Category Archives: Preparedness

Winter Prep

In Winter, most of the garden chores involve cleaning up to prepare for the Spring. Even though the chickens are doing most of that work for us, we still have a few tasks to make sure the soil is soft and ready for planting.

We moved the chickens over yesterday. The girls had done their job tearing up the soil, destroying pests like cabbage worms and squash bugs and fertilizing their first stop in the kitchen garden.


We covered the spot with a thick layer of straw to keep the soil warm. The ground will freeze, but when the Spring thaw starts, we want to retain as much moisture as we can to keep our soil healthy.


Since my winter sowing project did not work out well last year, I’m going to try direct sowing the cool season and a few root veggies now.


If anything comes up before the cold really sets in, I’ll use the upside down milk jug tops I have to insulate the seedlings against the cold.

I also plan to give winter sowing in milk jugs another go this year. Although, with this unseasonably warm December I may have the same problems I had last year.

Other winter chores include pruning and cleaning up weeds around the trees and insulating the perennials against the cold.

We have not had a hard freeze yet, but it is coming soon. In the next few days, I’ll get the rest of this done and sit back and wait for my seed catalogs to start rolling in so I can start planning for 2017.

I’ll plant my winter garden
I’ll hope for it to grow
I’ll watch for little seedlings
Protect them from the snow

I hope the cold won’t kill them
I hope I will succeed
I hope my winter garden
Suppresses summer weeds


When I looked out the window this morning, my first thought was that the swales and pond weren’t doing their job.


Water ran in a small river from the back of our property out to the road. I had flashbacks to the time before we put the swales in and a moat would surround our house whenever it rained.

The chickens squawked and Pecky was crowed angrily, at least it seemed that way to me.


I couldn’t blame them. I’d be unhappy if my home was filled with water too.


Ray and I moved them to higher ground and tried our best to appease them with extra food and kitchen scraps.

The older gals were even more flooded but at least they were able to climb up into the coop to stay dry.

All the leghorns have is a tarp.


After we got them situated and soothed their ruffled and wet feathers, I went out to see what was going on with the swales.

Why weren’t they working the way they should? What had gone wrong?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing had gone wrong. In the wee hours it had started to rain, and by the time we woke up, it had rained over 4 inches.

Our swales were full and our chickens were victims of a good drenching.

The North swale surged into the South swale, just as it should.


North swale

The South swale was full and streamed into the pond, also full.



Then, the water had nowhere to go but out to the road.

Hence, the river.


Poor Blue didn’t have a tarp. It never dawned on her tiny chicken brain to take cover under a tree or in the little house we have for her in the garden. She just stood eating amaranth and clucking.


Joe splashed and played in the water, excited by the creek meandering to our road and the giant puddles in the yard.


He pointed out a colony of ants frantically climbing blades of grass in a desperate attempt to get to dry land. Curious, Joe and I did some googling to learn more about these strange (ant)ics.

Apparently, it’s a survival instinct. The worker ants work together to form a raft or a bridge to get the rest of the colony and queen to safety.


Our planned lessons for the day were put aside to learn all about floods, storms and other weather events as well as strange ant behaviour.

So we spent a long time looking through weather books and reading about all kinds of storms.

Raining, pouring down
Water swirling ’round
All the hens are soaked
But none of them have croaked

Garden Gnomes

Two gnomes scurry and scuttle around my garden picking broccoli and searching for bugs and caterpillars.

They are fun to watch, fun to listen to and fun to be around. Their constant energy is enough to fuel and reignite my excitement at finding new fruits, fresh eggs and even bugs.


They are hard workers…constantly on the search for a pest or praying mantis. Armed and ready with bug house, mason jar and bug gun.


They are quick to find and point out something new or something that they hadn’t seen in one of their many patrols. They enthusiastically make sure everyone sees this new ‘thing’ they found.


They eagerly race out to the blackberry patch to see who can find the biggest ‘jackpot’ of berries to pick.


They are thrilled to find a caterpillar and see what kind of butterfly or moth it will turn out to be.


Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly


Their curiosity is contagious.

Their enthusiasm is energizing.

Their happiness is heavenly.

They plant seeds of joy everywhere they go.


A little tiny gnome
Has nature to call home
He sprints and jumps around
In gardens he is found

Perenials vs Annuals

The results are in.

We’ve tallied up the scores.

The winner for best production in 2016 is…perennials! By a long shot.

The kitchen garden was left to its own devices for far too long.


The broccoli barely produced.

Don’t even get me started on the peppers.


Granted, the cherry tomatoes are producing well, but we’ve only picked a few ripe tomatoes…most of them are still green.


On the upside, this may be the year we get brussels sprouts. The heat hasn’t killed the plants and I see little sprouts sprouting.


The perennials, on the other hand, produced, produced and produced some more.

We are still picking blackberries and we have several gallon and pint bags in our freezer already.

We’ve made blackberry pie, dipped them in Cool Whip and we are going to make blackberry ice cream…and maybe blackberry wine.


The grapes have doubled their production from last year. I’m not sure what we are going to do with them…but I’m thinking it might be fun to experiment with making our own grape ice wine or maybe blackberry/grape juice.


The aronia are just about ready to pick and I want to try making some jam this year…or maybe chokecherry wine.

Hmmm. Icewine, blackberry wine, chokecherry wine…there seems to be a common theme.

The mint has gone completely insane. I don’t want it to take over the vineyard but it smells so good and it keeps the weeds down. I need to harvest it and dry to use for tea.


The hops, despite the beetle attack, are getting big and have popped up everywhere, tangling with the grapes and kiwi.

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The perennials are the clear winners of this year’s production competition. But I can’t really blame the annuals for their failure.

We focused so much on our trees, shrubs and fight with the Japanese beetles that the poor tomatoes, peppers and broccoli were left defenceless.

Next year, I’ll be sure to give them a head start.

Annuals have lost
Perennials take the win
Poor, sad tomatoes


We have sorely neglected our kitchen garden.

We’ve let volunteers and weeds go wild. Borage, tomatoes and lamb’s quarters threaten to choke out peppers, carrots, broccoli and brussels sprouts.


The kids go out almost daily and cut away at the infiltrators and I try to pull thistles out by the root when I think of it. But, like fighting the Japanese beetles, it feels a bit futile.


Just like every year, I start to feel forlorn about failing to get all the projects we wanted and planned to do done.

  • We didn’t plan well enough to avoid the Japanese beetle takeover.
  • We didn’t pull and/or transplant enough volunteers to prevent the kitchen garden from turning into a jungle.
  • We didn’t take the time to learn more about pruning trees.

And then, just like every year, I look back at the projects we did manage to finish.

We planted 65+ trees.


We added posts and wires to the vineyard so the kiwi and grapes could continue their upward climb.


We built a new, bigger run for the 16 chickens we added to our homestead.


We transplanted sea berries and blackberries from the fedge to the vineyard.

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We built a squash arch.


We built an herb spiral.


We discovered we had a rooster.


We fought Japanese beetles…and lost.


But, at least we tried and got a few…thousands.


After thinking of all the projects we did complete and all the goals we did meet, I feel kind of like a superhero, a rockstar…a successful homesteader.

Feeling blue and sad
All the failed plans we had
Until I stop and review
All the things we did do

Next Year

Next year in the garden
Everything will grow
All the plants I’ve started
Every seed I sow

The carrots will be plenty
The tomatoes will not blight
The borage won’t take over
The dill won’t win the fight

I’ll fight off every thistle
I’ll pick off every pest
No cabbage will be ravaged
The beans will be the best

Next year on the homestead
I’ll regroup and I’ll seek
To learn from all these lessons
To fertilize each week

But this year I’m so thankful
For everything that’s grown
From lettuce, herbs and berries
To sweet smiles from my own


An Unplanned Adventure

The boys and I belong to a Forest School Co-op. We meet weekly at a park, forest preserve or nature center to play, explore and experience the great outdoors.

It is pretty amazing what the kids come up with no adult interference. They just play and let their imaginations lead them to new and exciting discoveries.


We met at a local park with trails that led to a beach. The kids had a blast building volcanoes, splashing through the water and finding shells to take home.

We were the last to leave the beach and we took what I thought to be a shortcut back to the van.


Turns out, I was wrong.

I kept thinking the trail we were on would lead us to the parking lot at some point.

Stubbornly, I did not want to backtrack. I just knew the parking lot was around the next turn.

“Just a bit further boys and we’ll be back to the van.”

The boys were wet and full of sand from their playtime on the beach. I was tired and starting to get irritated.

Then Joe saw a turtle.


“Look at that turtle Mom!”

Jake saw little minnows.

“Look, fishies!”

I saw the unplanned adventure we were on and my irritation melted away.

We were lost in the woods. Granted, we were on a trail and could hear civilization through the trees, but we didn’t know where to go to get to our van.

I pulled out a compass Joe had packed in his backpack, handed it to him and told him how it works. With a little help, he figured out which way we were facing.


We’d parked in a restaurant’s lot so I pulled up the map on my phone. We were a 20 minute walk from our van.

“Which way do we need to go Joe?”

“That way,” he said pointing to the flag on the map.


So we headed “that way” munching on apples and looking for birds, frogs, turtles and deer.


We came upon a wooden walkway where we saw huge dragonflies chasing each other and flittering from reed to reed.

Tiny fish were swimming in the water, a few small turtles were sunning themselves on logs and a big snake was slithering through the tall weeds.


It was one of the best adventures we’ve had because it was not planned. I could have let the irritation fester and negatively impact our walk.

But Joe saw a turtle and Jake saw a fish and, just like that, they pulled me out of my bad mood and into an amazing and unplanned adventure.

Adventurous boys
Taking me on their journey
Turning gray skies blue

The Squash Arch

Today, I finally made my squash arch.

That’s right. made it.

All by myself…mostly.


I found the design on Pinterest. It looked easy and we had all the materials in the garage already.

I used 4 garden fence posts, an insane number of wire ties, a 10′ section of wire fencing–the same kind we used on the new chicken run–wire cutters and a pair of needle nose pliers for bending.

First, I set the 4 fence posts in a 3’x3′ square.


Then, with a little help from my two adorable helpers, I cut a 10′ piece of wire fencing. The boys, of course, assumed I was making a home for them and were a little peeved when I told them what I was actually doing.


Next, I draped the wire over the fence posts and attached it to the hooks along each post. This is where the needle nose pliers first came into play as I had to force some sections of wire into the hooks.

The boys were still trying to convince me to make them a home.


I reinforced the fencing to the posts using wire ties and noticed that the fencing was a little too long for the 3×3 grid.

So, naturally, I decided to trim up the edges a bit and make them even with the fence posts.

Only, in my pride and excitement at having made this rather crooked arch all by myself, I didn’t pay attention to what I was doing.

I ended up snipping the fencing right off the fence posts.

I was able to fix my mistake with a few adjustments, several scratches and a very cheerful disposition…as you can imagine.

I stood back and surveyed my work.


The arch was crooked, the posts uneven and the wire ties plentiful…yet I was smiling because I made it.

All by myself (sort of).


Gradually Growing…Suddenly Surprising

We spent a week in the Smokies on our first family vacation. I was a little nervous about being gone that long.

Would all my little plant babies be ok for that long?

Would our newly planted trees shrivel and die?

Would Pecky Greenleg and the rest of our new chickens miss me?

When we left, the vineyard was just starting to get wild.

The grasses in the pasture and the swales were just starting to get tall.

The fedge and kitchen garden were just starting to boom and bloom.

One week.

That’s how long we were gone.

Now the vineyard is…wild.


Hops gone wild


Close-up of the grapes

Now grasses in the pasture and swales are…tall.




Jerusalem Artichokes

Now the fedge and kitchen garden are…booming.


Borage and tomato row


Burgundy Amaranth in the herb spiral


Borage and tomatoes


Cabbage and broccoli patch


Brussels sprouts

We weren’t there to witness this burst of growth. And, even if we’d been there, we wouldn’t have noticed such a big change right away.

Growth is gradual. So slow that you barely notice it…until the day you do.

That’s the day you realize that the garden you’ve tended so diligently and with such care has grown into something beautiful…and you almost missed it.

You plant the seeds
You pull the weeds
You watch and tend with care

Until one day
You see that they
Have grown without you there



I admit it. I was starting to get worried about the trees.

We planted more than 70 trees by the time it was all said and done and only the cherry trees were showing signs of life.


The rest looked like dead branches sticking up out of the ground.

Nothing from the persimmons.

No green buds from the apples.

Nada from the Paw Paws.

I wondered…did we do something wrong?

Did we dig the holes too deep?

Did we not spread the roots out enough?

I thought of that long Saturday when we planted so many trees and had so much hope for success.

I thought of all that research that went into the methods for planting each variety of tree.

I thought of the fun we had digging the holes, planting the trees and watering them in. The excitement of imagining what our pasture would look like in 2 years, 5 years, 30 years…the same excitement we felt when we put the swales in.

I thought about all these things…and I let the anxiety and worry go.

I realized that, while we put a lot of work into this project, we also learned quite a bit. None of that time and effort was wasted.

I remembered that we willingly took a risk in planting these trees, knowing that they may not, probably would not, all make it.

And suddenly, even though I still felt sad and disappointed, I realized that we did get something out of the experience…we got the experience.

And today, while the boys played, I took a walk around and found that the cherry trees weren’t the only survivors. Almost all the other varieties had started to leaf.

I just had to let the worry and anxiety go to see them.




An oak we found hidden between two fruit trees.




Paw Paw

I worried and I wondered
I gnashed my teeth and cried
All that work and effort
All those things we tried

Then I took a stroll
I wandered through the grass
I saw the bright green leaves
The trees had grown at last!