Better Late Than Never Garden Update

Well friends, it’s June 16th, and I am coming at you with my first garden update of the 2017 growing season.  Hum.  Where exactly did the time go?  And better yet, what on earth have I been doing?  Time has somehow slipped between my fingers so rapidly, that I cannot even seem to identify the activities that filled these minutes, hours and days.

But nonetheless, this garden of ours is surely well underway, and perhaps the furthest along we have ever been come this time of the year.  I believe I can owe a great deal of this success to the fact that my girls have been real, active participants in our homestead this year.  While in the past the girls surely had “jobs” like collecting eggs in the morning, watering their fairy garden, and picking ripe cherry tomatoes from the vine, but this year the girls have been logging some legit man-power hours.  Gianna hauls spent dishwater outside to water plants, and she moves the sprinkles around to various locations throughout these hot, dry days we have been experiencing.  Addie tilled all the garden beds this spring, and she does a great deal of the wedding that needs to be done in the veggie beds.

And let me tell you, this year these littles are much more appreciative of the strawberries gracing their breakfast table and the cilantro and lettuce making its way into their tacos come dinnertime.  And isn’t this what homesteading and forming connections with our food is all about?  With the knowledge of the human labor and natural resources needed to grow our food, we are much more humble and filled with an awe-inspiring sense of gratitude when we are able to bring that food to our tables.

I wish you all a wonderful weekend, in which you are able to nourish your body with food that gives you strength in body, as well as soul.  

Home

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The last few weeks have kept us very busy with a variety of DIY projects around the house.  With the absolutely beautiful weather gracing us, my girls and I decided to take advantage, move school outside most days, and just get after it.

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We first needed to fashion a new table for our deck.  Our old table, after weathering many a Midwestern winters, had finally called it quits and we needed another piece on which all of our summer family dinners could take place.  I happened to find a local woman who was selling barn wood, so we ventured to her barn and listened to a wonderful story of a Swedish family who immigrated to the Rockford area with hopes of building a family farm.  They bought property on the corner of Baxter and Mulford Roads and there constructed a home in 1902.  Later, in 1903, they gathered with neighbors to build a barn in which to begin their farming venture.

We brought home three 10-foot boards, washed them, and ran over them once with some sandpaper.  I then applied three coats of //ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=qf_sp_asin_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=makofahom-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=B000C011CE&asins=B000C011CE&linkId=96a4608fd8c32411f7f8bbe7d4f64747&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=false&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff“>an exterior marine polyurethane to all sides of each board.  I connected the boards with 2 x 4’s in order to create a removable table top that I can bring inside during the winter months.  I then created “table legs” using cinder blocks.  I was so thrilled once the project was complete because I was able to craft a one-of-kind ten-foot table to entertain upon for under $100.

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My girls and I also got busy building a backyard washing station. While visiting Koviashuvik Living School in Temple, Maine last August, I was struck by all the ways in which the Knapp family used seemingly random household objects to craft “new” devices to serve a very sustainable purpose.  Our washing station is not completely sustainable, as we do plan to start our washing process with city water from our home, but our hope is to eliminate one avenue of waste through this process.  (And keep my kitchen cleaner too!) Each garden season we are faced with what to do with the dozens upon dozens of 5 gallon buckets filled with dirt-caked veggies that make their way into our kitchen.  Enter…our OUTDOOR veggie washing station 🙂

We had a random cement slab that was found in our yard when we bought our house and it has been milling about under a tree ever since.  So, with much assistance from my strength-and-conditioning-coach hubby, we moved the cement slab near our backyard water spigot.  I used the old legs from our outdoor table we had just scraped, and attached them to a countertop my dad had just removed from his basement during a remodel.  I then placed a washtub next to the table, with a bucket beneath the drain.  We plan to plug the washtub, dump in our muddy produce, and fill the tub with our nearby hose-water.  Once all the veggies have been scrubbed clean and placed in a strainer on the table, we can drain the tub into the bucket and then use that greywater to water our plants with.  And all of this will happen outside, and now only gloriously clean veg will make its way into my kitchen.

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And last, but certainly not least of our DIY adventures of late, I have created a spot in the garden entirely for me.  I moved around some aimless pieces that had been littering our property and used them as the basis for this new space.  I then crafted prayer flags and stitched each stitch with a heartfelt intention.  So here I stand to greet my morning, in my very own corner of the garden, setting positive intentions for my day.

Wishing you all a productive, yet peaceful start to your week.

 

 

I Stand at the Ready

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Thoughts from yesterday:

I am sitting outside of my northern Illinois home, in a tank top and shorts. Sweat trickles down my back and my hands ache from the garden work I have done. It is just 11:30 am. In February.

While working in my garden, many thoughts swirl through my mind. Why am I able to work in my garden right now? Why is the sun so warm upon my skin as I sit here on my deck, less than one week post-Valentine’s day? Why are there already green lilies breaking the surface of the soil in my garden beds? Why are their insects crawling and flying about? Am I terrified by this extreme weather streak in February?

The answer to that last question is, yes. There was record-breaking snow on the East coast this week, torrential rain in the West, and balmy weather in the northern Midwest. A definite climate shift is upon us.

Now, the way I see it, I have two choices: Option one is that I can allow myself to become paralyzed with the fear of what is to come. I can fear for the future of my children, and allow that anxiety to cripple me into inaction. Option two:  I can use the gifts God has given me and leap into action. I can strap on my garden boots and stand at the ready to teacher my own children, and others, the skills they need to grow their own food in a world of changing environmental factors. I can help them to see these changes with optimistic eyes, not ones clouded with fear. I can equip them in the ways they can help themselves in times of trouble, and also how to reach out and use their talents to help others in need.

Recently, I have found myself looking to St. Francis of Assisi for wisdom and motivation to help guide me on my journey. Today I came upon this passage, and I believe it will become motto in days to come:

Lord, help me live this day, quietly, easily. To lean upon Thy great strength, trustfully, restfully. To wait for the unfolding of Thy will, patiently, serenely. To meet others, peacefully, joyously. To face tomorrow, confidently, courageously.

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From Dawn to Dusk

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One of my favorite times of the year arrived this week!  In the wee hours of Monday morning, we began pouring over our 2017 seed catalog (We order our seeds and transplants from The Seed Savers Exchange, based in Iowa.) and envisioning what it is we want our garden to look like this year.  Now that the girls are older, they too have taken on an added interest in this task and our day was filled with talk of which herbs would grow best inside their cinder block garden boarder, and whether or not we want to skip growing cucumbers again this summer.  (My girls no longer eat pickles.  Say what?!?)

We normally peruse the seed catalogs in February because this seems to be an especially difficult month to get through for us.  So dark.  So very cold.  This year, however, proved to be a bit strange in that this particular February day was unseasonably balmy.  So, we packed up our seed-browsing-paraphenalia and headed to the backyard.  There we started a nice fire and continued our quest for garden goodness outdoors, well into the evening.  Such an incredibly nice treat.

Pumpkin Zucchini Bread

Last fall I did some reading about how to grow pumpkins.  I was astonished to find that many people said to simply discard of your old pumpkins in an area in which you want to grow pumpkins again.  Those pumpkins will decompose, the seeds will deposit into the soil, and then regrow the following year.  So, last fall, as our decorative pumpkins began to go soft, I simply placed them in a side bed in our yard.  Then as I processed some pie pumpkins, I scrapped out the seeds and placed those in this bed as well.  In the very early spring (early March), I covered the entire bed with a very thin layer of compost.

And voila…

IMG_3109…we now have pumpkins taking over our yard.

Some of the pumpkins are ready for picking this week, so I played around in the kitchen a bit and came up with this recipe.  I hope you enjoy it!

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Pumpkin Zucchini Bread (makes one loaf)

Mix the following ingredients in a large mixing bowl:

2 cups flour

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon cloves

1 teaspoon baking soda

In a separate bowl, mix together the following:

1 cup shredded zucchini

2 eggs

1/2 cup non-GMO canola oil

1 cup pureed pumpkin

splash of lemon juice

Next mix the wet ingredients into the dry.  Fold in 1/2 cup chopped walnuts.  Pour into a bread pan and bake in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour.  Enjoy!

Kale Cubes

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Every November, we find ourselves with an overabundance of kale that gets hit with a hard frost and dies.  It always makes me feel just sick to know all of that healthy vegetation has gone to waste and ends up in the compost bin.  This year my husband came up with a great idea:  kale cubes.

When my oldest daughter was a baby, we made her baby food.  We threw a bunch of fruit and veggies in a blender with a bit of water, pureed it, and then froze it in ice cube trays.  Once the cubes froze, we popped the cubes out into a gallon-size freezer bag.  That way, at mealtime, we would just take out the cubes we wanted, heat them up, and viola…ready-to-eat baby food.  So, last week my husband came up with the brilliant idea to do this same thing with our kale!  Then that way, once winter settles in and we are longing for some healthy greens, we can pop a couple of our kale cubes into our blender to add some nutrients to our morning smoothies.

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All I did was harvest and wash some of our kale, threw it in our Vitamix with about one cup of water, pureed it until the mixture was nearly smooth, poured the puree into ice cube trays and popped them in the freezer.  The next day, I popped out the cubes and put them in a gallon-sized freezer bag.  Now they are all set for those February morning breakfast smoothies 🙂

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The Most Amazing News

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Oh friends, I just received the most amazing news.  My favorite blogger/author, Amanda Blake Soule, will be featuring my garden photos and writing on her blog tomorrow.  I invite you to check out the post tomorrow (Friday, July 22) at www.soulemama.com.

I am completely overcome with excitement and gratitude at being given this wonderful opportunity to share with those around the world, what wonderful things are going on right here in Rockford, Illinois.  A true blessing indeed.

And, this news does not come on any random day either.  Today we celebrate my mom’s birthday.  If this is not a true sign of a guardian angel mama always looking out for her babies, I don’t know what is.  You always told me to keep writing, Mom.  And I have been.  Just for you.

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Can You Feel It?

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The chill in the air has finally dissipated, and the sun remains hanging in the sky a bit longer these days.  Can you feel it?  I do believe that summer may just be right around the corner.  After those strange May evenings dipping to freezing temperatures here in Illinois, and sadly losing some of my plants despite the fact that they were covered, I am so thrilled to see the mercury rise into the seventies and eighties.

Our garden seems to be loving these temperatures and this week’s sunshine just as much as we do, and we have wasted no time getting out there and digging in, in the most full and present way we can.  Yes.  Finally.

{A side note:  The pictures in this post are very special for two reasons…#1:  My camera broke last week.  Yes, broke.  I was beside myself.  Then my friend Jodi came to my rescue, and loaned me her fabulous camera.  She is amazing.  Thank you, thank you! #2:  I have been afraid of heights for as long as I can remember.  I am talking palm-sweating-heart-racing-paralyzing fear.  But this week, while my husband was away for work (he is normally my “aerial” photographer), I desperately wanted overhead shots of my garden.  So, I mustered up all the courage I had, climbed onto the top of my shed, and took these pictures.  I. Did. It.}

Growing Food

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I love growing food. Love. It.  There is nothing that gives me more pleasure than seeing the food I have grown, grace our plates at meal time.  And while this time of year requires a lot of physical demand (Who needs a gym when you are working 6 yards of compost and mulch into the soil?), the rewards are definitely worth the effort.  The perennials are already popping up, and the cold tolerant vegetable seeds are in the ground.  We are not far away, friends.  I can almost taste that strawberry rhubarb crisp now.

But perhaps the most rewarding of growing my own food, is sharing this passion with others.  I have the absolute pleasure of working with the students of Cathedral of St. Peter School in their school garden for the forth growing season.  And as I worked with students last week in the garden, I was reminded of why this project is so very important.  Many have lost their connection to the food they eat.  They view food as coming from the grocery store and have no idea how it is grown, or the work that goes in to growing it.  Working with these students allows them to connect with their food, see how it is grown, and become an active participant in that growth process.  Our garden project enables students to try new foods, and learn about the importance of consuming healthy foods and how that translates into fuel for our bodies and minds.  Most importantly, our school garden work illustrates how to be stewards of God’s creation, and to value and cherish all that the Earth and God provide for us each and every day.

IMG_2542Happy 2016 growing season, friends!

Our Undervalued Friends

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Oh, the dandelion.  She is so often picked, sprayed and just plain despised by so many.  What did this little lady ever do to deserve such harsh treatment?  For in fact, it is her ability to pop up everywhere and withstand the harshest of treatment that makes her so wonderful!

Our little dandelion friends act as a detoxifier for our liver; are high in calcium, iron, magnesium, vitamin A and vitamin C; help tone the kidneys; and restore a general vitality to our bodies.  It is for all of these reasons, that we try our best to harvest these beauties when we can and take advantage of all their undervalued greatness.

Last week the girls and I needed to clear our strawberry and asparagus bed of weeds, and there were lots of dandelions.  So we picked and picked, trying our best to keep that lovely taproot intact.  Then we rinsed those little gals a lot.  (I think we ended up doing about 10-12 rinses to get all of the dirt off.)  We then chopped up the roots, stems, crowns and some leaves and placed them in 1/2 gallon mason jars.  Next we boiled apple cider vinegar and poured the boiling vinegar over the dandelions inside the mason jars.  We placed the capped jars in a cabinet where they will stay for 3 weeks.  After that time, we will strain the vinegar through a fine mesh strainer and refrigerate the vinegar for use over the next several months.  This vinegar is great in salad dressings, but we also take shots of it when we feel a bit under the weather, or when we feel we need a pick-me-up.

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***Important note:  Because so many people spray dandelions with poisons chemicals, it is of the greatest importance that when picking dandelions to consume, you only do so in an area where you are assured they have not been spayed!  I don’t even pick the dandelions around the perimeter of our property just in case a neighbor has sprayed their yard and some of those nasty chemicals may have leeched over the property line.