• About Farm School

    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming, home schooling, and building our own house. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 18/Grade 12, 16/Grade 11, and 14/Grade 10.

    Contact me at becky(dot)farmschool(at)gmail(dot)com

  • Notable Quotables

    "If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
    William Morris, from his lecture "The Beauty of Life"

    "‘Never look at an ugly thing twice. It is fatally easy to get accustomed to corrupting influences."
    English architect CFA Voysey (1857-1941)

    "The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead."
    Clarence Day

    "Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing."

    "Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend."
    Sir Francis Bacon, "Essays"

    "The chief aim of education is to show you, after you make a livelihood, how to enjoy living; and you can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning."
    Gilbert Highet, "The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning"

    "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."
    Walter Wriston

    "I'd like to give you a piece of my mind."
    "Oh, I couldn't take the last piece."
    Ginger Rogers to Frances Mercer in "Vivacious Lady" (1938)

    "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."
    Booker T. Washington

    "Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
    Attributed to Groucho Marx in "The Groucho Letters" by Arthur Sheekman

    "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me."
    Alice Roosevelt Longworth

    "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."
    Jean Hagen as "Lina Lamont" in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
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  • Copyright © 2005-2016 Please do not use any of my words or my personal photographs without my express permission.

Glowing, glimmering greenhouse

A few night shots with the solar-powered fairy lights (with little grapevine globes) from Home Hardware, and the Ikea Solvinden solar-powered lanterns. I couldn’t find a link at Home Hardware for the fairy lights, but they look similar to these at Target, though my string is twice as long. And I bought our Ikea lights at the end of the summer several years ago, so they were considerably less than $12.99 CAN ($9.99 in the US) each.

The lights aren’t that bright since it wasn’t completely dark yet. But it doesn’t get completely dark here now until close to 11 pm, and my own battery runs out long before that. But now that the days are getting shorter (sob…), I should have more pictures before too long.


Yes, we have no bananas

In fact we do. Or we have the potential to have them. As I wrote to Lynne below, I am now the proud owner of a small banana tree, a “Musa gran nain” (large dwarf, which seems worryingly indecisive), which grows to six-eight feet and produces “large heads [I imagine they mean hands] of delicious fruit”. Though perhaps not on the Prairies. It’s apparently the Chiquita banana cultivar, so I may take to calling myself Carmen and singing in the greenhouse. We ran to town to deliver eggs and run some other errands, and stopped in at the one greenhouse closing up for the season. They have an unusually large number of banana plants, and I can’t imagine that there are many more foolish types about in zone 2b.  So I thought I’d best take the nicest one home to prevent it from getting composted shortly.

:: One useful tidbit I’ve picked up — I know Sheila said she likes the terracotta pots, but for all of the larger edibles, I’ve gone with black injection-molded plastic nursery pots, a number of which I’d saved from previous year’s large perennial, shrub, and fruit tree purchases. And the rest of which I got, for free, by asking nicely at the local nursery which does a lively landscaping business.  Some of the pots are tub-size and quite large, just perfect for a big tomato, pumpkin, or a couple of cucumber plants, or a banana. Also, plastic retains moisture better than terracotta. And best of all, it keeps the used pots out of the dump/landfill station.

:: I had just about forgotten that the local decommissioned CN caboose, placed decoratively in the park, is a sort of library (take a book and bring it back, or take one and bring another), quite handy for those camping out in the park with their trailers. The young son of a friend reminded me last night while we were there for a picnic, and while poking through the offerings I found Monty Python’s Just the Words, volumes 1 and 2 in one big fat book (much like this). I thought it would be just perfect for tipi-reading on warm summer days, lounging about in the shade,

Around the garden (in front of the house, by the deck):

Greenhouse school

[I am warning you now — if you aren’t in the slightest interested in gardening or greenhouses, click away fast. What follows are proud parent photos, but I’m worse than any proud parent because I never submitted anyone I know other than my husband and both sets of our parents to pictures of our adorable babies. But my plant photos I’m putting on my blog for all to see. I am truly besotted.]

My latest educational endeavor: figuring out the ins and outs of my new greenhouse, which is a grand adventure for all of us.  The boys helped build it, Davy has his tomatoes started from seed growing in it, Laura has two pumpkin plants and three ground cherries growing in there, and Daniel helps me attach various things to the walls. The greenhouse is part zoo (we’ve found everything from flies, bees, dragonflies, butterflies and moths, and one lost hummingbird in there), part vegetable garden, part flower garden, part school (we are all learning lots), and part mental health clinic, for me at least. I smile when I see it, I smile when I’m in it.  And I have a hard time leaving it, especially to make meals for other people.

UPDATED to add some greenhouse book links at the bottom of the post, for Jane at Read, Learn, and be Happy who commented below.

I promised Sheila some pictures quite some time ago, so here they are:

The greenhouse, now situated between the back of the house and our cattle pasture. The floor for the moment is plywood, on skids, just a temporary arrangement until we build the new house and get the greenhouse situated over there. Definitely not until at least next summer, quite possibly/probably the summer after. The permanent floor at the permanent location will be concrete or gravel,

Tom built the benches out of plywood, just something quick. We had planned to get something like the Dura-Bench panels, especially after finding out about the more easily obtainable (at least in this part of the world) poultry flooring, but all of a sudden the greenhouse was finished, pulled behind the house with the tractor, and open for business.  And I needed benches. This is the the view on the left, starting with an Early Girl tomato, bought started at the nursery about 12″ high, but going great guns,

I ran a double piece of twine from the leg behind the tomato up to one of the trusses, since the tomato has surpassed the tomato cage,

Davy’s unidentified heirloom tomatoes, started from seed saved from his favorite plant last summer, on top of the center table (one bell pepper at far left), and various squashes and tomatoes (and one pot of scarlet runner beans, bottom left) on the floor,

The scarlet runner beans never have leaves this large when grown outdoors in the ground,

Behind the tomatoes, Laura’s ground cherries, which I started from seed,

To the right of the door, some herbs on the bench (several different basils, cilantro, lavendar, rosemary), and Laura’s gallivanting pumpkin; the heater, which thankfully hasn’t been needed for several weeks, is at far right,

Laura’s pumpkin down below,

The shade-loving plants — fern, ivies, fuchsia — live under the bench,

Back to the left side of the greenhouse, on the bench. A few strawberry pots (and one teeny tiny avocado seed). There are berries on the plants and one is getting awfully ripe; the main benefit about growing strawberries inside is avoiding the marauding, starving robins and gophers, who love the berries as much as we do,

Black-eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia alata) blooming in same pot with not-yet blooming canary bird vine (Tropaeolum perearinum), started from seed, on the same tuteur found at Winners (Canadian version of TJ Maxx). I very briefly considered spray painting the tuteur black, then came to my senses and realized that once the vines start growing, it doesn’t matter what color it is. Both vines are growing so quickly that once in the morning and once in the evening I need to tuck the “escaped” ends in and around,

Laura’s Gerbera daisy, which she picked out at Wal-Mart. I have no shame. This one is great fun to watch, the flowers start as small green buttons, then slowly the stem lengthens and unfurls and bloom turns upwards, pinkens, and opens to several times the size of the original button. And very easy to water, because it lets you know by getting slightly, but obviously, limp, rather like a tired Southern belle.  Just add water,

Dragonwing begonia, which Laura, who came to the nursery with me, did not like. I’m glad I have veto power,

Variegated purple ornamental pepper plant, just picked up at the nursery on sale because it was on sale and also needed adopting,

Canna lily, rescued from Home Depot last week (I know, I know, it’s a sickness). Just began to bloom yesterday,

This is my lophospermum “Wine Red” vine; not much to look right now at but I’m terribly pleased with it since I, with my mother-in-law’s help for four months, managed to overwinter it. And as of March I didn’t think it would make it or, if it did, amount to very much, since the leaves on the middle section of the vine — only about a foot long in total — were drying up and turning yellow.  Even now, the middle section is a little dry and spare, but there are lovely new leaves at each end. This is the very first bloom since last summer,

Firecracker vine (Manettia luteorubra) and another (also not-yet blooming) canary bird vine, on another, larger tuteur from Winners,

Castor bean plant. I’ve wanted one of these for a while but didn’t know how it would hold up to our climate. The green strip on the plastic wall is masking tape so I can mark the plant’s growth, which has been rapid.  I wasn’t expecting the funky inflorescence quite so soon,

Some of the geraniums I overwintered, and at far right a hanging basket I rescued from the great outdoors after three days of rain and wind,

A mandevilla I found last week, on sale for $5 (with some lobelia I planted in front). The nursery kept cutting back the mandevilla to keep it under control, so it has three or four stems, all of which have blooms now. I found some bits of lattice left over from our deck, and nailed them to the studs. Mandevillas are the kind of plants I’ve never been able to grow before, without the greenhouse, since the summers, especially the evenings, just don’t get warm enough,

Another, um, mandevilla, rescued two days after the first from Home Depot. And marked down considerably ($8) and considerably longer than the other mandevilla. I had to do surgery on the cheap plastic trellis it came with, and around which it was wound with a vengeance,

Blooms coming,

Cosmos with sweet potato vine in the “infirmary”; the sweet potato vines were badly damaged by frost at the of last month, even in the greenhouse (Tom and I found it was -2 C in there at 5 am when we arrived to turn on the heater) but are making a good comeback,

Right side of the greenhouse, looking toward the door,

While I was taking pictures, a moth landed nearby (can you see it, in the middle of the picture?),

Heading out. That’s a water tank you can see on the back of the tractor. And the step stool is one of the things we brought back from my parents’ apartment.  For years it sat in the kitchen, under the telephone, and it’s where we sat while talking. It’s in remarkably good shape considering its age (close to 50 years, like me), and the fact that it made the trip home in the back of our pickup truck in January, since there was no room left in the cargo trailer. That chair and another, an old rush one, were piled up high in the back a la Beverly Hillbillies, and I suspect it’s the main reason we didn’t have to worry about theft from the truck and trailer overnight in parking lots. I’m sure people thought we were hauling our nearly worthless possessions about, judging from the junky-lookingpile in the back of the pickup.

I found small solar-powered fairy lights with round wicker covers on sale at Home Hardware, and finally put the three Ikea solar-powered white lanterns I’ve been saving for a few years to good use.  When it’s finally dark, around 10:30 pm now, it looks lovely in the greenhouse,

If you’re still here, thanks for indulging me!

BOOK LINKS, from my previous post:

Greenhouse Gardener’s Companion by Shane Smith, illustrated by Marjorie Leggitt; as soon as I saw Ms. Leggitt’s lovely cover, I knew this was the book for me, since I am planning on putting a comfortable chair near the door for surveying my new domain. Underneath the pretty pictures, full over very practical and useful advice.

The Greenhouse Gardener by Anne Swithinbank, which also goes by the title The Conservatory Gardener, and which I had to buy from Book Depository because it’s no longer in print in Canada though apparently so in the US.

Paradise Under Glass: An Amateur Creates a Conservatory Garden by Ruth Kassinger. Not only an account of the building of her conservatory garden in Maryland, but also a history of green- and glasshouses.

Eliot Coleman’s The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses; I’ve long been a fan of EC. Definitely more useful for those in more temperate climes.

As I wrote last month, am once again reminded by Cicero’s quote over on the left, “Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing.”

Successful rhetoric, and a Godine garden of fresh possibilities and rediscoveries

Back in March, I wrote about a new book, Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric by Ward Farnsworth, a professor at the Boston University School of Law, which had recently received a strong review in The Wall Street Journal.  As I wrote, “from everything I’ve read, it’s a very good and useful book indeed, especially for classical home schooling types who enjoy their grammar, logic, and rhetoric.”

Now comes a June 2 article from Publisher’s Weekly on the success of the book:

That a book on classical rhetoric could sell well enough to go into multiple printings even surprised its publisher, David Godine of the eponymous Boston-based [and independent] press, David R. Godine Publishers [which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2010]. Initially, he doubted whether Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric by Boston University School of Law professor Ward Farnsworth could sell out its first printing of 4,000 hardcovers. After all it’s filled with terms like litotes, avoiding making a claim directly; erotema, a question that doesn’t require an answer; and anaphora, repetition at the start. But since its late December release, the book has gone back to press twice for a total of 12,000 copies in print. It’s in the top 100 at Amazon for both Education and Reference, words and language.

“When I signed this thing I thought I was doing this guy a favor. And it turns out he’s doing me a favor,” says Godine, who was approached by Farnsworth to publish the book. Since then the press had one of its biggest sales days in its 41-year history for a single title for Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric when Michael Dirda’s review ran in the Washington Post. “Should you buy Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric?,” Dirda asked, unrhetorically. “If you’re at all interested in the techniques of writing, yes.”

Farnsworth, who became interested in rhetoric as a Latin student, has continued to study and teach rhetoric as part of his work as a law professor. The book is structured around repetition of words and phrases, structural matters, and dramatic devices. Each rhetorical terms within those areas is illustrated with examples from Shakespeare, Dickens, Paine, Churchill, Lincoln, and other writers and speakers. “We live in a time when most books about writing are largely about how to make prose simpler,” says Farnsworth. “I agree that simplicity is probably the most important virtue in a writer. But when you read speech and writing that has stood the test of time, you realize that its authors understood much more about their craft than the typical modern book on writing ever explains.”

While reviews continue to come in six months after its release, sales for Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric got a kick start when the Wall Street Journal jumped pub date by a couple months and ran a review three days before Christmas. “The most immediate pleasure of this book is that it heightens one’s appreciation of the craft of great writers and speakers. . . . But more than anything Mr. Farnsworth wants to restore the reputation of rhetorical artistry per se, and the result is a handsome work of reference.” In addition, Farnsworth has appeared on several radio shows, including “The Hugh Hewitt Show” in Los Angeles. Godine hopes to keep sales rolling through father’s day for the dad who never got the classical education he wanted.

The Dirda review from last month’s WaPo is here.

*  *  *

Some other gems, new and old, from the David Godine catalogue:

:: For Canadians and northerners at heart, a very good and useful book for nature studies, Bright Stars, Dark Trees, Clear Water: Nature Writing from North of the Border, edited by Wayne Grady; featuring the words of John James Audubon, Henry Beston, John Burroughs, Gretel Ehrlich, Florence Page Jaques, Barry Lopez, Peter Matthiessen, Farley Mowat, John Muir, Grey Owl, Roger Tory Peterson, Ernest Thompson Seton, Henry David Thoreau, Catharine Par Traill, Walt Whitman.

:: DRG’s gorgeous children’s and young adult titles, including

Daniel Carter Beard’s books

The new Miss Etta and Dr. Claribel: Bringing Matisse to America by Susan Fillion

David Weitzman’s books: Rama and Sita: A Tale from Ancient Java, Superpower: The Making of a Steam LocomotiveThrashin’ Time: Harvest Days in the Dakotas  

Not to mention family favorites Mary Azarian, Edward Ardizzone, Ring of Bright WaterStudy Is Hard Work, and Swallows & Amazons

:: For adults and older readers:

The Superior Person’s Field Guide: to Deceitful, Deceptive & Downright Dangerous Language by Peter Bowler, illustrated by Leslie Cabarga; and other Bowler books

Noel Perrin, Noel Perrin, Noel Perrin

Henry Beston, Henry Beston, Henry Beston, Henry Beston

Will Cuppy

A Year with Emerson: A Daybook, selected & edited by Richard Grossman, with wood engravings by Barry Moser (psst — a steal of a deal in paperback for $10)

:: For foodies:

Elizabeth David

Bemelmans (beyond Madeline…)

The Kitchen Book & The Cook Book by Nicolas Freeling (beyond the murder mysteries…)

:: For music lovers:

Easy to Remember: The Great American Songwriters and Their Songs for Broadway Shows and Hollywood Musicals by William Zinsser

:: For gardeners and naturalists:

The Once & Future Gardener: Garden Writing from the Golden Age of Magazines, 1900-1940, edited by Virginia Tuttle Clayton

Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!: Notes from a Gloucester Garden by Kim Smith

Songs to Birds by Jake Page, illustrated by Wesley Bates. From DRG’s description: “Jake Page is one of those rare and refreshing naturalists with a palpable gift for writing. Here he concentrates, more or less, on his favorite subjects: birds. And in these essays, they are presented in every stripe, the swaggering starlings, the querulous gulls, kingbirds, blackbirds, and crows. But birds only provide the skeletons upon which Page hangs the real meat of the pieces: how animals behave with each other, with us, and with the world at large. His real story is how life evolves and interacts, how ponds gradually support an ecosystem, how birds migrate, how animals communicate (even how toads copulate).  Page asks questions and gives answers with a marvelous wit and the curiosity of a humanist and the insight of a scientist. It is this combination of his scientific curiosity and his ability to express himself so stylishly that makes him a writer of such charming felicity. His is a mind of uncontrolled inquiry, one attuned to the natural (and often unnatural) world around him, a sensiblity that delights us with is intelligence and insight.”

:: For typography types 

And last but not least, the Words & Humor category, perhaps my favorite.

That should keep you busy.  I can’t mention, or even read, all the books, but maybe between us we can give it a good try!

Miss Mason meets the Mitfords

The other month Book Depository sent along my copy of Wait for Me!, the memoirs of Deborah Devonshire, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, though on the cover, the author is styled as Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire. Born in 1920, Debo is the youngest and last surviving of the celebrated, often notorious, and always entertaining Mitford Sisters and the one-time, long-time chatelaine of Chatsworth House, on which construction first began in 1552.

I’ve long been a fan of her writing, even before my marriage brought me to chickens and into what used the be the local Chatsworth school district (many English settlers here once upon a time); we can see the old Chatsworth one-room school building, now converted into a grainery by one of our neighbors, from our kitchen window.  Last year I read her volume of letters with Patrick Leigh Fermor, one of my favorite writers and one of her dearest friends. I couldn’t bear to wait until the end of this month, at the earliest, for the Canadian publication of Wait for Me!.

Anyway, I had just started the book, when lo and behold, up popped Charlotte Mason [I’ve added some links]:

The years at Asthall [the family home] passed in a haze of contentment from my point of view.  I was aware of The Others buy they were so old and seemed and seemed to Decca (Jessica, my daily companion [only three years older]) and me to be of another world.  It was not until later that I got to know them.  Unity, next up in age from Decca and not yet in the schoolroom, made her huge presence felt but, although always kind to me, she was not an intimate. Our life in the nursery consisted of the daily round, the common task, secure and regular as clockwork.

At the age of five we started lessons with Muv [Mother], who followed the admirable Parents’ National Education Union (PNEU) system with its emphasis on learning through direct contact with nature and good books and its disapproval of marks, prizes, rewards and exams.  She taught us reading, writing and sums, and read us tales form the famous children’s history book, Our Island Story. She was a natural teacher and never made anything seem too difficult. At the age of eight, I moved on to the schoolroom and a governess (trained at the PNEU’s Ambleside College) and never enjoyed lessons again.

And from the previous page, also on the subject of education:

With foresight, or perhaps by luck, Farve [Father] converted the barn a few yards from the house into one large room with four bedrooms above and added a covered passage, ‘the cloisters’, to connect the two buildings. [Brother] Tom and the older sisters lived in the barn, untroubled by grown-ups or babies, and made the most of their freedom. My father, who was famous for having read only one book, White Fang, which he enjoyed so much he vowed never to read another, entrusted Tom, aged ten, with the task of choosing which books to keep from the Batsford [another family home, which had to be sold] library. Nancy and Diana later sad that if they had any education, it was due to the unrestricted access they had to Grandfather’s books at Asthall.

I laughed out loud.  I can’t imagine a more ringing endorsement for White Fang!

Before you might dismiss Debo as a duchess swanning about an estate, you have to understand that when she married her husband Andrew in 1940, it was with the understanding that she was marrying the second son of the then-Duke of Devonshire.  She and Andrew rightfully expected that his brother, William, would inherit the title and Chatsworth House. But when William was killed in action in World War in 1944, Andrew became the heir. He inherited the title and the pile in 1950, when his father died. He also inherited a pile of inheritance taxes, some £7 million, amounting to nearly 80 percent of the value of the estate (or  (£179 million, or US $293 million, as of 2011). But it was primarily through his wife’s efforts that the estate was repaired, opened to the public, and became self-supporting (it is quite the going concern, one of England’s top tourist attractions). The Duke’s obituary in The Telegraph pointed out that while their marriage was a happy one, “for many years they were often apart” — “the Duke tended to prefer their house in Mayfair” while the Duchess lived at Chatworth, where she has been a very busy woman.  She was instrumental in the estate’s preservation, and in its promotion and expansion, with the additions of a maze, kitchen, cottage gardens and several commissions of modern sculpture. DD is also, as you can see from her writing, modest and self-effacing, and has a soft spot in her heart for Elvis Presley and chickens.

Debo has written that she’s not much of a reader, but that hasn’t stopped her from writing.  Some of her delightful prose, often with gorgeous pictures:

Chatsworth: The House; not just a lovely coffee table book, but a comprehensive record of the efforts to save the estate from rack, ruin, and taxes

The Garden at Chatsworth (1999)

Counting My Chickens and Other Home Thoughts (2002); out of print

The Chatsworth Cookery Book (2003); from her introduction: “I haven’t cooked since the war. I hoped this would be the title of this book, but it was not well looked on by others. However, it is true and I am all for the truth. I told my old friend, the hairdresser from Chesterfield, that in spite of this lack of practical experience I planned to write a cookery book. He told his wife. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘that’s rich. It’s like a blind woman driving down the M1’.”

In Tearing Haste: Letters Between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor (2008), edited by Charlotte Mosley

Home to Roost . . . and Other Peckings (2009)

Wait for Me!… Memoirs of the Youngest Mitford Sister (2010)

Coming in September: All in One Basket, a collection of Home to Roost and Counting My Chickens