Tuesday, August 26, 2014

My Complete and Total Failure as a Farmer

Confession:  I am a terrible vegetable gardener.  After having the best intentions last summer, Andy building four amazing vegetable boxes and then working this spring to prepare the boxes with grids following the "Square Foot Gardening Method", this is the conclusion I have come to.  Vegetable gardening is just not my thing.  I'm actually super embarrassed to admit it.  We live on four acres surrounded by amazing farmland and fantastic farmers.  I feel like it is a necessity to our farm life.  I actually love gardening in general (though, Andy will be the first to shout that I have let weeds get out of control even in those beds this summer) and have some seriously generational gardening genes in my family thanks to my mother and grandmother but let me tell you.  I have decided that vegetables are just not my thing.  While I am horrified to admit it my garden currently looks like this:

Can't decipher the walkway from the beds due to all the weeds

More chaos
While I am totally embarrassed to be writing this post, I don't want to give the impression that all of our projects are a success.  Vegetable gardening can actually be kind of expensive (especially if you let your produce go to waste), so I think it is really important to determine what you actually want to eat from your garden and how you want to use the produce harvested.  Though my conclusions certainly won't be the same as anyone else, I will still go through a list of what I had success with, what I didn't and why so if you are thinking of starting a vegetable garden, you might have a good idea where to start.  I also have provided links to my favorite recipes that you might find useful.

-Snap Peas

With the exception of the cantaloupe (which was planted the week it decided to stop raining so it died) and snap peas (which ripened the week we were on vacation), all of these veggies are pick and eat as they ripen.  I think this is the category of plant that most vegetable gardeners love but this is not for me.  I plan meals for the whole week on Friday and don't think about what is going to be ready in my garden and meal plan around that.  The lettuces, spinach and kale need to be cut every few days when it is ready and we really don't eat that many salads so it would get forgotten then quickly overgrown.  I got a couple of peppers off the plants but again, would set them aside and forgot about them when grocery shopping.

On the Fence/Yet to be determined:
-Soy Beans
-Butternut squash

With the exception of the flowers, these vegetables have not fully ripened yet so I am not sure if they will end up being useful or not.  I planted a few flower seeds- marigolds and red zinnias to help keep out pests.

Most of them did bloom and actually look really pretty... I just don't know if I would want to take the space out of the beds again for them.  I think if I had smaller beds, I would definitely not waste the space again but since mine are pretty massive, I might give it a go again next year.

I have tried tomatoes two summers now- last summer was too dry and cool that they never ripened and I have a feeling it will be the same this year.  I would love to can some salsas and diced tomatoes but if they don't ripen by frost this year, I am not planting them again next year.

The soy beans are almost ripe.  We have gotten a lot of grief for planting soy beans when so much of the Iowa farmland is devoted to soy but we really like eating edamame and they are easy to bag and freeze.  As long as I remember to harvest these, I will do them again.

I am excited for the butternut squash and pumpkins.  These were both easy, low maintenance plants and nice because you can easily see the vegetable grow and know when it is ready to pick.

The only downside is they take up a lot of space but as long as they ripen according to plan, I would do these again.


This really shows how lame of a gardener I am because of the successes, 60% I didn't have anything to do with- they were already planted and established when we moved here.  Of the two that I planted- carrots and onions, these were just simple.  The onions are easy to plant because you plant sets (which are just bulbs) and then can harvest and store for a long time so there is no rush to use them quickly.  I just pulled carrots yesterday, which the kids LOVED doing.  We only had a few squares of them so they are manageable enough to just cut up and eat as snacks for the week.

I think the reason I like the apples, asparagus and rhubarb is they are harvested over a few weeks and you get a lot of yield for little work (once the plant is established).  With each of these, when they were ripe we would do some recipes right away for dinner or snacks (asparagus side dishes, apple crepes, rhubarb muffins, apple pie etc), can/freeze some plain (we just did 20 lbs of peeled and sliced apples in bags ready for fillings throughout the winter) and can/freeze jams or sauces (rhubarb jam, applesauce, pickled asparagus).
Apple Crumble Pie

The bottom line is I think I prefer to grow things that I can make into snacks or condiments as opposed to dinner.  Though it is a lot of work, after a night's laboring through canning you can have a whole year's worth of applesauce, jam, salsa, sauce, etc.  I like this because I don't have to use up the vegetable the week it is ready to be harvested but you still get great flavor for the whole year.

Things I should have planted but didn't:
-Strawberries and other berries
-Bananas (yeah, I know there is no way I would ever be able to plant these unless we moved WAY South but man, I wish we could the way my family runs through them)

Why did I not plant zucchini?  I really have no idea other than I just lost track and never got around to it.  Luckily, several friends in the area have given me plenty of extras from their patches so I have been able to shred it (in the food processor) and freeze baggies of it already shredded or make it into breads/muffins.  This zucchini streusel bread is AMAZING, these cookies are yummy (and freeze well too) and we did these fritters for dinner one night which were fantastic.

I didn't do any berries this year, but I think the kids would love to snack off of them as they ripen and this is also an easy fruit to turn into jams.

So, considering I have a freezer full of cut up vegetables/fruits and a shelf full of canned sauces/jams/pickled vegetables I guess I can't really be called a failure.

But countered with the pounds of produce I have let die in the beds I can't be called a success either.  Ultimately, I think I am a very selective vegetable gardener and probably won't continue once Our Acreage Adventure is over.  Hopefully, we will always be near a fantastic farmers market!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Our Kiddos Get the Best Space in the House

A lot of people ask us how we accomplish so many home improvement projects with two children running loose all the time.  We give lots of answers- we work most evenings and weekends, the kids "help" out, we rarely go out to dinner/date nights, it is our hobby, etc.  Bottom line, for us it really is a hobby and something we have done since day one of our marriage (spending our Honeymoon painting the poorly painted red walls in our apartment Vanilla Milkshake).  But now with our ever growing family, we have not given up our hobby but there have been scarifies.  Mostly time.  Our current example?  I cut into our kid's bathroom floor on a frosty day in February and just now I am bringing you the final result.  5 months of renovation.  The bathroom wasn't totally unusable during this whole period- we probably had 3 months of it being closed up completely.  Obviously, if we had hired contractors or subcontractors for part of the work this timeline would have been shortened but Andy and I have never hired out, preferring to do the work ourselves for two reasons:  we can and it saves a TON of money.

So, now that you know we aren't superheroes, with this post I am giving you a summary of the completed product.  We discussed posting every aspect of the remodel along the way, but honestly we spent every waking moment working on it and not writing about it.  Instead, I will give you a total overview of our work and supplies today and then come back with a few posts detailing some of the jobs that an average homeowner could accomplish.

If you have forgotten what the bathroom looked like a mere 5 months ago, here is a refresher:

After trying to remove the flooring for a quick update, we discovered rotten subfloors and decided to take the whole room down to the studs.  There are a couple posts here, here and here with some details on our initial process in the remodel.

This is where we are today, 5 months later:

This is the view from the adjoining quilt room (we still need to finish painting the trim in the doorway white).  You will notice right away that the layout is completely different and we move the door opening a bit to the left.    The green color of the quilt room is Spring Cactus, Glidden.  On the lower walls of the bathroom, Andy installed car siding 5' tall so it goes right to the start of the slant one wall has.  He added trim to the bottom and top of the siding.  The siding was painted with a coat of Zinnser primer and 3 coats of semi-gloss white paint.  The upper walls are painted with Brown Taupestone, Better Homes and Gardens color matched in Glidden.

Now for some details.

The tub was one of our first purchases and helped center our whole theme of the room.  We found the tub on Craiglist for $200.  It was in pretty good shape but Andy sandblasted the outside and painted it with a primer and oil-based paint (hoping to get him to do a post later with these details).  The outside color is Relaxing Evening Rain, Better Homes in Gardens which we color matched in Sherwin Williams.  The feet were painted the same color.  This is the one detail in the room that I honestly don't love 100%.  I wish we had painted it the same color as the upper walls instead but that ship has sailed!

The faucet is a 3-Handle claw Foot tub faucet with riser by Barclay in chrome which we ordered from Home Depot.  We had A LOT of discussion over the shower aspect- hand held, riser or no shower.  We decided on the riser.  It will likely only get used when we have guests staying since the kids take baths up here but we thought the riser was more practical in the end than a hand held which has the potential of making a mess.  We love the curved neck design of this faucet and the three handles- hot, cold and shower.  This was a bit of a splurge at $230, though still a great deal compared to others we looked at.

I sewed the curtains using two fabrics I purchased at Jo Ann Fabrics.  It took 9 yards of fabric to get all the way around the tub.
We looked at specific claw foot tub track systems but with one wall coming in on a slant, we would have had to seriously modify anything we used and generally starting at $100 this would have been annoying.  In a brilliant moment of genius, we remembered the KVARTAL system from Ikea which has curved sections (we used this on a closet in our previous house).  It took 3 straight sections, 4 curves and 8 ceiling brackets.  We also used the KVARTAL plastic tracks as well as the metal hooks sewing onto the curtains.  I will write a post later with these details because it was kind of a pain and there wasn't much help found online.

The flooring was installed by Andy after repairing the joists and installing a new, not rotted subfloor.  It is an unfinished pine from Lumber Liquidators that we found online.  Normally, I would always recommend getting finished flooring since the cost and time of doing staining and poly yourself usually ends up not saving you anything in the end but in this case, the room is so small that we did save a lot getting unfinished.  The cost of the flooring was $100.  I wanted the natural look so we chose to leave the floors unstained and put several costs of staint polyurethane on it (following the apply, sand, apply directions on the can).

One of my favorite details of the room is the sheepskin rug, RENS from IKEA.  Not the most practical of bathmats but works fine for a second bathroom and is so soft.  F loves laying on it when we put on his diaper after baths.  I sprayed it with Scotchgard so hopefully it will hold up.  Thankfully, with IKEA prices it was only $30 so we can replace it if needed.  They have a faux one for $10 but it wasn't nearly as nice looking or as soft.

To save some money, we reused the toilet that was in the room already.  I got a turquoise wastebasket from Home Goods to add some color in addition to the coral accents I have in the room (don't mention coral to Andy or his eyes start to twitch).  We centered the toilet under the window so it was a little far to reach to a wall hung toilet paper holder, so I picked up a chrome freestanding one at Kohls.

The sink and vanity are the centerpieces of the room.  I wanted a furniture look to the vanity so I had shop in Chatfield, Minnesota, Adourn custom paint the dresser.  She mixed a chalk paint to complement our wall color for the dresser and added an adorable surprise on the sides of the drawers.
The knobs were the perfect pop of color I was looking for (coral) and add some fun and whimsy to the room.
This custom piece was $220- MUCH cheaper than any vanity I found anywhere and so much more unique.  Andy fitted in the Kraus Vessel sink we ordered from Home Depot for $100.

This was one of the things that set us back time-wise.  The sink was delivered with a crack in the side so we had to return it and order a new one- which was of course on back order for a month!  Andy shortened the top drawer right under the sink to fit the plumbing and put a slot in the middle drawer so we wouldn't loose too much storage space.
The faucet is the Delta Porter 1-handle high arc faucet in chrome ordered from Home Depot for $85.
Above the sink, is a tricky space with the car siding and slanted adjacent wall so we had to do a lot of re-planning to fit a light and mirror.
The light was ordered from Destination Lighting and is a Minka Lighting sconce wall light in brushed nickel for $80.  Obviously by my lighting choices, I am a bit obsessed with the exposed Edison bulbs right now.  I was a little worried about the finish with chrome faucets in the bathroom and a brass/brown ceiling light but I think it works and makes the bathroom look less "showroom" and fits with the old house.  We purchased a great oval mirror for this space from an antique shop (actually, after several email pictures and phone calls, my parents picked it up) but with the light we choose, it just wouldn't fit.  I finally found this mirror at the same antique shop that fits perfectly in the space and is just fine for a second bathroom.  It was originally painted gold but I repainted it with a color match of the vanity color in a Behr flat sample paint (yes, I walked through Home Depot carrying one of the dresser drawers).
We put in four hooks for towels on one of the walls at easy kid height.  In that corner, we are also storing a two-step stool from IKEA that is perfect for the kids when using the sink (which is high for them since it is a vessel).  I wanted to paint it coral- maybe just the top step but Andy's eye twitch couldn't handle it and his Scandinavian bare wood roots won so I am leaving it natural... for now.

The ceiling pendant is a Globe Electric Edison vintage pendant in brass/brown ordered from Amazon for $35 (a steal!!).  We had to shorten the cord considerably but I love the look.
Since it is such a small space, Andy installed a pocket door with locking hardware.  It was pre-primed but I still need to paint it in semi-gloss white (as well as that pesky door trim).

Finally, a little flashback.  In our first house, we also remodeled the bathroom, taking it down to the studs.  Here was the bathroom when we did our first walk-through:
 And here is what we did to it:  (sorry, not the best after pics but it's a tight space).

While I still love it (and especially miss the tankless toilet), I think it is super amusing how widely different the two spaces are.  I don't know if our tastes have changed or we have just altered our vision because of location and house type/age.  I can't wait to see what we do to the bathroom in our next house (Andy is cringing now)!

And just a little something to leave you with, the view from our fantastic space (complete with new window installed by Andy!).
Loving us a little farm living.