The Weeds Wait for No One

Hello, hello!

February has cruised on by, leaving us with two decent snow storms and then a series of surprisingly warm days… Today, for example, is a beautiful, cloudless day with a temperature of 52. It feels and smells like Spring, and you know it wasn’t even 10am before there was dirt under our fingernails! The weeds wait for no one, and I’ve always had the mindset that it’s never too early to get started. In fact, I feel as though I am perpetually late on weeding, and with these warm temperatures, there were weeds galore looking at me. Some of the Spring flower bulbs that I missed last fall are already coming up as well, so I went around and dug them up, too. My husband pulled off the daunting task of removing the last pachysandra patch, and then yanked an old cedar stump from the ground with our Kubota. I wasn’t optimistic about accomplishing that task before gardening season began, so I actually have no plans for the area! Now I’ll have to look at my seeds and see what I should plant there.

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Our new, freshly cleared garden space!

Of course, we still have a ton of work to do (I don’t believe a day will exist when that won’t be the case, but we like it that way!) yet it is great to be working outside already.

Our garlic is peeking up through the mulch, I hope those cloves are bulking up down under the soil! So far we are still eating our garlic harvest from last year, which is SO satisfying! We finally seemed to have zeroed in on a good number to plant to sustain our verocious garlic appetite – I would be hard pressed to name a savory dish where garlic hasn’t been used in our home!

My husband ordered our Mason bees this morning as well, I am so excited for the new adventure! If these do well, we plan on adding Leafcutter bees to our homestead next year. We are going to make our own little house for the bees, my husband is excited about the project. We are also picking up some more tubing from the hardware store today, as we started tapping maple trees. I think in a normal New England Winter, we would be right on schedule, but with these warm nights, we both are apprehensive about how this will turn out. But, we’ll give it a go and see what happens!

Some of our other projects right now include setting up and adding two more rain barrels, which will be used for watering the gardens. My husband is going to rig up the one for the chicken waterer as well. Then we are making a brooder for the 15 chicks we are receiving in June; and of course all my vegetable and herb seedlings are well under way. The tomatoes, peppers and eggplant were started at the end of Jaunary, and just made the move into the greenhouse. I now have two varieties of cucumbers, more eggplant (the first seedlings don’t look too hot), celery, broccoli, three or four medicinal herbs/flowers and strawberry spinach in the germinator. The strawberry spinach has proven difficult to grow for me, which is ironic as all I read are stories of how easy it was for other gardeners to get going. Now I can get just about anything to grow, and yet this will be third attempt with the damn plant! I wasn’t even going to bother, but I got the seed packet on clearance for $0.35, so . . .

Our daughter is nine months old today, and I can’t believe it. Where does the time go? She has been joining us in all our homestead adventures, bundled up and strapped to our backs, where she chatters and smiles incessantly. She is a baby who likes to be busy at all times… Hmm, where did she get that from, I wonder? It certainly makes every chore more of a physical work out, that’s for sure. We laugh because she enjoys the work now, from her cozy carrier! Will she still love it when she has a bucket in hand, picking up the weeds I hoe up, or when she’s stacking freshly split wood with us?  Maybe she won’t at the time, but we know how these chores are, they grow on you. You reap the benefits – from having fresh food to eat or a warm fire to sit by, to the well-defined muscles, the sun tan and freckles, and to the deep internal joy that comes from being active, living healthy and providing for yourself and your family.

I can’t help but get more excited every day for this gardening season, for all our plans and goals. While the weather is unpredictable, the garden soil needs work and the whole setup is new to us, I welcome the challenges and learning experiences ahead of us…. And yes, all those darn weeds.

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Projects, projects, projects

I know my posts have been rather sporadic and sparse lately, but I promise it is the result of much activity here, not our inactivity!

With winter fast approaching we are finishing winter preparations (mostly trying to find ways to store as much wood in the garage or basement as possible without making a mess), hunting while temperatures are still bearable, and working on those indoor projects. With the holidays basically upon us (can anyone believe Thanksgiving is NEXT week?!) I have also picked up more orders through my Etsy store, leaving my hands super busy any time my daughter isn’t in them!

I am happy to say our rhubarb wine has begun fermentation, and has been bubbling away quietly for a few days now. After three consecutive days of rain last week, I was very behind on laundry so it took a few days to catch up on that. For two of the days I had to hang laundry on, the weather was so cold that my fingers were frozen by the end of it! Our new laundry area should be done soon, and then we’ll be able to bring in a machine dryer.. Woo! Until then I think back with reverence to those generations of women who didn’t have that option! My goodness.

My husband harvested a deer this week as well, which we finished processing today and put away in the freezer. I am glad we both have had success I’m hunting this year, so we have plenty of meat now and can even make some “extras”, like sausage and jerky. One more deer would be just right, but we will have to see how the weather treats us.

Today we watched a coyote stumble around our woods and yard. She was in and out all day long, and as she looked very healthy, we were confused as to her erratic behavior, and wondered if she was sick, or just drunk as she was eating apples from the pile by the deer feed block, some of which had been fermenting in the storage bin. The most bizarre point was when I looked up to see her amidst a large flock of turkeys. I called out to my husband as I believed we were about to see her catch one for dinner; instead, we watched the turkeys chase her around, and after weaving in circles a few times, she retreated. It was absolutely bizarre!! I have ever seen anything like it.

Our bathroom-facelift project is almost complete. We plan to gut the bathroom and completely renovate it in a few years, but until we have a full vision of what we want and the funds to make it happen, we decided to simply repaint the cabinets and walls to try and freshen it up. Aside from being ugly, nothing in the bathroom went together which just made it all the more confusing to your eye: faux wicker countertop, color-speckled gray wallpaper that was peeling, a globe ceiling light and then a hanging fixture with a faux-stone cherub statue sitting on it, giant bronze flower towel racks and a blue and tan checkered linoleum floor. Yes, it was a disaster. Both of our bathrooms need updating, but this one was screaming for help.

We peeled the wallpaper, compounded and today my husband banged out all the painting on the cabinets, ceiling and countertop, while I cared for our daughter and vaccum-sealed all the venison. He also replaced all of the handles for the cabinet doors, as those were outdated too.

The globe lamp we are keeping, it isn’t that bad for now, but we are absolutely replacing the cherub one. The floor we pondered but decided to keep as I really didn’t want to waste money and time replacing it with something cheap and quick that we would only end up tearing out later. With a good scrubbing, and some new trim, I think it will be just fine.

The great part is that our little project hasn’t cost us a thing yet- we have had leftover paint from other rooms/projects to use for the cabinets and walls, and the hardware for the cabinets were leftovers from a project my in-laws did. We also have just enough pine board left from another project to do the trim, and we are keeping the giant mirror (I just love it!!) so all we will need to purchase is a new lamp for over the sink where that hideous cherub was before.

I looked around the house this afternoon, picking out some items to restage the bathroom with once the paint is dry, so I am excited to decorate it tomorrow. I found a basket or two, some cute jars (some of which we found on our property when clearing out the brush!) and a few other odds and ends that will pull the new colors together. I will post photos of the completed project when it is ready. 😊

We have done some other little projects around the house, I made some mesh snack bags for my daughter to hold for her fruit pieces (we have discovered she loves strawberries, which is amusing since I was obsessed with them during my entire pregnancy!); I made fresh applesauce for her and froze it in an icecube tray for ready-to-go portions, and finally got around to sealing all of the blocks my husband had made and dyed for her. They look really great!

We also made the best of a super warm day and cleared out all the fallen leaves, packed up the last of our outdoor furniture, tiki torches and gardening equipment, and trimmed up some trees and bushes that were hanging into our driveway.

While I know it is only mid-week, I am happy with how productive we have been, and yet we still have had plenty of time to enjoy as a family, relaxing in front of the fire; a great example of how our year has gone. The summer has fled so fast, and yet I feel we have made the best of it, even with the challenges of a new home and baby. We are stocked and ready for winter, which by all accounts will be below-average temperatures and above-average snowfall for New England this year. I think we can confidently say: bring it on! 😃

 

Garlic Planting

Monday was Columbus Day, although in our house, it is far better known as Garlic Planting Day. We have been planting our own garlic every fall for the past 3-4 years now. I am very excited and hopeful for this year’s crop, as the bulbs we received are really large in size. We have been planting the Music variety, and while we have tried others, this variety seems to produce the best for us and with almost zero clove loss.

We have 48 cloves in the garden this year, and based on their size I am looking forward to large bulbs! Music garlic has a really great, full flavor, smells so intoxicating, and stores very well.

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The great yard project finally wrapped up this week! Monday we did more clearing – picking up the last of the sticks and rocks, pulling up the roots that were poking out and raking everything smooth again. I am so glad that our four month old daughter already seems to be as much of an outdoorsman as her parents; I just slip her into a sling or carrier and get to work. She loves being on the move, we get to work on out projects, and it certainly makes for an amazing workout!

My husband had two guys come over to help cut the ground, spread seed and lay the mulched hay on top. My daughter and I drove the tractor around with all the hay piled up in the trailer as the guys walked along and threw it out. It worked really great and we had the entire 1/4 acre finished up in no time.

I have one last garden bed to clear out for the Spring, and some plants to “put to bed” once it gets a little colder, but the outdoor work is surely coming to an end! We still have some plants producing in the gardens – an heirloom tomato and fall plantings of snap peas and green beans.
We have been getting some projects done indoors as well, organizing, decorating and just settling into our new home even more. I like to do a nice deep-cleaning every Fall, similar to a standard Spring cleaning, just to get everything ready before the Winter hibernation begins. With us moving this year, there isn’t much to de-clutter at least, but I have selected some old clothes and books to donate, and we do have some boxes still unpacked in our basement.

Hunting season began for CT back on September 15th. So far we have enjoyed some fresh turkey, harvested from our own property, and a nice rabbit from a local hunting spot. I had never had rabbit before, but must say my first encounter was a delicious one! I cooked it up in a Lapin au Vin style dish that was really hearty and warming. Perfect for these cooler days!

There are plenty of projects for the winter ahead, but it is nice to have some major work completed. Now we can take a moment to relax and enjoy the view as New England’s foliage changes.

Farewell, Flower Gardens: Part Two

I know it has been a long time coming, but finally I can say my garden is void of all flowers and plants, tilled and ready for step three!

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Work hit a lull as I was caring for my daughter, who has hit a phase where she must be held it she freaks out. With progress so slow, and a having a tractor with a bucket on loan from my husbands uncle, my husband took pity on me and used the bucket to tear up the remaining 1/4 of the bed. I transplanted out a few nice plants first though- some really nice echinacea, bee balm, and some beautiful, bushy ground cover that had gorgeous red flowers. I’m not sure what kind of plant the latter is actually, I’ll have to post a photo and see if any one knows!

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I am designing pathways with all of the bricks we have from the old bed borders to make it easy for me to get in and around all my vegetables next year. We also added one if our old wine barrels as a decorative piece, as well as a table top for tools or freshly picked crops!

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The bricks are just set out for now, once I ensure I have enough for the pattern I want, I’ll make sure they are all evenly spaced and level, and then we will brush in some pea gravel or stone dust (haven’t decided which yet) to help keep weeds down and keep the path in place.

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I’m really happy with the progress so far, and I can’t wait to see all our vegetable plants in it next year!

Land Clearing Update

Hi all! Just a quick update on how our homestead project is coming along! We’ve been busy tearing up weeds, cutting down trees, removing boulders and moving soil. There is still a lot of work to be done. My work on the garden beds has slowed over the past few weeks as I care for my 2 month old daughter, but I have made progress here and there.

Today’s photos are to update you on the amazing progress my husband has been making in our yard. He’s cleared so much property, reclaiming it from the woods around us.

 

This view is directly outside our sunroom windows.  It was completely overgrown with pachysandra, had a black birch that looked terrible and was unhealthy (that’s the stump in the middle) and there were some massive rocks that had to be dug out too. Our goal for this side of the yard is to get it leveled out, and then design a fire pit with some of the large rocks.

 

This is from the top of the hill behind our house, you can see the clearing from the first photo down behind the shed. It’s an enormous space, but I feel like it always looks smaller in photographs! 

 

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Behind and to the right of the shed is the second clearing. My husband has been doing a ton of working cleaning this space up. I’ll be glad when we build a new shed and get the blue one taken down (it’s rotted out at the bottom anyway) as the shed blocks the view of the land from the house. I know once that shed has been removed, the view is going to be great, and we will be able to see how truly massive and open it all is now! 

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This is the top of the hill, and and against the stonewall in the distance is where we want to put a swing set in the next year or two, when our daughter will be old enough to enjoy it. 

Well, just a quick update this time! My husband is finishing up the major tree work in the front of the house today, I’ll post an update when I get a chance to go snap some photos!

Preserving History: Stone Walls


New England is known for many things – beautiful fall foliage, some of the best seafood in the country, and it’s picturesque stone walls. Originally used to mark property lines and divide up farm land, stone walls were a great way to use up the endless supply of rocks that make up our terrain. Nowadays, these stone walls are actually endangered; there are companies who will buy the stones to use in landscaping for driveways and other projects. Occasionally these walls are reassembled at a new site, but all too often it is simply another piece of our history that is lost.

Here on the Little Farm, we are blessed with several of these beautiful stone walls, however some are in very inconvenient locations for our homestead visions. Being the stone wall enthusiasts that we are, we will be carefully relocating the stones around our property, preserving these walls for enjoyment and use.

One small stone wall in particular happened to be right in the center of the yard, a spot we are clearing out with visions of grass and a swing set in mind. It was the perfect quantity of rocks to get a stone wall started to separate my (future!) herb garden from the lawn. My husband loaded up the stones into the tractor, and dumped them at the new location. It took us around an hour to get them lined up and stacked neatly. When building a stone wall, you want to make sure that the stones you use for the base are stable when placed; stones that wobble or sit loosely could end up toppling the entire wall over.

While our little wall needs more stones to complete it, it’s off to a great start and it’s nice to be able to preserve this important part of history. I am excited to continue removing the brush and weeds to uncover some of the other stone walls on our property, enabling us to enjoy them as part of our view. Until then, we will keep building this little wall up just like they did way back when – one stone at a time!

Farewell, Flower Gardens: Part One

To all those flower lovers out there, I warn you, turn away. This is not a post for those who dream of well cultivated, picturesque flower gardens where flowers always bloom and vases sit upon the window sill, full of the latest cuttings.


I won’t lie – I love looking at flowers, and botanical flower drawings are some of my favorites to do. However, beyond rings of marigolds around my tomato and pepper plants, I have never grown flowers that didn’t have some medicinal purpose.
The flower beds that were here when we purchased our new home are beautiful. I must give my predecessor credit, so far there has always been something in bloom, and she had a nice mix of height and colors. But some of the blooms were short lived, like all the irises that were here one day and demolished the next after a bit of rain. The remaining clumps of leaves and stalks from all the varieties of flowers is far less appealing – they’re slumped over, turning brown or are just plain ugly.

I am a vegetable gardener, that is my passion. I also enjoy growing fruit (berries, mostly – so easy!) and of course, being a master herbalist, where would I be without my dozens of herbs! That being said, over the past few weeks I have started the labor intensive project of tearing out all the flowers and ground covers, and resetting the brick borders.

Before I show you the progress I’ve made thus far, let’s look at some Before photos.


  

I started with the bed in the rear right of the yard, against the house, as this will be the spot I plant the garlic this fall. It took me two afternoons to weed, dig up bulbs, cut down a bush and remove the stump, and finally to reset all the bricks.

The next day I started on the main garden, which was more tedious, even without any bulbs to dig up. The plants making up the ground cover have such tight root systems, it took a long time to dig them all up.
  

This bed looks so much smaller than it truly is because of all the weeds and large plant bunches. When creating my diagrams for next year’s garden, I realized I have plenty of space for all of my plants. The bed is 50′ in length, and about 15′ across at it’s widest point.

I stopped working on the main bed for the next few days because my husband was working on another part of the property, and had a stone wall that we wanted to use to edge the future herb garden. He couldn’t continue his project until the stones were moved, so I made the hill a priority. I spent the next day digging up bulbs again, tearing out weeds, fending off the insane amount of ants living along the wall, and cutting a nice new edge along the grass for the stones to go.


  
I would say I’m about 1/3 of the way done with these beds so far, leaving a ton of work still to be done. I feel like I’m progressing quickly though, especially considering I take 30-90 minute breaks every 1-2 hours to nurse and play with my 2 month old daughter!

The tricky part is where to put all these weeds! We don’t have a designated spot for a compost pile yet, but these weeds are piling up fast!

Stay tuned for part two, where I hope to have these beds done and looking garden-ready!!

Firewood

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One key component that every true homestead needs is firewood. We are lucky to not only live in the woods, but also that our state is currently removing trees that pose a threat to power lines. Our road alone has a dozen large trees that are being cut down, and the majority of the wood is left behind. The residents are allowed to take it, and whatever is left behind will be cleaned up in another week or so by the city. In our neighborhood, we are certainly not the only family looking to save as much of that wood as possible, but everyone has been friendly and helpful in sharing the available trees.

Planning ahead is very important when it comes to firewood. With wood requiring time to dry and season before it is best suited for burning, especially indoors, this means you always want to be working to save wood for the following year. We were lucky that our city cut down some massive trees in a local park last year, and allowed city residents to take the logs. My husband saved quite a lot, which has had time to season and will be ready to burn this winter. We have come across some other wood that is also dry enough to help boost our supply for the current year.

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Whether it’s just for a backyard fire pit, or used to warm the house, firewood is essential and the type of wood chosen must be taken in to consideration as not just any wood will do.  When burning wood outdoors, your options are more plentiful; wood can be damp or “punky” and no one will mind the smoke as much. However it is important to choose wisely when selecting wood for burning in your wood stove or fireplace. Choosing tree types that are inefficient for burning or wood that hasn’t been seasoned properly can result in smokey fires, or wood that burns up too quickly, leaving you to burn through your supply twice as fast. Select “hard woods”, like oak, hickory, cherry and beech for burning indoors. While other wood may burn OK indoors, these hard wood varieties will burn more efficiently – lasting longer and burning cleanly – than other woods like pine or poplar will do. Save those for your fire pit!

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While collecting and splitting the wood is not a task I’ve assisted in much, having just had a baby, I can attest that my husband has been enjoying the work, as fatiguing as it can be. With all homestead “chores”, there comes a sense of appreciation and value to the work, because you are always the one to revel in the benefits. I have always loved the ache of sore muscles after a job well done, knowing that I have contributed to our garden or home.  I suppose it’s good that we love the work – we certainly have a lot more to do!

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Featured at the Homestead Bloggers Network

Our Homestead Goals

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Everyone’s idea of the perfect homestead is different, based on the things in life that are important to them. My own desires for our mini farm have changed drastically over the past few years, with the biggest changes occurring the moment I knew I was going to become a mother.

Now that our homestead and daughter are here, we’ve taken a look at our current goals and dreams to decide how we want our homestead to look. I expect we will continue to grow and change the vision in our heads as we undertake each project and time passes, but I want to outline some of the key goals we have in mind now as these will inevitably be the topic of the upcoming Creating Our Homestead mini series posts.

  1. Clear out all the overgrown bushes and weeds
  2. Remove sick and dead trees from our property
  3. Remove all the flowers and decorative plants from the rear garden beds to make room for our vegetables and herbs
  4. Start a mini “orchard” with blackberries, raspberries, golden raspberries as well as peach trees and apple trees
  5. Tear down the old shed in our backyard
  6. Build a new shed farther back in our property for lawn and gardening equipment
  7. Set up two rainwater catching systems – one for our chickens’ waterer, and the other to save water for the garden
  8. Start beekeeping
  9. Tear out all the weeds and redesign our front walkway garden beds with medicinal herbs and flowers
  10. Collect and prepare 5 years worth of firewood
  11. Build a small barn in the front of our property for the larger farm equipment and machinery; with a separate room for processing deer and poultry

These goals are things we would like to achieve in the next 1-2 years, although the barn may be a project that waits longer than that. Some of our other goals that are farther off include renovating our 1.5 bathrooms, replacing our back deck, planting grape vines for wine production, and raising more chickens for meat with the idea of possibly raising some pheasants as well.

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