It’s always calmest before the beheading

Despite weather forecasts to the contrary, we were blessed with another lovely weekend at Northbrook.  We even arrived to find that the pool had been opened by the kind pool people (we had hoped they’d fit us in but we weren’t sure).  The kids were thrilled until they attempted to swim in it.  The WorkHorse was on deck for the inaugural swim (I was working on the Obsession) so I didn’t see their faces initially but I definitely heard the screams!  Let’s just say the swimming was extremely limited given the frigid temperatures.

Since we didn’t have guests or too much to do, the weekend was dedicated fairly intensely to the garden.  I’ve discovered that even when I’m not doing much I can still fritter away huge amounts of time in the garden.  For starters, there are the weeds.  The weeds are hard to describe.  As our girl describes it, ‘even when you’ve pulled out tons, there always seem to be more’.  She’s right.  This past week I read a great quote on a blog, “The best fertilizer is the gardener’s shadow”.  I love that and feel sure it’s true.  But what to do when you’re only at the garden’s location two days a week?  Like motherhood, the garden seems to provide lots of opportunities for guilt and self-doubt.  And like with my children, I’m madly in love with my garden despite it’s imperfections.

The final seedlings and seeds were planted this weekend.  In went Gloria’s wonderful tomato plants, on some nifty teepee trellises we rigged up using copper tubing and lovely terracotta finials.  I also planted the pumpkins, zucchini and corn.  And remember those watermelon plants that wouldn’t come up?  Well they did in the end, so they went into the garden too.  I’m not all that optimistic about the watermelons since every thing I’ve read about growing watermelons seems to suggest it shouldn’t be undertaken by the new gardener, but what the heck, it’s worth a try.  It’s all looking quite lovely at the moment.  Here’s the garden….

You can see the pumpkin and watermelon bed just beyond the pretty but beat-up chair I rescued from the city neighbour’s garbage and am using as a planter for edible flowers.  On the other side of the fence, on your left, is the corn bed.  Turns out you’ve got to plant at least 4 rows of corn to allow for pollination – we’ve got five, so fingers crossed we’ll get some corn.  I know for certain that the racoons will get most everything we grow, but I’d still like to see what we can get.

We did get to have our very first food from the garden this weekend.  What joy!  We snipped the outer leaves from the arugula and lettuce mix and added the thinnings from the buttercruch lettuce to the bowl.  To that we added some radishes plucked from the girl’s section of the garden.  I tried to replicate a simple vinaigrette the WorkHorse and I enjoyed on a rare dinner out in the city this week.  I asked after the recipe and was told to use plain white vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon zest.  I did, and our salad was delicious, although it may just have been the taste of our first success.

So things were looking pretty good up at the farm this weekend.  The flowers are beautiful, it’s peaceful and quiet.

and then came the beheading.

But first, a little back story.  Last week I was fretting here about my parsley.  I had planted it a month ago and had seen not one scrap of evidence that anything was coming up.  I actually want to eat parsley, so I’m keen to see it thrive in the garden.  When we arrived at Northbrook on Friday night I was reading a gardening book and was relieved to learn that parsley can take 3-5 weeks to germinate.  Then, on closer inspection on Saturday morning, I was positively delighted to find a very tidy row of nicely spaced teeny tiny parsley seedlings.  I was so excited about this that I showed/bored all of the members of my family my newest discovery.

The following day, the kids happened upon me in the garden and one of them (I’m not naming names here) picked up the small pair of scissors I was using to thin some beet seedlings.  This child announced that they were snipping off the weeds.  Since they’ve both weeded with me and asked whenever they were in doubt between weed and seedling, I wasn’t paying much attention, other than to suggest that weeds should be pulled from the root rather than snipped.  When I looked up, I found to my horror that my entire row of parsley seedlings had been brutally decapitated.  The realization of the error brought about quite an unpleasant moment.  The child was mortified, the mother equally so.  While I wanted to comfort the distraught child, I found I needed a few moments alone to deal with this first garden massacre.  I’m sure there will be other incidents, but I hope none are as gory!  I can still see their little tiny parsley heads lying in the dirt!  I semi-recovered and planted seeds over the old ones, and around 4 or 5 weeks from now I hope to be back where I started.

In other learnings, I realized I’m WAY overwatering the garden.  I can’t even tell you by how much.  I cut the watering in half, but I think I should probably cut it in half again.  That’s how much I’ve been overwatering.  I’m like a new mum, thinking that more food, more of everything is better.  I should know better – the ‘more food’ I kept offering my oldest just resulted in a tummy ache and tired baby and mother.  I’m hoping I’ve caught my mistake early enough to avoid any real trauma, but time will tell.

While I can’t wait to get back to the farm, I’ve got renovations in my city garden keeping me distracted this week.  I’ll post some before and after pics when I’ve got them.  Here’s wishing you a great week and happy obsessing over whatever you most like to obsess about.


Vegetable Garden, Week 4: Small signs of promise mixed with early regret

Northbrook continues to be at it’s most glorious.  Who knew that May was where it’s at for life at the farm?   It was a stunningly perfect long weekend, and we didn’t waste a moment.  We began with a trip to Springbreak Farm to pick up the reserved tomato plants.  There we met Gloria, who knows all things gardening and who was kind enough to share some words of wisdom with us.  A lovely man who may have been Gloria’s husband congratulated us on starting a vegetable garden and then fed us mustard greens from one of the greenhouses.  Best of all, Gloria offered to answer any questions I may have, and I’ll bet a few things will come up!  Gloria told us to wait a week or two before putting Mr. Stripey and his friends into the garden.  I’ll take her word for it.

On the drive back to our place, we turned down a country road and stumbled upon an auction taking place in someone’s front yard.  There are all kinds of auctions and estate sales in farm country, but we’ve never bumped into one before.  We pulled up and found about 300 people, most of whom were Amish, bidding, eating, relaxing, socializing and generally having a great time.  As it turned out, we were at the home of Leroy, the gentleman who sells us all kinds of wonderful things at the local Saturday morning livestock auction.  Our boy is enamored with the homemade sausages, I like the veggies, and our girl and the WorkHorse love the baked goods.  Everybody wins.  One of the best meals we ate last summer included beets right out of Leroy’s garden which we enjoyed with some goat cheese – perfection.  The auction was a remarkable experience.  For starters, I found the most beautiful window (I’ve been looking for one to make into a mirror for the upstairs hallway – but I want something gritty and authentic – this was the one), or so I thought.  The auction ladies thought it might go for $10 or $20, a price that sounded good to me.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one who thought it was pretty cool, and it went for $270, not to me!  I’m way too cheap for that kind of price range.  But what was really special was being allowed to crash an Amish party.  Growing up near Mennonite country I’ve always seen people in buggies, women in bonnets and boys with hats and suspenders.  But I’d never been up close and personal on their turf.  We ate hamburgers and hotdogs served by the young women out of woodstoves.  The WorkHorse had some delicious cherry pie.  We saw girls in full-on Laura Ingalls garb sliding down an old metal slide, boys in suspenders jumping on a trampoline, and three tiny adorable brothers in identical clothing, right down to their perfect straw hats.  It really was something to see.  Oddly enough, our kids didn’t bat an eye.  Either they have been thoroughly exposed to many different cultures or they were right out of it that day, because it was a one-time only kind of experience.

Later that day my BFF and her kids joined us for fun and frivolities.  We kicked off campfire season and scarfed down 2012’s first smores (a lot of bug spray was involved).  Sunday the WorkHorse raced his bike and I did something I hadn’t done in about 2 months – nothing at all.  It was wonderful.  I made a great shrimp, tomato and watermelon salad for dinner as well as some flank steak and asparagus. After dinner the kids watched a movie and worked hard to stay awake until after dark for Victoria Day fireworks.  Several of the kids had never seen fireworks and the WorkHorse had gone all out – so a good time was had by all!

After our guests left on Monday we got back to work.  The pumpkin and watermelon bed was filled in and the corn bed was dug and filled in.  I obsessed over the gaps in my garden and discovered that most of the peas I planted have mysteriously disappeared.  While I know it’s much too late, I couldn’t resist putting a few more in.  I also filled in some gaps in my beets and did endless weeding, although I haven’t made a dent it in.  While I love seeing signs of life from the garden (the potatoes, kale, onions and lettuces continue to look happy enough) I am definitely fretting some of my decisions and techniques.  For example, where is the parsley for goodness sake???  And why are there only 4 spinach plants coming up? Also, I realized with a sinking feeling that I should have planted the carrots with the rest of the early veggies.  I listened to the advice of a gardening book which told me to wait, but apparently the carrots are quite late to the party now.  Then, when I planted them, I’m fairly sure I planted them too deep.  I’m learning that there is a disconnect between what the gardening books say and what is written on the back of the seed packet.  But which is correct?  I expect to be thoroughly schooled in these finer points over the next few years!  I have to admit that I do worry quite a bit about the veggies, even when I’m in the city.

Elsewhere around the farm the gardens are looking really lovely.  The irises are out and are splendid.  The clematis showed itself for the first time and even the scraggly poppies are showing a bud or two. Here are some pics from Northbrook on the May long weekend.

Rounding out the weekend, our neighbour Gary popped by just before we left and brought us asparagus he had just cut from his garden.  Nothing could have been more inspirational – just what my garden angst needed.  The spears are about 14 inches long!  We’ll be enjoying this asparagus all week!  Until next weekend, have a happy week!

Willoughby Weekend

This being our first May at Northbrook, I was unprepared for the sheer loveliness of it.  It was one of those perfect spring weekends, and it reminded me of the kind of May weather you read about in Jane Austen novels.  You know, where on a fine day Marianne and her sister walk into the neighbouring village and bump into Willoughby on the way.  That’s right, not only was it perfect at the farm, it was Jane Austen perfect.  But don’t take my word for it..

All of that being said, there wasn’t much time to gaze out at the view.  For what feels like the 7th weekend in a row we were hard at work.  The WorkHorse spent about 4 hours cutting the grass, by which I mean dandelions.  All I can say is that it’s a shame there’s no money in dandelions, because we are growing prize-winning specimens at Northbrook.  Some of them look like mums!  And they are persistent!  We enjoyed about 12 hours of lovely tidy grass before they popped their yellow heads back up.

Other than grass cutting, we were back at the gardening very hard.  If I’m being honest, I was becoming a bit overwhelmed by the non-vegetable gardening.  You know I’ve been working on the beds around the house, but the state of the area around the pool was starting to make me panic.  What to do?  I called in the experts.  My dad. a workhorse in his own right and the Master Gardener came up for the weekend, with their lovely dog Finn and worked miracles.  I would have taken a ‘before’ picture, but I actually felt stressed out even going back there.  It was a pile of neglected plants among weeds, and it wasn’t pretty.  In a few short hours the dynamic duo created defined beds with healthy plants and improved soil.  I’m incredibly relieved and grateful.

I couldn’t resist buying a Lupin for this area.  I’ve always loved them but have never had space for one.  Look at what the rain did to this beauty overnight – it’s like a perfect jewel.

Elsewhere around the farm progress continued.  We put up the hummingbird feeder after a hummingbird narrowly missed my head zipping by early Saturday morning!  The WorkHorse took even more off the lilac bushes after the disappointing show we’ve had this year.  I finished the mulch around the house, added some more ferns to the woodland bed, and continued vegetable planting.  Want to see a bit of the veggie progress? Here’s what going on with the radishes, lettuce mix and arugula.  There are signs of happiness coming from the potatoes, head lettuce, kale, onions and peas as well.  It’s hard to be patient.  I can’t wait to see what will be.

The crappy shed bed was planted with sunflowers and cosmos.  We liberated these old barrels from the in-laws basement and are planting edible flowers and chard in the top of them.  I admit that I’ve wondered if I shouldn’t just fill a few things with flowers from the garden center, because it’s going to be a while until we see anything here.

The city week is demanding my attention so I’ll just leave you with a few images.  Here are some very early strawberries and the apple tree in blossom.  Until next weekend…


I was up before the sun this morning.  I can never resist the morning here.  The sunrise is beautiful, but I usually sit and have my tea on the west-facing front porch.  The light is perfect, the air is fresh and the birds are making such a racket that I have to laugh.  I’m not sure if there is anywhere more perfect to be this morning than at our farm.

I’ve come in to whip up a last-minute batch of cupcakes.  The kids and I have made this stegosaurus cake for my dino-mad niece’s 3rd birthday party today.  I also made a batch of cupcakes because this is a big party, but the batch came up shorter than I’d like.  So, to ease my anxiety (I’m habitually worried I won’t have enough food for guests, although it has never happened) I’m going to attempt a half-batch of early morning cupcakes. But first, the rest of my tea and my blog for a moment…

It’s another half-weekend for us, but I’m hoping this weekend ends the long streak of them, especially with so much to do around here.  The WorkHorse is away, joyfully riding his bike for a week, so I was on deck for all things house and yard this weekend.  We arrived on Friday and stopped in for dinner at the Silver Spurs.  I was seriously disappointed to find that they’d changed their perfect hamburgers to frozen.  Why would anyone do that?  Actually, I know why because I asked.  Apparently people hadn’t liked the flavour of the homemade burgers.  I think this is because people have forgotten what a hamburger tastes like when it’s made from real meat.  People have come to expect the fatty processed frozen flavour rather than the fresh beef flavour.  As I said, pretty disappointing.  This development might seriously impact our eating patterns at the farm.  Because I can barbecue a frozen hamburger myself, just ask my kids 😉

Yesterday I realized I’d forgotten fondant (for Stegosaurus plates, of course) so we needed a trip into Lindsay.  The rest of the day was dedicated to gardening or cake making.  Into the garden went asparagus crowns (green and purple – thank you Sheridan nurseries!), the rest of the potatoes (one more from the farm box plus French Fingerling and Mozart varieties), swiss chard (wasn’t going to but I couldn’t resist the amazing colours), more spinach, kale and peas.  In a few weeks I’ll plant cucumbers, tomatoes, beans, and the herbs.

I realize that I want to plant more things than I have room for.  I also realize that I have trouble not planting everything I want to – I’m even having trouble leaving seeds in the packet!  When we put in the outer beds next year I think this will relieve the pressure, but for now I’m just cramming it in.  I’m also being pretty liberal with my interpretation of my garden plan!  I couldn’t throw out even one of the hard-won asparagus plants.  So they got the zucchini’s spot.  I like asparagus a whole lot more than I like zucchini.  I think the ferns will look pretty in the garden, and it’s a multi-year investment – so I had to get tough with my summer squash.  I’ll just cram the zucchini in somewhere else.

This post was supposed to be about discoveries.  Because I feel like there are more every weekend.  Last weekend I found fossils in our rock pile.  And this beautiful fungus on a stump outside the barn.  This weekend we found two robin’s eggs – one clean and the other blood and feather-filled.  I also discovered wild strawberries all over the grass, mixed in with the millions (no joke) of dandelions.  The wild abundance of dandelions led the oldest to observe wryly ‘at least it adds a touch of colour to the farm’.  But how will I be able to cut the grass (weeds) if there are wild strawberries everywhere.  It’s going to be a problem.

In the woodland bed (that’s what I’m going to call the new bed where we cut down all the scraggly maples), I discovered another purple trillium, plus a beautiful flowering yellow plant which was alive with bees.  I also discovered that the woodland bed is insanely dense with worms – so the kids spent a happy hour and a half being ‘worm hunters’.  They were gleefully digging up worms and transporting them to the vegetable beds.

Recently the WorkHorse discovered a whole pile of beautiful cobblestones, just thrown in a bush.  We’ll find a spot for those somewhere in the garden.  I wonder if we’ll ever stop finding new amazing things here.

Off to the cupcakes.  And also to a less pleasant discovery – an unpleasant odour emanating from the fridge!

Catching up

I haven’t blogged from the farm for a few weeks, but I have a very good excuse.  The truth is, with the amount of hard labour that needs to happen each weekend there is barely even time to turn the computer on.

Over the past two weekends here’s what we did:

  • Installed the irrigation system for the raised vegetable beds.  The WorkHorse took this on as a solo gig.  He actually buried the whole thing, which involved digging up the driveway.  There were pickaxes involved.   I stayed as far away as possible.  Stunningly, he got the whole thing done in just a few hours, and now the veggies are being dripped upon daily.

  • Pruned the old apple tree by the house.  It was old and gnarled and desperate to be pruned.  Again, I take no credit for this project.
  • Cut down a whole bunch of skinny maple trees that had grown in a little spur just off the front porch.  The previous owners must have become tired of fighting the endless maple seedlings that pop up, and they just planted hostas and the like beneath.  The WorkHorse did this too.  You can only imagine the sore muscles he has these days.
  • Removed all of the leaves and dead branches from the maple patch above.  This brought back horrible memories of the fall leaves.  I would tell you about clearing the fall leaves but I regret it still may not be spoken of…perhaps in time…  The good news was that there were some lovely little things hiding beneath those leaves, including a purple trillium plant.  I can’t wait to see what else will grow there now that we can actually see it.
  • Began planting the vegetables!  So far, here’s what’s in the garden beds:

Leaf lettuce mix, head lettuce, spinach, arugula, kale, leeks, onions, peas, radishes, red beets, golden beets, parsley, rhubarb, one kind of potato and some violas.

(I’ll admit that I’m very nervous that nothing will come of all of this careful planting.  I thought maybe something would be poking it’s head out this weekend when we got to the farm.  Not even the tiniest shoot of anything was up.  And my watermelon seed experiment is looking a bit poorly as well.  After two weeks we haven’t seen any movement from the watermelon seeds – I think we’re done for on that front.  Could you imagine all of this effort if we can’t grow any vegetables?  Unthinkable at the moment.  Here’s hoping something will turn up by next weekend.  I’m sure a gardener is supposed to be much more patient than I am.)

Returning to what’s been done in the absence from the blog, we…

  • Planted strawberry plants (just a few) in the long bed in front of the crappy shed.  The rest of the bed is for tons of sunflowers, cosmos and hollyhocks (I hope), but we haven’t planted any of that yet.
  • Scattered wildflower seeds in the rocks adjacent to the barn bank.  This was a leap of faith and it may take a few years for this idea of mine to bear fruit – or flowers in this case.  But I’m going to hope anyway.
  • Nearly finished our first batch of homemade compost.
  • Continued work on the flower beds in the front of the house.  There is still much to be done – I’ll be working on the house and pool beds well into spring, I think.
  • Dug the bed for the watermelons (or not!) and pumpkins.  We still need to fill the bed with new soil – that will be my job next weekend.
  • Built a trampoline.  This was much harder than we could have imagined, and while I helped as much as I could, the heavy lifting fell to the WorkHorse.  All of it was worth it though, when the kids got on and bounced to their hearts’ content.  I’m looking forward to years of fun on it.

You can see why the blog has been low on the priority list.  We’ve been working just about every hour we can.  There has been lots going on that has been keeping us from full weekends at Northbrook.  I for one am looking forward to settling back in to longer weekends at the farm.  Oddly, despite the seriously grueling work, it remains the best place I could imagine being.

I’ll leave you with this image.  Do you know I can’t remember ever seeing them roll down a hill before this?  Pure bliss, although I’m not sure who enjoyed it more – the dizzy kids or their happy mother.