Let The 2014 Garden Begin

Hey, friends! I hope you all had a wonderful Memorial Day Weekend and aren’t too hung over/tired/burnt this morning! We stayed home this Memorial Day weekend but have started and done so much. Renovations are back in the swing, and so of course is the garden. Speaking of the garden, I realized I’ve barely written about it this year!

This past growing season confirmed to me that I really wanted to get serious about growing some of my own seeds. In the past I’ve tried winter sowing, but I had decided it wasn’t for me. After lots of research on different methods I decided I wanted to go with soil blocking. It’s literally what it sounds like, creating blocks of soil and starting seeds in those blocks. There’s a lot of great soil blocking material online so I won’t write a ton about the method, but good places to start are to search “Eliot Coleman soil blocking” and to check out Johnny Seeds, which is where I got my soil blocker. Personally I don’t do mini soil blockers, I stuck with 2″ and then moved up to pots for the items (like tomatoes) that needed to be potted up eventually.

DSC_0380-01First was deciding what we wanted to start from seed, what seeds we wanted to direct sow once it got warm enough, and what started seeds we still wanted to buy from our local green house. I knew hands down we were going to start tomato seeds. I really felt I could grow stronger plants by transplant time, but I also wanted more control over the varieties I grew. Beyond tomatoes I wasn’t positive what I would do. In the end I went with tomatoes, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, celery, celeriac and tomatillo’s. I’ve yet to see how the cabbage, cauliflower and tomatillo’s do and if they’ll be big enough to transplant anytime soon (pictured above). They also got a bit leggy since I forgot to turn my grow light on for two days. Oops. The celery, celeriac, and tomatoes all have done very well. The broccoli I’m not sure what to think of. It looks okay, but it suffered a little after potting it up. I’m not sure if it will do well once it get into the garden so I’m just crossing my fingers.

DSC_0341-01 DSC_0342-01Outside of soil blocking, we have a lot going on in the garden already. So far we have peas, cylindra beets, red ace beets, peas, garlic, onions, and as of yesterday, eighteen of the twenty-eight tomato plants!

DSC_0347-01 DSC_0350-01 DSC_0353-01 DSC_0355-01 DSC_0356-01We also expanded our asparagus patch with the asparagus I bought at the Fedco Tree Sale. Our patch was about 1 ft. by 2 ft. and it’s now about 4×4 which is a pretty good size. To plant  I first air dried the crowns for about twenty-four hours to get any storage mold dried, built the trenches, laid in the crows and covered with soil. We already have a few sprigs showing up from this year, but we won’t pick them. The second and third year asparagus has been delicious, while we’ve let the one year old asparagus go to seed.

DSC_9684 DSC_9697-01 DSC_9714-01 DSC_9731-01DSC_9694-01DSC_0345-01In the other areas of the yard I decided to transplant the strawberries to go in with the blueberries. I figured the acidic soil would be better, it would keep all of our fruit in one area, and it would allow me to build a 2×40 bed behind one of our stone walls to move our squash into as part of a crop rotation plan. At first I was worried the strawberries weren’t going to make it. Turns out though, weeks later, they are thriving in their new home. I really think the change in soil was perfect for them.

DSC_9701-01 DSC_9705-01DSC_0361-01Beyond strawberries the deer got at our blueberry and raspberries this winter since it was so harsh. I really wasn’t sure our new raspberry vine made it but sure enough, it did! Along with the raspberries, the blueberries and rhubarb are also in bloom. I’ve cropped the rhubarb pretty heavily already, but it’s still going.

DSC_0357-01 DSC_0363-01 DSC_0367-01 DSC_0370-01 DSC_0372-01We also expanded our orchard to include two peach trees and two more apple trees. Andy had the great idea of keeping one of the apple trees by the stone wall where the blueberries, raspberries and strawberries are. While all of them are doing good, the one by the stone wall seems to be doing best. There must be something about the soil around that wall, because everything seems to thrive over there.

DSC_0373-01If it seems like a lot has been going on around here, you’d be right! Thankfully I have my new handy broad fork to thank for a lot of the work in the garden. We originally tilled the entire lot, but as I’ve needed beds I’ve been aerating with the broad fork. Unlike tilling it helps keep the nutrients deep in the soil and also doesn’t expose weed seeds—a big issue we’ve been battling for a while now. This no-engine, no mechanics, simple piece of steel equipment is absolutely my favorite gardening tool I own.

DSC_9689-01In the end, that’s what’s been going on so far! Since spring is a bit behind I decided to wait until next weekend to buy the rest of the seedlings and direct sow most of the plants. I might put in the celery and broccoli this week, but I’ll be playing it by mother-natures ear. It’s a ton to do, but so far, so good.

One last thing, I’ve already been canning! This is our first year with rhubarb growing on our property and I realized it was a use it or lose it moment. Sunday I scoured my Ball Company canning recipe book and found one for Victorian Barbecue Sauce using rhubarb. Over all it’s a really unique sauce and pretty darn tasty. I ended up with four small jars and enough left over to use on the pork tenderloin we had last night for dinner.

10401791_310803725740660_785031501_nBesides all of this, the first week of graduate school is done! Only seven more weeks of this class to go and then an eight-week break until the next session! Thank goodness too, because that will be prime gardening time!

xo,
Heather

 

My First Time

We all remember our first time. You’re excited but nervous. You have an idea of what to expect from what you’ve been told, but you don’t really know what you’re in for. You’ve heard it can last a while, and you’ve heard it can be quick. So, you excitedly take a deep breath, and let it out. This is happening.

Then, you load the dogs into your hatchback Saab, make sure you have your sales slip, and head up the highway to the glory land. The Fedco tree sale awaits you.

The huge two weekend event every year draws a very large crowd, with the first weekend reserved for those who pre-order trees. I had ordered two peach trees for our mini-orchard all the way back in December. This was the year I was going to go up there. This was the year I was going to see what everyone had been talking about years before me. Was it really as great as they said? It must be. My hopes were high. Since I had ordered trees early, I also got first chance at the cream of crop trees, bushes, and other goods before it was opened to the general public.

IMG_9378That friday morning just a few weeks ago I piled myself and two dogs into my hatchback, with no idea what was coming my way. I had a general idea everything would fit. It took a bit of finagling though when I not only picked up the two peach trees, but opted to buy 25 asparagus crowns, a  Honey Crisp apple tree, and a McIntosh apple tree. Will power got the best of me that day, thankfully. Common sense was not lost as I left beautiful cherry trees, blueberries, pear trees, and a huge variety of a hundred other glorious items where they lay. Thankfully so too, because Primrose wasn’t too happy with me as is.

IMG_9379As it were, Winnie was in the front seat, and Rosie laid right behind the passenger side on my comfy coat but most assuredly giving me the side-eye the entire time. I laughed when I ended up accidentally snagging this photo of Winnie while trying to get a photo of the cramped quarters. It looks like she’s yelling at me for the space issues. While it doesn’t look cramped in the photo I can guarantee you that there were four trees, particularly the apple trees, touching from the back of the trunk all the way past the rear view mirror with an inch to spare.

IMG_9380After leaving the tree sale I decided I wanted to grab some copper fungicide at their other warehouse and ended up stumbling into my version of heaven. I found where they keep all the potato stock. To be truthful I just wanted to eat them since I’m a carb loving broad. No one told me there would be potatoes my first time. No one told me there would be potatoes.

IMG_9382I also ended up meandering over to the seed warehouse where I bought some things in a haze. I remember buying peas, but I couldn’t tell you everything else I bought off the top of my head. I know I managed to get out with only about four packs of seeds though after thoroughly reminding myself about all the Johnny Select Seeds I had previously ordered that were waiting for me at home.

IMG_9383A few weeks after digesting everything, let me tell you the truth from the other side.

The Fedco tree sale is everything I had ever been told, and more. Aside from everything I’ve mentioned already, the people were just so incredibly nice. As far as patrons, every type of person was there. There were small gardeners, to people who just wanted a nice tree for their yard, to small homesteaders like myself, to legit farmers who I have an intense respect for. Their wealth of knowledge is staggering.

If you have never been to the Fedco tree sale, go. Order a tree so you can get in that first weekend, and just go. Get there early in the morning on the opening Friday and you’ll have plenty of time and space to take it all in.

Go slow. Enjoy it. Don’t rush. It will be worth the wait.

xo,
Heather

Welcome to Sawmill Nation

Andy and I have been wanting a sawmill for a number of years now. We had no way of justifying an expensive production model with hydraulics, so instead we focused on smaller home models. We looked at just about every brand, and eventually settled on a Woodland Mills. Rather, I had settled on a Woodland Mills. That was until recently, when a deal came up that was too good to pass.

DSC_9642A few years back Andy and I went to his friends place to help him and his Dad saw some lumber. Our friends father had purchased a Hud-Son Oscar 121, which had been purchased used from another guy who bought it and decided it was too much work. Andy jokingly said, “When he’s ready to sell it, have him give me a call.” We moved on, and continued to look around casually while renovating the house. We knew we were going to buy a sawmill this year, but we figured it would be this fall. That is, until we got a call recently saying our friends Dad was selling his mill – a mill that had been barely used.

With our anniversary just about a month away we pretty much looked at each other and knew we had to jump on it. My heart was still with the Woodland Mills, but I came around pretty quickly. We ended up getting the mill, extra track, and a box of new blades for about 1/2 of what everything would cost new. We wished each other a happy early anniversary, jumped in the truck with the dogs and picked it up.

It was just in time too, since our neighbor had a pile of logs out back him and Andy had cut and hauled out this winter.

DSC_9621It’s been fun getting the mill setup, and getting the feel for it. Andy and our neighbor have mostly been the ones using it, but I’ve been learning the ropes too.

DSC_9627We’ve been cutting a lot of 2×6, with some timbers and other various dimensional lumber mostly hackmatack, poplar and a scatter of pine and maple. I’d say overall we’re happy with the setup. The logs are cut nice and maintenance seems to be straightforward. We had an issue with a wave in one of the boards from the blade jumping but that had more to do with the figure of the grain and some pitch build up most likely. Like I said, this is a learning curve for everyone involved (me the most).

DSC_9635The log pile is almost decimated at this point, which means we’re looking forward to cutting the cedar Andy felled at his mom’s place a few weeks back. For now we’ll keep cutting up our neighbors lumber with him, and then at some point we’ll do some hackmatack up at the farm too for a lean-to off the barn. One of the reasons I love Maine, and particularly where I live, is that there is a strong sense of community and neighbors helping neighbors.  A lot more gets done, and faster, when we’re all willing to step in with our resources to get it done.

DSC_9641I know this sounds a bit odd, but the truth is that our little homestead feels a bit more complete with Oscar here. We’ve been wanting a mill for so damn long that it feels like an accomplishment. We aren’t big spenders, we understand the worth of a dollar, and we have made sacrifices specifically so when something like this comes along  we’re able to buy it. That might seem rare in the age of keeping up with the Jones’s and instant gratification, but it’s a deeper feeling like no other to see a long term, hard worked for, item come true.

DSC_9662To both Andy and me it’s important to provide for ourselves. We live in a vastly interconnected world but we also think it’s important to be able to provide for ourselves in some ways. I’m not even close to totally self-reliant and I’m okay with that. We are in no way hardcore homesteaders, and don’t intend to be. In the case of the apocalypse, I am – in the famous words of Dido – going down with this ship. My self-sustaining goal is less dooms day zombie survival and more to have food in a snow storm, to decrease my grocery bill significantly in the summer, to enjoy the taste of summer in the winter with a can of homemade salsa, and to have lumber on hand (or the ability to cut it before we need it) for projects. It’s important for me to just do my part.

Overall, we’re happy. We know it’s not for everyone. I know I’m a bit of an odd duck in the world of marketing to women in that I don’t want diamonds for my anniversary. Last year we stumbled upon our long sought after Suburban a month before our anniversary. This year, it’s a sawmill. Next year? Who knows, but I bet it won’t be jewelry.

858680_10101646540750989_1955072273187390111_oxo,

Heather

Sun Tea & Sprouts

With spring slowly yawning it’s way awake this year, and a good portion of our yard snow free, once I saw Sunday was suppose to be a 48 degree high I knew I was headed outside to work in the yard. Potential snow be damned, it was time to get this spring thing started.

First, I decided to set up our table and chairs that we often eat most every dinner meal on once it gets warm enough, and that I will happily read at all bundled up until then. Second, nothing symbolizes spring more at our house than sun tea. The warm sun heats up tea bags and brews it slowly. Whether you drink sun tea warm when the evenings are still cold, or more often chilled on a hot summer day, it’s downright delightful.

DSC_9049-01After just a few hours of working in the yard and reading at the table, it becomes a happy sign of the sun at work.

DSC_9047-01DSC_9077-01 While I let the sun do it’s job I mulled around the yard and started cleaning up certain beds and saying hello to the plants that snuggled in during this long winter we had.

One mild concern is our three rows of garlic. The frost heaved many of the cloves out of the soil. They seem to be well rooted and some are sprouting so keep your fingers crossed.

DSC_9055-01I also found our strawberry plants had quite surprisingly made it through the fall and winter. We battled some grass wanting a strong takeover last year, and I half expected between the grass and the winter we would have lost them. The grass seemed to have protected each little plant to my happiness. Under the long dead grass laid small green leaves. This year we really will have to transplant these strawberries. After two years it’s clear our original spot next to this particular stone wall simply isn’t the best option. While not an ideal time of year to do so, in another week or so I’ll be transplanting them into the blueberry beds which also enjoy an acidic soil. Given the slow start to spring I expect they may not yield a lot, but they will be okay and take root.

DSC_9059-01 DSC_9056-01In preparation for moving these strawberries, I cleaned up the blueberry bed and found these little flowers growing. I believe these might be the peonies but I’m not quite sure. While peonies and tulips are my two favorite flowers I have to admit that if I can’t eat it, I don’t pay much attention to it. In other words, my focus is really on my vegetables in the summer time and anything else is something Andy or mother nature has likely taken the time to transplant.

DSC_9062-01Speaking of the veggies, inside the house they are starting to peek up. I decided to try seriously under-taking seed starting this year and doing it in soil blocks. I bought my soil blocker from Johnny Seeds (2″ – 4 blocks) but there are many seed catalogs that sell them. It’s a method that helps the plant from becoming root bound, but requires a little more care.

Currently I have celery and celeriac seed sprouting, neither of which I’ve ever grown before, and  45 tomato seeds started on Saturday (15 pink beauty, 15 granadero, 15 defiant). I’m not sure how many of the tomato seeds will actually germinate but I had a pretty decent germination rate last year when I tried starting just a couple indoors. Keep your fingers crossed! If they all germinate I’ll likely give a few away and I’m still going to have a lot of tomatoes which makes me happy. To me there are few things symbolizing summer more than how delicious a fresh off the vine tomato is while you’re still standing in the garden’s warm soil.

DSC_9082-01 DSC_9081-01Overall it was a very relaxing and productive Sunday.

DSC_9060-01I hope you all had a beautiful weekend, and if not, that this helped put a smile on your face.

xo,

Heather

DIY Firewood Tote

As a blogger there are certain times I feel up to writing technical posts, and other times I don’t. Today, a day where I lose my wallet in the morning only to find it after work, and only to get home and find that I forgot my cellphone back at the office, feels like a day I’m up to writing a technical post. This should get interesting. 

What was also pretty interesting was the state of our wood tote as of a few weeks back.

DSC_8305When you heat your house primarily with wood it means firewood totes take a beating, and this one which we’ve had for many many years was no different.

DSC_8307I knew it was time to get a new tote, but I simply couldn’t bring myself to buy one. First, I can sew well enough that I figured I could make one. Second, a lot of the totes I saw seemed like they were constructed for the casual user which is great, but wouldn’t work for us. Third, after researching the ones that would hold up for us I realized the design was the same as our current one and it was a design we just didn’t love. I’ll get into that more in a minute.

So that left me with one option which I happily delved into—making my own firewood tote. Sometimes it’s nice to see the finished product before reading a “how to”, and sometimes it’s also nice to know the difficulty and item list, so here you go.FirewoodTote

DIY Firewood Tote:
Difficulty – easy leaning to moderate

  • 1/2 yard artists canvas
  • one yard (maybe a little more just to be sure) heavy duty nylon strap (also known as nylon webbing)
  • All-purpose of heavy duty thread
  • Sewing machine, unless you’re a glutton for punishment then by all means sew this by hand
  • Two pieces of wood, about a foot or 14 inches long each. I think my piece was about a 1/2 inch by 2 inches.
  • Way to cut the wood into the correct dimensions/trim if needed (I used our compound sliding mitre saw, aka chop saw, but a hand saw would work fine)

The Process:

The first part was researching to figure out what most totes were made from that could hold up to our near daily use for months on end. Cotton duck seemed like an option but then I found artists canvas. It’s the same canvas you see in art stores, just sold in fabric stores on huge bolts. I remembered reading online that someone had used this, and since I couldn’t find any cotton duck and the price was right I went for it. I ended up finding mine at the Marden’s in Lewiston for $3.99 a yard. It’s so wide on the bolt that I only needed 1/2 a yard for this project. I bought a lot more than I needed knowing I could make more of them for other people, and just to have around. The saying goes “You should have bought it when you saw it at Mardens”, so I did because Mainer’s understand it may not be there the next time you go.

FirewoodTote2014 (3)The second step was deciding what to do for strapping. Last summer some of the siding material Andy bought was from Coastal Forest Products. The product came wrapped in this cool nylon strapping with their name on it. I came outside, saw the strapping and immediately snagged it. I specifically remember thinking it could make for a really good firewood tote strap. Any heavy duty nylon strapping (webbing) will do though. I’ve seen it on amazon in 10 yard increments for pretty cheap, but I’m guessing places like Home Depot or Lowes would have some. Heck, if you wanted a wider strap you could even buy a nylon tow rope if you have the machine to sew through it.

FirewoodTote2014 (17) Finally it was time to solidify my design. So many firewood totes have flared out edges to help to keep it from slipping out the sides. Taking the time to make sure it’s carefully stuffed in the edges is just not something I’m willing to do for as often as we use it. I remember one time I did, just to see what it was all about and I never did it again. A basic rectangle was all we needed.

With artists canvas, strapping and design solidified it was time to start sewing. So here’s my method step-by-step (day by day – Patrick Duffy, you slay me).

  1. Lay out your canvas. Cut it at about 1/2 a yard (or a little wider than your typical size log). The width of artist canvas makes it hard to keep everything square, so I’d recommend using a rotary cutter, ruler and self healing mat if you can.FirewoodTote2014 (5)
  2. Once you’ve made the cut, take the two long sides and fold them over about 1/2 an inch or so. The good thing about artists canvas is it’s easy to press down. I wouldn’t recommend putting a hot iron to it though. You’re welcome to try, but I wouldn’t trust ruining my iron to test my theory that it would melt. This fold is going to make for your first seam. I found it easiest to make this seam by placing my ruler on the inside of the canvas and folding over the edge of it.FirewoodTote2014 (6)FirewoodTote2014 (7)
  3. Sew the seam down. Make sure to lock the seam down (going forwards and backwards) a couple times at each end. Keep in mind that this can be a bit slippery. My stitches weren’t perfectly straight, but they got better the more I got used to sewing on the canvas.FirewoodTote2014 (8)
  4. To really add some strength to the seams I did a double fold and then sewed down again. Once the long sides were done I repeated step 2 to 4 on the short ends.FirewoodTote2014 (9)
  5. With the edges all sewn down I added some extra structure to the ends at the (awesome) suggestion of my brother in law. He made the good point that adding the wood would help keep the edges from falling over when you’re hauling, and I’ve found it has made the entire thing easier to pick up. To judge where to make my pocket for the wood I laid the canvas out, laid down the wood, and simply folded it over, giving myself enough room to make a snug but not super tight pocket. I ended up cutting my wood pieces a little shorter so I would have enough room to sew the final end shut once the wood was inserted.
    FirewoodTote2014 (11) FirewoodTote2014 (12) FirewoodTote2014 (13)
  6. Next up came attaching the straps. Attaching the straps is a little more on the moderate side of easy, but it definitely isn’t difficult. Start by turning your freshly creased canvas over so the folded seams are facing down.FirewoodTote2014 (14)
  7. When you place your straps, you’ll want to remember that you will not be sewing above the crease. Remember that you’re folding that over to sew down to put the wood in. You can’t sew the wood pocket before you put the straps on, because they you would sew the pocket shut that you need to put the wood in. You can’t sew the straps on after you put the wood in, because you can’t sew through wood. So you’ll want to start your handle height from the crease. For instance, in the phone below I wouldn’t sew the strap on above the “e” in “Forest”.FirewoodTote2014 (15)
  8. The next step of sewing on the strap is two fold. First, it’s important the strap is one long giant circle before you sew it on—think hoola hoop. I did this by sewing my nylon strapping together. Keep in mind (as you’ll see in the next step) this nylon strapping is going to be hauling a lot of weight. You don’t want this to snap or you’re going to end up with a lot of heavy wood slamming down your legs. This would be less than pleasurable. I sewed mine together in about a million different ways to ensure there was plenty of stitching holding them together.FirewoodTote2014 (16) FirewoodTote2014 (17)
  9. Second, I’d recommend starting to sew the strap at the center of the canvas. This ensures you end up with an equal handle on either side.  To find the center, fold down the two top sections like you would if the wood was inserted, and then fold the rectangle in half again, like you see below. Also I recommend laying everything out before sewing, and pinning if you need to (second photo below). FirewoodTote2014 (18) FirewoodTote2014 (19)
  10. Finally, start sewing! Here are some photos of my stitches so you can see my technique. To start I did a single stitch just to get everything tacked down. Then in the center and on the ends I did super extra stitching in a box and X shape. I then did two more long stitches overall to give extra strength and to help keep the strapping from folding up on the edges or catching on anything. FirewoodTote2014 (20) FirewoodTote2014 (21)
  11. Finally it came the time to sew down the shorter edges so the wood could be slipped in. I stitched it down, and then sewed up one side which left a pocket for me to slip the wood into. FirewoodTote2014 (23) FirewoodTote2014 (24)FirewoodTote2014 (26)
  12. The final step was making sure the wood was far enough back in the pocket and then stitching the open side shut, sealing the wood inside. FirewoodTote2014 (25)FirewoodTote2014 (27)

That’s it! This entire project cost me $2.00. If I had to buy the webbing it would have come out to a few bucks more (though I’d have lots of strapping left over, but that’s no problem around here as it would be used). The other option for straps if you don’t want to buy nylon strapping would be to make some canvas straps. It wouldn’t be horribly difficult to cut some wide straps, sew them all together, and give each strap a good solid hem on either side (same method as hemming the actual tote). It would be a heck of a lot stiffer and maybe harder to sew overall but it would definitely be doable. I’m debating on trying this method in the future just to see how it works. If I do, I’ll be sure to update you.

xo

Heather

P.S.  I waited to write this to ensure it held up and I can now say after at least a few weeks of daily use it’s held up great. Removing the weird side pockets was a great decision, as was adding in the wood for stability. Overall I’m really happy with how this turned out.