...if you have a backyard and a kitchen, this blog might be for you!

a chronicle of tips and recipes on everything from gardening to canning and baking your produce, even if you're planted in suburbia...in fact, especially if you are planted in suburbia.

Thursday, March 29, 2012


last few scrappy leaves on what was attempting to be a verdant row of snow peas
 Already as in:  am I already having to combat garden-loving critters?!?
Indeed.  Something is already eating the leaves off my vulnerable new snow pea plants, and while I haven't seen these varmints yet, I suspect a multi-generational family of chipmunks. This generation seem to have lost touch with the soul of their humble ancestors--those who would at least sit on a planter and twitch their tails to make a cute show of gratitude for my gracious and bounteous provision them-ward.  But as for this generation of ingrates!  They are surely entitlement-afflicted!  Do they really believe they deserve the first few puny seedlings--the sweetest and tastiest of my garden's new growth?  Thankfully, they haven't found the cabbage (see below) nor are they munching on the broccoli...Just my snow peas.  My precious snow peas.
adapting to conditions:  watering with Miracle Gro and treating for pests
Time to take them down a notch or two.  The garden gets the mothball treatment.  These little white packets of mothballs usually do the trick against the chipmunks. 

And just in case my trouble is with some landed-gentry bunny lordlings, they get the spray.  The horrid-smelling "deer and rabbit" spray, available at most any garden center and usually offered in non-toxic, organic varieties.  Funny how much I've become conditioned to "like" the smell of hot peppers and rotten eggs as I mist my plants.  I gagged the first time I used the stuff, but I guess Pavlov was right, because I've certainly learned to associate it with un-munched, happily thriving veggie plants; and the smell doesn't bother me at all any more.

The critters? I'm not entirely heartless. They can eat the clover and dandelions--which we'd like to see get critter-harvested anyway. 
Ah, the trials and tribulations of being Garden Steward...

Happy protecting!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sabbath Rest: to Walk and to Look

Recently, I began a walking program to get in a little better shape.  If you've gardened any number of seasons at all, you know--and sometimes forget, as I did this year--that gardening is back-breaking labor.  Your body might not be ready to jump into the season as quickly as the soil is ready to receive your labors!  Some years, I remember this truth.  Other years, I end up with an screaming sciatic nerve (as happened my first year of gardening) or a whiny shoulder blade and a neck that refuses to turn for a few days (as happened this year.)  So...I began walking and reading about walking.  One book I'm using for motivation has a great section on the spiritual element that can accompany the walking routine if you'll let it.  Here is an excerpt from that book, along with a few verses that seem to confirm that walking this "way" can bestrength to both body and soul.

Taken on one of my recent walks
Ralph Waldo Emerson, a 19th-century poet and an avid walker, once described the sky as "the daily bread of the eyes."

...Psychological research suggests that the reward of really seeing the sky may be greater than just a pleasant feeling from having taken in a nice view.  Specifically, sky gazing may sap stress by helping you put your emotions in perspective.  As Borden explains, "When you realize that everyone is in the sky instead of under it, as many people perceive themselves, you get a stronger sense of connectedness."...For some people, a good look up to the heavens is all they need to experience the sky's stress-reducing powers.  Others might get better results by using one of these two approaches. 

Turn outward.  Dr. Conn reminds you to "stay out of your head" when you walk.  "One Native American phrase for insanity translates as 'talking, talking, talking inside your head,' " she notes.  "When people keep up this incessant internal chatter, they don't get relief on their walks.  I remind them to stop, look, listen, smell and touch the world around them." 

Reframe what you see. It's easy to feel distressed or overwhelmed when some part of life's landscape is in disarray...As an example, imagine that you're walking near your town's dump, and you feel overwhelmed by its ugliness...Pretend that your eye is a camera lens.  Look closely at the dump through that lens.  Then turn the lens toward the sky.  As you take in the sky's beauty, you become unaware of the dump.  Tilt the lens again until you see only the dump.  Then shift back to the big picture, combining the sky and the dump.  This is a truer picture of reality--80% beauty, 20% ugly.  You'll feel not only less anxious about the ugliness but also empowered to do something about it if you want to...Even these simple acts can be truly potent tools for reframing your thoughts about life.  --from Preventions's Complete Book of Walking by Maggie Spilner
Ancient seers of God used that same larger picture perspective, that same upward glance filling their hearts when they made the following observations:

Look unto the heavens, and see; and behold the clouds [which] are higher than thou.  Job 35:5

Who can number the clouds in wisdom? or who can stay the bottles of heaven? Job 38:37

Thy mercy, O LORD, [is] in the heavens; [and] thy faithfulness [reacheth] unto the clouds.  Psalm 36:5

Happy upward look...

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Market Pilgrimage: Flower and Patio Show (2)

Down to the nitty gritty today.
The whole escapade wasn't all about wandering through idyllic mock-gardens. Part of it was spent visiting sales booths.  A few things were a bit off the mark--like the jewelry polishing booth, (OK, maybe if I mess around in the dirt without gloves and get my rings dirty??) and the dip sample booth (Take a pretzel and choose a dip...to eat at your next backyard barbecue??)

But some shops were right on the money--like this booth of organic heirloom seeds, all produced in a neighboring state. Their uniqueness was in their labeling.  They were marked with all sorts of "extra" info, like the history of that particular plant's association with the area, whether it is still frequently grown, etc.

But many of the booths were glutted with a wild array of goods, places where you hugged your purse to your chest just so you wouldn't "have" to buy something you just inadvertently broke.

The cut flowers booth was a hit with us, although we both noted one disappointment there:  nothing aromatic.  The flowers were lovely but virtually without scent--even the roses.  Ah, well...

Finally, some of the booths offered quirky options for repurposing and recycling.  This bird feeder, for example, is made from an old tire, sliced up and painted to resemble a flower with an old window screen stapled to fill its center.
Fortunately, this particular show didn't cater to only one economic strata.  Some for-purchase options, like this terrarium were on the pricier side...

...while others--like this cactus in a jar--were quaint and relatively cheap.

While I didn't buy them, these gardening boots got my blood so stirred up I wanted to take my feet straight out into the dirt.  I was ready to go home, put on my gardening clogs (nowhere as fun as these, but serviceable) and transplant some of those seedlings into their larger permanent garden home.  Funny to think, that garden plot is where they'll stay for the remainder of their lives. 
Come to think of it, maybe they deserve a fun-looking pair of boots tromping around them, if boots must tred their personal space at all.

Happy wandering!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Market Pilgrimage: City Garden and Patio Show

New phone with decent camera + half a day to wander around using it = too many photos for one blog post!  Last week my neighbor and I took our first market pilgrimage of the year to the Indianapolis Garden an Patio Show at the state fair grounds.  This one was a big enough adventure that I think I'll divide it over two posts.  Too many beautiful displays to narrow down to one reasonably sized blog post, and in case you don't have access to such a garden show near your home, I'd love to fully share mine with you.  Enjoy!

As nondescript as this building looks on a gray March day, the inside quickly proves to be a wonderland of springtime beauty.

Shops of all sorts run like strands of pearls down the long pavilion, from hand-made soaps... 

...to flavored honeys and jellies;...

from humble little water gardens...

...to sprawling streams, so many options were put on display. 
(Personally,I favor the running stream idea; it takes me back to afternoon hikes in the woods where I grew up. 
That said, recreating it ain't as cheap as letting nature do it for you!)

Some displays were unique:  this checkerboard mixed walkway for instance...
... while other trendy options spread like a plague through the place. 
I could show photos of 10 other displays of rock pit fires like this one. 

Altar-esque alcoves with elements of light and mist added to the water and plant life seemed popular this year, too.

...making it tempting to just sit and bask in the loveliness of a few of the displays. 
(Say hi to Joni!)
We'll sit here a while and visit another pavilion tomorrow!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Resilience and Continuity

Often I hold an idea in the palm of my hand much like a seed, and I wonder whether it will grow into something fruitful.  I took a couple of my favorite hobbies in hand that way a year ago and made a planting of them.  They both continue to this day.

One was the garden at Outreach, Inc., the drop-in center for homeless young people in downtown Indy.  Last year, our garden did fairly well--well enough that we decided to add a spring crop this year.
Last year, we planted summer fare--tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, carrots, etc. 
Last year we had great materials donated to us:  a raised bed garden plot with the best of soil.  But we planted on a cloudy day.  Some things never grew, and we had to do some replanting.

This year, we planted the same area, but on a sunny day.  The gardeners--both young men with previous gardening experience--noted that only half the garden plot got a full-sun exposure. 
This year, we planned out our seed planting according to not only soil needs, but also to sunlight needs and space needs.
We are learning to make our garden more fruitful.  More productive.  And we are continuing to dream.  We can see other things growing here.  Things we didn't try last year.
We are considering what went well before and what could stand to be tweaked a bit now. 
"We need to prune our tomatoes better."
"I know!  They did great for a while, but then they just went wild!"
"I want to plant some hot peppers this year. Not just the sweet ones."
We made use of an efficiency that comes with experience.
Last year we planted from a generalized guide sheet.  It was helpful.  But this year, we planted on last year's foundation, along with a bit of information on the back of the seed packets. We took a better assessment of our growing conditions. 

In many ways, the renewal of the growing season and the building upon its past successes and failures proved to be an altogether different sort of seed planted within us.

As for that other hobby I took like a seed into my hand--knitting with a teen library club for the sake of a charity in Africa--this one too is proving resilient and continues to thrive.  Recently, our knitting club celebrated the near-completion of our 60-item goal by taking a field trip to a local restaurant and sharing pie together during our knitting  time.  Our next objective is to add to our skill base: learning to crochet now that we have a good handle on knitting.  We may continue with charity work, or we may turn to gifts and personal projects, but either way--the group has found a joy in its identity worth preserving beyond this initial project.

While the knit-a-square charity was a great kick-off for this group, who can say what its future holds?  Who knows what the Outreach garden will end up being?  They, too, have dreams--dreams to grow things they might take to farmers' markets and sell for the good of the Center.  Dreams to expand the garden to grow things they already know how to cook and dreams to serve each other meals from recipes that are happy spots in their own histories.

Some days, when I read or hear how the love of so many in this world waxes cold, on those days these two groups--despite minimal skills, despite minimal resources--giving time and effort to benefit others...these are a warm spot against that invading cold.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Temporary Lodging

Remember this day last month?  The day we got the ball rolling? Well, the seed-starting kit worked quite well, and phase two of Growing Season 2012 is ready to begin.
 So even as I'm using up the final bulb of last year's garlic and coaxing the indoor parsley to continue in its little pot for just a little while longer...
 ...even now I'm carrying out the tools for chapter two in the seedlings' story.  Best pointers I know to give from my past gardening experience are:  reuse the little spring flower containers for hardy-stemmed starts like sunflower seeds.  But for the more tender seedlings of spring, use the peat pots that can be plopped directly into the soil later without having to disturb the little plant when you bury it.  Also, go ahead and invest in specific "seed starter" mix rather than simple potting soil.  Newbie plants really do prefer it.  Finally, label what's growing.  A bag of tongue depressors and a sharpie are sufficient and cheaper than the specific garden markers you buy at the nursery.  You may think them unnecessary, that in a month that you'll be able to remember/see what's what in those peat pots, but just in case you can't tell the broccoli from the brussels sprouts and want some order to your garden, give yourself reminders of what's growing in those little transplant stations.

The spongy seed starter hits an A-rating again: it simply slices into blocks that can be directly placed in the peat pots, again, affording less risk of damage to those oh-so-tender root-lets.  May have to go the sponge bed route again.

Back inside in the same sunny window, only now with a more "mature" (let's say tweener) growing situation.  Now...Hope Night.  That night when you "hope" the little tykes decide to thrive in their new homes. 

As for kitty, he's unimpressed.  Not until I throw open the windows will the season of long spring naps in the windowsill replace the season of long winter naps on top of the couch.

Happy time-between!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Sabbath Rest: A Most Important Task of Early Spring

Pruning is a large part of a garden's productivity.  Likewise a soul's, but I find their seasons seem to run in counterpoint.  The soul often recognizes its pruning in the quieter times.  Therefore, I'll share this excerpt now, when winter transitions into spring.  It reflects on the vine dresser's secret:  "The secret of taking more to town [of a vineyard harvest] in September, is leaving more behind all year long."

The vine dresser in our story understood and applied the wonderful principle of 'leaving more behind .'  If you're a home gardener, I imagine you do, too.  Early every spring you pay special attention to your dwarf apple trees or your prize rose bushes.  Why?  Because you know that the size and condition of the fruit or flowers you hope to enjoy later in the year will depend on what you do now. 
And what you have to do now is prune.
One gardening manual in our house defines pruning as 'removing unwanted plant parts for a purpose.'  You cut away unnecessary shoots. You pinch back buds and foliage to redirect growth.  Your purpose is more fruit or bigger blooms.
The same is true in our spiritual lives.  Jesus shared a powerful secret of the vine that night in the vineyard when He said, 'Every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.'
Clearly, Jesus wanted you and me to understand what God, in His great love for us, does to increase our fruitfulness.
The whole idea of spiritual pruning tells us that we have to let go of a lot of our 'pretty good' to receive God's very best...
In a grape plant, pruning redirects the sap away from wasteful growth and toward desirable fruit.  In our lives, pruning is God's way of making room for more of what matters most, and redirecting the flow of His life through us so that we'll produce more of what will last for eternity.   
Secrets of the Vine for Women, Darlene Wilkinson

I know I've quoted this book before, hopefully not this exact same passage.  In any case, it's words feel pertinent now, so I share them here as I reflect:  how tempting the desire to flourish a lot of green leaves in a stiff spring breeze.  How confounding to find these healthy leaves cut away before the fruit is even formed. In between feels like nothing. 
But some things don't realize their full purpose in today. 
Some things have their purpose in a day that is yet to be.

Happy submission!