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Farming is a Risky Business ~ 20 September 2017

On my drive to the farm I noticed a few golden leaves and it's hard for me to believe that fall is just around the corner. I look forward to the crisp night air and clear days without humidity, but it's coming too soon!  Harvest is a busy time, and I'm trying to get the list of summer "chores" complete before the snow flies. My farm life is now sectioned as "before my back" and "after my back" and while "BMB" I would be confident that everything will be done in time, "AMB" I'm a little worried of the work ahead which needs to be completed. I still have trouble bending- to pull weeds, pick vegetables, etc- and the chiropractor said it could take 8-10 weeks for me to resume my usual activity. My daily activities are interrupted by rest with ice packs and I tire easily. BUT, I am better every day!
Staining the house was not on the list this year, but I started it anyway. I had just started on the back wall "BMB" but was able to finally resume this past weekend. I finished 3/4 of it, and got the windows painted, too which felt great- nothing like seeing progress to get my energy up!  A chimney from the now removed furnace comes through the wall in the last quarter, so next weekend I'll have the supplies I need to repair the hole. With the final quarter stained, that side will be finished. Still to do is the peaked side near the raspberries which requires a tall ladder. I've put feelers out for a painter/handyman to finish it for me, but so far I haven't made the right connection.

I was able to find a nice man, Dave Leavenworth, to do the new roof on the shed. It was a real leaker and I have been concerned about storing machinery in there this winter. Now, no worries. Rick was up a few weekends ago and made a brand new ramp into the tool section to replace one which had a very rotten board. No matter how you approached the shed, the wagon wheel would find the rotten board, fall into it and make parking the wagon very challenging! Now with a new ramp and a new roof, the building cries out to be stained- and this is how my list of projects just keeps getting bigger! LOL To stain this building would be the real definition of lipstick on a pig!

The vegetable garden is a real success and every week it's like arriving at my own farmer's market. I come home with enough produce to make yummy meals AND more to "put up" for the winter. My garden supplied the main ingredients for stuffed peppers, zucchini pancakes, homemade tomato sauce, eggplant parmesan, pesto and calendula cookies in the past 2 weeks.

Now, about the berries... not so good. The berries which formed in early-August have not sized nor colored. I was expecting that crop in mid-August and it just hasn't happened. While I've had a master gardener and a cooperative extension agent to the farm and both thought the bushes looked healthy and vigorous, the berries did not form properly. There are 2 opinions as to why this happened- one, they weren't pollenated at the right time and two, the canes weren't cut down in winter at the right time. I can't do much about the bees, but next year we'll be cutting the canes in February or as soon after as the snow melts. This photo shows the thousand or so berries which have formed but have not ripened. As I said, farming is risky business.

Fortunately, I have a 10' row of "Annies", a different variety, which is doing beautifully. I've harvested enough to make a batch of jam, for which I am very grateful. If you're asking how could one variety do exactly what it's supposed to- taste yummy, look beautiful, arrive on time and produce profusely and another variety not-so-much, I'm asking the same question! 

Ordinarily raspberry picking would continue through the end of October and I'm still hopeful that new blooms which are coming on the bushes will ripen..... I just can't give up hope!
It's been a cloudy, rainy late summer in Eldred and the perma-culture experiment I started in early August hasn't been coming along as well as I expected. The sun was supposed to burn out the weedy growth beneath the plastic covers in 6-7 weeks, but the job is only partly complete. I'll probably be leaving the plastic on through the winter, really hoping the weeds die off.

 That will make a large garden and as big as I now imagine I'll be able to care for single-handedly. I'm especially looking forward to growing pop corn and luffah sponges- an odd combination, I know-, some herbs and flowers for drying and strawberries.
I'm trying to keep everything neat and orderly and recycling at the farm is important. I am lucky that many years ago I gave Rick a compost maker for his garden which he hasn't used lately so he suggested I take it to the farm. I'm already filling it with garden clean-up and learning how to layer it so it makes compose quicker. (Raspberry bushes are in the background. How can something this beautiful be a non-producer!!?? :-(  

This year a new variety of morning glory caught my eye and I planted a packet of seed. They germinated and grew about 3" and stopped growing- the plants were alive but stunted-  so I thought I'd never see a flower. But miracles do happen and on one 4" plant a flower sprung forth- in all its glory- and it was as pretty as I imagined it would be.

There's a story about a city fella who was interviewing a farmer and he asked him "what would you do if you won a million dollars?" The farmer's reply was simple- "I'd keep farming until it was all gone". I've thought about that a lot recently as the hope of raspberry revenue slowly fades and my plans for next year get bigger. Farming is a risky business, but for some of us, the sight of a new morning glory is as exciting as closing the million dollar deal. 
I hope you're enjoying every day. Love, Sandy

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From Mountains To Mole Hills ~ 8 August 2017

So much has been happening on the farm, I'm tempted to abbreviate everything to  a photo and a quick description, but what's the fun in that? So bear with me as I explain the incredible past 2 weeks and the transformation we've made on the farm.
On Saturday, 2 weekends ago, Paula, my BFF (best farm friend) came by and asked if she could bring a friend of hers, Karol to visit the garden. As it turns out, Karol is a Master Gardener and we had such a fun time talking gardening and I got to show her the berry patch. If you remember from my last enote, I have been having a problem with Japanese beetles, but Karol agreed that I had gotten the better of them and the plants seem to have outgrown the damage caused by those colorful insects. It was great to share my progress with someone who knows a lot about gardening. Paula brought pizza and we enjoyed a lunch in the garden- what a treat!
I don't know how I got it, but something quintessential to a farm house, to me, is the SMACK of a screen door.  Maybe the Walton's had one- I know I never did- but when I think of a farm, I hear the SMACK of the screen door closing as it hits the doorstop and it's a very homey sound to me. I had the screen door in the wood shed for a few months and Sunday I was (finally!) motivated to install it. I was worried because I hadn't used a router for a few years and the hinges had to be recessed, but trust me, it's like riding a bike! With careful measurements, everything worked out fine and with the addition of a super-strong spring, the door gives me the SMACK that I've wanted to hear for so long.

From the inside, fresh air and natural light change the whole environment for the better. I'm waiting to paint it until the humidity stabilizes the fit as I already know it will have to be planed a bit.

(Doesn't everyone have a table saw in their foyer? LOL)
Just for fun, and to improve the finished product of some signs I have planned, I bought a vinyl cutter- Silhouette Portrait from Amazon for about $107.00. It's been so much fun. I've had to experiment, so everything is not coming out a winner, but I do love that it adds another something to my many tools. Essentially, you hook it up to the computer and like a printer, you push a button and it cuts out sticky vinyl which can be added to scrap wood to make cute signs. That's an over-simplification, of course. The letters for my chalk-board were made on it.

I've been chalk writing the vegetables as I harvest them and added eggplant and cucumbers this week- fun! Black board paint was applied to a piece of plywood, framed in recycled barn wood taken from the house and the chain was left over from the grow-light project Rick made.
This is a very generous garden!

This past weekend, Rick came to help me set up Phase III. This is my garden project for next year, my third year, but starting the no-till garden beds needed to be done this year. I'm sure I don't need to mention that I am obsessed with gardening. And because of that, I read so many articles on the internet about how to do it, and how to do it better. In my head, they all seem to mash up so I'm winging it here with several internet suggestions on how to cultivate in a rocky weed-covered-and-mowed-to-resemble-grass field. The goal is 1) to farm a large enough space- but not too large- to grow products which will be available during berry picking time, 2) to incorporate as much "on hand" materials as I can, and 3) use as many permaculture practices as I can (no tilling, organic materials). This is what I've come up with.
I selected the area- I'm going between the raspberry patch and the new vegetable gardens-  to save on fencing costs and to create a cohesive farming area. Three huge evergreen trees to the back left of the house had to come out.

Billy from Black Oak tree service said he would do it "soon" so I was very surprised when I got to the farm just two weeks later, that the trees were down. I had asked for the chips to be left for mulching and he agreed, but the pile was larger than I expected! 

I also asked Billy to leave me part of the trunks for a little project I have in mind.

I've seen photos of "Fairy Houses" or "Spirit Houses" which supposedly house the spirit of the tree forever, if you believe in that sort of thing (I would put a little heart imogie here if I knew how to do it!). This is a photo from the internet, but gives me an idea of a fun winter project for my own stumps!

Rick and I started by making  2 x 4" (4' x 12") frames and set them where I wanted my planting beds.

We covered them with 6M plastic, stapled just the corners and flipped them upside down. This method allows us to go around the old tree stumps which would have made rototilling impossible.

The idea is that the plastic cover will kill the vegetation. I am told it takes 5-6 weeks for the vegetation to die and the heat under the plastic will also kill weed seeds. Probably in late October, I'll cut the plastic from frames and next spring cover with 2 sheets of newspaper and fill the frames with a compost and top soil blend- just 3"- and plant seeds into that. Supposedly, the seed roots will break up the compacted earth, worms will move into the new soil and by the end of the first growing season, the soil in the beds should be perfect for planting transplants, seeds, or perennials. We'll see! LOL
Rick is a great partner and before he left on Sunday, we had laid landscape fabric in the walking rows and covered it with chips from the downed trees. It looks awesome AND it smelled like Christmas!

 We only got half the total area mulched and I'm still trying to figure out fencing to keep the deer out, gates for easy access in and out to the garden, but I love the way the new planting connects to the vegetable garden.

Another weekend and the project should be finished for this year. I'll have space for all sorts of good things which can be sold with the berries. I have a hankering for home grown pop corn, lots of flowers to dry or sell fresh, ornamental gourds, maybe small pumpkins and some vegies- beets, mixed lettuces, fall squash and the like. I'm really looking forward to next year to see if I can keep up with it all.
Lots of raspberries are forming and for the next few weeks I'll be getting the pick-your-own set up. Since my attention span is about 2 hours, it's good for me to have a lot of projects going at the same time!
I hope you're having a fun summer, with many projects that keep you happy! Love- Sandy 


Berries, Bugs and Blessings ~ 25 July 2017

Every Saturday night, Laurie at CommonSenseHome sends a e-note highlighting her week- it's pretty low-key, actually. The new pond is filling, the currents are almost ready for jam, a groundhog got into the vegetable patch, maybe a neighbor stopped by for a visit. Routine farm life is not always jaw dropping. It's an accumulation of small accomplishments which may make themselves into a big story later. But I like knowing that somewhere (is it Ohio?), a lady is handling life in a good, common-sense way, simple as it may be. And that, is inspiring.
Meanwhile, back on my farm, everything is growing beautifully.

I am amazed at how much growth happens in just a few days! I planted cucumbers for my Audrey's Hickabee Farm pickle venture.




There's a 5-Year plan for the farm which I think of in phases. I had several things on my must-have list  for this year to complete Phase II. An old above ground oil tank had to be properly recycled and taken off the property- check! Last week it was removed and I couldn't be happier with the price and the guys who came to take it away. And then there is the leaky roof on the shed.

(Rick loves to show this picture whenever someone asks to see a picture of the farm house! LOL) Outbuildings are an intrinsic necessity to farm life. It's just incredibly handy to have a place to store things I want to up-cycle later, not to mention a little house for the rototiller, my precious wagon, tools, mulch, flower pots, hoses- you get the idea. This shed is divided into 2 sections- one we call the wood shed which is storage for all my building supplies, and the other is the tool shed. You can see the moss on the roof which is soooo romantic, in a back-woodsy sort of way. But it leaks so the hunt was on to find a roofer- and I did. He'll be removing the old roof (and moss :-(  ) and replacing it with brand new shingles. Once the building is stained to match the house, I think we'll have good storage for 20 years. Oh, boy, I can get more stuff!!
It doesn't take too long to weed the vegetable patch, then the lavender bed and the raspberry field each week and I'm confident the next expansion will be manageable too. I forgot to take photos to explain the plan for Phase III, so I'll save the story until next time, but I'll give some intrigue by saying it involves a man called Billy Black Oak, wood chips and plastic. Curious?
Last week I decided to (finally) clean up around the shed. The previous owner had used the area for storing his firewood and sometimes his garbage. There were about 7 pallets buried and decomposing in the dirt, half decomposed fire place logs, metal pipes, chains, catfood cans and so much debris I had to get another Bagster to hold it all. And before I could pick it up, every piece of wood or trash had to be rolled over with a hoe to make sure there were no snakes hiding underneath. (I did see 3 snakes which only confirmed that my method was necessary!).

You've got to love the Bagster. I ordered the pick-up on-line and it was gone within 2 days! I can't wait for the lawn mower men to see how nice it is now!

On the home front, I'm starting to harvest the statice I planted. So far, I have 7 nice sized bunches drying with many more branches coming on.

The fence I made is working perfectly to keep out the deer and the statice is growing taller than I ever remember!
It's Japanese beetle season, oh my! So many bugs on the berry plants. I'm trying to keep my methods as close to organic as I can so I read that if you take a coffee can, partially fill it with water and a lot of dishwashing soap, you can knock them from the leaf into the water and the dishwashing soap weights their wings and they can't fly so they drown. I'm really not a bug person- while I can see the natural beauty in the original shapes, sizes, colors or the many species I've seen here, I'm just not that into it. But the damage the Japanese beetle cause the leaves- they just eat them up- I had to get stern, and mean. So I harvested bugs this weekend. I've got to say it was fun to develop the finesse of getting them into my coffee can and I loved having a reason to walk slowly through the field, but after 3 days, twice a day and getting probably close to 400 bugs, I don't know if I even put a dent in their population. I'll see when I get back if I have to resort to more aggressive treatment. I did find 10 perfect and delicious raspberries to eat, which only strengthened my resolve to banish the bugs- raspberries are just too lovely to waste to bugs!
I'm starting to organize for the Pick-Your-Own- looking for pails and boxes, a scale for weighing, how to move the picnic table to the patch- a lot of details, but when the berries ripen I have to be ready. If you were ever thinking of a visit, September would be a great time to pick some berries, drive among the changing foliage and be in the country for a day. Keep it in mind. Hope you're having a fun summer!
Love, Sandy

Just Puttering Around ~ 15 July 2017

Wow- the summer is going by quickly. I hope you've had some fun. I've been keeping busy- back and forth to the farm- trying to organize sub contractors to fix the leaky roof on the shed, dispose of an old oil tank and cut down 2 tall trees which are in the way of a permaculture experiment I want to try next year. Always something, right?
Last week I arranged to stay more than a week and I have to say I loved being here so much. Did you get that... "being here"? Rick, my sweetie and genius computer tech came for the weekend, and hooked up my computer which was "left over" from the real estate office. I'm so happy to be on "a mouse" - it just seems more comfortable to me than my laptop. When I think of farmhouse décor, techiness doesn't come to mind but just puttering, I built a tabletop to span the 2 wardrobes in the closet room creating a perfect window location to publish live from the farm.

 Did you ever have an "I'm obsessed" experience? Maybe it was when you got a car that you truly loved, and when you brought it home you had to keep going to the window to gaze out on it? And go outside to look at it, hoping a neighbor would come out so you could talk about it with someone? Or maybe a new haircut when you couldn't stay away from the mirror? Well that's how I was when I got to the farm last week- the stone was here and the last of the planting beds were filled with a lovely dirt-compost blend perfect for plants. You couldn't have wiped off my grin as I walked in the garden, walked outside the fence, captured the view in my mind's eye from every angle. Inside the house I couldn't walk thru the living room without being drawn to the window to stare at the sight. My garden room, all neat and orderly and alive with beautiful growing plants. The realization of my winter months of planning, now a reality.

The plants for the newly filled boxes were already growing and were transplanted into their permanent home. I'd brought a bird bath and some garden ornaments which contributed to my Chihuly inspired garden but what to do with the old tree stump, right in the middle of the "patio" area?

Most literally, I was stumped! Rick had tried to cut it out with a chain saw, but the wood was old and weathered into a petrified state. What to do?

Luckily, I had wood left from the fence skirting so I was able to build a small table to cover the stump and it worked out great. One of the nicest experiences of the week was when my neighbor Paula dropped in to see the garden and we ended up sitting for almost an hour, feet up on the table, enjoying the garden and sharing stories. It was a great afternoon.

I was able to finish painting/staining this side of the house and replace the rotten door frame.
We've never talked about the bathroom- the last original part of this house, wrapped in dark paneling permeated with cigarette and cigar smoke and though I had washed it twice, from top to bottom with a strong cleaner, it was disgusting and reminded me of the movie Psycho every time I took a shower- creepy! The plan is to build a small addition- the size of a bathtub- on the back of the house to expand the space and I vowed not to spend a penny when I knew the room was to be totally renovated. But a few weeks ago, at 6:30 at night, I had an inspiration to paint the bathroom. Mixing a few colors of paint I had on-hand into a soft blue, the walls were done by midnight and the year of showering at the Bate's Hotel was over. The room is too small to photograph, but I did make a small shelf and hung one of my favorite pictures to give it a country vibe.

The print was painted by Izzy, the very talented daughter of my first cousin Ian (does that make Izzy my second cousin or first cousin once removed? I always get that mixed up!) Anyway, Ian knows I love owls and sent me the print which I've treasured- it was so special to me, no spot seemed important enough to hang it. But now it seems right as the only décor item in the room. Ian has a beautiful farm in Wales called Owl Farm with guest houses- if you'd like to see, CLICK HERE . His farming endeavors include animal husbandry, a large newly planted orchard and of course managing the bed and breakfast. 

My father's first farm house was a center hall colonial with a large welcoming front porch. It was painted yellow so we called it the Yellow House (duh, right?). The kitchen, which was located in an add-on room behind the main structure may have been the original house- it was a step down from the main part of the house, had lower ceilings and had a steep back stair leading to a small second story bedroom with a low pitched roof. It was rumored that when they did a kitchen renovation, probably in the mid 1950's, they found insulating material to be newspapers from the civil war. I didn't see it myself, but that's what the locals said.
The door from the bedroom led to another bedroom and had a thumb latch closure.  From then 'til this day, a thumb latch handle is quintessentially farm house to me.
Last year my friend Michael cut out a new door opening to the utility room and I immediately ordered the thumb latch handle for the door I would build. I kept it in my heart this whole time and finally Rick and I were able to make the door this past weekend. It still needs door stop and painting, but I'm crazy for this door, and for the old farmhouse it brings to mind where I had so much fun with my family and first learned that I had the seed of a farmer in me.

(This is the other side of the bunk room)
New visitor to the farm this morning.

I have rambled on long enough! Thanks for bearing with my musings. I do appreciate that you're with me and sharing my experience. Love, Sandy 


In Bed With Lavender ~ 27 June 2017

It's a happy time of year- Lavender season! Yay!!! My "original" plant is more than 10 years old now (in my home garden) and looks as beautiful as ever.

The farm lavender bed is just in the beginning of its second year. Remember the initial planting area?

OMG- What a weedy mess. From the evidence, I can conclude this was the previous owner's vegetable garden but, forsaken over the  years, had become a garbage pit with old buckets, shingles (which were probably used for mulching down weeds), old pots and so much other junk I filled a contractor garbage bag when I cleaned it out. But look at it now!

The plants are producing flowers (full maturity will come next year and just get better from then on), weeds are at bay by a thick straw mulch and I'm reminded daily of my gardening mantra.

When cleaning up the bed this spring, I came across some yarrow. I didn't know if this was the wild variety which blooms white, or if by chance it was deliberately planted and could be yellow which I was wanting for the edge of this planting. Yellow yarrow makes a beautiful dried flower perfect for many uses- wreathes, dried flower arrangements and a lovely cut flower to enjoy fresh. So I let it grow.

It turned out to be the wild, white flowering type, but I've enjoyed seeing it everyday. I did find four huge yellow yarrow plants last week so they'll be replacing this one. If you notice in the foreground, there's a mullein plant which is a good medicinal herb and what you can't see is a lovely stand of spearmint which managed to come back after my merciless weeding of the grounds. It's hard to imagine the previous owner enjoying a mint julep, but maybe he did! Another surprise discovery in the lavender bed is a pansy whose seed found its way in the middle of a lavender plant- they're so clever at disguise! I like the secret surprise!

Speaking of secret surprises in plants, I had transplanted 5 clumps of day lilies from home and moved them to the new perennial bed in front of the house. Last week they seemed to be doing well. When I got there this week, oh boy, one had grown beautifully. The leaves were blowing in the wind and I was amazed at the size of the leaves in just a few days!

  Upon close inspection, that's a corn stalk coming out of the clump of daylily! You can see in  the photo, it's a limier green than the daylily. I am so impressed with how well camouflaged it tried to be- I can't believe it's random. Do birds conspire with plants to poop in just the right spot? Does the wind act as a greater power to blow things just right? That's the wonder of my garden and I love it!
Back to the lavender story... it's lavender wand season. I consider a wand to be the best way to save the sweetness of the bloom.

I've made hundreds of these over the years and still enjoy the opportunity to make a few every year. Lavender season is short- 2-3 weeks only- so there's a limit on how many get made. If you'd like to try your hand at making one, I have the instructions on my web site- CLICK HERE.

The berry bushes are looking awesome- I couldn't be happier with how they're growing. I made an appointment with a Cornell cooperative extension specialist in small fruits to come have a look-see. I'd like to know if there's anything I could be doing to insure a successful crop. I actually bought raspberries in the grocery last week because I love them so- I just want my farm berries to be perfect. I'll see the agent next week.
The new gardens are growing great- with seeded vegetables and flowers. I transplanted quite a few things from home and it filled out nicely. The landscapers still have not brought the stones or the soil for the last two beds I built so I had to improvise when planting my home-grown morning glories.

What to do when you have no soil? I trimmed a card board box to the height of the planter, filled it with blend of compost and soil and placed it under my trellis. The plants were planted and encouraged to grow up the trellis. When the soil comes, the card board can be cut out from the sides, front and back but the bottom will decompose (all the while attracting worms- do you believe worms like the taste of cardboard glue??!! LOL). For now, the planting is done and I just have some plants to move around when the soil comes.
I love to be in the garden but this has been a lot of work what-with moving so many rocks and buggy-lugging dirt and debris. I'm really ready to get back to "house work" and have a few doors to build and other details to finish on the house. It's interesting- even to myself- that over the past month my focus on physical labor has compromised my usual creativity and I miss that. I'll have to make friends again with my saw and sit in meditation at my wood pile to get back in the mood! That's one thing about farm life- there's always something to do. Whether it's creative or grunt work, time passes quickly and at the end of the day,  I'm usually smiling.
I hope you have a beautiful 4th of July weekend! Love, Sandy

Sunshine and Gardening- The Perfect Day!   20 June 2017

I can see why ancient civilizations worshiped the sun. After 4 weekends of rain delay (not that it stopped me from working on the garden! LOL), the sun is shining in Eldred, and I sure appreciate it. Weekend temperatures reached mid- eighty and with a slight breeze, I was happy to be "in the field".
Say hello to my little friend (I hope you recognized my best Al Pacino in Scarface accent there)!

This is a metal sculpture that stands about 3 feet tall. For the colorful garden I have planned, he's a perfect guardian and I've named him Chihuly, in honor of my garden design inspiration.
Speaking of gardens, it's taking a delightful turn and everything is growing beautifully. I have flowers on my tomatoes and zucchini, the onions are well set with 12" greens and little carrots and beets have emerged from the soil and are ready to grow.
Zucchini, yellow squash, nasturtiums and marigolds- all started from seed.

Green and yellow beans and calendula (I make calendula cookies from the flower petals!)

The push this week was to finish painting the garden side of the house and to get the landscape fabric down so the pebbles could be added. The landscape team was supposed to do the fabric, but after 2 weeks of waiting, and hearing that because of all the rain we've had their projects are all delayed, I decided to do it myself, hoping to take a little pressure off them. They're such a great group of guys, in fact so nice, I thought last year that the local church must have an "Adopt a Granny" program and they had adopted me! Tidy, efficient and helpful- I can't say enough good about how they've treated me but it's my own personality trait that I tend towards impatience. So, I thought if I could do the landscape fabric- which I'd never done before-  I'd learn something new while helping out these nice guys.
The landscape fabric is supposed to smother weeds while allowing water, like rain, to permeate so no puddles. As I worked with it, I learned to smooth it so there would be no wrinkles, to tuck it under the raised boxes and the outside fence. The product is 4' wide so the seams are overlapped 2-3" and are held in place with 4-5" U-shaped metal pins. I can honestly say I used  200 pins and not one went into the ground without hitting a rock on the first try! Oh, my! But, rocks are the given here, so I re-shaped the bent pins and found another location and tried again. Ultimately, and about 8 hours of work later, the garden appears to be wall-to-wall carpeted and neat as a pin!

(The slightly gray object in the middle of the raised bed formation is a rock which I'm sure is the tip of Gibraltar!)

I did get the house trimmed out in the new green. It pops more than my original color and the house reminds me of chocolate chip mint ice cream- who doesn't like that? I'm not sure it's the most perfect color, but at some point I'm just happy to be happy- right?

 I love to have the opportunity to buy new plants for the flower beds. Many old plant friends have been dearly missed since my home landscape can't accommodate the many plants I love. Not to mention, home plants must be deer resistant to survive. 
I'm slowly clearing the weeds from the new flower beds and digging about 7" down to loosen the soil and remove rocks which could obstruct root growth of my new plantings. ROCKS! It's unbelievable how many rocks! All shapes, all sizes! From one 12" round planting area, I can pull 4-5 fist sized rocks, a couple larger ones used in the bed surround and innumerable Ping-Pong ball sized ones- I'm not even mentioning the rocks smaller than a quarter, I've learned to ignore them! The big, flat rock and the pile of smaller rocks were all dug from one planting hole!!!

OMG! Rocks have volume, so every hole must be supplemented with a compost mix just to bring the soil level up to proper height for planting. I started putting the rocks in piles- fist rocks for future edging, larger rocks for edging which still needs completing and small rocks to use as fill where the planter boxes are uneven with the ground. It reminded me of something that happened back in the 80's.
I had a chance to go to Hong Kong and while there, scheduled a day trip to mainland China. China had only been open to tourism for about 5 years at that point and the tours were state controlled. I, with about 40 other passengers rode a bus and saw a rice paddy, a "village" (which looked perfectly staged), a Buddhist temple, a farm and a rock quarry. This was at a time when China was first being designed to emerge onto the world stage after 40-45 years of isolation and their political goals were translated into everyday life.  The rock quarry was "worked" by students. The guide explained that students were happy to pay for their education by working half a day and going to school half a day. This type menial labor (I say menial because the rocks were, literally picked up by hand and moved from one place to another in baskets or if the rocks were very big, by two boys sharing the task). The ages of the boys went from teenaged down to 2-3, so young they could hardly walk. The guide explained that the younger ones would have pride in the infra-structure they were helping to build (I think the rocks were being used to build roads). 
The English speaking people on the bus were shocked to see such little tots filling baskets with rocks and spoke their disapproval to each other in hushed tones, but not to the guide. The kids seemed to be happy- no one dared complain- and in the years since China has grown and become a successful economic society. It's a provocative question whether a country should enforce a growth plan on its residents and at what age should one be to join the master plan for economic advancement of a nation.
So, that's what I think about when digging rocks- that and the way the slightest breeze has a hint of cool air, and how morning doves mate for life and how the beautiful dragon fly lives for just a day in full splendor. And how to build a trellis for cucumbers to climb on- which you'll see next time!
For those of you who have shared so many photos of your dogs and cats over the years, here's my Chihuly sitting in the garden!

Have a great sun-shiney week, my friends. Love, Sandy

Garden Inspiration and Moving Rocks~ 6 June 2017

Hi! Have you had enough rain yet? OMG, it's been so hard to finish anything outdoors with more than half the days in the past 2 weeks rainy. But since I only have 2-3 days a week at the farm, rainy or not I have to work on my garden, if not on my tan!
I've been lucky to have the opportunity to design many gardens.  I love the structure, the garden enhansements, the plantings- I love it all. It's a subtle influence, but a well designed garden at once excites you and fills you with calm.

I've moved a lot and every house I lived offered the chance to create a custom garden. I really enjoy the design aspect more than the day-to-day maintenance. In the past, my gardens were designed to suit the house- Victorianish, or countryish

or English as demonstrated with this arbor which was covered in hops by the end of the summer.

But this time, designing my Garden Room, I was a bit stymied as to the style of the design. I do love a formal garden that looks casual- that's a tricky thing to pull off. And well manicured- it must look cared for and beautiful. Rick kept encouraging a "whimsical" design. I kept thinking of arbors made of branches, a bee skep handmade of straw, birdbaths from galvanized tubs- definitely rustic to go with the house. Not feeling totally good about that direction, I decided to paint the house. That, my friends was a turning point.

Even with beautiful daffodils this year, sometimes I'd sit on the open tailgate of my car and look at the house- I really felt sorry for the neglect it suffered for so long.

A fresh coat of stain made the world of difference and I long for a tall ladder so I can finish the gingerbread trim. The color of the windows and door is a subtle green- Behr's Urban Nature- and I'm thinking it could be a bit more lime, heading towards pistachio, but we'll see about that.
Browsing around Home Depot, I saw these tomato stakes.

They reminded me of a Chihuly glass installation that I saw in a garden in Florida about 10 years ago.

The delicate nature of the glass among the vegetation was awesome, definitely not an element one would expect. Subsequently, I've followed Chihuly's rise to renown and he's added installations in gardens around the world. Through October, if you're in the area, the NY Botanical Garden in the Bronx has an exhibit. Here are just a few photos of his incredible work.  Neon tubes

Glass trees

Glass Squiggles

So you see where I'm going with this? My Chihuly inspired garden! Colorful, whimsical, casual and formal- it hits all the boxes! So happy to be in style- poor girl Chihuly style, that's me! I bought a bunch of the Home Depot squiggles and got on with the garden design.

The area of the garden was determined by the necessary fence- necessary to keep out deer and other rascals and the raised garden beds which are already planted with a delicious selection of vegetables. This week I framed out the flower garden.

The rock bordered flower beds still have to be weeded and cultivated but every rock you see came from leveling the site and other gardening attempts. There are rocks everywhere! The gray landscape fabric will be covered with small, gray stones, as will the entire 30 x 36' garden except the flower beds.

Rick and I finished the fence and added a 5" wood skirt around the wire to hold in the stones from the yard- and hopefully keep out the critters. The next step is for the landscape men to bring in the stone and for me to finish staining this side of the house. You can see I made a sitting area which is great to look out at the raspberry patch while taking five.
Believe it or not, on June 1st, some raspberry canes were as tall as my hip! Oh, boy, we're going to have lots of berries!

I just love the symmetry of the rows. A straw mulch keeps weeding to a minimum. The lavender is coming on slowly, but are sporting some flowering stems.

In spite of the rain and night temperatures in the mid 40s, I'm loving the experience of creating this farm. There's always something to apply my mind to, something unexpected in nature and something beautiful to see. I hope you have big plans for the summer- I'd love to hear what you're up to. Thanks for following along on my adventure! Love, Sandy

Dale Chihuly- Glass Artist-

If you would like more information on Dale Chihuly's art glass installations, go HERE. He has been called the most beautiful artist of our age.


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Garden Grows and Garden Groans ~ 23 May 2017


Hi! It's been a busy week but at the end of it all, I feel like a miracle occurred. You know I've been working on a "Garden Room" at the farm- a little bit English, a little bit homespun and rustic, mostly to  encourage edible plants and interesting flowers to create the ambience. Thanks once again to my ever-lovin' Rick, for bringing the tools and expertise to help me fence the area so now it could be an outdoor room!

The fill was brought in sometime this week by the Jim Akt team, which had to be done before the fence could go up. Lovely dirt (is that something one should say??!!LOL), ready for planting my vegetables. Rick set up an irrigation system so it will be watered automatically when I'm not there.

Setting the fence was a chore which took 3 days- just 15 posts but the ground is so compacted and filled with rocks of all sizes. I held the stakes plumb and straight while Rick pounded a 4 pound sledge hammer to drive them into the yard. OMG- we'd think we were on a pretty good roll and boom! right into a rock. We'd move the post a few inches and try again. We learned that most of the posts had to be put in dug out holes- which took so much time and effort. Friday we just worked in the afternoon and at the end of the day sat, laughing our heads off- we had completed just 2 posts! Perseverance does pay off, and finally on Sunday the fence was complete. At Lowe's, they carry a no-dig fence which wouldn't have been strong enough to keep out deer, but it does make a cute gate, coming 2 to a package for just $25.00.

The stakes come with holes to which we screwed raw pine 1 x 4s so we had something to attach the gate latches to. Those who know deer better than I, say you can use a 4' high gate but the top must be enclosed because it confuses the deer and they are afraid to jump through. So I made a cross piece and screwed them to the uprights.

With 2 gates attached, the wire fence is done- that's the miracle. Now the landscape can be played with. I had seeds planted within an hour of finishing the fence! And while I was planting a little bird was watching.

During the winter, I thought it would be a good idea to learn more about "blogging" and got immersed in the blogosphere- such fun and sooo much information to be had. I signed up for a few blogs so I could see what a blog was and how other people developed theirs. Through this, I "met" (on-line) the most creative re-purposer I know of. Gail Wilson, author of My Repurposed Life , recycles furniture, doors, windows and makes beautiful things. She's very exceptional at creating things and equally-so at promoting her blog- it's her business. On Tuesday night, she and 4 blogging friends post a blog called Talk of the Town which features their choices for the craftiest  blogs submitted that week. I'm happy to say my C-Table was selected last week! So exciting! If you'd like to see the post, CLICK HERE.

Speaking of blogging, I created a Facebook page for the farm where I'll be posting links to my DIY projects. This week's project was an Inspiration Board made from an old picture frame, some cloths pins and wire. You can get the directions HERE.

While driving to the farm this week, I thought about a time when my Dad took us on a family outing to somewhere in NJ. He stopped the car at the foot of a very large hill, put the car in neutral and the car started going backward up the hill, quickly. He then explained how in neutral, on a flat surface, the car was supposed to idle. He created amazement in us that the car was going up with no power from the engine. I don't know what made me think of it  while driving that day, as it happened when I was about 10 or so. I thought I should Google it, but didn't know how to describe it or what the phenomenon was. That night when reading my emails, I had a blog post from Tanya at Lovely Greens. She's a great gardener in the Isle of Man and also posted a tour she'd done of the Isle of Man tourist attractions. I don't know what made me read it- I'll probably never get there-  but to my complete surprise, the Isle of Man has a "Magnetic Hill", where a car will go up the mountain when in neutral. She had a link to all sorts of information on Magnetic Hills around the world- and yes, the NJ hill I went to is mentioned. Information, my friends, it can come to you in the most strange and interesting and wonder-filled ways. And quick! Have a fun Memorial Day- I'll be planting in rocks! Love- Sandy



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Another One For the Bucket List!

If you'd like more information on the magical "Magnetic Hills", CLICK HERE. This is a rare and amazing thing- try to get there!


The weatherman had predicted rain for the whole weekend, but undeterred (and full of will for a more sunny outcome), I went to the farm to receive the lumber delivery for the raised garden beds and the straw for the raspberry field. Both items were being delivered by trucks and the ground was so soggy, it was a fearful anticipation. But the clouds parted and the deliveries were made without incident.
What the weatherman didn't say was how absolutely seductive sunshine can be. Believing sheer will could drive out the clouds, at the first glimmer of sun, I got out my tools and contemplated the raised bed build. The sun can be flirty- coming out for a few scant moments, then slipping behind a fast moving dark cloud and it would rain, torrentially, for several minutes. I got soaked to the skin 4 times during the 2 days I tried to build the beds and cover the field with straw. Like Solome performing the Dance of the Seven Veils, the sun would capture my grateful attention and make me wistful when a cloud came between us.

Looking from the living room door, the raised bed was constructed of 2 x 10' pine and will be filled with a special mix of top soil, peat, compost and sand delivered by Jim Akt Excavation Company- it's the same company who cuts the grass. He told me that a lot of people have gone to raised beds and he's mixing up a pile of fill.
The ground was more uneven than I thought. The planter was eyeball-leveled as best I could and held in place with stakes pounded into the ground and screwed to the frame. In the photo, you can see I had to fill some low spots with compost I had left over from last year.

Three sides of fence will connect with the house to create a barrier from deer and woodchucks and there will be space under the tree for a stoned patio. The vegetable garden will be an outdoor room!

I was only able to get 2 bales of straw in the berry patch, but what good luck that the lumber delivery was well packaged and I was able to cover the remaining bales with plastic which the wood came wrapped in.

Planting daffodils in the fall shows faith. It's always a nice surprise to see them in spring!
It's quiet, very quiet at night at the farm- peaceful or eerie, depending on your disposition. But not during frog season. A thousand frogs croaking out a love song, in tune with crickets, can make quite a racket. I wondered if all frogs had the same pitch, or if like people each frog had its own sound. Listening, very carefully, they each have a different sound, but when they are all croaking together, they harmonize to a single note. Occasionally an owl or other screech bird will have a quick solo, adding to the din. I think Benedictine monks drew on this chorus as inspiration for their chants because after listening to the frogs for a long while, I thought my cathedral made of huge pine trees was the perfect setting for such harmony.  

I just have to share a picture of my white orchid. I've had the plant for 2-3 years, but it never bloomed before so you can imagine my surprise when I saw buds- so exciting- each flower is larger than my fist. And the little darling has the most beautiful fragrance, sweet and lingering, and fills the room with a delicate perfume.
I appreciate your kind notes and updates as to what you are doing- I'm always glad to hear from you. My friends, it's a beautiful world out there, I hope you are enjoying it. Love- Sandy



The old, familiar drive was quite a treat for my senses this week. I never saw so many blooming trees and daffodils in one period of time. But most impressive was the way the mountains are filling with color. From stark black silhouettes of naked trees mixed with the ever green, now swathes of new lime decorate the hillsides in the most brilliant way and the life of trees unfolds. So beautiful. Because I closed on my property last year on May 20th, I'd never seen "spring" on my drive and I have to say again, it is gorgeous!
I came to the farm with many plans (as usual! LOL) and had just 2 days before Rick was coming to help with raspberry chores. Last week I started to organize what had been called the utility room, then the laundry, then the catch-all room and now to become my craft space. It's a small room, jut 7.5' square room with part taken out for a refrigerator closet from the kitchen side. I thought if I could organize all the stuff that needs to be stored in a more pleasing way, I could paint small projects or do wood burning at night which I much prefer to watching TV.


Last week I started the wall shelving and brought baskets and decorative boxes I had from home to organize the tools, parts and pieces of things I need to manage life at the farm. That still left things that should hang- so I made a shelf with scrap wood, old nails and a horse shoe I found in the field. If you'd like to see how the shelf was built, CLICK HERE.
I just had time to weed the lavender bed before Rick showed up on Friday. Three of the 14 lavender plants didn't survive the winter, but I have a half dozen new plants I started this year to replace them with. The 11 remaining look really good though and I'm hoping for a sweet harvest this year.
Rick brought with him our newest farm tool- the rototiller. The berry canes are growing so well- and I love it- but it's quickly becoming overgrown with upstarts! So they needed to be thinned and managed to a pickable row. It's best when the canes are not so thick that fresh air can't flow through to prevent mold on the leaves and berries.


While I did try the rototiller (and got tangled in the lavender fence when the tines caught on a vine- LOL), Rick mastered the art of grinding out the errant canes. I went ahead of him and raked back the straw from the rows, then when he passed, I'd rake it back again! It was about an hour too much effort and we both felt the aches of a hard day's work, but the once-a-season job was finished. No doubt other canes will keep coming up, but they'll have to be weeded out. I'm expecting my BIG straw delivery this week, so the field will be mulched to the max to keep the weeds down.


Last week I noticed a wood pecker had made 3 large holes in the big tree in front of the house.  But the story begins one year ago. On the day I met the house inspector before I bought the property, I was walking in the front yard and was swooshed by a big bird flying just a few feet above my head- scared me to death! Since the house had been vacant for more than 2 years, he was probably as surprised that someone was walking around the yard as I was. When I looked, I realized it was a pileated woodpecker- I had never seen one in real life and I was beyond delighted to be in the presence of such a magnificent bird. The pileated was the inspiration for Woody the Woodpecker and the actual birds can reach 19" in height- just spectacular! I had never seen it again, but when I saw the big holes in the tree, I figured he was around here somewhere. Rick first spotted him near the hole in the tree, then another! We got to watch 2 pileated woodpeckers scrounging for bugs, flitting around for several minutes and were thrilled. What a corny excitement! (the photo is from the internet- I couldn't get my camera in time)
The weekend was cut short when Lowe's mixed up my delivery and didn't come with the boards for the raised vegetable garden. So I'll get back to that next week. It's cold, comparatively, in Eldred so planting is still  3-4 weeks off.
We had our first celebration at the farm when Rick had his birthday on Friday. He's so good to help me with those "four handed tasks" and I wanted to make a special day with presents, cake and candles. He deserves every good wish!
Thanks, friends, for following along with my farm adventure. It's great to get your comments and support. Let me know what's keeping you busy this beautiful time of year.  Love- Sandy


PS- NJ Waterfall Road Trip- If you have some time this summer and want to explore some beautiful scenery, why not take in the state's most  talked about waterfalls? Click HERE for a map and reviews. It could be fun!


PPSS- Composting Made Easy- If you have a garden, you're always looking for ways to make it better, right? Compost is the key! Click HERE for some great advice to speed up the process and add some kick to your garden!




It's great to be back at the farm regularly and share my news with you. I spent much of the winter contemplating a name for the farm. When I heard "Eldred Farm" was already enjoyed and employed by someone else, I was stymied.  Thanks to all who suggested witty and catchy names but I was telling someone about the farm and said "the berry patch is in a clearing surrounded with pine trees"- and poof, the Farm in the Pines was  named! I'd also been trying to think of a logo (or for a mini-estate, should I say coat of arms? LOL). I love the logo, with the pine trees, a saw blade, wood and flowers- that about sums it up!



There's a lot of run off from melting snow, creating spontaneous waterfalls which disappear in summer- about 2 miles from the farm.


















The Monday and Tuesday after Palm Sunday, Rick and I opened the farm house for the season. The water pipes had been winterized and I was afraid to turn on the water without someone there to "spot" for trouble while I worked the flow. It all went great and in no time, we had water- what a blessing (mostly thinking about the toilet! LOL)! Sometimes when I get a water bill or an electric bill, I really have to stop to consider how cheap it is to have these utilities- fresh water, toilets, light at night, refrigerators and the myriad of other conveniences which come from having electric and water delivered to my house. It's amazing, really.
Rick drove a U-Haul with our new couch and some other furniture I made for the house. This is a "C Table"- the C for either couch or computer.




I had the weathered gray wood and a nice slab of cherry which Rick found in some property which was being cleaned out. When I found the black L-brackets in my "junk" drawer, I thought "this is great, I have everything I need to build the laptop table I wanted for the farm".  Honestly, it required the most simple skills- I think anyone could build it. If you'd like to see how it was built, CLICK HERE.
The only chore at the farm was to cut down the raspberry canes. If you remember from our past discourse on raspberry growing (LOL), I am growing the Heritage variety, which is a fall bearing fruit. The berries are produced on the current  year's canes so last year's growth has to be cut out and taken away. The property sits at the foot of a tall and rocky hill and from the melting snow running down, the back of the farm was very wet- I mean like 3 little ponds- so we weren't able to take the cut canes as far as I would have liked, but for now, the job is done and new canes are already growing.


It's hard to see in the photo, but where last year there were 4-5 canes, this year there are 12-15. They're really filling out nicely and I think we're off to a great season!
I had to order a small rototiller to curb the width of the rows, otherwise in a year or two there would be no rows, just a field of wild brambles, impossible to harvest. I've got to laugh a little... a rototiller, a big raised vegetable garden and berry patch,  this really is shaping up to be a farm!
After a few days at home, I came back to the farm on Monday after Easter to work on a few projects and to plan out the raised bed garden so I know how much lumber to order. The drive was like following the yellow brick road with forsythia in bloom the whole way up. Literally, there was no place I couldn't see another blooming bush ahead of me and it got to be a traveling game to see if the whole 150 miles was marked with yellow. And it was!


My little seed starts are growing beautifully and they need to be planted as soon as I can organize the growing boxes and a deer fence. I'm so excited to get started.
My project for the week was to build a kitchen cabinet for the microwave. It had to be built on site because I had already framed in the closet where the cabinet was to go above the refrigerator. Before, the space above the fridge was unfinished.


It was a little tricky to build the cabinet inside the refrigerator closet (because I had already added the closet moldings) but with careful calculations, and only a few scrapes and bruises, I managed to complete it before I headed home- paint and décor, too!


I hope this beautiful spring weather fills your heart with new possibilities. I mentioned to my friend Marian that seeing all the beautiful flowering trees reminds me why NJ is called the garden state. Around every corner is an ooo and an ahhh! Love- Sandy

PS- If you remember, the Woodstock Festival was not held in Woodstock, but in Bethel NY.

Located just 15 minutes from the farm, Bethel Woods Arts Center has many summer programs and concerts. For a schedule, go to  . It's a beautiful area and if you go, make sure to visit me at the Farm in the Pines.













It's hard to remember back to Christmas when I sent my last newsletter as it seems so long ago. Winter is for digging in, trying new recipes, planning projects for after winter. While winter can be long, this year my mind was occupied with thoughts of farm expansion and what the new year could hold- so excited!
To keep my "green thumb" from going gray, Rick and I signed on for a gardening class at the  local Cooperative Extension. It was a fun opportunity to learn a few new things and whet my appetite for spring planting.  Fortunately, I have a nice collection of plants- orchids and house plants- to tend through the winter. My "orchid room" is filled so there's always a flower to enjoy, even in the coldest months and on the dreariest days. My Christmas cactus, which started blooming for Thanksgiving is still going!






In February, my friend Sheila and I took our annual trip to the Orchid Show,  hosted by Deerborne Market where we enjoyed a full orchid display as well as lunch in the  beautiful greenhouse surrounded by plants.

I also had the total pleasure of getting together with my sister Robin when she was east to meet her beautiful new grandson and visiting with daughter Erika and Erika's husband Kyle. It was a fun Sunday- 4 sisters together. I just wish Sally could have made the trip from Vermont. We so seldom are all in the same place at the same time. Historical too- my first selfie!























My mind was pre-occupied all winter with plans for the farm. "Self sustaining" has become my mantra and I keep thinking how to get the farm set-up so I can just enjoy the experience and not have to re-do things several times over and how to finance this pleasure.
I've designed a raised bed vegetable garden for outside the front door which will make harvest easy. I've always wanted a potager (French for kitchen garden, I think!) and now's my chance. That will be one of the first projects and I can't wait. I've started quite a few vegetable seeds indoors thanks to the awesome light set-up Rick made for me.



If you'd like the plans, you can find them HERE under projects.

Getting the raspberry patch in good order is another priority. It's a luxury to have them at the farm and they're the cornerstone of farm finance. I'm hoping to have a U-Pick, where people will come and harvest. But in lieu of that, I'll harvest them and take them to the Saturday Farmers' Market. So I started thinking about what other products I could peddle there, that would be an easy build and easy to transport with the fragile berries.
I figured if people are buying vegetables, how about a handsome carrier?  I made a few from cedar. The style makes it easy to wash the vegies with a hose before bringing them into the house. The handle is a branch from our apple tree. If you want to build it yourself, I got the plans HERE  Click woodworking to projects.















There are lots of bread vendors at the Market- lovely, crusty,  artisan breads... so I was thinking about cutting boards. I got some maple, cut it into a few different shapes and bought a wood burning tool. I think this has a lot of promise.


























And then I thought about some cute signs I wanted for my garden which could also go to market. Rick's daughter Audrey has a farm fantasy to grow cucumbers and make pickles. She picked the name Hickabee Farm for her venture!















And knit hats! I must have 50 of them ready to go. (Brownies modeling my hats from the Kinitting4Vets fashion show)

Knit hats are quite on trend. Here's my new nephew,  Kyle rocking it at a concert in the hat I made for him!


So  with the inventory now decided upon, the plan is coming together and I'm looking forward to a busy farm season. 

I realize this is long- but we've had a lot of catching up to do! This coming weekend Rick and I head to the farm to open the house for the new season and move some furniture I made (will be posting photos next time). I just can't wait to get going. If any one has a name for my farm, I'd love to hear it. Last year I just called it Eldred Farm, since that's the name of the town where it's located, but come to find out there already is an Eldred Farm. Who knew?  Hope you're all set for a beautiful spring season. xo, Sandy