Just Some Apple Picking 

One of my favorite things to do in the fall is to go apple-picking. In fact, it is on our Family Bucket List for Fall, that I posted about last week. It gets you off the couch and outdoors, breathing the crisp, fresh fall air. 
We went to Center Grove Orchard, which is also one of our favorite pumpkin farms. This day, we skipped the squash, and headed right to the apples. Or so I thought. It used to be that the U-Pick apple trees were right in front of the main building, but with all the expansion they have done, that isn’t the case. Now, you go clear through the building to the ticket counter, get stickers for apple-picking, and then you have to wait for the hay-ride to take you back to the apple orchard. Not that I’m complaining about the hay-ride. The little boys loved that. 

When we got back to the orchard, we got to buy bags for the apples and THEN, finally, we were in the orchard. We walked clear to the back of the orchard, to get to the apples we could reach. We picked Cameo, Jonagold, and Chieften varieties. The Cameo and Jonagold are for fresh eating, the Chieften are for canning and pies (PIES!). 

The apples here were nice and low, and easy for the boys to pick without help. And of course, there was a lot apple-tasting going on. 

Once we picked the apples and filled up the bags though, we realized, “How are we going to get all these apples back to the car? Or the hay-ride, for that matter?” I’ll tell you, a bushel and a half of apples is not light, and two toddlers are no help at all. Struggling, we managed to get the apples to the hayrack. Once we got back to the main building, we spotted a wagon! 

Of course, this portion of the trip could not have happened without the help of our little guys. I really don’t know how we could have made it otherwise. 

It was funny, though, how many people were amazed by the amount of apples we had. Several people said, “Wow! What are you going to do with all those apples?” A few older ladies asked if we were going to make applesauce. One person asked if we were going to make a pie. 

The answer is yes, all of those things, but so much more than that. People have lost touch with the art of preserving. We are so used to going to the store and buying a jar of applesauce, that we don’t think about making our own anymore. Besides applesauce and pies, I find it a challenge to come up with ways to use the apples to make interesting things. For example, the apple salsa I made this weekend, is something you aren’t going to find in most stores. 

Would it be a lot cheaper if I had my own apple trees? Yes, of course. And that will happen, when we get our farm. Until then, our family will do what we can to put food back. The experience of picking the apples, and the act of preserving them connects us to our past and grounds us to the Earth. Everytime we eat something we made with the apples, we have ownership in the process. 

Okay, for now I will get off my soapbox, because I have work to do. I have recipes to plan and apples to cook, and these apples aren’t going to peel themselves. 

Feels Like Fall

Finally, fall is here. I’ve been waiting for it; the crisp, cool mornings, the leaves turning vibrant shades of red, yellow and orange, the sigh of the Earth as it puts on its last, most beautiful show. I am delighted to have an excuse to drag out my tall boots and sweaters and drink hot chocolate. I am secretly (not anymore) obsessed with pumpkins, and this is my time to stack them everywhere and admire their orange, bumpy ugliness. 

The abundance of autumn is now in full swing, and the time is right to do some of my favorite activities of the year with my family. I saw a Fall Bucket List on Pinterest a while back, and that really got me excited (cause my OCD-self is really obsessed with lists).  I took some of the things from their list, and added some of my own to make it more kid-friendly. 

1. Go apple picking at a local orchard. (We did this last Saturday ). 

2. Decorate your porch or table with fall flair. 

3. Take a drive to look at the fall foliage. 

4. Drink apple cider 

5. Bake an (apple) pie. 

6. Make something with pumpkin in it. 

7. Gather some fall leaves and do a craft. 

8. Wear a sweater, scarf and/or boots. (check!)

9. Go to a pumpkin patch (we will be doing this in a few weeks). 

10. Get lost in a corn maze. 

11. Go on a hayride. 

12. Watch a scary movie. 

13. Rake some leaves, and jump in them! 

14. Build a bonfire.
15. Watch a football game. 

16. Carve a pumpkin. 

17. Roast some pumpkin seeds. 

18. Pick out a Halloween costume. 

19. Make chili. 

20. Read some books. 

21. Watch some nature (watch some squirrels eat your pumpkins). 

22. Eat some candy. 

23. Make some cookies.


24. Make caramel apples. 

25. Gather pinecones. 

So there you have it. That ought to keep you busy until wintertime. I’m sure there are things that you and your family do during the fall that aren’t on this list. Feel free to comment and share your ideas. I would love to expand this list even further! 

What’s In Our Trash Can?

A few weeks ago, while wandering around the library, I found an interesting book.  It was the ‘Zero Waste Lifestyle  – Live Well by Throwing Away Less’, by Amy Korst.  I was intrigued by the title; I already do some simple things like composting and a little recycling, and I wondered how anybody could have ‘zero’ waste.  The premise behind the book is that we send sooo much trash to landfills that doesn’t have to be there.  All that trash in the landfill is either not breaking down, or it is breaking down and turning into harmful gases and liquids and leaking out.  The author challenges the reader to examine their own waste habits, and see what things they could divert away from the fate of the landfill.  Even if you don’t have ‘zero’ waste, maybe you can have a lot LESS waste.

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I’ll be honest, I haven’t finished the book yet.  Not because the book isn’t interesting; rather, it is the opposite.  I read a page and then set the book down to look something up on the internet, related to what I just read.  Or I find a passage that gets me thinking, and I kind of chew on it mentally for a day or so while I go about my daily routine.

One of the first things the author asks you to do is to assess your own trash situation. She recommends weighing your trash to get a base number to compare your waste amounts to later.  I did not want to weigh our trash, but I did think about how many ‘bags’ of trash we go through in a week, between garbage truck pickups.  I know that there are some weeks we take out a big black garbage bag almost everyday.  It’s at least 4-5 bags a week.  Add to that the training pants my son produces, since he is still potty training, trash from the yard and garage, scraps and trash from our basement remodel, and it adds up to a full-to-the-brim curbside bin every week when the truck comes.

With guidance from the book, I have already identified some areas where we can really eliminate stuff from going into the Big Brown Bin.

  • Food Scraps-  With seven people in our home, we have a LOT of food scraps. You would think with our big dog, we wouldn’t waste a lot of food, but you would be surprised.  I can’t just let him finish off that many plates.  For one, it’s just not good for him; that’s a LOT of leftover lunches, and for two, he was a weenie stomach.  I’ve never met a dog that gets intestinal distress from looking at a hot dog.  So, leftovers gone bad, dropped fruit, mushy apples, expired yogurt, you name it, all of that, it is going into the trash.
  • Paper Products That Get Wet- This is paper towels and tissues especially.  However, it can include some kinds of food wrappers made of paper or cardboard that touch food and get wet.
  • Plastic Containers/Plastic Hybrid Bags- Basically, this is what the majority of food comes in.  We buy a lot of single serving food items, and this adds up to a lot of chip and cracker bags.  There are water bottles, soda cups, cheese wrappers, and meat packaging, to name a few.
  • Bathroom Trash-  There are some bathroom trash items we just can’t get around.  No matter how hard-core I want to be, we are NOT getting rid of toilet paper.  Not with all the child-people I live with.  (That is a big HECK-to-the-NO).  On the other hand, a lot of tissues, hair and other disposable items get thrown away in the bathroom.

Since I started assessing the trash, I have been diverting things into other paths.  To be clear, your first and best ways to eliminate waste are the first two out of three R’s.

  • Reduce- Stop buying all the things that need to be thrown away in the first place.  Use your own containers and buy in bulk to eliminate wrappings and containers.  Buying less means less waste.
  • Reuse – Before you throw something out, think of how you can repurpose it and give it new life in your home (or someone else’s).

Then…after that…

  • Recycle –  Most people know about recycling now.  However, you are probably throwing things away that could be recycled.  Paper, cardboard, glass, tin, and many plastics can be reformed into new products.
  • Compost –  This kind of fits into the other areas, but I consider it its own pathway because it is recycling/reusing you can do yourself at your home. Food scraps and other items get turned into lovely fertilizer to boost your flowers and veggies.

Finally, after all that, you may have to throw something away.  After reading about some families that have attacked the zero waste lifestyle with zeal, I am quite in awe of how little trash they can produce with some (significant) effort.  Many of these families have a shoe box, or a jar with the amount of trash they have produced that year.  I am under no illusions that we will only fill a shoe box with trash in a year.  You have to set a goal that is achievable, though challenging, for your family.

So, I figured I would start with working us down to one (singular) garbage bag or less a week.  The first thing I did was restart my worm-compost bin.  I ordered new worms, filled the bin with bedding and started adding scraps.  Ta-da!  Worm poop fertilizer.  Easy peasy. Much to my family’s delight, I am keeping it in the bathroom for now.  Once a day I peek inside and give the worms a little spritz with my sprayer so they stay hydrated.  I have been throwing in food scraps, tea bags, the crumbs from the bottom of cereal bags, banana peels and the like.  Needless to say, the worms are very happy with their end of the arrangement.

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My assistant helps with the vermicompost (worm poop) collection. 

I am also adding to my backyard compost pile like never before.  All the other food scraps besides meat and grease, along with the wet paper/cardboard products go into a bowl to get dumped in the yard.  The downside of this, my pile is clear in the way far back of my yard.  Also, I am a lazy composter, so my pile biodegrades VERY SLOWLY.  I need to water it some, cut pieces smaller, flip it over to get air inside, that would all help.  I am going to work on those things.  I am also in the market for a compost tumbler.  I could have the kids work on turning it for a short while each day, and I’d get compost much, much faster. Plus I could make it much closer to my back door.  I also need to get a compost pail for the kitchen with a filtered lid, to keep it out of sight until I am ready to add it to my pile.

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My recycling has increased by at least double. I called the city and ordered a second recycling bin for free.  This way I can’t use the full recycling bin as an excuse not to recycle everything that can be.  I went on the city’s website and found out that I can recycle more types of plastics than I thought, so that means less plastic in my garbage bin.

I am buying less disposable items already.  My mother-in-law gave me a bunch of large flour-sack towels for cleaning, so I can use less paper towels.  I got out my childhood hankies, to reduce my use of tissues.  I am still looking for solutions for some of my disposable items, so this continues to be a work in progress.

At the end of the first week or so, this is my full trash bag.

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It is almost all plastic bags or some mix of plastic that can’t be recycled.  There are a few paper products in there that my family put into the trash. If I see them quick enough, I grab them out and put them in the compost.  I am working on training them, but it will probably take a few weeks before they remember about the napkins and such.  As for the plastic bags, I don’t know how much I will be able to do about that for a while.  I reuse bags when I can…but the only way to get rid of most of it, is to either make all my own snacks (love this idea, but I am not able to quit my job to have the time to make all our food from scratch) or to buy less single serve bags.  Part of the problem with that is the fact that I have four children between the ages of 12-15 (plus my assistant).  They are essentially a hoard of locusts.  If I bought large bags of chips/cookies/etc…they would devour them in a sitting or two unless I hovered over them monitoring their chip consumption.  I’m enough of a meanie already, making them do chores and stuff (rolls eyes) without being the chip-controller.  The single-serve chip bags SLOW THEM DOWN.  The packaging somewhat regulates the speed at which they go through the stuff.  I will keep looking for ways to reduce this type of waste, possibly when the children graduate from high school and move out.

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A bag from a box of giant pretzels, ready to be reused for ‘something’. 

I have a lot more things to think over on this subject.  For example, do I really want to be the lady that carries a glass straw with her everywhere?  Will my family stage an intervention for me if I get a composting toilet?  Will people think I am interesting or weird when they find out I make my own mascara?  These are deep, thought-provoking issues that I need to work over in my mind.  I still have a ways to go in the book, and I am sure I will dig up some more good articles and ideas on Pinterest before it is all over.  Bear with me, and share your ideas for eliminating or reducing waste in YOUR home in the comments.

DIY: Thirty-One Bag Insert

We recently went on a camping trip to Spring Lake Park in Iowa.  A few weeks ago, while preparing for the trip, I thought, gee, I’d like to use my Thirty-One bag to hold stuff in when we go camping.  I say, my Thirty-One bag (singular), because, yes, I only have one.  {Pause here for gasps from Thirty-One bag collectors}  From what I can tell, Thirty-One bags are like potato chips, it is very difficult to just have one.  In my case, though, I just have the one large utility tote.  It is a great bag, I love it, but when it doesn’t have a bunch of stuff in it, it looks like this:

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This bothers me.  I can’t say why.  Maybe because my obsessiveness with things being neat can’t handle the ‘slumpiness’ of it.  It could also be because I paid extra to have it monogrammed, and you can’t see the nice monogram when it is laying over like this.  The bag is more difficult to stack things inside when the sides are falling down.

From looking online, it seems it is possible to purchase already made inserts to take care of this problem.  For the life of me, I can’t figure out why the bag doesn’t come with an insert to begin with.  A person could remove it if they needed it out for some reason.  I suspect it has something to do with being able to charge more for the insert when it is sold separately, but that may not be the case.  When you look at the bags in the catalog, they are all standing up as if they have inserts inside of them.  As a new Thirty-One shopper, I didn’t realize that it didn’t come with something to hold up the sides. Either way, I did some browsing on Pinterest, and found several examples of making your own insert.

The process is fairly simple.  All you need is some large pieces of sturdy cardboard, a box knife or something similar to cut the cardboard, some kind of plastic or vinyl to wrap the cardboard in, and duct tape.  I went browsing at a local dollar establishment, and found a thin vinyl shower curtain in a shade matching my utility tote.

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I got out the yardstick and measured the long sides of my bag.  I marked the measurements on my cardboard, and then used the box knife to make the cuts.  If you don’t want cut marks on your floor or table, make sure you have something underneath your cardboard protecting the surface while you cut.  I used another piece of cardboard.

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I repeated this process until I had pieces cut out for all the sides of my bag except the top.  Now, in my inexperience, I discovered something cutting my cardboard pieces.  Don’t spend a lot of time making sure the cuts are absolutely perfect.  Your plastic or vinyl will cover that up.  However, when I cut the pieces to the size of my bag, I noticed that they did not fit when I tried them in place individually in the bag.

Maybe other people out there that are used to doing stuff like this already knew that, so don’t judge.  This is my first time doing this kind of project, so I was kind of learning as I went.  I ended up having to trim at least a half inch off the edges so that the cardboard would fit smoothly into place on the side of the tote.

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Next, I took the duct tape and attached the four side pieces to the bottom piece.  Then, I flipped it over and reinforced the bends with duct tape on the other side.

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After this was done, I was ready to cover the the cardboard with the shower curtain. Maybe someone else knows a better way, but I just laid it out on the floor and set the insert on top of it.  I used scissors to cut the shower curtain at 45 degree angles to make it easier to wrap.  When I folded it over the flap (kind of like a present), I used the tape to seal down the edges.

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After that, I just repeated the process three more times, turning the insert 90 degrees each time to do a new side.  You can see my Thirty-One bag in the background, observing my work.

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Here is a picture of the mostly finished project.  Doesn’t look super pretty from the back side, but it doesn’t have to, we won’t end up seeing this part.  After it was all taped up, I flipped it upside down and put it into the bag.  This took a little bit of wiggling.  Because the insert is designed to come in and out when I want it to, I didn’t connect the side pieces to each other.  I wanted it to be able to collapse when needed.  Having the side pieces separate though, meant I had to work them into place.

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This is the view from above when I had it in.  I added some clips in a complimentary color to hold the insert flush to the bag at the top. This isn’t a required step, but it made the bag look a little neater in my opinion.  Now, since the bag has the shower curtain inside, it can be wiped out if I spill something inside.  I can hold wet objects (within reason) and just use a cloth to clean out the plastic when I am done.

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In all, I am pretty pleased with how it turned out.  As I am writing this post, I can see the bag sitting across the room on my cedar chest, standing up all by itself.  It worked splendidly for camping.  I didn’t end up using it for food, but stored small important items in it that I needed to be able to keep track of while we stayed in our cabin.  Instead of searching around the whole place, I just went and looked in my utility tote.  And since the bag stands up so well now, it is easy to see down into without digging around too much.

Have you ever made something like this for yourself?   I am exploring the world of DIY projects just like this, and I can always use some tips on this kind of crafty stuff.  I would love to hear how it turned out.  Leave a comment and share your experience with me!

Break It Down (Worm Time)

I’ve been wanting to get my worm bin started again for quite a while.  I used to have it going, before I was pregnant with my youngest, and I would use it to get rid of lots of leftovers and bits from the kitchen.  I enjoyed having large amounts of wonderful vermicompost (worm poop compost) to put on my garden plants, especially my tomatoes.

However, a lot of gardening and composting projects fell by the wayside when I was pregnant.  I had a huge number of houseplant casualties, somewhere in the area of 60-70% suffered an untimely end.  I didn’t want this to happen to my worms, so knowing I wasn’t taking care of them, I set them free into the garden to fend for themselves.

Now, four years later, I was anxious and ready to get my worm bin going again.  I have really been thinking about how much we send to the landfill each week.  I am reading a book about reducing your trash/waste, and I will talk more about this in a related post in the near future.  One great way to reduce the amount of food waste you have is to utilize a worm compost bin.

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I got mine from Amazon several years ago, I think it is a lot like this one.  You don’t have to have a fancy bin with multiple levels like mine to successfully compost with worms though.  A plastic tote with holes in the bottom can accomplish the same thing.

I had never really cleaned out the bin from the last time I used it, so that was the first step. I dumped out all the layers and wiped the outside down.  It’s kind of funny that you want the bin to be clean before you dump a bunch of worms and rotting food into it.  Seems ironic.

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Next, I got some sheets of wet newspaper and laid a layer in the bottom of my tray.  This part is optional, but I like to keep my warms from falling through into the lower layers where there isn’t any food.  When I put food in for them, I generally put it in the corners, so a lot of compost still knocked down through the holes, so the newspaper doesn’t block the process from working.  Plus, the newspaper helps keep the worms moist and the worms eat it too.

Then I assembled my bedding.  I happened to have a bunch of shredded paper ready that I brought home from work.  I mixed that with some garden soil from my yard, checking to make sure I wasn’t bringing in any large bugs or rocks or mulch.  I sprayed this mixture and worked it around to get it uniformly wet.  You do not want the bedding to be so wet that it runs out or drips, but it needs to be wet enough to keep your worms hydrated and happy.

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I also brought some ripped up hosta leaves and some spent lilies in from my yard and mixed those in with the bedding too, just to keep the texture varied.  My dog Ollie was performing quality control in this picture.  I kept adding water until I was happy with the moisture, about the wetness of a sponge.

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Next, I added some food into the corner of the bin.  I pulled back the bedding, and covered the food up with the paper when I was done.  If the food is all in mostly one place, it is easier to see if they have eaten it all.  You don’t want to overfeed your worms.  If you give them too much food, the bin can start to stink, or can attract bugs.  Keeping bugs away is another reason for burying the food with the bedding.

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When I was done preparing the bin, I added the worms.  When I received them in the mail, I followed the instructions and immediately added a half cup of water to the open bag.  By the time I got my bin ready, the worms had been ‘rehydrating’ for quite a while.  To add them to the bed, I scooped a whole in the middle of the paper and emptied the bag into the indentation.  We all stood around poking through the soil and watching the worms wriggle for a while, until they submerged.  I pulled the bedding back over them and spritzed them with a little more water.

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I realized then that I forgot to add eggshells, and so I had my son crush them up and add them to the top.  I can mix them in as I work with the worms in the days to come.  A couple sheets of damp newspaper on the top helps to keep the worms well hydrated.  I decided to put them in the bathroom for a few days, because that is one of the brightest rooms in my house.  When the worms are getting settled in, a really bright overhead light will help them to dive deep into the bedding (to escape the light), and thus will make them less likely to try and escape the bin.  The bin is like alcatraz for worms, you can try to escape, but you most likely won’t survive.

Now you may be wondering, what can I feed my worms?  Here is a list of things that worms may like:  kitchen scraps, leaves, houseplant trimmings, paper, coffee grounds, egg cartons, tea bags, cotton clothes (this is fun to do with the kids, worms will eat all but elastic), rice, pasta.  All should be cut into as small pieces as you can manage, because worms do not have teeth.  Smaller food means happier worms and vermicompost faster.

Do not give your worms:  meat, dairy, pet waste, too much citrus, anything sprouting.  Also, don’t bother offering the worms your toothbrush (as seen below), since they don’t have teeth.

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Store your bin in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.  The worms will like a temperature of 60-70 degrees the best.  Do not leave the worms in a place where they will overheat or freeze!

You can feed your worms once or twice a week, depending on how fast they eat.  You will get a feel for how much they consume by checking from time to time.  I don’t feed mine a whole lot when they are starting out, I will wait until the banana peel is most of the way gone before I add more food.

Besides getting some of the best compost out there, your worm bin will prove endlessly fascinating, especially if you have kids.  I take mine to school sometimes and let the kids poke through gently when we do garden activities.  It can be really fun to see what the worms will eat.  You will probably be surprised by all the things they break down.

Please leave a comment and tell me how you use your vermicompost in your garden.  I’d like to hear about your experiences with worm composting.  I’m excited to see how the bin helps us reduce waste in our house, and I’ll write soon with more about how we are reducing the things we throw away.  Thanks!


Broccoli on St. Patrick’s Day


So, I bet you’re wondering, if this post is about broccoli on St. Patrick’s Day, of all things, why is the first picture of my injured foot? Because this is my first official injury of the 2016 gardening season. You see, I practice extreme gardening. This is all-out, no holds barred gardening free of restrictions and sometimes safety precautions. Which is how I came to be turning over dirt for my broccoli seeds on a chilly St. Patrick’s Day afternoon in my flip flops. A stick  reared up and attacked me, and of course I had to counter attack. I overcame, but ended up with a nasty scratch.

Anyways, I digress. You are actually probably wondering why I am planting broccoli on St. Patrick’s Day, instead of peas, as the expression goes.  Well, I guess I don’t have a good reason, except that I have slacked this year and  didn’t get my broccoli seed started ahead of time. So, for the first time, I am direct-seeding it in the garden. Broccoli is a cool weather plant that can take chilly early spring  temperatures.  This year, I planted 2 types of broccoli, Long Harvest All Season Blend, from Renee’s Garden, and Waltham 29 from Botanical Interests. I also planted the Chef’s Choice Blend Cauliflower from Botanical Interests.


In my yard, I have a lot of rabbits, and NO fence, so I have to be protective of my baby broccolis.  I saved old plastic milk jugs and cut the bottom and tops off. I fit a stick through the handle hole and I have mostly wind proof rabbit protection, with built-in sunlight and rain openings.


In addition, I also turned over soil in a few other beds in my garden. I am pretty pleased with the condition of my soil in the spring. All the straw I use for mulch throughout the year gets left there over the winter to break down. In the spring, I shovel what’s left into the soil, along with a few leaves and some other organic matter. The bunnies are helpful with my soil through the winter. They do their bunny business and add lots of nitrogen-rich fertilizer to the dirt. That gets shoveled in with the straw.


In the turned over section, I planted lolla de vina lettuce, Grandpa Admire’s lettuce, long-standing spinach, and a red romaine.  The tiny seeds of lettuce I just scatter over the dirt and rake them in. I mist the soil and try to keep it moist until I see the seeds starting to germinate. There are no peas yet, but I’ve got time for that. Hopefully in the coming weeks, I’ll have time to get peas, carrots, onions and radishes in the ground.


Spring is such an exciting time for a gardener, and I love poking around to see what edible and non-edible things and coming up. One of the first things I see in the spring are my chives. I have two kinds, garlic and regular.


The herbs usually start back early, especially thyme. I can’t help running my hands through it as I go by, to get that fantastic smell. The smell of thyme conjures up memories of summer and pizza and cooking. I wouldn’t even care if I didn’t eat it. I would grow it just for the smell.


Here is a picture of some bronze fennel coming up that reseeded itself in my flower bed. I don’t eat fennel at all, but I DO grow it just for the beautiful, feathery soft foliage. I can’t hardly go by it in the summer without reaching into the plant and running my fingers through the leaves.

This year, I pledge to show you more of my gardening, and share what’s growing and being harvested in my garden. I hope that there will be a lot of recipes and pictures, and I hope you will share with me as well.  I love to see what others are doing in their yards and kitchens; I get so much inspiration from seeing them.  Happy Gardening this year and Happy Spring!  If you’re an extreme gardener like me, then best wishes and good luck!


Wordless Wednesday – What’s Blooming in My Yarden…

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