Little things matter. Along the way you discover they weren't so little after all.

Category Archives: Garden Experiments

Yellowy Peach Enlongated Impatiens

Our yard has a lot of shade. We are lucky to have a lot of trees, which gives us a sense of privacy even though we don’t live on a secluded estate. There are three areas we have flowers, and all three have more shade than sun. I’m not used to this – up to now I’ve been gathering information about plants for hot, dry areas, plants that can handle life without a lot of babying from me. But I’m building up my shade repertoire and finding a whole new family of flowers.

Impatiens are a group of plants that work in the shade without any babying. Before you roll your eyes and click over to a site with sunflowers and prairie blazing star, you must know that Impatiens are not all the flat, uninteresting flowers you might be picturing. Impatiens come in a variety of colors and their shapes and shadings widely vary.

Also, don’t be a dork like me and go through life thinking they are called “impatients” because when you find out your mistake, you’ll feel a little silly.

These colorful flowers will bloom all season, aren’t picky about soil conditions, and as long as you keep them out of direct burning afternoon sun, they’ll remain agreeable. They are not hardy here in Minnesota, but they make a fantastic annual. Here are some of the other ones I picked up this year:

Pink Double Impatiens

Pinky Enlongated Impatiens

White Double Impatiens

(Just a side note if you are interested, I took these photos with Instagram. If you use it too, I’d love to connect there. On Instagram I go by: writermama1999.)

I’d love to hear any other shade loving plants you’ve found. I have a few more to share but they aren’t blooming yet, due to our cool spring and delayed summer. I hope to feature them in the future. Do you have favorite flowers you are drawn to year after year?


Three hens being let out of their Eglu.

Three hens being let out of their Eglu. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After most of our chickens were killed by a neighbor dog over the course of six months, we considered giving up the backyard flock. After all, if they couldn’t keep their dog in their yard, wouldn’t we just be inviting trouble to introduce more meals for him?

The problem is: we love having fresh eggs. We know where they’ve come from, what the chickens have eaten and how they’ve been treated. We know they are healthy and not living in close quarters where illness can easily spread, necessitating medications to prevent said illness. And it keeps our kids connected to their food source rather than thinking eggs magically appear in cardboard containers in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.

So my husband secured some new chickens, fully-grown layers that needed a new home.

Thirsty Chickens

Thirsty Chickens

Because we only had one lone hen left, it was easy to introduce new chickens to the coop. Chickens really do have a pecking order, and they establish it by man-handling each other until one is established as the Boss Lady Chicken (not a scientific term). We were getting four chickens from the same coop, so they already had come to an understanding with one another. There was some flapping and feather nipping at first, but it looks like peace has been established and the lone chicken has been sworn into the group.

The one other noteworthy item is that when you are teaching chickens where home is, it is important to keep them in the coop for a little while, somewhere between three to five days, so they can get used to their new surroundings. Then when you let them out, as we plan to and have done when the weather/season cooperates, they won’t stray too far from their food and water. If you are the one to feed them, it can be very fun to be the Pied Piper of chickens, and lead them back to the coop all in a chicken-y row because they think you’re going to give them food, very entertaining.

Check back here for more details about the marauding escapades of our neighbor dog and how this all works out with the chickens.


Our vegetable garden has done pretty well this year. I learned a few things along the way (who knew that kale got SO HUGE?!? one plant would have been plenty and I had to go and plant FOUR of them!), one of which is that it takes TONS of tomatoes to produce a can of tomatoes — I have a new appreciation for the great bargain I get at the grocery store.

We have plenty of tomatoes and no one in my family appreciates them raw, so I thought it would make sense to freeze the abundance to use later.

Brilliant idea.

What planning, what foresight.

Let me show you what I learned.

I started with a stockpot about half full of tomaotes, which seems like a lot, way more than my family of five would eat in a week.

Looks like a lot, right?

This is gonna make tons of sauce, for sure.

Before I did any boiling, I prepared an ice bath, just a big container of water with some ice cubes to make it even colder. The goal is to get the boiled tomotoes to quit cooking, so you dunk them in this ice water.

I boiled the tomatoes for just four minutes so I could get the skins off.

Since I boiled them only four minutes, does that qualify as “blanching” them?

Then came the ice bath. This all sounds putzy, and to be honest, it is. There are a lot of pots, a lot of water, and then you have to clean up all that stuff.

Let them sit a spell until they’ve cooled down.

Now comes the most severely putzy part. Make an X at one end of the tomato, and peel off the skin. This should be pretty easy. What’s not easy is squishing out all the water, seeds and tomato innards. Sometimes all I had left was a palmful of tomato run-off. Here is one picture of peeling skins (which just sounds gross).

Most of the skins should come off easily, like this one.

So after all that effort, I was left with this amount of stewed, skinless tomatoes to use in whatever way I want:

Makes you really think about all that goes into that can at the back of your cupboard!

On the one hand, I grew these tomatoes from little plants and there is definitely something very gratifying about being able to produce your own food. I know where it has been. I trust my dirt. I know how the labor has been treated…since it’s usually me!

On the other hand, this is plain inefficient. I can’t be doing this with every batch of tomatoes that ripens throughout the season. So I’m left with a couple options: start eating more raw tomatoes, cook with more raw tomatoes, be generous and share more tomatoes, plant fewer tomatoes, break down and admit that sometimes a good thing doesn’t have to be efficient. I’ve got a long way to go before our family is self-sustaining, and that’s not even the goal, but it is fun to know we’re able to do it.

What do you do with all your garden harvest? Do you can it, freeze it, sneak it into your neighbor’s mailbox? Help me out with advice so I can work smarter next year!

It is nearly fall for real and I must admit a secret pleasure: I love to buy ragged plants at the end of the season at a deep discount. Gimme your wretched refuse yearning to be free, and I’ll take ’em.

I scored a few small shrubs for a spot that has felt lonely and abandoned. It desperately needed my attention. When we moved in, there were a bunch of dogwood trees that had inexplicably died, but I chalked it up to their need for more sun. Really, I promise, I did not kill them; spring came and I could pull whole dead branches off from the root. Today I got into the project and assigned rock picking duty to one of my children (believe me, he deserved it). We discovered that, true to their behavior in other areas of the yard, the previous owners had laid down industrial strength black plastic under the thin layer of rock mulch.

No problem, right?

I got my scissors, cut through the plastic and made a surprising discovery.


My first thought was that I must have found a place they discarded an old cooler or something, or that it was there to keep an invasive plant in its place. We cleared rocks and plastic for the second shrub and found…


This was getting ridiculous.

Because up to that point we’d been digging very close to where the old shrubs had been, I tried a random spot and found the same, consistently created, inedible layer-cake of rocks, plastic, foam, plastic and MORE FOAM. It appears that the entire raised bed that runs the length of the house holds less than three buckets of dirt, all told. It’s crazy.

When I was clearing out roots of the old bushes, I was struck by the fact that until I started, I had no idea that the garden was essentially a facade. The decorative rock cover made me assume there was dirt underneath, dirt needed for growth and development.

There are still two barberry shrubs that stayed alive, but ultimately their limited root system will keep them from growing any bigger. So regardless of how lovely they could have become (and the dogwoods especially could have been pretty along the back of the house), they will be stunted because no matter how nice they looked on the exterior, they had weak roots.

Have you ever known someone like that?

Someone who looked right, knew the right things to say, but when difficult times came they proved to have a weak spiritual root system?

Have you ever been that person?

Have I?

If we’re honest, I think we’ve all been there, been in a place where our faith was not deep enough, where we acted out of selfish motives rather than the best interests of the other person, when we acted petty or in an unkind way and may not have connected the dots until many years later.

It made me think about Jesus’ story of the farmer tossing seeds into different types of ground. I know there have been times when I didn’t do or say what I should have, and that demonstrated a weakness or blind spot in my development that I might not have had the maturity to address appropriately at the time.

Some weird plastic foam. Excellent shock absorber.

Some weird plastic foam. Excellent shock absorber. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It reminds me that I should not be quick to make blanket statements about the condition of someone else’s faith. Maybe they’re in a rocky patch. Maybe the faith they have is all that’s left after the birds came and scavenged what they had. Maybe they’ve been scorched by the sun and maybe what they need is the cool water of a kind word. Someone’s lame behavior may just be a blind spot or an area they are working on, and don’t I have those areas myself? Sometimes we are quick to point out other people’s weakness and even quicker to defend our own. Maybe instead, we should spread on some grace and sprinkle a little sugar on top, unless we are in a special relationship with that person or if we are specifically asked by the person. Let’s not underestimate the workings of the Holy Spirit in conviction and in the active work of growing a person’s heart.

I love you, man! 🙂 Let’s go get another round of scraggly plants and some more dirt!

Arracacha - Roots' Colors

Arracacha – Roots’ Colors (Photo credit: CIP – International Potato Center)

Here are a couple thoughts that came to me while I dug out from the garden my first-ever batch of potatoes. I have to admit to some garden nerdery here, but I thought it was so fun to dig them out! It is a bit tedious, but just a treasure hunt with an almost guaranteed promise of finding the treasure that it is worth the slow work of finding the little stinkers. Read on, Dear Reader, and tell me what you think about potatoes (or anything else, for that matter)!

You’re My Little Potato

Since I’m sure you’ve been dying to know if I’ve been forcing the chickens to continue living in the cupboard on the back of my garage, I’m here to set you at ease, Dear Reader. My wonderful husband of almost 13 years has constructed a chicken coop to beat all chicken coops, and he did it without a kit or set of plans. Look, and be amazed…

We acquired a used frame, added the nesting box area and it immediately started to look like a rough version of a coop.

Using boards and wood we found lying around, he closed in the sides. We happened to have old cedar shakes in the attic, and they worked great as shingles and would eventually become the siding as well. He used the bottom tray of a dog kennel for the floor (underneath the tray is wire so nothing can sneak inside). It’s coming along!

We don’t know why, but there were boards in the ground that formed a square. This is a big reason why we chose this spot — it is shady and we could use the square for the chicken run instead of having to sink boards or wire into the ground ourselves. A real timesaver (critters who like to eat chickens can dig under a wire edge if it isn’t sunk into the ground quite a ways). We usually let the chickens run around wherever they want, but if we are going out of town, it is nice to have a safe spot they can be outside. I read that chickens won’t just wander off once they know where their food and water is, and that has proven to be true.

This one was taken with my phone after the lens fell off my camera. The final product!

We used cabinet doors we had in the basement. Overall, it costs us around $100 in materials and a couple weeks of working on the project after work. I did nothing except offer moral support and the occasional glass of water– my wonderful husband did it all himself. It has enough room for five chickens.

He did a fantastic job and I love the way it turned out. It’s a little bit rustic, and I love the way we used things we had available around our place. It is both practical and attractive, and he did it all free hand. He’s amazing. The chickens love it too, and have settled right in.

There you have it. Do you have chicken experience? How did it go? Tried building something yourself? How did it turn out? I’d love to hear from you. Until next time, happy summer adventures to you!

My sweetie spent much of his Father’s Day making a plan and getting the necessary materials to build a chicken coop in our backyard. Check back for a progress report very soon! And Happy Father’s Day!

(I should mention that chickens are notoriously tricky to photograph, as you can probably tell.)

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