A photo essay of what's been filling up my blog silence.
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?
Last Saturday, while Jason and our two friends Brian and Darryl spent the entire day risking life and limb getting our addition from There to Here, the kids and I got to go on buggy rides.
Brian's wife, daughter and grandson got to go with us. I know it doesn't really seem fair that we were having fun while the guys were working harder than they usually have to on their days off. However, it helped take all of our minds off of worrying that something might go wrong a little bit.
The lovely lady driving the buggy is Irinel Agapow, and the noble steed is a young Halflinger she is training named Simmel (I think?). The buggy is an antique belonging to my step-dad, and we were invited on the whole adventure by my mom (who was holding the camera, therefore not pictured.)
Since it was really only a one-seater buggy, which we still managed to squeeze two adults and two children onto, the rest of us were entertaining ourselves while we waited for our turns. While he was waiting, Noah found a frog, which he decided needed to go into his pocket. This is him, pointing to the frog's location inside his pants:
Later, Jenn and Laverna took the frog to their place, where they have a little aquarium for him to live in. We get to pick him up the next time we go. (Assuming he is still alive, I guess!)
As far as the men-folk, they made it home safely, racing the setting sun to get the addition off the trailer before dark. On the next two days, Brian graciously came back to help Jason in sucking the addition in next to the trailer and getting it levelled.
So, that means we now have our addition. Last Friday, Mike and his friend Jerry had brought up our deck, stairs, and fuel tank (the trailer is set up to run on diesel heating fuel), which are laying in random places in our yard (still). The addition is not "hooked up" yet, meaning no power, and we are climbing in and out on a stepladder, but AT LEAST IT'S HERE!!
The walls in there were circa-1970s dark faux-wood panel board, never painted, so this week in between the +30C heat wave and getting started schooling my younger two boys, I also managed to prime the porch. That's about as far as I got, though!
I am feeling the pressure of the impending and unknown date that it will get cold and miserable and white outside like an unknown but inevitable execution date. My head is constantly filled with all of things that I have yet to do, and knocking off the in-essentials that I simply won't have time for this year. I didn't get much canning done, since I rarely had time to go to the store to buy fruit, and didn't have much time to can, either! I managed to keep on top of the plentiful crop of peas I had, which is good, since last weekend the neighbour's horses got out and destroyed most of the vines. Fortunately, I will get a few seed peas for next year from what is still remaining. (The horses also ruined all but about 5 stalks of corn and ate quite a few of my sunflowers. It was a tearful moment for me when I discovered that.) Most of my garden is still in the ground, so as soon as it cools back down to fall weather I need to dig that up.
So, here are a few things still on my "before-the-snow-flies" To-Do list:
- Finish the permanent chicken run we began in May
- Winterize my chicken coop
- By the first week of October, butcher about 12 Rhode Island Red roos
- Finish painting the addition
- Finish moving in to my house
- Finish harvesting the garden
- Clean up the holiday trailer we borrowed to live in while we were "in transition" this summer
I'm sure there's more that I have temporarily forgotten.
On Jason's To-Do list:
- Skirt the trailer (huge job)
- Hook up the addition
- Attach the deck
- Build new stairs, since we have the trailer blocked significantly higher than the previous owners did
- Plus more...
However, on the more positive side:
At the end of August, I had only a few tomatoes on any of my plants--the plants were strong and lush from all the rain, but there had not been enough heat to produce fruit on many of them. I was disappointed, but since this is my first year growing tomatoes, I tried not to take it too personally. However, there are now tomatoes on nearly every plant I have. Even the lone rare strain of Oxheart that I received from my friend Doug F. produced one lonely, large, though misshapen fruit. I hope the seeds are fertile. (It looks like it grew around the clover, or something!)
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!