Friday, January 30, 2009

Bring Your Own House

Whoever said living out in the country is quiet and uneventful? Yesterday we glanced out the dining room window and noticed a house(!) and its entourage inching our way along the highway.
When it arrived at our intersection, it turned down our narrow gravel road. This manuever took amazing skill. I was sure the stop sign was history--but the driver adroitly avoided it.
Nevertheless, the corner of the roof scraped on the telephone pole and the wheels of the trailer were dangerously close to the edge of the ditch. I could hear cursing from my vantage point quite a way up the road.
Once around the corner, the house continued to glide down the road, past my driveway. The snowmen watched curiously.

I thought we had a new neighbor moving in, but apparently the house had another 15 miles to go before settling in.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

First Step Toward Spring

Today I "Cold-Stratified" some of my seeds.
This is a strategy required to get some native wild flower seeds to germinate. I am carefully following the instructions from Prairie Mooon Nursery, where I ordered the seeds. The seeds are mixed into damp vermiculite or sand and put into a a sealed bag in the refrigerator for 60 days before planting in soil. I guess this mimics nature's process of keeping them in cold Minnesota dampness for two months before they sprout in the spring. Today I cold-stratified Virginia bluebells, bittersweet, prairie coreopsis, bloodroot, butterflyweed(asclepias), and prairie blazing star (liatris).

It turns out the bloodroot seed is a bit more complicated: after cold-stratifying for 60-90 days it must go through a warm period (70-89 degrees for 60 days) and then through another cold stratification for 60 days. I am not sure I have the patience for growing this flower from seed--I wish it luck!

It's still a while before I will be digging in the dirt, but it feels good to be doing some preparation for spring on a zero-degree January day.


When we moved in last fall one of the first things I did was plant shrubs, including a pair of cotoneasters on the southeast corner of the house. The down side of planting befpore you have lived somewhere through all the seasons is not knowing the natural phenomena of the property . It never occured to me that the roof melt-off would totally encase this shrub in ice. It looks beautiful, but I hope it survives the experience!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Inauguration...a beginning.

I woke up this morning listening to the inauguration preparations on the radio. I am quietly thrilled by so many people coming together and cautiously optimistic that we can effect positive change.

In order to commemorate the day I attached a flag to our front yard tree, Burr Oak Obama. Here is Burr Oak Obama, facing into the sunrise, just as President-Elect Obama is at this very moment facing an exciting new day full of challenges.

I don't plan to write about my political leanings in this blog, but suffice it to say I have never named any of my bushes "George."

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Chicken Coop Coup

My favorite outbuilding on our farm is a chicken coop with clerestory windows that I intend to use as a combined henhouse and potting shed. The chickens will be in the lower section, with a ramp leading out to a fenced yard.
Today we decided to work on the chicken coop. We won't be ordering chicks for a couple of months yet, but we discovered a local farmer with young laying hens for sale and we are thinking of getting six of them so we can have eggs this spring.

We needed a partition inside to separate the chickens from the potting shed. Conveniently, we had a wall section already constructed that Cadence had knocked down in her Granary Guesthouse project and wanted out of there.

Cadence sledged-hammered the top brace off so we could fit the wall through the chicken coop doorway.

It still required some tricky maneuvering and a bit of brute force to get it inside.
Rog and Cadence set the wall on top of a foundation row of cement blocks and secured it to the wall. Now all we need is a door into the chicken room and some chicken wire across the top! Oh, and some bedding...and roosts..and nesting boxes...and the Chickens!

Sunny and Cold

It seems like so far this year our days have been the extremes: brillant sun with frigid cold (20 below zero with a -40 windchill) or seasonably warm(30 degrees above zero) but flatly gray. Friday was one of the brisk, sunny days. In the morning, our old geezer cat, Kittywampuss, found a warm spot of sun in the corner in which to bask. Or else he was just confused --impossible to know for sure.

The windmill made a cool spinning shadow on the roof in the afternoon.
A crystal ball on my office windowledge gives me an inverted fisheye view of the yard.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Snow as Canvas

Although you tend to think of snow as a field of white, on a sunny day shadows from the trees and buildings create wonderful abstract art on the surface. Here is the view of the yard from upstairs this morning. It looks especially pristine because it has been so cold the dogs haven't stayed outside long enough to romp through it.
Winter weeds scribble exuberant shadows on the snow.
A closer-up perspective of snow shadows--teeny snowballs at the edge of the gravel road, tossed up when the snowplow went by.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Chick Lit

Like many of my fellow garden bloggers, I have begun receiving seed catalogs and spending hours drooling over them.

What's perhaps even more exciting than a seed catalog? A Chicken catalog!

Until a few weeks ago I didn't even know such a catalog existed...Soon I will be ordering chicks through the mail.
So many fantabulous fowl! How will I ever decide what kind of chickens are Squash Blossom Farm chickens? All I know so far is that I am looking for egg-laying, garden-bug-eating, hardy, calm, friendly chickens which are also beautiful. And I am fond of fluffy leg feathers.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Inside Looking Out

I apologize for posting so many sunrise photos, but our farmhouse has a sweeping view of the east and when I wake up to these glorious sunrises, my heart sings.
It was a brisk -18 degrees F this morning, with supposedly -35 degrees wind chill. Rog and I did bundle up and go out to wovel the driveway this morning, but I wimped out and took photos through the windows. A vase of pampas grass glowed on the kitchen window sill.
Morning is just beginning to creep into the farmyard, but looking out the south-facing kitchen window we can admire our woveling job on the driveway. A large icicle hangs from some twinkly Christmas lights I haven't taken down yet.
In the dining room, frost layered another landscape over the view.
A xmas ornament hanging in the upstairs bathroom window creates a blue sunrise.

BackTrack to Saturday

On Saturday morning the back yard was a network of tracks in the fresh snow--rabbits, squirrels, birds, dogs--those were the tracks I recognized, anyway. Here, a bird must have taken off.

I don't know what was so attractive about this clod of dirt, but many small bird tracks converged upon it.

It was obvious that the animals tend to run along fencelines and from destination to destination,like, tree to bush-- for cover, I suppose. I never really noticed that before (duh!)

I love the designs the tracks punch into the snow.

While I was distracted taking photos of tracks, Rog and Cadence were stringing fence along the western border of our yard. Despite the underground wireless fence, our dogs have discovered that if they run through it chasing a squirrel or rabbit, the shock is so brief it is worth the discomfort. Of course then they are reluctant to come back into the yard and get zapped again. So, we stretched a wire from the electric horse fence just outside the wireless fence and attached plastic garden mesh to it to provide a visual reminder. So far, we haven't even had to turn on the power to the electric horse fence --the mesh seems to slow Nutmeg and Cocoa down enough that they experience the wireless fence shock strongly enough to deter them. (Knock on wood.)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Spelunking the Granary

This afternoon Cadence cleaned out all the stuff from under the granary in preparation for insulating under there. It's a pretty tight, dark space, that gets tighter the further you crawl in. Also a bit scary, which is why she chose to do it in the zero-degree weather --before the spiders and creepy-crawlies woke up from hibernation.

"That spelunking Class I took at Quarry Hill when I was a kid really came in handy!" she exclaimed when she crawled out, covered in cobwebs and dirt.

Here is some of the stuff she hauled out from beneath the granary--mostly old rusty cans and scraps of wood, but also two mysterious chairs on long metal poles--seats from an old ski-lift?

Cadence discovered a big old bowling pin under the granary, marked "Trophy" --her trophy for all that hard work.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Granary Guesthouse Project

Our younger daughter Cadence who came home from Bogota for the holidays has decided to stay at the farm through summer and help us get everything going (Wonderful! She has experience working at Featherstone Farm.) She also has an ambitious plan to turn the granary into a rustic guesthouse and live in it. We gave her the go-ahead -- we've learned to generally step back and let Cadence accomplish her crazy dreams --and for the past week she has been tackling the clean-out phase.

The granary was jam-packed with scraps of lumber, building materials, fencing, electronics waste,and evidence of having been inhabited by raccoons and stray cats. Cadence and Rog hauled out the salvageable materials in the trusty trailer, and organized and stored them in the barn and loafing shed. On Saturday we made a couple trips to the dump and recycling center - where Cadence also rescued a nice kitchen sink for her cabin.
Today while we were at work Cadence single-handedly tore out the interior walls of the granary. Now it's all swept out (I accomplished that job) and the space inspires many fun renovation ideas... Here, Cadence admires her hard work.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Dreaming of Bluebells

One of the best amenities of our city (Rochester, MN) is a network of bicycle trails connecting all parts of the community. Many of them run through woodland areas and along creeks - you don't even realize how close you are to civilization when you are biking them. In the spring, some of the trails are truly spectacular, winding through swaths of Virginia bluebells, trout lilies, Dutchmans's breeches, and many other wildflowers. (I took these photos last spring.)
When I come to the drifts of Virginia bluebells(Mertensia virginica) my heart soars. Since moving to Squash Blossom Farm I have imagined looking onto a sea of bluebells beneath the deciduous windbreak trees (mostly hackberries and maples) on the west side of the house. I just discovered that Prairie Moon Nursery, a local source of native plants, sells the seed for Virginia Bluebells and many of my other favorite wildflowers at a very affordable $2 for a packet of almost 100 seeds. I just figured out my order - which will go in tomorrow because most of the seeds must be "cold moist stratified" for 60 days before sowing in the spring.

Now I have visions of Virginia bluebells, Bloodroot, Blazing Star, Wild Geranium, and Bittersweet dancing through my head... These seeds sound kind of tricky; I welcome advice from you experienced wildflower-seed-sowers.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Snow Snakes?

We came across some curious snow phenomena during our walk through the woods this afternoon. Somebody had created artistic drawings in the snow.
There weren't any tracks visible to give away the identity of the designer. Perhaps the tracks were hidden beneath a thin layer of fresh snow? Maybe some critter a had tunneled beneath the snow and the tunnel had collapsed, revealing the path? Any naturalists out there, can you enlighten us?
Nearby was evidence of another deer slumber party last night.

Windows of Opportunity

Cadence has decided not to return to Bogota next week, but to stay here and help us launch this farm this spring. She has a crazy idea--to turn the granary into a guest house and live in it. It is an ambitious plan, to say the least, but we have learned that anything Cadence puts her mind to, she can usually accomplish! She and Rog have been examining the building and brainstorming the possibilities (on a shoestring budget.)
The granary is currently full of scrap lumber and building materials. This week Cadence and Rog have been cleaning out the granary and moving the contents to the loafing shed for storage.
Cadence discovered that the Reuse Center in Minneapolis (a wonderful place that sells salvaged building materials) was giving away windows yesterday to reduce their inventory. We drove up to see if they had anything we could use and regretted not bringing our little trailer; we could only fit two windows for the granary in our little car, and had to pass up a nice large window and some very cool windows for the barn. But I was delighted to obtain three narrow windows perfect for building cold frames!