Good morning and happy Monday, friends! It’s been a bit of a day here at the Homestead–our septic tank is backing up because, in all the recent goings-on in the nation and world, we neglected to make our pumping appointment. In addition, poor Liam has a nasty bug bite that has caused a swollen lymph node. This is not abnormal for him, but it is always hard as he’s uncomfortable. So, I’m shower-less, the kitchen’s a mess, and my floor is littered with whatever towels we had available to mop up all the water. It’s better to laugh than feel stressed in moments like these, so let’s fist pump the air together and yell “Everything is Awesome” somewhat sarcastically, then move on. 😉
It has been a busy few weeks here. We’ve been working steadily on the garden fence, which is coming along nicely, and overall attending to the daily tasks of making sure all the plants stay healthy–weeding, adding supports, pruning, fertilizing, and picking. We planted-out our Fall squashes and (finally and belatedly) got the last of our summer potatoes planted. The greenhouse is starting to clear-out as I make room for more tomatoes, but we still have some starts available in the Shop–peppers, tomatoes, cantaloupe, and soon some Fall squash. Early June is also strawberry season in Central Indiana, which is really only about 2 weeks long, maybe 3 on a good year (which this hasn’t been a particularly good year). We got out to pick two days after my preferred u-pick opened for the season and picked about 30 pounds. It took me the rest of the week to turn all those berries into jam, desserts, purees, and syrups. I’ve taken a few videos while doing this, so there’ll be a vlog coming up soon about that, and the jams are making their way into the Shop.
As soon as I finished processing all the berries, I knew we needed to go pick again. On the day I felt we should go, however, we were all just so tired (the kids have been doing Baking Challenges, which are educational, adorable, and delicious, but utterly destroy my kitchen, and we did two last week). So, I opted to go the next day only to discover my preferred u-pick would be closed for the season (though they have since announced a re-opening with a note about how odd this season has been). Thanks to a tip from a Facebook friend, we found a new u-pick north of us that had opened later than the other u-pick, likely because they have a different variety or because being even just a little farther north impacted their season.
We were all set to go when Brian found a pop-up camper on Facebook Marketplace, as I mentioned in my previous post, so we decided to divide and conquer. I met-up with my parents to take the kids berry picking while he drove down south to secure our much-sought-after pop-up. Yay!
Even though the berries were small, they tasted sweet and juicy and we were able to pick an additional 12 pounds, just shy of my 15 pound goal. With that I can make one more batch each of strawberry-vanilla and strawberry-rose, and then froze enough whole berries for two batches of triple berry red wine jam here in a few weeks (after we pick blueberries and raspberries).
Traveling and trying to coordinate to go pick such large quantities of berries is not easy, and so I went diving into the internet to find small-space solutions for growing strawberries, hoping we could add more plants to our own collection and reduce the amount I’d need to travel to pick next year. There are quite a few ideas out there, and a few I’ve had pinned on Pinterest for several years. I eventually opted for a tower using two 5-gallon buckets that looks somewhat easy. I’ll be vlogging the project so I guess we’ll all find out together. 🙂
I bought 50 bare-root June-bearing strawberries that I’m hoping will come in soon and I can get planted so that there’s a chance they might want to produce well for me next June. Here’s hoping, at least! They’re not first-year plants, so they are capable of producing, but it’s often best practice to let strawberries get established a year prior to picking, which would mean nipping off the flowers during the season so that the plant puts all its energy into rooting. While I’m *just* missing the season, these plants will have been planted a full year, so I’m hopeful.
I like this plan because that leaves the Ever-bearing strawberries in the raised bed in the main garden, as I think they should be, but the unruly and heavy-feeding June-bearers are kept more manageable and contained (and easier to feed, quite frankly). I can move the towers into the greenhouse over winter and then move them around the yard to ensure they’re getting optimum weather and sunlight, too. I’m excited!
In addition to strawberries and the edible gardens, we’ve also spent a little time putting some ornamental landscaping in to the front of the Homestead–you know, so that when you all stop by to pick-up products you’re not left wondering why you’re pulling-up in front of this obviously abandoned, haunted house. OK, it’s not that bad, but it wasn’t pretty, let’s put it that way. This project is long overdue, to be honest, but we kept saying we’d rather just put a front porch on than mess with these difficult landscape beds. However, it’s been 4 years since we removed the unkempt hemlock bushes that blocked all the light and there’s just been weeds, the hemlock bravely trying to regrow, and one lonely winter creeper bush that’s quite happy. We don’t have the resources to put on a front porch, obviously, having spent so much money on expanding and adding infrastructure and aesthetics to the back gardens (and buying a pop-up camper). So, landscaping it is!
The front of our house faces west, but has a large maple tree, which means that most of the day it is in shade with a mixture of dappled light in spots or blazing, hot light in others, especially towards the end of the day. This has made selecting plants a little challenging, since most shade-lovers decidedly do not want blazing afternoon light, but most sun-loving plants need more sun than some areas in the front get. Additionally, the foundation of the house protrudes into each bed a good 2-3 feet, so that the planting area is actually much more shallow than at first glance. The soil is sandy, not the heavy clay of our backyard, and not as alive, either, which means things up there need a lot of feeding. And finally, the roof or our house, like our foundation, also protrudes a good 4 feet (which is why we thought the obvious solution was a front porch), which means these beds receive next to no natural water. Fun times.
My solution this year was lavender. Our aesthetic strategy on the exterior is a vague representation of French Country Cottage, so lavender is an obvious choice. It also absolutely adores a dry, hot, poor, sandy soil and wants as much sunlight and as it can get, which means it will soak-up all that blazing afternoon sun with lavish abandon. Using lavender as a jumping-off point, I also ordered a dwarf lilac tree, boxwoods to offset in the back, groundcover, and planted arborvitae (though they will be too big and will have to be transplanted next year, given that the roof of our house is only 8-9 feet high and arborvitae can grow 10-12 feet. Next year, I’ll special order the dwarf junipers I have my eye on, but they were so much more money and I’m tired of special ordering plants for my apparently very abnormal growing situation). There will also be a variety of perennial bulbs sprinkled throughout. The color story is green and purple with a little pink.
I added some spirea, as well, as an impulse buy at a local hardware store, since it takes part shade to part sun. We had some watering mishaps this past week, but I think it’ll bounce back and do alright. I also want to transplant the Sarah Bernhart peony to flank the lilac. Even though it’s on the south-facing side of the house and theoretically should be the sunniest location for it, we have dense trees that shade it and it’s forever reaching out each season while it’s in bloom, trying to poke its flowers around the corner to where the sunlight is.
We mimicked this same planting scheme on the other side, using the winter creeper as an anchor rather than a lilac. I am still waiting on two lavenders to go in the center and a clematis to go behind the arborvitae, which should not mind the shallow rooting conditions.
I also have two groundcover roses in a light pink coming for the pots that should spill over the sides, adding a touch of drama and messiness to the formal structure and symmetry (as any good French Country Cottage should). I’m concerned the roses won’t get enough light, so my backup plan is foxtail ferns and I’ll put the roses in somewhere because they’re gorgeous. I’m also concerned that the lavender won’t get enough sun on this side, but time will tell. So far, on the other side of the bed it’s the happiest thing out there.
I mentioned water mishaps, so I’ll elaborate. We’ve had a hose spigot in the front of the house since we moved in but it never worked, which is another reason why planting in front of the house was arduous and much-delayed. So I was lugging the watering can around to water each day since planting the first half of the bed. Last week, however, I got busy and went a few days without doing this, and the lavender was all, “this is what we live for!” and the spirea was all, “what the heck are you doing to me?!” It doesn’t look so hot presently, but I do think it’ll recover.
In happy news, this lapse and potential plant loss forced us to dig deeper into why this spigot wouldn’t work. After some investigating, we located the spigot’s source underneath the built-in shoe cabinet in my crappy built-in closet that doesn’t work and we hate. Because that makes sense. It sat in this crevice alongside the bank paperwork for a home equity loan taken out 20 years ago, that I can only assume is when they put in said awkward and not very useful built-in closets. Tearing out these closets and putting in real closets is on the to-do list eventually, but for now—water!! YES! All the plants will be so happy, except for the lavender, which, looking majestic and being fragrant, is haughtily ambivalent about the whole ordeal.
We still have new shutters coming, and some paint for the door. A nice trellis for the winter creeper and clematis, and we need to edge. But, it’s coming along nicely and really only took us two afternoons of work after some careful planning and prep. So worth it.
That’s all for the gardens right now. I’ll be posting two recipes this week, and then we are going camping over Father’s Day weekend to test out the camper, so we likely won’t have major garden news next week.