Posts Tagged ‘gardening’

Yesterday was the first day that really felt like spring.  There have been several warm-ish days recently, but most of them were really gloomy and overcast, or even raining.  Yesterday, there was sun, and it was lovely.  We all spent the afternoon puttering outside, in our shirtsleeves, finally!

Splashing in Shirtsleeves!

M enjoying the warm weather and puddles.


Spring is the dingiest time here on the acreage, though.  Between the mud on the kids and the mud on the dogs, the house is never clean.  Melting snow reveals all sorts of garbage that has somehow collected over the winter, as well as all the fallen and broken branches taken down by wind and snow.  Things need picking up and organizing.


The sandbox, and a lot of leaves that need cleaning up!


I dug out my pruning shears and cut back several shrubs, while the kids picked up garbage, and Trevor (Hubby) cleaned up old leaves that had collected in the strawberry beds and strung fence around the grapes to keep the dogs from digging them up.   Cherry the mastiff passed away last spring, and we got another rescue mastiff about a month later; Brutus is a great pet, but it turns out he likes to dig, especially around the foundation of the house, which is a bit of a pain, and we need to figure out ways to discourage that.


Our ‘new’ mastiff

Dog holes

Brutus’ digging is a bit of a problem.

On the bright side, my chives are up already!  In the south bed, they are up several inches, and very green; in the east bed, they are shorter and yellow-er, but they are up there, too.  We got these plants from my Mom, when she was dividing her own clumps; all three of them have thrived, which is great, because there’s something special about fresh chives in your scrambled eggs, and with the increased daylight, the hens will be kicking it into high gear soon, and we’ll be eating egg everything shortly.


The chives on the east side of the house – less growth, but more photogenic, out of the afternoon sun!

It’s kind of exciting to be thinking about planting things again.  I spent my evening planting my seed starts – we’ll plant them out in the garden in the last week of May and first week of June.  I am trying something new this year – I desperately want to grow melons, but in zone 2, it has proven difficult (impossible, so far).  I know some people here are growing cantaloupes in high tunnels, but I haven’t had any luck with any melon so far.  Part of the issue is the short season, and melons don’t appreciate transplanting; it is not generally recommended to start the seeds at all, and especially not more than a couple of weeks before planting out.  However, I don’t think that gives them enough hot days to set and ripen fruit.  This year, I’ve planted half a dozen melons in 2 liter (2 quart) pots, in the hopes that they won’t get root bound in the 6-8 weeks before our last frost date.   We’ll see if it works or not!


Meanwhile, we’ve got tons more pruning to do.

Valiant grape in need of pruning

This Valiant grape (still dormant) is desperately in need of pruning!

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Spring is coming.  No, really, it is.


spring flowers

With the weather forecast to finally come up to around the melting point, after months of -30, the announcers on the radio were all talking about people planning their gardens.


I planned my garden in December, and ordered my seeds in January.


The rural life encourages long-term thinking and planning, I think.


If you want eggs in November, you need to order the chicks in February, plan and build your coop and run in April, collect your day-old chicks in May, feed and protect them through the summer, and butcher your excess roosters in October.


chick in the grass


If you want carrots in November, you need to plan the garden in winter, order seeds before May, plant in spring, weed all summer, harvest in September, and monitor the root cellar through the winter.


carrot harvest

If you want goat kids (or milk) in May, you have to plan your breeding the January prior, reserve a buck, get the buck in February or March, raise the buck through the summer, order enough hay in June for all your spring kids and mommas, breed in November, and feed and monitor through the winter.


aurora the goat kid

Every year, we’re planning next year’s kids, or chickens, or garden.  We assess what’s working, and make notes about what to do differently next year.  We budget our money and our time, and make breeding, planting, and construction plans based on when we think we’ll have enough of each to get our projects done (though we’re almost always over-ambitious with both).  We think months, seasons, even decades down the road!  We planned our work for this spring, summer, and fall, last summer and fall, knowing we’ll have less time and energy than usual with the new baby.  We made our planting and breeding plans accordingly.  While I’m sure there are folks just starting to think about their gardens now that the weather is starting to turn, we’re way past that stage…we’ve got the seeds in the basement, the garden map figured out, and the seed-starting stuff will be coming out of storage soon to sprout the early tomatoes…


…because spring IS coming soon, you know!


honeysuckle flowers

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I just read an article from Slate about how the ‘Do What You Love’ mantra devalues actual work, as well as entire socioeconomic classes of people who do the dirty and unloveable, but so very necessary, jobs that keep society running.  You know, the shelf-stockers, hospital janitors, and farm laborers of the world.  It was an interesting perspective, and one that makes sense to me, though I had never considered that particular angle before.


I have the sort of job that lots of people covet.  I have my own office, work (fairly) predictable hours, and get paid quite well.  I get benefits – good ones, like paid sick time, a pension, and four weeks’ vacation.  My work is challenging, has creative elements, and often is under minimal supervision.   Sounds dreamy, right?




Well, it has its challenges, too.  I carry a great deal of responsibility, including a threat of lawsuits and other legal action, or even people being hurt or killed if I make a poor recommendation or fail to consider all of the information in a case.  My clientele is difficult at best, and the physical work environment ranges from depressing to dangerous.


I don’t love my job, though many of my colleagues do.  But you know what?  I think that’s okay.  I strive to do a good job of the things that are required of me, and I recognize that the structure of a work week is good for my mental health.   I’m grateful to have a secure job that pays well, and I do truly enjoy my colleagues, who are a smart and funny bunch.  I may not love my job, but I’m committed to it, and I do get gratification from writing that stellar report, overcoming challenges, or meeting that super-tight surprise deadline.


There are lots of things that I do really love, things I am good at, and could marshal into a business or career if I wanted to.  Travel writer, portrait photographer or pet portrait photographer, market gardener…there are things I love so much that I do them for free, or even pay for the opportunity to enjoy them.   Here’s the thing, though:  I think they would become work if I had to do these things day in and day out, for my living.  I could see dreading ‘yet another trip’ if I didn’t get to stay home when I wanted to.  Some days, I don’t feel inspired to pull out the camera, but leaving it in the closet wouldn’t be an option if that was paying the mortgage.   I don’t know how long I would continue loving those hobbies if I were forced into them, day in, day out.   It seems to work for some people, but I don’t think it would do it for me.


cat portrait


The other issue is money.  The job I have pays in a way that small-town photography or one-family market gardens just don’t.  It pays enough to enjoy all of my hobbies, and gives me enough time off to pursue those things.   As a market gardener, I doubt I would have the time or the money to travel overseas.  As a travel writer, I’d never be home to plant or tend the garden.


temple restoration, Egypt


As it is, I do lots of different things that I enjoy immensely – blogging, photography, gardening, travel, canning, mentoring…the list goes on and on.  I DO do what I love.  All the time.  I just don’t get paid for it, and I do a job I don’t love in order to have the time and money to do the rest.  It’s really not a bad compromise, as far as these things go.  I am happy with the lifestyle I have, and wouldn’t trade it, even for a job I loved.  It’s just not necessary.


squash harvest


So I’d say go ahead and do what you love, but maybe recognize you don’t always have to get paid for it.


Eiffel Tower at night

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One of the very few successes in our garden this year was the soup beans.  Hubby weeded them thoroughly early-on, and the plants were well-established by the time we gave up on the garden and abandoned it to the thistles.  We planted seven rows, approximately 40 feet long (each), which, if i recall correctly, took a couple pounds of seed beans, altogether.  We planted three rows of Jacob’s Cattle heirloom beans, and two rows each of Light Red Kidney and Black Turtle.


black turtle beans


The Jacob’s Cattle and Red Kidney beans are listed with a fairly short growing season – 90 days, I think, while the Black Turtle beans indicated they needed 110 days.  It really showed.  When we harvested, the day after the first frost, the Black Turtle pods were still green and pliable; the other types had brittle, dried-up pods. 


I pulled the pods from the plants, and laid them out on a sheet on top of one of the freezers to dry, but apparently they were too bunched up, or had poor air flow, or something, as many of the pods got moldy. 


moldy black turtle bean pods

They should have been nice and pale gold, like the others…


nice black turtle bean pods


Now, I am shelling the beans, and I am finding the Black Turtle beans smaller than I expected, and many of the pods are poorly filled.  While there were lots of pods per plant, they just didn’t have time to fill out properly, so the yield is low.  It’s still worth shelling them out, but I don’t think I will plant them here again; that garden real estate could be better used by something that is appropriate to our growing season and climate.  I just had to try, though!


shelling the black turtle beans

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I took the day off work today, because I have some planting to do.  Not my usual trees and berry bushes, though; today, it’s bulbs.  Several hundred of them, as a matter of fact.



When the brightly-colored fall bulb catalogs came a couple of months ago, I was entranced, as usual, with all the bright colors and pretty flowers.  I made up a wish list, and I had a lot of wishes!  I hemmed and hawed for a long time, since I thought maybe that money would be better spent on more practical things, like hedging trees to replace the ones that came down in last year’s storm.   When I added up all my wishes, though, it wasn’t really that expensive, and they had a really good sale on bulk orders, so I could actually afford to get most of what I wanted.   In the end, I decided that if I was that enticed by the catalog pictures, maybe beauty really did matter, too.


flower bulb catalogs

In the end, I ordered bulk quantities of a few types of bulb – mixed-color snow crocuses, primarily, but also a bunch of little purple muscari, some daffodils and lilies of the valley, a few English bluebells, and assortments of daylilies and irises.  Plus, a few other odds and ends, because…well, you know.   Of course, after I made my order, several friends decided to divide daylilies, someone dug up a bucket of lily bulbs to give away, and my mother in law showed up for a visit with a collection of plants, as well.  The acreage will be a riot of color next summer!


I can actually even justify what (in my mind) could be seen as a frivolous expense.  Bees and butterflies need to eat, too, and feeding the pollenators brings a net advantage to our garden.  I’ve ordered mostly spring bulbs, for now, but some of the new plants will flower all summer, and will feed birds, bees, and butterflies, all of which we are happy to have around here.  In the end, it didn’t take much justifying, and, of course, Hubby was happy enough to support the project, as long as it wouldn’t break the bank.  Five hundred bulbs makes for a lot of digging, though.


handful of bulbs

I am excited to see what comes up next spring!

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In organic gardening, a trap crop is used to lure pest bugs away from your cash crop, or edible vegetables.  For instance, nasturtiums attract aphids, keeping those aphids from doing damage to beans and spinach.   We use trap crops sometimes, here, but we haven’t had heavy pest loads, and are therefore reluctant to use the space for planted trap crops, when the hedges and fields nearby seen to host sufficient predators to keep our garden pests mostly under control.


However, our garden is in one corner of a farmer’s field.  A conventional farmer, who periodically sprays fertilizer and Roundup and who-knows-what else.   Stuff I am pretty sure I don’t want on my beans and potatoes.  Stuff I don’t want to eat or to feed to Baby M.


So we make space at the edge of the garden for a double row of sunflowers.  Black oil sunflowers, that grow really tall, really fast.  They’re cheap – I bought a five-pound bag of them, labeled as bird seed, and planted them; they grow just fine.  And, should the farmer decide to spray on a day that is not perfectly calm, those cheap sunflowers will ‘trap’ the nasty gunk, and keep my carrots more-or-less organic.   Plus, they attract all sorts of good bugs and birds into my garden, helping keep the pests down.   They add a cheerful, pretty note to the garden, too!




I spent my morning planting sunflowers, in case anyone was wondering!

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Other kids get a play pen.  Actually, Baby M has two of those.  One for inside in the living room (which he mostly only sleeps in now), and one for the barn (which got taken over by baby goats, and stinks).  However, they don’t suffice.


You see, doing barn chores, or yard work, or really anything at all with an eleven-month-old in tow is basically impossible.  He wants to be held.  If he isn’t being held, he wants to explore.  He “helps”.  Baby M throws down anything you pick up.  He scatters piles.  He screams and scares the goats.  He pinches.  He puts things in his mouth that are not strictly edible.  Or that are just disgusting.  His clothes get filthy.  And so forth.


However, the work does not stop just because there’s a baby on the farm.  We managed for the first ten months by trading off – I would supervise Baby M while Hubby shoveled, for instance, then Hubby would parent while I did evening chores.  That was mostly functional for the day-to-day stuff, and my Dad and Step-Mom would occasionally come out and help for the two (or more) person jobs that we couldn’t manage anymore, like vaccination and tattooing.  Occasionally frustrating, but the necessary stuff got accomplished.


Then I went back to work.


And yard work season hit; spring finally arrived.


Now, we still trade off for chores, and for evening-and-weekend stuff like mowing grass and pruning trees.  However, there’s a lot to be done that just won’t fit into my before-and-after-work hours.  And somebody has to do it, baby or no baby.  So we built the Hay Pen.


Hay Pen 1


The Hay Pen is sort of like a play pen…but completely different.  We made a perimeter of hay bales around a relatively clean bit of ground in the barn, out of the way, but still in sight of the places we would tend to be when we were, say, milking goats or feeding bottle kids.  This has the added advantage of freeing up two adults for dealing with worming, vaccinations, disbudding, and such.  Luckily, Baby M seems to like the Hay Pen, especially when Molly Underfoot the barn cat comes to play.  Baby M does not, however, like the baby goats, who jump on the bales and nip M’s ears.


There may eventually be hay pens all over the yard.  There needs to be one behind the barn, where Hubby will be putting the squash this year, and one in the big garden.  Hubby is contemplating one in the back yard, too, so he can prune trees, rake grass, and pick strawberries without having to pay too much attention to Baby M.   We have a big garden wagon hat Baby M could hang out in, but he always wants to stand up, but the sides are too low for that to be safe.  With all the thistles and nettles in the grass, a blanket on the ground isn’t really ideal, either.   In the Hay Pen, Baby M can pull himself up on the hay bales, and cruise around quite quickly; he’s beginning to walk, too, so he’ll have a safe space to practice that as well.  Being made of old bales, we can make the pens as large as we like; even two or three bales to a side, if that’s how much space M needs to be happy.  Meanwhile, Molly Underfoot always seems to gravitate to where the baby is, and seems very tolerant of M’s less-than-gentle attentions, so she will provide hours and hours of entertainment, I’m sure…


Hay Pen 2





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Well, spring is (supposedly) coming.  Despite the two-plus feet of snow still on our yard, we’re getting ready.  Getting ready for spring, getting ready to garden, getting ready for baby goats.  Getting ready for me to go back to work.


I go back to work in about ten days.  I’m actually looking forward to it – it’ll be nice to do things that stay done.  Laundry and dishes and cooking and picking up baby toys seems like a treadmill of just getting one finished, and having to start from scratch with one (or all) of the others – it never ends.  However, a report, once written, is done.  You can move on to the next task.  I can tidy my office, and expect it to stay that way.  I will miss the rather more leisurely pace of the days, and of course, I love being able to spend time with Hubby and Baby M, but there are advantages to this working business, too.


We’ve started a couple hundred plants for the garden, beginning back in February, with the artichokes, and planting more every couple-few weeks.  This year, I’ve tried to stick more closely with the stuff we know we like, and do a bit less experimenting, so at the moment, we’ve mostly got artichokes, tomatoes, and peppers.   I started a few pots of herbs, as well.  This year, I decided I wanted to plant more flowers, just because.  Because I like pretty things, because they attract hummingbirds and butterflies, because we don’t always have to be strictly practical.  I’ve got pansies, zinnias, rudbeckia, calendula, delphiniums…no real plan, but a mish-mash of things that appealed to me.  Some will go in pots by the back door, some in a dedicated flower bed, and some will undoubtedly be tucked here and there among the tomatoes that I plant along the south and east walls of the house.  I’m looking forward to the planting!  In the meantime, I still have squash, melons, and cukes to start; I’ll probably sit down and get that done this weekend, or maybe next.  I don’t want to start them too early, especially with the melt being so late.


Two of the three pregnant does are due any day now.  Saffron is about the size of a bus, but it doesn’t stop her from jumping up on the old hay bales we’ve stacked along the cold wall of the maternity stall, to stop drafts.   Skye is smaller than Saffron, but is still developing a bit of a waddle.  Missy is hardly looking pregnant compared to the other two, but she could have been bred up to a month later, so it’s not that shocking.  I think Sky was bred first, but I’d put my money on Saffron having her kid(s) first.  We’re making special trips out to the barn every couple of hours, now, just out of anticipation.  The three bottle babies that I brought back from Alberta are appreciating the extra attention, as are the cats.  We’ve located and gathered all our ‘kid contingency’ stuff – extra bottles and nipples, colostrum replacer, towels, rubber gloves, and the like.   None of our goats has had major problems kidding so far (besides their habit of dropping kids in snowbanks, which the maternity stall should solve), but it’s bound to happen sooner or later, and we’d like to be prepared.


While we’re waiting for overly-cute newborn goat pictures, here are a few of the also-very-cute Alberta bottle babies:


baby Splash



Alberta baby



baby Alyssum

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It’s April 7th today, theoretically six weeks from last frost.  The three feet of snow on my lawn (plus the inch that fell yesterday) suggest that my plans to plant the main garden on Victoria Day are more than a little optimistic.  It’s -7 Celsius, with no day forecast to be above freezing until the end of next week, at the earliest.  Bleh.


I started artichokes in February, twelve weeks from last frost.  They’re a couple of inches tall, now, contributing to the living room jungle.   My permanent windowsill herbs have gone a little nuts; there is a brief span, spring and fall, when the sun is strong enough to really get them growing, and still low enough in the sky to shine directly in the south window.   My scheffelara has grown a foot in the last few weeks.


seed starts


I sat down this afternoon with a bag of dirt and a bag of seeds.  The result is an inability to find my kitchen table.  Again.  Today’s focus was mostly herbs and flowers; I decided not to pot up any more tomatoes until it looks like spring might actually come, as they do seem to get leggy if I start them too soon.  But we’ve got flats of calendula, zinnia, rudbeckia, pansies, dianthus, and basil on the go, now.  Potential beauty, beautiful potential, right there in my kitchen.  Planting seeds feels like such a hopeful thing to do; an act in defiance of this apparently never-ending winter…



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Garden Porn

Well, it’s that time of year again – the dead of winter doldrums have hit, so the seed companies take advantage by sending out their brightly-colored little catalogs of garden porn.  Naked seeds, laying suggestively on colorful cloths, dirty carrots, blushing tomatoes…the pictures on those shiny pages are enough to make any gardener shiver.  And covet.  And spend far more money than was strictly necessary, on things that there isn’t necessarily enough space for in the garden…yet…


Seed Catalogs


I always spend hours pouring over these catalogs, wanting.  Wanting to try all the different varieties, wanting to see how they grow, how they taste, what they really look like in my garden.  I have discovered that most of these things aren’t really suitable for neglectful gardeners in zone 2 dryland, where even hardy tomatoes and peppers and melons need a lot of watering and covering and coddling.  It does not seem to stop me, however.


This year, I am trying a new tactic to combat over-spending on seeds.  I wrote out a list of every vegetable we actually eat, then allowed myself to order a couple or three varieties of each of those.  I’m getting two kinds of beet, for instance (Cylindra, and some golden variety, though I have not yet decided which one).  I’ll get three types of dry bean, maybe four (Jacob’s Cattle, Red Kidney, Black Turtle, and maybe a Maine Yellow Eye), and two types of wax bean.  We already know which varieties of peas, carrots, wax beans, turnips, and onions we like, so those are easy.  I am debating about whether to try hybrids for cucumber, summer squash, and broccoli; we have not had as good of luck with these as I would have liked.  I am totally stuck when it comes to squash, though; even if I allow myself two types of pumpkin and three other winter squash varieties, I can’t narrow it down to that.  I love squash so much, and it’s a go-to storage veggie for us, so I might just get one of everything!


For the things we have never tried (kohlrabi), that are marginal (artichokes), and ones we’ve never had any luck with (melons), I am setting a ‘fun budget’.  This is a budget of money, but also a budget of garden space.  While we have more room than we will ever need for gardens, there is only so much space Hubby can actually manage to keep weeded, watered, and picked, so we’re in heavy negotiations over what is reasonable, and what is completely crazy.   Anything we agree on will still probably be overly ambitious, as we’re both total optimists about the garden, but maybe we can pare back a bit from the 8,000-plus square foot (literally!) monster that we began with.   Of course, I’m still looking at two types of artichoke, several melons, a couple of novelty gourds, and so forth; ‘restraint’ is kind of relative…


We are also looking at trying some new tactics with the gardens.  The main bed is currently located a long ways from the house, past two hedges, and through a large patch of grass that will hopefully be fenced off and turned into goat field sometime soon.  It is not very accessible, and it’s out of sight, which means we forget to weed and water as often as we should.  We want to move the garden to a more obvious and accessible location, though we don’t have any place close to the house that is big enough.  What we hope to do is plow up as many as four new beds, in various places between the house and the barn, and near the barn, where we are more likely to weed/water/pick, because we will be seeing them more frequently.  As well, this would resolve the issue of how to juggle garden duties with caring for Baby M; the new locations would be near shady protected spots where a baby could be parked in a play pen, rather than being out in a hot, exposed, windy open field.  We will have to wait for the snow to melt in order to measure up the patches, but we think we’ve found enough places to make this work.


So back to the picture-circling for me…I’m sure in two months I’ll be complaining about where to put all my seed starts, but the looking and wishing and choosing sure is fun!

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