..the secret life of daydreams..

a blog of the everyday beautiful

About piabaerg

get by with a little help from our friends…

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This past weekend was a fence-post-hole-digging kind of weekend. My dad and I spent the better part of Thursday measuring and marking, which proved invaluable once we started to dig. As they say, measure twice, cut (or dig) once!

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Having everything laid out in the real space and marked with spray paint and stakes meant that on Saturday and Sunday we just got to work. Justin picked up a rental hydraulic auger to make the work faster, and at just under a $150 for a day rental, that might be one of the best decisions we have made with this garden so far.

I’m sure in some alternate universe, hand digging 40-plus, 3 foot deep holes in rocky ground wouldn’t be torture, but we weren’t about to subject ourselves to that. Instead, they all got dug in essentially one afternoon with relative ease.

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That auger was a workhorse, and much easier to use than a handheld two-person auger. I think we would have run into difficulties with anything else in our rocky soil. It wasn’t all a cake walk though; Justin was definitely feeling it in his forearms that night.

A huge thank you to our friends Corrie and Thomas who volunteered their whole day and made it fun to be working. Corrie and I tackled a few things on my to-do list (pruning the red currant, moving soil, lining some of the boxes with landscape fabric, and leveling and squaring off those same boxes) while Thomas helped Justin manhandle the digger.

Love you guys. Couldn’t have done it without you!

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Also big thanks to my dad for helping me think through logistics and planning, and being available hands when we needed him. This girl also pulled her weight keeping an eye on the all-important measuring tape:

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the yew

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I have a thing for yew hedges. They are, in my eyes, the perfect landscaping hedge: hardy, tolerant of sun and shade, and with a narrow growth habit and an ability to flush green growth from old wood  which makes them very simple to trim. They will also last for many decades (or more, there is a yew hedge in England that is 300 years old!) if well cared for.

Then there is the visual. With that dark green foliage, yews make a beautiful backdrop to flowers and other vegetation.

I also suspect there is an emotional tie to the yew for me. I have a great love of English gardens, and wandering the elegant estate gardens in the Cotswolds and Oxfordshire with Justin several years ago established my resolve to one day incorporate yews into an eventual garden.

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So, when we started talking about redoing our vegetable garden, on the top of my list was a yew hedge for the east side of the garden. It will provide a visual backdrop for everything else in the garden, but it also serves a functional purpose in that a hedge will create a windbreak for some of the prevailing breezes we tend to receive from the interior. My goal is to create a sheltered micro-climate within the space of my garden so that some of my more “gentle” plants can thrive.

The downside is that yews are frightfully expensive. They are typically priced about $10 a foot in vertical height, so planting a five foot tall hedge can easily run you $50 a plant. And when I wanted a 60 foot long hedge, that proved to be too pricey. We considered the more wallet friendly cedar as an alternative, but I knew I would be disappointed by that decision in the years to come. So I did some digging on the Internet and found a local grower who was willing to sell us little 12 inch starts for five dollars each. We went with the varietal of the H.M. Eddie Yew as it presented with the right growth habit for our needs.

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Compromising with little starts like this means employing some patience, as it won’t look like what I imagined for many years to come, but that is alright, because gardening is all about investing in the future. As Audrey Hepburn famously said once, “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.”

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potager

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So in yet another make work project for ourselves, the backyard veggie patch is getting a makeover. And by makeover I mean a complete reconstruction…

What have I done…

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the plans

The goal is that while we will have to put in a lot of effort now, it will ideally be less work in the future. How? automatic irrigation (thanks to my ever patient husband), and raised beds that will keep more weeds out. Also, the grass is getting turfed. Out. Done. It’s a pain to mow and while I admit I prefer the look of a neatly clipped and trimmed grass walk, it’s just way too much work to be worth it.

Add in a new yew hedge and the relocation of basically every existing tree and shrub, and I will have my dream potager garden that has been inspired by some of the amazing gardens I’ve walked through in Europe.

We started work already last summer, but didn’t get too far before the rains of autumn hit, which were followed by an unusual cold snap through December and most of January. While we had hoped to be farther along by now, this pause is giving me a chance to catch up on here before we keep going outside. Stay tuned!

 

it may only be the end of january but…

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It may only be the end of January, but the snow has finally melted (I know, I know… us poor west coasters with *only* a month of snow to deal with…) and I’m starting to dream about the garden again.

Especially because this beauty is in my hands and visions of tomatoes and artichokes and fresh peas are floating around in my head.

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If I could get it all I would. As it is I tend to buy too many seeds (they are so small afterall…), so I’ll be doing my best this year to select what I actually have room to grow. Can’t wait!

a special garden party

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This is a little late in being posted, but back in May I had the wonderful chance to throw my mom a special 50th birthday party. Most of you who know me know that I love to host a good themed party, so with gorgeous weather in sight and my peonies in full bloom, we decided a garden party would be the perfect foil for this sophisticated but casual party.

I can’t say enough ‘thank you’s’ to my aunt for all the work she put in alongside me, and for the use of her gorgeous backyard and patio. It was the ultimate backdrop for this event and I am so pleased with how everything turned out. It always causes me delight to know that I’ve created a comfortable environment for people to relax and spend time together, as evidenced by those who linger long after they have said that they “really should get going.”

Also special thanks goes to Julie from Julie Christine Photography. She came out and captured all the lovely details for me and I couldn’t be more thrilled to have all these beautiful photographs that I just don’t have time to snap when I’m playing host!

I hope you enjoy this little peek from our day.

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drink setup

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Happy Birthday Mom! Love you.

newborn shoot – baby wade

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I had the great privilege of taking a few shots of this little guy at the beginning of January. He was born to my good friends Mike and Kacey back in November, so while this isn’t exactly a newborn shoot in the classic sense, he still makes for a pretty good subject. Wade is a mover though, as you will probably see in the photos; and he is most definitely a cutie-pa-tootie!

Here are a couple of my favourite shots from our  little session:

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homesteading – growing our own bread

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Last fall I had a crazy idea. Let’s plant rye and grow our own grain.

Why? I haven’t the faintest idea…

Perhaps it began with the idea that I wanted to learn how to make Finnish himmelis (Christmas ornament made from rye straw), and I didn’t know where I would be able to find any straw here in Canada. I then happened upon some whole, locally grown rye grain at a local charity fundraiser sale, and I bought some on a whim after asking if it could be planted. The lady in the booth said yes, which is more or less how I ended up with this:

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Amazing.

It was an eye-opening experience, and I may or may not have felt like a pioneer woman more than once. Since we were growing the rye for the straw, it seemed logical to also harvest the grain for flour. It gave me a new appreciation for the fact that bread does not simply appear on grocery shelves magically; and while I know that modern grain is grown and harvested with the use of machinery and big combines, a sudden sense of the millennia of labour that mankind has put into the growth and cultivation of crops was inspiring.

After some time with google researching small scale farming methods for grain, I got to work. My father-in-law gave me a hand with the roto-tiller one lovely September afternoon and we cleared and tilled a 10×20′ patch in the back lawn. After sowing the grain, we mulched grass clippings on top. I read that this helped keep the temperature a little more stable for germination as the cooler fall nights approached and it prevented the grain from washing away or pooling together during any potential heavy rain.

By mid to late November, the rye grass was about six inches tall and it remained at that height through its dormant winter months. The onset of warmer spring months saw a new flush of growth occur. I’m not really sure when it happened, but one day I walked to the back, as I often did, and came to the realization that it was as tall, if not taller, than I was. Full and weighty grain heads had emerged and started to droop over under their own weight, and the bottoms of the straw had started to develop a distinct, wheaty-golden color. It was definitely summer!

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Over the next many weeks, we checked on the ripeness of the grain by testing it’s hardness between our teeth. It is hardly scientific, but we had read that it should be difficult to crack between your teeth. There is of course an ideal moisture level for a prime harvest, but we didn’t have the equipment for that. We decided to try two different harvests, one while the straw was still slightly green, letting it dry in stacks; and another once it had dried in the ground. There seemed to be no difference in the grain so I can’t say one way was better than the other.

The process of cutting down and bundling/stacking was the most tedious part. Without a scythe or grain cradle (seen here), which neatly cuts the grain into tidy rows, it was a little more time consuming to organize the grain into bundles. We simply used large shears to cut the straw at the bottom, and carried the resulting messy bundles to the side to be tidied up and tied properly into sheaves.

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rye sheaves Eventually, after it was all cut and dried, we cut off the grain heads in order to start the process of threshing.

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So how on earth do you thresh this stuff? After more time on google (what would we do without it?), I discovered that an easy way is to stuff hand-fulls of the grain heads into pillowcases and beat it. The original tutorial suggested hitting the pillowcases with a shoe, but I very quickly discovered it was a lot more efficient to simply swing the pillowcase around onto a hard concrete surface (a grainy and short video of Justin’s whole family trying out the method has been posted for your viewing pleasure here). As the saying goes, many hands makes for light work, and it was never truer. We had help from family both close and far, with Justin’s cousin coming over with her kids to experience an old-fashioned threshing floor.

This process removed the grain from the heads, and the large, and now light, chaff was easily separated by hand from the more weighty grains at the bottom of the pillowcase. The rest was dumped into bins and winnowed in front of a fan (more video here for your viewing interests). That video shows the third pass on separating, so you can see a little bit of the chaff blowing away still, but the majority was already done. It took about five passes to get the grain clean.

The end result was about twenty-three pounds of rye grain, approximately a fifteen-fold increase from what I had sown!

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This is being stored in a large bin as whole grain, and I am milling it in small batches as I need it. The flour does not hold nearly as well as the whole grain, so for storage purposes this made the most sense. For milling, I used the dry blender attachment for a Vitamix. Maybe one day I will invest in a stone grinder, but for now this does the job.

So I know you are now wondering, have I made bread? I just pulled a fresh loaf from the oven, and I have to say it is quite good. I haven’t fully settled on the best recipe, but it is satisfying knowing that I have made this bread from literally start to finish. Many people look at me like I’m crazy when I tell people we have done this. I don’t blame them. It’s not your average backyard garden staple like tomatoes or peas, and is somewhat ambitious and time-consuming. Yet, it is a straightforward process and highly educational, so I don’t regret the time spent. In fact, I might be hooked… summer wheat anyone?

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rye flour

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