Brambles Be Gone!

Wild Raspberries aka Bramble

Wild Raspberries aka Bramble

Just off the back door of the Home Farm house in Lodi there is a gorgeous slate patio that for decades has been a great place to sit in the sun with your tea or perhaps a small chore like shelling peas or shucking corn.

I remember fondly my grandmother sitting out there and her small frame was always overshadowed by this forest of Jurassic ferns and bright orange tiger lilies. While gorgeous and verdant this plant menagerie has really gotten overgrown in recent years to the point of utter wildness.

On top of the fact that the ferns and lilies (on their own wonderful plants for different reasons–the spiky, regal ferns contrasting with the wild cheerfulness of the tiger lilies) had themselves grown out of control, there was an interloper in their midst causing all sorts of problems. Wild Raspberry, aka Bramble (*cue spaghetti western theme music*).

Now this is a tough one because it’s hard to really hate raspberries. I mean come on–they’re tart and sweet, we can make delicious jams out of them, their bright colours perk up any garden and they’re so darn cute and bulbous!

But there’s a terrifyingly dark side to raspberries:
1) the thorns can be deadly (ok, not deadly as in they’ll kill you but they will scratch the heck out of any exposed skin)
2) they grow wild and choke other plants
3) they don’t actually always produce berries and
4) they drive my brother to distraction (ok so that’s kind of amusing to watch, but terrible nonetheless).

We Coverts managed to show our true colours in how we each addressed this bramble issue:
Andrew: Pure rage that manifested itself in machete attacks on bramble bushes all over Seneca County
Dad: Hesitancy that was eventually worn down by familial insistence that we had to deal with these nasty wild pricker bushes
Me: Research leading to methodical pruning and weeding eventually giving way to real enjoyment at hauling these evil things up by the roots (pronounced RUHTS for the purposes of this illustration)

Despite our different approaches we did agree that we needed to do something about them and now, thanks to a little elbow grease, good gloves and a sturdy flannel jacket with long sleeves, the Raspberries/Brambles/Pricker Bushes are no more.

The lovely back slate patio is a little more tame and just waiting for that perfect spring early evening for a whack of peas that need shelling.

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Grandma’s Cooking in the Lodi Kitchen

Now that I’m concentrating more on cooking these days I am reminded of the great food that I grew up with. My mum is an excellent cook and I have always learned a lot from her about cooking and continue to do so. But the food that your grandma cooks is always a bit special–probably a bit more indulgent because she’s cooking for her grandchildren. I have so many memories of wonderful food that Grandma cooked in the Lodi Home Farm kitchen.

Now the kitchen in the Home Farm in Lodi leaves a bit to be desired by today’s standards. There is very little counter space and the storage space is cramped and fractured. Cooking or baking in the kitchen can be frustrating when you’re used to more modern kitchens–you don’t have enough room to spread out, things can’t be found easily and if there are more of two of you in there you will knock into each other so many times you want to throw everyone out of there so you can finish cooking.

One of the features of the kitchen is the huge old fashioned enamel double sink that greets you when you come in the back door. I think this sink is the same one as was installed when the house first got running water. It’s old, it’s rusty, it’s chipped but the water runs out of the tap and drains out the bottom so at least it’s doing its job.

Grandma was a great cook. I remember so many of her delicious meals, especially her scalloped potatoes that we would often have at the holidays. Grandma almost always served a side salad with all meals, and that would often be a lettuce leaf with a dollop of cottage cheese on it topped with canned fruit–heaven!

My dad was always a big fan of my Grandma’s cake and jello–a winning combo to be sure. The cake was often a single layer of cake baked in a rectangular pan and iced on top. The jello often contained delicious items within like canned fruit, raisins or shredded carrot. The art of really great jello-making I fear is lost on the current generation. Sigh.

One of my absolute all-time Grandma faves were these special cookies that I just loved. They were chocolate cookies with white icing on top and though it’s a pretty straightforward recipe, the fact that these were cookies with ICING on them pretty much blew my little mind.

But the very best of all was that when we visited Grandma we would have cookies for breakfast. How great is that?! I’m not sure if this was a grandchildren special event or if she always had cookies for breakfast, but I’m inclined to think it was the former. Now these were definitely nutritious cookies–they had raisins and nuts in them, which makes them like muffins or something, right? I’m not sure many current nutritionists would endorse this, but I guess that’s what Grandmas are for.

Lodi Resolutions 2010

Garden Bounty

Garden Bounty

Well this is the time of year that we make resolutions and set goals for the year to come, and I thought I’d jot down some areas of improvement for our various Lodi projects for 2010.

First of all, this blog was a New Year’s resolution for 2009 but I resolve to continue to blog about Lodi because I get a lot out of the experience. Plus I think I enjoy a pretty special niche in the blogosphere as one of the very few Lodi bloggers. 😉

Here are a few other goals for Lodi projects in 2010
1) The Golding Farm. This is a big one, but the improvements we made to the Golding Farm property last year were so great that we need to capitalize on this momentum and push through to get things up to a level of being able to rent it out for vacationers. This is no small feat and will take more strategizing, investment and elbow grease, but suffice it to say that Golding Farm improvements are definitely a big goal for 2010.

2) Garden goals
-better organization of garden plots: I want to apply a little more logical structure to the garden next year and plant things in cohesive rows instead of amorphous blobs.
-better labeling of everything we plant in the garden, by name and variety
-better assessment of garden hits and misses (i.e. this variety of tomato is better than this other one) in order to make more informed choices in the future
-grow tomatillos. I got hooked on salsa verde last year and so really want to grow our own tomatillos to keep the supply coming!

3) More and better canning and preserving. One thing I learned as a byproduct of doing the actual gardening was what to do with the stuff you grow. In 2010 I want to be even more strategic about dealing with the fruits (ahem, pun intended) of our labours and improve the ways we preserve the great food we grow. More sauces, jams, salsas, chutneys… here we come!

4) continued improvement of Home Farm grounds. In 2010 I want to continue the work we’ve done on some of the perennial patches on the grounds. We need to tame the raspberry/fern/lily patch right outside the back door of the house in the first set of improvements. I also would like to work my way around the property identifying areas of healthy perennials and removing the weeds to let them grow. This may be a long term project… but we have to start somewhere.

5) create a tame raspberry patch. There is a lot of wild raspberry around our property and I have a theory that if we can tame it and tend it properly it will actually yield delicious raspberries. I will test this theory in 2010 and maybe by 2011 there will be crazy amounts of fruit to allow for Resolution #3.

Ok Coverts–any other Lodi Resolutions you can think of? Getting the tractor going this year, perhaps?

Christmas in Lodi

The barn in winter

The barn in winter

When I was young my family used to travel from St. John’s, Newfoundland where we lived to Lodi, New York to celebrate Christmas with my Grandma. Thankfully we wouldn’t drive the 4 days to get there like we did in the summertime.

We had Christmas in Lodi in alternate years from celebrating Christmas in Toronto with my other set of grandparents. In Lodi we would celebrate with my Grandma and sometimes my uncle Floyd who would return to Lodi from his home in Boston.

Christmas in Lodi with Grandma and Floydie was lots of fun, of course, with the requisite fabulous meals, lots of presents and Grandma’s wonderful baking (with the aforementioned walnuts she would have dried over the fall).

As a kid I remember staring up at a seemingly gigantic overflowing pile of presents in the elegant front stairwell of the Lodi Home Farm where they would be stored in anticipation of being slid under the Christmas tree. It was a truly magical sight for a child.

Living in the country affords folks a more immediate connection with the Christmas tree than we have in the city. No stacks of trees in grocery store parking lots imported from Quebec or the Maritimes–no, sir. I remember the family trekking out into the woods on the Golding Farm property in Lodi with a rusty saw and a toboggan cut down a tree and haul back a “wild” Christmas tree. It was cold work that somehow seemed to get less festive with every passing moment that we were standing around arguing over the perfect tree.

The most exciting thing as a kid celebrating Christmas in Lodi was that Grandma’s rules applied for the Christmas tree. These rules included coloured lights (at our home white lights were the standard) lots of gold and silver swags of tinsel and individually applied strands of silver icicles.

Somehow the Lodi Christmas tree always seemed quintessentially “American” in contrast to our various trees at home in Canada: it celebrated excess, it was incredibly colourful and a bit brash. Our Canadian trees are always more reserved and understated in contrast. (I’m allowed to make these stereotypical tree decrees, being both Canadian and American myself).

Lodi is a great place for Christmas with the snow-covered trees, the crisp, winter country air and the years and years of great family memories built up in the Home Farm house over generations of Christmases celebrated there.

What I Know About my Grandpa

My Grandpa, painting by Floyd Covert

My Grandpa, painting by Floyd Covert

Sadly I never got a chance to meet my Grandpa Covert, my Dad’s father and owner of the Home Farm in Lodi that we still have in the family today. He died a long time ago, when my Dad was 18. From what I’ve been told, he was a real character and I would have really liked him.

Because I never met him we have some collected stories that we tell and re-tell, questions that we ask and re-ask and lots of photos that we look at again and again.

Here’s what I know about my Grandpa Covert:
-he was a farmer and had several hired men that worked the farm with him
-he was in the First World War
-he walked with a crutch because of the lingering effects of an illness he had suffered as a young man
-he was named Floyd Darwin Covert, Darwin being his father’s first name: Darwin Claudius Covert (what a great name, eh?)
-my uncle Floyd, his first-born son, was named after him
-he was from Ovid originally which makes us Ovid Coverts, not Lodi Coverts (which makes perfect sense, right?)
-he and my Grandma built the cottage that my brother and now own on Lodi Point which contains materials (like windows) from the military base in Sampson that was decommissioned in the 1950s
-though my Grandma was firm in her commitment to the Temperance movement, my Grandpa… ahem.. well… didn’t have such strict beliefs, shall we say?
-he had a great sense of humour and was a real practical joker. There’s a story I remember about wrapping up a Christmas dinner guest’s scarf that she’d come in with and giving it back to her as a gift later in the evening without her realizing it.

Though I’ve never met him his presence is felt everywhere in our property in Lodi: in the house, the barns, the fields, the garage, the ancient Model A Ford in the back corner of the barn–everywhere. I wish I’d had a chance to meet him but in a way I feel like I do know him.

Farming in the Family

Grandpa Covert

Painting of my Grandpa Covert by my uncle Floyd Covert

Right now I’m reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan which is an examination of our eating habits and the industrial food chain. The book looks these issues from many different angles and looks at people who are creating food sources off the grid of the major global food chain.

Thinking about food production on family farms like some of those described in this book makes me think about my own family and history with farming. My grandfather was a farmer on the Home Farm property in Lodi that we still own. My father farmed that land when he was young as well. The land is still being farmed today by a local farmer who rents the land. As far as I can tell it is mostly crops of corn and soy–two of the industrialized monoculture crops that come under a lot of fire in this book for a number of reasons.

After our gardening experience this past summer I’m much more concerned about my place and my role in the food chain. I’ve been trying to eat locally sourced meat and vegetables when possible and have been eating a lot less meat in general.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma and other similar books decry the loss of the diversified farm and that makes me think more about what kind of farming my family would have done over the years. I remember when there were sheep on the farm, though I was really little at the time, and my dad talks about growing different kinds of crops like wheat and barley.

It’s kind of amazing to imagine that in my own family over the course of 3 generations the food chain has been radically altered such that the skills that my grandparents subsisted on are all but foreign to me and my brother and most people of my generation. I hope that over the coming months and years we can re-learn some of these life-on-the-farm skills and tactics to continue our local food mission.

I wonder if I would have made a good farmer… I dunno, I’m *really* not a morning person and I understand that comes with the, ahem, territory.

The Great Walnut Experiment

The 150- year-old property that our home farm sits on is shaded by many lovely old trees that keep the house nice and cool and provide a gorgeous setting. One of the most prevalent trees on the property is the Black Walnut–there are several including one very big prominent one.

Raw black walnuts

Raw black walnuts

In the Fall the black walnut drops its seed pods in an attempt to proliferate. This strategy has clearly worked well for the walnut over the years, but it doesn’t work as well for the humans that co-habitate with these stately trees. The seed pods are large tennis-ball like things that drop from the sky at quite a velocity and pose a threat both from above and below: watch out you don’t get beaned by one of these things and watch you don’t turn over your ankle stepping on one of these things.

In the midst of trying to manage our safety around these dangerous things I had a thought: but wait! These are actual walnuts! Why don’t we try to harvest them and eat them? This is a potential goldmine!

So, I set about collecting as many decent looking and not-too-rotten walnuts as I could gather. Stoop labour: not super fun, but then as I was soon to discover, just about everything in this Great Walnut Experiment was hard labour.

I collected intelligence from folks in Lodi about what the heck to do with walnuts and one theme consistently emerged: drive over them. Yup. These suckers are so hard that you can DRIVE OVER THEM. And that’s just to get the outer skin off.

And a caveat: as every source I consulted confirmed, handling the nuts in any way will stain your hands for weeks. I can attest to the veracity of this statement and would add for posterity: even through gloves.

So while our friend Linda kindly obliged by backing over my crop of walnuts a few times I tried to determine the next steps. According to my dad, my grandma used to dry the nuts in the basement on an old screen door all winter. The ancient copy of the Rodale Organic Gardening handbook that I picked up at the Ithaca Book Sale said to dry them for a week and then roast them in a low over for one day. Given my lack of attention span, I chose this method and set about drying the nuts on every possible flat surface in my apartment once back in Ottawa.

Black Walnut

Black Walnut

After several hours in the oven I decided it was time for a taste test. Several violent hammer strikes later and with some diligent digging I was able to pry enough of the nut meat to consider this whole back-breaking experiment a success.

The all-important question of the flavour? It’s a strong and hearty nuttiness with none of the bitterness I was worried about. And the taste instantly transports me to my childhood and the raisin cookies my grandma used to make which she must have flavoured with these nuts that she harvested every year.

Ok, so, anyone want some? Seriously. I’m too exhausted to keep hacking at these suckers.

Garden 2.0




New Garden Plot

Originally uploaded by j-co

Labour Day weekend is traditionally the last summer cottage hurrah. While our weekend was tempered with a glorious lobster feast and a shopping trip to catch the Labour Day sales, we did a serious dose of work on the garden. Garden 2.0, that is.

With a full 6 months of gardening experience behind us we are using this end-of-growing-season time to re-evaluate many things about our first-ever garden. We did a highly scientific comparison of the sunniest spots on our property (which mostly consisted of squinting into the sky and arguing) and decided that the spot we chose this year for our garden had some good qualities, but was far from perfect.

The other thing we figured out is that we don’t have the “perfect” spot for a garden on our property so we’ll probably have to make do with a few different plots in different places for different things.

To that end we identified what we think is the sunniest spot which is at the end of the lawn right on the border with the farmed acreage. This might be the best place for the things that really need sun to thrive like tomatoes, peppers and, of course, sunflowers.

We also took some very sage advice (pun intended) and transplanted our herb garden to the plot right behind the house and right outside the kitchen door. This will make it easy to pop outside for fresh herbs while in the midst of cooking.

We did a rather drastic weeding job on this plot, as you can see from the photo. The entire area you see as dirt was covered with Japanese lanterns which can be lovely in small does but which had gone completely wild. We reduced them substantially in order to plant some new perennials and create another of our several garden plots. What’s great about this area is the soil–it’s rich, dark and easy to manipulate, nothing like the clumpy clay of our previous garden plot in the sheep paddock. We added several new perennials that we hope will thrive here and keep the Japanese lanterns at bay, as well as transplanted the herbs and planted 20 head of garlic.

Most interesting with this plot is the archeological discovery: a foundation from an old woodshed or similar. The foundation, in addition to being a lovely relic from past incarnations of the house and the people who lived here, is also a great boundary marker for our new perennial garden.

Now, we’ll just have to wait and see another year for the verdict on this particular patch of ground and what thrives and what dies. This whole gardening thing requires an awful lot of patience!

Summer Visitors




Tomatoes from the garden for dinner

Originally uploaded by j-co

This summer has been the summer of visitors to Lodi. I don’t know why, but we’ve been lucky enough to have a steady stream of friends visiting Lodi for summer mini-breaks over the last month or so.

Most recently we had a house full of 8, including 2 kids, and we had a wonderful time lounging about the house, poking around in the barns, swimming in the lake and touring around the area.

My friends said they had no idea the Finger Lakes were so close, which I think is part of the reason people love coming here: it’s still a relatively unknown little hidden gem of a vacation spot. It’s odd because it is so close to many larger cities: only 5 hours from both NYC and Toronto, 4.5 hours from Ottawa, 6 or so hours from Boston.

I love to show my friends around Lodi and the area. There is so much family history that the stories are amazingly realistic when you can say “My grandfather’s Wallpaper store was right there, across the street”. I feel proud and happy to have the luxury of being so clearly connected to my ancestors and their lives.

Most fun, of course, is showing off the natural beauty of the Finger Lakes with the rolling hills, vineyards and amazing lake views. The wineries are always enjoyable to visit and so convenient with 20 or so within a 20-mile stretch of Route 414 near Lodi. There are fabulous restaurants featuring ingredients procured from local farmers. And there’s always the outlet mall for a little retail therapy, if that’s what you need.

But best of all is gathering together with friends and infusing this house that’s seen so much of my family history over 100 years with the laughter of children, the smells of great meals cooking with ingredients picked fresh from the garden and the enjoyment of warm, wonderful friendship.

So, when are you coming?

Keeping up with The Coverts




No more weeds

Originally uploaded by j-co

One of my major accomplishments during my recent Lodi stay (a working holiday, if you will) was clearing out many of the weeds surrounding the home farm. The clear ground that you see in the photo was covered in weeds, all about 3 feet high. There were a few different kinds but they were all very easy to pull up, thank goodness.

Dad says that this area hasn’t seen the sunlight in about 30 years. Grandma used to have lilly of the valley in this area, until, as the story goes, Stony Covert dumped a load of coal on them. Not sure what vintage we’re talking here, but old enough that people were called Stony (no relation to us Coverts). I have a shaky understanding of how the whole coal-burning scenario would have worked, but I think it’s fair to say ole Stony overshot the delivery by about 50 feet.

So we’re trying to restore the grounds to the way that my Grandma used to have them with lovely vegetation that enlivens the property, not chokes it. This is the aspiration, and a pretty lofty one. I have a feeling (which may be completely untrue) that things like gardening were second nature to people (women?) of my Grandma’s generation. It was a neccessity in some cases: a person needs to grow vegetables to feed yourself and their family in leaner times. These are not things that come second nature to me, but I’m learning as I go.

In addition to clearing the weeds we’ve planted a few new flowers and ground cover: lilly of the valley, myrtle, hollyhock, campanula, hydrangea and some flower seeds that I’m holding out hope will survive–blue salvia, poppy, shasta daisy and dahlia.

Grandma reportedly kept roses as well, but I feel like I should mangae my own expectations here. If we can keep the weeds away and keep some control of the vegetation I will be happy. If my flower seeds make it, there will be a higher power at work.Now, if I can grow something from seed then maybe I’ll be ready to move on to roses.

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