipe for Tomatillo Salsa Verde. This author suggests a few different ways to either roast, boil or broil the tomatillos. I chose to broil them following her steps.

I then combined all of the ingredients in my food processor.

In my first batch I used lemon juice instead of lime only because we didn’t have any on hand. The second time I used lime juice like the recipe suggested. Honestly, I really preferred the lemon juice version but both were great.

Even though the garden overall has been disappointing this year, I feel accomplished by finally having a successful tomatillo harvest. They will become a staple in my garden planning from now on.

Anyone have experience with tomatillos? Or maybe a preferred recipe to use them with?

I have zero experience with tomatillos, whether growing, cooking or eating them. I wouldn’t mind trying though. Wanna send some of that salsa my way, Sarah?