Friday, September 13, 2019

Summer is winding down

This summer has been a roller coaster and I am not too sad to see it winding down, but it is not quite ready to be done yet.  We have had cloudy, rainy, cool weather lately but next week is threatening to be in the 80s again.  Plus, there are increasing talk of an early frost and another challenging winter.  We are in that schizophrenic time when it is fall one day and summer the next. 

This has kind of been a year of 'the good, the bad and the ugly'.  It has been pretty overwhelming and I am kind of tired of bad and ugly but I am excited to share the good.  So here is my list:

I had a milestone birthday.  That in itself is not a big deal, those happen all of the time but we did take a day this summer acknowledging that milestone by spending the day touring gardens.  In July, my kids and friends and family took part in the Hennepin County Master Gardeners home garden tour.  We were able to visit 10 of the 11 featured gardens.  Most were flower gardens or landscaping but there was one community vegetable garden.  It was educational so we saw rain gardens and pollinator gardens and one garden that was reclaiming land taken over by invasive species.  So inspirational.

My dad is feeling better than he has in several years.  I have older parents, both 81 this year on their birthdays and my dad's health is challenging and complex.  In February we nearly lost him.  He had a lengthy hospitalization that began with a near respiratory arrest and code followed by a couple of days in the ICU, a thoracentesis, 10 more days on the regular hospital unit, some medication changes and eventually discharge to home.  He lost a lot of extra fluid and has continued to lose weight.  His many medical conditions have not gone away but the symptoms are so much better and his quality of life is better.  He actually felt good enough to dance at the weddings of two granddaughters.

The wedding season was great.  My daughter, Caitlin, and niece, Ashley, were both married this late summer.  My daughter at the end of August and my niece two weeks later at the beginning of September.  Of course the shower season preceded the wedding season and that was fun too. 

The shower for my daughter in June allowed me to bring out my vintage china and glassware.  I have a fairly extensive collection and rarely have an excuse to use them so it was fun to haul them to the park and set them up in the log cabin shelterhouse.  It was a fun look.  We did not use the plain white or mostly white china.  I have another niece, Kaylee, who is also planning a wedding and she is thinking that she would like white china for her reception so we have kept them in reserve for her.  But the china with colored or patterned rims were used.  I had purchased a bolt of gray/white ticking and there was enough to make tablecloths for all of the tables.   Flowers and the bride's brass collection and her other vintage treasures served as centerpieces.  We had a fun lunch.  I didn't do any of the food, but it was beautiful and tasty.  Caitlin spent a semester in Italy so a couple of Italian favorites, caprese skewers and prosciutto and melon were on the menu.  There was also sandwiches and cheesecake in mason jars and other sweets for dessert.  It was a group effort and so much fun.

A month later in July Ashley's shower was held.  It was a brunch and the location was a church basement.  Very traditional Minnesota event.  Another group effort.  Her maternal aunts did the decorating  framed photos and lanterns on the table.  Her fiance's aunts helped with food.  We even played a bridal shower game.   This menu was juice and coffee, assorted huge muffins, a fruit bowl and a yogurt parfait bar.  Again, great food. 

In August Caitlin and Robb were married.  They had a ceremony in the church that Robb and his family attended.  The wedding party wore navy, both ladies and the gentlemen.  The ladies wore different styles of dresses made from the same fabric.  The men, wore matching tuxes.  The reception was held in a venue that was originally a vintage movie theater.  It was the theater that my siblings and I attended movies at when we were children so it is old!  It has the marquee on the outside and the buffet was set up in the lobby.  The head table was set up on the stage in the front where the movie screen had been at one time and long tables were set up on the gently sloping floor.  The back part of the theater where the projection booth was and the steeper sloped seating that was up the steps held narrow tables at a railing and chairs facing the front in rows like the old seating would have been.  The meal was a served lettuce salad followed by a buffet pasta bar, with both Alfredo and Bolognase sauces and breadsticks.  The cake was a centerpiece cake displayed on an antique mirror cake stand and featured a handcrafted version of Willow, their dog.  The guests served themselves mini  cupcakes, doughnuts made by my dad and Scandinavian almond cake slices from the dessert table. They had a bar set up and served two classic signature cocktails, the manhattan and the old fashioned, in addition to beer, wine and other cocktails.  Delivery pizza was a late night snack.  Three sizes of glass cylinders with floating candles decorated the tables. 

Ashley and Jeff were married at a lake.  The ceremony was outdoors with white chairs set up on grass just off of the beach.  It was cloudy and unseasonably cold even for northern Minnesota with a cool breeze blowing in off of the lake but at least the rain held off.  The ladies of the wedding party wore a steel blue dress, again, different styles of dresses made from the same fabric.  The men wore white shirts and leather vests, blue jeans and boots.  Between the ceremony and the reception the wedding party went for a pontoon ride, wrapped in coats and blankets.  The ceremony was beautiful but bittersweet.  Ashley's dad was my brother and he died in 2011 from ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease).  His absence was very poignant.  There was an empty chair where he would have sat after walking her down the aisle.  It held a picture and his leather hat and a framed message in memorial.  Her brother walked her down the aisle and both cried as did most of the guests on the 'bride's side'.  At the dance in place of the traditional father daughter dance Ashley danced with her brother, both of her grandfathers and one uncle.  She had asked these four special men in her life to participate and all were honored to do so.  There were tears.  And when her brand new father-in-law cut in to dance with her I doubt there were many dry eyes in the room.  She had round tables with white tablecloths and white  coverings for the chairs.  There were three different centerpiece designs, more cylinders with candles, very tall vases with flowers and wood boxes with flowers and candles.  There were lots of large wooden spools for displays and rustic boards held up by pairs of whole wine barrels to serve the cupcakes and collect the gifts.  Their menu was a served lettuce salad and a two meat buffet with garlic mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables. 

Lots of good stuff this summer.


Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Good morning!

Blogging has been on the back burner lately.  To be honest it has been on the back burner for at least the past crazy, challenging year.  Time to get a little caught up on what has been going on.

The farm

It was a snowy winter and one of the wettest springs I can recall.  I know that some places set records and if we didn't here we must have come close.  Everything went in late.  Some farm fields in the area didn't get planted and I doubt that many of those that did will have good crop yields.  My garden went in late and I still have a few things in pots yet that I might still try to get in the ground.  I had a nice amount of asparagus that I was able to harvest this spring.  I have had a few green peppers and am still waiting on tomatoes.  Something ate my beans and edamame so I will try replanting them.  It is raining today so that may be a Friday project.  I am working on adding some flowers to attract pollinators.  I have expanded the flower bed near the gate and added a few new things to the hitching post garden.  Last fall I had some arborist wood chips delivered and I am in the process of mulching with them.  My birthday hydrangeas from last year came back and are doing well.  I am growing wedding flowers for my daughter's late August wedding.  I am growing two varieties of eucalyptus and two red flowers, an amaranth and a celosa.  It is a fun project. 

The orchard

I planted two new peach trees last year and they did not survive the winter.  The new apple tree is doing well and the older apple trees have some fruit coming.  Something is eating the leaves.  I have never done a spray program but may have to start.  The pears and plums are not getting any fruit.  They are young trees and the pears have not had a fruit crop previously.  One of the plums had fruit last year but none this year.  My elderberry bushes did not leaf out on the established parts but there is new growth surrounding the dead looking parts.  They are currently flowering so I am hoping to get berries.  Although not a part of the orchard the other tree that is struggling is my river birch.  It barely got any leaves.  In researching why this 25 year old tree would all of a sudden struggle it sounds like the wet spring might be the culprit.  I am hoping that it will come back next year. 

The vineyard

Last year I planted 12 grape vines.  I have four grape vines on an arbor but they are hard to manage so I decided to add some more and grow them like a traditional vineyard.  This year I need to install the posts and wires and start training them.  The three rows flank my second driveway with two rows on one side and one on the other.  They look a little silly right now, three very short rows but I am planning to add to them next year.  I want to add a pollinator garden near the new grapes as well.  I am thinking at the corner of the pasture where the corner fence bracing is falling down.   

The herd

This year in late winter/early spring we lost two goats and our one sheep.  The goats were pretty young and I am not sure what happened to them, they died only about a week apart.  The sheep was very old so not a surprise.  Our two Great Pyrenees, Elke and Libby remain.  Libby is the new puppy that was added last spring.  When she came to live at the farm we had Codie and Elke.  Codie was an old dog and Elke was a young adult.  We lost Codie in the summer and I think that she was a stabilizing influence as after her death the two young dogs started to leave the yard and run.  Efforts to keep them home were not successful and although Elke always came home Libby did not and after the third (and scariest) episode she spent a few months with my daughter and son-in-law in the Twin Cities where they have a fenced yard.  She is back at the farm where she is a house dog that is only outside when supervised.  My daughter and son-in-law did a fantastic job training her but she cannot be trusted yet to stay home.  She is all grown up, 97 pounds worth, but still has a lot of puppy in her. 

The farmers market

Our small local farmers market is open on Thursday afternoons and Saturday mornings.  Last year I went nearly every Thursday and every Saturday.  It was a tremendous amount of work.  I didn't have a lot of garden produce so I sold baked goods and jellies.  Each market day required a good part of a day of baking in preparation and the market schedule meant that four days in a row each week my time was occupied with the market and other things like mowing and gardening and sleeping were tough to fit in.  This year I am only doing the markets on Thursday afternoons.  I am hoping that is a better fit.  We will see.  I will have to get a few pictures and post about how it is going. 

The garden tour

This year I had a milestone birthday.  Since I am not really the surprise birthday type my kids wanted to do something together as a group to celebrate so what we decided to do was a garden tour.  The Hennepin County Extension/Master Gardeners do a garden tour every year and last weekend we did the tour.  Nine of us toured 10 gardens.  They were generally flower gardens although one was a community garden and a couple incorporated some vegetables.  I came home inspired and hauling a few new plants.  It was a good time.  I didn't take as many photos as I should have and I have yet to sort them.  Perhaps they will get their own blog post at some point. 

The weddings

My daughter and a niece both have late summer weddings this year so we are in bridal shower mode.  The end of June we had a shower for my daughter and the end of July we are having a shower for my niece.  In both cases they are showers put on by a group so the work is shared by many.  The showers will be different.  The first one at a log cabin shelter house in a park.  The second one in a church.  To be totally honest, I didn't take a single picture at my daughter's shower but others in our group did and I will try to post some of their pictures in a later post.  Caitlin's shower gave me a chance to use my vintage china, which was fun.  And since I have the dinner plates for five different patterns out of the dish pantry it seems like a good time to dust the shelves before I put it back so I have stacks of clean dishes that I need to put away yet but I am going to empty off the rest of the dishes and clean and then put them back.  We hauled a lot of stuff to the park but it was so nice.  We didn't use any disposables.  Cloth tablecloths and napkins, stainless silverware, glass punch cups.  We used the bride's vintage decor to decorate the tables.

Hope all are having a good summer.  It is Wednesday and tomorrow is the market.  I better get to my baking. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Here we go again

After a teaser of some springlike weather and most of our snow melting Mother Nature decides that she is not quite finished with winter after all.  We are predicted to get a potentially historic blizzard with expected snowfalls of 16-24 inches and 50mph winds.  We were predicted to start with rain today and turning to snow tonight and continuing tomorrow and tomorrow night, ending on Friday morning but we missed the rain and are already getting heavy snow with schools closed, plows out and the ground is again covered.  So those hardy Minnesotans who were riding motorcycles and wearing shorts and flipflops on Monday when it was 50 will be back in their winter gear for a couple more days. 

I thought I better water the plants in the greenhouse in case I can't get there for a couple of days so I took a couple of pictures of the tomatoes while I was there.  We are still 5-6 weeks away from our last frost date for our zone 4 area so they have some time to grow yet.  The top picture are brandywine tomatoes and the bottom picture are Siberian tomatoes.  You can see the snow collecting on the plexiglass.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

The sap season is winding down

The weather is warming up.  The nights are not getting below freezing and the days are too warm also.  My sap buckets have been empty since I took the last of the sap and filled the two electric roasters that I have been using to evaporate the sap outside.  The sap cooked through the night and early this morning while it was still dark I combined the contents of the two roasters into one and it cooked some more.  Late in the afternoon the sap was cooked down enough for its final boiling which is done in the house.  I just put in jars the last of the finished syrup.

I have 17 pints of amber colored syrup.  The season started for me on March 21 and lasted about two weeks.  I will leave my taps and buckets for a little while yet in case the weather changes enough to move the sap.  Next week there are some nights predicted to be 30 or high 20s with daytime 40s.

I am still a relative newbie at syrup making.  My first year I hung two buckets on taps on one tree.  The second year friends with way more experience than me brought me a little different system.  The new system has tubing attached to the taps and the tubing from several taps can drain into the same bucket which sits on the ground.  I went from two taps on one tree to twelve taps on two trees.  I only have two maples but they are massive.  There is a formula that uses the diameter of the tree to determine the number of taps that can be used.  My trees are much bigger than the largest diameter in the formula and my experienced friends helped me determine the correct number.

In year two I struggled with inaccurate thermometers.  Sap turns to syrup at 7 degrees above the boiling point of water.  So 219-220 degrees is what I was shooting for.  Too low and the syrup is thin and watery.  If it is bottled at a temperature less than 180 then it could mold.  I had three thermometers and none of them read the same.  This year I upped my game and bought a new thermometer at the place where I buy maple syrup supplies.  I also bought a hydrometer which measures the sugar concentration of the syrup.  It is an interesting process.  There is a metal cup, kind of a tube that is filled with syrup and the hydrometer, a glass instrument is placed in the cup and allowed to displace syrup until it floats, measuring the density of the fluid.  

I am pleased with my 17 pints since the season was so short, only two weeks long.  Until next year.    

Thursday, March 21, 2019

maple syrup season is started

Wednesday I started collecting sap for making syrup.  I have two very large maple trees and I drilled the holes for the spikes and the sap was running.  Sap is moving in the trees when the right weather conditions are present, usually when it is still below freezing at night but above freezing during the day.  This morning I had a couple of inches of sap in my buckets and by early afternoon my buckets were nearly full so I am starting to boil my sap to evaporate the water out of it and concentrate the sugars.

People who make a lot of sap into syrup often use a large container and a wood fire to cook their sap.  I don't have a wood fired evaporator so I am using my electric roaster.  The initial cooking is done outside so that the humidity created is outside instead of in the house.  Usually it takes 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup.  The last little bit of cooking will be done in the house on the stove where it can be better monitored and bottled at exactly the right temperature.

Last year I had a lot of difficulty.  My thermometers were not accurate.  I had a couple of them and they did not read the same but I didn't know which one, if either, was accurate and some of my sap was under cooked and some was over cooked.  This year I am better prepared.  I will be testing my new thermometer bought at a place that sells maple sugaring supplies and made for making syrup as well as candy.  I will measure the temperature that reads in boiling water.  Maple syrup needs to be 7.5 degrees higher than the temperature at which water boils.

I also bought a hydrometer.  A hydrometer is a device that measures the sugar content of a liquid by floating the device in a sample and the height that it floats at gives a Brix score.

 Above is the maple  tree closest to the house.  There are two buckets each with three taps and tubing that carry the sap to the buckets.  I have a second tree with the same set up.  The first couple of years I used a bucket that hung on the tree on the tap and the sap dripped right into the bucket.  That causes some issues with the heavy buckets pulling the taps out of the tree and the empty buckets blowing off the tree on windy days.  This set up seems like it is going to work a lot better. 
 This little wood table holds my electric roaster and my new thermometer.  I have the lid ajar so that the contents will heat faster but the steam can escape.  The roaster holds one bucket of sap.  So far mine has been cooking for a couple of hours and the level of the sap is down about an inch.  Long way to go yet. 
 The two covered buckets are full of sap that is waiting to be cooked.  My four buckets collected a total of three buckets of sap so far and are filling up again.  I don't have a lot of room to refrigerate the sap so  I am hoping that I can keep up.  My plan is to try to cook it down until close and then refrigerate the almost syrup until I have enough to finish and bottle several bottles at a time. 

Monday, March 18, 2019

Made it to the greenhouse.

We have had a lot of snow where I live.  It has been a crazy winter.  Lots of weather stuff and lots of other stuff.  One of the results of all of the 'stuff' is that I haven't been able to get to the greenhouse for several weeks.  There has been a thick blanket of snow covering most of the farm, thicker in places where it drifted, a little less deep where the wind blew it away.  Near the greenhouse it was quite a bit deeper than the snowblower could manage.  I was able to get about halfway there and then no further.  Now that the weather is a little warmer I have been shoveling my way over there and today I got the last of the path done.  I had been dreading what I would find.  The heater had been on when the greenhouse got snowed in but nothing had been watered.  And on sunny days it has been hot in there.  Yesterday, the remote thermometer that reads in the house said 130 degrees.  This year I didn't get many greens started but I was trying to overwinter some pots of herbs and strawberries.  I pretty much assumed that they would be dead.  I also had some onions and pie pumpkins that I had put there after harvest.  Soon I will be needing the space for my summer garden seedlings which I start in the house but when they get a little bigger and the weather moderates a bit they will go out to the greenhouse.
This is the start of the path, from the driveway to the second maple tree.
 The path will come in handy as it will soon be maple syrup season and I will be making trips back and forth to that tree and the other nearer the house. 
This is the second leg, where the path turns at the maple and heads toward the greenhouse.

This is the worst part where the snow was the deepest.

The greenhouse is in the upper right corner of this picture. 

This is the snow in front of the greenhouse.

Last little stretch left to shovel.

Looking back down the path from the greenhouse door.
 We have had some warmer weather and a little sun so some of our snow has melted.  This picture was taken today of the waist high birdbath under the grape arbor.
 Same birdbath a couple of days ago.  The snow is probably six inches deeper and you can see the snow on the grape vines on top of the pergola. 
In this picture the black horizontal line in front of the garage door is the top of the flatbed trailer that is parked there.  A couple of days ago it was completely covered.
This is a picture of the front of my house with all of the snow and icicles.
All of that snow has now melted off of the roof and the icicles are gone.  We would hear them crash to the ground.  Amazing what a little sun can do.  As I shoveled the path there was a couple inches of slush under the snow.  All of our buildings have steeply pitched roofs so we didn't have any roofs that caved in due to the weight of the snow but it was a worry for some.

Sharing with Metamorphosis Monday at BNOTP here.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Next up?

Now that the peppers and tomatoes have been sown, next up is the pollinator friendly flowers.  After reading a couple of articles and hearing what other people are using to attract pollinators to their garden I started a list and ordered seeds for some of the plants that were recommended.

To be honest, I had never given a lot of thought to flowers.  I have a few herbs in pots and an ignored flower bed of perennials that is not anywhere close to my vegetable gardens.  My time is limited and my focus has been on the vegetables and the mowing.  But two summers ago I had a large patch of my garden that didn't get planted and it grew up in thistles and milkweed and some other weed with yellow flowers.  It was amazing.  It was like a little patch of meadow.  I have never seen so many bees and butterflies.  They were loving it.  Actually thistles have a pretty purple flower and milkweed has a beautiful scent.

Over the last several years I have been adding more fruit to my yard. I have a small orchard started that now has three apple trees, two pears, two plums and two peaches.  I have a little blueberry patch and a strawberry patch and some black raspberries.  I have two elderberry bushes, a gooseberry bush some type of a bush cherry.  I have an established grape arbor that is hard to harvest so I planted more grapes that will grow along wires, like a traditional vineyard.  Not all are producing fruit yet but all of those fruits will benefit from a bigger pollinator presence.

So here is my plan.

Near the orchard is a cute gate that my daughter built as a 4H woodworking project.  It ended up being too heavy for the potager so it is installed at an angle on one edge of the lawn near the orchard. I have often hung something on it, a wreath in the summer made from a garden hose or a snowflake made with lights in the winter.   I have tried to get some flowers started around there.  I will plan to expand that area using some in ground perennials and some potted annuals and/or herbs.  This area is our pet burial ground.  Last year I found a cute post that will serve as a reminder/memorial of our beloved pets and livestock that is buried there.  I think I will incorporate a source for drinking water and maybe a native bee 'hotel' for the pollinators and some yard art for curb appeal.

The new vineyard is planted on each side of the second driveway.  So far it is just the first few plants with plans to expand.  Right now I have three short rows of four plants each.  None of the posts or wires have been installed yet.  Two rows flank the driveway on the east and one row is between the driveway and the pasture on the west.  The fence along the pasture needs to be replaced and the corner posts are deteriorating.  I am considering changing the fence line at that corner, perhaps cutting off the corner and putting in some plants there.  I think it would be cute and bring some pollinator activity to the vineyard.

Here is what I am starting early although I will probably add more later.  A lot of these have flowers in shades of purple. 

Jacob's Ladder (Blue Pearl)
Anise Hyssop (licorice  Mint)
Eryngium (Blue Glitter)
Phocelia (Bee's Friend)
Salvia (Transylvanian Sage)
Cilantro (Pokey Joe)
Marigold (Queen Sophia)
Sweet Alyssium

Last year I tried a cutting garden but my plantings did really poorly along with the vegetables.  Maybe this year will be better and I can try again.  

The ignored perennial bed is only a few feet away from a massive maple tree and has been taken over by saplings that grew out of the helicopter seeds released every year.  This year I will be trying to rescue the perennials and relocate them in order to work to remove the saplings.

In all likelihood I will be putting up some fencing in my front yard.  I would like to put wood chips and plantings on the outside and wood chips for sure along it on the inside.  Some of the perennials will be relocated there.  My sister has an amazing flower border in her yard and I will have to try and get some suggestions from her.