We Are Doing Excellent Learning

We’re not much for New Years resolutions here at Maple Hoo; instead we just try to make the (very easy) promise to ourselves to know more by the end of the year than we did at the beginning. Considering that you’d have to spend the year in a coma to fail to accomplish that, making this your New Years resolution pretty much guarantees that you get to feel all smug and like you accomplished your goals when the next January comes around. That said, 2011 was an exceptionally learn-y year for us. Some things we learned because we had no choice, others we sought out deliberately; in no particular order, here’s an overview of what 2011 taught us.

1. We can turn tragedy into happiness, tree-wise.

Purple And Orange

The new vineyard fence, bedecked for the Halloween season. Maple Hoo is much, much more festive now that those dang trees are gone.

We lost a lot of major trees around our yard this year. The big oak in the backyard, the trees lining the driveway (technically on the neighboring property, but whatevs), and half of the shade maple in the backyard all bit it, for a variety of reasons. We were devastated on each count, and spent some time moping about how beauty would never, ever return to our lives… until we really thought about what the changes meant. No line of trees along the driveway means a place to put a fence, on which we can string some wires for trellising, on which we can hang holiday lights in the fall and winter and grow grapes and gourds in the spring and summer. That? Is awesome! No oak and half the maple canopy means considerably more sunshine in the backyard, in which we can grow more foodstuffs. What kind of foodstuffs do we want more of, but don’t have room for in the front-yard garden? Berries! Sweet! Now that those trees are out of our way, the backyard can become the lush berry farm Maple Hoo has always dreamed of. See? Disaster can become opportunity! Thanks, 2011, for showing us how that works.

2. If you do actually take the time to get off your butt to plant bulbs in the fall, it will pay off in the Spring.

By the time fall rolls around we’re normally so over doing garden shit that we really, really don’t want to be bothered with, like, taking out the dying veggie plants and winterizing the yard and blah blah blah. Even less appealing than those sorts of essential chores is the thought of planting bulbs. Yes, flowers are nice, and yes, daffodils and crocuses are insanely easy flowers to have in your yard. But who wants to bother? It would be so much nicer just to sit inside and watch football. Well, last fall we sternly cracked the whip, and Spring 2011 exploded with massive reward. For a good three or four weeks in early spring our yard was literally the envy of the neighborhood.

Daffodil in Peacock Circle

Bulb planting — do it.

3. If you take the time on the front end of your garden, it’ll pay off.

This is something we’ve been aware of for years, thanks to having gone to the trouble to put in raised beds for our front-yard garden, but 2011 made us even more acutely aware of it. For a variety of reasons, we really got thinking this summer about why our garden achieves whatever success it manages (this is not to suggest we’re, like, kick-ass gardeners. We consider it an outrageously good growing season if 70% of what we planted yields something), and we concluded that the trick is all in the planning. Well-built beds and well covered paths between the beds keep weeds to a minimum. Carefully planned and mapped planting layouts help us know where the good plants are, making weeding easy. Trellising, staking, training and pruning in the early days of baby plants will make grown-up plants fun to work with.

June 28 2011

Look how lush and tidy! If we, say, had decided not to properly stake the tomatoes in the far bed, and, say, had planted pole beans in the middle of the bush-bean bed by accident, this place could be a disaster! Take our word for it.

4. It can be rewarding to expand your garden horizons beyond the fence.

We lost our front-yard tree last summer, and this year we finally stepped outside the confines of our garden proper to put some sunflowers where the black locust had been. And you know what? It rawked.

August 14 2011

5. Canning is awesome.

We have been terrified of canning for years, which is sort of ridiculous considering how much produce we get from our garden and CSA share every summer. Well, this year we finally confronted our fears and took the plunge.

October 3 2011

My god, how we plunged. We had our first canning experience in mid-September and spent the next ten weeks going hog-wild. It seems that no matter how many delicious goodies we cook and put into cans, there are five or six more we want to make. We can’t wait for next year’s fresh fruits and veggies to start coming in so we can start canning like crazy again.

6. We don’t need to grow soup beans but we do need to grow green beans.

One of the staples of our garden has always been soup beans, because it’s a fun and lazy sort of crop. You stick beans in the ground, let them grow, let the plants dry out, then get soup beans out of the dried-out pods. The only problem is that our crops tend to be awfully small, as if the garden gods only want to reward our laziness with about a handful of soup beans. That’s a small batch of soup, yo.

But this past summer we grew green beans for the first time, and they were both bountiful and delicious. And then we discovered the best part — you can pickle and can them! WOO HOO! Screw you, soup beans. There’s a new man in town.

Best.  Label.  Ever.

Have we mentioned how much we love making labels for our canned goods? That’s almost as much fun as the food part of it all.

7. Applique is awesome.

As quilters we’ve been convinced that we only like piecework, and all other types of quilt-crafts suck. Then we got started on Bunny Hill’s “Night Before Christmas” quilt and learned that hand applique is easy, quick, and crazy, crazy fun.

November 27 2011

The finished product is a lot more, um, attached than this.

8. Red Dead Redemption is awesome.

::Happy sigh::

We’re not gamers by any stretch of the imagination, but after enough people said that “Red Dead Redemption” was amazing, and because Boomer loves Westerns, we decided to get it for her on Mother’s Day. And you know what? It was by far the best TV-ish entertainment experience we had all year. We’ve watched tons of sports and movies and current TV shows and old TV shows on DVD, but nothing came close to being as much fun as Red Dead.

9. We can still thoroughly enjoy the Devils even when they suck.

Okay, so that was a lesson that really was contained primarily in 2010, because the Devils suckiness from the past NHL season was pretty much confined to the time before the New Year. (In fact, we were recently informed that they had the third-best record in the league in the 2011 calendar year…) But the fact remains that they didn’t make the playoffs this past spring, for the first time since we’ve been watching hockey. And they started out this season looking a bit… not-much-better. We’ve spent a lot of years with a lot of our free time focused on being fans of a team we thought should be competing for the Stanley Cup. 2011 taught us that even when our team is obviously doing no such thing, we can still really enjoy our fandom.

VE Mats Crunching Numbers

This was the day we realized the numbers weren’t going to work, and the Devils were definitely going to be hitting the links in April. But Victory Euro Mats kept on smiling.

10. Learning to eat more locally-sourced foods can be an extremely fun and rewarding challenge.

When you grow up less than two miles from one of the world’s greatest farm stands, you tend to take local produce for granted. Then when you move to Scottsdale, Arizona and discover that your grocery store stocks literally nothing from anywhere you could drive to in less than a day, you suddenly start to realize how lucky you were back in the heart of farm country. So when we moved back here to Jersey in 2003 we were really excited to get to join an extremely local CSA. For the next seven summers we were happy with our easy-to-find local produce; we were supporting a farm in our neighborhood, watching our veggies grow, and learning all about how our food fits into the world we live in. In 2011, though, we started getting interested in what else our area has to offer. What we’ve found is an incredible bounteous bounty. We have award-winning cheesemakers, abundant fresh eggs, fresh pork, turkeys, and chickens (and beef, if we were so inclined), year-round farmers markets, creative artisanal bakeries, and goodness knows what else. Now, we aren’t going in for hard-core locavorism — we’ve just learned how much fun it is to explore our nearby foodshed.

Oct 22 2011

One cool discovery? Local cranberries! 21 quarts of them, in fact, for a song. Our local foodshed demands a larger chest freezer.

11. It constantly gets easier to find obscure or niche music thanks to the internet.

This is a complete no-brainer, and something everyone has known for years. But 2011 was a year when we finally tapped the wellspring of exciting, new (to us) music. Oh, avant garde metal. How did we live so long without you?

November 28 2011

Seriously. How did we live so long without you?

12. It’s extremely simple to extend the growing season with tasty greens.

Every year we’ve sworn that we really wanted to get our spring harvests started earlier and our fall harvests ending later. In 2011 we actually did something about it. We got a sort of cross between a greenhouse and a coldframe, and used that to get cold-weather lettuces started weeks earlier than we’ve ever done in the past.

March 12 2011

This was one of our favorite photos of the year.

Even more exciting was what happened when we tossed a few packets of seeds into the empty beds after clearing out the tomato plants. We planted a whole bunch of types of winter greens in early September and then did literally nothing to tend to them. They didn’t have a fantastic germination rate, but even so, we ended up with scads of delicious boc choy, baby chard, tatsoi, salad mix, and braising mix. Our last harvest of them was on December 27. December 27!

December 11 2011

Being a wintertime farmer is rad.

13. Shooting in RAW makes our photography so much easier.

We resisted RAW for ages, because it sounded so photo-technical, and if there’s anything we’re really not, it’s tech geeks about our photography. But for some inexplicable reason, Pookie finally decided to figure it out in 2011. It has made us so happy. Gone are the days when we have to worry about white balance! Gone are the days when we struggle with our rudimentary Photoshop skills to correct exposure issues! Gone are the days when it takes us more than 20 seconds to completely process a picture! It’s the lazy photographer’s dream come true!

Before…

December 31 2011

…and after!

So that’s the story of 2011; here’s hoping 2012 will be just as informative, delicious, exciting, and fun!

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6 Comments

Filed under Year In Review

6 responses to “We Are Doing Excellent Learning

  1. What a delightful way to look at your year! I love that approach–considering what you have learned. And you guys have really been very open to taking opportunities and learning about and from them. If people in this house ate more winter greens perhaps I would plant them, too. I wonder what you’ll learn in 2012….

  2. Thanks! 2011 was an unusually open-to-new-things year for us… maybe we should just take 2012 off? :P (As for the winter greens, I had my doubts about whether everyone in our house would eat them. But it was all about the stir-fry, baby!)

  3. Happy New Year! You are an inspiration. I thought it was progress when I upgraded from crappy Blackberry pictures to crappy iPhone pictures.

  4. Happy New Year right back atcha, Tram! And an upgrade from crappy Blackberry to crappy iPhone is still and upgrade, right? The most important life lesson is to live within yourself, right? :D

  5. a Katamari label! How did you make that? (by the way, this is kms2. you’ve inspired me to take up quilting and blog about my quilting adventures! i’m totally hooked on quilting.)

  6. I’m so, so, so, so glad you’re loving the quilting!
    As for the labels, Word has templates for the round Avery lables. I go nuts with the fonts and (ahem) lift the images from the internets. I’m not selling them, so… :shifty eyes::

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