Absentee Gardening

Gardeners at work

Gardeners at work

I hesitate to call myself a gardener. I think I need some more triumphs under my belt before I will accept that grand moniker.

Especially considering my recent rookie mistake: I was so excited to assemble my balcony planters that I put them together (looking adorable full of double impatiens in a warm, regal red, trailing ivy, bright orange gazania and deep burgundy coleus I might add) and promptly left them outside overnight during the only frost warning of the last 2 months.

I had some logical explanation for this. Believe it or not I did think it through. I just made the wrong decision and I fear my coleus may not recover.

In that I’m not fully ready to claim to be a gardener it’s at least safe to call myself an absentee gardener of some description. Most of the large-scale gardening work I do takes place at a farm house in a rural setting that I visit frequently but don’t live.

The rest of the time I live in the city and eke out a garden via containers on my balcony and indoor house plants vying for the relatively small amount of sun I get each day. Currently my apartment also doubles as a potting shed and greenhouse (to varying degrees of success).

So it’s kind of an odd patchwork garden kind of scenario. The last time we were in Lodi we planted some bigtime stuff: 2 different varieties of potato, two different varieties of onion, in addition to the rhubarb, garlic and various assorted herbs we’d planted in the fall. But I won’t see their progress first-hand for another two weeks.

Mum and Dad are ensconced in Lodi for the season and when I talked to them yesterday they gave me the exciting news that the garlic is really growing. I am thrilled and yet have no idea what that means–I’m only relying on a description and the promise of a photo. How high are the shoots? Are they flowering? How far are we from harvesting?! How can I learn how to make a garlic braid in time!? (ok… getting a bit carried away there)

I guess that really I have the best of all possible worlds: I get the bustle of the city and the triumph of greenery growing around so much concrete, traffic and exhaust fumes as well as the serenity of the rural garden with the expanding horizon of farmers fields and nature blooming all around.

Each has their benefits and each their detractions, but really when it comes right down to it I’m awfully lucky to have both!

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Getting Ready for the Season

Sitting on the dock

Sitting on the dock

Spring has definitely arrived and you know that means only one thing: summer is right around the corner. Lazy afternoons reading on the porch, thunderstorms rolling across the lake, corn on the cob, floating endlessly in the lake are all right around the corner.

But we’re not there quite yet and there’s work to do until we can enjoy the spoils of summer. Now is definitely the time to put in the hard work so that we can rest easy for the summer months.

Mum and Dad are heading down for the season shortly and will be living large in Lodi for the next six months or so. So when I say “we” in the above paragraph the majority of the work will be done by Mum and Dad until the next long weekend when us kids will be down to help out.

In the meantime though the first cottage rental coming up in a few weeks and so “we” have got to get the cottage opened up, aired out and spiffed up a bit. We’ll find out in the next week or so if there are any major repairs needed but usually all that’s required is some serious cleaning and the occasional spot of fresh paint.

So it’s time to start dreaming about what the summer will bring! New wineries to visit! New restaurants to try! New puzzles to master! New recipes for fresh tomatoes to try! New sunburns to nurse! New marshmallows to incinerate! New friends to introduce to the joys of life in Lodi!

Want to come and visit? Let me know when you’ll be arriving! Oh, and can you pick up a 12-pack of Yuengling and rolls from the Ovid Big M on your way?

Sproutwatch 2010

Sproutwatch 2010!

Sproutwatch 2010!

So you know how they say you should do something every day that scares you? Well I’m doing just that. I’m pushing myself out of my comfort zone, I’m talking life by the horns, I’m carpe diem-ing.

I’m growing plants from seeds.

I know, it’s crazy. What am I thinking? How radical! How dangerous! It’s practically just plain irresponsible of me.

Yes, I’m being facetious. But truthfully I am feeling quite nervous about my little seed experiment. Mum and Dad were kind enough to give me a herb garden seed starter kit and I followed all the instructions and I’m starting to see sprouts from all my little containers. They’re growing along, but I’m just kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop…

In the past I have tried to grow things from seed and have been sadly disappointed by the results. I think that birds or animals have just plain eaten the seeds out the the ground which is why growing them indoors seems like the right plan.

I planted 2 little pots of sunflower seeds in an attempt at my great white whale of gardening, and they are sprouting too, which is very encouraging. Twice I’ve planted sunflower seeds only to be greeted by crushing disappointment. Not this time, Sunflowers. Not this time.

Apparently at some point I’ll have to “harden them off” which sounds unpleasant and a bit daunting. Practically every time I read about how I’m supposed to make these sprouts grow into real plants it seems a bit hopeless: will they have enough light? Are they in the right soil? Is the temperature right? Too much water or not enough? How do I transplant them successfully? When?

Well I guess with all great gardening experiments all I can do is the best I can: plant them green side up and keep my fingers crossed. With any luck I’ll be bringing you all bunches of fresh herbs by early summer!

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.

Golding Farm Redux

The Golding Farm

Front door of Golding Farm

Last summer we did a lot of work on the Golding Farm House to make it habitable for folks. Fortunately for us at that time the folks were friends and not paying customers. They didn’t mind the fact that we’d covered up the cracks in the walls with “tapestries” and that there was one room that still had giant holes in the ceiling among other issues.

We’re starting now to get more serious about getting the Golding Farm ready for real visitors, perhaps even vacationing renters. There are a few major jobs that need to be done: a new bathroom needs to be installed upstairs and the small room adjoining it needs to be subsumed into that bathroom. The room next to that room needs to be turned into a hallway and the room with the holes in the ceiling needs some, um, work too.*

There’s something really special about this house, but it’s hard to put your finger on what exactly. We really love it. None of us has ever actually lived there, but there’s just a really warm and special feel to this house. There must have been a lot of love in this house over the last 150 years that we can sense somehow.

Sadly I remember when this house was not treated with a lot of love–we used to rent it out to a series of families that didn’t treat the house or the grounds with much respect. I remember more than one occasion when we hauled out loads of junk, cleaned off caked-on grime from many surfaces and washed windows that hadn’t been washed in decades.

Over the last 3-4 years we’ve worked slowly at it and the improvements have been incremental. Many of us have done this work: my Mum and Dad, my brother of course who lived there last summer, my aunt and uncle and even my uncle Floyd before he passed away. Maybe that’s why we love this house, because so many of us have invested in it.

My Mum put together an amazing photo album that documents the transformation of the Golding Farm. Here’s hoping that we’ll be adding to this album soon with even more gorgeous photos of the newest set of improvements

*Please note that not all Covert family members agree on this plan of attack for the re-configuring of the top floor. I am a fan of this plan because it preserves the size of the stunning master bedroom which is huge and lovely, in my humble opinion. Stay tuned to see if I get overruled.

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.

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.

A Local Thanksgiving and Garden News

Turkey

Turkey

Two weeks ago my family celebrated an early U.S. Thanksgiving during a long weekend in Lodi. We indulged in the usual Thanksgiving activities (eating too much and shopping too much) and we also made some significant progress on next year’s garden plans.

Of course turkey and Thanksgiving are a perfect pairing but this year we were determined to go local with our Thanksgiving dinner. Our summer garden triumphs put local food at the forefront of our eating habits and Thanksgiving was no reason to stray from this philosophy.

[Ok in fairness I have to admit that it was mainly my brother Andrew leading the local turkey charge. I thought it might be a bit of an expensive wild goose chase, if you’ll pardon the pun.]

We grudgingly headed off to the Green Star Co-op in Ithaca– I say grudgingly because I was certain that we would be dropping a princely sum for this local turkey. Come to find out that Green Star was selling their supply of local turkeys at the wholesale price. We assumed that this was a good faith gesture intended to promote local farmers and the philosophy of eating locally produced food, especially meats. We were thrilled and acquired a 12-lb bird from a farm in nearby Interlaken, NY called Oink and Gobble Farms.

The local turkey tasted… great! Was is significantly different than an industrial farming food chain turkey? I hate to admit that I couldn’t taste a huge difference. But it was moist, delicious, reasonably priced and grew up just about 15 minutes down the road from the dinner table at which we were enjoying it!

The Garden News is very big, very exciting and hopefully very sunny. One of the (ahem, many) problems with the garden plots we chose last year for our first ever garden was the shadiness of the spot. It looked great in the late winter when the trees surrounding it had no leaves, but we quickly learned that it was awfully shady.

So our new spots include a couple of different areas right at the end of the property where it abuts the farmed acreage. We figure that it must be good soil being that close to the farmland and it is in a much (hopefully!) sunnier area. Of course the trees have no leaves now either, but with our skillful plotting of the sun’s trajectory we think we’ve avoided the major shade issues.

Oh, and the other news? More walnuts. Yup, being a glutton for punishment, I said yes when Dad offered to collect more walnuts on his clean-up of the roof and the grounds. We sat and removed the mostly rotten husks (an extraordinarily gross job) and then laid them out on a board in the basement in the manner we believe that Grandma would have done. We’ll see in the spring how this method compares to the oven-roasting method.

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