A change is in the air

I usually think of August as being one of the hottest months — not so much this year. The temperatures have been pretty mild and comfortable for most of the month. We’ve had a few warmer days here and there. And with the leaves starting to change, I can definitely tell that fall is just around the corner.

Enjoying the porch swing on a mild August afternoon

I’ve been busy with food preservation. My tomato crop may be sad this year (the Cherokee Purple, that is — not the cherry tomatoes), but my parents have had a prolific season. They’ve been giving me their tomatoes, so I’ve been making crushed tomatoes and tomato juice to freeze. I make a lot of vegetable soup in the colder months, so I like having a bunch of homegrown tomatoes in the freezer.

I tried canning for the first time ever in my life yesterday — blackberry jam. I almost set the kitchen on fire. (True story: I was pouring sugar into the saucepan and some of it got on the burner and burst info flames). And molten jam kept splattering on me. (Note to self: Use a bigger pot next time.) But I survived and have six (and a partial) jars of jam to show for it.

Fresh out of the canner

The partial jar is in my fridge and I’ve already been eating it. Not bad for my first attempt. Though it set maybe a little too well — it’s not as spreadable as jam should be.

I also discovered some lemon balm in a weedy area I recently cleared. So I’m planning different ways to use it. I stumbled on a recipe for rhubarb-lemon balm simple syrup, which also made great use of the rhubarb I had in the freezer that I had no idea what to do with. So I made half a batch to try with some club soda I had in the fridge. (Note: the recipe I linked to is for margaritas, but I just made the simple syrup and skipped the rest.) It’s very tasty and also pretty.

Rhubarb-lemon balm simple syrup

Concerning other changes in the air, I have been working with a business coach this month. We have a 3-month contract, and we’re already 1/3 of the way done. I’ve made so much progress in terms of narrowing my focus to a specific industry (travel & tourism); brainstorming what kind of packages I can put together to promote for new clients; and tweaking my unique selling proposition, elevator pitch, etc.

Because of these changes, I’ve made some more revisions to my website, including the design. I am by no means done. It will evolve as my business evolves.

I should add that I think I found the perfect coach. It’s ridiculous how much we have in common, and I feel she totally gets me because she used to be exactly where I am now. To use a travel metaphor, she is my compass to guide me to where I want to go. This journey is so hard. But she’s holding my hand along the way, metaphorically speaking.

Also, we’ve gotten a head start on some of our fall tasks around the farm. The to-do list is long, and time is short. So I’m happy for anything we can get done before the weather stops cooperating.

If you’ve read this far, thank you. I’ll now reward you with some recent photos.

Product love!

I’ve been meaning to write a post for some time about products I love for yardwork and gardening. I just haven’t gotten around to it until now.

Note: I am not being paid to promote any of these products. I just happen to love them.

Clothing/Accessories

Women’s Heirloom Gardening Overalls from Duluth Trading Co.: I bought these on clearance, otherwise they would have been a bit steep for me. But they’re worth the full price. They have tons of pockets. They offer UPF 50 sun protection and repel dirt and water. They are also super comfy. The description doesn’t mention this, but they have loops and snaps on the legs to convert these to capri-length if you want. They run large, so size down.

Sloggers: I have these in clog and boot form. Perfect footwear for gardening because they’re waterproof and durable. I’ve had the clogs for years and they are still like new. I bought the boots shortly after we moved to this house because the yard gets so muddy when we get a lot of rain. Plus, they come in cute designs.

Sun Protection Arm Sleeves from Sunday Afternoons: Yes, you could just wear long sleeves. But I prefer to wear these, especially when I’m picking my way through thorny blackberry brambles. They snag on the thorns, but they don’t tear like clothing does. They also offer UV-protection. I have hand covers on mine, which offer an extra layer of protection under my gloves.

Bandanas: I ordered some pretty ones from REI that aren’t the typical Western paisley design. Brand doesn’t matter so much to me. What matters is that they’re 100% cotton. These are great for tying back my hair (protecting it from the sun and keeping it out of the way), and tying around my neck for sun/bug protection.

Garden Tools

CobraHead Weeder & Cultivator: I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this tool! It’s especially good for popping up dandelions by the root. I have the original, but I would love to get the long handle.

Fledged! And an update on fruit production

At our last house, we had robins and mourning doves nesting in our yard every year. It was fun to watch, especially after the babies hatched.

Of course, we’re on a much larger property now. And I see bird nests all over the place. But none of them were in a good place for observation. Until Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal decided to build a nest last month in the quince right outside our living room window, giving us a perfect view of everything.

I waited a few weeks. And then I saw obvious feedings, but no actual babies. Until the baby (yes, one baby) was big enough to poke its head out of the nest.

A few days later, it fledged.

Getting ready to leave the nest!

My mom was visiting when it happened, so we both got to see it.

I miss the little family. They were fun to watch. I haven’t seen the baby since, but I have seen the dad a few times out searching for food. Mom likely went off to look for another nesting site, since cardinals can have up to five broods in a season, which ends in September.

I have goldfinches and house finches all over the flower garden right now, getting their fill of the sunflowers and coneflowers. The hummingbirds come for the zinnias and primroses. The garden is a mess right now, but I love how many birds it attracts — not to mention the butterflies, bees, and our resident rabbits. And the odd mouse and snake.

Blackberry season is still going strong. I eat blackberries nearly every day, and I’ve filled two gallon-sized freezer bags and have nearly filled a third one. There are still a lot of berries left to ripen before the season is over. I don’t normally buy blackberries at the store (strawberries and blueberries are my choice, sometimes raspberries), but I noticed recently that a pint of organic blackberries is $5. Well, ours are organic. And I have nearly three gallon-sized bags full … you do the math. Just thrilled I have so many berries in the freezer, which should keep me for a while.

The concord grapes are turning purple, so those will be ready to harvest next month. Assuming the deer don’t eat them first. I’m doing nothing to prevent that because I didn’t really want the grapes in the first place. We’re dismantling the grapevines and supports after this season. I like grapes, but I’m not a big fan of concord grapes and I have no interest in growing grapes.

The apples are a lost cause. All of the apple trees are dead or dying. Only a few actually produced any apples, and most of them rotted on the tree (or fell off and turned into pulp when my husband hit them with the riding mower). The squirrels got any of the apples that might have been edible.

I had dreams of apple pies this fall, but blackberry pie is good, too.

Drink in the wild air

It’s still very much summer, but I can see that fall is around the corner just by the changes in our yard. I am already harvesting ornamental gourds, for one thing. I am growing those specifically for fall d├ęcor.

I broke in my dehydrator by drying some cherry tomatoes. It took FOREVER (more than 24 hours), but it takes very little effort. Just rinse the tomatoes, cut in half, place them skin side down in the dehydrator, set at 135 degrees, and leave them alone. I checked on them after about 13 hours or so and then every few hours after that until they were all dehydrated.

Can’t wait to try these and see how they compare with sundried tomatoes. I’m probably going to do more because the cherry tomato plant is producing a lot.

Some recent photos from around the farm:

We finally burned the brush pile today!

S’mores anyone?

I’ve been watching the cardinal nest outside our living room window, and I’m seeing both Mom and Dad do feedings, but I still haven’t seen the babies. Hoping to get a peek at the babies soon.

Summer Harvest

We’ve been here for nearly 7 months now — more than half a year — and while I’ve learned so much already, there is still much more to learn. Meanwhile, we are discussing what projects we need to do once growing season winds down.

My main focus right now is the summer harvest. I have been picking some berries here and there for a while now, but they are now starting to peak. I went out yesterday after 3 days of heavy rain, and the blackberry bush was bursting with ripe berries. There are some black raspberries mixed in here, too.

This is about three breakfasts’ worth, and most of it went into the freezer. (The rest went with my yogurt and granola this morning.)

I don’t even know if I’m going to end up making jam. I eat berries nearly every day, and I would like a rather large stash for the freezer. (Buying frozen berries at the store is expensive.)

This morning, I harvested the potatoes and carrots. I didn’t get nearly as many potatoes as I expected, but that’s fine. It’s a manageable amount for a household of two, and it just means I won’t have to parboil and shred and freeze the potatoes for hash browns — that was my plan if I had a huge amount. (And I wasn’t relishing the labor involved, to be honest.)

The carrots were very small, and that’s because they got a bit crowded. Other things started sprouting up in the same raised bed that I had a difficult time controlling. But I have enough carrots to roast for one side dish, and I have more seeds so I can get in one more crop (if I can keep the weeds under control this time).

The cherry tomatoes are coming along, but the Cherokee Purple tomatoes don’t look so great. The plant looks healthy enough. It’s just not producing a lot of tomatoes, and they all look small and deformed. Though I don’t really care so much about that, so long as they’re edible.

Nothing beats a fresh tomato and cheese sandwich for a summer lunch (on good bread with grainy or Dijon mustard). It’s just that I grew Cherokee Purples a few years ago, and they were large and beautiful, and the plant was extremely productive.

I am finding volunteer tomato plants everywhere now — either grape or cherry tomatoes, I think — though few of them are actually producing any tomatoes. I’ll keep them and see what happens. I am hoping to get enough cherry tomatoes at one time to dehydrate them since I love dried tomatoes, too. But I never seem to get more than 2 or 3 to ripen at the same time.

I will be very surprised if we have any apples this year. Some are rotting and falling off the trees already. The rest are spotted and misshapen. I have yet to see one that looks edible. (At least to humans … the deer might like them.) These trees might be nearing the end of their natural lifespan, or they might be plagued with disease and/or fungus.

Regardless, I have decided to remove them all this fall. At least 2 of them are half dead already. I’m not sure I want to deal with fruit trees. We’ll still have some: cherry, peach, mulberry, pear — but the mulberry was the only one that really produced anything, and that’s actually the neighbor’s tree. It just happens to be growing by the fence, so a lot of it is in our yard.

In other news, I am picking out paint colors for the interior of the house. I’m tired of white walls. (The only room I’ve painted so far has been my office, and I still have to touch up some areas where I either didn’t add enough paint or paint got where it shouldn’t.) The front room/hallway will be next for painting.

The demise of Frankenshrub

My readership has been growing at a steady pace, so I want to thank everyone who recently followed me and those of you who have been following me for some time.

Flowers … just because

Last week was super frustrating. Between fireworks and thunderstorms, poor Blitz spent a lot of the week quaking in terror. We got over 5 inches of rain within 2 days — badly needed precipitation, but it was a bit excessive for such a short amount of time. Thankfully, the flooding in our yard didn’t last very long. And I haven’t had to water the garden in a few days, which has been nice.

Of course, the rain kept me out of the yard for a couple days, so I made up for lost time today. Paying for it now, though. I’m so sore and tired. I spent the morning cutting down what I call “Frankenshrub” which was a tangle of at least 4 different trees/shrubs: maple, chokeberry, honeysuckle, and white mulberry. It was obvious these were all growing by accident, but they were pretty much all growing in the same spot, so their branches were intermingled. All that’s left of it now are the stumps. But it’s already a vast improvement.

Of course, I couldn’t stop there. The larkspur is all dried up into brown stalks now — very unsightly in the flowerbed. So I started pulling all of that up, too. Didn’t finish it all, but I filled a wheelbarrow full.

My kingdom for a massage!

My dwarf sunflowers will be opening soon, which I’m very excited about. Those were planted from seed. I have some taller ones coming up, too, but it will be some time yet before those bloom.

I just love watching how the garden changes from week to week.

In other news, a cardinal pair started building a nest in the ornamental quince right outside one of the windows in our living room. I think they’re almost done. It’s been fun watching them build the nest, but it will be even more fun when mama lays her eggs and I can hopefully watch them hatch and the babies eventually fledge.

We have an excellent view of the nest. I just have to be careful not to disturb them too much when we move around the room. I’m sure they can see us, too. (We can always pull the window shade down if we need to, which I do now when I vacuum, water the plants right by that window, or work out.)

Looking forward to this coming week, as I have some networking opportunities that will hopefully help me grow my writing and editing business. I have spent so many unpaid hours already working on my business, so I’m hoping that time will soon start bearing fruit.

Wishing everyone a great week ahead, whatever you do!

Self propelled flowers

I mentioned in my last post that I was making garlic powder. Well, it was a successful experiment in that garlic powder was the end result. However, all that work peeling garlic (7 or 8 heads) and the hours spent drying it in the oven only yielded half a spice jar of garlic powder.

Needless to say, I am never doing that again. I don’t care how much better homemade is than store-bought, it simply isn’t worth the effort for so little reward.

Lesson learned.

Other than the Great Garlic Powder Disappointment of 2022, Friday was magical. We had a lot of butterflies in our yard. Now, I’ve seen a lot of the little white ones flitting about, but very little else. And we’ve had a lot of dragonflies, which also make me happy. But attracting butterflies is the icing on the cake. And then I saw a monarch settle on the thistle … well, that was the sprinkles on the icing on the cake.

(Now I want cake.)

Butterflies are self propelled flowers.

— Robert A. Heinlein

We’re in a dry spell right now — so dry, our creek bed is dried up. And the pond is really low. Since the pollinators have been super busy in our yard, I decided it was probably a good idea to provide them with some water.

Bee watering station

I set up two of these. The bowls are melamine — so not the heaviest (they were in our travel trailer and really don’t get used, so I thought they would work well for this purpose). But I’ll see how well these little water dishes hold up to wind and maybe the odd bird or two that may attempt to drink from them.

There’s a 70% chance of rain on Tuesday. Fingers crossed. We need it so badly.

I was out weeding this morning, and I was happy to see that the candy cane zinnias I planted from seed are starting to open. The seeds were among several packets of assorted flower and herb seeds given to me by my aunt. Few of the seeds I planted actually grew. Not really sure why.

The apple trees look awful right now. I believe they have a fungus. I have some Bonide Copper Fungicide I can spray on them, but I’m not sure how well it will work. (In general, I’ve had good results with Bonide products, so hopefully the fungicide is effective.) Few of the apples even look fit for human consumption. A lot of them are spotty, and I chucked several that had signs of rot.

If you’ve been reading this blog for some time, you are aware I have no experience whatsoever with any of this. I’m learning as I go. But it’s also very overwhelming at times (like, right now), and prepping and spraying fungicide on the apple trees is just one more thing to add to my ever-growing list of chores.

Choose your suffering

I’ll admit it: there are days (many, in fact) when I am tempted to just bulldoze our five acres and start over from scratch. A clean slate. Strip the turf grass. Burn the weeds. Start from bare earth. (The trees can stay, though, except for the ones that are obviously dead.)

But it wouldn’t matter. Once we start growing things again, the weeds will come back. They always do. Especially the thistle, bindweed, poison ivy, and the aptly named devil’s beggarticks — I’ve been doing battle with most of these for a while now. If I want to keep some of our property wild and natural, this is the price I must pay.

I started reading Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, which is all about adopting a mindset to stop obsessing over the inevitable imperfections in life (in this case, the slow, steady takeover of things I don’t want growing in our yard). You need to choose your suffering … in other words, decide what is worth stressing about instead of wasting your energy stressing over things that are inevitable or unimportant in the grand scheme of life.

So, let’s start with thistle. We have thick patches of it all over our yard. I will never be able to get rid of it, but I’ve already spent countless hours trying to pull it from the root. I’ve cursed at it, raged at it. And it continues to thrive. So I should just accept that it’s here to stay and make my peace with it. The pollinators love it, and the flowers are pretty. (I might try pressing it, actually. I have experimented with flower pressing before.)

On the flip side, poison ivy is unacceptable, and IT MUST DIE. Bindweed, too, because it keeps popping up and wrapping its evil tendrils around the plants that I am actually trying to grow.

And devil’s beggarticks? Harmless enough, so probably not worth stressing about. (Though it keeps popping up EVERYWHERE.)

This house, this land… this is worth suffering for. This is worth the sweat equity we’re putting into it. I can start to envision the changes I want to make to the landscape to improve it, and I know it’s going to be expensive and labor-intensive and stressful. But I can almost feel the immense satisfaction we’ll have once things start taking shape the way we want them to.

Besides, this land has given us so much already. Peace, quiet, the ability to commune with nature, the start of what will be a bumper crop of potatoes …

Not to mention, I seem to discover something new and interesting here every day. And I’m learning so much. Not just about how to work the land, but also about the flora and fauna. I’ve never been more interested in identifying plants and trees.

When we decided to buy this house, we chose suffering. We knew it would be a lot of work. A lot of frustration. A lot of stress. We knew it would be an endless loop of mowing and weeding and trimming and sawing and, and, and…

But we knew it was worth it.

Restored

Our last house (and the house we owned before that) was one of those suburban cookie-cutter subdivision homes. You couldn’t throw a stone without hitting another house with a nearly identical exterior and layout. Somehow, we owned two houses like this, even though it was never the type of home I dreamed of owning. (I love older homes with character … Craftsman, Tudor-style, etc.)

That’s not really the point of my post. But that’s the ambience we were dealing with when we acquired some antique furniture. And antiques didn’t really go in a house like that.

I acquired a chest that was built by my 3-times (I think?) great grandfather sometime around the Civil War. It’s been through some things. It’s really beat up and missing some parts. But I cherish it because of its history. And it’s still functional for storage, too.

My husband acquired a secretary that his great grandparents purchased and has been passed down through the family. By the time we brought it home in 2017, it had some significant wear and tear.

The secretary sat in a corner, where the living room transitioned into the dining room. It was largely unusable, since the back wasn’t stable enough to put the shelves in the cabinet and use it. It was like this until we moved to our current house.

So now we actually live in an older home (about 50 years old) that has some character. And antiques do look and feel right in this space. It was time to get this secretary fixed. We loaded it in the truck and dropped it off at Woodmasters of Greater Columbus in February.

We agreed that they would replace the back and remove the stains. They stripped and restained it, too. (The mirror and cabinet glass are still original.) We waited five months, but we were able to pick it up yesterday. And it’s so beautiful.

I just can’t stop looking at this gorgeous piece! And it looks great in our front room. It has a prominent spot near the front door, so it’s the first thing you see when you come in.

I wonder what they could do with that old storage chest, should I be inclined to restore it.

As spring fades into summer

Today is the first day I’ve been out to work in the yard in over a week.

Last Saturday was my birthday, so I took the day off from working outside. (Even though the weather was perfect!) I took my morning coffee out on our screened-in porch, listened to the birds, and played my word games (Wordle, Spelling Bee, and Bardle). My husband made a McDonald’s run and came back with an Egg McMuffin for me, along with a bouquet of roses.

Finally, a use for this chicken pitcher I bought in Italy years ago! (These pitchers were all the rage among the military spouses and mine just sat unused in a cabinet for years)

He also had me open my present: the dehydrator I asked for!

After a leisurely morning, we drove across town to have lunch at Mellow Mushroom (FANTASTIC pizza!) and see the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit.

My parents came over that afternoon for a cookout: honey-glazed chicken and shrimp skewers, rice pilaf, potato salad (my request from Mom), and cornbread, with strawberry cake and fudge ripple ice cream for dessert.

As birthdays go, it was pretty perfect. There are definitely worse ways for one to turn 47.

On Sunday, I was feeling incredibly sluggish. A little too much merriment the day before, probably. So I didn’t really do much, especially outside.

On Monday, the oven turned on and Ohio started baking. We had severe storms in most of the state that caused a lot of damage and widespread power outages. I feel incredibly fortunate that we were spared. The damage was minimal (mostly downed tree limbs, none very large), and our power stayed on.

The rest of the week was dangerously hot. We had heat indices above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Needless to say, that kept us indoors.

Today is much cooler, but it’s also really windy. Still, I didn’t miss an opportunity to get some work done. We were finally making some progress with the yard before last week. I feel like we lost a lot of that progress. The weeds came back and brought friends. I was already out this morning fighting that battle.

The lawn is going to get mowed later. And it really needs it. I still have to get up on a ladder to pick mulberries. And I need to deadhead the peonies.

The roses from last week’s bouquet are already on the way out. Half of them were droopy. But there were still some nice ones left, so I cut some flowers this morning to add to the bouquet.

lilies, cosmos, loosestrife, and larkspur

To be honest, I have no idea if some of these flowers work well in flower arrangements. The loosestrife (yellow flowers) is already dropping its flowers like crazy, and I didn’t put this bouquet together even an hour ago. But it’s fun to experiment.

The coneflowers are starting to open up, so those will feature prominently in my bouquets over the next few weeks. I love having fresh-cut flowers in the house all the time! I will be looking at creating a cutting garden next year.

Here are some random photos that I’ve taken around the yard over the past couple of weeks.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have homemade granola and bread to make today.