Category Archives: Garden Stories

Greenhouse Project: Plan Adjustment

I had almost forgotten about the jigsaw greenhouse we bought in 2012 only to sell the parts in 2013. Now we are working on building a hoophouse style greenhouse…for real this time.

a pinch of homestead

Our plan this year was to put up the greenhouse we bought at an auction last year. We bought it sight unseen…our family was at the auction and described it to us. They told us that it was in pieces…


We brought it home, put the glass in the garage and piled the rest out back on cardboard.

It came with four sturdy tables with wooden slat bottoms. Perfect for starting seeds or filling with leafy green. It also came with a pack of pictures showing how to construct it.


It was a professional grade greenhouse that used to be at a local flower shop in our hometown.

When we finally got around to getting the underground wires and cables marked by JULIE and determining where we were going to put it, we quickly realized that this was going to be a MUCH bigger project than we had anticipated.

The slope…

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I wrote this post a few years ago during a particularly trying time at home with the boys. That MOPs group has since disbanded, but I learned so much from the ladies and made quite a few friends in the bargain. This post applies to our homeschool and reading it has helped to remind me that ‘momming’, ‘wifing’ and teaching are only a part of who I am as a person.

a pinch of homestead

Rain. Wind. Gloom.

It has been a rough couple of weeks. The boys, cooped up all day in the house, have gone stir crazy and I’ve come right along with them.

I’ve yelled. I’ve shouted. I’ve cried tears of frustration.

Then, I remembered that MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) was on Friday morning. A break! A 1 hour and 45 minute break. I could drink coffee and commiserate with other moms while the boys played with other little people their own age.

Real conversation. Real play.

At first, I didn’t want to talk to anyone about all of the screaming going on in my house. I didn’t want anyone to judge me. I didn’t want to feel worse from the looks of shock I thought other moms would give me for losing my cool so often.

But I decided to put myself out there. Take a risk. I posted this note on our group page…

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Death by Milky Spore

This week, I walked through the property with a giant bag of St. Gabriel Organics Milky Spore.

I’m determined–no, I’m desperate to stop the Japanese beetles from completely decimating my trees, vines and shrubs next year. This year was hard enough.

What is this ‘milky spore’? 

Milky spore is a soil-dwelling bacterium responsible for infecting any white grub with ‘milky disease’.

The grubs ingest the tiny pellets and the bacterium slowly kills the beetle grub from the inside out. The silent torture lasts for 7-21 days before the grub succombs to the poison.

As the dead grub decomposes, more of this wonderful elixir is released into the soil bringing death to even more grubs.

Is it safe?

For the grubs? Absolutely not.

For our beneficial insect friends? Of course!

We wouldn’t be spreading it if it had any chance of harming our pollinators. It is not harmful to birds, pets or people…just don’t eat it by the handful or fill the dog’s food dish with it.

It’s a natural occurring bacterium in many soils, but the Japanese beetle is not native to this country and the problem has become so bad that our soil may need a little boost to have a chance.

Does it work?

Here is where my confidence in the bacterium takes a hit. The results are so mixed, so different and so debated that it is nearly impossible to know if this treatment will truly work.

Some say not to bother spreading it because if your neighbor doesn’t, the beetles will just fly in from their yard to your plants. It has absolutely NO effect on adult beetles so must be ingested at the grub stage.

Other people are just plain impatient*. It can take 2-5 years to see results and who is to say the results are due to the milky spore application? It could be any number of environmental factors that reduced the beetle population.

(*I fear I will fall into this category. My track record with positive results in gardening and pest control is not great.)

Should I do it anyway?

Yes, yes…a thousand times yes! I’m willing to try anything to combat these beetles. Even if I don’t see results until 5 years later, my wrath will be calmed just knowing that somewhere, deep under the ground, Japanese beetle grubs are meeting their end.



Happiness and joy abound
On quiet days like this
Sun sets softly on the ground
A bright and glowing kiss

The blue-sky changes orange then pink
The kids laugh, run and play
I walk around and ponder, think
How beautiful the day

All life’s sorrows, woes and fears
Are scattered in the breeze
No more crying, no more tears
On Summer days like these

Autumn’s coming, winter too
But I don’t mind at all
Plants will wither, die it’s true
As Summer turns to Fall

Until then, I’ll soak it in
I’ll hear the Summer sounds
Warm sunlight upon my skin
Wind rustling all around

A-Hunting We Will Go

The boys have been hunting bugs (and bug friends) all summer. We’ve learned all about butterflies, studied earthworms and have had our fill of Japanese beetles and squash bugs.

The boys never tire of taking their net out through the maze, vineyard, garden and fedge to catch whatever they can find.

This weekend we found not one, not two but three LARGE praying mantis on our property.

We were out catching butterflies when we found the first one. The boys captured it and brought it inside (in the bug house of course) to “study”.

Joe drew a detailed picture of it while Jake and I looked up some fun facts.

Once Joe was happy with his work, he decided to let it go in our kitchen garden so it could continue to hunt.

Jake wanted to release it in the squash bed to “help Mommy”. He’d heard me grumbling about the squash bugs.

As we were releasing it…we found a second mantis. This one was bright green and sitting calmly on a large squash leaf.

Joe added the green one to his drawing.

Later, I asked Joe to turn the water to the hose on so I could fill the chickens’ buckets with fresh water and he found another mantis…this one even bigger than the last two.

We snapped a few pictures and he released it in the squash patch.

Now we have three teams, that we know of, working together to eradicate the homestead of squash bugs, Japanese beetles and other garden pests. One team in the squash patch, on in the rose patch and one out in the swales.




Four black swallowtail caterpillars found their way into Joe’s bughouse a few weeks ago. We fed them from the plant we found them on and watched them grow and grow…and grow!

The biggest one made a chrysalis first followed by two more a few days later. Our teeny tiny guy ate his way steadily through the dill we’d stuffed the house with until, tired from all his munching, he joined the others and made a chrysalis.

A few days ago, the first chrysalis started to wiggle and wobble.

We’ve been watching it off and on, hoping to watch the beautiful swallowtail emerge. We never did get to see them make their chrysalis. We turned our back and poof! it was made.

The chrysalis went from bright green to a faded dull pea green as it shook and twitched.

And then…

Wibble, wobble, twitch
A butterfly breaking free
Emerges and flys


We came home from a long weekend and discovered something miraculous.

The kiwi had started to heal and regrow.

It had been ravaged by angry beetles for weeks, but it was coming back. Leaves were sprouting out, healing vines and kicking out the crunchy brown leaves.

The Japanese beetle’s 8-week reign of terror ended. Finally.

We were relieved that the pests had not done any lasting damage to the roots of the kiwi. It would have been depressing to have to cut out all that dead kiwi and start over again.

The grapes and hops are coming back as well, but it is the kiwi I am most impressed with. It had truly suffered and I had my doubts as to whether or not it would survive into next season.

I’ve never been more happy to be wrong.

The kiwi is coming back and we have a plan of attack for next year. A plan that will, with any luck, insure that the Japanese beetles lose the war.

The kiwi returns
To the homestead so bright, green
Leaves dance in the breeze

Ninja Bug

They creep up to the window
They climb up on the plants
They sit up on a green leaf
They watch the wasps and ants

We like these bright green ninjas
We love the way they work
We see them move so slowly
We watch their long arms jerk

When they’ve caught their target
They sink back down again
And munch the bug they’ve captured
Antennae, legs and skin

They’re really kind of scary
They move so soft and quick
If they were any bigger
I’d smash them with a stick!

In all seriousness, the praying mantis is an amazing insect and extremely useful in the garden. They are silent and efficient hunters and they prey mainly on common garden pests.

Most of the mantids we have found are in and around our rose bushes. There are–or were, a large population of Japanese beetles on these bushes. I think the mantids enjoyed a daily feast.

The Next Wave

Just when the Japanese beetle population starts to dwindle, the next wave of garden pests show up laying eggs on almost every available squash leaf.

Squash bugs.

While I detest squash bugs, I absolutely loathe Japanese beetles. In comparison…these aren’t so bad.

Every day, I eagerly go out to the garden to squish the eggs and vacuum the bugs that have emerged.

The process is more satisfying than drowning beetles. I think it is because I can squish all the eggs on a plant and vacuum most of the bugs.

This year, I am going to try applying neem oil to the leaves in order to deter more egg layers.

I have to be careful not to hit the squash flowers though. I want the bees to continue pollinating so we can have a good crop of watermelon, butternut and pattypan this year.

Squash bugs aren’t the worst
But are really annoying
Squish, vacuum, squish-squash


I took inventory a few days ago in my walk around the homestead.

The milkweed is still everywhere, but the beetles have started attacking it now that they’ve eaten everything else.

They seem to prefer the flowers to the leaves. Probably because they aren’t as thick and furry. I keep hoping the milkweed bugs will attack. No luck.

The prairie grasses are looking wonderful. The black-eyed Susans are back and flowing in the breeze. A variety of wild grasses blowing in the breeze.

The cattails are getting thicker. I think I’ll clip a few of these along with some black-eyed Susans and bring some wild prairie inside.

I did notice the Japanese beetles, but they are fewer in number and seem to be getting lazy. I can dispatch them easily at anytime of the day now.

I don’t know if these are new, but they are a lot shinier than the others I’ve killed.

They’ve finally started in on my oak trees and a few of the nut trees. I sure wish they’d attack the thistles instead.

As I walked back to the house, I noticed my lovely herb spiral.

The nasturtiums came back, as well as the bee balm. I planted more cilantro, thyme, basil, marigolds and a few salvia. It looks beautiful and the beetles have left it completely alone.

This year, it is more of a flower spiral with a few herbs sprinkled in and chocolate mint trying to take over.

I’m still not sure where the mint came from. I never would have planted mint in the spiral on purpose as it tends to take over.

I keep pulling it out and transplanting it to the swales. It can take over there with my blessing.

The landscape, so wild
Grasses dancing in the breeze
A tangled jungle