Dueling DIY – The Challenger’s Final Update

Six weeks ago, Sarah in Illinois and I started a Dueling DIY challenge. Our mission was to get our gardens in shape for the year through some friendly competition. Today, Sarah’s here with her final update on how she did. To see how we got here, check out all of our previous posts.

I have to admit, when I first made my list of things to finish for the challenge, I thought that I made it too easy on myself.

I saw Julia’s list and thought that I was sure to win.

However, what I learned was: most projects take longer than what I plan for, weather does not care what you have planned, and I procrastinate just as much as I did in high school when doing homework.

So as you can guess from what I have written so far, I did not completely finish everything on my list. But I sure made a valiant effort!

1. Make some kind of designated area (possibly raised bed) for annual vegetables such as asparagus and strawberries.

I call this 90% done. Everything is planted. Asparagus and strawberries are planted, rhubarb is in the ground and seeds and bulbs are planted for my cutting garden.

Raised beds made of barn board

For the borders I used old rough cut barn wood. We have a large pile of old wood out in the barn but I did not find enough long boards. So I am going to have to keep digging to find a couple more boards.

However, I am happy to have the two outside beds defined so that there is no fear of cutting too close with the mower.

2. Neaten and define north flower bed and add mulch.

Clean siding

Nothing new has been done here. Steve and I are debating on whether to buy a couple bags of mulch or dive right in and get a truck load.

Now that he is in the field all hours of the day, we still haven’t made the decision so the mulch didn’t get put on the flower bed. But I am still happy with how this flower bed is filling out.

Hydrangea mid-way through spring

3. Divide mums and spread around deck.

Mums around the edge of the deck

This is the first thing that I finished, and the mums are really taking off.

4. Make a designated gardening area complete with workbench.

This was my favorite project!

Potting bench

We were tearing out a room in our pole barn and so I had the countertop and the top shelf ready. All I had to do was make the framework.

Potting bench

I say that was “all I had to do” but designing the work bench from scratch was time-consuming. I knew I wanted a top shelf and a shelf underneath. I also knew I wanted a place to hang my tools.

Tools hanging on a potting bench

I used mostly older barn wood but a few pieces are newer pine so I used the darkest stain that I had on hand to try to blend the different woods together. I really could not be happier with the finished project!

Potting bench

So here is my final list:

  1. Make some kind of designated area (possibly raised bed) for annual vegetables such as asparagus and strawberries.
  2. Neaten, and define north flower bed and add mulch.
  3. Divide mums and spread around deck.
  4. Make a designated gardening area complete with workbench.

I won’t find out until Julia’s post to see how I fared in this competition, but I’m feeling kind of good about my odds!

I am so happy that we did this challenge. I guarantee if I didn’t have the constant competition in the back of my mind, I would not have gotten as much done as I did.

I would have made excuses about how I was tired, or how I had so many other things to do, and I would have avoided all of the hard work. But I am proud at how much I got done, and I am happy with my progress whether I “win” or not!

(It would be nice to win though!)

Okay. I’m impressed that Sarah can cross everything off her list. And that potting bench is awesome. I’ll be back on Friday with my final post in this Dueling DIY challenge.

Trilliums, trilliums everywhere

The trilliums are out.We see them along the roadsides, at the edge of the fields and–this year–in our front garden.

Last year, I carefully transplanted a couple of plants into the front garden. One of them survived and is blooming this spring.

Transplanted trillium

It’s a bit remarkable to me how many are around the farm. Growing up, I very rarely saw trilliums–Ontario’s official flower–and it was a special occasion when I did.

Trilliums in the woods

Now, even though I see them more regularly, it’s still special. Especially when it’s right outside my front door.

Have you ever successfully transplanted a wildflower into your garden? Do you have any elusive flowers in your area? What’s your state (or provincial) flower?

Dueling DIY Week 5

Five weeks ago Sarah in Illinois and I started a friendly Dueling DIY competition to help us get our gardens in shape. In last week’s update, Sarah was distracted by newborn kittens and falling behind. I gave a fist pump and started to calculate how much farther ahead I could get. But apparently I was counting my kittens before they hatched as the saying goes. With just one week left, I’ve had a setback. Read on to find out what happened and if you want to review the progress we’ve made up to now, you can check out all of the previous posts here.

Let’s start with the bad news first.

#1: In this Dueling DIY challenge, this is all of the cuteness I can offer. Cute absolutely, but perhaps not at the level of Sarah’s kitten cuteness.


Bad news #2: Some of our sprouts aren’t doing so hot. I think it might be a case of damping off. Although some things might be turning around. (More on this below).

Wilted watermelon seedling

And the worst news: We lost a full weekend of work because both Matt and I are sick. I ventured outside at one point and spent 45 minutes lying on the lawn when I felt like I couldn’t stand up anymore. Matt is on antibiotics for throat and ear infections. I’m holding on to my belief that this is just a cold. The amount of time we spent horizontal meant that we didn’t spend time working in the garden. So, so, so incredibly frustrating.

But between the time of my last update and being struck down with this plague, we had accomplished a few things. So there is some good news in this Dueling DIY challenge.

We have a new team member: Colonel Briggs. Short for Briggs and Stratton, our new rototiller. Honestly, Matt’s been wanting an upgrade since we inherited Fairfield. When he brought the Colonel home, he declared that the rototiller couldn’t have just a single name, hence the title.

Matt put the Colonel to work right away, and they’ve tilled half the garden.

(A face shield is not normally necessary for tilling. Matt wanted ear protection, and his chainsaw helmet was closest).

Tilling the garden

We’re thisclose on the raised beds. I have about four timbers left to set–less than 1/8 of the perimeter to go. Then I have to spread the cardboard, layer in the mulch and top them up with dirt.

Raised garden bed made of logs

We had four yards of triple mix delivered, and I’ve filled the raised beds more than half of the way around the garden. I feel I have to say the beds would be completely done if we hadn’t been sick. Argh.

Four yards of topsoil

Despite not being finished with the garden set-up, we’ve already moved on to planting. Three (!) rows of potatoes are in, and we’re not done yet. A new shipment of seed potatoes arrived in the mail yesterday.

Potato shoot

I’ve also planted eight grape vines. I’m so excited about these grapes. Although I fully admit that I have no idea what I’m doing with them. I’m trying to read about pruning and planting and trellising and training. Right now, I’m focusing on watering them and keeping my fingers crossed that they take root. Please share any tips you have.

Freshly planted grape vines

In terms of smaller updates, let’s start with the literally small–the sprouts. As you saw at the top, we’ve had a lot of shriveling and dying. We’re down to just one watermelon out of seven. We lost about half the tomatoes too. I think it was a case of damping off, so I’m giving the watering can a rest.

The sprouts continued to die, but I was very surprised that some new sprouts started popping up as things dried out. We have a new watermelon–our first of the Crimson Sweet variety–and a whole bunch of new tomatoes. I know I’m going to have to separate the sprouts that are doubled (or tripled) up. I’m not sure I can bring myself to pinch out the extra sprouts, but I’m not sure I can keep everyone alive if I try to separate and transplant them. Any advice?

Crimson Sweet watermelon sprout

Pepper and tomato seedlings

The other win is that the raspberries–black and red–are weeded. And the raspberries themselves are spreading like weeds. I’m so pleased with how they’ve settled in.

Young raspberry canes

And if we hadn’t spent our whole weekend horizontal, we would have the trellises set up to support them.


Let’s move on, shall we? We’ll take a look at the original to-do list. Again, I can cross a little bit more off.

  • Hang the gate
  • Edge the garden
  • Build raised beds around the perimeter (more than half done)
  • Build trellises for the raspberries, tomatoes and squashes
  • Start a few seeds indoors
  • Till in the ash, straw and manure (half done)

Only one week to go in this Dueling DIY challenge. Send vitamins.

Forsythia failure

I’m not sure I should even be posting about this, but it’s part of an annual tradition for me and something I like to track, so here goes.

Here is the forsythia out in bloom this year.

Unblooming forsythia

Impressive, n’est-ce pas?

Allow me to look back 4 years to our first spring here.

Forsythia by the drive shed.

Yeah. So apparently we have not been good for the forsythia. Our bushes are doing big fat nothing this year.

After a few years of less than impressive blossoms, I gave it a vicious haircut last spring. It didn’t bounce back the way I hoped. In fact, we have the fewest blooms yet–three. Yes, I counted.

Forsythia blossom

Even the green leaves don’t seem to be as plentiful. Some of the old branches that I trimmed last year have hollow centres. Anyone know if this is a symptom of anything?

Hollow forsythia branch

I’m choosing to believe that the forsythia is still in the process of bouncing back, so maybe new growth will come this year, which will bring more blossoms next year.

A girl can dream, right?

Any ideas of how to convince the forsythia to bloom?

Guess who’s at the door

In a bit of poor planning, a robin has set up her nursery right by our front door. There was already a nest in the yew bush, but it was a bit rundown. We didn’t notice it was being rebuilt until the eggs showed up. Actually, we didn’t notice the eggs either. We noticed the robin exploding from the nest every time we used the door.

Three robin eggs in a nest

The last time we had robins outside the door, it was the back one. It was relatively easy to avoid mama and the nest and the babies.

The front door is a little more challenging.

Three robin eggs in a nest

She sat for a few days, and we managed a couple of entries and exits without spooking her, but we haven’t seen her in a little while, and I think she might have given up on her nest.

I’m not sure how this is going to play out.

Garden Dueling DIY Week 4

Sarah in Illinois and I are in week 4 of our Dueling DIY challenge.We’ve been making slow progress on our gardens (you can check out the progress in our previous posts), but recently Sarah’s attention has been directed elsewhere.

Distractions. It sounds a lot better than: “I am really far behind and worried that Julia may very well win the competition.”

What has me distracted?

Bad weather:

Weather forecast

A full day of shopping at an antique/craft market and then shopping at a HUGE garden center with my mom and my brother’s girlfriend:

Antique shopping

Antique shopping

Plant shopping

My purchases: rhubarb, cucumbers, spaghetti squash, rosemary, parsley, fun flowers and a micro cherry tomato plant. (I can’t wait to see what it produces!)

And then finally a surprise litter of kittens:


I mean, seriously, who can get any work done when you have this to cuddle?


I knew that one of my cats was very likely pregnant and when one day she was noticeably thinner, I started searching. She hid them very well and it took me four days to find them. But now that I have, I can’t stay away. I will be sure to find homes for all of them as soon as they are old enough but until then, I get to love on them!

Thankfully I did take advantage of some beautiful weather the last few days of April, and I made great improvement to the landscaping on the north end of the house. I hand washed the siding to remove all of the green that has been building up.


Dirty siding


Clean siding

My mom gave me two of the roses I had planted when I still lived at home and I transplanted to this bed.


However, until I get some mulch, I can’t mark this off my list. So I hate to admit it, Julia, but I cannot mark a single thing off this week.

  • Make some kind of designated area (possibly raised bed) for annual vegetables such as asparagus and strawberries — Area is tilled and asparagus planted but strawberries need planted and needs border
  • Neaten, and define north flower bed and add mulch — So close!
  • Divide mums and spread around deck
  • Make a designated gardening area complete with workbench

I am very aware of how few days are left in this challenge. So I am going to dig down and find the drive to make these last two weeks count (between kitten snuggles)!

Yawning kitten

Okay. Sarah definitely wins in the cuteness category. And some of the shopping and roses are in the gardening category, even if they’re not on the to-do list. I’m ahead for now. Hopefully it stays that way for the next two weeks.

The highlight of my week

Mother goose and gosling

The highlight of my week happened last Wednesday. I held a brand new baby gosling.

It was just a few seconds, but it was pretty special.

The gosling was outside at my work. His Mom was in the flowerbed above, but he couldn’t make the leap up the ledge. She just stood in the flowerbed and kept calling him, and he kept valiantly trying to leap more than 6 times his own height.

After observing–and (who am I kidding) talking to them–for a few minutes, I decided I would see if Mama would let me touch the baby. I walked over to the ledge, kept a close eye on Mama and made a quick grab. I set baby in the flowerbed, and he and Mama trotted up the hill.

No geese or geese-crazy women were harmed.

Although my geese craziness has reached a new level. I think coop construction just moved up the priority list. I need some birds back in my life.

What was the highlight of your week (or weekend)? Do you have any goslings in your neighbourhood?

A Mother’s Day wish

One day visiting my grandmother, I was in the guest bedroom when I noticed a photo on the dresser. I asked, “Where did you get this black and white photo of me? And where are my bangs?”

She said, “That’s not you. That’s your mother.”

My Mom and me

Browsing old photo albums, I’m occasionally shocked by how much my Mom and I look alike.

I’ve gotten a lot more than just my looks from my mother, and I’ve been thinking about that a bit as we celebrate Mother’s Day this weekend.

No barriers

My mother went to college at the end of the 1960s. She shared the story of walking into her marketing class, and the instructor greeting her with, “Typing’s down the hall, honey.” My Mom didn’t let that stop her. She earned her diploma and started her career–and never learned to type. Seriously, you should watch her write an email.

My Mom was also an avid sewer. Some of her biggest projects were her own wedding dress and several prom dresses for both herself and her daughters. She taught me how to sew, but she also taught me that I can sew, cook, push the lawnmower, work in the garden, paint a room, refinish furniture, speak my mind, manage my money and choose my own path.

Homemade wedding dress


My Mom enjoyed her career, but when she became pregnant with me, she quit her job and became a stay-at-home-mom. She and my Dad decided it was important to her to be present in that way for their kids. Even though I was there, I look back now with a completely different perspective on the situation. I cannot imagine how my Mom held it together as well as she did when she was always on duty for four kids. The experience of having my Mom always there is a really, really formative part of my identity. And she’s still always there.

My family

With my Mom


My parents are truly partners, and that has had a huge influence on my own marriage. They view each other as equals and appreciate each other. My Mom handled a lot of the financials and did whatever was needed for my Dad’s business. My Dad valued how she took care of the house and us kids. Although there were lots of “Mom said no. Let’s go ask Dad” moments, when it came down to it, Mom and Dad were always on the same page. They problem-solve together, share the same values and put their kids first.

My family

My Dad is sick, and my Mom has taken on pretty much everything to do with the house, their lives and his care. So far, I’ve not seen anything my Mom won’t do for him. Sometimes it’s hard for me to accept how much she’s taken on and how little help she’ll accept, but it’s definitely given me new understanding of “for better and for worse.”

Mom and Dad

The biggest thing I got from my Mom is to be true to myself. She may not always understand my decisions, but she’s always on my side.

However, being true to yourself is an area where I sometimes don’t feel like my Mom has given herself the same opportunity that she gave her children. I hope that she has more opportunities to sew, to garden, to fix up the house, to spend time enjoying her children and grandchildren–to do the things that give her joy. That’s my Mother’s Day wish for my Mom.

Garden Dueling DIY Week 3

Sarah in Illinois and I have entered into a friendly competition this spring to help us get our gardens in shape. We’re now at the conclusion of week 3 of this Dueling DIY, and I’m sharing my second update. You can check out all of the previous posts here.

It was just noon on Sunday. I had a long list of things that I wanted to do in the garden, but I was running out of steam. I managed a few more hours before I hobbled retreated indoors. (Sarah, take note that I said the garden claimed a temporary victory. I am not conceding anything yet in this DIY duel).

I still don’t have any dramatic before and after pictures to share yet. But I can report some progress.

The big accomplishment so far is edging the garden.

Our garden is 2,462 square feet, which means, if I’m remembering my geometry formulas correctly, its outer perimeter is roughly 175 feet. Whatever the distance, it felt like it took a very long time to go around the whole outer edge.

Here’s what the edge looked like at the start. Ugh.

Edging a weedy garden

Here’s the progress shot.

Edging the vegetable garden

And here’s the final.

Wood "curbs" to edge a vegetable garden

We used the fence posts (or in the case of the image above, the telephone pole) as “curbs.” I’m hoping they accomplish two things: 1) Keeping weeds out of the garden. 2) Keeping small critters from crawling under the chainlink and into the garden.

Matt cut the fence posts to length with his chainsaw and then we dropped them into the shallow trenches that I’d dug around the perimeter.

Remember this picture from my last update of all of the materials for the garden?

Materials for the garden update

We’re now down to a single pile of posts (and some firewood).

Fence posts

I also made a dent in the lumber part of the pile when I went on a marathon stake making session.

An electric mitre saw is perhaps not a conventional garden tool, but I wanted a lot of stakes.

Cutting garden stakes with a mitre saw

How many stakes? I couldn’t find the energy to count. More than 10 gallons worth.

Pails of garden stakes

The stakes came into play with my plan for the other half of the fence posts: the raised beds.

My plan is to build shallow raised beds just around the outside edge of the garden. These will host asparagus, grapes, rhubarb, sunflowers, and probably beets, lettuce and who knows what else.

Again, I’m using the fence posts as curbs, and I’m holding them in place with the stakes.

Shallow rustic raised vegetable garden beds

After digging my way around the outside of the garden, I have no desire to do more weeding, so I’m giving the lasagna method a try within the raised beds.

I used cardboard for my base layer. (Die weeds, die).

Using cardboard to kill weeds in the vegetable garden

Then I covered that with a layer of straw mulch that has been composting in the garden since last fall. I was surprised how much the straw has broken down already. I think it should be good food for the new beds.

Straw mulch

Four yards of topsoil arrived yesterday morning, so I will top up the beds this weekend.

The raised beds were where I lost my mojo. I had a small sledge for hammering in the stakes, but swinging the hammer over and over (and over and over) was surprisingly tiring. So I’ve made it halfway around the garden.

I know it’s halfway because I’ve marked the centre aisle with our super long rope. The picture below doesn’t look like a lot of progress, but you might be able to see the curbs at the far right waiting to be set in place.

Unfortunately, you’re also able to see all the weeds. Matt got the rototiller running with no trouble, which got us very excited, but as soon as he started to till it stalled. And stalled. And stalled. So frustrating. So the straw and weeds and ash are all still sitting on the soil.

Gardening progress

One place the weeds are gone is in the red raspberry row. Woo-hoo for small victories. (The twine is to mark the row until I get a proper trellis in place).

Raspberry row marked with stakes and twine

A bigger victory is how much the raspberries have expanded. Look at all those little plants. This is going to be good. And the black raspberries next door–while still weedy–also appear quite healthy.

Raspberry sprouts

My usual gardening sidekick is Bax. It was nice to be a trio this weekend thanks to Matt’s help with the fence posts. However, as soon as Matt was done cutting, Bax was more than ready for bro time–indoors. Apparently he’s only interested in gardening if he can work on his tan at the same time. The weather was cloudy and drizzly, and as much as dude likes to pretend he’s an outdoor dog, he’s a fairweather outdoor dog.

Thankfully, Ralph is much tougher than her brother, so she braved the weather to keep me company. And unlike the sunbather, she actually participated, inspecting the raised beds and even assisting with some weeding.

Ralph in the garden

Ralph in the garden

Eventually, though, even I gave in and retreated to the indoors. (Ralph as always stayed outside).

However, there’s still some more progress inside. Tomatoes (Sicilian Saucers) and peppers (a random mix) have sprouted, and I transplanted our tallest watermelon sprouts already.

Watermelon sprouts

We cut our seed potatoes down to isolate individual sprouts, and they’re firmly at the grody stage. We really need to get them in the ground this weekend.

Chitted potato sprouts

The weather forecast is supposed to be bright and warm this weekend, so I have high hopes again for progress and productivity. However, I’m away from the farm a bit (have to remember Mother’s Day) and… guess what… picking up my grapes. I’m excited to have my first vines. Finger crossed I can keep them alive and help them grow the way they’re supposed to.

Before I get to that, though, let’s go back to my original to-do list. I can cross at least a couple more things off.

  • Hang the gate
  • Edge the garden
  • Build raised beds around the perimeter (half done)
  • Build trellises for the raspberries, tomatoes and squashes
  • Start a few seeds indoors
  • Till in the ash, straw and manure

Three weeks to go, Sarah. We’re halfway through this Dueling DIY. Are you going to make it? The garden may have kicked my butt last weekend, but I’m going to be back and better than ever in just a few days. Watch out.

What progress have you made on your spring projects at your house? Any tips for lasagna gardening? Or building raised beds? How about growing grapes? Or keeping a rototiller running? Do you have any furry gardeners at your house?