Sunday Afternoon

20190519_214605What makes a perfect Sunday afternoon? I can think of lots of things and I know your list will look different than mine, but this is what I enjoyed today –

70 degree weather with sunshine after the rain

A comfortable orange chair in which to enjoy the perfect weather

A shady spot by the hen house in which to sit in the comfy orange chair watching the corn grow

Watching the corn grow while reading a magazine

Reading the magazine while inhaling the sweet scent of blooming clover

The clover “field” full of the sound of busy bees

Taking a phone call from a dear aunt while sitting in the orange chair, enjoying the weather, watching the corn grow, smelling the clover, and listening to the bees buzzing

20190519_214705And then ending the day by –

Hanging out with a sister and playing with the kittens.

Ahh…Sundays!

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Patch-Work Garden

20190515_103231After three days of rainy weather that kept me inside last week there is a lot to do. Everything needs mowing and weeding. The pink geraniums I bought for the front of the house are still in their pots and I’m waiting for the garden to dry out so that I can plant the rest of the tomatoes.

20190513_102504I like the 30 inch bed style I tried in the garden this year. For smaller plants like lettuce, spinach, radishes, onions, and beets it works well. I planted these crops close together in blocks 4 to 6 feet long, with each 40-foot-long bed having at least one block of each crop. With each bed varying in placement of the various veggies, the garden looks like a patch-work quilt. As one “patch” is harvested I replace it with something else, or in some cases leave the space empty because of later summer crops, such as tomatoes, that will fill in that space. The walkways between the beds are 18 to 24 inches and the 30 inch bed width makes the beds easy to step across or straddle. One bed worked out better to make 48 inches but I find that too wide to be handy. I can’t step across it and I can barely reach to the center for planting and harvesting.

Since the garden is fenced for running chickens on it, I have defined parameters to work with, but also have fencing to use as trellises. I’m planning to tie or train up the tomatoes and cucumbers. The peas are already starting to climb the fence next to them.

Now that the days are getting longer, everything is maturing more nearly according to the DTM’s (Days to Maturity) on the product descriptions. The last batch of radishes was mostly ready in 28 days, just as projected, and they are the most beautiful radishes I’ve ever grown. So fun!

Now it is time to hang out the laundry on this beautiful sunny morning and then I must prune the dead branches out of the old-fashioned rose bush so that we can more fully enjoy its pink, scented blossoms.

An Enigma

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Last picture before getting trimmed up for the summer

Teddy is a big white dog, more specifically a Great Pyrenees/Anatolian Shepherd/Akbash mix. Because of his breeding he tends toward guarding, not herding and has very little prey drive. When something unusual is going on in the neighborhood, but not unusual enough to warrant a full-out barking frenzy, he may appear to be sleeping on the back deck, but every few minutes he lets out a little woof to show that he is still on the job. He is gentle with people and other animals that belong to us, but very aggressive toward unfamiliar animals.

The cats go in and out from the garage through a cat door installed in the door that enters Teddy’s yard. This means that strange cats have no chance of getting into the garage by that means, unless they can catch Teddy asleep on the job. Our own cats, on the other hand, think Teddy is their personal warmer in the winter. Often several of them will be snoozing in his doghouse, either with or without him. His best friend is Cami, the calico, who was a kitten when he was a pup.

One morning when I went out to the garage to feed the cats I was startled by a black and white streak racing for the cat door. A second later a great and furious barking arose. I stepped out that the back door and found that the streaker had not been one of my cats as I first supposed. It was a stranger that had somehow come in without Teddy’s knowledge. He had it cornered behind his doghouse, but when I came out the cat decided that Teddy was the lesser of two evils and raced out past him. Teddy was on his heels in an instance and the poor feline had no chance to squeeze out at the gate. Instead it raced along the fence, stopping when Teddy got in front of it.

I was interested in what this ferocious-sounding giant would do. He danced around the crouching cat, continuing to bark, until it tried to make a run for it again. Teddy was right on it. His bark increased in volume. The terrified cat got a short distance before it stopped the second time, probably expecting to become dinner for the next animal up the food chain. This scenario repeated itself several times until the cat had gotten half-way around the fenced perimeter. Teddy was finally getting tired of this creature that had invaded his space. He didn’t know what to do with it but he couldn’t just let it go! He finally slacked off on barking and let his attention wander just a bit. His interest returned in full measure, however, as the cat again made a run for it. This time it out-ran him, climbed the fence and disappeared into the trees, accompanied by a mighty sendoff. I have not seen it since.

Teddy warns off hawks, stray cats and low flying crop dusters, but when the thunder begins to sound, he scratches at the back door. Maybe he thinks he’s hearing gunshots such as the one that sent him yelping home when he was a pup visiting at the neighbors uninvited. At any rate, he is scared and will not leave me in peace until I let him into the garage.

With all the stormy weather we’ve been having, he’s spent a lot of time in the garage lately. Last night, while inside, he met one of the new kittens for the first time. He nosed it gently and then showed no more interest in the little thing. It smelled of Mama Cami, and he knew all was well.

Gardening with Chickens = Peaceful?

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Picture taken at Bartlett Arboretum, Belle Plaine, KS. Now there’s a place of beauty and peace!

“It’s so peaceful here,” said the lady, looking around as she came up the porch steps. She had come to look at a chair I had advertised for sale. She loved the chair but she also enjoyed talking and it was over half an hour later that she and her friend left with the chair. “It’s so beautiful,” she said a number of times. I wasn’t sure what she was referring to – the house, with its tired carpet and scruffy walls? Or the dandelion-infested backyard?

Her generous comments did make me appreciate more what I have – and realize that it IS beautiful compared to the surroundings that so many people live in.

It WAS also peaceful – until I went out a few minutes later and found 10 hens outside of their run! I recalled her words as I chased them and after I caught my breath I laughed to myself.

Gardening with chickens sounds nice – until one comes out in the morning and finds mulch scratched onto newly planted beds and nibbled lettuce leaves. Time after time.

I did put the hens into the most secure paddock, finally, but some of my “gates” are a little iffy and one was cracked open today, which let the 10 hens escape. I do intend to keep the gates closed to my main gardens in case of escapees, but as has been said,  and I paraphrase, the road to destruction is paved with good intentions. In this case a garden’s destruction.

The lettuce that wasn’t dug out completely is still growing and I think most of it will be salable. Most of the beans are popping out of the mulch that was flung over them and in the few empty spaces I’ll replant. For quite awhile I didn’t know why some things didn’t seem to be making progress and why some seedings didn’t germinate well. Now I wonder if it has largely been a chicken problem all along.

Once plants get a little more mature the chickens leave them alone and even their vigorous scratching doesn’t faze the foliage much. The strawberries have been unaffected by the illicit foraging and are blooming heavily right now. I am so excited for fresh fruit! Of course, once it starts ripening I will NOT want the hens roaming around!

This evening I sat in the living room looking out the window at the tree branches waving in the wind, enjoying peace restored and feeling thankful. I’m so grateful for all I have to share with others, including eggs, produce, and yes, beauty and peace.

Now let’s see, did I close those gates?

Winter Past

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“For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come…” Song of Solomon 2:11,12

The singing birds and the blossoming trees are such a balm to my soul right now. How wonderful to have these tiny glimpses into the beauty of the paradise my mother is so newly enjoying. For her winter is truly past. It will never come again.

When I think of her last days, there is only relief that she has been set free. When I look at the picture on the fridge, taken last summer, when she was smiling with pleasure at the visit of her youngest daughter, I miss her desperately.

The buds on the Bradford pear in our front yard, which she loved, began opening the morning of her memorial service. Many beautiful flowers and plants have been given in her honor as well gifts to purchase plants that will live on in her memory.

I’m so glad she went home in the spring. We buried her body in the ground, but it will rise again with a new and much more glorious body, just as the seeds I plant come up completely changed. Every seed that sprouts is a reminder of our hope.

Thank God for the promise of spring!

Life in the Seed

I was bending over an egg carton full of potting soil, dropping tiny lettuce seeds one by one into each egg cup. I wondered how these little bits of what looks like litter can actually contain life. Are they really any different than a tiny chip of wood? I covered the carton with a piece of plastic to keep it moist and set it on the kitchen counter prepared to wait up to 7 days for germination. Two days later I looked at it and lo and behold, there were little white specks in each seed’s space. Sure enough, the next day they were bigger and beginning to look like stems. Every one of those little bits came up. I was in awe. Something about sowing them so precisely, dropping each minuscule seed into the soil one by one, impressed on me what I was actually doing and made the life that emerged from the seeds seem so much more miraculous.

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Spring is on the horizon and I am gearing up for an exciting growing season. The first of the cool weather crops are in the ground. Seedlings are soaking up the sun in the south window.

This winter was a season of learning. I’ve watched how-to videos and read books. Eliot Coleman, Jean Martin Fortier, Curtis Stone, Justin Rhodes and others have been my gardening teachers. I feel charged up and ready to try out the new things I’ve learned. There is so much I still don’t know, but I feel like I have to start using what I do know before I can take in much more information.

This year I hope to find out if growing and selling produce is something I can do to help make staying at home sustainable. I believe that God has put this desire in my heart and if so, he will make my efforts fruitful. I am giving it my best and we’ll see what happens.

My current favorite quote is, “Forget all the reasons why it won’t work and believe the one reason why it will.”*

Is there life in the seed of your dream? Then it will grow!

*From an inspirational calendar by Beth Nadler.

No More Hoarding

I finally realized there was no sense in hoarding straw, when I have a plot that would benefit from its use, so one calm day I hauled the remains of the big round bale to my newest garden area. Six loads made six piles of rotting organic matter perched among the few leaves already scattered there.

I turned the chickens on it and 24 hours later all I had to do was rake straw over a couple of bare spots and I had a beautifully mulched garden bed. The chickens would’ve loved to keep working it, but since I want the ground covered for winter, I closed the gate.

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I never get tired of watching chickens work up mulch.

Speaking of hoarding, I have a small pile of composted horse bedding that’s been sitting here for 2 or 3 years. Since I used wood chips for bedding in the hen house this year, I didn’t need it for that. I think it’s time to spread it on the garden as well.

Sourcing mulch and compost has always seemed hard to me, but I have to believe that I will be able to find what I need when I need it. If my Father owns the cattle on a thousand hills, I’m sure he has plenty of mulch and compost material as well!

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A bonus to the straw spreading plan was finding a nice big hunk of straw that was still dry enough for bedding for Teddy and, I suspect, the cats. Peppermint Patty inspected my job and pronounced it good.

Alive and Thriving in Winter

I pulled weeds in the garden today. Wait. Why would I be doing that in December? I will tell you, but first let me say that it took such a small amount of time and energy that it didn’t feel like onerous work at all. I used to be relieved when fall came and I could forget about the garden till next spring. Back then, I would not have enjoyed pulling weeds instead of writing my Christmas letter, as I did today! I suppose part of the appeal this afternoon was the fun of seeing a patch of spinach not only surviving, but actually growing at this time of year.

I planted this patch on October 29th. It felt a little crazy, but hey, sometimes even I get into taking risks. I kept it covered with a light cloth from the start. Consequently, I got much better germination than I usually do with spinach. Lesson learned.

Just as the first green shoots started to emerge, the weather turned much colder. Then I covered the patch with a mini low tunnel (a frame of wire hoops covered with plastic). It hadn’t nearly all come up at that point, so I didn’t know exactly what to expect today.

Today was the first time I took the sheets of plastic completely off to get a good look at what was happening underneath. What I found was three rows of greens that not only germinated, but have continued to grow. The plants have their first true leaves and are starting to get their second set.

I hoed a little bit and pulled a few weeds. A couple of borage plants had also germinated under the plastic. One was a pretty good size. When I pulled it out…surprise! There came an earthworm – a big one! I guess the micro-climate under the plastic is also favorable to them. During the winter earthworms usually burrow down below the frost line and curl up in a slime-covered ball to wait for spring. I wonder if this one will mind not getting its yearly rest.

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Note the earthworm in the front and a lettuce seedling on the upper left.  Some lettuce went to seed in this spot last summer and a couple of plants have emerged.

That patch of spinach is doing me as much good as it is the earthworm. It encourages me to spend these cold months preparing for more growing adventures, not curled up in a ball till spring.

Russian Mennonite Christmas Cookies

Mom sat at the table, waiting for me to get supper on. At the other end of the table was a jar of peppernuts. Mom began struggling to stand up. “Mom, what do you want?” I asked her. She pulled my head down close and whispered one word in my ear, “Peppernuts”.

For many Dutch and Germans whose ancestors immigrated to the US, Canada, and Paraguay from Russia, Christmas is not complete without peppernuts. My earliest memories of these mini cookies were the orange-flavored, white ones which were very hard and tiny. I thought they were too hard to eat, but Mom told me to let them melt in my mouth as I would hard candy. My older cousin, who grew up near my maternal grandparents, says that was the kind Grandma always made, so it is no wonder that Mom made them as well.

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Rolling the dough into ropes

The year I was in 7th grade we happened to stop in at a new friend’s home when they were making peppernuts. They offered us a taste and we were hooked. These peppernuts were spicy like ginger snaps but also included just a hint of anise. They were a little larger than, and not as hard as, the orange ones, with a satisfying crunch. Mom requested the recipe and it has been our favorite ever since.

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This pan is ready to go into the fridge to chill.

For awhile Mom and we girls baked for a farmer’s market in Watertown, New York. I don’t remember what made us decide to try selling peppernuts, but we did. People there had never heard of them and didn’t know they were supposed to be a Christmas cookie. All summer long we sold many pint bags of our favorite recipe to the office ladies from a nearby business complex. They found them as addicting as we did. Except that, after a whole summer of making and eating peppernuts, we fell out of love for awhile. In fact, my siblings never quite recovered their former enjoyment. This sad fact was redeemed for me when I made a batch at my sister’s house one Christmas and I saw her children returning to the peppernut jar again and again. The next generation got the love!

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After chilling, the ropes are cut into small pieces to bake.

So why the name peppernuts? The book, Mennonite Foods & Folkways from South Russia, Volume 1 has at least 31 different recipes for peppernuts. The author, Norma Jost Voth, says that the oldest recipes included black pepper and that it enhances the flavor of the other spices. There are also recipes that include nuts or peppermint flavoring. Anise has been a common ingredient historically, as well.

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Christmas wouldn’t be complete without these spicy, crunchy, little cookies.

Back in Russia one custom was to use peppernuts for communion bread. They were baked touching on the pan and then pulled apart to serve. I imagine that the recipe used produced a much softer peppernut than I’m used to.

It is uncertain where our great-great-grandmothers learned to make peppernuts. The Dutch and some Scandinavian countries make a cookie very similar to them. Interestingly, the pfeffernusse of northern Germany do not resemble our peppernuts as closely.

Once again, I am getting in the Christmas spirit by baking peppernuts. I am also selling them this year. If you are interested, leave me a comment!

Playing in the Leaves

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Photo by Scott Webb from Pexels

The pile of leaves looked so fluffy and inviting. I wanted to jump in it, maybe even lay in it and watch the clouds for a bit. The pictures one sees of kids playing in the leaves always make it look like so much fun. However, I didn’t want to have to re-rake it, so I refrained. I just kept raking and loading and dumping as if accomplishing something was all that mattered in the world.

I dumped the loads I gathered onto one of the smaller garden beds. That particular bed is one that I have not yet tried growing crops in, but I hope to next year, and I know it needs a lot of organic matter. The chickens have been on it quite a bit already and now I’ve turned them on it again so they can shred the leaves I just added.

I’ve divided the entire area surrounding the hen house into sections with fencing and now I’m thinking of each section as a separate garden bed, even though I don’t plan to try to grow something in all of them next year and maybe never. The chickens have to have a place to hang out too, so one section will probably end up being their main run and they’ll just rotate through the others as needed.

I have four beds that I’m planning to use next year, and those are the ones I’m covering up with shredded leaves this fall. So far I’ve gotten about the equivalent of three pickup loads from a neighbor and from friends, plus those I’ve raked up. The Bradford pear still has lots of leaves on it, so I will have more later and I may get more from the neighbor as well.

It’s satisfying to see the garden beds all covered up for the winter. But I still wonder, couldn’t I have gotten that done even if I’d taken time to jump in the leaves?