Putting in the Garden

Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria

Well, it’s Victoria Day weekend here in Canada and that means many things. For those of us hoping to have fresh produce on our tables later in the summer it means that it’s time to put in the garden!

In *theory* and by general rule of thumb, the “risk of last frost” is the Victoria Day weekend.

So I’m about to make the trek down to Lodi (where they of course don’t celebrate Queen Victoria’s birthday. Will someone remind me why we still do that in Canada?) for our first really big gardening weekend of the season.

We will have our work cut out for us.

We’ll need to fence up the new garden plots if we want our produce to be anything other than a woodchuck buffet.

We’ll need to head up to the Amish markets to buy our healthy little plants and then do the stoop labour of planting them in their tidy little rows.

This year we have some handy-dandy plant stakes that I will painstakingly and lovingly craft and apply in the appropriate areas.

I also have the feeling that there will be some prodigious weeding to do.

Things I will endeavour to do:
-wear sunscreen and a sun hat at all times
-not lose my gardening gloves 1.5 hours into the experience
-look better in the gardening process photos
-not get into monumental arguments about what we plant and where we plant it
-not be too hard on ourselves if we can’t get *everything* done this weekend


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?

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.

Organizing the Garden Shed

Garden Tools

Garden Tools

So next weekend is our first trip to Lodi in a while–in fact, I think since November. We have a lot of work to do to get the garden ready for the year but we will probably not get to do too much of that because it’s still a bit too early in the season.

I have a couple of goals however that I think could really help us get ready and organized for the coming garden season. I would like to whip our garden shed into shape and arrange tools, shelves and other materials so that when it comes to the hard work we have everything at the ready.

Last year had a large amount of gardening equipment already on the premises which was kind of surprising since it was the first year we created a garden and also not at all surprising because our garden is on a farm.

However the hoes, rakes, shovels, stakes, gloves, spades and posts lived in any one of four different locations at any time: the garage, the far end of the second barn, the near end of the first barn or the woodshed. Which makes for inefficient work patterns, grumpiness and conversations like this:

“Where’s the _______?”
“I don’t know, look in the barn”
“Which barn”
“The big barn”
“It’s not there”
“Look in the other barn”
“It’s not there either”
“Look in the shed”
“Oh forget it I’ll use my boot”

Or similar.

I also think that having clear and consistent places for your precious equipment leads to an attitude of better care for your tools. For those of us (me) who were (rightfully) reprimanded for leaving potato forks in the ground overnight thus leading to rust could use some reminding of how to best care for the gardening equipment.

So going into this new season I have a vision of a perfectly organized shed where the tools hang in their rightful places, the materials are piled neatly and I can *always* find my gloves. “Anyone seen my gloves?” “Look in the barn.” “Which barn?” etc…

Anyone have any advice on successfully organizing a garden shed? We need all the help we can get!

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.

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?

The Big Reno

The Master Bedroom Upstairs, Golding Farm

Originally uploaded by j-co

Over the last month we’ve been working hard in Lodi. With summer holidays and several groups of visitors we found ourselves finally pressed into action out at the Golding Farm.

The Golding Farm has a beautiful farm house and two barns that date from before 1850. No one has lived in the house for several years, and the upstairs hasn’t been inhabited for over 10 years.

The Golding Farm is a big project. There are some big picture issues like a room that needs to be completely re-drywalled and walls that look like that haven’t been re-plastered since, um, 1850.

So these things make it a daunting project and we tend to dance around the issues. But my brother devoted a large portion of his summer to working and living out at the Farm and making major improvements. Steadily over the months he’d cleaned up, re-fitted the kitchen, re-landscaped and essentially made the place livable.

Then all of a sudden we were faced with 8 visitors all arriving at the same time and we didn’t have room for everyone at the house in town. We rushed around for 3 days and managed to make the Golding Farm look half-way decent. We moved in beds, dressers, accessories and hung paintings and made it look like a comfortable, welcoming place.

This is a pretty major coup for us because we were really not sure that this house could be a viable place that people would want to be. We still have a lot of work to do, but by moving the furniture in an dressing the place up it made us realize that house is not as desperately inhabitable as we thought and has great potential.

Now we just need to win the lottery and we’ll be good to go!

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.

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.

Renting the Cottage

The Porch at the Cottage

The Porch at the Cottage

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

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

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

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

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

Family Dinner at the Green Cottage

Family Dinner at the Green Cottage

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

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

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

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