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

Letting The Garden Fallow

I thought this post was scheduled to go up last week, but it wasn’t. This is what happens when vacation brain kicks in. Without further ado, a new post.

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August is a big month for us around the house. It’s my last full month before another graduate class starts, but it’s also the month we harvest a significant portion of produce from our gardens and start planning next summers garden.

2014BlueberriesExcept, next year, there won’t be a garden. At least not in the same format that we’ve had our six gardens in the last seven years we’ve lived here. Here’s why: the soil. I’ve found the most important part of gardening is learning to read the soil. This is something I’m still learning every year with every garden we have. It’s a science and an art. The soil tells me just about everything I need to know about my garden, and this year it’s screaming for mercy. We do crop rotations (i.e. planting a nitrogen fixer where the previous year was a nitrogen feeder) for both insect infestation control and soil management. I care a lot about our soil as it’s own living structure and don’t believe in perpetually placing synthetic petroleum based amendments, or even organic, to force it to continue to produce when it’s so clearly needing some rest.

This year we’ve had a pretty intense weed struggle, more so than any other year to date. The weeds are OUT OF HAND.

DSC_1249-01This is the same side of the garden we had the worst trouble getting anything to grow before the weeds announced themselves. Take a look in the bottom left corner. Those are basil plants. It’s the one area I’ve managed to keep a little bit weed free. Those basil plants should be double the size they are, and they almost haven’t changed size at all since being planted. The other side of the garden also has basil plants which are doing fabulous. Along with the better basil, the rest of the garden is growing healthy and with minimal soil pests, so we’re happy about that. Still, the weeds need some serious control throughout, not just in the horrendous “I give up” patch above.

DSC_1247-01After six gardens in the same (but slightly expanding every year) plot, we’re going to do a controlled fallow of the garden. Our plan is to use black plastic to starve most of the weeds, but we’re still going to plant some items through the black plastic like garlic and potentially tomatoes. We’ll be building a bean fence or tent somewhere else in the yard, and we’ll use another 2×40 ft bed we have to grow squash, cuc’s and some greens in. We’ll figure out the rest for the things like cabbage, radishes, broccoli, basil, etc. Perhaps raised beds somewhere else, perhaps another garden plot, who knows.

Here is, more or less, the proposed fallow plan:

  1. Prior to tilling the garden this fall, take soil core samples and send them to the University of Maine for soil testing to get an accurate reading. This has needed to be done for years. It’s about time.
  2. Spread manure and compost on the garden and till the entire plot.
  3. Cover the entire garden in black plastic.
  4. Cut slits in the black plastic and plant garlic in the side of the garden with the least weed damage.
  5. Early spring pull up the black plastic over the asparagus patch and heavily mulch with mulch straw or second cutting hay from the previous year.
  6. Hope for a hot spring and cook the garden until late May, early June.
  7. Repeat for a second year if needed.

There’s nothing quite like seeing a large beautiful garden filled with food in the back yard. However, taking care of the soil is vitally important or there won’t ever be food growing there again in any kind of quality or quantity. It will be nice to get more of our land into production anyway, and this is the perfect issue to force us into it. As for right now though, this beautiful August month in Maine, we’re going to keep harvesting, weeding, and enjoying the fruits of our labor.

DSC_1228-01Heck, worst comes to worst, we join a CSA for the summer to supplement our smaller garden. We’ll get to try veggies that we potentially don’t grow yet while also supporting a local farm. I’ll call this a win-win.

xo,

Heather

 

Oscar and the Cedar’s

“Oscar and the Cedar’s” sounds like a band that might open for Mumford and Son’s, but I am much more literal that that. I’m heading back to this blog after a month hiatus, with an update on the cedar we sawed from my mother-in-laws property this winter, which you can read more about here. Oscar, our sawmill, is making an appearance this round.

DSC_0992I should start by saying that on the day we skid the trees out of the woods, I not only forgot my good camera, but I had neither my long-gone-missing point and shoot (found on the Fourth of July in my tackle box from the previous year) or my cellphone camera since my phone had long since lost all battery power. This is not a complaint in the least, more just to let you know that I have absolutely zero photos of the skidding process (getting the trees out of the woods) with our logging winch and tractor, loading the logs onto the trailer to bring home, or driving the logs over two hours home. I indeed totally failed on this front, but I had a great weekend so that counts for something.

That aside, this cedar is going to be the planks for our porch. It’s pretty fun being able to take a tree from standing to finished decking without any third party, or second party. Each board is five-quarter by six rough. The finished size will be approximately one by five for each deck plank. Here are some shots of Andy processing the cedar we brought back home.

DSC_1103 DSC_0979 DSC_0988 DSC_0993 DSC_0995 DSC_0998 DSC_1010 DSC_1019 DSC_1021 DSC_1095 DSC_1093 DSC_1062 DSC_1097 DSC_1108 DSC_1100 DSC_1024 DSC_1023 DSC_0986 DSC_1110Andy has laughed and told me I haven’t covered this nearly as intensively as I should be, and he’s totally right. I may never live down completely not getting any footage of the initial skidding.  We will likely be cutting, winching and skidding a few more out though so I should be able to redeem myself.

Until I have that chance, maybe I can distract you with photos of cute dogs in a field. Here’s to hoping.

DSC_1053 DSC_1004

xo,

Heather

 

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

 

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