Roll Up Your Sleeves: Reclaiming the Yard Pt. 2

April showers bring May flowers or at least that’s how the saying goes. Around here it’s been rain, rain, and more rain punctuated by a few sunny days. After a week straight, we have sun and I managed to slip out and get a few pictures of our now nice-looking garden beds.

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We started with this:20180428_134015

and this 

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with the latter looking like it belongs at a haunted mansion perhaps?

Last spring and summer we left the garden beds to their own devices. I simply did not have the mental energies to devote to the work. The interior demanded enough of our attention and energy and the thought of having all the work outside as well was exhausting. But this is going to be our year I can feel it in my gut. I donned my work clothes, rolled up my sleeves and away we went!

Weeding is my least favorite chore, and I’m positive most of you would say the same. Clearing the front beds was a relatively painless job, minus having to kneel on the concrete while I weeded. It took me several hours over the course of a couple days to get it weed free. I hauled away buckets of dirt, and then added in a few bags of good topsoil and then we were ready to plant. To keep it low maintenance and still pretty, I chose Hostas for the front. They’re hearty plants, fairly easy to care for, and I won’t have to worry about whether they blossom or not.

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The final touch for the front: a wood chip mulch. Mulch is great for conserving moisture in the soil and helps discourage weed growth. Added bonus: it adds a visual appeal to your garden beds.

With a limited budget and a desire to get this finished as quickly as possible, we decided to opt for bagged mulch vs having a garden center deliver it in bulk. I was hesitant to go with a pre-bagged mulch since you’re never 100% sure of what you will get until you open it. There’s a slight risk of getting bad or moldy mulch, or discoloration in the case of colored brands. We ended up choosing a non-dyed cedar mulch by Timberline and I am very pleased with the results!

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The backyard, however, was an entirely different beast. I spent forty-something minutes digging up what I have now dubbed the ‘mystery root from hell’. It came up in pieces. (The other weeds were no picnic either.)

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It required a spade (my hand trowel was not sufficient, and whatever that long pointy tool is? I believe it’s called a dandelion weeder. Kind of looks like a screwdriver with a notch in the end. I should have taken a before image so I could later identify the plant in case I ran into it again, but I was so caught up in wrestling it out of the ground I forgot.

Several hours over the course of a couple days and the ground was finally weed free and ready to plant. 

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We purchased a garden box kit from Home Depot to save us the hassle of building one from scratch. Since the soil around here is crap (read lots of clay), we purchased a few bags of garden soil so we could ‘start fresh’: a raised bed filled with only good topsoil. The rest we covered in black plastic to discourage weed growth in the hopes we will have a little less to deal with. Now our little herb garden is ready to go, minus the addition of a couple more plants. 

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Our next project will be reworking the fence I built 2 years ago to keep out the fat critters that took up residence underneath our shed. But that’s a post for another time. Until then, cheers!!

Our One Year Farm-iversary!

Hello hello, everyone!

        So… there’s no getting around it, I have been quite the absentee for months now. Things around the farm have been beyond a bit crazy and have left us working double-time in what free time we have to keep things moving smooth”ish”. While I may be a month behind in posting this I’m beyond excited to finally feel I’ve the time to blog again.

As of March 31st, we’d officially spent an entire year in our budding little farm. The amazing thing is how much has happened over the course of one lil’ ol’ year too! Looking back and considering what we’ve learned, experiencing the ups and downs, the painful realization of hindsight after heroically attempted projects, the joy of crossing something off the “to-do” list at long last… It’s been a process to say the least. And this wild ride seemed best to show rather than tell. After all, a photo says a thousand words, right?

 

It’s amazing to think that once upon a time we started out by digging over -200- holes, three feet deep and one foot across, to space out where the fence posts would sit…with the Bobcat that broke down every other hole.

Then there was the day we began setting the final row of posts on our first pasture. That blasted string would never stay taut and yet we prevailed. Seeing our horses content from my porch, morning coffee in hand, worth it.

Watching the evolution of a pile of brambles and clay dug out, filled with drainage gravel and sand before laying out our stall mats, and finally, setting up the floating stall panels. Finally, shade for our paints in the summer!

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As the needs of the land became more apparent with fall approaching and our singular pasture suffering the wrath of one too many horses upon it. And just like that, the beginnings of our second pasture.

And then when life threw us another curveball – we needed a new roof, water was quite literally dripping down the INSIDE of the walls. With a prayer and a bit of elbow grease, the farmhouse was looking better than ever!

We’d thought we’d seen and experienced our fair share of surprises. So naturally we woke up to a winter wonderland…in the deep south. Despite the challenges this posed for our horses and lack of heaters on our water troughs we managed. Plus it was gorgeous!

The new year came and with it brought the lingering chill of winter, did anyone think it would actually end this year? For the first time ever, blankets were a necessity for the horses. As always, Gambit is always ready for an epic photobomb.

Eventually hints of spring began to poke past the chilly temperatures and before we knew it, spring was FINALLY here! It felt as though our little farm came back to life and the scenery was nothing shy of spectacular.

And now as summer is on the horizon, we look back and realize that while the farm is endless work, endless surprises (not always the YES! kind either), and tiring as all get out…the sheer enjoyment we get out of this little slice we call our own paradise is worth it all.

Here’s to our first year and many many more! Cheers!

~Christy

 

It’s That Time of Year Already: Reclaiming the Yard (Pt. 1)

Yes, it’s that time of year again. Spring is in full swing with summer close at its heels. Which means it’s time for us to roll up our sleeves and dig in.

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Sad lawn

First stop: the lawn. The patchy, crabgrass-and-weed-ridden lawn that has been a sore spot the last few years. And if you’ve been following along thus far, you know all too well of my lawncare gripes and my lack of a green thumb. (I did not get that gene despite having several family members who are fantastic gardeners.) As far as the yard goes, we’ve done little lawn care this last year except spreading Scotts Weed and Feed when we remember to. The past two years, I have patch seeded a few of the bare spots which worked for a short while but the new grass was soon choked out by crabgrass and other weeds. At this point, I had all but laid my dreams to rest, of a lush, green lawn brought about by my own hands. The hubby and I began to discuss using a professional company to do the job since it seemed we had all but failed. Not that we had two extra pennies to rub together for such luxuries, but it was a thought nonetheless.

This year we – or rather I – decided to put forth one last ditch effort to have a lawn isn’t quite as cringeworthy. Since I’m home all day, most of the yard work falls to me and I’m determined to have some success this season. We put forth hours of research from various sites, came up with a plan and off we went. Home Depot – our home away from home – here we come!

Step one was dethatching
the lawn. Scott’s describes thatch as “a layer of living and dead grass shoots, stems, and roots that forms between the grass blades and the soil surface”. A little bit is okay, a lot is problematic. Too much thatch can reduce the amount of oxygen and moisture that are able to reach the soil and grass roots. De-thatching removes the excess material so air, water, nutrients, and fertilizer can reach the soil better as well as allow your lawn to drain more effectively.

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Now that you’ve had your vocabulary lesson for the day, it’s back to the work. Over the course of a few days, I cut the grass then worked to dethatch the lawn with the garden rake. (My back and shoulders were none too pleased about this.) It’s not the optimal tool but we tried to work with what we had, not wanting to put forth money for fancy tools we might only use once or twice. Again a rake wasn’t optimal and some areas were definitely harder than others, but after lots of sweat (and a few tears), it got the job done, leaving us with several piles of dead grass material.20180509_152242 (1)

Step two was to aerate the lawn. I’ve found the best time to do this is when the soil is damp, which makes it easier to puncture the ground. Now there are two types of aerators, the first being more machine than a tool (at least all the ones I’ve seen are). A core aerator has hollow tines and pulls 2-in. deep plugs or ‘cores’ of soil and thatch up from the ground. You push (or pull) it along depending on the type. Since we have a very small yard, it seemed unreasonable to buy one (read $50+) and there were none available for rent the day we stocked up, so Plan B it was. Instead, we purchased a spike aerator with four ‘spike’ tines which create a row of 2-in. holes in the ground. You move across the lawn, stopping about every 8 inches to push it into the ground. It’s not quite as effective as the core aerator but it was much more budget friendly. My spouse was kind enough to do this two weeks ago when we first purchased. Unfortunately, it took me awhile to get to the backyard and so I went over the lawn with the aerator once more to be safe.

The final step: spread a thin layer of topsoil over the lawn followed by a mixture of grass seed. We used a mix since neither of us was certain what type of grass was actually growing in our lawn. That and we keep the lawn well watered and wait. It will be a couple of weeks before we see any success or failure so … fingers crossed!

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From Jungle to Field: The beginnings of a second pasture.

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The future site of our next pasture. It lies adjacent to our new CenFlex 4 acre pasture.

Would you just look at that. When I tell you it’s a sight for sore eyes… Darlin’, I ain’t kiddin’!

With only an electric push mower at my disposal, it was simply inconceivable to attempt tackling this 3.5 acre parcel of grass/thistle/weeds that was nearing 4′ in height. Had the mulching kit on my mower even been capable of cutting it down…I would’ve likely bogged down the blades every 5-10′.

(I may know this because at one point earlier on in summer, I tried. I will summarize it briefly: It did not go well.)

On a happier note, by mere chance one day, I happened to be home and you guessed it, mowing the lawn…again…when a neighbor popped by to say hello. They had hired a crew with a few impressive looking dozers and tractors to clear out their acreage to the west of us in order to reclaim the trails that run across them.

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Impressive, right?

The only problem was that the job would take them several days and our neighbor felt uncomfortable leaving the rented equipment just randomly out amongst their acreage. So they proposed, seeing me dripping with sweat and my signature push mower in tow, to have their crew mow down our secondary pasture field for us if we’d allow them to park their vehicles near the barn each night.

I attempted to gracefully accept but I have a feeling my expression gave me away for the “YES YES YES YES YES YES” that was going through my head on repeat. The result was 4′ masterfully cut down and a lovely 6″ left in its place. It’s no longer a ‘jungle out there’ and I can actually stake out the location for our T-Posts we’ll be driving into the soil in preparation of hanging our next pasture fence.

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A properly kept field. So glorious!

Yes, yes, I know. It’s just a picture of a field. But let me remind you, it’s a field now, not a frightening jungle with anacondas, leopards, …and probably your handful of armadillos.

Cheers!

~Christy

From Shabby to well…Shabby Chic!

Though today is a might bit dreary outside, as the last lingering remnants of Hurricane Irma pass over our little farm, the past month has been anything but!

When we first happened upon our home, it had been greatly reclaimed by nature with shrubs and vines covering half of the exterior windows…even those near 10′ up from the ground. Now, while we’re still a constant work in progress when it comes to exterior maintenance of the lawn we have made some progress!

(‘Progress!’I always hear that in my head like Bill Nye the Science Guy when he yells out “SCIENCE!”, how about you?)

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The front entry and porch.

As you can see above on the right, the mudroom’s singular window is all but blocked by a ginormous shrub that may hold plans for world domination. I’ve zero factual basis to back that aside from the fact I said it and that we’ve hacked it down and rounded the surface to a reasonable 4′ and yet it sprouts up as though possessed.

Matter of fact, all of the shrubs are the exact same and yet some grow ridiculously faster than others. Be gentle in your judgement that not a one is of the same shape nor size but A HA! we can see out of nearly all of the front windows now. #takingthesuccesseswhenandwhereican

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The front side yard as you pull up to the house with barn in the distance.

Once more, what seems like a mere photo of grass is to me a STUNNING victory of non-enviable sweat equity as I fought down two feet of tangled weeds, thistle, and the occasional bit of Bermuda grass! Take that Home & Garden, my lawn is finally beginning to look like a photo you hocked before going to print but we’re still a runner up Gosh Daniel!

On the other hand, …perhaps that doesn’t seem all that impressive? BUT WHAT IF I told you that it was achieved with only an electric push mower that isn’t even self propelled? See, see! Now you’re likely cringing at the thought. And why you ask? Because that “small” front side yard is 1/2 an acre. That’s right! Two foot tall jungle of a beast, 1/2 an acre in size, mowed into submission with sheer will power and approximately 11 charges of our mower’s batteries. #endurancewinithout

One thing I both love and hate equally about our property – the near 500′ driveway. The scenic drive in from a long day at work: Priceless. The walk with the varied sounds of nature in the darkness as I walk our waste bins back up from the street: Terrifying.

It should be noted that the 5′ tall grass/weed fiasco bordering our new pasture fence and right side of our drive has been tamed. I’d like to thank the academy, and by that I mean Academy, for selling wonderful workout clothes for all the “hikes” I’ve gotten from this driveway.

 

Cheers to mastering the lawn…somewhat, heck, I’ll drink to that!

~Christy

P.S. No shrubs were harmed in the “taming” of this lawn.

When Two Worlds Collide: Lawn care Woes

Good morning all!

     I realized it has been a quick minute since our last update on the farm. To be blunt, this whirlwind never slows down long enough for my head to stop spinning. Still, no regrets!

Now then…as you can imagine, going from 1/3 of an acre to 15 acres is a bit of a leap. In our previous garden home, we actually considered our lawn to be quite sizable, yes…I know, looking back, I feel silly for ever complaining about mowing it.

Looking back, it was around a year to two years ago that our hand-me-down mower, a.k.a. the one that was left in the garage when we purchased the house, had finally had enough and simply called it quits. There was no fixing it, no helping it, it was done. D-o-n-e, done.

Not wishing to be the social pariah of our neighborhood, we were a part of an HoA community mind you, the Mr. did some research into finding a replacement and came to adore the idea of a battery powered electric mower. No more awful gasoline stench in our garage, quiet, and just as quick to mow. Did I mention it was surprisingly cheaper? Seemed a no-brainer, so we went for it.

Now for the final year in our garden home, it was a wonderful addition to our lawn care regime. Fast forward to purchasing our farmhouse fixer-upper and that we’ve moved from that 1/3 of an acre to 15 acres. Let me just express how terribly quickly one gets over mowing when you only have a 28″ wide blade and the average battery life is one hour before needing to be recharged.

The Mr. or I used to spend about an hour cutting the front and back yard at our previous home once a week and presto, done! Now it takes about four days, six hours each day, to get about 5 acres done. Does it help that we’ve been reclaiming our acreage from nature, seeing as it sat untended for 5 years? Nope, not really. So there I am, day after day, me and my electric push mower vs. the mighty Amazon jungle. I say that literally, I believe our grass gets to around 3-4′ tall after two weeks of not mowing.

Just call me Sisyphus as my stubbornness won’t let the acreage get the better of me…but I don’t even have the excuse of blaming Zeus, nope, all my own doing.

Now I will admit, while one sweats into a puddle out in the humid southern heat hour after hour, I’ve never been tanner AND my arms are beginning to really look great. On the flip side, I likely terrify local wildlife as they watch me charge at a run pushing that mower over the 3-4′ tall sections of weeds.

It’s a jungle out there.

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My throne.

Now I found that during my hourly breaks, due to the batteries recharging, I needed something to do. It was then that ‘the throne’ came to be. I spend a good deal of time cooling off in the shade with some water, staring with one eye twitching at the bane of my existence, I mean…looking at the lawn mower as the batteries charge inside.

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There she is, in all her eco-friendly glory…

 

But to be fair, I mean…the lawn does look pretty fantastic despite the fact I’m working with the poor man’s Mary of lawn mowers here. So to all of the folks with those lovely tractors, driving mowers, and zero turns…check out my ECO-FRIENDLY (it hurts inside…) and mad ELECTRIC PUSH MOWER skills (…make it stop)!

That being said, I’ve begun filling a mason jar with spare change. One day, I will have my zero turn. Just you wait acreage, your days are numbered!

Ciao!

~Christy

Lawncare 101: More Harsh Realities

There’s that old saying, “Sometimes you have to break it down before you can build it up again.” At least I think that’s how it goes. Anyway, I think I’ve mentioned how much I love/hate spring time. I mean, I love the growing part and everything getting green and pretty. Everything up to that point I could do without. Like our lawn. Our poor half dead yard at which I’ve been raking and digging and pulling weeds and dead crabgrass  – hence the uh, breaking part.

 

I mean, there’s been a lot of reseeding too but so far not a lot of results beyond a few sprouts. Out of all the things we’ve invested our money in, the yard has produced the least results. Every time I think I have a handle on things, I get thrown for a loop.

And with everything going on inside, combined with some very crazy spring weather, I have barely even touched the garden. Here it is mid-may and not a single thing has been planted and what weed pulling I’ve been able to do has been very sporadic. I feel a repeat of our first year coming on. img_20170516_125805750-e1494955393109.jpg

Now a few things survived the winter, which thankfully, is pretty mild compared to the midwest winters I grew up with. At this point, maybe I’ll just leave the garden be and focus on the lawn? Hmm… Maybe I just wasn’t meant to be one of those green thumb people? On the list of things I’d gladly hire a pro to handle, my yard pretty close to the top. Will I get the satisfaction of doing it myself and seeing all my hard work pay off? No. But I’m good with that. At least today I am.

One of these days I’ll have a pretty lawn and a nice garden I swear.. One of these days…

Yardcare 101: A How NOT to Guide.

We’re a bit late getting to the lawn and garden this year. The house has been occupying the majority of our time as we prep the ceiling and the floors. So yesterday while it was a beautiful sunny 65 degrees out, we figured it was the perfect chance.

And then, as per usual, the unexpected happened. So I decided to post this handy dandy guide as a warning to others who might be working on their yards.

Step 1: Have your child dig holes in the yard.

“See, if you dig up the dirt with the baby rake like this, then I can sprinkle grass seed.”
“I’m just going to dig a mine over here like in Minecraft.”
“Okay but don’t dig your hole in the middle of the lawn.”
“But it’s not in the middle. The middle is somewhere over in that area.”
“Okay, you got me there kiddo. How about you don’t dig holes in the lawn at all.  Go dig in the dirt over by the garden area while I rake up the yard to get ready for grass seed.”

Two minutes later…

“I need something to cut and destroy this dead plant.” (as he comes out of the shed with my pruning shears, which, thankfully, are locked in the closed position.)
“Oh no. Not the shears. I’ll take those”
“These aren’t shears. I can’t even open them to cut this dead plant.” (puts the shears back out of frustration of not being able to open them)
“I’ll take care of the dead plant. Would you please go help your daddy?”
“Can I use this to get the plant?” (comes out with the hand weeder)
“Not that either. Now go inside and help your daddy.”

Step 2: Stop working because you found strange things
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If I learned anything from Sesame Street, it’s that certain things belong in certain places and some things just don’t belong together at all.  Quietly sings, “Some of these things are not like the others. some of these things just don’t belong.”

On the list of “what I expect to dig up in my garden” are items such as leaves, bugs/worms, sticks, rocks, and roots.
What’s not on that list: shells (thankfully most of them have been small), rusted nails, unusual pieces of wood, concrete, and/or metal.

I’m just…so baffled.

I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll find body parts next. Yikes.

When **** hits the fan: The Septic Tank Experience

To those reading, if you have a property that is set up via a septic tank system…I salute you, for those of you set up through your city’s sewer system will never know the struggle. My initial elation at being freed of a monthly sewer bill by the city has quickly dwindled, though perhaps my first experiences amongst this new adventure has jaded me.

Now then, without further ado…let us begin.

Remember this view? I remind myself daily because this is what everything is for, this lil’ slice of heaven we call home now.

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When a house has been sitting unused for some time, it’s important to ensure that the tank is inspected for structural integrity as well as emptied and flushed to rid it of previous build-up. This prevents further complications down the road. See! I’m learning things already! Yesterday I knew nothing about septic systems aside from I never wanted to personally clean one and now I know it must be cleaned every 3-5 years. Two things learned today. #crushingit

Every now and again you have those days where nothing really ‘goes to plan’. Despite your meticulous calculations one little bump creates a ripple effect. I don’t suppose I’ll ever view a skipping stone the same again. Anyhow! I watched the cleaning company drive past our home only to see them return a while later. GPS and our home…they don’t get on too well we’ve found. But they made it! …a couple hours later, but they made it!

They set to work and located our septic tank. To those that have never employed this service for your home…these folks work HARD, and I mean HARD.

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Located, dug up, and inspected within 10 minutes! Color me impressed!

In minutes they had the cap dug up and began hooking up their hoses to clean out the system. …and then their truck broke down. …while blocking the driveway.

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Let’s just say that I coped via tours of our home, sharing these little gems with friends and family.

(P.S. A good sense of humor can make everything right again.)

Patience is a virtue. I believe this became my mantra over the next three hours as I waited for them to discover the reason behind their vehicle’s breakdown and then repair it. Hats off, once more, …these folks work HARD.

As we hadn’t moved furniture into the house yet, I elected to fold down the back seats in my Ford and take a nap. It was a nice day out and I didn’t really have anywhere else to sit anyhow. I was awoken to the sound of a loud hissing noise as they had the work truck back on its feet and hoses were a go!

A few hours behind schedule but already forgotten as it seemed we were a mere fifteen minutes away from completion. False. Now that the truck was running, the hoses decided to fail at the junctions that clasp multiple hoses together. So I stood in mute horror watching Lord knows how many years of previous refuse pour out onto our patio.

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What began as a slight leak became an endless flood of thirty year old refuse…

What began as a small leak began to spread until it reached our lawn. Fare thee well, Bermuda grass. *ensue bagpipes*

They could not turn off the valves to their hoses for fear that they would not turn back on and so they proceeded to “fix” the problem by means of the most backwards solution possible … kicking the leaky connector with the heel of a boot. Naturally, this only furthered the problem as the leak began gushing forth.

I believe it was around this time that I walked away, there are just some things amidst home repair and renovation that one can’t watch. I can tell you that the leaky connector was replaced, that they cleaned off my patio and sprayed the lawn with eco-friendly disinfectants however it was a bit disappointing to see how long it took to get us to that point.

All things said and done, the tank was in good working condition and they were able to fully clean out the entirety of the system. We have a functional septic tank now. That’s right, I can use the bathroom WITHOUT fear. While that is amusing, what wasn’t amusing was the joking mention of an outhouse the Mr. mentioned digging.

No, no, and no. I’ll deal with a day of inconvenience to maintain the ability to use our restrooms.

Lawncare Woes

This is the year I’ll finally get a handle on the yard and the garden. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself. I may or may not have said the same thing last year.

When we bought this house, the structure itself wasn’t the only thing in need of TLC. Both yard and garden had been left in somewhat of a disarray. It was clear neither had been tended to in a few years, at least not properly anyway. It’s been an uphill battle against overgrowth, weeds, crabgrass, and crappy soil. Just when I think I’m starting to win, nature throws a curveball and I’m left confused and frustrated.

Last year, I excitedly planted both vegetables and herbs, only to have a critter come and promptly eat everything down to the nubs in a few days. The fence I built came too late for the parsley and cilantro. They made a valiant effort to bounce back from their unexpected haircuts but to no avail, both giving up the ghost early in June. We did manage the save the basil and rosemary, and the lawn did decently well until the July heat hit full force.

Being that we were going to spend at least half of August busy with wedding preparations, I let go and gave into the weeds and crabgrass.

I’m getting an early jump on things this year, in the hopes that I’ll finally be able to wrangle this stubborn beast into submission. I spent an hour this afternoon pruning and thinning down the fruit trees in our back yard. Maybe this will be it and things will finally go the way I’ve planned. Those of you seasoned gardeners who can offer any advice, it would be greatly appreciated.

Here’s to being cautiously optimistic about the 2017 growing season.

Cheers!