Friday, July 31, 2020

Garden Envy Adventures

We've been really enjoying our little garden.  It's not much and I'm still learning lessons...and battling deer and rabbit. I'd love to have the time to make it super special.  Maybe this Fall we can make it part of the children's lessons.  I know Zander and Drew would both love that.

I really like Potager style gardens that combine edibles with beautiful flowers so the whole garden looks beautiful.  The slightly more British take is the "Cottage Garden" another philosophy of making sure the place that you grow your veggies looks pretty.  Though it is a bit less manicured looking that I'd like (and the HOA would be cool with, hah).

1) Bayless Gardens


My biggest source of garden envy is the Bayless Gardens in Chicago.   I would not call myself the biggest tracker of Michelin stars, but back in my wilder days as a Chicago-ite, I did indulge a bit in such things.  Rick Bayless has not only name recognition but also, he does a good job of presenting a down to earth image.

He lives in a very trendy neighborhood of Chicago called Bucktown and owns three houses.  He lives in one, rents out the other two and churns out veggies for his garden in the 3 city lots.  A standard Chicago lot is  25x125ft.  But that includes the buildings.  I've heard that the whole backyard area is only 1000 square feet, but he pumps out $200,000 worth of organic produce for his restaurants!  Interestingly, he does not practice crop rotation.  He just liberally adds compost and employs the use of beneficial flowers.  He succession sows to keep greens coming for his restaurant.  Okay HE doesn't succession sow personally so much.  He employs a team of gardeners to help tend it since a garden this size is a full time job and he's got a restaurant empire to run!  It's not just one gardener either...but a whole team so I guess I can forgive myself for not having a garden like this!

He also keeps chickens in his backyard, which is not as unusual as you might think in Chicago.  I have several friends who have them.  And he as a roof top garden at one of his other restaurants that make peppers, tomatoes and onions.

2) The Nitty Gritty Potager Blog

From The Nitty Gritty Potager
This blogger has a beautiful blog and garden!  She actually has moved over to Olde Thyme Food Garden, which also has drool worthy pictures.  I love her mixture of ornamentals along with the edibles.  She's created a great environment for all the best bugs and animals and it looks amazing.

She has great advice for every season and so many different veggies and flowers.

And, she has a wonderful Pinterest board:

3) The Gardens at Otahuna Lodge

Otahuna Lodge is a beautiful Victorian mansion in New Zealand.  They host events in their beautiful gardens and have multiple suites for guests to stay overnight.  The potager garden grows many vegetables that the chef uses for the meals.  Guests can even help pick their own vegetables for dinner!  So cool!  I have officially added this place to my wistful bucket list of places I'd love to go.  I already wanted to see New Zealand, but this garden is just an even bigger carrot to go (pun intended).

4) Mark's Veg Plot

I like that this garden has an eating space in it.  Although in this picture you can't see so many of his beautiful plants.  I just really love the idea of a little eating nook nestled amongst the lush greenery.  If you click here you can see some more pictures.  I'm so impressed with all the produce he can create in his lot.  He also has a great collection of good advice.

5) The Garden Roof Coop


Here is another blogger who has a wonderfully amazing garden. The marigolds as edging are so pretty.  And functional as they attract all the right kinds of bugs and discourage several bad ones.  Plus the friendly bright colors are so inviting.  In addition to her kitchen garden, she also has some great resources on making a buttery garden!

6) Grow Veg

From Grow Veg

Grow Veg encourages planting edibles with ornamentals, but this particular post has some great ideas.  This is actually a company that makes a garden planning software.  Interesting concept.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Homesteading Goals Adventures

As I have been researching for building out this next phase of our garden, I have stumbled across a homesteading movement on social media.  There are a bunch of different things that "homesteaders" do, but basically they try to be as sustainable and self-sufficient as possible.  Growing their own foods.  Making their own items.  Often this includes chickens or other farm animals...but that's not really in the cards for us.

Some of the things "homesteaders" do are things that I already know how to do...but maybe don't do them very often.  For example, I'm great at making homemade breads and pastas and cooking from scratch.  There's nothing like that yeasty smell of freshly baked bread.  I used to know how to sew and knit.  I could probably revive that knowledge with a bit of practice.

The aspect of homesteading that really calls to me is relying on less.  In wanting less, I'd like to rely on eating more from our garden...eventually extending the growing seasons.  Some of the volumes of stuff people grow on lots the size of ours is pretty impressive!  Also, another part of the homesteading movement that I want to aspire to is needing less and living more simply.  I want to try to not buy all the crazy toys for my kids so that they learn that they don't needs tons of stuff to be happy.

The philosopher Epictetus once said:  "Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants."  I want to raise my kids in a way that they have few wants not because they have tons of stuff, but because they realize that they don't need that stuff.

I don't plan to quit my day job.  I just plan to save more and use that extra towards building a special needs trust for little Blueberry.  And this also will reduce our carbon footprint which is also important to me.


I have a tendency to want to do everything at once so I am trying to break down my goals to monthly projects.

In addition to these monthly goals, my overall goal this year is to spend 15 minutes in the garden everyday.

April - Create new beds (adding about 180 square feet). Plant seedlings.  Start planting early season crops.  Finish my project calendar for expected planting and harvesting dates.

May - Lots more planting this month!  Make a compost pile.

June - Collect rain water to use in the garden. Month one of processed food detox.

July - Learn how to can.  Month two of processed food detox.

August - Learn how to ferment food and make homemade soda.

September - prepare beds for next year and make a cold frame

October - no spend month (only spend on absolute necessities)

November - knit something

December - enjoy the holidays...trying to not go all crazy on buying all sorts of stuff we don't need.  scaling down Christmas and focusing on what really matters...celebrating Jesus's birthday with those we love.

What homesteading or gardening goals do you have this year?

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Newspaper Seedling Pots Adventures

I was hoping to get my first spinach, carrots, beets and chard in the garden today, but it SNOWed!!!!  What?!  That's Indiana for you.

So, instead, I decided to plant some seedlings that I was actually a bit behind on.  And I decided to try something new!  I made little seedling pots out of newspapers! 

Apparently, most newspapers are printed with soy based ink these days so are fine for composting and in this case, using as fun little free planting pots.  Masking tape is also compostable.

I plan to just plant this whole thing in the garden and let the newspaper decompose.  I'll probably open the bottom.  Also, as a side note...if you do this, make sure to put the whole newspaper under the ground, otherwise it'll just capillarity up the water to the top of the paper and let it evaporate.  If you aren't sure, that's a bad thing.  We want water in the ground, not evaporated.  So, if you plant it with the newspaper pots, just burry the newspaper and you'll be fine.

I took a piece of news paper, folded it in half, rolled it around the can such that enough was left on the bottom to fold under. 

I taped the side and then I folded it and taped it like I was wrapping a little Christmas present for myself.  If there is a little gap, that's totally fine because that just means extra drainage. 

I used a can of green beans, but you can use any jar, cup, etc that is the size you want it.  You can also make the pot any size tall.  I went with about 5 to 6 inches.  But if you are planting smaller things, you can make smaller pots.

My litte Blueberry wanted to help make little pots!

I made about 16 of them.

Then it was time to plant!  I used seed starting mix and got it wet until it reminded my little Tomato of Brownie batter.

I had this neat Hefty deep rimmed box that is a perfect little greenhouse.  I'm putting it on a sunny window sill to help with heat to germinate.  As soon as my baby plants pop out, I have a grow light for them.

Super easy...and even better, I didn't have to waste money on those peat pots!  I was a bit skeptical of the newspaper holding up to the moisture.  I even had some draining water and they seem fine.  I guess we'll see how they are in a few weeks!  I will keep you updated.

Has anyone else tried this fun little trick?

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Designer Genes Adventures

March is International Disability Awareness month and I would be remiss if I didn't bring a bit of awareness to our littlest guy, who I have been referring to as Blueberry on this blog.  To be honest, it's been hard to write this post calling him Blueberry.  I keep putting in his real name.  But hopefully I'm catching them all! 

Most people have 2 copies of each of their 23 chromosomes for a total of 46.  Our little guy has an extra copy of his 21st chromosome.  This is called Trisomy 21 or more commonly, Down syndrome.

My little Blueberry is a little sweetheart. He has the BEST laugh.  It's infectious and genuine. He gives the sweetest hugs, complete with a back pat!  But he also is going through the terrible twos and the associated tantrums.  He can throw himself on the floor with the best of them (that "always happy" stereotype is not true... he has a very rich emotional life in the best and worst ways possible).  He is master of the eye roll (adolescence hitting early, I guess). 

He loves animals, toy cars, camping, Batman and bowling. His favorite color is yellow and his favorite word is no.  His favorite hobbies include putting stickers on my walls, sneaking tastes of his play-dough and coloring on his hands. He goes to a (typical) Mom's Day Out program once a week and loves to play with his friends and do all the crafts and songs.  He especially loves the songs!  Everyday when he comes home he wants me to get his craft out of the bag so he can point to it and loves it when I hang it on our fridge or wall. So saying that he's just like any other young child is very true.

My little man loves food...he gets it from me.  His favorites are: yogurt, graham crackers and any type of noodle.  Doesn't matter the nationality.  It can be USA Mac & Cheese, Italian Ravioli or Japanese Yakisoba.  When he sees a morsel of food that he is delighted to eat, he gives an evil sounding little laugh and shoves it in his face.

He has a curious and adventurous soul.  He is always excited to visit a new spot, to experience a new activity, and to meet new people.  My Blueberry is super friendly.  He gets disappointed when strangers at the store do not wave back at him.  Our family loves to camp, hike, travel and visit new places.  He is always up for anything. Though he is a bit passive in certain ways and really enjoys sitting back and watching all the people going about their activities.  He's a people watcher.  He gets that from me, too. 

Of course, Down syndrome does come with challenges.  It takes my Blueberry longer to learn how to do certain tasks than it might take a "typical" child.  Each person with Down syndrome has different strengths and challenges.  He walks with the aid of a pediatric walker...gross motor is his biggest challenge. But, there is a lot that he can do and he is learning new things every day. 

Blueberry really just wants to participate in whatever everyone else is doing. Sometimes this requires scaffolding.  For example, since he walks with a walker, his hands aren't free to hold things. After dinner his brother is required to take his plate to the sink. So he wants to do this too. I hold him and he holds his plate. A child has never been so proud on a daily basis to help clean up the table.  He just wants to be like everyone else because he is like everyone else. 

I believe that inclusion at a young age is why so many people with differences are excelling in society today and why it's so important to continue to figure out how we make sure every has the opportunity to participate in schools, clubs, activities and work.   This is not only good for the individual but is good for everyone.  When Blueberry is included he teaches his typical peers about differences in abilities and how to be more accepting of all types of differences.  Children learn from each other and helping their peers learn a skill, re-enforces and solidifies the information for the typical child.

Whenever little Blueberry accomplishes something that is hard for him to do, a huge smile breaks across his face and his eyes beam with pride.  He claps his hands and looks around to make sure we are clapping too...and will stare/glare at us until we do.  He is inviting us to join him in his joy in that moment.  And in this way, he is teaching me to appreciate and understand the happiness and pride that comes with accomplishments big and small.

I think that Blueberry is a homesteader at heart.  He always wants to try to do everything by/for himself, he loves to take care of animals and he wants to be outside all the time no matter what the weather is!

My Blueberry is a silly, giggly, determined, inquisitive, spunky, driven, able, loving smile bucket and unique individual. He just wants what everyone wants: acceptance, love, the opportunity to reach his potential, and the ability to impact his community and his world in a positive and powerful way.

He is living a great life...a life worth living.  My Blueberry and all other people with different abilities or other differences are all created in the image of God the Father and are perfect in the way that He has designed.  At the end of the day, the most important thing is for my children to know the saving grace of Jesus Christ and make it to Heaven.  I know that I will help my boys and that they will help me.  And that is really the only thing that matters in the eternal sense.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Companion Planting Adventures

My goal is have about 10% of my garden full of flowers.  There are a couple reasons for this.  First, I live in a community with an HOA with rules on landscaping.  So I'll make sure there are plenty of flowers to keep my garden looking pretty!

But another major reason is that the right flowers can attract beneficial insects that eat the "bad bugs", pollinators (like bees, butterflies, moths and maybe even humming birds), or detract "bad bugs".

All of these images are from and clicking on the links will take you to Burpee's site where you could purchase them.

Marigolds - These cheery little blooms are power houses of benefits.  Beetles that might attack beans, melons, potatoes, cucumbers and squash hate them as do the nematodes that attack tomatoes and eggplants.  They are mostly yellows and oranges, but as you can see from the images above, come in a few different "styles".

Nasturtiums - I'm super excited about planting Nasturtiums this year.  These little guys are edible...okay, lots of stuff are edible, but these taste great in salads or candied.  You'll for sure see a few posts on my culinary adventures with Nasturtiums in a few months.  But, even better, aphids hate them.  This helps so many plants like cabbages, broccoli, kale, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, cucumbers and celery.  They also help the cucumbers and celery from beetles.

Borage - Borage is another edible flower.  Some say that the flowers have a cucumber flavor and is a yummy addition to lemonade.  Actually, it's classified as an herb and the leaves have various usages as well.  It helps strawberries and tomatoes resist various pests.  It also attracts lacewings which eat lots of bugs like aphids, mealybugs, spider mites and pretty much any slow moving insect.

Zinnias - These flowers are so pretty and come in a range of colors.  They are great in a cut arrangement.  Pollinators love them, including monarch butterflies!  Also, various insects that eat "bad bugs" love them too.  But, cucumber beetles and tomato worms do not love zinnias and stay away.  Awesome!

Alyssum - These attract various insects that eat aphids.  I hate aphids because they attack cabbages, broccoli, kale, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, cucumbers and celery.  They are a low growing plant that can form a nice garden cover that acts like a living mulch to prevent weeds.  They come in a few colors, mostly white and purple.

Bachelor's Buttons (Cornflower) - This one attracts flower flies, ladybugs, lacewings, and helpful wasps.  These insects eat aphids among other things.