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

Tag Archives: Gardening

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

I plan to make a trip to the State Fair grounds on Mother’s Day this year. That is the weekend of the Friends School Plant Sale, and according to all indicators it’s a doozy.

People get there early and wait in line with their wagons and wheelbarrows. You must go in with a plan and a map, or you will miss out on getting some of the things you came for in the first place. We’ll see if I can wait until Mother’s Day for everything I’d like, but there are always more plants to stick in the garden somewhere, right? Here’s the link so you can check it out yourself:

Did I mention that my dirt arrived today? I never thought I’d be so excited to see a pile of dirt in my driveway!

Can't believe I just paid $ for dirt

Upper back workout

Digging up grass takes a long time, or I just have a short attention spanMy family and I have now been in our new house for about one year. Last summer I was very responsible and only accomplished the following garden goals:

  • Uncover the brick path from house to garden (it was almost completely covered in grass)
  • Carefully and selectively weed the main flower garden in the rear so as not to weed actual plants
  • Slap forehead after I discover I destroyed valuable plants when I thought they were weeds
  • Create a small garden along driveway
  • Generally weed like crazy
  • Plant a few things (my “few” might look different to me than it does to you)
  • Lay out a walkway through the rear garden
  • Grow a few veggies in containers

Now that all that responsibility can be over with and more of the garden is identifiable, I’m pretty sure that this is the summer I can go to town on this yard.

We have a big yard (finally) and it has quite a bit of shade cover, which is why I have to be a bit stubborn about where I start a vegetable garden. My dear husband has a favorite option but I don’t think that location will provide enough light, and as we all know, a vegetable garden must get as much light as possible. But much of the sunniest portion of our yard is on a slight slope, so that adds a small potential twist.

I think I’ve found the answer though, and I’m so excited to get in there and dig! A wonderful friend of mine asked if I would be interested in doing a garden together with her, so I feel confident that I can accomplish this garden because I’ll have back-up. The strategy we are going to use is to plant a mounded garden rather than a traditional flat garden in skinny rows.

Edward C. Smith wrote the Vegetable Gardener’s Bible and in it he shows how a mounded garden supports root growth and leads to a superior yield, and even less weeding. I won’t go into that now, but seriously, if you haven’t heard of planting in anything but straight, flat rows, it’s definitely a trip to the library to check out his book.

Everything I’ve researched tells me that I would have been better to begin my garden preparation in the fall. Oops. I wasn’t ready in the fall! We were still watching the light and learning about our yard at that point. But if you want to be picky about it, I should have laid a garden hose out to deliniate the shape of the garden, chunked up the sod, flipped it over  in the same spot with the dirt side up, and let nature get rid of the grass. I’m in for some hard work since I wasn’t ready to commit before.

A big item to be mindful of is to only plant what you’ll eat and don’t get all crazy and start too big. If you don’t eat what you grow, what’s the fun in growing it (in a vegetable garden)? And if you make a jumbotron garden right away, chances are that you’ll get overwhelmed and begin resenting it halfway through the season. Start with something managable and filled with yummy stuff your family likes!

Now the big dilema is whether to wait to start planting. It has been so unseasonably warm in Minnesota that a big part of me thinks I’m a fool to wait. Lettuce, broccoli and a few other things actually like the cold and so might do just fine now even if it does get cold again. But you can see me exercising my self control in the photo below because I’m only planting pansies…for now.

See how restrained I am by only planting pansies?!

It is now officially August, so I thought you might be interested to see how things look now in my garden. Also, you may be interested to know about my rooting powder experiment. If growing things interests you, read on!

Here’s what the homemade climbing trellis looks like:

Even though it is covered in green, the white still shows too much.

The scarlet runner bean has put forth a couple flowers, no beans, and definitely fewer of everything than I was hoping. Upon a longer term inspection of my sunlight situation, I have learned that the morning light starts on the other side of the garden (thus the morning glories have been unhappy) and placing my contraption further to the left would have supplied more light, and then more flowers. That’s alright, I knew it wasn’t going to be a long-term spot. It’s a good thing I started a garden notebook, because I usually forget all the things I think I will remember to do differently the next year.

And now for the status of the cuttings I took this spring. Even though they have been neglected and left out in the rain (apparently I keep forgetting to pull them to a covered spot after trying to let them dry out from the last time I forgot to pull them to a covered spot!), two of the three cuttings are growing roots and one of them is even putting up two shoots already! Check it out!

Please note the sprout in the center. I'm so proud!

I thought it would be fall before I saw any progress, but I have been very restrained and haven’t peeked even once, so maybe leaving them alone was helpful? Wahoo!

And finally, I have an unidentified flower that has finally bloomed. Because I’m an optimist, I left it to grow even though it may be a weed. But it isn’t spreading or prickly, so if it does end up being a weed, it is a well-behaved weed! If you can tell me the name of the flower on the left, my garden will thank you.

This plant is about 12" tall right now.

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