Farm Exteriors Uplifted

When we bought it, this sweet house and all of its fifteen acres was nearly overgrown and smothered by giant ragweed, nettles and burdock. A storm, a week or two before we closed on the property, left tree limbs strewn about so we couldn’t even see the granary down the hill unless we were positioned just right in the yard. From the house, the first day we spied on the place, we didn’t know about the granary or the pig barn as they were nearly overgrown. I was fixated on the house at first and gave little thought to the land – that would come later, in my mind. However, we would soon learn that land is the main concern in the country!

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Looking up towards the house when we found the granary.

 

Brushpiles and Barn

Granary with dead branches and weeds – the view from the yard.

 

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The clay tile pig barn nearly overgrown with elms and burdock.

 

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The pig barn after trees and weeds were removed. It’s in rough shape, but we hope to preserve it as best we can.

 

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We begin clearing the land a few weeks after the purchase.

 

View from Bedroom

The pump house fondly referred to as “The Snoopy House.”

 

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The new roof goes on a very hot day. The original forest green shingle siding was practical, but not cute!

 

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The pump house – clean and crisp! No more red and green.

 

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Pump house gets decorated! And the door eventually gets painted black.

 

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Our first day at the house – the realtor had just mowed so we could get a good look.

 

Southwest Corner

Future site of the deck off the kitchen.

 

West Exterior

We moved the sliding door, added windows and converted entirely to electric and wood.

 

Slider moved and windows added

Here is the deck in progress. The vinyl siding went off and on a few times during the projects before we replaced it completely with fibre cement board.

 

Building the deck off the kitchen

Western exposure makes for a hot deck in summer afternoons.

 

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Deck is done, siding back on, new windows and painted trim. Notice by now it is Fall!

 

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The following Spring/Summer we build the screen porch and prepare for perennial gardens to plant the following Spring.

 

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New windows in the porch and tiny plants in the deck side perennial bed.

 

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A Summer and Fall of work and the siding and new roof are on.

 

North Exterior

North side of the house and the bathroom/laundry room addition added by previous owner.

 

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Northside with addition of screen porch, deck, siding and steel roof.

 

Roadside View

Before: East side view of the property with vinyl siding. This is the roadside view.

 

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East side making progress.

 

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After: Eastside view from “front” yard.

 

Driveway and Garage

Before: Garage in need of some TLC.

 

Garage Exterior

Garage looking to the East on the day we closed. The doors hadn’t been closed in years according to the neighbors.

 

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Bodega added to garage for wood storage.

 

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The garage and bodega with gutters to catch rain water that runs in underground pipes to a cistern near the gardens.

 

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We will be warm for the winter!

 

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A bike trellis made by mom in one of her creative bursts! A great signature piece for the boy’s garage!

 

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View towards the porch the day we bought the place. June 2013.

 

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Renovating the porch windows March 2015.

 

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Steel roof went on summer 2015.

 

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A new Spring 2016 ready for border gardens.

 

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Spring 2016. The house is done except bathroom remodels.

 

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Lap siding combined with board and batten.

 

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The “Driftless Dirtfarm” is taking shape.

 

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Deck garden the first summer – I will need to do some dividing soon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lessons in Gardening with Weeds

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Are you in a battle against weeds? A lot of the articles I have read about weeds argue it is important to know what kinds of weeds you have in order to effectively control or combat them. But I would also argue that it is important to understand why they are in your garden in the first place. Their presence tells a story, and I have come to learn that they cannot be beat. We must join them!

Since owning this farm, I have learned a lot about weeds, how to manage them and how to get completely bamboozled by the little stinkers! Weeds in the country are brawny and bold. They will not stop or pause for much. I have come to understand why it is that farmers use herbicides, because stopping a weed from doing its job is next to impossible. That’s right, weeds have work requirements, and contrary to popular belief, their main duty is not to aggravate humans! I try to empathize! Weeds do a great job protecting our top soil from eroding. Weeds spread low and wide often to do this. Other weeds send down long tap roots to bring minerals up out of the soil, and some weeds deliver nitrogen to nearby plants. And we all know, bees love their flowers!

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Here we see the spread of dandelion, crab grass, clover and chick weed all working together to cover unprotected soil.

Of course, my vegetables have a hard time growing with too many weeds as neighbors, so I do have to work at taming them.

When we first moved here, our first line of defense against the weeds was the mower. Mowers are very handy machines that are quite effective at keeping weeds at bay. Continuously cutting them back often causes their demise. If not complete death, they are at least stunted or camouflaged as lawn.

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Weeds in the gravel driveway!

This Spring was early which gave the weeds a jumpstart. By June my gravel driveway was completely invaded with weeds that had nestled in between the small rocks and set roots. What do you do, weed your driveway? I figured there must be an ecological perspective about how to manage this problem. I need the driveway to give support to the cars or they would squish down in the soil when it rains. In my quest for an answer, I read an article about seeding runways in Alaska with fescue. That seemed to be the answer to my problem. I seeded the driveway and now mow it very short. It hasn’t completely filled in yet, but it actually looks very nice – a little hard to find the driveway from the road – but visually attractive. The weeds can still be on the driveway, but they will be camouflaged by grass. I can live with that.

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Driveway after seeding (first year).

But what do you do about the weeds that are in the cracks, under trees and in other hard to reach places? Well, in the city a layer of landscape fabric and 4-6 inches of mulch usually does the trick. Out here, that’s laughable! I found out the hard way that weeds in the country simply pop right up out of landscape fabric no matter the thickness or industrial strength. Mulch also poses a problem in that its little crevices are the perfect place for all the airborne seeds to land. One year after mulching in the country, you will likely find a whole slew of dandelions, burdock, thistle or crab grass just to name a few. Mulch is really just compost feeding any happy seed trying to grow in it. It seems to me that anything that will cover and fill in quickly is key. Our farmhouse gardens have these plants growing like living mulch and they do a great job making the landscape look attractive and weed free.

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White blossoms, loves shade, doesn’t spread overly quickly…no idea what it is.

 

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No idea what this is called.

 

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Violets cover the perennial bed between Lilacs and Mock Orange bushes.

 

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This stuff looks like Queen Anne’s Lace when blooming in June, but it’s low-growing and does not have a tap root like the wild carrot. Anybody know?

In my quest for weed management, I also learned about energy displacement. Take burdock for example. Burdock sends down a deep tap root and foliage that resembles rhubarb. If you let it grow, in the late summer it has spiny little flowers with a pinkish purple hue. These lovely spiny flowers dry out and become the burrs that cling to your dog’s fur as they run for a stick. But, if you know how burdock grows, you will know that it takes two years to flower. The first year it spends its time making a huge tap root and lovely foliage. The second year the root grows again and by mid summer, it will send up a shoot where the seed heads will form. If you cut it right around the time it is trying to seed, you kill its energy supply. You can also effectively kill it by chopping burdock off just below the surface of the soil – basically slicing the top off the tap root. The last week in June or first week in July has jokingly been dubbed, “Burdock Eradication Week.” I spend the week with a sharp shovel or edger jabbing the huge foliage leaves off the root. I have not completely eradicated the burdock from my property, but with careful management like this it is doable. Cutting back the burdock provides a huge nitrogen supply for my compost!

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Pretty burdock flowers!

Thistles on the other hand! What the heck! I get that these guys are 1) prolific, 2) tenacious and 3) bringing minerals to the surface, but they will beat you off if you move into their house!

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Thistles in mass where potatoes once grew. This area has raised beds with at least four inches of straw to cover. We laid industrial grade landscape fabric under six inches of wood chips last year. This year, thistle mass despite black plastic!

 

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The LOST Garden – completely overrun with amaranth and thistle.

And, I apparently moved into their house. Last year we built our second permanent raised bed circle garden and enjoyed one year of perfection. The garden was a beautiful addition to the property and I had lots of fun with the extra space. This year, however, is another story. Our warm winter, very little snowfall and early spring allowed for the weed seeds to get a head start, and the thistles celebrated! Last year I kept them smothered in straw, green manure and garden plants. This year they had a homecoming party before I even got into my galoshes to check out the gardens. I tried in vain to pluck them into submission, but by the end of June I had to quit. I shut the gate on their house and will not return until next year with a new strategy in my back pocket.

These guys need the old-fashioned till and dry treatment first. I’m thinking constant cultivation will help sprout, dry and kill a few of these buggers. Then I’m hoping buckwheat as a cover crop and its allelopathic tendencies will help prevent lots of seeds from germinating. To help keep the soil covered and not invite a new crew of weeds, I will till in the buckwheat and seed with winter rye. That will help smother out the little rascals in the fall and spring. Once that gets tilled in, I will have the added benefit of improved soil. I may even repeat the whole process again with another round of buckwheat and rye before I even consider planting another vegetable garden in that spot. Don’t I sound smart! Watch for future “eat crow” episodes where I again honor the weed! Any suggestions besides, “Hey, Sarah! Use Roundup!” are welcome.

So, what have I learned about living in the country? First, I have learned a little about how to manage weeds, and that there is a whole lot I don’t know! More importantly, I have learned to find ways to live with them. It seems that understanding their purpose has helped me feel better about coexisting.

 

November Blooms

What a beautiful day! It was warm enough to work outside and decorate for the wintery season that will soon arrive, as well as enjoy some of the lasting flowers in the garden. This time of year in Minnesota and Wisconsin we go from warm and balmy to shoveling a foot of snow overnight. Northerners get to have a summer bouquet grace the table, and evergreen bough urns stand guard on the deck all while pumpkins and falling leaves still linger. For a few brief moments, the seasons nearly juxtapose. Of course, it is all we can talk about, too!

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Fennel, Mint, Feverfew, Boarage, Lavender, Russian Sage, Veronica, Salvia

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Wild grapevine with spruce, fir, cedar, arborvitae, wheat, grass and sedum.

Not only are many flowers still in lazy bloom, but my lazy girl garden is still laughing at me in hysteria! All summer long, I strolled the gardens with nary a weed pluck here and a little scatter mulch there. I ambled around picking a few of this and that for whatever I desired to cook, and hosted a few “garden walks” toting wine and garden appetizers. The summer was languid and luxurious, but as soon as September rolled around it was as if Medusa were out to get me. The joke’s on me! My days touring guests through the bountiful Victory Garden or imagining I was the host of some fabulous “Farm to Table” venue came to an abrupt stop as piles of tomatillos dropped to the ground begging to be gathered, pole beans began popping out of their shells as they dried and I couldn’t find enough people excited about ground cherries, beets, or cayenne peppers to relieve the pressure. The crazy bounty really began to mess with my OCD!

Cold weather looming demands the harvest brought in and the junk cleaned up. But, there just wasn’t enough time each weekend, and the “To Do” list kept getting longer. Furiously, I picked and put – into jars, pots, freezer bags, and neighbor’s porches! I even brought veg to the classroom to send home with students. They easily removed from my life over two hundred pounds of tomatoes, at least a bushel of ground cherries, not enough tomatillos and hot peppers to spice the lives of twenty-nine families! Thanks be!

The garden foliage removal has been the most beastly. You’d think yanking out old plants would be easy, but for some reason they grab and hold the earth not wanting to give up their reproductive tasks – go figure! To clean up ten tomatillo plants easily takes three hours and a strong back ache to follow.  Load after load of garden debris added to the compost pile with no machinery to turn it really makes you wonder what in the heck you’re doing. This is clearly how NOT to build a compost pile! To think part of my Peace Corps expertise was compost building! The country will always win! Mother Nature leaves you city folks alone much of the time, but out here, she holds a powerful wrath!

Obviously, I am smuggly blogging today feeling quite certain that my duties to the garden Medusa have been satisfied. Back to lazy girl gardening!

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Spring at the Farm 2015

This gallery contains 12 photos.

I’m here again for another summer – finally! Spring came early this year, so it almost feels as if I’ve crammed a summer’s worth of work into the March, April and May weekends. Projects are plentiful to say the least! … Continue reading

Put A Bee in Your Bonnet

Native Wildflower Nutritious Bee Forage Needed!

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I’ve got a bee in my bonnet.  As this idiomatic expression is defined by the Cambridge on-line dictionary, it means to continue to talk about something you think is very important even when others do not. Ha! I can tell you are laughing! Oh, she finally realized how irritating she is constantly talking about vegetarian recipes, juice and salad! You’re thinking I’m going to lay off and leave you alone for awhile? Maybe start posting about how to make marshmallows or some other confection using high fructose corn syrup, or bring you a mouth-watering line-up of fried fair-food on a stick? No. I’m off food for the moment, and am now perseverating over bee forage gardening. I’ve just got to tell you about it because I think you can help.

So, in June the United Stated Department of Agriculture (USDA) offered a program that will provide $8 million dollars as an incentive for farmers to set aside land that had been commercially grown, and instead, establish honeybee habitats. This money is designated for the five states where half, that’s right, HALF of the commercial US bee population resides in the summer months – you guessed it, Minnesota is one of them as well as Wisconsin, Michigan and the Dakotas. In February of this same year, the USDA designated $3 million dollars to support bee populations through conservation and environmental quality programs that involve setting aside 100,000 acres to grow native wild-flowers. I got wind of these programs through my dad sending me USDA links, and it got me thinking.

As a city slicker, I would not have likely noticed this news. As a foodie, I would have been a little curious, and perhaps developed a narcissistic worry over where my next plate might come from if the bee disappears, but now as a beekeeper myself, I see the need to act. I’m freakin’ out! Sometimes, environmental news seems so overwhelmingly sad – it is – but, in the case of the bee, I am hoping there is something quite simple and beautiful that we can all do. We can plant gardens! We can plant gardens full of bee-friendly flowers (without neonicotinoid-laden pesticides, of course) that will provide nutritious forage for our most important friends.

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The views at my farm are lovely, but after reading the news of late regarding bees, I see my property in a whole new light. Do you notice what’s missing? Sure there’s a bit of clover, a few flowers I planted, but in general, there’s a lot of open space that could become wildflower bee habitat. We do have a bit of meadow with wildflowers like milkweed, daisy and yarrow that provides forage for bees and butterflies, and I also planted a large circle of black sunflower that will look crazy-cool in  a couple of weeks. But, because the previous owners had animals, the burdock and thistle were thick and choking out nearly everything else. We decided to keep a large portion of the property mowed this year in order to cull those two particular species. As we have cleared the land, we have planted three varieties of clover as well as annual rye to give quick cover to the soil. But now I see that this is not enough.

Our Meadow with Milkweed

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So, I have been reading like crazy trying to figure out what flowers bees will like and what I can grow on the property. The USDA program suggests that the planting include a mix of annuals, perennials and sometimes native grasses. They also suggest planting in large swaths or patches at least 20 square feet. Below is a very large patch of Phacelia I found planted at a neighbors blueberry farm specifically placed for bumblebee forage. Apparently, it is the bumblebee who is the main pollinator for blueberries. I had never seen this annual before. It has a really beautiful blue to purple flower and when planted in mass it is quite stunning. The picture below shows Phacelia about two weeks after its prime. It also turns out that Phacelia can be used as a cover crop. Cover crops are used to add organic matter, aerate, protect soil from erosion or to provide or absorb specific nutrients. It turns out that Phacelia is good at absorbing extra nitrogen and calcium. That seems a good thing for a blueberry farmer who wants to keep lime levels low for the correct blueberry ph.

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I found this field of poppies at another farm near me, and these flowers were full of happy bees. In reading about bee-friendly flowers, I learned that bees go to poppies for their pollen to feed the babies rather than for nectar for honey. I also learned from visiting with the neighbor that her seed comes from the grocery – how convenient! The poppy seeds we buy for lemon poppy-seed muffins can also be grown for bee forage! So cool. I’ve not had much luck with poppies in my city gardens, but I haven’t given it much effort. Growing with Plants has great step-by-step instructions for planting poppies if you want to give it a try. They are so stunning in mass and even lovelier in a bouquet on the table!

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So, here’s what I propose to do. I bought a bunch of bee-friendly flower seeds from companies that would not have seeds exposed to neonicotinoids, and plan to plant in large circular swaths. I bought large quantities of Lupin, Echinacea, Cosmos, Chicory, Wallflower and Black-Eyed Susans in addition to a smattering of other bee-happy plants like Betony, Flax, Daisy, Wild Indigo, Hyssop and Aster. I’m excited to create a visually stunning landscape over the next couple years, and add to a friendlier bee habitat. In the city, our entire yard is perennial plantings, and plan to add a few more patches of Black-Eyed Susan, Poppies and LOTS of Monarda. It seems to me that no matter how much land we have, we will all enjoy the benefits of building for the bees. Join me won’t you, to put a bee in everyone’s bonnet!

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