Wednesday, April 29, 2009


The first gatherings of the garden in May of salads, radishes and herbs made me feel
like a mother about her baby - how could anything so beautiful be mine. And this emotion
of wonder filled me for each vegetable as it was gathered every year. There is
nothing that is comparable to it, as satisfactory or as thrilling,
as gathering the vegetables one has grown.
- Alice B. Toklas

Tonight's dinner was made miraculous by the first green leaf lettuce and baby spinach salad harvested from our kitchen garden. I kept it very simple: a little olive oil in the salad bowl, a big clove of garlic rubbed all around within, greens tossed in with a little more olive oil, a splash of red wine vinegar and salt and pepper. That's all. But that was everything! Delicioso, as my mom would say. How wonderfully thrilling to taste living food. Truly wonderful.
The salad was beautifully complemented by another simple food--parmesan crisps. August just couldn't believe me that they were made with just parmesan. "What's below the cheese, Mom?"
"Nothing. It's just made from parmesan cheese, cooked on a cookie sheet."
"But it's just sooooo good!"
Too bad neither boy would try the salad. Stinkers!
Oh, the three tomato pasta sauce wasn't half bad either.

All in all, a wonderful way to share a meal together.

Weeds or "nature's graffiti" ?

Roses are red,
Violets are blue;
But they don't get around
Like the dandelions do.
~Slim Acres

It's official, the dandelions have declared squatter's rights on our "front yard."

Greening o' the Woods

Now every field is clothed with grass, and every tree with leaves; now the woods put forth their blossoms, and the year assumes its gay attire. ~Virgil

We decided to "concentrate on nature" (Aidan's phrase) this morning and check out the progress of our woods. It was amazing what a different place it was with its new green garb. Remember, our only personal experience with our woods is in its naked state--brown, quiet, resting.
But today it seemed to quiver with life.

Spring slips into even the most hidden places of the countryside
and transforms them into mossy-green mansions of delight.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Just a little something

It's very late and I desperately need to go to bed but I also desperately wanted to post SOMETHING, so.

The first two photos were taken in the "backyard" at the Governor's Mansion here in Jefferson City. The Mansion sits atop a hill overlooking the Missouri River and just up from the Capitol building itself. This neat garden is nestled below the house in a cut out from the bluff that the house sits on. The day that we were there (our first truly magnificent spring day) the tulips were gorgeous. Then I spotted the lilac bushes and rushed over. When the boys caught up with me I introduced them to the glorious scent of lilacs. They were not as impressed. They'll learn.

The last picture is just a simple shot of the corner of my bedroom. We had just opened our windows for the first time this Spring and I had finally removed the ridiculous looking, although incredibly warm, insulated foil sheeting (imagine bubble wrap that is sealed between two really large pieces of heavy duty foil) that we had lined our walls with in order to make our room habitable for the winter. It was originally purchased to help insulate the ceiling of our cellar but we had extra. Looking at it for the last four months reminded me of the pictures strewn throughout the book Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin. The interior of every home in that book seemed to be constructed of only 2x4s and aluminum foil. I used to point and make fun of those hippies but who's laughing now?
Anyway... seeing the bare walls again, the curtain pulled back and the fresh air blowing in... well, I was just struck by the simplicity of it all. Mind you, the rest of the bedroom that is not included in this shot is a total disaster. That's why I spent a lot of time focusing on this corner.

It is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all.
-Laura Ingalls Wilder

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Piercing the earth

What a man needs in gardening is a cast-iron back, with a hinge in it. ~Charles Dudley Warner, My Summer in a Garden, 1871

Finally, we have had a run of gradually warmer days with no rain and so John borrowed our neighbor's tiller (kind of a permanent loan on the part of our neighbor as it is old and he has no real use or space for it) and began the laborious work of carving out our garden plot. Although there is no picture of it, I, too, did some tilling and believe you me--it was hard work!!! The whole time that I was trying to control the machine I couldn't help but imagine trying to do the same thing with a single blade plow and some oxen. Incredible!!! Here I had the luxury of a gasoline engine and four blades to break up the earth and I was still overwhelmed at how difficult it was. As much as we are committed to gentle practices in our farming endeavors, I am incredibly grateful for the glory of the tiller.

The other marvelous part of this early garden work is the soil. We had our soil tested through our local extension office earlier this winter and we were incredibly surprised by the results. All of the major components of soil chemistry that one needs to be concerned with when attempting to grow food were within normal limits. In fact, the level of "organic material" was pretty close to ideal. We are not sure how this is possible considering the fact that previous owners of our property basically trashed the place, or at the very best, paid little attention to the grounds. The glory of this is that we don't have to go to great lengths to amend the soil. This is truly a blessing. John and I have read many accounts of folks who have had to spend several years just working with their soil in order to bring it to a place where it could sustain life. We can basically hit the ground running.

The darkness of the soil is also something new. Having moved here from Georgia, it feels like a fairy tale to dig into the ground and come up with black, rich soil. Our previous growing experiences in Atlanta required the addition of tons of amendments just to turn the dirt from a red-orange hue to a darker red-orange hue. Once John began working the tiller, the earthworms were everywhere (hallelujuah!) and the rich, black soil danced.


We read and studied out of doors, preferring the sunlit woods to the house. All my early lessons have in them the breath of the woods--the fine, resinous odour of pine needles, blended with the perfume of wild grapes. Seated in the gracious shade of a wild tulip tree, I learned to think that everything has a lesson and a suggestion... Indeed, everything that could hum, or buzz, or sing, or bloom, had a part in my education--noisy -throated frogs, katydids and crickets held in my hand until, forgetting their embarrassment, they trilled their reedy note, little downy chickens and wildflowers, the dogwood blossoms, meadow violets and budding fruit trees. --Helen Keller

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Chickens are coming!

Unfortunately, I'm having a hard time figuring out how to format my pictures and text so, rather than being able to give a lead in to the pictures with some explanations, you're just getting all of them in one big group. Plus, they didn't load in the order that I wanted so... oh well, just bear with me as I explain.

When we first looked at this house, I noticed that out in the barn there was quite a bit of wood that looked like it was in good shape and held great potential. So, when we were negotiating deals, we made sure to ask that the wood in the barn be included in the deal. Well, it was and now it is being used to build our chicken coop. I like to refer to it as our "Coop Coup". Well, not really, but what a deal!! The last picture above shows John beginning to take apart the wood. The majority of it was contained in a simple frame-like structure that the plumber, who owned our property two owners ago, used to hold long pipes. It was constructed with lots of 2x4s and held even more. There were also many squares of plywood in the lean-to portion of the barn. All completely salvagable wood. It just had to be taken apart. John started doing it one Sunday afternoon (with the "help" of some neighborhood boys) but could only get so far. My dad, upon hearing of our plans, couldn't resist and offered to come over for several days and help us with the coop. He dismantled the rest of the frame and spent the week putting into place the coop plan that John had designed.
The basic idea is that it will be a moveable coop. Rather than building a permanent house that includes a permanent yard for the chickens, our coop, as well as the yard, will be moved every week or two. The reasoning for this is that it keeps the chickens from destroying one part of our property because of being relegated to only one area. The floor of our coop will be open and covered in hardware cloth. This will allow the chicken poop to fall "through the floor" and on to the ground. When we move the coop, we will incorporate the poop that they leave behind into our compost pile and into the ground itself, thus enriching the soil. This concept has made designing a coop big enough for all of our chickens that can still be moved around quite the challenge. Our plan is to make the sides and top of the coop metal, which will help tremendously with the weight issue. So far, all we have had to buy are nails and two wheels. The rest has been salvaged.
The picture of the boys shows them sitting in what will be our nesting boxes.

Our chicks were supposed to arrive last week but they have been delayed because of the weather. We are now looking for them to arrive on April 30. I have their brooding area all set up in our garage and I'll post pictures of that when the chicks arrive.

And, yes, we have ordered roosters, in addition to our laying hens. The reason for this is two-fold. We do want to "harvest" some of the roosters for eating and that should make for quite a big barbeque this summer. How, exactly, we are going to harvest them is still to be determined. Secondly, August "can't wait to be woken up by a rooster!" I'll let you know how he feels about that in a couple of months.
Well, I have completely fallen out of the habit of writing and, in the meantime, so much continues to happen around here. I have finally decided to post several items in order to bring things up to speed and to, perhaps, break the chain of "no posts".

I suppose that what most occupies our minds these days is two-fold, including both flora and fauna.

The Flora = Our first major garden endeavor
The Fauna = The 50 chicks that are headed our way

Evidently, when we decide to explore a concept, we jump in completely. Our garden, if successful, should feed not only our family, but many others, as well. And that is an incredible blessing. And our chickens ... well, we let our neighbor (who could be the subject of untold number of blogs) talk us into 50. I think I had thought more along the lines of 15-20, but why stop there, right?

Our garden is still evolving. We have already established a small kitchen garden just outside our back door (and kitchen, hence the name) which is planted with lettuce, spinach, turnips, bunch onions and cauliflower. It is doing beautifully despite our crazy up and down temperatures. Those were all started from seed inside in mid-February and were then transplanted at various times, based on their size. We have been able to outsmart the dipping temperatures by covering the little plants with plastic lids from a variety of sources (strawberries, baby spinach, and even suet containers) and then topping them with a rock or brick. The miniature green house covers have worked wonderfully, however some days have been a real challenge with the incredibly strong winds we have experienced all winter and spring.
The main garden has yet to be tilled and, additionally, has yet to be exactly charted out. We have a lot of seeds to plant and many things to take into consideration, like space for our 3 different melon varieties to spread out and trail their vines. Or how best to organize the pole beans and tomatoes so that they don't shade the lower growing plants. There's a lot to do yet.
Meanwhile, John lovingly tends to his seedlings that he has been nurturing since February. Here's a timeline of their progress, in pictures.

The first picture shows our tomato and pepper seedlings in March. You can see that John did an awesome job of making our own seedling pots out of recycled newspaper. They worked perfectly. These are actually the seedlings' second home, however. We first planted the seeds in either egg cartons, styrofoam meat/produce trays or peat pots that we had saved from our garden efforts in Atlanta. The bottom picture is all tomato plants. Notice how much bigger they've gotten. They even smell like tomato plants now, which is so incredible. John has been able to pull this all off by lovingly tending to these babies, several times a day. He wakes up and the first thing he does is check on the plants. He places them in our southeastern windows for the morning and then I am supposed to move them to our southwestern windows as the sun moves. The plants have gotten so big at this point that some never get moved and instead, are kept under CFL bulbs for about 16 hours a day. When John gets home from work he usually goes straight to the plants to check on them. You can see, too, that the tomato plants outgrew their newspaper pots and are now housed in recycled milk cartons. Recycling has played a bit part in these initial efforts and has saved us lots of money.
We are looking forward to the temperatures leveling off so that the seedlings can stay outside permanently. The moving them around inside, although not a big deal, is getting kind of old and they would benefit from direct sunlight and rain water anyway.
I am so very proud of John for all of his dedicated attention, reading, research, tending, watering, and general tinkering that has led to our success thus far.
We still have to put these puppies in the ground, however, so I'll let you know how that goes!