We are loving spring around the farm. We are getting in the gardens, raking the leaves out and tilling up the soil. My Star Magnolia tree is bursting with its showy blooms.
It is such a beautiful sight. I love this magnolia tree.
Last Friday we received about a foot of heavy wet snow. It was depressing and everyone was complaining and crabby, including me. It felt like spring would never arrive. April has been a strange and very snowy month.
One week later and it looks like this…
Yes, I think spring has finally arrived. The last two days we have enjoyed temperatures in the low 70′s. It is not expected to last all week, but it sure has helped to melt the snow and get spring kicked into gear.
Last weekend, when it was still cold, we hosted a smoking party at our house. Jesse was going to fire up the smokehouse while the temperatures were still cool with the snow on the ground, so he invited friends to bring over anything they wanted to smoke. We had a real assortment of good stuff: almonds, peanuts, cheese, cheese curds, leg of lamb, pork chops, pork roasts, ribs, and chickens. Once the smokehouse was loaded up, we enjoyed chatting and having some beverages while we waited for the smokehouse to work its cold-smoking magic.
We also started cooking sap to make maple syrup the same day. The sap ran very late this year due to the crazy spring. We were not sure if it would run at all, but the trees finally started dripping and actually produced a lot of sap.
Jesse found this stainless steel pan at a restaurant equipment store and it works great on our outdoor stove to cook the sap. It has a lot of surface area to help with evaporation and to cook the sap down faster. The sap looks just like water when you first collect it from the tree to start cooking.
As it cooks longer, it starts to brown up and begins to have a sweet caramel-like aroma. We cooked down enough sap last weekend to make one gallon of syrup.
Yes, spring is here. The birds have been singing, the geese are honking, and the frogs have awoken and are singing their lovely spring song.
All varieties of wildlife are on the move. During the day yesterday, I was working at home and as I glanced up from the file I was reading, I noticed these turkeys come walking past the back of the barn and headed towards the river. I grabbed my camera and snapped a few shots.
We joke sometimes about living in a nature preserve. I guess we have the river to thank for the wide array of wildlife we get to see and/or hear (the owls hooting at night are my favorite) on a daily basis.
We spent yesterday evening and today outside enjoying the warm temperatures by starting our spring cleanup. I cut down any perennials that stood through the winter and raked all the leaves out of the gardens.
Tired of the chickens coming up by the house and digging in the dirt of my perennial garden, we decided to lock them in the vegetable garden fence today to enjoy the sunshine. Ironically, we built this very fence in part, to keep the chickens out of the vegetable garden. They loved kicking around the bit of straw, pecking at the grass, and digging in the dirt all day.
Likewise, the peonies are bursting out of the ground. I love peonies so much. They remind me of my grandma.
The beehives are sitting empty across the field awaiting their new residents. We ordered two nucs of bees that should arrive in about 10 days. The nucs contain some frames of brood and a queen, so they are already somewhat established. Since we are starting over again after a year of bee-keeping drama (swarming, robbing, etc.), it will be nice to have the hives get up and running quickly.
So, after a very long winter, it seems as though spring has arrived. Finally.
There may likely be a few more bumps along the way, but we are definitely headed in the right direction.
We are still waiting on spring. The six plus inches of snow we are receiving today is certainly not a welcome sight. As you will notice from the picture below, we have not gotten around to taking down our Christmas lights yet. This picture could so easily be from the Christmas season, but sadly, today is the 18th day of April!!
These views from the farm might actually be considered pretty if taken during the Christmas season…or maybe even if it were February.
But it is not Christmas and it is not February. Did I mention it is the middle of April?!
The good news is that snow does not last long this time of year because the sun’s rays are much too powerful. So, if the sun does ever come out, we know the snow will melt quickly. I will cling to that thought..that’s all I can do at the moment to stay positive.
I hope the weather is better in your part of the country, wherever that might be!
From snowy central Minnesota,
My mini-greenhouses are waiting patiently for some warmer temps to get the seeds going. I peeked in them and saw that the kale seeds have already sprouted!
The chickens enjoyed their first day outside free-ranging.
Everything is brown and drab.
Wildlife is on the move though. We noticed hundreds of robins out in our hayfield and in the trees over the weekend. Geese were honking down by the river and a few flew right through the yard headed in that direction.
We also noticed some strange-looking birds down by the river. I didn’t have my telephoto lens on the camera, so I snapped a few photos and zoomed in on the images once I uploaded them to the computer. It took me some time searching through images to identify these crazy looking birds, but I finally did…Hooded Merganser. We have never seen them around here, or at least we have never noticed them before.
The bird identification site had this to say about the Hooded Merganser:
“Hooded” is something of an understatement for this extravagantly crested little duck. Adult males are a sight to behold, with sharp black-and-white patterns set off by chestnut flanks. Females get their own distinctive elegance from their cinnamon crest. Hooded Mergansers are fairly common on small ponds and rivers, where they dive for fish, crayfish, and other food, seizing it in their thin, serrated bills. They nest in tree cavities; the ducklings depart with a bold leap to the forest floor when only one day old.
The planning of summer projects is in full swing around here. Jesse has sketched out ideas for the pergola that we plan to add to our new patio and fire-pit area that we put in last year. By drawing it out to scale on grid paper, we can better judge the proportions of the structure and how it relates to the rest of that space.
Planning for our spring projects helps to ease the misery of this long Minnesota winter. Spring must be around the corner, right???
Nonetheless, the drudgery and length of winter here in Minnesota can sometimes get me down.
This morning, as I walked into Target, I saw bouquets of tulips on display. I knew that a splash of spring in the house would definitely lift my winter weary spirits.
So, I decided to treat myself and I chose a beautiful pink color for big impact. I couldn’t wait to get them home.
I feel so much better already. Life is so dull without flowers. Thank you, Target, for this lovely pick-me-up.
Come on, spring! Hurry up!
With the completion of the first phase of our patio and fire-pit area last spring, I went in search of finding a suitable table to add to the area. We visited many outdoor furniture stores and I searched endlessly on-line, not knowing exactly what it was I was searching for.
I felt like too many of the table sets looked modern and would seem out-of-place with the barn as the backdrop. Finally, I stumbled across a table that caught my eye on the Restoration Hardware website; it was a big chunky farm table made from 100-year-old salvaged elm doors, with a hefty price tag of around $3,500.00…and that was on sale.
I showed it to Jesse and after he studied it a bit, he told me he thought he could make something similar. He forwarded the picture to his dad, who is a skilled wood craftsman, and they discussed how to tackle the project.
When we first purchased the farm twelve years ago, an old farmhouse stood on the property. Before tearing it down to build our current house, Jesse and his dad salvaged materials from the old structure; bricks, wood flooring, baseboard and trim, doors, and floor stringers made from rough sawed wood. We used some of the wood flooring in our new home and stored the rest of the salvaged wood in the barn for some unknown future use. Jesse thought he could use some of the salvaged elm floor stringers to make the farm table.
We planned the project so that our oldest son would be home on leave from West Point. He is very interested in woodworking and we thought it would be a great learning opportunity for him. We also coordinated with Jesse’s dad to make sure he could come down to advise and assist.
After digging the boards out of the loft of the barn, the first task was to remove all the nails. The next challenge was to plane the boards down to both make them smooth and to create some uniformity in their thickness.
Basing the table measurements off the dimensions of the Restoration Hardware table, they started to assemble the table and square up the ends.
Once the boards for the table top were planed and cut to the proper length it was time to work on the structure that would hold everything together. The guys decided that 1 1/2 in. angle iron would provide the proper strength and be consistent with the rugged appearance. Our son started to measure, mark and drill the holes in the angle iron that the carriage bolts would be bolted through.
With the angle iron prepared it was time to square up the table and begin to drill the holes and mount the angle iron. Measure twice and cut once
There was quite a bit of discussion on how to design and build the legs for the table. Jesse’s dad does a good job of explaining what they are doing and why. Jesse and his dad have done so many projects together over the years that they usually quickly understand where they are going, so bringing our oldest son up to speed is an important step.
They clamped the boards for the legs together and drilled holes to attach the angle iron that will connect the legs to the table top. To better drill straight holes and minimize errors, they modified a jig.
We have had some outside furniture over the years and have tried many stains and varnishes but they have never held up to the elements. To avoid the peeling and to keep a rustic look, we decided to use a natural oil sealant. The old dry lumber really soaked up the oil and highlighted the grain nicely. We will need to apply a fresh coat each spring, but this approach should avoid having to sand and reapply varnish every 2-3 years.
And finally…our new farm table! Total cost of the table was around $200 for the angle iron and carriage bolts. Much better than $3,500, don’t you agree?
Most importantly though, I love it because it was made by these three special guys working together.
As winter plods along, I find myself gazing out at our screen porch often. It is such a lovely space to enjoy the outdoors in the spring, summer and fall. We frequently eat meals out here, enjoy our morning coffee, and curl up on the couch after dark to listen to the crazy sounds of the wildlife along the river.
Even in the doldrums of winter, this space is inviting when the sun is shining.
As a good Minnesotan, I can’t resist commenting on our weather…that is just what we do. While the east coast is expecting a “historic” storm and the national media is all abuzz, we are expecting anywhere from 9-15 inches of snow here on Sunday…just another wintery Minnesota day.
For now, I will have to be content with admiring our screen porch from indoors.
It was -4F outside this morning, with wind chills around -25F. Even colder temperatures are forecasted for this evening and into tomorrow morning. Brrrrrrr!!!!
Our robin continues to visit the crabapple tree every day for a snack and to just hang out. Poor fellow must be cold, don’t you think?
Wherever you are today, I hope you can stay warm!
Here I am again, with six months passing and no posts. Time goes by so fast and life just seems to get in the way of sitting down at the computer to keep our blog updated. It isn’t because nothing has gone on around here…our summer was just as busy as past ones. So, since the holiday chaos has passed and the cold temperatures have me trapped indoors, I am feeling inspired to finish some posts about some of our projects around the farm last summer.
The funny thing about blogging is that it is easy to get hung up on putting together the perfect post with great pictures and clever writing. I have to remind myself that the reason I started this blog was simply to share our experiences and to connect with others who have similar interests, and to create a history of our projects and improvements. Keeping that in mind, I will just plow forward and try not to worry too much about the details, so bear with me. :-)
We are well into winter here in Minnesota. We have had several subzero days in the last week. Even with the cold temperature and snow on the ground, there are some pretty sights to behold on the farm.
Have I mentioned how much I love our barn??? No matter the time of year, it is one of the most charming parts of our landscape.
But anyhow…back to last summer. We enjoyed three separate home visits by our oldest, the West Point cadet. He came home during his breaks from his summer military training and it was such a treat to have him around. As you will see in upcoming posts, we put him to work and he helped us complete some fun projects.
We also had a roller-coaster of a summer with our bees. After being so thrilled that we had successfully wintered our bees for the first time since starting beekeeping, we were devastated to discover that they had swarmed in May because we waited too long to divide the hives and they became too crowded. The early spring and warm temperatures moved everything ahead and in our inexperience, we missed the signs that they were preparing to swarm.
All was not lost however, because when bees swarm they leave behind a portion of the worker bees along with new queen cells, one of which eventually becomes the new queen. We observed the hives over the next few months and it appeared that things were back on track, they had a new queen, and were rebuilding their population. Of course, the hives were not nearly as strong as they would have been had they not swarmed, but we knew we would still get a honey harvest.
The honey started flowing and the bees had built up a good amount of supers of honey. Once again, our optimism for our honey harvest was shattered in October when Jesse went out to the hives to check on them and discovered they had been robbed! Yes, hives can be robbed by feral bees. All the frames that the bees had worked so hard to fill all summer long were stripped completely clean, as if they had never had a bit of honey in them. The other unfortunate effect from robbing, is that the honeybees usually die in the process of defending their hive against the invaders.
Needless to say, we lost both hives of bees and only ended up with a very small amount of honey to harvest…another year of learning about all the things that can go wrong beekeeping. We have just put in our order for two nucs of bees this spring. We are not giving up; we’re just starting over again.
In the garden, we added two raised beds with blueberry plants, something we have wanted to do for some time. More on that later…
My perennial garden, particularly my Echinacea (coneflower) plants were hit with yellow asters and I decided to pull every one of them out in trying to rid my garden of the disease. I was a very sad gardener.
Our vegetable garden was very productive and we enjoyed fresh veggies for months on end. We decided to forego any preserving this year and to just enjoy the bounty as it ripened. Now that we are in the depths of winter, I am questioning that decision. I think we will take the time to do at least a minimal amount this coming season.
Around the first of the year, the seed catalogs started arriving. I have started pouring over them, marking pages, and making my wish list. I plan to expand my winter sowing into some annuals and vegetables this spring and am anxious to get started.
Like every other gardening nut out there, I cannot wait to get back out into the gardens and start digging in the dirt. In the meantime, I will share some of the projects we accomplished last summer. To be continued…