Racing to the end

Yesterday was our last full day of summer at Northbrook Farm.  Today we pack up and head back to the city in anticipation of back to school/life/work on Tuesday.  You’d think we spent the day swimming, eating, drinking and generally partying, wouldn’t you?  You’d be wrong.  We spent the day running as hard as we could.

First, we were expecting the annual wood delivery.  Usually Clayton and his buddy load the wood, with the aid of the WorkHorse, into the summer kitchen.  Since we’re about to rip the summer kitchen off we had to relocate this year.  So, we cleaned up the potting shed area of the Crappy Shed.  Clayton came and we helped him unload.  Then, and this is the fun part, we moved all of the remaining wood from last year from the summer kitchen to the crappy shed.  We unstacked it, transported it and restacked it.  Good times.  It’s a job done and at least the potting shed has had a much-needed cleaning.  I do like to keep it nice for the raccoons….

DSC_0020 (2)

After that, laundry.  So much laundry.  While the laundry was going I made a pot of chili for the freezer and supervised (minimally) the Girl making bread.  The WorkHorse never stopped all afternoon either. At 5:00, after picking a batch and a half of pickling cucumbers and dill, he decided to take the kids to find more apples while I made dinner.  After dinner the pickling and canning started.  While the apples were breaking down we made what we think will be the last dills of the year.  I then went to work on some Zesty Honey Pilsner pickles using the salad cucumbers from the garden, of which we had too many.

Everything took longer than anticipated and at 11:00 the madness was still ongoing.  In hindsight I’m grateful that a shortage of jars stopped me from making pickled carrots!  I was inspired by the pickling recipes in Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life and I’d made the pickled grapes the night before (oddly delicious, as I’d suspected).  The carrots will have to be pickled another day!

So far, 2013’s canning tally is:

dill pickles – 35 quarts

applesauce – 13 quarts (more to come hopefully)

salsa – 10 quarts

beets – 2 quarts

honey pilsner pickles – 4 quarts

pickled grapes – 1 quart

Total madness, right?  At the very least, we’re in good shape in the event of a zombie apocalypse, which when you live with a 10 year-old boy, is a topic that comes up more often than you would think.

Happy return to life to you, and let me know if you need a jar of pickles.

P.s. Here’s a shot of the garden this morning.



Around the farm…

The previous owners put this up but it makes me happy

The previous owners put this up but it makes me happy

The Girl and I baked up a storm for a dear friend's wedding shower

The Girl and I baked up a storm for a dear friend’s wedding shower

stupid good

stupid good

From Glen Road Organics

From Glen Road Organics

The Boy carved a happy face onto the lichen.  I'll admit we weren't happy at the time, but now I find it kind of cheery

The Boy carved a happy face onto the lichen. I’ll admit we weren’t happy at the time, but now I find it kind of cheery

The Girl's boots by the side door

The Girl’s boots by the side door

In a rare pic of me, I'm happy as a clam surrounded by beds full of dirt

In a rare pic of me, I’m happy as a clam surrounded by beds full of dirt


Early yesterday morning while the kids still slept and the WorkHorse and I were engaging in our daily revival ritual (coffee for him, tea for me) I spotted something dark and moving in the back field.  Closer scrutiny revealed a deer or two off in the distance.  The WorkHorse got out the binoculars to confirm two grown deer and a fawn snacking on last year’s corn.  In the nearly two years since we’ve owned Northbrook this was the first time we’ve seen an animal of any size on the property although there are tracks and scat galore.

We called the kids down to see, naturally.  And naturally they were delighted.  But I’ve been thinking about how often I am asking them to notice the world around them.  On Friday night we arrived to a breathtaking night sky full of stars.  Living in the city we never see stars, so a sight like this was not to be taken for granted.  At least not for me.  “Guys, look up”, I said.  “Look at the stars.  It’s beautiful.  It’s spectacular”.  I feel like this is my common refrain.  “Look at the sunrise, it’s perfect”, “Can you smell a tiny bit of spring in the air”, “Notice the buds on the trees, the birds in the nest, the clouds in the sky, the flowers in the garden”, and so on I prattle at my children.

I, sadly, am a terrible overtalker where my kids are concerned.  Intellectually I know that my kids would learn more if I just shut my trap  and led by example.  I want to believe that if I just went about enjoying nature myself that they’d notice it and begin to appreciate the beauty of the world.  But you know what?  I’m not sure they would.  At least not now.

For my children’s generation, there is no need to wait for the big dipper to appear in the night sky to experience it, they can experience anything they want instantaneously – thank you very much internet.  The deer they can see on their computer screens are much closer and clearer than the ones spied through our binoculars.  There are no questions that can’t be answered, immediately, via Google.  If one of my kids has a question of the ilk, “When was the world created?” or “How did language evolve?” there is no need for discussion and thought, or even to read a book.  There is Wikipedia.  And then we know, and the need for discovery is gone.

I am certainly not suggesting that technology is anything short of fantastic, but I struggle with how much of the world seems to be happening on screens rather than in real life.  And I’m as addicted to my screens as anyone, but I worry that they just may have stolen the magic of the stars and the sunrises from my children.


We were woken by the sound of the wind howling, yelping and positively screaming around the house this morning.  The alarm clocks were blinking and, when I got up to see what kind of havoc the storm was wreaking on our rickety old maples, I found that I couldn’t see out of many of the windows for all of the snow blown on them. Here’s a view from this morning:

DSC_0537 The WorkHorse immediately considered the drive home. Not me, I’m just thinking about another day of totally justified laziness.  Yesterday I did so little that if there were an olympic event in slothery I’m fairly sure I would have medalled.  It’s not my fault.  The kids and the WorkHorse went into town to get some raccoon traps (more on that in a moment) and I was gloriously alone in the house.  After an hour of so of reading/obsessing about the garden (my seeds were delivered this week) I flipped on the TV where Patrick Swayze was just about to tell Jerry Orbach that no one puts baby in the corner.  That morphed into the last hour of Becoming Jane, followed by the entire Pride and Prejudice, which I cannot resist ever if it’s on.  So went my day yesterday.  Tough Mudder training started this week, and the additional cardio, plus some heavy deadlifts had left me sore and exhausted.  Thank goodness I have 8 months to get ready for this challenge – I think I’m going to need every minute.

I did pull it together enough to supervise the Girl in making some cookies with a batch of gluten free healthy cookies (they smell like dog food and taste only marginally better) for me.  For dinner I made my new favourite recipe.   I make two chickens because I eat a LOT of meat and the leftovers make me happy.


We get a lot of root vegetables in our winter CSA, so I roast them too – delicious.  And I’ve gotten into a very delightful appetizer.  Have you ever heard of watermelon radishes?  I hadn’t, until we got them in last year’s winter CSA.  I’d never been a fan of radishes, but then I read Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life, and I have to admit that she converted me.  There are many radish references in her lovely book and I decided to give them another chance.  Now I’m loving them.  Particularly a watermelon radish, sliced as thinly as my $5 farm mandolin will allow, drizzled with good olive oil and fleur de sel.  I ate this last night while the chicken was cooking.  And then I ate the other half of the radish.  The WorkHorse was in another room and I didn’t exactly offer to share.  Can I justify my radish hogging by whining about my gluten (good cookie) free existence?  I’m going to try.


Today’s adventure had to do with our (so far fruitless) attempts to trap the raccoons who winter in our summer kitchen (it’s an old, uninsulated addition to the house where I guess they used to cook in the summer).  They summer elsewhere, it seems, but in the winter we can hear them going about their raccoony business and we can certainly smell them when we’re in the summer kitchen.  This weekend we decided to try and trap them.  The WorkHorse had read that cat food was their drug of choice, so he got a couple of traps – one where they enter the summer kitchen (under our kitchen porch stairs) and the other in the kitchen itself.  This morning we found the trap in the kitchen politely moved aside and the food eaten.  Under the kitchen porch was a very unhappy trapped cat.  Here’s the WorkHorse freeing the feline offender.


Once released, that cat moved so fast I actually couldn’t capture it on film.  Of course, I’m a clumsy photographer, so there’s that – but that cat was hauling ass off our farm.  At least one of us was moving this weekend.  The quest to become raccoon free will continue.  Mostly it’s just giving me more reason to want to renovate the summer kitchen into something like this.  Doesn’t a big stone fireplace, lots of windows overlooking the fields and endless comfy seating sound better than trapping raccoons?  I think so.


It had to happen.  The bloom wasn’t going to stay on the proverbial rose forever, was it?  The first bits of adversity have hit the Northbrook Obsession.

For starters, the long-anticipated nasturtiums have been attacked by a colony of little black bugs who are snacking through the leaves at an alarming rate.  I tried spraying them off with the hose which was effective for a few hours, but I’ll need a soap and water solution this weekend.  There are too many to squish, regrettably.

Actually, buggy was the main feeling of the farm this week.  In some cases I was glad to see the bugs, namely the bees buzzing around the veggies.  Mostly though, I was just itchy.  Every time I ventured outside I found myself covered in every manner of insect – the most annoying of which were the microscopic pests that look like dust..that is until they start crawling up your arms and legs.  There were small white ticky looking things (praying I don’t have Lyme disease), spiders, slimy grubby looking things and more.  Every thing I picked up outside of the house displaced a large moth and I’ve got more than my fair share of mosquito bites too.  Sounds delightful, doesn’t it?  I don’t know if it was the heat, my being cranky or just July, but buggy was definitely the theme.

The culinary disappointment of the weekend was the batch of pesto I made, only to discover that the basil had gone very bitter.  All of it, no less.  I’m not sure why this has happened – I’ve been pinching off the tops of the plants so they don’t flower…any ideas?  I’ve planted a new row so hopefully I’ll have a late summer pesto solution.

The good news from the garden was the emergence of cucumbers.  Only the pickling cucumbers were ready to start harvesting and they are wonderful to eat.  So good, in fact, I wonder if any will make it to the pickle jars!  The WorkHorse is very keen on pickles, so we’ll have to make sure we do that.

I harvested about half of the onions as the tops started to fall over.  They are now curing in the city back yard this week.  They were smallish, but hopefully will be tasty.  I suspect I should have thinned them more.  So many learnings….

As for our bird tenants, the first nest has been abandoned – presumably the babies were ready to fly.  As for the second nest, when the WorkHorse took the fern down we were treated with a view of an hours-old baby bird, still pink and disoriented.  It was an amazing sight.  The next day, the baby had been joined by its siblings.  Here they are:

Next weekend will be consumed with the Boy’s birthday party, so not much gardening is likely to take place.  But I do have plans for those little nasturtium-killing $%^&*#s!


The miracle of…potatoes

You know what gardening is?  It’s a miracle, that’s what.  This was my revelation this weekend when I picked sweet, beautiful peas and tender potatoes for dinner on Saturday.

How could it be that just a few months ago we built boxes, threw in some dirt and seeds and are now eating fresh wonderful food?  Well okay, it wasn’t a casual as all that.  I’ve definitely hovered and fretted over the vegetable garden.  But I’m struck by how much things want to grow – all living things want to live and reproduce, and mercifully, it’s showing in the garden. Here is some photographic evidence…

Here is the chard we took when visiting the Master Gardener – I love the colours of it.  I think I’ll always grow it just to look at.

The peas are wonderful.  We didn’t get many plants (the birds enjoyed snacking on the seeds immensely) and I was late getting them in, but delicious all the same and definitely worth the wait.

And yes, after weeks of fretting and whinging about them, I was thrilled to see that the nasturtiums have bloomed.  They’ve brought just the hit of colour the garden needed.

I’d love to bore you with pictures of teeny tiny cucumbers and fledgling tomatoes, but all that can wait for another time.

Before I sign off, in the category of miracles and the will to live – here are the newest residents of Northbrook farm, happily living in one of the ferns.  Another family is expected in a neighbouring fern shortly and I for one, can’t wait to welcome them.


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.