Cowboy cyclist and errant vegetables

The best story from last weekend at Northbrook is courtesy of the WorkHorse.  On his morning bike ride he encountered a rabbit and a heron (standard fare), then exchanged waves with Amish farmers plowing their fields with teams of horses.  Sounds pretty pleasant, no?  Next he came around a corner and encountered a cow standing in the middle of the road – clearly an escapee from a nearby farm.  Upon seeing the WorkHorse the cow panicked and ran (galloped like a horse apparently) at full speed in the other direction.  The cow, scared witless by the two-wheeled cowboy evidently, ran for quite some distance, checking back to see if his pursuer remained.  The WorkHorse tried to keep his distance.  Eventually, the cow veered off the road and ran full-speed into a fence where it succeeded in knocking itself senseless for a moment.  The WorkHorse took the momentary opportunity to speed past and come home with a great story for breakfast.

The rest of the weekend was fairly uneventful.  The good news is that the vegetable garden is looking good.  I checked the potatoes to see if there were any lovely new ones we could eat, but they are still too small.  I’m a little afraid of the quantity of potatoes we should be getting. The tomatoes are growing nicely, as are the cucumbers who received their very own trellis courtesy of the WorkHorse.  We’ve got 3 zucchini plants and 3 pumpkin plants growing.  I couldn’t resist planting a few more pumpkin seeds in the hopes we grow our own Jack-o-lanterns this Halloween.  The chard is lovely, we’re overrun by lettuce and I even have a few beet seedlings coming up.  And best of all, the last two weeks have meant only an hour or so of weeding in the raised beds.  I’ve got no idea what the rest of the summer will bring, so I’m going to just appreciate relative calm in the garden. Here’s the vegetable garden:

But of course it’s not all success stories…

I replanted some corn (a shorter season variety) on the weekend and I swear I could hear the birds laughing at me while I did it.  Remember the watermelon?  We’re down to one scraggly plant.  It seems someone likes to eat the tops off the plants.  And, the whole pumpkin/watermelon/zucchini bed is overrun with bindweed.  That’s going to take some time to root out.  As for the sunflower (crappy shed) bed…it’s actually kind of amazing how little I’ve managed to grow there!  Statistically you’d think I’d have more coming up.  I can see one bona fide sunflower plant coming up – out of more than 100 seeds.  You’d think that the odds would have been a little better than that.  I took a break from that bed this weekend.  For the moment the score will have to be Weeds: 1, Gardener: 0.

To console myself I think of how much we are loving eating from the garden – we ate lettuce, beets and beet greens last weekend, plus onion thinnings, rosemary and basil thinnings too.  It’s incredibly satisfying to eat food we’ve grown ourselves.

Elsewhere on the farm things are lovely.  The smart gardener who lived here before planted flowers that bloom at different times, changing the whole look of the place.  Last month the house was surrounded by pinks and purples of phlox, weigela and irises.  Now we’re in hot colours with orange lilies and yellow evening primrose.  Here’s a pic.

The birds continue to provide much pleasure (despite needing to close the windows at 4:30 am each morning when the noise becomes unbearable!).  I startled the mama sparrow in the nest when I took our fern down to inspect.  Having no idea she was in there I just took the plant down from its hook.  I don’t know who was more scared when she flew out, but from her vociferous protestations I know who was more angry.  She calmed down later when she came back and found her eggs unharmed.

I watched the bluebirds with much joy this weekend.  They don’t always show themselves, so when they do I take time to enjoy them.  And then there are the thousands of barn swallows who swoop in and out of the barn like Kamikaze pilots.  Here are a few over the back paddock.

Before getting back to my city week I’ll leave you with a shot of happy accident in the garden.  This lettuce and carrot have both left their homes and taken up residence among the beans.  I’m sure the beans are happy to have them, I know I am.



Our dastardley assault on Mother Nature

Wanted: 4 clueless city dwellers for ruthlessly picking (not one, but a bunch of) rare and endangered wild orchids.  Please don’t turn us in, we knew not what we were doing.

After a Father’s Day treasure hunt that had the WorkHorse traipsing all over the farm to collect things like wine gums and cans of Guinness, we sat down to a breakfast of challah french toast.  At this time, the boy suggested a family bike ride.  So, the four of us grabbed our bikes and set out on our first family ride of the year.  Since the small legs are getting bigger and stronger, we decided to ride around to the back of the farm and check out our land.  A creek runs through our forest which makes it hard to access the back bit of the property, so driving or biking around the back is best.  Of course the forest is so thick that you can’t enter from the backside, but you can check it out.  So, along the back bit of the farm I spotted some really amazing flowers growing by the road.  I remarked to the WorkHorse that they looked like wild orchids.  “Let’s pick them!” I suggested.  Ever faithful, the WorkHorse dismounted and gathered a bouquet and we rode on our merry way.

Once back in the house I gave the orchids a mason jar to live in and went in search of their origins.

Once I booted up the computer, I found that they are indeed wild orchids, called Showy Lady Slippers – fancy pants name, no?  We brought them home to the city and even relocated this guy to a new urban dwelling:

Since then, I’ve done a bit more research.  Here’s what Wikipedia tells me:

The Showy Lady’s-slipper (Cypripedium reginae), also known as the Pink-and-white Lady’s-slipper or the Queen’s Lady’s-slipper, is a rare terrestrial temperate lady’s-slipper orchid native to northern North America.

Despite producing a large amount of seeds per seed pod, it reproduces largely by vegetative reproduction,[2] and remains restricted to the North East region of the United States and south east regions of Canada. Although never common, this rare plant has vanished from much of its historical range due to habitat loss. It has been a subject of horticultural interest for many years with Charles Darwin who like many, were unsuccessful in cultivating the plant.

It is the state flower of Minnesota, United States and was also proposed to be the provincial flower of Prince Edward Island, Canada.

That’s right.  It was going to be the flower of PEI but then they were so rare that no one could ever find one, so they had to choose something else.  Maybe those Islanders should have looked in my kitchen window….

Needless to say, we won’t be picking any more of these beauties.  And I’ll have to plant a tree or save a bird or something to make some kind of karmic amends.  Although, come to think of it, there are catalpa flowers raining down on my newly renovated city yard at a rate of about 1000 per day – so maybe Mother Nature and I are in the neighbourhood of even…

The vegetables are doing well for the most part.  The spinach, arugula and radishes are done – eaten and removed.  I thought I’d feel a pang of regret when I removed veggies past their time, but I found myself liking the clean space in the beds and the possibility of new things.  I continue to plant beets in the hope something will work.  So far only two pumpkin seeds have germinated and one zucchini plant is growing.   The corn kernels seem to have been a delightful meal for the birds.  Don’t even get me started on the sunflowers….

But for the most part, the garden is growing as expected and each week brings new surprises, and always, lots and lots of weeds.

In other news, the birds continue to nest in the ferns.  This time I didn’t make the mistake of leaving the plant down during the week.  I watered and hung the fern, complete with perfect, tiny sparrow’s nest, right back where it belonged.  The nest is made not only of twigs but also of delicate white hair, which I suspect comes from the team of huskies who live next door.  It’s a pretty comfy little nest that mama has going.  Speaking of which, there are some baby birds in this nest who need to be woken and fed.  Until next week!

Salads, strawberries and weeds, always the weeds

I got up at my usual just before 6:00 this morning, I’m a total sucker for the sunrise.  Once again I put on my rubber boots and tried to capture the light – and the sky and mist, and once again my photography skills, and probably my camera, let me down.  Here’s what I came up with…if any of you photographically-minded folks have suggestions for me I’d be grateful.

And because the Obsession never lets up, I took a look at the things I’m trying to grow…

and wondered whether nature isn’t doing just fine without us.

I’ll admit that when I got to the farm on Friday I felt a little deflated.  By not being here every day I realize that I may expect more from the garden than I should.  I expect huge changes each Friday, somehow forgetting that I last looked at the garden only five days earlier.  Here are the garden updates:

The beets continue to mystify me with their complete unwillingness to grow.  I’ve bought a new pack of seeds and am going to try again in a different bed.  They can have the radishes’ old spot.  Fingers crossed…

The potatoes are still going crazy.  More hilling to do today.

While I keep waiting for the sunflower plants to stand up and identify themselves out of the mass of weeds in their bed, I’m also pretty sure the birds got a lot of the seeds.  I’m going to try again with some new seeds and hope for the best.

The lettuces are wonderful and the salads have been delicious this weekend.  We’re throwing in radishes and arugula too.  The WorkHorse and I had some lovely sauteed spinach as well.  We haven’t had much spinach, but it was delicious.

The first batch of kale chips was consumed with gusto by the small people.  I still can’t believe they’ll eat kale, but I’ll take it.  I’ll be planting a big crop of kale for the fall too, just for the chips.

Weeds are overtaking the pumpkin/watermelon/zucchini bed.  I’ve got some mulching to do before we leave today.  There are no signs of any action from the pumpkin seeds.

The corn isn’t showing any signs of life either.  Looking out at Jeff’s neat rows of corn is just making me feel worse.

The kids harvested a bounty of tiny wild strawberries, which they ate with ice cream while watching a movie last night.  Kid heaven.

The tomatoes are settling in just fine.  They, and everything else, are going to enjoy a lovely snack of fish emulsion today.

Cilantro and dill are starting to look like little tiny cilantro and dill plants.  Even a few of the parsley seem to have rallied after the gore of two weeks ago.

The nasturtiums are doing my bidding and I think will be a lovely focal point to the garden.  Even the yucca in the center has a flower to offer.

Mostly, there is the weeding.  I came across a fantastic gardening blog called fast grow the weeds.  All weekend each trip to the kitchen garden has that blog title running through my head.  I’ll admit that I was unprepared for the weeds.  They are formidable opponents and I’m not always sure I’ll be the winner in the end.  Now that most things are established, I’m going to start more mulching, keep weeding, and hope for the best.

This week we’re having the interior of the farm house painted.  I’m looking forward to a fresh coat of colour, but mostly I’m just jealous of the painters who will get to live here all week while we get to our ‘real lives’ in the city.  Between the city and the farm, which is my ‘real life’ is sometimes hard to tell.


We spent a short, cold and rainy weekend at Northbrook.  At least the females did.  The males were off looking at civil war battlefields and the like.  So, we ventured out to the garden once or twice and then sensibly came back in and continued our very long marathon of Little House on the Prairie episodes.  It was blissfully sedentary.

Before leaving I took the hanging ferns down to let them get some of the rain.  Look what I found inside:

Then, on the way home I was marveling at the light – it was raining but the trees were casting shadows and the fields were a wonderful chartreuse colour.  I turned my head and saw the most brilliant, perfect rainbow I’ve ever seen.  Every colour was perfectly defined and the whole thing was visible, end to end.  It was a beautiful ending to a grey weekend.

Hope you find some lovely surprises this week.