July 27th, 2014 §
I stuck a spring of borage into one of my homegrown bouquets and have fallen even more in love with this most-beautiful herb. In the indirect light of my foyer the zillion tiny hairs along each stem appear to glow. It is a magical-looking plant, and one I connect with deeply.
I grew this borage from seed, direct-sown this spring. It definitely needs a lot of sun—the seed I sowed in the shadow of some other plants failed to thrive, but the plants in the sun grew huge and vigorous and are covered with blooms. I didn’t expect it to do well as a cut flower—many herbs wilt in the house—but it’s proven to be a tremendous asset to my flower arrangements. And it’s a timely discovery, as one of my gardening goals this year was to expand my palette of cut flowers.
July 22nd, 2014 §
I had just finished an hour of weed wacking in about 99% humidity—a good way to get toned and lose weight!—and was messing around with the chickens. I heard a strange noise approaching from the south. It sounded like the drone of machinery, and as a big truck had just gone by I figured that was what I was hearing. But then the noise grew louder, rolling in waves up the road, across the bridge, and finally over the cedars that mark my property line. By then it was upon me, and within half a second I was drenched with a sudden downpour.
The chickens were out, and I sprang into action trying to call them all into the coop. Half responded, and the other half, along with the two young pullets, huddled outside or tried to jam themselves through the netting to get under the coop. It was chaos, and a scene I would have happily run away from. But I knew that if all the birds got into the coop together there was a good chance that the bigger birds would attack the two pullets, and getting soaked to my underwear seemed like a lesser evil than returning after the rain to patch up bloody birds.
So through the driving rain I grabbed at tail feathers, the water sheeting off the roof of the coop and straight down my pants, into my boots. Ungracefully but efficiently I got everyone caught and tossed through the pop-door of the coop, and then closed it up. Then I ran around to the human door to sort the two young pullets out from the flock and lock them up in their dog crate inside the larger room.
I grabbed the day’s eggs, and my dog and I ran splashing though the instant puddles to the house. In just these few minutes Tuck had already gotten so wet that he couldn’t come inside, so I left him out to meet his fate while I stripped off my streaming, grass-caked clothes right in the foyer.
And then I realized that all the windows were open upstairs. So commenced a naked, slippery dash for towels to mop up the water that was everywhere inside. Some people maybe would have run to close their windows before securing their livestock, but the storm came up so fast that I prioritized on instinct, and the house lost. I just can’t be in two places at once, holding down this while that springs up over there.
Amazingly, it continued to rain as I regrouped in a hot bath, read through a couple New Yorker articles and drank half an Indian Brown Ale. When I came out of the bath I heard a sound I’d been missing for at least a month, the low mechanical hum of the sump pump in the crawlspace kicking on. I’d begun to think my pump was malfunctioning, I hadn’t heard it in so long. But now it was back with its entirely reassuring noise, and so was rain the likes of which I haven’t had here in many weeks.
Big deal, you think. It rained. But this rain was needed. In fact, I was about to publish a post about how everything is browned out and we’re running a rain deficit for these last two months. Just last night I was e-mailing with my dad, both of us bemoaning the water stress we were seeing in our trees. The grass in the lawn is about totally dead, and last week the drought got so bad that I ran my well way down applying emergency water to the completely wilted gardens—something I only do in dire straights. Whenever I run the water down so far it kicks up tons of red clay and silt, which clogs my water filter and reduces water pressure in the house to a trickle until I remember that this happens and replace the filter. At $30 a pop.
It’s about an hour after it begun and still raining. This pop-up storm mushroomed right over my house and seems to have stalled, thank goodness. The water is coming so fast and furious that it’s ponded everywhere. The compost is floating off the garden, my driveway is running down the road, and I can sense the relief of every growing thing, myself included, as its washed clean, cells plumped and replenished.
I never thought much about water until I had a farm. In fact, I hated rainy days. But now I know that water is everything and I hope for it, year-round. Tonight I, and every living thing around me, got lucky. Even if we also got soaked.
July 21st, 2014 §
Remember back when I posted the photo of this spring’s major construction project? Well just because I failed to follow up doesn’t mean the construction stopped. Indeed, I spent most of the spring, when I wasn’t in the garden, working to install, trim, finish and paint seventeen custom cabinet doors.
When I built my house I had the brilliant idea to leave all the under-eave spaces on the second floor open, with the idea being that they would provide valuable storage space in a house with no attic nor basement. My dad offered to build custom doors, so when the builders signed off on the job it meant that I was left with giant holes in the walls of every room upstairs and long stretches of missing baseboard around all these openings. For four years I stared at pieces of cardboard that I hastily nailed over the openings on the day I moved in, after my cat decided to try to commit suicide by wedging herself between an exposed rafter and some insulation.
Obviously I hated these holes, as they were a blight on a brand-new house. I also hated that because they were so exposed inside, they let in a lot of cold air, wind, and, yes, mice. So last fall when I had the crawlspace properly conditioned I had a crew spray the inside of all the cubbies with foam insulation. That went a long way toward cutting down on heat loss and together with the foam in the crawlspace seems to have really helped the mouse problem.
This spring my dad finished building the doors, and he installed them and trimmed them out, even cutting custom plinth blocks that were a slightly scaled down version of the blocks I used around my human doors. Install was no picnic as we discovered less-than-perfectly plumb walls that necessitated some creative carpentry work.
Then it was up to me to fill nail holes, sand all the trim smooth, caulk for what felt like miles, and finally paint two coats of oil-based paint on everything, sanding between coats. It felt like it took me forever, but the end result is totally worth it.
The two cubbies in the master bedroom, above, and one of the two on either side of the dormer in the master bath, below:
We also took care of what had been another hole, open the the HVAC ducting, right off the kitchen. This was meant to be a pantry, and now it finally is. In addition to making the door, Dad built an insert backed with beadboard and made beautiful little shelves out of a red oak tree harvested on his farm.
It doesn’t look like much space, but again I was trying to maximize storage in this small house. And this little niche fits a surprising amount of food. Dad also made some access panels to cover the hole in the laundry room open to all the structured wiring for the house and another access hole behind the master bath shower.
One point of frustration on this project was learning that oil-painted surfaces yellow over time. All my trim was done in Benjamin Moore’s White Dove when the house was built, and I loved it. But over just the past four years I suspected my trim was yellowing. This was confirmed when I went to paint all the new cubby doors and trim in brand-new White Dove. The new paint was no where near the color of the four-year-old paint. I was pretty darn disappointed that paint that cost $100/gallon didn’t retain its color. I had to get new paint matched to the yellowed trim, and it’s not perfect. Plus, I detest yellow-toned trim, and that’s what I am stuck with now. Lesson learned: Use latex to paint anything that you don’t want to yellow. That’s what I will be doing the next time I need the trim painted.
But all in all, this was a huge project with one pantry, eight cubbies, and two access panels complete. Thanks for your help and beautiful work, Dad! The cubbies are a massive upgrade and add tons of custom charm to this little cottage.
May 9th, 2014 §
It’s been a long time since I’ve subjected myself, my dad and the house to any interior construction projects. But now there’s wood filler dust coating every surface, I’m tripping over drills and saws and sanders, and my kitchen has looked like this for a week:
That’s 25 feet of good-time, fumey, oil painting fun, my friends. Stay tuned for the big reveal!
March 8th, 2014 §
The most gardening I’ve done in months. Playing in the dirt, even sterile potting mix, feels. so. good.
January 7th, 2014 §
Life in this already-small house has contracted to a few cozy square feet right in front of the wood stove as we wait for temperatures to warm. The gang’s all here, basking in the radiant glow of the beautiful Jotul.
I shut off my heat pump last night to keep the expensive emergency electric heat from engaging, so we’re running on all-wood stove heat here. Keeping the stove going between 400 and 500 degrees today, and closing off the office and living room, has kept the temperature inside, in the main living area, at 65, which is the temperature I usually set the electric heat to during the day. I got up twice last night to feed the stove, and though it had burned down to large embers when I finally got up for good this morning, the house temperature had dropped to only 59 degrees in the main area. Even having no heat at all upstairs, the temperature on that floor is down to only 61. All perfectly acceptable temperatures for burning just a few armfuls of wood during the polar vortex, when, at 3:30 early this morning it was 2 degrees on my thermometer outside the kitchen window. In all I am again so pleased with my Jotul—one of my favorite, most functional, things in the world.
In times like these I really appreciate the compact layout of my house, with kitchen, wood stove, and a bathroom all within a few feet of each other. Everything I need is right here. It’s very easy to shut the doors to the guest bedroom, office and living room to contain the heat right in this area and funnel a bit of it up the stairs to the second floor. It’s actually a super-efficient design that, although I didn’t plan it to be, functions just beautifully in extreme weather events and power outages.
The chickens were fine last night. Even with their heat bulb on their gallon waterer froze solid. Once I had that defrosted they had “tea” this morning—warm water—at least until it freezes again! I’m leaving their heat light on tonight but after that temperatures will rebound and it’s back to normal winter and an unheated coop.
December 25th, 2013 §
Despite the roaring fire in the woodstove, Santa found his way down our chimney last night.
He even found the peanut butter to stick in Tucker’s present.
Once the peanut butter was gone, in less than five minutes, I got the new toy dumped on my lap and an invitation to play.
So much for Tucker quietly amusing himself. But at least he understands the holiday lesson of sharing.
Merry Christmas from our little farm family to yours!
December 23rd, 2013 §
I was out of town during the Solstice last week, and after getting home late last night I felt that my house was missing something related to the season. I hadn’t felt like doing much holiday decorating up until now, but today it was grey and rainy. All I wanted was some light and a reminder that despite it being the official beginning of winter, every living thing around will begin to respond to the now-lengthening days with new growth.
I put on my boots and walked the woods behind my house until I found a little cedar tree that would serve to celebrate both the Solstice and Christmas. I passed by many lusher, more evenly formed saplings, as they were well-positioned to grow into lovely trees. Instead of one of these more perfect specimens I selected a tree growing at the wood line with most of its branches on one side reaching toward the light—fitting for a Solstice tree.
It was growing in the shadow of a nice tulip poplar, and as tulip polars are the main source of nectar for the declining honeybee population around here, I figured I’d eliminate one of the poplar’s competitors. So with a few strokes of the saw, down came the cedar, and I dragged it home across the field.
Along the way I saw a few exquisite things, the first being this snail. After a week in big cities, including Manhattan, marveling at exclusively man-made beauty with nary a natural thing in sight, spying this perfect snail in the damp field almost made me cry with the relief and comfort of being home.
Then I checked up on the deer skull that’s been lying in this same spot ever since I moved here four years ago. The first year it was blazing white among the leaves, but each year the skull gets grayer and more of its nose is eaten off by rodents, giving it an ever more human profile. It’s a memento mori if I ever saw one.
Back home, my scrawny little cedar’s trunk was too small to fit in my Christmas tree stand. I screwed a few blocks of scrap wood to its trunk to pad it out enough to fit the stand.
Then I carried it inside and straightened it as well as one could a tree with a scoliotic trunk.
I tossed two strands of mini lights around the cedar, filled the holder with water, and threw a couple of old wool rugs around the base. My tree is free, free-range, sparse, crooked and lovely. Instead of balsam, it smells like cat pee. But it’s a reminder of light and life during these dark days, and this year it is all that I wanted.
November 14th, 2013 §
What, you thought I wrote all these posts myself?
October 26th, 2013 §
The 2013 growing season came to an end last night with the first freeze of the fall. When I woke up this morning, it was 26 degrees and the ground was covered in thick white frost.
A brisk walk around the farm revealed blackened and sagging flowers, mottled and falling leaves, and the last of the garden peppers reduced to mush inside skin. It is always, for me, the saddest morning of the year. It means no more digging in the dirt and no more daily joy watching my labor become food and flowers. Now all that’s left to do is tear out the dead plants and drag them to the compost pile.
I suppose the only saving grace of this inevitable transition is that it’s now woodstove season. I made my first fire this morning to warm up a 50-degree house. I hadn’t turned my heat on yet this fall, and now it’s up to Jotul to beat back the chill. The stove started right up, drew perfectly, and seems so happy to be back to work and the center of attention. It is the warm white heart of this home.
I’ll be back soon with the 2013 garden success and failure post, as well as more info on all sorts of projects that I didn’t get a chance to write about during the busyness of summer. But now it’s time to go put another log on the fire.