Organizing the Garden

The Field behind the Home Farm

The Field behind the Home Farm

We are heading down to Lodi for the Easter weekend in 2 weeks so we need to get our garden plans together and decide what work we’re going to be able to do at this point in the process. Today we decided that we can till the land in the spot we pick for the garden when we’re there. We should be more or less free of the ground freezing again at this point, and tilling the land is a good start. So this is exciting! We’ll be breaking ground on the garden–no turning back at this point, I guess.

Last week we started to plan the garden, as in what it will actually look like and contain. I started to sketch out a plan on graph paper, and looked at where the different beds would go, based on proximity to sun and shade. We had decided to use a cross design: 4 areas that would be bordered by paths in a cross formation. This will allow us to easily reach each of the 4 areas, approximately 4′ x 4′ in size. It was a useful little plan… and today it’s nowhere to be seen. Eesh…

We also have worksheets, printouts, resource books, lists, to-dos and shopping lists. What with travel back and forth between Lodi and Ottawa, and at least 4 people involved in this project, and the months of work we have ahead of us the potential for these plans and resources to get lost in the shuffle seemed fairly great.

So this led me to wonder if there might be a better way to organize all the materials and plans and thoughts and successes and challenges and lessons learned. Something that we can all access, wherever we are are, anytime. I thought of using a wiki to collaborate on this project and so Mum and I set one up today.

We used Google sites, a free way to set up a collaborative website, or wiki (like wikipedia), with your google account. It’s easy to use and fairly intuitive, though we got stuck a couple of times. We tried to imagine all the things we’ll want to keep track of during the season as well as monitoring our results for future years. Google sites allows you to do all of this, and also pull in gadgets like a google calendar and Picassa photo albums.

We decided that we’d need a page for resources and links, one for our layouts and plans, a to-buy list, a to-do list and an dashboard that will give us everything at a glance.

I think this will be a great resource for us and hopefully keep us organized and cut down on the possibility of lost items. It will also allow us to collaborate on this project as a team, and let us keep everything in one place and add, edit and update on a constant basis.

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Plotting the Garden

One possible garden location

One possible garden location

This weekend my brother is visiting from Montreal as it’s my dad’s and my birthday. Gardening literature featured prominently in the gift-giving this year, which was perfect for focusing us all on the task at hand as we were all in the same place at the same time. It’s almost April, we really need to start figuring out this garden stuff if we’re going to get to it this spring.

One of our first jobs is deciding where the garden will be. This quite possibly will be one of our toughest decisions as a lot of the success of the garden will depend on the qualities of the spot that we decide to pick.

Currently there are 4 different spots in the running to be our main garden plot:
1. the space between the two cottages
PROS: lots of sun, closest to where we will be for most of the summer therefore the most convenient to manage; CONS: pretty crummy soil, as grass doesn’t even grow there

2. grassy area to the north of the home farm house
PROS: lots of sun, location of previous garden, so soil must be pretty good; CONS: might be too shady, fronts on the street so lacks privacy

3. grassy area back in behind the barn
PROS: the most sunny spot, the best soil, as it abuts a field of corn; CONS: a bit far from any buildings so that we’d have easy access to tools, water etc. (in the photo above, this plot would be to the left after the tall red tree)

4. small plot at the Golding Farm house grounds
PROS: used to be a garden, so it must have good soil and sun; CONS: the most inconvenient place to have the garden, furthest from the cottage, so would be a logistical challenge

Just a word about the Golding Farm. It’s a farm and farm house that my father purchased many years ago. We rent out the farmland and have rented out the house in the past. We have been working really hard to improve this house in the last few years as we all just love it. It’s a beautiful house that dates back to before 1850 and has had very few major renovations, which is part of the reason we keep working on it, but also partly why we love it–it has so much history in its walls and grounds.

We are planning a visit to Lodi in April and will spend some time analyzing the sun patterns and soil quality in each of these areas in order to determine which would be the best place for our garden to thrive.

All of this has made me think I’d really like to have a little city balcony garden this year too. It’ll give me a taste of the joys of a garden, and I’ll get to hone my skills at the same time. I’m thinking of pots of juicy tomatoes, maybe a small herb garden with basil, thyme, parsley… ooh lavender… how about sage…

Canadian and/or American?

Me and my American dad

Me and my American dad

So I am a dual citizen. I have citizenship in the U.S. and Canada. I hold passports for both countries. I was born in Canada, in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. But by virtue of my father being an American, I was born with the right to U.S. citizenship. In fact, the U.S. considers me a U.S. citizen born abroad. My brother is in the same boat. My mum is Canadian, my dad American and my brother and I are dual citizens.

This is a fact that I don’t neccessarly broadcast in Canada. I choose my audience carefully for sharing this fact as sometimes Canadians have thier minds full of those sterotypical ideas of what Americans are like. I’ve always found this a bit of challenge to negotiate because I am American, have American friends and family and none of them match those stereotypes we’re all too familiar with.

In the U.S. I’m clearly a Canadian. I say “a-boot” instead of “a-bowt”. I can’t help it, I say “eh?”–a lot, actually. Some of the Americans I’ve met over the years have had little or no knowledge about Canada. Over my years of being a Canadian in the US I’ve been lobbed questions such as “Do you have nail polish up there?”; “Oh, you guys have a capital city too?” Things like this make those sterotypes ring truer than I’d hope to be the case. And then there are the rare but wonderful Canuck-o-philes who are familiar with CBC radio hosts from the 80s, who are big Sloan fans or who know Junior A Hockey stats inside and out.

It was odd growing up in Newfoundland and having American roots. It was a pretty foreign concept to some of people I’d encounter whose families were Newfoundlanders 4 and 5 generations back. A lot of people I grew up with lived with thier grandparents (mine were thousands of miles away in Lodi and Toronto), hung out with thier cousins (I only have two and would see them twice a year) and had names like Noseworthy, Peddle, Parsons (mine was often mispronounced even though it sounds just like it’s spelled). I was caught between two worlds, in a way: in some ways I was a “Come-From-Away” even though I was born and raised in Newfoundlander.

I like to think that being raised in this unique situation I have the luxury of having the best of both worlds, cultures and traditions. Though it’s presented me with little challenges throughout my lifetime, it’s a fantastic asset, having two passports and two hometowns: Lodi and St. John’s–two places I love dearly.

A Family Business

Welcome to the cottage

Welcome to the cottage

Have you ever been involved in a family business? Well it’s still a new endeavour for my family and we’re negotiating our way through the business of renting our family cottage. Now this is no pickle factory, tailor shop or restaurant we’re talking about, we have a vacation rental business. We rent out the cottage that my grandparents built in the 1950s during the peak summer travel season, from roughly late May to late October.

We are incredibly lucky in my family in a wide variety of areas, but importantly, we all get along relatively well and we all are pretty easy going people. There are definitely times that discussions get serious, but it is extremely rare that we shout or say mean things to one another. These qualities make it it easier to go into business together as a family.

We also tend to play to our stengths, which is something that has grown organically once we started on this journey. Everyone has taken on different tasks in the running of this business, ones that we have developled as we have discovered what needs to be done and who is best to accomplish that task.

My parents take on the majority of the running of the day-to-day operation of the business because they are retired and have the most time of any of us. My brother and I both have full-time jobs and taking on this operation would be out of the question. My parents are responsible for booking the guests, liasing with them for all their arrangments and keeping track of the accounts. In addition they do the bulk of the weekly turnover house cleaning in between guest stays. I come down for weekeds to help whenever I can, but they definitely do most of this work–cleaning the cottage from top to bottom, inside and out and preparing everything in about a 3 hour timespan.

As I mentioned, we play to our strengths, so I’ve been employed in our family business on the marketing and communications side… kind of. This is my profession and so I do have some expertise in this area. Additionally I’ve been pulling my knowledge in the online world into practice. A large part of my afternoon today was spent improving our business website. I discovered a wonderful website called SythaSite that is a very user friendly build-your-own-free-website website. It was extremlely easy to use and I think our new website is going to look really great.

As I said, we are all extremely lucky, first to have this gorgeous property in the first place, and specifically my brother and I are very lucky that our parents are able to run most of the business without us having to do most of the day-to-day operations. We all contribute in our different ways and so I am particularly looking forward to sharing our redsigned website as soon as it’s ready!

Renting the Cottage

The Porch at the Cottage

The Porch at the Cottage

It’s a kind of a strange thing, having a cottage rental property. It’s something that my family was thrust into and we’ve had an interesting time of adapting to this new aspect of our lives and watching it grow into a small family business.

In February of 2006 my uncle, Floyd Covert, passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer. He owned several pieces of property in the Lodi area that he had inherited from various relatives over the years and these properties came to my immediate family, as we were his closest relatives. Floyd had had no children of his own, so he left his cottage to my brother and I. Floyd had inherited this cottage from his mother (my grandmother) when she passed away in 1994.

So much to my surprise, and possibly my brother’s even greater surprise, we were now property owners. Neither of us owned property before this (we still don’t) and so this was a pretty big adjustment in our lives. I mean, it’s incredibly cool–I co-own a cottage! How awesome is that?! But on the other hand, it’s a little nerve-wracking, with the myriad things that need fixing in a 60-year-old property, paying property taxes for the first time and the inherent sense of responsibility that comes with such a thing.

Let me just point out here that many people my brother’s and my age do, in fact, own property and so it’s not such a shocking proposition, it’s just that we had avoided this life milestone, that many others pass at our age or before, quite successfully until it was thrust upon us in this way.

So here we were, faced, all of a sudden, with the very real property tax bills, repair and maintenance bills that came along with this incredible gift. Without the means to afford these new expenses we decided that the only way to be able to keep the cottage would be to turn it into a vacation rental property. Did we know what we were getting into? Not remotely. But we learned and adapted as we went along and ultimately have been able to make better improvements to the cottage than we ever could have without the income the rental brings.

Family Dinner at the Green Cottage

Family Dinner at the Green Cottage

The first summer we were barely up and running in July, what with neccessary improvements to the water and well system and some cosmetic changes to the look and usability of the cottage. We redecorated, outfitted the place with sensible and useful items and got rid of an overabundance of chotchkes and pickle dishes in order to make the place ready for guests. We hosted several couples and families that first year, enough to get our feet wet and make some notes on how to proceed for following years.

This is a serious undertaking, renting out the property on a weekly basis, but luckily my parents, who are retired and living at an adjacent cottage 6 months of the year, are able to manage the day-to-day operation of the business. My brother and I are peripherally involved, though we are all contribute to the management of the business in the larger sense.

It sounds strange, but we love the cottage so much that we actually kind of enjoy sharing it with others, even though they’re relative strangers and staying in this precious family cottage that was built by my grandparents long ago. We are so lucky to have this incredible treasure in our family and the more people that can enjoy it the better.