Fall Farm Projects 2014

Where to begin! The vegetable garden was my pride and joy this year, so the first killing frost was a sad day for me. Even though, there is something so wonderful about putting much of it to bed. The opportunity to really shine the light on what is left is incredible. The kale, Swiss chard, cabbage and many herbs are still in full form, so food from the kitchen is plentiful. Our Brussels sprouts gave us nothing but gigantic leaves this year…oh well. Yesterday I planted four beds of garlic – over 250 bulbs! Last year we planted 80 and only 40 survived. I realized with all the salsa and sauce making, I need way more garlic. Ours from this year was gone by August.

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This bed of tomatoes has been taken into storage and they are ripening faster than I can give them away – the last of the yellows.

 

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So, besides putting the veggies to bed, we have been busy, with the help of a neighbor and his machinery, building a circle drive with center berm garden.

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Jeff is working to lay a limestone barrier around the edge, and we actually have much of it planted, but not all the gravel is in. I’ll have to post pictures next weekend of a more finished project. We’ve also been building a perennial garden around the deck, and Jeff and Max laid a new concrete sidewalk between drive and back door. It was a big weekend of work!

 

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We did have a little fun with the neighbors picking apples and making cider!

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Put A Bee in Your Bonnet

Native Wildflower Nutritious Bee Forage Needed!

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I’ve got a bee in my bonnet.  As this idiomatic expression is defined by the Cambridge on-line dictionary, it means to continue to talk about something you think is very important even when others do not. Ha! I can tell you are laughing! Oh, she finally realized how irritating she is constantly talking about vegetarian recipes, juice and salad! You’re thinking I’m going to lay off and leave you alone for awhile? Maybe start posting about how to make marshmallows or some other confection using high fructose corn syrup, or bring you a mouth-watering line-up of fried fair-food on a stick? No. I’m off food for the moment, and am now perseverating over bee forage gardening. I’ve just got to tell you about it because I think you can help.

So, in June the United Stated Department of Agriculture (USDA) offered a program that will provide $8 million dollars as an incentive for farmers to set aside land that had been commercially grown, and instead, establish honeybee habitats. This money is designated for the five states where half, that’s right, HALF of the commercial US bee population resides in the summer months – you guessed it, Minnesota is one of them as well as Wisconsin, Michigan and the Dakotas. In February of this same year, the USDA designated $3 million dollars to support bee populations through conservation and environmental quality programs that involve setting aside 100,000 acres to grow native wild-flowers. I got wind of these programs through my dad sending me USDA links, and it got me thinking.

As a city slicker, I would not have likely noticed this news. As a foodie, I would have been a little curious, and perhaps developed a narcissistic worry over where my next plate might come from if the bee disappears, but now as a beekeeper myself, I see the need to act. I’m freakin’ out! Sometimes, environmental news seems so overwhelmingly sad – it is – but, in the case of the bee, I am hoping there is something quite simple and beautiful that we can all do. We can plant gardens! We can plant gardens full of bee-friendly flowers (without neonicotinoid-laden pesticides, of course) that will provide nutritious forage for our most important friends.

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The views at my farm are lovely, but after reading the news of late regarding bees, I see my property in a whole new light. Do you notice what’s missing? Sure there’s a bit of clover, a few flowers I planted, but in general, there’s a lot of open space that could become wildflower bee habitat. We do have a bit of meadow with wildflowers like milkweed, daisy and yarrow that provides forage for bees and butterflies, and I also planted a large circle of black sunflower that will look crazy-cool in  a couple of weeks. But, because the previous owners had animals, the burdock and thistle were thick and choking out nearly everything else. We decided to keep a large portion of the property mowed this year in order to cull those two particular species. As we have cleared the land, we have planted three varieties of clover as well as annual rye to give quick cover to the soil. But now I see that this is not enough.

Our Meadow with Milkweed

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So, I have been reading like crazy trying to figure out what flowers bees will like and what I can grow on the property. The USDA program suggests that the planting include a mix of annuals, perennials and sometimes native grasses. They also suggest planting in large swaths or patches at least 20 square feet. Below is a very large patch of Phacelia I found planted at a neighbors blueberry farm specifically placed for bumblebee forage. Apparently, it is the bumblebee who is the main pollinator for blueberries. I had never seen this annual before. It has a really beautiful blue to purple flower and when planted in mass it is quite stunning. The picture below shows Phacelia about two weeks after its prime. It also turns out that Phacelia can be used as a cover crop. Cover crops are used to add organic matter, aerate, protect soil from erosion or to provide or absorb specific nutrients. It turns out that Phacelia is good at absorbing extra nitrogen and calcium. That seems a good thing for a blueberry farmer who wants to keep lime levels low for the correct blueberry ph.

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I found this field of poppies at another farm near me, and these flowers were full of happy bees. In reading about bee-friendly flowers, I learned that bees go to poppies for their pollen to feed the babies rather than for nectar for honey. I also learned from visiting with the neighbor that her seed comes from the grocery – how convenient! The poppy seeds we buy for lemon poppy-seed muffins can also be grown for bee forage! So cool. I’ve not had much luck with poppies in my city gardens, but I haven’t given it much effort. Growing with Plants has great step-by-step instructions for planting poppies if you want to give it a try. They are so stunning in mass and even lovelier in a bouquet on the table!

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So, here’s what I propose to do. I bought a bunch of bee-friendly flower seeds from companies that would not have seeds exposed to neonicotinoids, and plan to plant in large circular swaths. I bought large quantities of Lupin, Echinacea, Cosmos, Chicory, Wallflower and Black-Eyed Susans in addition to a smattering of other bee-happy plants like Betony, Flax, Daisy, Wild Indigo, Hyssop and Aster. I’m excited to create a visually stunning landscape over the next couple years, and add to a friendlier bee habitat. In the city, our entire yard is perennial plantings, and plan to add a few more patches of Black-Eyed Susan, Poppies and LOTS of Monarda. It seems to me that no matter how much land we have, we will all enjoy the benefits of building for the bees. Join me won’t you, to put a bee in everyone’s bonnet!

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Beet Greens, Herbs and Butter Lettuce Salad

The Table Was Set…

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The Harvest Prepped…

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And An Herbed Beet Greens And Butter Lettuce Salad Was Born!

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If you’re getting a CSA or shopping the farmer’s markets, look for healthy and perky leaves on your beets for a double whammy as beet greens make fabulous salad. They have a wonderful, rich, mellow flavor, and their tender leaf makes for a nice crisp salad chew! I chopped the greens and thinly sliced one beet for a quick salad, but should experiment with the tearing method as the greens may have a better aesthetic that way.

Aesthetics aside, the flavors in this salad were quite complex and enjoyable. One of my weekend menus called for Farm Fresh Spring Rolls that were to include rice noodles, beet greens, butter lettuce, mint, basil, fennel and dill, but I ran into a bit of a materials snafu and had to alter the course. Before I discovered my missing ingredient (forgotten spring roll wraps), I made a spicy sesame ginger dressing which ended up topping the beet greens and spring roll herbs in a wonderful accident. Toasted sesame oil pairs well with the buttery nature of beet greens and the ginger-garlic-spice made for an interesting and delicious surprise flavor.

Here’s an approximate recipe for the dressing. You will want to taste and adjust especially the soy sauce. I don’t like the dressing too salty, so find that I add the aminos slowly.

Spicy Sesame Ginger Garlic Dressing:

  • 1 cup toasted sesame oil
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbs. Braggs Liquid Aminos
  • 2 Tbs. honey
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 inch piece ginger, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. dried chile flakes

This salad was followed by a simple collard stir fry with ginger and garlic,  spicy tofu and jasmine rice.

After All Was Said And Done…

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Sam’s Produce U-Pick or Ready-Picked

Sam’s Produce U-Pick or Ready-Picked

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If you are a fool, you’ll drive Highway 10 east out of St. Paul in order to get to Sam’s Produce to pick your own strawberries, peas and other yummies in a little less than 90 minutes. If you’re smart, you’ll make a day of it. Drive Wisconsin’s Great River Road 35 through some of the prettiest scenery and charming river towns. You’ll stop at the Smiling Pelican Bakeshop for THE MOST outstanding baked goods ever, check out some art in one of the Stockholm galleries, think about Christmas shopping for some interesting linens and kitchen goodies at The Palate Gourmet Kitchen Store then have lunch at the Harborview Cafe in Pepin. Only then will you amble north on N or any other variation of back roads you can find to slowly take you to Sam’s outside Arkansaw, Wisconsin. Don’t be a fool and forget a cooler with a bit of ice, because you may want to take the same route home! A smartphone is also quite necessary for mapping purposes! Of course, getting lost could be fun if you’re up for adventure! Do make sure Sam’s is open for afternoon picking, or you’ll have to reverse the order of my suggested itinerary!

I rode out to Sam’s for strawberries with a neighbor from the area, Terry Cuddy. She hails from Rush River Produce (watch the video!) and runs a FABULOUS u-pick blueberry farm. (Plan another trip for blueberries beginning the third or fourth week in July or anytime through the beginning of September.) Knowing the area well, she meandered us around farm country north of Maiden Rock, through Plum City and down a few “Sleepy Hallow” gravel roads – wow! What amazing scenery! After today’s adventure, my To Do list now reads, “Take a Drive.” I’d love to get to the point where I “know the roads.” There are lots of 450th, 670th, 220th streets and avenues along with highways called N, P and D…it’s confusing for the city slickers!

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What a treat it was to not only see the scenery, but to sit in a row chock-full of perfectly red luscious berries. There is nothing better than a straight-from-the-vine freshly picked fruit. In my opinion, many commercial berries have lost that intense strawberry flavor. They seem to have a more intense sweetness, but less of that tart strawberry rush. The variety we picked at Sam’s was a smallish berry, not too sweet, but with highly concentrated flavor. In addition to being a bit less sweet than commercially grown strawberries, Sam’s berry was noticeably juicy. I suspect they were plump from all the rain we’ve experienced lately.

These incredibly juicy berries ended up in Romtopf, smoothie-ready frozen cubes, sauce with honey, and some were left whole and fresh for this weekend’s strawberry shortcake.

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Sitting in a field picking berries gives you time to think about the “farm to table” concept. While picking in Sam’s Produce fields, I thought about how Dan and Tammy and their kids prepare the soil, plant the berries, mulch them in the fall, uncover them in spring, worry about rain and pests and getting the berries picked. In the city it is so easy to take food for granted, so it seems valuable to experience the field if even for a moment!

You can get updates on Sam’s Facebook Page, find info about their farm and products at Savor Wisconsin or call them personally for specifics at 715-285-5351. I’m excited to make many trips to their farm this summer – think pickles!

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Making Do Farm Porch

Temporary Makeover – Ahh! Much Better.

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Our farmhouse porch faces south with a full wall of old broken windows. It is our hope to someday add floor-to-ceiling windows and create a solarium space for seed starting, potting and other plant related projects, but until that project queues up, I figure I need to be able to live with what we have.  I’m not one to have patience for dirt and grime, so in a fit of mid-day frenzy induced by rain, I decided to paint the porch. My main goal – brighten and clean.

The previous owner built this funny work bench and paneled the walls in plywood. It was farm practical, but farm girl unapproved. The grimy dog-scratched doors were gone last summer. We were thrilled to discover the upstairs bedroom doors were actually full-view double paned exterior doors, so we were able to use one of them for the kitchen entry off the porch…much prettier…still needs to be painted, but prettier!

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Clearly, this space was also used for the animals, so it had a subtle smell of wet dog and cat urine. Mice also travel through and occasionally don’t make it, so the bench boxes where they nested and died, smelled of mouse. I found some old junk when I was cleaning. Of course, I hoped to find the farmer’s buried treasure – perhaps a gold brick or at least a can of old coins, but instead I found old building materials, clothespins and a gun cleaning kit. Just what I was looking for. I did score an old pickle crock without a crack or scratch!

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Since the name of the makeover game was make do, I used what paint I had leftover from interior projects. After removing all the nails, screws and miscellaneous hooks, I primed the walls and white washed the old bench. The only floor choices available were turquoise or white, so I opted for blue seeing that this is a major entry often covered with mud. If it were just up to me, I would prefer the white. People think I am crazy when they see the white floors inside the house, but so far the color has worn well, and it is easy to wipe up if need be. I love the bright fresh feel of it. This below…not so much.

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Now we have a lovely place to work with plants, hang our sun hats and prop our toys.

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We even have a place to rest our weary bones! – One of the joys of going to the Cities is to find thrift store treasures for the farm – $10 for the wicker at my favorite ARC Value Village!

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The upstairs bedrooms had all been trimmed out in a stained pine I referred to as “Cowboy Trim.” We replaced it with a milled trim to match the 1870s trim in the living room, but saved the cowboy pine for projects. Jeff made the wood boxes from that old trim to store logs, kindling and paper for winter fires.

I like the “Make Do” porch so much, I may not be inclined to do the real remodel for quite some time!

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The Bee

Workers and Drones

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There sure is a lot of talk about bees lately. There are articles in the paper, news reports and documentaries. People are starting to get worried as they realize that if we want food, we need pollinators. The bee is in trouble, and talk around town is that we better do something about it.

What can we do? How do we save the bee? Well, some people say we need to plant large tracts of native wild flowers. As human development in the form of farming and settlements increases, we are effectively removing much of the bees’ food source. The USDA is trying to entice farmers to turn over some of their farm land to wildflowers by offering subsidies. Hm…that sounds familiar…farm subsidies. Some people point their fingers at our farmers blaming them for pesticide use while Colony Collapse Disorder has many baffled. I certainly don’t have the answer, in fact, I know nothing, but I love food and honey, so I have some bees.

I likely wouldn’t have bees if my dad wasn’t a beekeeper and my husband a willing apprentice. I likely wouldn’t have bees if I didn’t have the farm (although I do have a city neighbor I would enjoy irritating with bees!), and I likely wouldn’t have bees if I hadn’t started making my honey balsamic dressing. Since Jeff and I started eating this stuff, we eat at least a quart of honey a month.

We have two colonies of very beautiful bees, and yesterday was the day that Jeff decided to add a second layer to the new colonies. My dad delivered the bees in early May and at that time, the colonies were set up with four old frames, or foundations, that already had honey built up, and we added a number of new wax frames so the bees could go to work building brood comb to make babies. They have been busy! They almost filled all the frames, so we knew they were close to outgrowing their hive. In fact, I told Jeff last Thursday that while feeding the bees I had seen both queens. He got worried thinking that her presence on the top of the hive may indicate the need to move – or swarm! Fortunately we didn’t need to do any on-the-job-training catching a swarm and getting it back home!

So, with the smoker all set, the new frames ready to go and the colony open for business, Jeff took a deep thoughtful breath and jumped in!

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In the picture below, notice the new frames leaning up against the hive. The first hive was divided into both boxes and then new frames were added to fill the two boxes.

Right as Jeff was tending the bees, the farmer neighbor came through with fertilizer! We can do our part to have bees and grow masses of wildflowers, but it’s going to take some major economic restructuring to convince the corn-growers to change their ways.

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And, someday our bee yard won’t be a patch of weeds! That project is on the docket queuing up!

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Feeling-Sorry-for-the-Radish Pickle

Radish Pickles

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I really never thought I’d like radishes that much let alone develop enough empathy to actually feel sorry for them. I tend towards narcissism when it comes to the spicy little nuggets – I could care less if they come or go.  Today however, between raindrops in the garden, I saw little rosy butts literally jumping out of their snug beds with cracking skins exposing a crisp white chasm of flesh. Oh! It was so sad. I realized this travesty was a direct result of too much water. The spicy buggers were water-logged! I couldn’t help but imagine how they must feel – so fat and tight in their pants! Really, it was quite a shock! I first noticed this odd behavior after Saturday’s storm with five inches of rain. In fact, some were literally toppled over in the garden as if clawing their way out of a freshly dug grave. They were nearly able to escaped the deluge. I thought perhaps the lighting caused this unique experience, but it was today when their skins started to pop that I realized they were just too full to take any more.

So, I saved them and turned them into pickles! I never made radish pickles before (well, actually, I made some yesterday, too, so I knew I would like them – delicious!) so I wasn’t sure how I would like them prepped – sliced, wedged or whole. I decided to make all three. How do you prefer your radish pickle?

I’m not leaving the recipe here, but you can ask Mr. Google if you don’t know how to can, and the brine recipe can be found here.

Learning to Love Radish Salad

 

Radish Salad with Curry Vinaigrette

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Let the truth be told…radishes have often found their way into my compost bin! Of course, that was a long, long, long time ago when I didn’t know better! Now that I understand how much work goes into vegetable gardening, I wouldn’t dream of gifting them to the kitchen gods quite so often. Even so, I can only eat so much radish. I like them. I like them a lot, but one or two a year seems to be quite enough for me! Well, after they exploded from the garden the other day, I realized I would soon have quite a number of radishes having dutifully companion planted them with my beans and carrots. Not only would the challenge be to create a highly palatable radish dish, but hopefully use the greens as well.

IMG_1405The last few years I have been making quite a lot of fermented veg, so of course, using the radishes in that manner was the first thing that came to mind, but I am the only one in the house who will eat them. Thinking about the fermenting process reminded me of making kimchi – specifically of grating the veg and soaking it in salt water. This is a great trick for removing the “bglahh” from some of our more bitter friends!

I also pondered a dressing that would highlight the earthy nature of the green knowing that those, too, must be included in the salad. It also occurred to me that a long time ago I used to make dressings with dijon mustard, but have forgone that option for my simple oil, vinegar and honey concoctions as of late. And so, this salad was born!

I grated the radish with a bit of carrot, salted the mix for about an hour. Then I rinsed it and squeezed out the excess water. This was added to the finely chopped radish greens, tossed in the dijon curry vinaigrette and topped with toasted almonds. It is quite delicious if I might say so myself!

The next week… I made the version below with white icicle radishes, massaged collard greens, a few leftover red peppers, the same curry dressing and a sprinkling of mustard flowers.

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Salad Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch fresh radishes, grated
  • 2 carrots, peeled and grated
  • radish leaves, finely chopped
  • toasted almond slivers
  • kosher salt to sprinkle

Curry Vinaigrette Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 4 Tbs. rice wine, apple cider or red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbs. honey
  • 2 tsp. dijon mustard
  • 2 tsp. Bragg’s Liquid Aminos or soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. curry powder
  • fresh ground black pepper

Directions:

  1. Grate radishes and carrots. Sprinkle the grated veggies with kosher salt, mix together and let sit for an hour.
  2. Finely chop the radish leaves, cover and refrigerate.
  3. Mix all ingredients for vinaigrette. Taste and adjust as needed – some like more salt, more vinegar, more oil, more sweet.
  4. Once the salt has pulled much of the water from the veggies, rinse under cold water in a colander then squeeze extra water out.
  5. Toss greens, grated veggies and vinaigrette. Top with almonds right before serving. This salad can marinate in the fridge for a few hours before serving.

Poppin’ Up Around the Farm

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Quite a few little projects have been popping up around the place the last couple of weeks. I fell in love with some herbal tea my dad brought from Ithaca last summer, so have set to making my own. Jeff devised this great drying system so I can keep the herbs drying as they come in throughout the summer. I’ve already dried bunches of clover, camomile, catmint, peppermint, roses, angelica, and nettles.

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Last week the garden gate got updated with a sheet metal “roof” as well as one of the many old rusted garden implements found on the property. As Jeff finds the old tools, machine pieces and junk, he’s been stacking them in a perennial garden. The junk is taking on a bit of an artistic bend!

I might end up planting some sort of flowering vine around the gate to soften the entrance and welcome the bees. The garden fencing is semi-temporary as we are not sure whether the garden will live forever in this site, but I love the idea of creating espaliered fruit fencing or a vined structure of some sort. To appease my dreams this year, the tomatoes will grow in the espalier form against the fence.

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Another of our projects was to create a nice container for compost. Last year I just mounded all compost material which worked out fine, but didn’t have such a nice tidy look to it. With my sweeper attachment for the mower, I went crazy filling the new composter with grass. It’s so nice to have all the grass to cover the kitchen scraps as they come out, and I find it so convenient to have the grass on hand for quick mulch needs. The bottom foot of the compost is burdock leaves! I have a feeling the compost will consist largely of burdock leaves for many years as I work to eradicate (or at least slightly tame) the beast from our property. I have read that it can be used in tea, so some day may be kicking myself if the herbal tea business starts to boom!

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Talk about booming! Yesterday I pulled one radish out of the bed, but the others still looked a little small. For fourteen hours yesterday lightning filled the sky, rain poured down in buckets and thunder rippled through the atmophere. This morning the radishes had literally jumped out of the soil! I don’t know if they were electrocuted or what, but bursting is an understatement!

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In fact, the entire garden burst after last night’s rain. Tomato suckers that I picked on Friday had grown back two inches today, and everything seemed to have doubled in size overnight.

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Last night’s storm took down a very old apple tree and coincidentally, my parents gave Jeff a Honeycrisp for his birthday. Out with the old, in with the new!

First Year Garden

Maiden Rock, Wisconsin the second week of May… Trees were barely open, the grass was short but bright green and sleet-snow fell from the sky.

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The following day was bright and clear. Our farmer neighbor brought in the tractor to plow under the winter rye in our new garden and implement composted manure from his steer. We let that rest for one week. We chose this site in front of the barn for our first garden as it had been the paddock. Our hope was that the soil would already be fairly fertile with nearly thirty years of horses on the area. The soil in the part of the world is a silty loam that drains quickly.

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The following week we dug and moved a MILLION pounds of soil to form our “no-till” garden beds. These will be added to each year with layers of mulch, compost, leaves and grass clippings. The first layer was straw and grass clippings to hold in the moisture and allow the beds to rest again.

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The following week, “Superman,” as one of my friends refers to my husband, installed the fence while I planted all the seedlings started in March as well as all the seeds from the seed box in the farm office. We’ll see if my intensive tomato trellising plan for the fence works!

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In just a couple of weeks, this land went from barely Spring to FULL-BLOWN Summer complete with 90 degree days and weeds popping up left and right! My work for the summer is clearly defined – weed eradication will be the name of the game! My tools: one pair of gloves, a strong back, and the dream of a goat, some chickens or a duck! Fortunately, my seeds and seedlings are a bit ahead of the weeds, and I’m ready with mulch! The garden was entirely planted by May 25th this year.

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The picture above was taken the first week of June. As you can see there are two beehives behind the garden. We’re taking a dive into beekeeping as well. We refer to the bees as “The BEE!” If we don’t use the singular, my dad, the beekeeper, might end up bringing 25 hives to our land!

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Our Father’s Day garden popped with radishes, collard greens, green onions and mustard greens. Tonight’s salad will include a bit of arugula!

By the end of June, it was jammin’ all of the above with the addition of baby bok choy, basil, peas and lots of green tomatoes!

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A Farm Office

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This was the stinky room in the house. Don’t get me wrong, the whole house reeked, but this one was tops. I suspect it had been used as the potty for the cats and dogs that took up residency as the smell of urine overpowered the room and the floor was clearly saturated with the slightly oily residue urine leaves behind. I used about a gallon of one of those pet enzyme odor eliminators, sprayed over the course of a few weeks while I was working upstairs, and washed the floors a few hundred times with bleach, but it wasn’t until I primed the space that the odors completely disappeared.

In the 80s remodel, owners moved the staircase and changed the shape of it. With evidence from original door jams that could be seen on the floors, I was able to see how the original staircase would have entered from the kitchen through a doorway. It would have been a steep incline up to the original two bedrooms. This would have allowed for the lofted bedroom to be bigger, perhaps even having a closet. The new staircase is ample with a landing allowing for the upstairs to have a large, open feel. Overall, it was a good design move for the house.

The office is now in the room off the living room that is partially under the staircase. We boxed in the area under the landing in order to accommodate a daybed, but this space could have been used for a small closet, drawer storage or left open. Since it smelled as if the cat boxes were stored there, I was happy to prime and seal it up. There is no odor anymore!

The previous owner never finished the walls the new walls andthe original plaster wall was covered in wallpaper that easily peeled off with warm water and a scraper as the plaster had been only roughly finished. We put up new sheetrock and I skim-coated the plaster to finish. I am so happy with the results. It’s a beautiful, sun-filled room!

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I am so thrilled with the way the daybed turned out! As you have seen, our interior design strategy has been to create a cottage look by painting everything. I like the clean yet unfussy nature of this concept – not to mention, the economic benefits! We have been able to build custom pieces and with hole-filler, caulk and paint, make everything look really fresh. All the furniture pieces in the office were built with pine and a bit of recycled moulding allowing me a budget for the final touches!

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Our second floor bathroom is en suite, so anyone staying in the other two bedrooms must walk through the master to access it. While this is fine for family, friends and other guests may feel a little awkward with that arrangement, so part of my decision to add a day bed to the office was to add a space for guests that would allow them their own bathroom. The bed will have a roll-out lower bed so two can stay comfortably in that room.

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Office with daybed

The Office

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In the next post you’ll see what I did with all these seeds!

 

 

Lagging Spring

Spring in Town

The country ever has a lagging Spring,
Waiting for May to call its violets forth,
And June its roses–showers and sunshine bring,
Slowly, the deepening verdure o’er the earth;
To put their foliage out, the woods are slack,
And one by one the singing-birds come back…

William Cullen Bryant

 

This is yesterday’s deepening verdure. The winter rye is greening in front of the barn, tree buds are beginning to push forward and it is not only Juncos to the feeder.

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BUT, Mother Nature has halted the verdant splendor and given us a more muted palate. Somehow, more quiet and composed.

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Spring is most surely lagging in this northern state.

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First Seasons at the Farm

EARLY SUMMER

When we closed on the place the end of June, the burdock and thistle were already about four feet tall. By the time we mowed the horse paddock and hill in August, the burdock was well over ten feet tall. Needless to say, we have a lot of weeds we’ll have to convince to take up residency elsewhere. Since I have already learned that trying to master these buggers is next to impossible, I am convinced that green manures, permaculture and any other way to strengthen the soil is what we’ll be trying.

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If our plans are to use the land to grow food, we felt that we had to see what we had so we could start planning. With the incredible weed bed, we could barely see the barns from the house, and as summer progressed, it felt that the ravine moved increasingly towards the house. We have 15 acres that started to feel like a large suburban lot.

MIDSUMMER

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Max used the lawn tractor to mow a trail down to the barn and then on to the ravine so we could explore the woods. With a few trails, we could at least see what we had and get out for a walk. With all the work on the house it wasn’t until Fall that we were able to GPS our property line to see what exactly was ours. It turns out that about eight acres are heavily wooded and seven are somewhat open – “tillable” as they say!

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LATE SUMMER

In August, we finally realized we needed to address the thistle and burr. Much of the land had been horse pasture in the past, and the burdock had taken over. Beautiful purple thistle, milkweed and wildflowers grow in abundance where the original dairy barn once stood. One of the stories we learned this summer from a neighbor is that there once was an old barn that caved in and then was burned by the couple that bought the place in the 80s. Indeed, Jeff found foundation rubble when he and our neighbor finally cleared the land. In clearing the land we also uncovered quite a lot of wire, semi-buried tools and rusted metal. At the edge of the ravine we found the junk pile with a hood from a 1940s Chevy truck.

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Here you can see the tufts of thistle well past the beautiful purple flower stage and well into the annoy-the-neighbor-farmer stage!

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Unfortunately, finding time to clear the land didn’t come until the dry weather had also moved in, so our farm looked like it had a hiney for awhile. The short grass quickly dried to brown and I was sad to see the butterflies and birds move out temporarily. It really was quite shocking to see the flat barren land that had looked so menacing and overgrown.

In addition to junk in the pasture where farm machinery had once been stored we also uncovered a small garden plot with chives, asparagus, and raspberries. These asparagus were taken too late in the season for those who know better, but we just couldn’t resist.

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This garden wasn’t so hard to see next to the house, but amazing how overgrown! In the city, my mulched perennial beds wake in the Spring with not a weed to be seen. Here, I was surprised to find landscape fabric and mulch under the weeds! We pulled and dug until the bed was cleared of crab and quack and then laid another six inches (at least) of mulch. Within two days, grass was popping up here and there. From this experience, I know the “weeds” will win. I have to search for another way to garden – to live harmoniously with the weeds or convince them to locate elsewhere!

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This is our quiet road with corn beginning to tassle. My grandfather painted a similar picture back in the 40s and I have always called it, “The Road to Nowhere.” Now I have my own road like in the picture, and I know where it goes! I’ve never appreciated this painting like I do now.

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 AUTUMN

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Autumn was glorious here. The light and colors were so vibrant and energizing – perhaps the first Fall that didn’t feel depressing to me!

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LATE AUTUMN

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This is the riding arena I mentioned in a previous post. We had no idea what the large bushes were that circled the space, or what secrets lay inside this area behind the garage. It was completely overgrown with poplars, wild blackberry and tall grass. Jeff and Max enjoyed many days of clearing and hauling the scraps to the burn pile. The brush pile had grown to the size of four large elephants and we were excited to have a BIG bonfire in December to celebrate the solstice.

*Since burning the brush pile, I have learned much about Permaculture and see now how the brush could have been used in raised bed berms. Fortunately, finding brush, fallen limbs and logs is not a problem on this property!

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 WINTER

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Our farmer neighbor has a “skidster” and helped with the burning by first plowing a path and then pushing the pile together over the course of a couple of days. We enjoyed many days around the fire the end of December. In fact, we were surprised that the pile burned for two months! The end of February we still saw tendrils of smoke spewing up from the crater. Now we have a small pile of dirt and ash we’ll take down to the edge of the ravine to bury.

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Winter weather was amazing to watch from the huge kitchen windows. We had many days of frost covered trees, drifting and blowing snow from the north and many bright, crisp sunny days. Winter is not the same from the city!

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SPRING

This shot was taken yesterday (4/2/14) . Most of our snow is gone, the winter rye is greening near the barn and many of the trees and bushes have their first burgeoning buds. Today we expect four to six inches of snow, so I’ll have to push my dreams of gardening to rest for a few more days!

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FARM FUN

IMG_1171As many of you know, my husband is an avid biker. He loves the road bike, but one of his main priorities for our ravine is to establish a mountain bike trail system. He started last fall to mark the trail and even began to clear a bit. This project will not only give us access to the woods, but will help open the canopy to provide light for the cultivation of our sugar bush. There are lots of little maples out there and we hope to one day tap for syrup. My mom made this wall art for Jeff’s garage. I think she intended it as a trellis, but we felt it needed an unobstructed view. This is the view from the farm road, in fact. We may have just “branded” ourselves!

 

Farmhouse Revised

To make sure the full impact is felt, make sure you look at yesterday’s post about buying  a farm. In that post you will find the “Before” pictures. We began this project nine months ago, and while much of the house project is “done” there is quite  a bit of fine-tuning left to work on. Of course, the acreage and outbuildings will keep us very busy for years to come!

We’ve lived in the city for many years with turn-of-the-century oak woodwork, and while beautiful, it is very dark. I’ve been craving light for years, so am thrilled to have been able to highlight the incredible light of the farm. We added windows to both enhance the view as well as to open the house even more to light.

For the interior I chose a monochromatic white color scheme to keep it fresh and clean feeling. Walls, ceilings, floors and trim are all the same white. For dimension, I was strongly influenced by the concept of “farmhouse coastal.” I added beachy splashes with a sea-foam marble for the wood stove heat wall, painted the office ceiling, crown molding and stairs a turquoise blue and have lots of sand colors resonating throughout the fabrics and fixtures.

I also wanted to add a bit of “farmhouse” especially as the house has two large barn wood beams to remind us of the old-timers who hand-sawed the huge timbers that once covered this land. My darling husband was commissioned to create beds, fridge panels, a stove hood and farm table to help the house celebrate its roots! Our laundry, bathroom and mudroom will eventually look like a tack room complete with a sliding barn door. That will be our next project. To complete, in fact, will be a screen porch, a covered porch that will become a solarium and the renovation of the bathrooms.

In terms of interior design, the space is minimally filled. I have yet to decide about window treatments, additional furniture and other objects of interest. I figure I have lots of time to find interesting pieces to fill the space. I’d rather have things I love and that are “perfect” than just fill the space for the sake of it.

Click on the first picture to see the gallery in a larger format. It may take a moment to load.

 

 

Vegetarian Perspective and the New Farm

We bought a farm!

This is actually old news, but I’m finally getting around to share this with the world. First let me introduce you to the country getaway-renovation project-to keep me busy-house! 15 acres and a few outbuildings is definitely a foodie fantasy, of course the incredible views were highly motivating, but the light and potential of the farmhouse are ultimately what sold me. To the west, huge windows look across a ravine to the neighboring farms on the ridge, to the east we have five-mile views of the Lake Pepin and Rush River Valleys and the whole place is surrounded by the pastoral rolling hills of this “Driftless” area of Western Wisconsin. Our place sits on a hill with ample windows to the west and south allowing for flooding sunlight throughout the day. In the city, rays from the sun are blocked by our neighbor’s two and a half story homes and close proximity.

House Day of Closing

The house

View of Neighbor

Our neighbor to the south

Well House and Ravine

The overgrown hill looking out to the ravine

Our Road and Views

View of Lake Pepin and Rush River valleys

While the stinkiest house we have ever renovated, I could immediately see the potential. The house was originally built by a homesteading family in the late 1880s or early 1890s. It stayed in that family until 1986 when it was sold to a young couple. They set to renovate the place with new windows, an open floor plan and new paint, carpet and other basics. In 2003-4, after divorcing, the woman decided to make some big changes to the house by building an addition that would accommodate two new bathrooms, a mudroom and a laundry room. Unfortunately, she fell on hard times, many projects were left unfinished and eventually she lost the home to foreclosure. We were the purchasers.

While we feel extremely grateful for what we have acquired, it is hard to think about the previous owner and her dreams for this place. One day last summer she tentatively stopped in to introduce herself. She was very emotional, but shared her story with us which ultimately gave us a deeper appreciation for the land and the home. We learned that she loved animals and had a couple of horses. She even created a riding arena behind the garage with highbush cranberry. The bushes are 14-16 feet tall now and form a perfect rectangular arena. Poplar seedlings had overpopulated the space, but once Jeff cleared them out, the arena became obvious. If she hadn’t told us about that space and it’s purpose, we may never have discovered it. After the horses died, the land went fallow, burr, thistle and other perennial weeds took over, so we’ve had our hands full with clearing, and I anticipate many years of maintenance and management.

South View

South side with perennial bed

House Day of Closing

Southwest view

North Exterior

North side addition

West Exterior

West side view

These pictures were taken the end of June on the day we closed. I was thrilled to find lots of perennial flowers, flowering bushes and fruit trees. It was obvious that somebody loved gardening as much as I do. However, the gardens and plants were nearly impossible to see for the invasive grasses that have taken over the beds. The farm seemed so overgrown that we thought it had been abandoned for many years. We were surprised to find that the previous owner had only moved in February, and now understand how pernacious these country weeds truly are!

Peonies Buried in the Crab Grass

Peonies in the grass

Hosta and Roses

Hosta and Roses

Pink Peonies

White Peonies

White Peonies

Light Pink and Yellow Peonies

Weigela and Highbush Cranberry Mess

Weigela and highbush cranberry

 

Mock Orange

Mock orange

Yew, Hosta, Spirea and Smokebush

Yew, hosta, spirea, smokebush

Maple Baby

Sour Cherry

Iris and Crabgrass

Iris

Everyone asks if we’ll have animals or grow crops, but what we’re going to do with it is yet to be seen. We have lots of ideas and tons of ambition so anything seems possible. What we do know is that we have 15 acres to renovate, rebuild and restore. We closed last June with the intention of renovating the house as a country getaway. While others would have dug into the land right away, it was more important to me to first create a peaceful and relaxing space. Here are the before pictures:

Kitchen to Livingroom - Day of Closing

Looking into the living room from the kitchen

Kitchen Cabinet

The old kitchen cabinet – I save this for later!

Window to Porch from Kitchen

Old window looking out to porch

Window to Addition - now removed

Blocked off window never removed after north side addition added

Heat Vents and Beadboard Ceiling

Main floor has beadboard ceilings and heat vents

Wood Stove Pad and Wall

Wood stove pad and heat-tiled wall

Large Timber Beam

Large timber beam between kitchen and living room

Office to Livingroom View

Main floor room to become office

Office - Day of Closing

Another view of the office where the desk will go

Beam and Looking to Kitchen

View of beam looking into kitchen

Master Bath Doorway

Master bath doorway

 

Master Bedroom

Master bedroom

A Good Reminder When All Runs Off Electricity Here

A good reminder!

Lofted Space to be Bedroom

Lofted space to become bedroom

Loft and Stairs

Loft and stairs

Stairs and Exit Sign

Stairs and exit sign

Six-Inch Pine in Master

Six-inch pine original to master bedroom

Master Bath and Bedroom

Master bath and bedroom

Master Closet and View to Loft

Master has double closets!

Office and Wallpaper

Main floor plaster never finished – this is future office with wallpaper

Original Fir Floors

Main floor has fir floors

New Windows and Victorian Trim

New windows and Victorian trim

Bottom of Stairs & Fir Under Living room Carpet

Bottom stairs show fir under living room carpet

Two Steffes Units Heat in Winter

Laundry room and mud room addition heated with Steffes electric units

Laundry Room, Bathroom and Closet Addition

Mudroom closet in addition

Laundry Room

Laundry hook-up

Main Floor Bath

Main floor bath

Vent for Electric Basement Furnace

Vent for electric basement furnace

Kitchen Sink and Bay Window

Double sink – maybe move to summer barn kitchen?

Porch Door to Kitchen

Porch door to kitchen

Workbench and Kitchen Window

Workbench, window and door to kitchen

Porch Door to Yard

Porch door to yard

In addition to a lovely house, we have a few choice outbuildings that one day will gleam and shine. Right now they are rather battered and bruised.

Garage

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ImageI’m excited to post the “after” pictures of all our projects. We’ve been here for just over 9 months and have accomplished quite a bit. In addition to renovating much of the house, we have started seedlings for a summer garden, have plans to trench the electric lines, we will finish off the deck and screen porch we started last summer, start a colony of bees, and begin plans for a large-scale permaculture farm. This summer my challenge will be to find a way to live harmoniously with the weeds!