My  DIY  House and Garden at the Farm in the Pines


Everyone has dreams. I dreamed of a farm...with raspberries.... where I could do just about what I wanted everyday. Where I could play at being an artist, grow delicious and healthy vegetables, build stuff and let my imaginings come to life.  In 2016, I decided to do it- at 67 years old, why wait?  

Once the decision was made, I scoured real estate listings on-line. The property must be more than one acre, be within 3 hours of my home, and have a house with good water and a solid roof. And it had to feel right. When I first saw this property, surrounded by huge pine trees, with a one acre clearing and a house that was dilapidated beyond description, I have to say I was a bit hesitant. It's beautiful but maybe more of a challenge than I thought I could take on. In the days after the initial preview, I slowly changed my mind and fell in love with the land and the possibilities. The Farm in the Pines is a great joy for me- to maintain and improve, to develop and share, a place to really feel at home.
2016 was mostly about the house, establishing a raspberry patch and lavender garden. The renovation was exhausting and exhilerating and mostly complete within a year. 2017 saw a garden room addition to the house- a potager of sorts- for fresh vegetables, perennials and outdoor seating for guests. In 2018 a perma/no till  planting of market flowers, squashes and herbs was added. It's hard to stop as long as there is ground to fill!
My name is Sandy and I have worked as an interior decorator, couture seamstress, contractor, house flipper, herbalist, baker and Realtor. This is the story of how and where all the pieces of my life come together, naturally.  
2019 Newsletters from the Farm
4 September~ It's still amazing to me that the calendar page turned and it's September already. All the kiddos are back in school and final farm harvests are ongoing- oh, I love this time of year!

I wasn't able to keep you updated on farm activities very well this year- several factors played into this. Initially, we were having a goodly amount of rain so I started using inclement weather to dictate my travel days. If it was raining, I'd be on the road coming or going. As far as a time saver it was working great until I realized my pictures were looking so dark and dreary. because I'd always taken them just before leaving the farm. (I must admit my vanity created that habit- I didn't want you all to see any weeds strangling the beds!) So the last few weeks I managed to get my photos in sunshine but when I went to write a newsletter, the MailChimp who I use for distributing my farm newsletters had changed to a new format and I couldn't upload any pictures! Oh, boy, I'm not a computer wiz so I'd try and walk away when it wouldn't go just right. Today I finally figured it out so here I am taking a hiatus from the garden and sending love across the miles to all who read this....  I'm back! 

I do think this was the best flower growing year to date. About a dozen new flowers were in our trial beds-

Orange Lime Zinnias


10 new dahlia varieties

along with some of the old favorites


Gomphrena, also called Globe Amaranth

Celosia, both Plumosa (left)  and Cristata (right)

 and the cutest Jack-Be-Little pumkins you ever saw! I think they will turn orange as they ripen.

My neighbor Ron had given me some self seeded plants from his garden thinking they were spaghetti squash but they turned out to be medium sized pumpkin and 3-4 grew to maturity. That's fun and there are self seeded goards from last year running all around the garden producing small white globes. Speaking of self seeding...While I do try to maximize the growing season by planting early which disturbs the soil, the garden has been established long enough that many flowers throw off volunteers. It's a blessing if you know what to look for!

All the cleomes and calendula in this photo are self seeded!

The veggies also did well and Rick swears if I feed him another green bean, he'll refuse to eat it (they are awfully good fresh from the garden- oh, and wax beans yum steamed!).

The tomatoes are so prolific I've been doing sauce, stuffing them, slicing them, putting them in or on any thing I can think of. Two weeks in a row I brought home 3 buckets full!


I tried San Marzanos for the first time with mixed results. The best this year was Burpee's Early Girl.

The raspberries are struggling...will I ever have a robust, bug-free, not crazy raspberry patch? I wonder. Finally some berries are formed at the tips of the canes, but only a quarter or so have berries - grrrr.
I'm worried I won't have enough for jam!
Hope you're lookig forward to a beautiful fall!
7 July ~ ~  I hope you had a beautiful 4th of July. Ours was quiet, hot and busy with chores. I have 5 different recipes for zucchini tea bread and had a chance to make a batch of each thanks to my neighbor Ron offering the zucchini from his garden. Ours is not quite ready, though I was having a crave for the tea bread. I make as many as I can, as long as the zucchini are producing, and freeze the loaves. I give away a lot and I love a few slices for breakfast. The double chocolate chip recipe can even be served as dessert! The recipe for chocolate chip orange zucchini bread is HERE. For a yummy lemon-poppy seed zucchini bread, GO HERE.

As you know, I've been thinking about food lately... not just about growing it,  but how it affects health, populations and the world. For quite a few years, I preferred a macrobiotic diet. One of the core Macrobiotic principles resonated with me- eat as close to locally grown as you can. It made sense to me that localness would just fit better.  Now that same thinking is central to the organic farm movement!

On most people's minds now is global warming, and I agree it's something to seriously consider. In thinking about foods, I "bump into" a lot of  information which shows different perspectives of the global warming problem- of course food production is just one of the critical problems within the problem. With a global population of around 8 billion by 2022 and more and more land turning into desert, food shortage is inevitable. My Uncle Bruce (who's close to 90 years and is still filled with a curious spirit and a sharp wit)  sent me the link to a TED Talk  which puts a light on some of the not-so-often- talked about perspectives of the global warming problem. If you have 45 minutes, I highly recommend the Talk- it gave me a lot to think about.
(Thanks Uncle Bruce for sharing such an important info!)

With the planting season finally winding down, I have planted just about every space I can and we have an abundance (interesting how "dance" is in abundance because that is what I do when I go to the garden!) of flowers, produce and experiments going on all around us.

The patio food garden is doing so well. It's a treat for my senses to have morning coffee there and look at how fast everything is changing from day-to-day and how much produce is coming on. The patio eggplants have many flowers and are starting to size-up nicely.

Corbacci peppers are sweet frying peppers, useful in stir-fry and salads, too. It's the first time I'm growing them and they are proving very abundant. The jalapeno plant was cut short by some adventurous deer who poked their heads through our patio railing and munched their way along the edge of my plantings. Grrrr...Half the plant is gone but the peppers still keep growing!

I'm delighted to have strawberries so close and convenient for nibbling.

Strawberry plants reproduce by seed and also by runners (most of the plants grown commercially are started by cloning called  tissue culture). I'm allowing the runners to root in other containers and will be able to transplant them into a garden soon, naturally expanding my little planting.

Three types of basil, thyme, sage, mints and other herbs are ready for the cook pot when needed. A few pots of marigold (Lemon Drop) help fight predators (though not deer, obviously!) 

I'm growing a new (for me) type of cucumber called Cucamelon. It's about the size of a pecan and has a skin like a watermelon- green on green striped. I'm told it tastes like a cross between a cucumber and a peach... so we'll see. Like a cucumber, it grows as a vine and pulls itself up with tendrils.

And tomatoes...we love Jersey tomatoes! We have 2 plants on the patio, two in the home garden and a dozen or so more plants at the farm. (These are the Early Girl variety which are small but prolific and early ripening).

I'd say my food patio experiment is a success. I'm always amused by what's going on out there AND I have yummy fruits and veg to eat- a win-win. All these plants were seeded and got an early start in the hot frame.

The deer proofing boxes I made for the side garden are filled with carrots and beets...


and the "out-back" shade garden is finally starting to show some vigor with beans, strawflowers and potatoes. The cauliflower and cabbages under the grow tunnel are being eaten by something in spite of the covering so that may end up a disappointment.

The last 3 times I was at the farm, it was raining on the day I left so my pictures were awfully "gray" (I snapped this one day a few weeks back). But I hope next time to show you progress there. The raspberries are growing so tall, flowers are already being harvested and veg seeds have been replanted three times because rain keeps washing them out.

Gardening is filled with sounds from a Walt Disney movie of birds singing. Farming has a lot more kettle drums and cymbals, if you know what I mean!
Hope you're having a beautiful day!  xo Sandy


6 June 2019  For many years, Rick had a vegetable garden on common ground property (we're in an adult community) that abuts our lot in the back. The previous owner had planted a forsythia row, giving the illusion that our property extends about 15 feet farther than it actually does. It was a productive and cozy garden which kept us in fresh vegetables for most of the summer.

Over the years the surrounding trees grew and began to shade the area making a conventional garden sun deficient. It was heart breaking, but 2 years ago we abandoned the area and used it last year only for a few strawflower plants which were left over from the farm planting.
My study of permaculture this past winter  led me to ask what could be planted in our little space which could produce food, even though it was shaded for much of the day. I came across this article which got me very excited- 28 vegetables which can grow in partial shade. That got my wheels turning and I decided to reclaim the space for a shade garden to maximize our food production.

Years ago I had given up growing brassicas- those veggies from the broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts family- because they attracted worms which ate the plants. Broccoli was attractive to a green worm which camouflaged on the florets- ooo, so not nice. The worms come from the cabbage moth, which can be controlled by putting cloth over the plants- easy-peasy, problem solved!

(I made the hoops from hula-hoops from the Dollar store.)
To clean up the space, Rick sucked up all the left over fall leaves with the leaf blower which chops them. He ran them through the blower twice to cut them as fine as possible with this machine and I've started another compost bucket next to the leaf pile. I'm thinking that by August the compost will be ready and can be spread on the plants to give them a boost into fall. The blue bucket on the left has fingerling potatoes just starting to grow.

The absolute sunniest spot was given over to a trellis for sweet peas, then pole beans when the peas are finished. I'm also trying a new stringing technique for tomatoes.
You can see that throughout the day, the sun is filtered on different parts of the garden which so far, is fine.
I was very lucky to get leaf mold and wood chips from my local recycling center which I dug by the bucket loads and used in the shade garden to improve the soil in the planting areas and mulch out the weeds in the walk-ways.
In addition to some annual food stuffs (chard, spinach, radish, eggplant and peppers), I planted perennials which I hope will grow and thrive every year. It demonstrates a lot of hope to plant blueberry bushes and asparagus roots as they won't produce for 3 years but I like the idea that the food garden is established for the long haul,

The hot frame had been in place on the patio since late April and worked great getting all the plants ready for the farm and here at home.  In past years the patio has mostly been used for flowers and herbs but this year I wanted to focus on foods. Growing veg in pots is a great way to expand your growing space so I thought I'd try some vegetables this way.

Last year, the seasons ran early on tree fruits and berries and I missed strawberry season all together. Ever since, I 've been craving a delicious local berry so decided to grow some on the patio. The strawberry easel was a DIY project that cost less than $20.00 and holds 16 plants. A 10' length of gutter was cut into 4 equal pieces, end capped and attached to cedar 1x 3"s. It's hinged on the top so it can store easily.

It was every pot or planter on deck for my patio food garden. It's really fun to have a close up view to watch the plants every day- the strawberries have flowers now, whoot!

The French breakfast radishes have been delicious along with the fresh spinach, salad greens, onion shoots and asparagus (from our 2 established plants). It's a game to see how much of our own food I can incorporate into our diet each day. Fortunately Rick is a willing subject for my experiment!

It took 3 weekends to get the farm planted, rototill and straw mulch the raspberries. There's no end in sight for the weeding which is so needed in the lavender patch and the front door gardens, but I'll get to it. 

Each season brings its own challenges and rewards, but I feel like a pretty lucky girl to jump out of bed each day, eager to be in the garden.
2 May 2019 Here's the "latest dirt", get it?...musings from a farm. Actually, dirt has become a serious topic... last year my favorite compost maker went out of business! Over the past year, I tried many other bagged products including some "gourmet varieties" like mushroom compost and compost with free range chicken manure but nothing could replicate the compost I had been using.
What's the big deal about compost? It's the best and most natural soil amendment, loaded with nutrients. For a no-till garden, 3-4 inches added to the top of the garden beds keeps the soil loose and healthy.  Seeds can be sown into it or plants can be planted into it. It's a natural fertilizer and combined with bi-weekly applications of manure tea (or worm casting tea) is all the fertilizing my garden requires. So I decided to make my own.

This is something I've thought about for a few years but I was afraid- afraid of proper ratios of ingredients, afraid of starting the project and not finishing, afraid it would smell, afraid that I wouldn't  have the strength and time to do it. So once I got over myself.... I broke the process down into small steps and set about making a small batch.
Compost is a mix of green and brown natural ingredients, combined in a 1-2 ratio with a bit of water which breaks down into a natural fertilizer resembling dirt. (The concept of this is especially exciting to me as a 23 year Realtor because one of our sales pitches is "land, they just don't make it any more"- well, it turns out you can!)  Simply, green ingredients are kitchen waste ( no onions and no animal products except egg shells) and lawn clippings (be aware of lawns which have been treated with chemicals). Brown ingredients are dried leaves, sawdust, shredded paper and/or torn cardboard .

I'd read that if you freeze the kitchen scraps, the freezing/thawing process will break them down faster. It's been working great as I fill about 2 containers a week and this allows me to add it to the compost bucket weekly along with the brown ingredients, keeping the ratio about right. Freezing it also keeps it from smelling until I use it which was one of my big concerns.
During the week, I've also been saving the brown ingredients- shredding all non-glossy mail (must take out plastic envelope windows before shredding) and bits of paper, sweeping up sawdust from my building projects and crumbling any leaves I find blowing around the yard. It's been easy on Sunday to measure out 4 tubs of brown ingredients and add it to the 2 tubs of green and mix it in the compost bucket.

I also found 2 worms in the garden which I put into the compost bucket to eat and digest the ingredients. Since the breakdown of the ingredients primarily is by aerobic bacteria, the tub needs to be stirred everyday to re-introduce fresh air into the bucket. Aside from the science of making compost, I love re-using so much of what usually goes to the landfill. The compost endeavor has caused me to look at everything I do in a new way and I'm grateful for it.

I have a mantra, which I'm sure should be attributed to some wise, old sage which goes something like this- Whatever you focus on expands. Focus on the good and you'll get more good. Focus on the bad, uh-oh you don't want to do that. Anyway, after weeks of studying about compost, reading 100 articles (at least, but I do love the Youtubes!) and working on my system, I heard from someone that my township makes leaf mold from all the leaves the garbage collectors pick up in the fall. AND it's free for the taking!
One day Rick and I set out to find it! We drove into the recycling center and right before us was a mountain of pure gold- mostly composted leaves which is called leaf mold when no other organic ingredients are added.
I'd packed some buckets and brought a shovel.

It was like getting a gift! In just a few moments, we'd dug enough to fill our buckets and looking back couldn't even notice we'd been there- the pile was still huge. Since the first day, I've been back 3 times and have been putting it on my home gardens.

When we first moved to this property, it was fun to see 4-5 deer who wandered around the neighborhood. Having no natural predators here, the population has increased over the years and this week I counted a herd of more than 50 who travel in a pack, consuming everything in their path. Even rhododendrons, previously unappetizing, were eaten this year. My perennial flower bed along the south side of the house has been ravaged by the deer and last year I all but gave up on it, leaving a weedy mess which was heart breaking to see.
I decided to build protective boxes to cover some annual food crops I could plant in the south side garden.

The boxes were constructed of left over wood, some new chicken wire, hinges and latches and made to fit the width of the garden. The length was determined by how much space the deer had left from eating my flowers- one is 4', the other is 3'. This is a nice opportunity to plant a salad garden of lettuce mix, beets, spinach and French breakfast radishes and a separate planting of carrots. In the middle I planted a stand of onions which I started from seed and wrapped the space with chicken wire.

The hot frame is filled with seed starts and, again this year, I'm still too early.

This year I really did try to curb my enthusiasm and managed to keep with the planting schedule, but the plants are so vigorous, they just can't help to grow. My last frost date- safe planting time- is at the end of May so it will be hard to corral the tomatoes and status which are ready to plant now. Most  of these plants are going to the farm to be planted in the no-till raised beds and the rest have been offered to friends and neighbors to plant in their gardens.
It's been miserable with rain at the farm for 10 days straight (according to the on-line weather info) and I can't wait to go and start planting. The raspberry field is tended, but the other beds need composting and clean-up to ready them for spring planting. I' so excited to begin!

3 April 2019   ~ Finally , spring has arrived and I'm like a whirling dervish with so many plans and projects on my plate. I hope you have some pretty daffodils to view. It seems like this year is colder than last and things are a bit late in getting started here.

I hadn't been to the farm since last October and it's been on my mind that the berry canes needed to be pruned while the plants were dormant. Last year it took Rick and I two short days to do the whole field. The house is still winterized so we can't stay there and we weren't looking forward to  two trips. My friend Paula told me there was still snow but after a week of temps in the low 50's and rain for a couple of days, I thought surely the snow must be gone, so I started planning a trip to the farm.
It was a very happy occasion that Rick's daughter Paige decided to move back to our area after being in California for 8 years and arrive the week we were going to the farm. She'd never been there and was eager to go. Blair, Rick's youngest daughter, was up for the travel and a friend of hers, Elaina thought it would be fun to come along. So our hope to get the field done in a day seemed possible.

Never underestimate the vitality of youth!  Though the day was sunny and mild, there were still some patches of snow so I gave out sheets of plastic to lay on. Each girl and Rick took a row to cut while I went behind them with the wagon to clear the field of cut canes.

We managed to do the whole field in under 2 hours- amazing! The girls then helped clear some fallen branches from the new area I'd like to use for the road stand. While they were carting the branches, they saw bear prints in the snow (why aren't those bears in hibernation???) 
It was a fun day. For Rick and I, having our girls with us at the farm was a dream come true.

Blair drives a pick-up truck so while we were at the farm we loaded the hot frame and brought it home. It took a couple days to reassemble on our home patio and wrap with plastic and it's all ready for spring plants. I had started some seeds- tomatoes, statice, cauliflower, cabbages, delphinium, sage, rosemary, thyme- under the lights indoors and already some of them (herbs, onions, cabages and cauliflower) are living in the hot frame. My next round of seeding will be April 15th, mostly for dryable flowers which will be grown at the farm. Last year I processed 700 plants through this very modest hot frame and I'm eager to see how many I can do this year.

I joined a Facebook page called  Sow Generous . Everyone on the page has made a committment to grow enough to generously share with others. I love seeing how other gardeners start their plants, what their gardens look like and for the opportunity to widen my community of people who also like to play in the dirt.

(picture from iStock)

Toward the end of winter, I started to get a little bored waiting for spring. I was "crafted" out and my usual activities seemed routine and didn't quite fill my day. I decided to watch permaculture videos on Youtube so I could learn more about it. No joke, there are a lot of videos. But I learned so much and I'm even more over the moon with this concept of garden design AND lifestyle. If you'd like to watch a short, succinct, defining video which explains the permaculture process, click permaculture. WARNING- THIS MAY BECOME ADDICTIVE!

Just a reminder, this is the 50th year since the Woodstock festival which was not held in Woodstock, but in Bethel NY, just 10 miles from the farm. There are many plans for celebratory  events throughout the area. There is also the Woodstock museum which chronicles the famous concert. Click here to see what is being offered.  If you come 'round for any of the activities, please let me know so we can get together.

I wanted to share a beautiful poem by my friend Blythe at Barbolian Fields. She heralds spring with  perfect awe and delight! Click here.