BIG Garden News

Fun with farm equipment

Fun with farm equipment

On the unseasonably beautiful spring weekend we enjoyed over the Eater break us Coverts* were hard at work in Lodi breaking new ground–literally–and raking and digging and planting and hauling.

We worked steadily throughout the long weekend and the record warm temperatures were both encouraging and slightly daunting: I actually got a sunburn working in the garden in April, which seems unlikely. But there’s nothing like getting your farmer tan on the go early in the season.

Here is a partial but mostly complete list of things we accomplished in the garden and grounds at the Home Farm in Lodi:

Potatoes and onions are planted, though there may be some controversy about whether this was actually the right time to plant potatoes. The mad crowd elbowing their way towards the seed potatoes at the Agway sure seemed to think it was about the right time to get them in the ground, but we shall see.

Raspberry bushes removed of dead canes and pruned back in hopes they will produce berries

Cherry tree discovered with evidence of cherry pits on the ground around it, lending one to believe it may indeed produce cherries (note to self: find out more about caring for cherry trees)

Old farm equipment uncovered, righted and turned into garden accessories

Path broken between upper and lower garden areas

Areas in front of two different barn entrances uncovered and cleared for easier access to barn

Many sumac trees felled to shed more light on old garden area in the paddock

More raspberry bushes tamed

Tops of rhubarbs discovered pushing through the ground, much to Dad’s chagrin

All new and old vegetable crops identified by wooden stakes (NEW this year!)

Perennial garden areas tidied up, weeded and dead leaves removed

Garlic tops seen to be sprouting (success! so far…)

Flagstone pathway discovered around the side of the house leading from an old doorway

Mum took some great photos of the progress we made and you can view the album here

We definitely laid all the ground work for putting the rest of the vegetables in on the long weekend in May which is the next time we’ll all be together in Lodi. Let’s just hope the weather stays lovely and that the potatoes don’t rot!

*Ok, not all of us Coverts did all this back-breaking work: Andrew and Dad wielded the pick-axes and shovels like champs, I gravitated to the detail work of clearing the dead leaves from the garden and planting while Mum picked up a chainsaw and hacked down a few trees.


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.

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?

The Barn Star

The Barn Star

Originally uploaded by j-co

A few years ago our friend gave us the lovely gift of a decorative star for our barn. It had been sitting in the parlour in the house in town for a long time not fulfilling its duty (it wasn’t a desk star, after all) and along with a number of other improvement projects around the Home Farm we installed the barn star in its rightful place a few weeks ago.

The tradition of barn stars is specific to the North Eastern US states and you see them often on country drives. Each colour of star represents a different set of attributes and our red one, as it turns out, stands for emotions, passion and creativty. The barn stars in general are meant to be a symbol of good luck and to ward of nasty spirits that might try and mess things up.

Our barn is a sturdy but aged thing and perked right up with this little bit of decoration (and added good luck). The barn dates back to the 1900s and has an upper hay loft, which is where we installed the star. The barn is still in pretty good shape and mostly serves as a storage facility at this point in its lifespan. In addition to masses of lumber and building supplies that are frequently used there is an ancient wooden speedboat, a doodlebug of a similar vintage and an even older tractor in many parts.

It wasn’t too much trouble to install the star, even though it’s made of heavy-duty wood. Dad insisted that it be screwed in on two sides to ensure stability. The extra-long ladder was procured and Dad clamboured up while I remained on the ground as the alignment consultant. It was quite a cinch to get it secured in place, the only tense moments coming when Dad moved the ladder WHILE STILL ON IT based on my comments on the placement. Yes, he scooched the ladder by little shuffling hops to get it in the right place so it was correctly lined up. Is this another one of those country things? Crazy behaviour involving power tools? Sheesh.

In any case, the star is up and the good luck is flowing, the evil spirits have been leaving us alone and our emotions and creativity are off the charts. Now all we need is some kind of a talisman to ward off the woodchucks that are causing all sorts of havoc in our garden.

Hard at Work

The sheep paddock before the work begins

The sheep paddock before the work begins

Last weekend was our big garden creation weekend. We congregated in Lodi for Easter with the ulterior motive of digging the plots for our garden. The digging is obviously just the first step and in about a month we will actually start planting.

We decided early on in the process to dig the garden in the area that used to house sheep about 30 years ago when my family still farmed on the property. My father and grandfather farmed for decades until my grandfather passed away and then until my father’s university career took precedence. I remember when the farm had sheep, and in fact the day that they were shipped off after my dad sold them. So it’s really exciting that this section of the old farm is getting rejuvenated with our garden plans.

One of the first jobs was to clear out the brambles and wild raspberry vines and all of the junk that had accrued over the years. It was amazing to see the improvement just with the litle bit of yard work we were able to do.

Them the serious work began. We started by mapping out our intended plot sizes with a cross-like pathway system in the middle. We used stakes and string to measure and mark where we wanted to place the plots. Our method was, ahem, less than scientific and as a result our plots are a little skewiff.

Working in the garden

Working in the garden

Once we had the garden measured out the really hard work began. Which I mostly avoided. Dad and my brother started the difficult work of turning over the soil using pick-axes. The soil hadn’t been worked in a long time so this was not as easy task. But they handled it with aplomb, though they definitely had a good workout.

After the soil was dug up and turned over, we collected stones to arrange around the plots to mark out the edges. It added an air of seriousness and old-school charm, in addition to being a smart way to remember where our markers are.

The finished product

The finished product

The larger job at this point consisted of clearing out the rest of the entire sheep paddock area so that it felt like a place that would be pleasant to spend time tending to our garden. This was a sizable job as the area was really overgrown and neglected. In addition to the foliage there was lots of old junk and rusted farm refuse.

At the end of the day we were simply exhausted, the burn pile of dried yard waste was enormous, we had scratches from the brambles and we were extremely proud of our 4 3′ x 4′ garden plots. We added mulch and let it sit.

Next month we will be back to plant our seeds and seedlings. I can hardly wait!

A Very Productive Weekend

The Barn

The Barn

This past long weekend was a very busy one in at the Home Farm in Lodi. The house was busier than it has been in years with 6 inhabitants for most of the weekend. We gathered to enjoy the holiday weekend, have a great Easter meal and get some fresh country air. There were also several big projects on the go that we were all involved in and we had success in all areas.

When my brother and I arrived, we were greeted by an empty house because my dad and my uncle were hard at work at one of our properties, arguably the one that needs the most work, the house on what we call the Golding Farm. It’s kind of funny how things end up with the names we use for them, and this house has been owned by my dad for a long time, but at one point it was inhabited by a family called Golding and somehow the name stuck.

Dad and my uncle had been hard at work fixing portions of the the roof on this house that dates from before 1850. You can imagine the kinds of things that need fixing in a house this old but the roof is the most pressing problem right now. Last summer significant improvement was made to the foundation, which was the number one issue to fix on the house. Slowly but surely we are attacking the major issues for this beautful historic property and managing to keep it going.

Inside the Golding Farm

Inside the Golding Farm

Dad and my uncle had professtional help in this major roofing endeavour, and in fact were mostly helping out the professional in this scenario. And for the record, my dad is too old to be doing this kind of thing, not that it made any difference to mention this.

The other major success is that we created the garden plots! It is a big success story because we not only dug some holes in the ground, we actually cleared out a huge section of land that hadn’t seen any TLC in about 50 years. We decided, after careful inspection (that others did while I was sleeping in) that we should put the garden in the old sheep paddock. We figured that the soil would be very rich and the area gets a lot of sun throughout the day.

The sheep paddock had housed sheep for many years, but the last of them left about 25 years ago. In the interim, the area was overgrown with brambles, wild raspberry vines, sumac trees, and weeds, along with random ancient junk. We worked hard for about a day and a half, and we cleared out a lot of the junk and weeds and dug four plots of about three feet by four feet, edged them with stones and covered them with the rich mulch-like substance from the ground of the paddock. We’ll return in about a month to plant.

More details on both of these major projects are forthcoming in future posts, but suffice it to say that things really went well on this very productive Easter weekend.

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…

The Barn Cats

Barn Kittens, photo A. Covert

Barn Kittens, photo A. Covert

Like any good barn, our barn has barn cats. Lots of them.

My uncle made a practice of feeding the barn cats event though they’re feral and not domestic cats but as an animal lover can see why he risked his life to care for them. They’re cute little, sweet little kitty cats living in that big drafty barn! Wouldn’t they prefer to come and stay with us in the house and be warm and snugly and eat processed cat food and keep us company and look adorable when chasing string and the like?

We dare not start trying to feed the barn cats, but my uncle got to the point where he was feeding many of these cats and bringing certain of his favourites into the house. One of my uncle’s best-loved barn cats he named Harry and let him into the house to stay warm and keep him company. Harry had a sweet disposition and was a long haired barn cat, hence the name.

My uncle took care of six or eight of the feral barn cats at once, providing food, litter boxes and woolly covered places for them to seek shelter from the elements. He did this faithfully for a long while until one of them scratched him quite seriously and he became ill as a result. It was difficult, but after that we convinced him to give up the practice and the barn cats went back to the drafty barn and had to get used to fending for themselves again.

My uncle’s been gone for about three years, but the barn cats are still alive and well out there in the big drafty barn. We saw them out there in the barn on our recent trip to Lodi a week ago. I spotted two different cats–one long-haired, mangy white one, probably the mama barn cat, and a smaller, short-haired white one as well.  Dad saw a couple as well, a different black one and the mama.They seemed to be eyeing us in the house as their potential meal ticket, but each of us was equally wary as the other. We all seemed to recognize that much as we’d like to reconcile it would be better to keep to our separate spheres of existence.

Lodi Kittens, photo A. Covert

Lodi Kittens, photo A. Covert

These are probably the same cats that used to visit my uncle for their regular meals, though some have certainly come and gone by now. It’s hard to resist their sweet little furry faces, but we know from experience that it’s not wise to attempt to domesticate these feral barn cats and so we let them stay out in the barn. All things considered, they’re probably completely content without human companionship.

Planning the Garden

The Barn at the Home Farm

The Barn at the Home Farm

Recently we started talking about getting down to the logistics around planting this garden that we’ve dreamed up. We started by discussing when we would need to go to Lodi to start planting and it was then we realized that we all had slightly different views on how to plant a garden. Let it be stated for the record that none of us actually knows how to plant a garden, so any discussions are purely theoretical and in no way based on a) fact b) experience or c) knowledge.

There was a faction that was certain that one starts a garden by planting seeds indoors in the winter and tending to their little seedling selves until the ground is thawed and ready to receive them as little plants. Another faction was convinced that a gardener had merely to sprinkle seeds into the soil in order for delicious and hearty vegetables to spring forth in great abundance.

Certain parties tried to remain neutral and suggested consulting experts, reference material or at least Google.

In any case, we are all aware that we need to start planning and at least to start thinking of what we want to grow. Advisers have cautioned against planting too many zucchinis and suggest two plants maximum. I have absolutely no problem with this as I believe that the only good zucchini is a cucumber. I also relish (ahem, pun intended) an overabundance of tomatoes as I’m a huge fan of homemade salsa and have been known to make a fairly decent one, if I do say so myself.

In the Home Farm basement can be found a significant stash of canned produce made by my grandmother. Now she’s been gone for almost 15 years so these jars of dark, viscous vegetable matter are elderly to say the least. My mother has made me promise to help can the aforementioned overabundance of tomatoes and I um, relish the opportunity (sorry, I can’t stop) to follow in my grandmother’s footsteps and become a master canner.

I would guess that many people of my generation don’t have canning in their knowledge base, alongside making the ultimate iPod party playlist and the knowing the rules of Ultimate Frisbee (which I don’t either, by the way). So if I am to can tomatoes with my mother standing in the very kitchen where my grandmother expertly canned in late summer decade after decade, I will definitely need some guidance .

That and the ultimate tomato-canning iPod playlist, of course, which I will have no trouble whipping up.