Thursday, August 30, 2012

The last push

When we moved to Mucky Boots we knew the house needed a lot of work. The kitchen. All 2.5 bathrooms. 90% of the flooring. Most of the light fixtures. Every wall needed painting. I thought it would take a year once we left our jobs, although in retrospect I have no idea what I based that on. It's not like I actually knew anything about home renovations...

Fast forward three years and we're finally embarking on the last big project: the mudroom, laundry room and powder room on the main floor. After that there will be lots of loose ends to finish up, but once this last job is finished it will be downhill all the way.

We actually started this project a couple of years ago, when we demolished the powder room. But then we discovered that the empty room made a great space for brooding baby chicks, and other projects claimed our attention, and somehow more than two years have passed without any progress. Two years of stained vinyl flooring, damaged baseboard, dog-scratched doors, institutional fluorescent lights and unbelievably ugly wallpaper as the main entrance to our home. It will be so nice to get this project done.

But in the meantime there's some mess and disruption to get through. Kim and I emptied every room, moved the washer and dryer, took shelves off the walls, repaired every hole, stripped the wallpaper and removed the baseboards. So now our dining room is holding the relocated contents of the laundry room and mudroom, and looks like this...

...and our front hallway looks like this.

But the experts have arrived to install the new floor, and so our porch looks like this...

and the laundry room looks like this.

Already a big improvement. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Johnny D

Every August since we've been here (and this makes #4) this is the conversation that crops up.

Kim: "Lawn tractors are going on sale."
Miriam: "Maybe we should get one."
Kim: "It's a lot of money."
Miriam: "We have a lot of lawn to mow."
Kim: "It would be nice."
Miriam: "It would also be one more thing to take care of."
Kim: "Do you think they come with cruise control?"

But somehow, by the time we talk ourselves into taking the plunge, the inventory has sold out and the sales have ended and we wind up exactly where we started: tractor-less.

Not this year. This year the stars aligned themselves perfectly in the universe. The threads of (1) being tired of mowing and mowing and mowing with our gutless mower, (2) tractors going on sale, (3) our research into the best model for us being up-to-date, and (4) having money in the bank account, all came together, and we brought home Johnny D, the newest member of the Mucky Boots Family of Tools That Make Our Lives Easier (which also includes our Miele vacuum, our Mikita cordless drill and Ruby the Truck).

We (by which I mean Kim) have (has) now mowed everything in sight, easy as pie. 

Yes, it has cruise control. And no, I'm not kidding.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Mucky Boots poppies, delivered

If you've been hanging out at Mucky Boots for any length of time, you'll know that poppies are one of the superstars of our gardens. In the spring the orange creamsicle and yellow San Pelegrino poppies bring early colour...

and in the heat of the summer the oriental poppies bloom and bloom.

And all summer long the self-seeding corn poppies keep the blueberries company in the vegetable garden.

Poppies as big as a side plate and as small as a loonie. Poppies in ballet tutu pink and bordello velvet red. Poppies reaching five feet tall and poppies no higher than my knee. Poppies in May and October and every month in between. Mucky Boots would be a much drabber place without its poppies, for which I can take no credit. They were here when we arrived and I haven't done much to make their lives any better except admire them unreservedly - I rarely water them, never feed them, and when they finish blooming I hack them to the ground. And they repay me by growing fresh new greens and sometimes a whole new set of flowers.

For the first time this year I have been collecting the seed pods, thinking I would broadcast them in the field behind the greenhouse and in empty spots in the perennial gardens. (I would love to see poppies deliver a knock-out punch to the creeping bellflower - cheerful exuberance beating out sneaky infiltration.) 

I have been so conscientious about collecting that I now have many more seeds than I can possibly use. So here's your chance to get some of that colour for your own garden: drop me an email at mstanford at shaw dot ca and I'll send you a little packet with a mixture of poppy seeds. 

Johnny Appleseed's got nothing on me.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bumper crops and bummers

This year marks my fourth as a vegetable grower, and among the many lessons I have learned as I fumbled and bumbled my way from seed to supper, the one that is staring me in the face right now is that I can never predict which crops will do well and which will struggle.

There are so many factors that go into a crop's success. How did I prepare the beds? Did I plant the seeds at the right time? What grew in the beds before? What's growing next door? What has the weather been like? How regularly have I fertilized and watered? What have the various bug populations been doing?

The failures are a disappointment. My tomato crop this year is a bust: the plants are reasonably healthy and I've taken care of them pretty well, but the yield is going to be pretty close to pathetic, compared with previous years. And my two squash beds, the vigorous one and the wimpy one, are going to result in no more than ten winter squash, half of them on the small side. That's pretty pathetic, too, for almost 100 square feet of growing space.

Fortunately there are successes, too. 2012 will go down as a bumper crop for all things allium at Mucky Boots. Every single clove of garlic that Kim planted produced a new head, most of them a really good size. The red and yellow onions germinated on schedule, bulbed beautifully, and are now drying on the front porch. The green onions were thick and juicy and we ate them all up. The shallots grown from Paula's seeds are stars - big and rosy and tasty.

And blueberries - oh, blueberries! We're in the middle of a bumper crop, and I don't think there's anything I'd rather have bumper. (I know "bumper"isn't a verb, but it feels right, and in any case it's my blog.) Blueberries and yogurt for breakfast. Blueberries and cream for dessert. Blueberries by the handful every time I pass a bush. Bags of blueberries for the freezer. The flip side of the success/failure coin is we lost a handful of plants to the heat and drought when we were on our road trip. Rats...

Another success: I grew melons. Or, I should say, I am growing melons. There's still a lot that could grow wrong. But this is the first time, among three attempts, that I have actually reached the melon stage. Four plants, four melons. I am no more surprised than if I had grown four bananas.

Here's a success and a bummer all in one: kale. This was my year to make friends with kale, and thanks to your recipes and encouragement I think I can safely say kale has found a permanent home in my garden. That's the success part. Here's the bummer part.

This is what my kale plants look like now, after I found them infested with tiny powdery white eggs this morning. Yuck. But the next generation is already on its way in a bed far-removed from this disgusting mess.

What will go down on your gardening success/disappointment list this year?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Busy as...

As a bee, of course. It's a miracle there are any flowers for them to be visiting, because the weather has been baking hot and many of the bees' favourite haunts are crispy and dry. (It was 36 degrees in the shade of the verandah yesterday afternoon, which is hotter than we have ever experienced it here at Mucky Boots.)

Thank goodness for the echinacea. It has been very forgiving of the heat and lack of rain, and as a result it was Bee Central this afternoon. The word must have spread I was out with my camera because all the bees in the neighbourhood were lining up for their photo op. All I had to do was point and shoot.

The bees love the globe thistle, too, especially once the stiff, prickly balls begin to erupt in softer purple flowers.

Here's one for my personal notebook. Every summer (and this one makes four) in early August I look critically at an unruly, sprawling, poorly mannered shrubby thing and think it's time I took it out. And then every summer, a couple of weeks later, out pop these. Would someone please remind me next year the thing's a fuschia?

And for no other reason than pure delight, here is a photo of the double-decker bee balm I grew from seed a couple of years ago. This is a single stem.

If you ever needed evidence of Mother Nature's sense of humour, I figure this could be it.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Singing in the rain

Kim and Frankie at Spray Lakes.

We're just back from a road trip to meet my parents in Canmore for the Canmore Folk Music Festival. I think you always learn something about yourself when you go on a road trip, and this journey was no exception. I learned that, compared to my parents, I am a wimp.

On the last evening of the festival it was me, Mom and Dad all sitting in a row in our little camp chairs, listening to wonderful musicians work their magic surrounded by the mountains and trees and blue sky. Only it wasn't blue sky: after a blistering hot weekend the clouds had rolled in and the wind had picked up. I was just thinking that maybe I should have brought my rain jacket when the first stray drops hit my bare head. Then the stray drops turned into light rain, and the crowd around me began to move as people lazily reached for sweaters and jackets. Then the wind became a little more persistent and people hunkered down a little more. Then the light rain turned into official rain, then heavy rain, and the crowd started to scramble, zipping up jackets and flipping up hoods, huddling under the tarps they had been sitting on, opening umbrellas. I had just suggested to my parents that maybe it was time to reconsider our priorities when the sky really opened and the rain began pelting down. I hung onto the rain poncho my mom fished out of her bag for me, doing my best to keep it closed while the wind did its best to whip it open.

And then it began to hail.

That was it for me. No more trying to be a good sport. I leaned forward to shout through the din that maybe we should call it quits (my parents' townhouse being a convenient half-block away from the festival grounds) and the forward movement let a big puddle of water that had been accumulating in a dip in the poncho slide right down my back, soaking my butt. But Mom and Dad just looked at me in bemusement, politely wondering how a daughter they had raised could let a little rain get to her. I ran. They stayed, for the whole rest of the evening, through rain and hail and  distant lightning that lit up the night sky, while I warmed up, dried off, and ate chocolate at home.

I am a wimp.

Frankie the Travellin' Dog asleep in the car.

I learned something else: Frankie the Farm Dog likes hotels. We've had this trip planned for a while, and of course we booked Frankie into a kennel. But in the last six months or so he has begun to show his age, and we started to feel awful about leaving him behind. So we did something we've never done before: we brought him with us.

Since it would take two days of driving to get to Canmore, this would mean finding a pet friendly hotel along the way. I was more than a little worried about how Frankie would do, since he's a creature of habit and routine and any changes in his environment make him anxious, but much to our surprise it turns out Frankie quite likes hotel life. He likes elevators, and long hallways, and drinking from hotel toilets. He was a butt-wiggling happy dog in the hotel on the way to Canmore, and a butt-wiggling happy (though somewhat tired) dog in the hotel on the way back home. Go figure.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Happiness in the garden

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know I wage a chronic battle with my perfectionism. Perfectionism and gardening don't mix, because at least half of the charm of a garden is its unpredictability, its determination to do its own thing. A garden can be encouraged, and nurtured, but it can't be controlled.

Maybe, finally, in Year 4 of my life as a gardener, those lessons are starting to sink in. Maybe somewhere in my psyche a little controlling part of me is throwing in the towel and giving in. Because this year, for some reason, I am really enjoying my garden.

I should qualify that: I mean my vegetable garden. The perennial beds around the house are still a bit problematic for me. But every time I walk through the gate into the vegetable garden I stop for a moment to take it all in and I feel a distinct sense of peace and joy and satisfaction.

Not because the vegetable garden is so orderly this year, but because I have allowed it to be less so, and somehow the beauty of it is enough. It feels to me like my garden is full of happy, relaxed plants doing their thing instead of being continually fussed with. And because I have done more companion planting this year, each bed is a lovely co-mingling between flowers, herbs and vegetables. 

So here's a quick tour of what's making me happy in the vegetable garden these days.

The last few fennel plants that didn't get eaten are going to seed in a sea of softly waving fronds.

The pink popcorn plants are producing tassels...

...and the Leaning Tower of Hollyhock looks like it's dancing.

The deep purple clematis and bright red poppies in the centre of the garden are looking more muted but just as beautiful, in a different way.

The onions, planted in Eliot Coleman's groups of four, are close to being ready to harvest.

The most recent additions to the garden, the melon and cucumber plants, are beginning to flower, and there are even two small melons. This thrills me, since my previous attempts to grow melons never made it past the seedling stage.

Kim was working in the vicinity the day I moved the melons and cucumbers from the greenhouse into the garden, and helped problem-solve the issue of a trellis. Instead of constructing something new, we decided to experiment with using already made structures, in this case a large chicken cage with doors removed, and the lid of the brooder box Kim had constructed for the broody hens in the chicken coop. 

So far, so good, although we'll see what happens when the plants get larger!

Want to add some happiness to your garden? Plant bee balm, especially a double-decker variety like this. 

Pure joy. Guaranteed.

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