Garden Pic #3

Adding veggies to the perennial garden

Adding veggies to the perennial garden

So last year we attacked the Japanese lantern patch behind the house with great vigour. We attacked it over and over again. And still the Japanese lanterns returned. We started to plant new perennials in the patch to try and put a final end to the lanterns. The lanterns will never die, which is the one thing I’ve learned, but they are starting to die down a little bit.

In this shot you’ll see that we’re starting to plant some of our veggies in the perennial area as well. This is all part of a grand experiment (isn’t that what all of gardening is all about?) Are you even supposed to put perennials and veggies together? Are you even supposed to put plants over a crazy weed patch? We’re definitely not supposed to plant much of anything in the shadow and root system of a black walnut tree. Oh well. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how things work this year and try and make sensible notes for next year.

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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.

Amish Country

Photo: Rosemary Covert

Photo: Rosemary Covert

Lodi is situated in an area populated quite heavily by people of the Amish and Mennonite faith. Ever since I can remember it was a common occurrence to pass a horse and buggy on the country highways around Lodi.

In recent years there has been an influx of even more Amish and Mennonite families to the area and so the chances are very good that you will need to make a wide pass around a buggy carrying a couple, sometimes with curious little ones peering out the back window, their young faces framed by the traditional bob haircut and black-banded straw hat.

This increase in the Amish population of our area has meant nothing but a boon to local food and gardening aficionados. Among many different kinds of businesses that serve the Amish and non-Amish populations there are several excellent produce sellers that grow a lot of their own fruits and vegetables in greenhouses powered without use of electricity.

We’ve been buying fresh produce from our local Amish produce stand for many years but last year we also relied on them heavily for the plants that started our garden. In addition to having excellent quality produce and plants their prices are often the most reasonable you’ll find in comparison to grocery stores and farmers markets.

Last year we were thrilled when our garden tomato patch was spared the blight that was sweeping the countryside. Many of our friends and neighbors had their tomatoes wiped out completely but our tomatoes were blissfully unaware of any of that nasty blight business.

The story we heard was that the blight affected plants that went through the industrial food chain and were purchased at places like grocery stores and Wal-Marts. Since ours came from small independent greenhouses we were in the clear and enjoyed many pounds of tomatoes. (It actually wasn’t the best year for tomatoes blight or no blight, but that’s beside the point).

The population of Amish fits the rural farming landscape perfectly. Teams of six to eight Clydesdale horses farm on properties adjacent to those farmed by the most technologically advanced farming equipment. Seeing them at work in the fields gives us a glimpse at how perhaps our ancestors lived on and worked this land.

All the Lodis of the World

Lodi, California

Lodi, California

Last night while having a drink with some good friends who visited Lodi in the dog days of summer last year we developed a fabulous plan: I should visit all the Lodis of the world. Ok, fabulous may not be the right word… how about ambitious? Single-minded? Hare-brained?

Lodi is a relatively common name for U.S. towns. I once counted at least 13 in a U.S. atlas.There are Lodis peppered across the country: in New Jersey, Ohio, California. It makes you wonder if that many settlers were familiar with the Lodi in Italy that I assume is the original Lodi for which the rest are named.

I do have a bit of a head start on this project: I’ve already been to Lodi, New Jersey. Sadly I saw no more of it than the road sign on the highway as I was driving into New York City, and perhaps that was enough? I’m not sure that the part of New Jersey near New York City would be considered to exemplify the state motto as the Garden State.

On one of my Great American Road Trips of the last 8 years I’m sure I’ve been to at least one other Lodi, but I really can’t remember where. Ohio? Indiana? Wisconsin? Clearly this Lodi didn’t make a huge impression on me either.

Seeing as it’s mid-January in Ottawa, I’m happy to do some California dreaming and imagine a trip to Lodi, California, that of the famous song. Being stuck in Lodi, California might not be that bad seeing as we have another 3 months of winter ahead of us here. Sigh…

Of course the capper to this whole project would be a pilgrimage to the mothership: Lodi in Italy, where it all started. I don’t know too much about Lodi, Italy, except that obviously a lot of people left it. But the Italian Lodi is sure to be chic, fashionable and replete with delicious food around every bend, at least more so than the Lodis I’m already familiar with.

To be fair, I think I will give myself the rest of my life to accomplish this and thus avoid the pressure of a time limit. That being said, perhaps a summer road trip hitting several of the most *fabulous* Lodis is in order…

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.

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 Lodi Historical Society

Lodi Historical Society

Lodi Historical Society

The Lodi Historical Society is one of the main cultural organizations in Lodi, and does more than just the name suggests. The Lodi Historical Society aims to preserve the history of our town, but also organizes events, concerts and is the social glue of the community to a certain extent.

When I was young we would always participate in Lodi Historical Society events with my grandma, as she was heavily involved in the organization. Some of my fondest Lodi memories are of the “Dish-to-Pass” suppers in the Lodi Historical building where people would come together with their signature potluck dishes and the food and conversation would flow. My grandma would often bring a large slab cake and jello with fruit and/or vegetables in it: nectar of the gods!

The Lodi Historical Society events are a large part of their year-round activities in Lodi. Concerts by the Finger Lakes Chamber Ensemble occur a few times a year, and the annual art show and artisan show are very popular as well.

The Lodi Historical Society building is a gorgeous former church with a raised stage, seating for hundreds and a fully restored Hook Tracker Organ, as well as reception areas for more casual meetings. It’s a great venue for weddings in the heart of Finger Lakes wine country and frankly a steal at $400!

In the interest of full disclosure I should explain that my dad is the co-president of the Lodi Historical Society but I can assure you my opinions stated here are completely unbiased. And let me tell you, the perks of being the daughter of the co-president of the Lodi Historical Society are numerous… to numerous to go into here, really…

The Lodi Historical Society is a great example of a volunteer-run organization that has been around for many, many years that keeps the life of our little town going with recurring activities that are both for Lodinians as well as being a way to attract new visitors to Lodi.

To become a member of the Lodi Historical Society, visit their website to learn more.

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?

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