Inside: My field of dreams, when life gives you a fallen tree, make a stump garden, and observations from the Katy Trail.
My Field of Dreams
Call me a child of the corn–though not in a Stephen King sort of way. But when you grow up on a farm in the Midwest, chances are you played in a cornfield. You’ve had the pleasure of running through the rows, hiding and seeking, suffering the little cuts and nicks from the leaves as you made your escape. Maybe you were like me and fell asleep to the sweet smell of ripening corn carried on the gentle summer breezes coming through your window. No perfume could ever rival that scent! Maybe you watched, as I did, the small sprouts emerge in the soil like stitches on a dark quilt and measured your height, from one week to next, against the rapidly growing stalks until that “high as the corn in July” moment when you knew you’d never catch up. And maybe, like me, you were sad when those vibrant green leaves turned pale in the short chilly days of autumn, knowing your field of dreams would soon end. Yet remembering still, there’s always next year.
When Life Gives You a Fallen Tree, Make a Stump Garden
We’ve had this fallen tree at the end of the yard for longer than I care to reveal. Way back when a wet autumn and stormy night resulted in an uprooted tree, and after a frustrating day of cutting logs and limbs, a huge portion of the trunk remained, as well as the stump upended on top of the hole it had once occupied. Last summer I had a vision for a garden but little time to make it happen. Plus I wasn’t sure how to make it work. Mom wasn’t available to help. Enter the summer of 2017. I shared my vision–and she shared my excitement. After a trip to Sugar Grove, our plant place, we began to fill in a few plants. Then she’d think of something else that would work well in this nook or that cranny, and the stump started taking shape.
Some of the plants in this early picture are caladiums, moss roses, sweet potato vines, purslane, sedums, grasses, and silver mound. Since then we’ve added begonias, Kong coleus, and salvia, and probably a plant or two I’m not remembering. Now, weeks later it has filled in and become quite the centerpiece of the yard. Look for a post on building a stump garden in the near future.
Observations From the Katy
Why would anyone willingly wake up at 3:48 in the morning, get dressed, grab a water bottle, and head out the door by 4:15? To go for a walk on the Katy Trail in the cool of the morning–or, in Hubs’ case, to go for a bike ride. For me, there’s no better way to spend a Saturday morning, deep in conversation with my daughter Emily as we walk her dog Odin on the Katy.
For those of you not familiar with the Katy, it’s a rail trail–the longest in the nation, actually–that extends across Missouri. If you like to walk or cycle or just enjoy nature, it’s a fun destination. For history buffs, the east side of the trail offers glimpses into Lewis and Clark’s adventures as well as some Daniel Boone and family history. It’s a great place to visit on this good green Earth we share!
How did your week go? Tell us about it in the comments.
Next week’s coming attractions: Help! The Weeds Have Taken Over my Garden, Backyard Bird Feeding 101
Inside: Renovating strawberries isn’t difficult–and you’ll be glad you did! Here’s what to do once the harvest is over.
You’ve picked berries until you’re seeing them in your sleep, but finally–finally!–the harvest is over. The strawberries are happily tucked into their frozen home, awaiting their culinary future. So, what to do with that strawberry bed?
Maybe yours looks like mine. Where did those weeds come from, anyway? No matter, it’s time to take action. Time to renovate.
Take courage! It’s not easy taking a weed eater to a carpet of lush green leaves, but your plants will come back stronger than before. How do you actually go about renovating strawberries? First locate your spent plants. Those are the ones with stems that look woody and leaves that are brown around the edges–plants that didn’t yield as many berries. Older plants. For these I chop the leaves and the crown right down to the soil line.
Next I find plants that have strayed past their boundaries–for example, those that are growing on the edge of the bed and into the yard. I keep more plants than others do, but a good rule of thumb is to leave four to six inches between plants and twelve inches between rows. I also take out the weeds.
For the plants I decide to keep, I chop the tops off, making sure to leave the crown. What’s the crown? The part that extends about an inch above the roots and which the stems grow out of.
Here is what the bed looks like after a good haircut. I followed the renovation with an application of my homemade fertilizer–weed tea. (More on that in another post.)
Notes on Renovating Strawberries
- Plants produce best when young, which is why you thin out the older ones.
- The best time to renovate is after the strawberries have stopped producing. They are semi-dormant after the harvest.
- How often should you renovate? For June-bearing varieties, once a year. Two to four years for day neutral and everbearing.
- Continue watering your bed, making sure it gets about an inch of water per week during the growing season.
You might be wondering, is it really necessary to renovate strawberries? Actually, you don’t have to do it. You can grow the berries as annuals and simply pluck out the plants at the end of the season. Or you can remove the old plants and replace with new ones. But after learning how simple it is to renovate strawberries, I hope you will give it a try. Your plants will thrive!
To renovate or not. What’s your opinion? Leave us a comment.
Related posts: My 3 Essential Tips for Growing Strawberries
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
–From the Declaration of Independence
This greenhouse veteran is a farm woman, wife, and mother of four and grandmother to nine. She is my personal landscaping consultant, with a wealth of knowledge on a wide variety of subjects and a knack for dealing with plants and people. In fact, she’s taught me much of what I know about life. I’ve known this woman literally all of my life—my mother, Ann Harke.
How did you get started working with plants? I always loved flowers, and years ago when our younger sons attended a private school in Troy, Missouri, I happened to stop by a small produce stand called Sugar Grove to check out their produce. The lady (the owner named Ellyn) who helped me find what I wanted was conversing with me about vegetables and flowers. I found that she and her husband Bill had greenhouses and grew plants. That piqued my interest! So I asked if they needed help and she said yes and that she’d call me in the spring. I truly thought she would forget. But Ellyn did call me, and that spring started my greenhouse and flower adventure. Thirty-one years later I am still transplanting in the greenhouse and selling flowers from their business on Cherry Street.
What is the most asked question you get from customers? “What is the best tomato plant” because we have many varieties from hybrid to heirloom. So I always quiz the person about what they want from a tomato, and we quickly find the right variety.
What’s the biggest mistake home gardeners make? Gardeners either overwater or underwater. For newbies I instruct them on which flowers love hot and dry and which need more water. It’s all about whether planting in containers or in the ground, so I like to help someone find the right flower for their situation.
What flowers and vegetables were the most popular this year? This year was a different year—wet and cold spring—so people were hesitant about planting some flowers. Tomatoes and peppers always rank highest and then flowers like vinca, begonias, and marigolds seemed to be wanted the most. Purslane baskets and trailing vinca baskets were very popular.
What’s the most unusual plant you’ve ever grown? Probably fiber optic grass. It’s a small accent grass that’s annual but actually looks like fiber optic. It goes all summer and doesn’t give out.
Do you have any tips for gardeners on a budget? I would say plant seeds in small Styrofoam cups as early as March, but if that isn’t your thing, concentrate on small areas where you want beauty. Buy plants a few at a time. You can plant until July. Some people think if you do not have it all done by the middle of May you shouldn’t plant anymore. My best vegetable garden ever was planted the middle of June. Also depends on the weather. I would suggest adding a few perennials every year, but remember annuals are instant beauty in your yard or container.
If you could only grow one flower, what would it be and why? After all these years I think begonias are my favorite. They thrive in hot and dry weather and by late August are absolutely beautiful. There are many varieties—regular begonias, tuberous begonias, Dragon Wing begonias, and Santa Cruz begonias. All are beautiful and practically maintenance free once established.
Any parting words of gardening wisdom? Gardening takes on many forms and can be different for different people. Some like instant beauty for a few months and that’s all. Some like to plant seeds and watch them grow, but then it becomes too much work. Some like getting their fingers in the dirt and get excited when they see a seed pop forth from the ground. My take is since we are all made unique and special, enjoy your plants in whatever way makes you happy. All of my gardening wisdom I learned through Ellyn (who has since gone to her heavenly home) and through experience. I have had really good years and some not so good, but I never give up. Around February I’m itching to get my fingers back in the dirt transplanting. Working with plants can be extremely therapeutic as I have found this year due to changes in my personal life.
My final word: Ellyn and I always said, “Vegetables are food for the body, but flowers are food for the soul.”
Inside: When leaves fall off your hackberry tree in early summer, don’t panic. Plus bittersweet family visits over Father’s Day weekend and other observations.
When Your Hackberry Tree Loses Its Leaves in Early Summer, Don’t Panic!
A few weeks ago as we were settling into June, I noticed a strange phenomenon happening outside my front door. One of my favorite trees, my beloved hackberry, started shedding leaves. The wind had kicked up that day, and whenever we’d get a hearty gust, a shower of lime green leaves would fall to the ground. After a day of windy weather, the leaves covered my outdoor table and chairs, which sat directly underneath my lovely tree due to the thick canopy of leaves it normally provided. Over the course of several days, those tender lime green leaves kept falling, blowing out into the rest of the yard, resembling a sort of odd-colored autumn come too early.
Then I prayed. After all this was one of my favorite trees in the yard, and I didn’t want to lose it. At some point it occurred to me to consult the internet where I found post after post on the subject of hackberry leaf drop. I learned that unseasonably cold spring temperatures can damage leaf buds or newly developing leaves, causing the leaves to drop. It’s nothing permanent.
Some of the leaves did survive on my hackberry tree, pictured above. So my favorite shady spot under my favorite tree is still there for me to enjoy peaceful summer mornings–just with a little dappled sunshine.
Family Visits, Bittersweet, Over Father’s Day Weekend
My younger brother Jeremy and his family came for a visit this past week. While it’s always good to see him, Ricci, and the kids, the timing was bittersweet for us–our first Father’s Day without Dad. Dad’s absence was strongly felt, and in our private moments we grieved yet again.
At the same time, Mom celebrated her birthday on the first day of summer. Over Boston cream cake, coconut cream pie, and home-churned chocolate ice cream we shared memories of Dad as well as funny stories of other family members and friends. It was good to gather, to laugh, and to reminisce. Many of those stories were Dad’s, retold by Jeremy who carries on the legacy, whether he knows it or not, of being the family storyteller. Dad would have loved it. And he would have had seconds on the coconut cream pie–his all-time favorite!
I love this picture of my niece Victoria (of Way to Go, Birds! fame) running through the sprinkler, something I remember doing myself. The pure joy of being a kid on a farm, lovingly captured by my sis-in-law Ricci.
I heard this at church last week from our pastor, and it has stuck with me: “In life, you can’t get what you want. You can only get what you think.” If there has been one lesson I’ve been learning this year, it has been that to change my life, I need to change my thinking. In some cases, drastic shifts. While I’ve made some progress, I’ve still got a ways to go. I am blessed to share my reflections with you, the reader, along the way.
How did your week go? Tell us about it in the comments.
Related posts: Bucking Bales: A Family Tradition
Inside: Building a raised garden can be a good option for the home gardener, particularly when resources are limited.
Growing up I was surrounded by gardening experts, especially my grandparents. They and everyone else in our area planted garden in much the same way–till up the soil, add manure and other fertilizer, plant seeds. So the flat bed of soil, worked up with the tiller before planting and then tilled between rows to keep weeds down as the plants grew, was the only garden model I knew. In my early gardening years I remember the frustration of bugging my father to run a plow through my plot–which really didn’t do much but cause ruts–because I didn’t own a tiller. I would end up spading much of my garden, which was slow, tedious work. I remember one particular summer when my daughter was small. By mid-season I hadn’t planted a thing, but I was desperate to at least put in some tomatoes. Grass had taken back much my original plot. Dad was ever the busy farmer and didn’t have time to help me. In desperation, I dug holes, planted the tomatoes, and placed a layer of newspaper and mulch around them to form a little bed. Lo and behold, it worked! Which taught me a valuable lesson. There was more than one way to grow a garden.
Along my gardening journey a wonderful book found its way to me which further shaped my thinking: Lasagna Gardening by Patricia Lanza. My gardening practices are greatly influenced by techniques I learned from this seasoned grower. When building a raised garden, I used much of the lasagna layering method for my traditional raised bed.
Last fall Hubs assembled this raised bed from some old wooden beams, and slowly but surely I began to fill it up with layers of cardboard, soil, compost, manure, grass clippings, leaves, spent hay, and some trimmings from bushes, not in that order. Admittedly, I’m not very scientific in my approach, but I added things little by little, careful to use a variety of organic matter. Notice I could have fit more plants in this plot, but I like a lot of space between my tomato plants. They’ll thank me for it later!
I decided to try my hand at hay bale gardening this year. Most people use straw, but I had some old seasoned hay bales that worked perfectly. Mom has tried this for a few years now with some success, so I knew the basics. If unseasoned, wet the bales really, really, really well before attempting to transplant anything. We’re talking several days of watering. And by all means, first stick your hand down inside of the bale before planting. If it is extremely hot, it’s not ready yet. Turn the sprinkler on the hay (or straw) to prepare it some more. The best solution is to set up your bales on edge (non-twine side up) in the fall. No changing your mind about moving them once they’ve been through the rains and snows of fall and winter, as they will become quite heavy! By spring those square beauties are ready for your plants. If planting seeds, gardeners suggest layering about four inches of top soil on the top of the bale. I chose to transplant peppers. For the last two years we’ve had heavy rainfall in the summer, and my peppers suffered from muddy roots. My thinking was that if we had a third rainy summer they’d be fine tucked away in the hay. If it’s hot and dry, I’ll need to be watering them more often.
The border around the bales is made from logs of various lengths and widths simply lined around it, nothing special to hold them together. The wood has stayed in place better than I had anticipated.
The third method I have used when building a raised garden is called hugelkultur, a German word meaning “hill culture.” Admittedly, this experiment was entirely by accident. About fifteen years ago a tree had fallen in the yard, and after we had someone cut and haul away most of it, a large portion of the trunk (about four feet long and a foot in diameter) remained. No one had a use for it. Including me. I wanted it gone. But while we were away on vacation, Mom decided to surprise us with landscaping the yard, and she used this log as the center of a flower bed, placing pots with flowers on top and flowers surrounding the log. Instead of getting rid of the trunk, she decided to “work with it” as she told me later.
Fast forward all of these years later, and the flower bed continues with several perennials and annuals that reseed themselves. The log has gotten smaller over time, slowly decaying, and at the same time feeding the soil. I have never fertilized this bed–have never needed to–and the soil remains soft and crumbly. The rotting log also acts like a sponge, retaining moisture for the bed. It doesn’t take much to keep up with it, yet I get an amazing show of lilies, zinnias, marigolds, salvia, and heuchera. I love this flower bed!
So there you have it–raised bed gardening at its finest. These methods don’t require a lot of money, the weeding is easy, and the results are comparable to those traditional flat garden plots from my youth. I will keep readers posted on the harvest from these beds in the fall.
Do you use any unconventional garden practices? Tell us about it in the comments.
Related posts: My 3 Essential Tips for Growing Strawberries
This past week I surprised myself. After nearly two decades, I stood on top of a trailer load of hay, stacking square bales while my brother Vince and nephew Bradley tossed them to me. My sis-in-law Lisa was behind the wheel, keeping things moving steadily along as a gentle breeze kept us cool in the June sun.
The surprising part for me was that, after a little coaching from Bradley, my hay stacking knowledge all came back to me like the proverbial riding a bike. And the memories of former days in the hay came back to me as well.
From my earliest days I remember when Vince and I would run out to the front field to catch my dad’s brothers as they loaded a flat wagon full of square bales. One of our uncles would hoist us up on to the load to ride. As they stacked the hay, we’d climb higher and higher. What a ride!
Not so many years later, I wanted to help out in the fields, too, though the crews were all guys. I’m not sure how I talked Dad into letting me work, but he did, and though I dealt with teasing—girls weren’t supposed to be out in the hay—I eventually gained respect.
In my late teens and early twenties, bucking bales was a regular summer ritual, not only for our farm, but many in the area. In fact, I remember our county paper running a story, calling it a “rite of passage.” And it was then. Although some farmers started gravitating toward round bales, the square variety still made up the majority. Ads in the paper for hay crews were common, charging so many cents per bale. I even lured the guy I was dating then (and married to now) out into the fields to help. I remember those days, working the flatbed wagon, Dad and Mike throwing bales to me as I stacked and Mom drove. My younger brothers would roll the stray bales in line so Dad and Mike didn’t have to walk as far. Eventually those brothers ended up working the wagon, too.
Years later Dad bought a small round baler, and we didn’t put up as many square bales. But we still worked the fields. Then we’d roll those bales on to the wagon, and he’d store some on the loft. He even added an extension to his loader bucket to hoist them up with the tractor. Kids and dogs loved jumping on those round bales, my daughter included.
At some point we stopped doing hay ourselves. As Dad got older and the boys traded in the hay field for the mission field, there were more cows to feed and milk, and it made more sense to buy hay elsewhere. Our days bucking bales were behind us. So many of the neighboring farms abandoned the tradition as well.
Yet now we find ourselves back to our old ways, bucking bales. People still need to feed horses and cattle, after all. Which brings me back to this moment in time: Me, standing on the trailer, stacking hay, recalling all the little things from days in hay fields’ past—hay inside my clothes and in my nose, tiny scratches on my arms from handling the bales. The conversations, flowing like the stray breezes as we move from bale to bale. All of us together, out there, under the forgiving sun. Seeing Dad in the back of my mind, patiently tossing up another bale for the top of the load.
And me, loving every minute of it.
Ah, summertime! So many things to love. Trips to the garden center and plant stands to find some bargains to bring home. And, once home, the challenge of which plants go together and in what pot. Most of my flowers are displayed in containers, some functional, some decorative, and some creative (cheap). And while each container serves a purpose, the creative—cheap—ones are some of my favorites. Finding unique containers for gardening isn’t difficult. You just need to think outside the box. (Or container, that is.)
It’s been a while since this charcoal grill has seen a steak. Nowadays it holds a bunch of colorful coleus.
Even the lid has been put into service, with the addition of begonias.
This gives new meaning to the word pot. An old cheapie sauce pan I previously used for making candles has become a home for marigolds.
These old dairy parlor boots of mine are serving a new purpose—host to trailing vinca.
The holes which made them unwearable years ago make them perfect as a planter.
We inherited this ice cream maker from Hubs’ mother years ago with the intention of actually churning ice cream, but the parts were broken, so it sat. That is until I persuaded Hubs to drill some holes in the bottom. I love to plant grasses in it.
These are my creative and cheap containers that I love. I hope to acquire more in the future, but until then I’ll be on the lookout for any old serviceable containers I can press into service to hold my flowers.
Do you have any unique containers for gardening? Share them with me in the comments.
Related posts: My 3 Essential Tips for Growing Strawberries
So it’s June and my strawberries have stopped bearing. (They’ve always been more May-bearing, actually.) It was a lovely harvest with plenty of fresh berries as well as a few gallons in my freezer for future use. The problem, if you can call it that, is I have limited room in said freezer. I need to start using up some of them to make room for the rest of the fruit and veggies coming my way this season. What follows are my suggestions for five delicious ways to use up strawberries.
Shakes. This is an obvious choice. Hubs has a shake nearly every morning for breakfast, which is a perfect use for some of the softer, less than stellar berries. I’ve been doing more shakes myself, and when I compare the price of organic strawberries with mine grown the same way, it’s a bargain. Not to mention the satisfaction that comes from growing something yourself!
Salads. Moving on to the midday meal, strawberries make a refreshing addition to a light summer salad. Take your favorite salad greens, slice about one fourth of a cup of strawberries per serving on to the greens, toss in a couple of tablespoons of pecan halves, and top with my homemade balsamic vinaigrette: 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons of a good extra virgin olive oil, 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard, and 1 or 2 teaspoons of sweetener of choice (sugar or honey for those without diet restrictions). Whisk these together until mixed and dress salad. Yum!
Pound cake. I love to serve cut up strawberries mixed with a little sweetener (to make the berries release their juices) over pound cake and topped with my whipped topping of choice. Here’s a fantastic low carb pound cake recipe I absolutely love. I often make this for Fourth of July.
Ice cream. In keeping with the dessert trend, I’m a fan of strawberry ice cream. We recently received an electric ice cream maker for a gift, and we’ve been making low carb versions of the favorite summer treat. For a really simple recipe, take two cups of heavy whipping cream and two cups of frozen strawberries, sweetener or sugar to taste, and blend in a blender. You can either finish making in an ice cream maker or freeze in a large container that you put in the freezer and stir every hour or so until it reaches the desired consistency.
Preserves. My best berries will be made into strawberry preserves that I’ll be giving away as gifts in Christmas baskets. I found this jam recipe on Pinterest recently from the website Return to Simple, and it looks pretty good.
So there you have my five delicious ways to use up strawberries. Try one of these simple ideas today!
Related post: My Three Essential Tips for Growing Strawberries
Guest post from writer Patsy Reiter
Their chirps are alerting me that I’d better get moving. Rising early has never been an issue for me because it’s the best time of the day. Who on earth would want to miss the sunrise, cool crisp air, and sparkling dewy grass?
A quick peek in the mirror assures me that I have bedhead trauma. I carelessly run fingers through my hair. As the pre-programmed coffee perks, I pull on jogging pants and adjust them underneath my calf-length cotton nightgown. My nose follows the scent to the kitchen for my wake-up brew. A pinch of sugar substitute and half -n- half, and then I savor my first morning sip.
I rummage through the fridge for grape jam, boil a cup of water with sugar for the hummingbirds, and set it aside to cool. I slip my arms into a fleece then grab a mixing spoon and jar of jam. Placing my back against the screen door, I push my way outside.
I drop a gob of jam onto an orange plastic lid and rinse the memorial-given cement birdbath from my husband’s funeral clean before filling it with fresh water. Within seconds, a handsome male oriole is dipping into the jam, unthreatened by my presence.
Someone down south took good care of him or he’d be leery of me.
With arthritic hands, I struggle to pull the top off the black oil sunflower country seed mix and carry a full pail to the feeding station under the leaning pine tree. I hurry back inside for the cooled hummingbird mix and fill the bright red feeder.
I stop, breathe in deeply, raise my hands to heaven, assess my work, and then return to the house to freshen my coffee.
I reach for my devotional before shuffling out again to the wooden swing set. Needs a good power washing, I think before sitting down. I wiggle and twist until I find a comfortable resting position and pause before reading. Gazing above at the shards of light bursting through the red maple tree branches, I watch my feathered friends flitter about, swoop down for their breakfast, and harmonize thank you.
Patsy Reiter has been writing stories for children and adults for over fifteen years, with five credits in two e-zine magazines and a piece in the Genesee County Family Resource Guide. A Michigan native and member of SCBWI-MI and American Christian Fiction Writers, her inspiration is fueled by her grandchildren and an offbeat sense of humor. In 2009 she won first place for her e-zine story “The Necklace.” School visits and opportunities to inspire children are high on her agenda. She enjoys spending time with family and friends where ideas consistently sprout. Patsy has just completed her first inspirational novel.