• 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."
    Cicero

    "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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Grow where you are planted

Most years I plant sunflowers, though there are always a number of volunteers, thanks to all of Laura’s bird feeders around the yard. This spring there were even more, despite the cool spring temperatures but maybe because of all the rain we had until the end of July. I transplanted a bunch to the former strawberry beds south of the house, so there were several rows of beautiful sunflowers.

We realized last week that, thanks to the birds, some of the sunflowers made it beyond our yard — one is blooming across the road, in the neighbor’s pasture, where the pipeline project still has some soil to re-grade. It makes me smile every time I go by.

And completely unrelated, we’re off to see the RCMP Musical Ride. It’s our third time — the provinces are all on a four-year rotation (much like The Well-Trained Mind), and next time they come around, we may be madly off in all directions…

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Summer snapshots

A bit late, but a few photos from my summer. No hail this year for the first time in three years, thank goodness, but very dry and lots of hungry voles.

The garden and a number of my containers were full of sunflowers, none of which I planted — all came thanks to Laura’s birds and the birdfeeders full of sunflower seeds,

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The boys’ new projects. The goal is lamb chops,

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Much too much

Last Tuesday evening we had 4″ of rain in two hours at our house, and close to 6″ at our corrals. The most rain in the shortest time most people around here have ever seen. For the past few days we’ve had temperatures around 30 C, which wouldn’t be that bad if the house weren’t geared toward keeping the heat in rather than out, and if we didn’t have all sorts of weeding to do in the hot sun. The greenhouse was still 100 F at 9 pm tonight. Not a good combination with hot flashes.

We started on our first cut of hay a few days ago, the boys cut all the alfalfa and tomorrow they’ll be ready to start raking and baling. We’re under the gun to get it done because we have a last-minute trip to NYC — the office is moving after 22 years in its current space, and there are still things from my parents (and from almost 50 years ago) to sort through, discard, and give away. We’ll be there a week, and the kids will be manning the hand truck, taking boxes of books and other things to the thrift store several blocks away. Unfortunately, while I think this week has been fairly pleasant in NYC, it looks like next week will be in the 90s. But I’ve been able to promise the kids considerably more air conditioning than we have here. Not the best time of year to remove ourselves from the farm and work, but the only time available between now and September, when the office gets packed up. We’re staying on the Upper West Side as usual, between Fairway and Zabar’s, and will have a kitchenette (and also laundry facilities), so we’re looking forward to quick and easy meals, augmented by nearby Chinese restaurants and hamburgers and shakes at the Shake Shack. The kids are campaigning for on one lobster meal (from Fairway, which sells and also steams them). There’s also apparently a new Trader Joe’s in the neighborhood; we enjoyed the one near our hotel in Washington, DC several years ago (though the line-up to pay was crazy), but that was in Foggy Bottom with only the sad Watergate Safeway for competition.

I’m taking advantage of the situation to order some things we have trouble getting up here — cheap reading glasses, cheap bras, French baking powder, and perfume, which Canada Post considers “dangerous/flammable goods” (living where I do, perfume choices are limited if you’d prefer to smell like vintage decants rather than like JLo, Jessica Simpson, or Pink Sugar). I don’t know how much time or energy we’ll have for any entertainment/cultural activities in the evenings, but it would be fun to take the kids to watch and listen to one evening of Midsummer Night Swing at Lincoln Center.

Laura is off to the Long Point Bird Observatory in Ontario again in August, this time for a month, to work as an intern, helping with the migration monitoring and working on her own research project, a Monarch butterfly census to see if the numbers recorded in Mexico in December hold up at this end. She’s been very busy with all of her bird stuff, keeping up with her bird blog, starting another blog for our naturalist society, working on her Young Birder of the Year projects, fundraising for Bird Studies Canada with a birdathon. By the way, if you live in Canada and are interested in both bird conservation and donating to a good cause, Laura is gratefully accepting any and all donations until the end of July via her birdathon page at BSC. Thank you and apologies for this bit of fundraising / advertising, which I tend to be allergic to in real and blog life.

The garden is going great guns, though the extremes of dry heat followed by moist heat have provided a bug buffet, and a boon for funguses and such. The powdery mildew is enjoying itself tremendously on the pumpkins, sigh.

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A bowl of succulents — perennial hens-and-chicks I’ll transplant into the garden at the end of the summer,

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A red begonia with creeping jenny,

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A hosta about to bloom,

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The Virginia creeper sneaking up on a chair,

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Mexican giant hyssop (Agastache mexicana “Acapulco”); the hummingbird and bees just love this, probably because it smells like citronella,

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Lilac season

Laura took these for me the other day. The lilacs are finally in bloom.

I checked some old posts and was surprised to realize most of these we planted seven years ago, in May 2006; I wrote then that “Most of the little saplings don’t look like much, especially the lilac, larch, and chokecherries, which resemble nothing more than twigs stuck in the ground.” Some of the lilacs, and all of the larch, tower over us now, but the lilacs are covered with blossoms, so I can get to them easily with my snips.

You could give me any plant in the world, but the two to which I have the most visceral reaction, the two which say spring to me, are tulips and lilacs. Though clematis is now up there too, one of the first plants to bloom in the garden, especially with the success of Clematis “Blue Bird” (a Canadian hybrid), which I rescued from a Canadian Tire last year mid-summer and which is doing very well, and quite pretty.

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Daybook

Outside my window…

the garden is dead. We had the first killing frost last night, -6 Celsius (it was -10 at my inlaws’ house). The sweet peas, cosmos, clematis, lavatera, sunflowers, rudbeckia, and even the zinnias under sheets (had we known it would be lower than -1, we would have used two layers) are all gone. I moved much from the greenhouse into the house, and it looks sad in the greenhouse now. But the kitchen looks like a florist’s shop, and the banana plant is wondering why it’s in the living room.

I am thinking…

how quickly the cold weather came on, after 30+ temps last week, though it has been autumn here for the past month.

I am thankful…

that Tom got the propane heater late last night for the greenhouse, when we realized the thermometer wasn’t finished moving at -2.

for a warm oven, containing peach cobbler.

From the learning rooms…

we are doing a quick run-through the 20th century before beginning another cycle of ancient history. We are focusing on the perils of populism, in the 20th century, and now.

We watched “All Quiet on the Western Front”, the version with John Boy. We are bouncing around a bit, based on what’s available and when from the library. Next up is the 1998 Disney movie “Miracle at Midnight”, about the Nazi occupation of Denmark in WWII, starring Sam Waterston and Mia Farrow.

In the kitchen…

more dill pickles, and canning peaches.

I am wearing…

an apron, and longer pants, because it’s cold in the house. I finally succumbed and turned on the furnace this morning.

I am creating…

good food and small skeptics.

I am going…

to town quickly to pick up a parcel with Laura’s newest voice book for lessons, and batteries for her camera.

I am wondering…

how to fit all my greenhouse plants in the house.

I am reading…

Elle DecorTraditional Home, and Noel Streatfeild’s Saplings, which though terribly sad goes well with our history readings (writing in The Guardian, Sarah Waters called it “A study of the disintegration of a middle-class family during the turmoil of the Second World War”).

Also, new from the library, 101 Things I Hate About Your House by James Swan, and How to Write a Sentence, and How to Read One by Stanley Fish.

I am hoping…

I have enough Ziploc bags on hand for the sliced peaches.

I am looking forward to…

cabinets in the dining room. We may have found some at Home Depot, the sort you can pick up in boxes and walk out of the store with. As long as everything is in stock, which is the rub.

And at Ikea on the weekend, we managed to get the long out-of-stock Numerar butcherblock countertops for the dining room. They’re oak, which I wouldn’t want for a kitchen, but for the dining room they’re fine.  The plan is for base cabinets on the east and west walls, topped with the butcherblock countertops, and then open shelving on the walls.

I am hearing…

the hum of the furnace. Very odd after so long without it. The kids were delighted, and ran to the registers with quilts.

Around the house…

there are plants, fruit, and vegetables in every spare nook and cranny.

I am pondering…

Professor Helen Zoe Veit’s editorial in favor of a return to Home Economics in the classroom, originally published in The New York Times. From which:

One of my favorite things…

peach cobbler

A few plans for the rest of the week:

Laura has her second babysitting engagement, which she finds thrilling.  Putting together the Ikea sideboard, which will be our under-the-chalkboard table, since it is not too deep. I may have the kids sand the sideboard, so I can stain it, because it’s a light pine which doesn’t go with much in the kitchen. And possibly painting the chalkboard, which is an old school board and green. Am thinking black might be a nice change.

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):