A New Porch, A Garden Downscale, and A Kitchen On The Way

Last year Andy cut down cedar on his mom’s property for the porch we needed to finish. We then brought the cedar home, milled it out, stacked it, and turned it into decking. I’m of course using the marital “we” because it was 99.99% all Andy.

Here’s the kicker, I took photos of Andy turning the lumber into random width, plantation grown, decking. I cannot for the life of me find them though. So what you get are finished photos instead.

June 2015 House Updates (3)June 2015 House Updates (5)It’s a pretty great view, and the porch creates a little wind tunnel from the field to the road. It’s perfect for sitting on because the almost perpetual light breeze helps keep the black flies and mosquitoes away. We’d call it intentional, but it definitely wasn’t. We’ve already had a few “porch parties” with small family gatherings on it, as well as dinners outside etc.

Andy really wasn’t sure if he was going to start the kitchen first or finish the porch, and I have to say that I at first pushed for the kitchen. Once again, Andy had it right. Having this porch is SO nice, and it’s going to make a nice retreat when the kitchen and everything else is completely torn apart.

Speaking of “completely torn apart” we are getting there on the other side of the house. The windows have come in, and the siding…well, it looks like this:

June 2015 House Updates (2)Propped up is the new door that is going to the right of the current door, which will lead into the new mudroom. I don’t really have much else to say beyond that, so let’s awkwardly segway into the last big to do here…

..we’re not growing a garden this year.

I know, I know. This is hard to even wrap ones head around, let alone mine. Essentially it came down to three factors, first and most important, the soil needs to rest because it became too weedy so it’s now covered in black plastic for the summer; two, we’re renovating; three, I’m in graduate classes until August. Between the soil needs, and our schedules, it was one of the hardest calls ever not to grow the majority of our own food this summer.

Thankfully, we live in Maine where CSA’s (community supported agriculture) are rampant. We’ll be getting one this year through Winter Hill Farm in Freeport, Maine. We’re looking forward to see what comes our way, and we’re hoping it will help keep our diets on track while the house is ripped apart. We have a new grill (you can sort of see it on the deck in the photo above) that has a side burner as well. The plan right now is to cook up big batches of rice and beans at the beginning of the week, and then grill veggies all week long. This will allow us to have quick, delicious and healthy dinners which will help both our budget and our waistlines.

If you thought we weren’t growing ANY food however, you would be wrong.

June 2015 House Updates (1)Troy did indeed come out this year once again. We tilled a small patch behind our blueberries and planted some butternut squash, summer squash, zucchinis, and cucumbers. Then, behind another stone wall we planted basil. In the garden area we do have about 100 feet of garlic, as well as our asparagus. That’s all we’re doing for vegetables, but we have more fruit going this year. We expanded our blueberry and strawberry beds because they are getting large and spreading fast. It’s perfect! We even added some more blueberries this year, two more grape plants, and six elderberry plants.

Then there are the herbs. Like I’m going go go through a summer without a sufficient planting of herbs. Knowing we didn’t have anymore planting space, I bought a huge planter and now my herbs are right on my deck.

June 2015 House Updates (6)Overall it’s been a good spring and summer, now if I can only remember to keep my camera on me. If I ever find the photos of Andy turning the lumber into decking, I’ll post it here. As you can imagine, it was a load of work (understatement), and I’d love to be able to show you all how it went!

All for now,

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

Walking In The Weeds

It has most definitely been a Labor Day around here in all senses of the word. Make that, a Labor weekend/week. We’ve completely re-roofed the original house but I’ll talk more about that in the weekly Wednesday renovation recap in a couple days.

With all of the work on the house some of the other little things have fallen behind, primarily up-keeping the weeding.  Our garden? Weeds except for around the food that’s still growing. Our walkway? Weeds weeds weeds. I finally got sick of the weeds on the walkway primarily because every time I walked down it, in anything but boots, my feet would get wet from the morning dew. It drove me nuts. The point of having a walkway was so we didn’t have to walk over the grass and get our feet/pants wet.

Plus, let’s be honest with each other—this looks terrible. Straight up terrible. So I took a little time to go ape on those weeds. We have weed blocker underneath, but over time the witch grass has grown in over the edges and pulled it’s way across the walk. As a con, witch grass is a menace to society. As a pro (in this context) it’s easy to pull up. Witch grass is normally a nightmare to get rid of because any broken roots grow back 10 times worst. Thankfully the roots this time grew over the rocks so they were easy to get up.

About 45 minutes of work, and the walk was looking not only wider, but a lot better.

A few days later I tackled all the nasty witch grass and weeds between the walk pavers.See that pile of clumps of grass to the right of the pavers in the photo below? Those were all throughout the pavers. Yep, weedy.

These pavers will most likely be moved to look nicer, or they may end up all together in a different part of the yard. Until then it’s just nice to have a cleaned up walkway.

With the inside of the house still needing some tlc and cleaning it’s nice to see one area taken care of. Raise your hands if you need to wash your shower curtain, do some laundry, vacuum the dog hair, and organize your shelves in your makeshift bedroom.

*raises hand*

You may just find me laying on the walkway staring at the clouds. The weeded, wide, nice, walkway.

xo,

Heather

P.S. You may notice all of my photos from this post out will be watermarked. Blog scrapers are becoming notoriously scary and they scrape content straight from a blog and put it on a highly advertised site as original content, when it’s not. One way to help combat this is through watermarked photos. I hate to do it, but at this point it’s just necessary as I found one of my most popular posts scraped. Boo.

Hold The Cherry Pie

Remember how a little while back I posted about our poor cherry tree? Well, I discussed the issue with MOFGA, the Maine Organic Farmers & Growers Association, and there wasn’t much hope for the tree. It looked like mechanical damage plus a mix of a potential canker disease.

We cut off all of the dead limbs like suggested and kept an eye on it but there was just no hope. The branches have been continuously dying and becoming brittle. As mentioned in the previous post on the tree, it looked slightly discolored. I realized if I licked my finger and wiped the bark I could wipe the discoloration off. I tried this on a few other trees and they all dried back to the same color. I knew something was on my tree, and it made me sad.

We also knew we had to get it out of there before whatever was going on spread to our other trees—if it hasn’t already. We’re keeping a close eye on them, especially our plum tree.

I’ve researched all around and it looks like you essentially only have to look at a sweet cherry tree wrong and they die. It could have started with the rootstock, been a mixture of mechanical and winter damage, been from pests, other diseased trees, planting it wrong, pruning it wrong or simply walked by it wrong. In other woods, they seem to be pretty susceptible to death.

So while I was gone fighting off Jaws in Martha’s Vineyard, Andy took to taking the cherry tree out. When I came home it looked a little more like this.

Just to be safe, we won’t be growing anything except grass in this same spot for at least a few years. We aren’t sure there is any damage to the soil, but given the condition of the tree we’re going to let it have a few years rest.

As of now the tree is in the burn pile, awaiting the next torching. We’ll need to do it soon so the tree can’t potentially transfer any airborn diseases to our other trees.

What surprised me most when I saw the tree in the burn pile was how small the root ball was. I would have expected after three years it would have been bigger than this. I may be entirely incorrect however.

Oh well. Long story short, we no longer have a cherry tree. Growing whether it be an orchard, a garden or personally is all about trying new things, figuring out what works and what doesn’t, and learning from your mistakes. For now I’ll keep researching and reading, and maybe down the line if we try another cherry tree we’ll end up with a sweet cherry pie at the end.

xo,

Heather

Little Bit O’ Landscaping

If last weekend wasn’t busy enough between arguing with Troy, planting our swiss chard and kale in the garden and my husband with ox blood finishing up the barn (other posts on the barn here, here, here and here), I also landscaped a little. Two things needed to be done, re-mulching the fruit trees and slowly starting our bed up front by the road. Because the bed up by the road is likely only going to happen when I have a little time here and there, I’m focusing on fruit trees for this post.

Now, before I get into this I want to make it clear that I am not even remotely close to knowledgeable of caring for fruit trees. I’m still learning how to figure it all out. I give you this warning because there is a lot of mumbojumbo on the web taken as truth. I’m simply doing what works for us, where we are in the country. Also, our trees are too young to bear fruit so we have at least another year or two before a couple of them are old enough and I’ll find out if I’ve screwed the whole shin-dig up. In the mean time, I’m doing what I can. With that said…

The grass was seriously growing in on the three fruit trees we planted a few years back, and starting to encroach on the trees we planted last year. I was concerned about the roots getting choked out. Instead of wood chip mulch, which would have cost money, we used sawdust to much which was a free byproduct of sawing our lumber for the barn and a little manure from the farm.

I focused on our plum tree first, which looked like this. The discolored part you’re seeing is actually hay, but I didn’t like that green grass all up in that trunk.

To start, I did a cut edge the entire way around. My mother-in-law who is a horticulturalist taught me a sharp cut edge is a good way to help discourage grass, so that’s exactly what I did. Then I cut off the top soil, and made two piles. Pile one was all of the soil I had to shake the dirt off of, and pile two was all of the grass disregarded after shaking the good soil back around the tree. When all was said and done I had about 2″ to fill in to get it back to grass level.

Then I filled up my wheelbarrow with a couple scoops of manure…

…and then a few more of sawdust.

First I spread the manure. Then I laid down the sawdust on top until it was flush with the grass and fairly graded.

It doesn’t look as nice as bark mulch but for us, it ticks all the marks. I was trying to figure out how to explain this, and I found this great explanation from Cornell about what a mulch should do, which is exactly why sawdust was our choice.

The ideal mulch is:

  • Economical.
  • Readily available.
  • Easy to apply and remove.
  • Stays in place.
  • Supplies organic matter to the soil.
  • Is free of noxious weeds, insects, and diseases.

It also performs the three functions described earlier: suppresses weeds, conserves soil water, and moderates soil temperatures.”

As well, sawdust is an acidifying mulch which is part of the reason fruits love it (especially blueberries). Keep note acidifying mulch’s can rob nitrogen from the top layer of your soil, which is why despite the fact we have good soil I’ve accounted for this by putting a layer of manure underneath. Be careful about nitrogen though with fruit trees. Too much nitrogen can result in beautiful foliage and flowers but restrict fruiting. The con to sawdust soil is it compacts and breaks down easily, so you have to fluff / add to it every year. For us, it’s the perfect mulch.

See how much better it looks in comparison to the other two trees? You can barely even see the third tree—but I promise it’s there.

Now, only seven more trees to go. Fantastic.

xo,

Heather