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Berries for Winter

5 Jul

I love strawberries.

Right off the plant they are juicy, perfectly ripe and delicious.

I believe I have almost 30 pounds in my freezer right now.  Why so much? you might ask.  And I would have to say it might not be enough =)

but the reason I need to have loads of strawberries in my freezer is so that I can make it through the long winter.  For some reason if I have strawberries to last me a winter I can survive.  Taking a bag of strawberries out of the freezer on a cold and blustery day in the dead of winter is a pretty good feeling.

The only thing I do to the berries is wash them, hull them and cut them in half (or a few pieces if they are a big berry).  For some of them I let sit for a while to let them soak in their own juice and others I put into the freezer right away.  Here is my berry preparation setup:

How beautiful is this-

Jared is quite excited because I made a lot of compost for him:

It is Really Working!

1 Jul


I have been seriously gardening for about 4 years now.  And every year I am astounded that it actually works.  I somehow think that it won’t happen.  I put some tiny seeds in the ground and then a week or two later I see perfect rows of green little seedlings poke their heads through the black dirt.  And THEN, they somehow turn into something that I can cook or just eat right out of the garden.

Maybe someday I will get used to this process, but for now I will be amazed and enjoy the delicious food that awaits me right around the corner.

Our salad is ready for the spring harvest:

Yummy Swiss Chard:

look at that beautiful banana pepper!

Sunflower House Update

19 Jun

While we were away celebrating my sister’s wedding, the sunflower house did some growing.

I love leaving for a couple days and then being able to actually see the changes in our garden.  If you see a garden everyday, it is hard to notice the growing.  I have heard it is the same way with my kids =)  When people haven’t seen them for a few weeks they can’t believe how much bigger they are or how much better at talking they are.  It is nice to be able to take a step back to appreciate and enjoy the changes happening all around.

I think the morning glories look like dragon flies or butterflies.

Sure hope this turns into a house someday!

Sunflower House

13 Jun

I got this book a year maybe two years ago from a good family friend.  I found it in a box of books I was unpacking recently.

Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots: Gardening Together with Children

What a wonderful book!

One of the best ideas in this book is to make a sunflower house.  You must dig a 9 foot by 6 foot trench and then fill it with good dirt.  Then plant mammoth sunflowers and morning glories very close to one another and then plant some smaller sunflowers in between the mammoth sunflowers and morning glories.  If all goes well the morning glories will climb up the mammoth sunflowers.  When the plants are about four or five feet tall you are suppose to tie twine between the sunflowers and the climbing morning glories will continue to climb across the twine forming a roof.

If all goes well the girls will have the perfect little playhouse.  Can you think of any place a little girl would rather hang out than a magical sunflower house that is just her size?  I hope it works!!!

Sweet Peas Sweet Girl

10 Jun

My first memory of gardening is planting sweet peas and baby carrots with my mom.  I remember planting the skittle sized seeds into the ground and then watering them.  I remember watching as tiny little green sprouts poked themselves through the earth and then miraculously began climbing up a little fence I made for them.  I remember eating them right off the plant and thinking that nothing could taste better.

I have just had a very nostalgic moment with Aleah, as we have done the same thing together as my mom and I did years ago.

Not sure how Aleah did it but her sweet peas are about an inch taller than everything else in our garden.  Might be because she waters them about twice a day or it might be because she is so sweet herself =)

What a hard little worker.

I hope this instills a love in her for gardening as it did for me when I was a little girl.

Rain Barrel Tutorial

2 Jun

Since the rain barrel post seemed to spark some interest, and it’s a relatively easy do-it-yourself job, we thought we’d post a tutorial.  So here goes:

First, obtain all needed materials, most importantly, a large barrel (or several of them).  Probably the easiest thing to get your hands on will be a 55 gallon drum from a nearby farmer.  If the farmer is nice (which most are), they’ll even cut off the top of the barrel for you.  I obtained all three of my 55 gallon drums and the big 330 gallon tank from farmers and people who live out in the country.  However, I also see them for sale on craigslist occasionally; so if you live in the city, chances are someone in the metro area is trying to get rid of some big barrels.  Your final option is to buy a pre-made rain barrel from some big box like Menards or Fleet Farm, in which case, you can stop reading now and go shopping.

Once you have your barrel, gather the other tools and materials.  You’ll want a drill and a spade bit for drilling the hole; a hose faucet valve with two washers and a nut; and some silicone for caulking around the valve.  My bit was 7/8, which drilled a hole just big enough for the faucet to stick through.  If you’re confused at this point, just stare blankly in the middle of the hardware aisle until an attendant asks you if you’re feeling okay.  Nod, “yes” then explain that you are making a rain barrel and need the necessary parts.  If possible, pull out your smartphone and show the attendant the picture from this post and have her find the equivalent parts.  This is, in fact, the most difficult part of this project — navigating the intensely confusing hardware store aisles looking for something other than spray paint.  Make sure the washers and nut fit perfectly around the threaded part of the faucet piece.

Anyway, hopefully at some point you make it back home with the things you need, and can begin the fun part.  Hook up that bit to your drill and position it a few inches from the bottom of the barrel.  Don’t worry about needing to fit a bucket under the faucet because you will want to elevate the barrel off the ground on blocks or stumps once you are finished.  Now, go ahead and drill your hole.

Great, now take the faucet, the washers, and the nut, and prepare to fasten the faucet to the barrel.  The first thing you should do is press a ring of silicone around each washer and set one of them aside.  Position the other washer over the hole you just drilled, and then take the faucet and stick it through the washer and hole.  

You’ll then want to press another bead of silicone in the seam between the washer and barrel, and another bead between the faucet and washer.  Basically, you’re going to caulk with silicone wherever there is a seam between parts.

Fantastic, now, lay your barrel on its side, being careful that the faucet stays in place, and prepare to crawl inside the barrel with the other washer, silicone, and the nut and in order to fasten the faucet with the nut.  Bead the silicone on the washer and place the washer around the part of the faucet that sticks into the barrel.  Now hand-tighten the nut along the threads.  Again, bead the silicone around the washer and the nut — don’t be afraid to use your finger to smooth the silicone around the seams.  It also works good to have your children beat on the barrel with their popsicles, treating you to the acoustic wonders of a 55 gallon drum.

If you are not satisfied with how tight you were able to get the nut by hand, it wouldn’t hurt to get a vice grips and a wrench to finish the job.  Use the vice grips to hold the nut in place on the inside of the barrel, and then get someone else to tighten the faucet from the outside using a wrench.  As you tighten you may see more silicone squeeze out from the washers; again, use your finger to make a smooth ring around the pieces.

Once you are satisfied with the tightness of the faucet and nut, and you have adequately caulked the seams with silicone, you are basically done with the barrel.  The silicone will need several hours to set, so don’t plan on letting water into the barrel the same day you complete the project.  In the meantime, you want to make sure your gutters are in good condition and your downspouts are positioned for your barrel.  You may need to cut one of your downspouts or unscrew a few joints to reposition the downspouts (but don’t stress too much about this because gutters are pretty cheap).

When you’re ready, position the barrel with the downspout running into it, and set the barrel up on blocks or stumps.  This allows you to fit buckets underneath the faucet, and it raises the faucet so that gravity will work with you, forcing water through your hose when the barrel fills up.  It’s a pretty nifty deal.  Lastly, you may want to find a board or some sort of screen to set across the top of the barrel to keep critters from climbing into the water and drowning.  And be sure to not let young kids climb on the barrels or hang over the edge.

Enjoy your project and happy gardening!

Shout Down My Rain Barrel…

25 May

The last few days the sky has gushed and our soil has taken deep, deep, swigs of precious rainfall.  Our area had been in drought for nearly nine months and wildfires were becoming a scary reality in the northland, but finally the clouds burst and our collective thirst was quenched.

It was fun to watch the land turn green and lush before our eyes while the rivers swelled and tickled the toes of the trees that bask along their banks.  And it was also fun to listen the rain tap the rooftops and race down the gutters into my…rain barrels!

As Caitlyn has shared, the past weeks have been full of glorious projects, and on top of building and planting a garden, we’ve spent time constructing a rain barrel system so that we can nourish our garden with the rain that rolls from the rooftop.

One of the few downsides to our new home is the cost of being on the city water system, which contributes to quite an expensive utility bill (if you haven’t noticed, Cait and I are admittedly thrifty). Plus, it seems silly to run up a bill watering a garden when there’s a river that flows through the backyard and much of the rain that falls around the house simply runs off the hillside and into the river.  So, in an effort to harness the natural watering power of God’s green earth, I hooked up a few barrels to our downspouts…and oh how we’ve been blessed.

I don’t think we realized how much water is actually diverted from rooftops into gutters and drains.  The night I finished my rain barrels it rained a moderate amount (less than an inch), but both barrels were full and overflowing after only a few hours of rainfall.  We had caught an excess of 110 gallons in our first rain showers – how astounding!

This past weekend it rained about 3 inches in our area and we had to drain water out of our barrels so the ground wouldn’t simply turn to mush beneath the barrels as the rain overflowed the sides.

Then I upgraded.

300 gallons, and the two smaller 55 gallon barrels filling from the back of the house.  We love it, and we hope that amidst those dry spells in July and August, we will have ample aqua to keep our garden gushing.

Dirt Mountain

20 May

We have taken a bit of a break from house jobs to enjoy the beautiful weather and start our garden.

Jared took the grass out of the planter and placed it onto the ground next to raise the level of the ground.  That area was in a bit low and we didn’t want any flooding or soggy plants.

We inherited the above rhubarb.  Isn’t it incredible?

We would have loved to plant in the ground but it is almost solid clay.  Since that little planter box is not going to hold all we want to plant we needed some dirt for additional planters we are going to build.  Our generous friend had a dump truck deliver a huge mound of black dirt to our house!  The girls thought it was about the coolest thing ever.  A close second to being able to play on the big dirty mountain

These girls desperately needed a bath afterwards =) it was well worth it.

Still working on shoveling the dirt, building the planters, building a fence and planting some seeds.  Lots of work but we are glad we only have to do this much work our first year.  All the springs after this one we will simply add some compost to the soil and plant our seeds.

We still have a bit of a mountain if you want to come over for a climb =) the kids won’t hesitate to join.

Secret Garden

25 Apr

I am in the process of reading “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

It is one of those books where you know how it goes so I have never read it before.  I saw the movie when I was a little girl and left it at that.

 I was browsing kindle books and found that this little gem was free.  What the heck, right?  Might as well give it a whirl.  I never would have gone out to buy this book or probably checked it out at the library.  But I am SO glad that I am reading it right now.

It would be hard to read in the middle of winter but it extremely fun to read in the spring.  Mary is so passionate about gardening and is beside herself when the seemingly dead earth begins to come to life.  I am about half way through the book and can feel myself getting the itch to garden and make things beautiful.  Here are some of my favorite passages thus far,

I love this first one because she feels herself being awakened-

“Living as it were, all by herself in a house with a hundred mysteriously closed rooms and having nothing whatever to do to amuse herself, had set her inactive brain to working and was actually awakening her imagination. There is no doubt that the fresh, strong, pure air from the moor had a great deal to do with it.  Just as it had given her an appetite, and fighting with the wind had stirred her mind.  In India she had always been too hot and languid and weak to care much about anything, but in this place she was beginning to care and to want to do new things.  Already she felt less ‘contrary,’ though she did not know why.”

This next one makes smile and want to garden:

“I’m getting stronger.  I used to always be tired.  When I dig I’m not tired at all.  I like to smell the earth when it’s turned up.”

And lastly,

“Might I, quavered Mary, might I have a bit of earth?  In her eagerness she did not realize how queer the words would sound and that they were not the ones she had meant to say.  mr Craven looked quite startled.  ‘Earth!’ he repeated, ‘What do you mean?’  To plant seeds in–to make things grow–to see them come alive,’ Mary faltered.”

How rewarding it is so make things grow.  To make tiny little seeds blossom into giant sunflowers or into delicious vegetables.  Out of the earth.  What a wonderful and miraculous event that happens every spring.  It will never cease to amaze me.

A Discussion about Food

4 Apr

Hi, Jared here.  Yes, the sun has blazed its way through the snow piles, the ducks are slowly re-convening in our varied wetlands, and the wood frogs are creating quite a racket as they breed in the marshes near our house.  Spring is here, but the layer of frost on our porch and the nip on our toes as we walk through the grass suggest it’s not quite time to bust out the gardening gear yet.  The reality is, as mild as this winter and spring have been, the hard freezes here in far northeast MN can last until almost June.  Patience, Patience, Patience.

In the meantime, Cait and I have been following an entertaining and fruitful discussion over at our friends’ blog, Itty Bitty Impact about local farming, pigs, and food justice.  I think it’s worth linking here, so please stop over — and be sure to read the comment thread to follow the engaging discussion regarding sustainable and equitable food and farming practices.