A photo essay of what's been filling up my blog silence.
We all have "cinquefoil" in our lives. Sometimes it sneaks in because we just don't have the time or energy to deal with it right then. Eventually, though, we have to stop and examine the things we fill our lives with and question, "Is this still of value to me? Is this something I want to nurture right now?"
Last week was busy, as per usual.
I spent Thursday canning tomatoes and freezing beets with my mother.
But that was nothing compared to the haul Levi got a couple days before.
Is summer really almost over? And I haven't put up a single blog post outlining what has been filling up our time? (Okay, I guess a single one--which I copied from my husband's post about the Spartan Race.)
As per usual, there is never a dull moment around here. Thanks to the immensity of the list, I am going to keep it to point form.
- Two days after school was out in June, we went to visit our families in central Alberta for about 8 days, the culmination of which was the Spartan Race in Edmonton on the way home. My brother, Logan, was also there for the week from Seattle area, and my mom also made the trip down for part of the week in order to see him. It was so awesome to see members of our extended families, plus a few of our friends. I took over 750 photos on this trip! Needless to say, it's taken a while to slug through them all, and I confess that I am not finished yet. Here's one:
- While on holidays, I received notification that the eCommerce platform that I chose to build my store on will be closing down in February. So I have to migrate everything. I am not very happy about that, as you may have guessed. So... guess what I will be doing this fall?
- This summer has been exceptionally hot and dry in the Peace Country. We are usually lucky to have a week where the temperatures hit the high twenties, but this year has seen a good six-week stretch where the average temperature is around 30 degrees C or higher. In that same six weeks, there has only been one rainy day, and I could probably count on one hand the number of times rain fell at all. Thank goodness that I can water my garden--the tomatoes and squash are loving the heat, and in general, the garden is looking really nice. The temperatures inside my thin-walled tin can of a house have been less nice, with average temperatures in the afternoon being well over thirty degrees. I have begun to think that "slicked with sweat" is the new normal.
- Jason's red Ford Ranger has been dead since March or April, and the repairs too costly to be worthwhile for this little truck. It has served us well, but we knew it was time to move on. After several months of sharing a vehicle, a generous gift from a family member enable Jason to buy a new (to us) half-ton last week. I am VERY glad to have my freedom van back, and Jason is loving his new "baby."
- Jude was sponsored to go to Riverside Bible Camp this week, and just got home this afternoon. Tales of exploits with his buddy (and cabin-mate) Ethan have been filling the air ever since. It was the longest he has ever been away from the family, but he doesn't seem any the worse for wear. His most excited exclamations were for the food. "I think I ate 80% of the Jell-O I've ever eaten in my life this week. They even had whipped cream." :-)
- Today, while not a whole lot cooler in general, started off several degrees cooler than has been the norm of late. I took advantage of that fact to make blueberry jam*, cook up some of the copious amounts of zucchini being produced in my garden into a yummy, cheesy, soup, and grate the rest into freezer packets to be made into muffins and loaves at a later date.
- I am loving the sunflowers that I planted under my office windows this summer--the first time I have had them so close to the house. They are almost all in bloom, and I had to take advantage of this little buzzy guest on one this morning.
- Our orange female tabby, Angel, had kittens in June-ish, both of them little copies of their mom and creamy-orange tabby father Tigger. The cuties are almost ready to go out into the world--but they are nigh impossible to catch. Sigh.
- My birthday on Sunday was also the date of the Supermoon--when the moon appeared largest of any full moon of the year. I did not take advantage of the photo op due to sheer exhaustion, but I DID take advantage of the one in July to play around with moon photography (though it was not quite as impressive as the sequel.)
- In two weeks, I will have a child in Junior High! Oh me, oh my, where has the time gone? I hope your summer has been going well, friends. What was your favourite summer memory so far?
*This recipe turned out good, but too sweet--next time I plan to cut the sugar by almost a third. It might require a longer cook time if you do that, though.
I have been slogging through the hundreds (closer to three-quarters of a thousand, actually!) of photos that I took on our 10-day trip to central Alberta in early July. Having that many photos is a bit daunting, so it's taken me a while to get through all of them (and this is pretty much just the first pass), but I spent a few hours working with them today.
Both my mother-in-law and my Aunty Joy have wonderful, whimsical birdhouse collections that complement truly stunning gardens. Today, I am featuring the photos I took in my Uncle Darrell and Aunty Joy's garden. I will feature Karen's in a later post.
Because of the whimsical nature of the decor, the post-processing I did tended to enhance that. It was really fun working with these photos, actually.
I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!
I never considered myself to have a green thumb.
My gardening attempts were always clumsy guesses and hopes that often turned out to be terribly disappointing.
When we moved to this property, I was determined to have a vegetable garden that would provide food for the family for a good chunk of the year. (Until I get an actual root cellar built, storage until about December or January is the best I can hope for.*) So, I started collecting gardening books. Thanks to the ultra-craziness of my home-schooling lifestyle, I didn't read nearly as many as I collected, but a few were my "go-tos" every spring when it came time to put in the garden.
The Gardener's A-Z Guide to Growing Organic Food: 765 varities of vegetables, herbs, fruits, and nuts was--and is--an indispensable reference each year when it comes to putting in my vegetables.
However, this year I have also discovered the benefits of Lois Hole's work, since she ran a farm and greenhouse in Edmonton area (only one gardening zone off of where I live) and has great wisdom to share when it comes to knowing what does and doesn't work in Alberta.
This year, I decided it was time to read a few of those books getting dusty on my shelf, and excitedly dove into about four volumes at once.
I also excitedly started putting seeds into dirt, eeking out precious space in sunny windows where it could be found--next to my houseplants, on the ironing board, wherever.
I didn't start my indoor seeds until around May 1, as I was still a little disorganized. (And by "little", you can read "not really organized at all, just pretending I am, so don't spoil my delusions.) Fortunately, within about two weeks, the weather started warming up enough that I could bump some of those first starters out onto the deck during the day and make room in the windows for another batch.
Thank goodness I did, because although I was checking the weather diligently most nights, I forgot to one night when there was a very hard frost, and didn't bring in my tender tomatoes and pumpkins and squashes. I had to start new ones.
(Although that second batch of squash is now mostly planted out in the garden, last week there was another frost that took out the upper leaves and my marigolds, too. Apparently, my plastic vinegar/milk jug "cloches" were not sufficient protection against that typical early June hard frost. Noted for next year.)
This year is my most ambitious garden year yet. Not only do I have more raised beds in my vegetable patch than ever before, I am actually starting a few flower beds, and am putting in some of my favourite perennials. Shasta daisies, lavender, a hosta, bleeding hearts, lilies, and California poppies will be sharing space with a few food crops to make use of the all-too-precious black dirt I had hauled here from Mom and Mike's place.
I'm a very impatient gardener, though--I check my seeds several times a day until they come up, barely restraining myself from the child's trick of digging up the seeds to see if they have sprouted. :-)
I took these photos last week, before I had completed my front flower bed (which now has the hosta, strawberries, and morning glories snug as a bug inside.)
Last Monday, I wandered around our yard, capturing all the beautiful signs of what it looks like in late spring:
Jason has done a beautiful job of keeping our yard mowed so far, which is quite the feat considering his hay fever, and that he uses the push lawn mower. Yes, the older boys have helped, but it is just a lot of mowing. Jason did this patch last weekend, and it took him four hours:
That is only half the yard! (Actually, it's only the part of the half that I could fit into this picture!) However, it has been so wonderful to go out my door and be in a park.
As a "thank you", and to hopefully help maintain it, I am getting him a riding lawn mower for Father's Day. :-)
Gardeners are pretty much the ultimate optimists, I think. No matter how bad your garden turned out the year before, THIS is the year it's going to be amazing! Caterpillars, craziness, and cold weather be darned!
Perhaps because last year was such a gardening disaster for me, I really, really want to have the magnificent garden I am imagining this year. And honestly, this is the first year where I really feel like I am starting to "get" this gardening thing.
As they say--"Hope springs eternal within the gardener's breast." No, wait, that's not it. "Tomorrow is another day." Closer. How about, "The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies." (Gertrude Jekyll)
(*This year--after only three or so years of looking at the spine on my shelf--I plan to actually read the book "Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables" by Mike and Nancy Bubel, so watch for what I am sure will be some rather amusing anecdotes as I think of ways to get creative with Vegetable Storage--and possibly a book review.)
Why do bees and sunflowers seem to go together?
Maybe it's the yellow colour scheme.
I guess they aren't always together.
Like salt and pepper, once in a long while you do actually see one without the other.
My "Anything Goes" strawbale garden has produced a satisfactory crop of sunflowers, with many more on the way as long as we don't get a frost anytime soon. I am not sure what this last one is--I think it was from the "mystery seeds" given to me by my friend Doug F. The closest I can find on the Internet is Little Becka. Have any of you seen this variety before?
A perfect way to get an "instant garden", while doing something with the ratty straw bales that I used to winterize my chicken coop with, thought I.
Well, it just keeps getting better.
As the plan evolved, Jason helped me set the bales up in a ring around an odd patch by the vegetable garden with a little dirt in it. The dirt was "left" from when I was first building my raised veggie garden beds, and I had needed a place to dump the dirt-in-waiting before moving it into the beds. That was two years ago, so mostly it had been taken over with quackgrass, dandelions, and a bit of the marshy weeds that had come with the dirt. (I got this dirt from our friends Greg and Robin, who had made a big pile of topsoil while digging a new dugout for their water source a couple of years ago.)
After circling up the bales, the boys covered the top with composted chicken litter from the winter (one more "waste item" getting put back into use!), and drenched the whole thing with water to kick-start the composting process. A week later I managed to dig and pull and chop most of the weeds out from the middle, and in between battling mosquitoes I had time to think what a waste it was to just be throwing that valuable greenery over the side to smother the wild strawberries.
That night, while I was reviewing the ins and outs of straw bale gardening on this site, my eye was caught by another link called "lasagna gardening." (Wouldn't you be curious how pasta and meat sauce works into the garden?) Well, by the time I had read that page, I knew what I was going to do in the middle of that straw bale garden.
My original plan had been to dig out the weeds, throw in some sunflower seeds (which I have been collecting for years, because apparently I have many good intentions when it comes to flower gardening, and am a little short on follow-through) and see if any of them grow. I wanted to clean out my seed drawer and start fresh, and I knew most of them would likely not germinate anyway, due to their age, so what difference did it make?
However, I really liked the idea of sheet composting the middle section of the garden. For one, it would help the straw bales retain some moisture. For two, it would give me a good start on some nice, rich soil, and the beginnings of a permanent, rather than temporary, garden spot. For three, it would help me use up some stuff that was laying around the yard.
So, in went the layers. Ripped-up cardboard boxes, followed by all those weeds (and then some) that I had dug out the night before (Yes! I actually put weeds into my garden!), followed by a layer of composted chicken litter.
Several days passed before I was able to progress from there--days involving rain, and snow, and wind, and coldness. Sunday afternoon was bright and sunny, and I knew I had to finish the job before the growing season got any shorter.
More layering commenced: partially-decomposed compost from the bin (collecting since last summer, but some of it was pretty fresh); partially-decomposed straw from the dogs' winter bedding; extra bags of peat moss that were laying around, full of holes and ants (the peat moss and ants went in, not the bags); some potting soil in a thin layer on top.
After that, I mixed all my sunflower seeds--old and new--together for the official scattering. The boys and I each took a handful and threw them in--the result was covering a rather smaller area than I expected that many packets of seeds to handle. A bit anti-climactic, since I had been promising them they could help me plant sunflowers once I got the garden ready. Oh, well. I filled in the rest with daisy seeds.
Then I planted as many other flower seeds as I could around the straw bale edges, leaving a few spaces to insert tomatoes in a week or two when my plants indoors are ready to move out.
Will anything grow? I don't know. It would be nice if it ALL grew, but right now, I am just kinda excited to see what will happen.
I call it my "Anything Goes" garden. If no sunflowers grow, at least I might get a few more hills of potatoes out of the deal from the "extras" we threw in the compost pile last week! :-)
Potatoes sprouting in the veggie garden (wire to keep the chickens out)
The peas and corn have sprouted! Yay! (Last year, my corn didn't grow at all. Also, I'm using last spring's pea seeds. I was a little relieved to see them start to peek out above the dirt.)
Gardening assistants? Well, three out of four, anyway. The hairy one mostly likes eating the fertilizer!
Open your peepers!
After initially thinking I would not get any chicks this spring, because I thought I might be travelling a lot (among other reasons), I changed my mind. However, I have made a few changes already from what I did last year to make it a little easier and more feasible for me. Learning is a wonderful thing!
First off: raise broilers for meat birds (as opposed to dual-purpose). That way, you can butcher in August--much better use of time and money per bird. Nicer meat. And none of this "having to feed them through the winter" nonsense.
So, we have 50 fluffy yellow little Cornish Giant chicks running around in the brooder. You'd never know they will be ready to butcher in only 8 weeks, would you? (The 25 auburn chicks are Rhode Island Reds. I will keep the hens for layers and butcher all but one of the roosters.)
Secondly: Brood them in the chicken tractor. This idea was thanks to Robin B., my friend and local mentor in all things farming. She's not my only mentor, but I have leaned heavily on her as I have made my fledgling attempts at gardening (she grew up here and knows what grows best) and chicken farming, and we have also swapped ideas on homeschooling and diet. She said that her and her husband have found that if you just cover the chicken tractor with a tarp to keep the draughts out, and make sure the heat lamps keep it warm enough, the chicks do fine, and you don't have to worry about splay-leggedness or other issues that arise when brooding them in small confined spaces in wood chips. (Yay! I don't have to clean a brooder box every three days or listen to chirping, hungry chicks dragging me out of bed in the wee hours of the morning!)
I am also revving up to get my garden in this weekend, or at least most of it. I have been struggling with where to put the flowers I've started. I was going to make a flower bed right in front of the trailer, but now that we're moving the trailer, that's not going to work! So tonight, I looked out across my yard and surveyed the options. My eye espied the pile of straw bales no longer being used to insulate a coop, and I had the inspiration to try straw bale gardening this year! That way, it is only temporary, and I can move my flower bed back in front of the trailer in a year or two (where I'd really like it to be.) I'm so excited, now, and can't wait to get started!
Plus, the high-nitrogen composted chicken manure from the winter will give my new straw bale garden a great start--I was wondering where I was going to use that! :-)
Happy Spring, friends!