A Chestnut Wreath

fall tree

Autumn is very late this year – the trees are just starting their annual decorating.   I remember gazing out at this tree when I was in grade eight, as my desk was close to the window.   While the teacher would be droning on about some uninteresting subject, I would be rejoicing in the glorious fall colors.   We used to play soccer in the field after school, kicking the ball around under a canopy of orange and gold.   It is still standing, although the other trees are gone, made way for a parking lot.    I still get the pleasure of looking at it when I walk, I think of it as my tree, even though we are both a bit the worse for wear after forty plus years.   

Chestnut trees are also a fall favorite of mine.   My grandmother’s farm had chestnut trees in one of the fields and every Thanksgiving (Canadian, so mid-October), my little brother and I, brave but ready to run at the first sign of a big dumb cow, would gather them up and then use them to build fields for his barn set  – what fun we had lining them up as fences for his toy animals.  As a young girl who was horse-crazy, their glossy finish always reminded me of a chestnut mare or the sleek racehorses we would see at the fall fair.    We have two giant chestnut trees in front of our library so when you go inside to pick up your books, you’d better beware lest you be boinked on the head by a falling chestnut.    Last year one of the librarians displayed a chestnut wreath she had made on the checkout desk.  She emailed me the instructions, but I was too late, so this year I was prepared and gathered up several baskets after the first windstorm. 

chestnuts

 First I shellacked them with a coat of  acrylic varnish to maintain the shine, as they will dry out quickly.    I raided my mothers art cupboard and used a spray can, which was quick and easy but you might get a more even application by painting it on.   I did this a few days ahead of time to let it dry.  

acrylic finish

straw wreath

Next I took a ten inch straw wreath, (but any size would do, I started small to experiment, but hers was quite large and impressive), and wrapped it tightly with some nice decorating tape.   Make sure any loose ends are secured with straight pins, as you don’t want it unraveling after the glue is on. 

wreath supplies

Then using the trusty old glue gun, attach the chestnuts in any pattern you wish.  I must admit my first attempt was not perfect, as I have too much spacing between some of them.   When collecting it is better to find chestnuts of different sizes and some with flat bottoms for odd spaces.   The librarian had filled in the holes in between with Spanish moss, but after googling I found others have used small acorns to fill up the spaces.    I prefer mine having the pretty decorating tape showing through.   

chestnut wreath

It could be hung up with wire, but is fairly heavy so a table wreath with a candle in the middle is a nice option.   I decided to place mine on a wicker tray and added some bows in the corner and some fairy lights.  

chestnut wreath

You could use this for a centerpiece for American Thanksgiving, and then swap out the bows for something Christmasy.    These are not the kinds of chestnuts you roast on an open fire however, as these are horse chestnuts, which are toxic to humans and animals.   (The difference is in the shells, smoother vs spikier and the point). 

horse chestnuts

horse chestnuts

Total cost – around $10 – $4 for the straw wreath, $4 for the ribbon (with Michael’s coupon), glue sticks, chestnuts free for the taking.   All told it took me less than two hours to make, so this would be a nice idea for hosting a tea/craft afternoon.  

Since the weather is cooler now and more conductive to baking, I made Date Nut Loaf, using the recipe from my farm cooking bible. 

date nut loaf

This is a quick and nutritious tea bread – buy the bite sized dates to save time.

If you are interested in more fall decorating on the cheap, check out last years (unpublished) blog, Autumn Decor, for some dollar store finds. 

Book of the Day:

For more decorating ideas and recipes, see the Susan Branch book – Autumn from the Heart of the Home (published in 2004), for typical New England (Martha’s Vineyard) fare, or check out her website and sign up for her free monthly newsletters….they are always a cheerful read.  

Autumn from the Heart of the HomeAutumn from the Heart of the Home by Susan Branch

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a big fan of anything Susan Branch, this book one of my favorites. I re-read it every year to get in the mood for the season, for the inspiration, the decorating tips and the yummy recipes.   Let the leaves fall….it’s time to get cozy.

 

After the Harvest

After the Harvest – An Update on the Potager plus what to do with a twelve pack of snakes.     

I had high hopes for The Potager back in June, but there may have been a reason my dad planted his garden in the corn field where it could sprawl among the rows of corn.    Sprawl is the key word here.   My potager was a testament to good soil, it was so prolific, but then it was a hot humid summer with lots of rain, ideal conditions for a rain forest. 

potager before

Where are the monkeys?

 It rained every weekend, and during the week, every few days in fact.    This made the mosquitoes plentiful, and some new species of tiny black bug called no-see-ums appeared and left bites which itched for days.    I had never seen a no-see-um before, but they left a lasting legacy of scratch marks.   I gave up and refused to go out.   Luckily, I did not have to water as Mother Nature did it for me, even as she left us bereft of any beach days. 

The romaine lettuce was bountiful, and after the first crop, I replanted and it was bountiful too. 

romaine lettuce

Three cucumbers sprouted from the small-garden plant, just the right amount for a Greek salad, with some tomatoes if only I could  find them, and when I did find them, many had split from too much rain.  

cucumber

The tomatoes threatened to strangle everything so in early August I gave it a haircut.   By mid-Sept it had grown back, requiring a regular trim every 4 to 6 weeks.  

I untangled the sole squash, mistakenly uprooting it’s lifeline, and leaving the fruit to wither on the vine.   Not deterred, it re-blossomed, producing a final harvest of five smallish orbs.  

squash

I was anxiously awaiting the arrival of the multi-colored carrots, and so were the bunnies.    We were both disappointed.     

While the tops were luxurious, the carrots were sparse, spindly and white, (and maybe useful for the Simply White Dinner).   They say you reap what you sow, except I planted three seed potatoes, and got two.The Harvest

In mid-October (no frost yet, leaves barely changing), I dug up the rest of the russet gems.  Not bad for a first crop, but hardly enough to get me through the winter like my Irish ancestors. potatoes

Luckily the orange carrots were plentiful, if somewhat deformed from being crammed into too small a space.    The bunnies were delighted, as God is my witness, they would never go hungry again.  (Scarlet O’Hara – Gone with the Wind).   carrots         Due to the intricate web of netting I set up, the birds didn’t get as many of the strawberries, but then neither did I – it was too much of a hassle to open and re-close all those wires to pick one or two berries.   While reading about another bloggers garden adventures, she recommended rubber snakes be set among the strawberry plants and moved every few days in order to fool the birds.    Thank god she told me Walmart sells them online, because I don’t know where you would buy a twelve pack of snakes, and also thank god, those birds aren’t too bright.   I’ll keep that in mind for next year, or maybe I’ll just freeze some of the carrots.    I also wish I had put spacing and gravel around my boxes like Empty Nest Adventures did, for easier access.  

carrots

Next years orange snakes?

After the Harvest is a time to reflect on lessons learned….next year plant less, no matter how much you may anticipate the early specimens being carried off by nighttime woodland creatures. 

Plant one of everything, one squash, one cucumber, if it’s something you don’t want to breed like rabbits or possibly two like Noah and the Ark, two tomatoes, two potatoes, but no zucchini – ever.  

Or just buy more boxes……the New England Arbor charity sale is coming up…..

After the Harvest - AMc

After the Harvest

PS.  There is nothing so wonderful as a golden field of wheat being harvested, or so awful as After the Harvest when you would have to bale all that straw into small bales, with a baler which was forever breaking down, and then load them into the hayloft, a process which was hot and dusty and took hours.  Now every time I pass a field with those really big bales that are scooped up by a front end loader, I wonder, why didn’t someone think of that sooner?

Song of the Day:   Harvest Moon – Neil Young

A Farewell to Summer

Please join me while we take a last peek at summer and enjoy the first signs of fall….no pumpkin spice or mums involved! 

Let’s say goodbye to the flowers first.    The petunias fared well with all that rain.Petunias

The dinner plate hibiscus are always late to the party, but they are like Beyonce, they make such a statement when they finally arrive that nobody minds.

Dinner Plate Hibiscus

The Rose of Sharon was so full of flowers it bowed down to Mother Nature.

Rose of Sharon

But the morning glories were not so glorious, lots of foliage draped over the back fence but no buds in sight.   

morning glories

They were very late last year so I still have hope, but here’s a link to last years (unpublished blog), A Glorious September Morning, plus a bee having his last drink of the summer.  

morning glory and bee

The nectar of the gods

My mother always grew glads and zinnias in the farm garden, but this year my glads were a disaster both in color and form.   My vision of them lining the back fence like little pink soldiers faded into the sporadic appearance of a spike of pale lavender or orange.   Lavender is okay, and peach I could handle, but I dislike orange, and pale orange is even worse.   Is it too much to expect the color on the box is the color you get?  

Next year I’ll just buy some at the farmer’s market. 

pink glads

I have never had any luck growing zinnias but my neighbors were prolific,

and the water lilies in their pond finally bloomed.   

pond lily

The sunflowers are drooping but are decorative enough for a vase.

Sunflowers - AMC

Sunflowers in a Vase

The lavender was late as I replanted it all in the spring, but it still bloomed if not extravagantly.  

monarch

The hot humid rainy summer produced a rain forest jungle of a vegetable garden which desperately needs sorting out.   More on the potager in another blog, after the harvest.

potager before

Where are the monkeys?

The monarchs have all flown south, except this little guy with an injured leg/wing who I rescued from a parking lot.   He was able to crawl a bit so I brought him home to lie among the lavender.   

monarch

This year I have seen more monarchs than I have in years.   After the township sprayed all the ditches, they almost became extinct, but now that gardeners are planting milkweed again, they are slowly making a comeback.  They tend to congregate in Point Pelee Park in southern Ontario on their annual migration route, before crossing Lake Erie to the US and eventually Mexico.   Tens of thousands cluster to rest and wait for the right wind conditions to cross the 40 km stretch of lake – the park posts the daily monarch counts on it’s social media pages.   One picture is of a friends backyard near the lake, and one is a weather-watcher picture of Point Pelee.   I wonder how such a small creature can make such a long journey?    For more information on monarchs, check out garden blogger Invitation to the Garden‘s wonderful post on The King of Butterflies.  She also has posts about the different kinds of milkweed you can plant to attract butterflies.

monarchs

just dropping in to say goodbye

Monarchs

Rendevous at Point Pelee Park

Our last look at the beach, and my favorite photo of this summer.

Beach umbrella

Beach Day

Our first look at fall, the maple leaves they are a changing….

fall leaves

The chestnuts are starting to fall from the trees near the library.   Chestnuts always bring back memories of gathering them on my grandmother’s farm at Thanksgiving.   Last year one of the librarians made the nicest wreath from chestnuts…..nothing I would attempt as I’m sure it involved lots of glue. 

chestnut tree

The crab-apples are ripening and getting ready to drop and annoy all the grass cutters.    

crabapples

The first of the apples are being harvested.   We stopped at an orchard last week and they had Galas and Mac’s just picked that morning, a bumper crop. 

Gala Apples

The scarecrow festival has started with a large party in the town square.

scarecrows

The crunch of dry leaves underfoot and the smell of wood smoke reminds us summer is winding down.    The days are growing shorter, it’s getting dark by 7:30, time to go inside, light the candles and welcome fall.     And if you are in the mood to feather your nest check out last years (unpublished) Autumn Decor blog for some cozy fall ideas. 

Asters - AMc

Fall Flowers

There will be a harvest moon on Sept 24, so here’s some music for a fall night.    This song is about as jazzy as I get but it has great lyrics and it always reminds me of my student days and walking home through a park after pub crawling….not sure anyone would do that now in downtown Toronto, they’d probably be mugged or shot.

Song of the Day:   Moondance by Van Morrison 

“Well, it’s a marvelous night for a moondance
With the stars up above in your eyes
A fantabulous night to make romance
‘Neath the cover of October skies
And all the leaves on the trees are falling…”

 

 

 

 

Back in Class

      Remember all the fun stuff about back to school when you were a kid, before the reality of homework set in?    Please join me for some arts and crafts and some back to school shopping in pursuit of classic plaid.    Sorry this is so tardy, I know it’s mid-September already, but the dog ate the first draft…   

         When I was a kid in the sixties, art class was a rare treat, saved for special occasions when the teacher was too frazzled to do anything else.   I recall making mothers and fathers day cards but that was about it.   I was never a Brownie or Girl Guide.   In older grades, I got a C in art which nixed my dreams of becoming a fashion designer.   I can’t draw a straight line or paint.  But today I am a regular patron of Michaels the craft store.   Their 50% off coupons lure me in every time. 

       I ran into someone a few weeks ago and she was looking for plants for her parents grave-sites.   We started talking about those hideous purple and yellow gravestone wreaths, and I asked why are you buying those when you can make your own much nicer and cheaper, with a green wire hanger from Michaels and some flowers from the dollar store.   She thought that was an excellent idea, so I hope someone else might find some of these ideas inspiring.   Here’s a link to last years (unpublished) post Arts and Crafts 101:     (As I recently explained in my one year anniversary post, my blog was private last fall for the first three months).

After picture

       I had a quick look through the mall recently and the stores are full of plaid flannel tops, despite the fact that the forecast this weekend is for the same hot and humid weather we have had all summer.   You would think we were a country of lumberjacks, but then plaid is a perennial fall favorite.   Here’s a link to my blog from last fall, Mad for Plaid.    Enjoy! 

Plaid pencil case

(I bought a new pencil case at the dollar store for old-times sake – it might be good for stashing makeup in or all those small things which fall to the bottom of your purse).