Thursday, June 28, 2012

of tomatoes and orchids

While Jerome was here over our anniversary weekend, a major goal was to build tomato cages for our 10 varieties of tomatoes and to mulch the ground beneath them with newspapers and a deep bedding of grass clippings to conserve moisture and reduce the weeds. Given how dry it has been and how slowly the grass has been growing, between the two of us we walked behind the push mower with the bagger attached and cut ALL of the lawns here on foot. It took us hours to finish, but we had nearly all the grass we needed.
We began with old cattle fencing we had found with much other extraneous "stuff" in the potting shed. We devised a plan for cutting it and shaping round baskets that would stand up on their own. There was enough fencing there to build 7 of the 21 we'd need.

We estimated we'd need another 100 feet of fencing to finish the job. Alas, the rolls are only sold in 330 feet lengths, 20 rods. Should we buy so much more than we needed? We decided we could use it for other projects later and brought home this new and extremely heavy roll. We couldn't carry it to our work site, so Jerome and I rolled it there! In the shade of the apple tree in the early morning, we began.

Here I am standing on the free end to keep it from rolling back on itself and to keep the surplus fencing from unwinding. We pictured it springing open and expanding into a monster we wouldn't be able to confine. Note the bungie cord holding the fencing together in the above photo.

In the end, the roll stayed tightly wound and it proved to be relatively easy to cut, bend, shape, and install. We got them all finished and in place that morning.
You can't really see much difference between the old and the new. And from a distance they are hardly visible in the vegetable bed.
I can walk around them, reach into them, and for now at least, keep the plants under control. They are growing practically before my eyes in this heat and I've already snapped off all the side shoots 3 times so the plants can put their energies into making tomatoes and not just monster plants.
For weeks now my concentration has been focused on the outdoors, remembering to water the houseplants on the porches and indoors, but giving them little else. You would think I had enough plants to take care of, but really, can you have too many plants???
To lift my spirits after Jerome left I bought myself a pretty orchid at Walmart of all places, for just $10. It is extraordinarily full of blooms, as you can see.

Bringing it home prompted me to pay a little attention to the orchids I already had here.  While I was ignoring them, they had been busy preparing little surprises for me.  My Sherrie Baby produced a 3rd flower spike and the first spike had begun to open. Delicious fragrances now move in the air currents in the dining room. She's an old plant that I divided last year and gave away all but the smallest piece. And not just one spike, but 3. Amazing. It's too late tonight to get a good photo, but here she is last year before division.

A moth orchid I've had for several years produced a flower spike I hadn't really been watching as it grew, and it is not open.
Another moth orchid, a small flowering type, is just about to finish after several weeks of flowering.  When I bought it the care instructions said to put 2 ice cubes on the soil once a week. It was meant to be displayed in a cubicle in the work place and wouldn't need more attention than ice cubes to grow! Imagine that!  I see today that it has two new side shoots developing on the old flower spikes!

You can see one with a few small buds already forming and the other a tiny shoot forming now just below where the stalk is attached to the support. Sometimes after they bloom, if you cut the flower stems in just the right spot, it may send out another shoot. This little one did.
My collection of orchids is growing as has my love for them. I now have 7 total, 4 varieties. And if you were avoiding them because you thought they're difficult to grow, I hope my tale has proven they are not.
So, tomatoes and orchids. Food for the body and the soul. Life is good.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

summer solstice and black gold

Today is considered the longest day of the year. For me it is a very long day, the first day alone after this weekend's marvelous time spent with my best friend and beloved partner. About 6 o'clock this evening the sun will be directly above the equator. And for the next 6 months it will once again trek southward until the shortest day. It is a comforting cycle for me, a devoted midwesterner. lover of all four seasons.
While he was here, Jerome and I worked together nearly nonstop on projects we each found satisfying and enjoyable, despite the 90+ degree days. Let me tell you now about one of them...

When we bought our farm, there was a very large pile of old fencing, scrap wood, old rotted posts, etc stacked a bit haphazardly at the edge of the flower bed near our wonderful Cortland apple tree. Who knows how long that pile had been there or over what amount of time it was assembled. We had added to it in the nearly 2 years that we've been here, pallets from our chicken house materials delivery, scraps removed from the potting shed as it was rebuilt this spring, wind blown fencing, and some of the railings that the wind had actually snapped into pieces. On the whole, it was too good to burn.
Last year many of the good enough posts were dragged out of there and used to hold up the chicken yard fencing. A few more were used this spring for the raspberry bed.
When I talked with Eli about building my compost bins, he thought he could use much of the picket fencing pieces in this pile. We discussed the merits of his being able to work on it at his place with his tools when he had a bit of time between his own chores and all the other commission work he does.
Last Friday Eli arrived with the sides assembled and spent a good part of the day putting them in place.
Over the weekend we finished the setup. Jerome lined the bottoms with layers of old cardboard boxes to discourage grass and weeds from growing there and we began to lay a bed of mulch in the bottoms. This allows for some air circulation at the bottom of the piles and is the first layer in the lasagna approach to building the fertile black gold we hope to encourage.
The fronts are designed with removable panels cut on angles. Jerome commented to Eli about this design and Eli explained that the Amish build their oats bins this way. Each panel has little wooden blocks attached to keep it above the panel below it. This allows more air to enter the bin, and the slanted design aids in the lifting off of each section without having to slide it all the way up or down the tracks they move along.
In keeping with the "use what you have" theme, I remembered an old rusty T-post that Eli had found under the potting shed when he jacked up its sagging back corner. I had put it aside knowing we could find some use for it eventually. Eli pounded it into the ground against the side of the compost bin just where I am standing in the photo above. Its job is to put a little pressure on the side of the bin should the sides expand. Jerome and I had purchased a bundle of 6 foot long T-posts to put up a cucumber fence in the vegetable bed, and had one left over. It was too tall to pound all the way down, so I added this sweet horse head that I had found among the "stuff" left behind in the potting shed by the previous owner. I just love the way it looks and can't resist patting its head every time I pass it.
Now the miracle of composting can begin.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy 17th, Jerome

Ah, life's been good to us, Sweetheart-O-Mine!

Again today, 40 years later,  I offer you all that I am.

Myself, but ever so much more so. Thank you dearest partner, and marvelous dad.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

last week of spring

With summer only days away, the meadow has donned a frock of clover and daisies.

While the fields and beds around her are decked out for work, the meadow is dressed for a tea party. And all creatures seem to have been invited. The doe and her fawn arrived this morning and the pheasant has been calling from there all day. I've seen multiple toads, the redwing blackbirds are patrolling, butterflies on the move. The chickens are delighted their yard is tucked into the meadow on 3 sides so they can at least watch the goings on. And truth to tell, the back of their yard is meadow also.

Of course when I arrived to take the party pictures, my shadow, Rosie, had to run out from the dust spa beneath the chicken house to see what I was doing. She was quickly followed by most of the rest of the gang.

All but Minerva, who has gone broody and won't get out of the nest box despite there being no egg beneath her. She is very calm about my putting my hand beneath her to check, and she lets me stroke her while crooning softly. I had thought she was just avoiding the bully antics of Silver Polish who has been quite aggressive of late. Yesterday his tail showed blood. I think one of the girls had had enough and let him have it. Today they all have their party manners in place.

Monday, June 11, 2012

beauty a few paces from the house

The day to day must do list here consumes my attention and my energies.  I know by not regularly walking the grounds just to look and absorb I've missed much. This morning I purposefully took a slow walk. Look what I found....

I have no idea of its name and I've done nothing to encourage it to grow. It lives in the neglected ornamental pond, home of the night singers who ease me to sleep just outside my bedroom windows. The pond is a small pocket of beauty that I am delighted to have here. I regret to say I've put it on the some day I'll get to it list. There is a small fire pit next to it and a few old adirondack chairs in need of repair. In the nearly 2 years we've been here we've only had a handful of fires there. Jerome is coming this weekend for our anniversary. Without the luminous moon to compete, it should be lovely to watch the night sky come alive from here.

Saturday, June 9, 2012


Just have to share my new raspberry bed.

These plants came as bare root canes with no leaves, hardly any roots, and looking unpromising. I potted them up in individual pots and have kept them well watered and in the sunshine. Many of them even have flowers. Those farthest away in this photo only arrived a couple of weeks ago and are now also leafed out. Don't they look snug and happy?
What I really like about some of the structures we've built here at the farm is the reuse of old wood. The center posts of this fence were on a heap of old fencing stacked up with weeds and grasses growing around and through them. About a dozen of them went into the chicken yard fence last June. These last two are now part of the raspberry fence. Eli took a few home and along with some fencing pickets and other "scraps" is building my new double compost bins. If all goes well they should be installed next week.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

and now, a blank canvas

During the painting every day month of May, I was employed by painting of quite a different sort. I enjoy the process of painting, it's the work that happens before you can open that new can of paint and give it a promising stir that I find laboriously boring.
Now I am quite used to undoing before redoing. Our city house proves that. So when we were looking for our farm, Jerome was eager to find a place with a farmhouse and other buildings that were perfect, ie, didn't need "work."  We'd done all that, and neither of us is getting any younger. When my heart said "This one!" Jerome's heart said something like, "That one?????" At least it didn't have half a dozen or more old outbuildings that needed to be shored up or blown up.
No, besides the garage, there is just one outbuilding, endearingly referred to as  the Potting Shed. (next 3 photos courtesy of Matthias.)

Poor little shed, full of junk that couldn't or wouldn't go into the garage, windows about to drop their panes, home to wasps and mice. And the first spring, a robin's nest and babies who got in and out through the torn screen door and left their calling cards all over the interior.
This spring I jumped in and emptied it of everything! Ugh. Now let's take a look.  Hmmm, needs a little work.
In March I hired Eli to use his carpentry skills to improve the structure. Rot removed, corner supports replaced, back corner lifted and stabilized, new roof, new windows, sagging door aligned.

Jerome removed the old compost bin sitting there behind the shed and we spread that lovely compost around the perimeter.

And now that she's been scraped, sanded and primed, she's a blank canvas ready for her transformation.

Thanks, Jerome, for believing in my vision and for building the new shelves inside. (I'll share interior pictures another time.) Right now it's ideal painting weather. Must get to it!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

small pleasures

Some years ago I gave sister Terri a gift of a class with me at the Chicago Botanic Gardens making a living wreath. We used ivy and pansies in the class and came away with a sweet one piece wire frame packed with sphagnum moss with pockets of soil planted with the cuttings provided in class. It was fun and simple and the results quite nice.
Well, I still have the frame waiting to be replanted some day, but in the meantime bought a larger one that has a "trough" and a top to clip over it.  My intention, for longer than I care to admit, was to plant this with hens and chicks. I've been growing them in an old strawberry jar and let's face it, they grow even when they tumble out of the jar into stones. So this winter I had lots of little babies hanging on til spring and was determined not to let another season go by without planting them.
I decided the frame needed some sort of lining to keep the moss and soil in place on so large a frame. In the past I've had good success using landscape fabric to line open weave pots and baskets. I do not like the look of the tacky brown coir liners they sell. So I set about sewing a piece of the landscape fabric to my frame.

I nudged the little "chicks" out of their pots and planted them up.
Now they're filling in nicely and what were chicks a few months back are now becoming little hens, creating chicks of their own.

I had thought to hang the wreath on the chicken yard gate. I still might, emptying out the chickens' watering vessels onto it when I changed their water. But I've been working on another project lately which may be a better backdrop for this, so we'll have to see. Meanwhile, I'm enjoying the small pleasure of seeing a long delayed idea come to life.