Balancing Chores, Indoors and Out

It’s that time of year. Time to plant, time to weed, time to keep the lawn under control. There are new seedlings to tend and unwanted critters to chase off. And I can’t remember the last time I spent most of my day indoors.

Which is how I’d rather have it. I’d spend just about all my time stooped over in the garden, if it were up to me. But I’ve got this house that somehow goes to shambles–even though no one is in it most the day. Does that happen to you, too?

Fact is, if you’ve got a serious garden or animals to care for, then you NEED to be outside right now. But somewhere, we’ve got to balance both our needy worlds, inside and out.

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Make hay while the sun shines

I never thought much about that statement until recently. But I have a friend who mows hay for her family’s farm. And really, her schedule is dictated by the hay. She plans everything around the weather and the grass. I totally understand that. After all, if they are too cavalier about it, they’ll pay big time in winter. No hay–no food for the cattle.

And on a much smaller scale, it applies to us right now, too. My garden is more than a hobby. It’s food for my family. We count on it. And if we want to eat from it’s bounty in the fall, then we better put in the hours in the spring and summer. So when the weather is good, that’s the time to get outside and take care of what needs done.

Just like my friend’s hay fields, my week will be planned around the weather and the garden. It will get first billing on my to-do list right now.

Image Credit

Image Credit

But what about the laundry?

I have to confess that a string of gloriously beautiful days have kept me outside. And the laundry (clean and otherwise) has been piling up, begging to be dealt with. Not to mention the rest of the house. Right now, my cleaning strategy, though somewhat lopsided, is to make the most of the bad weather days. Those will be the days to do some serious cleaning and catching up.

But I don’t want to live in squalor in the meantime. So here’s our strategies for keep up with the housework during the busy outdoor season:

Find stolen pockets of time. I kind of talked about this a while back in this post. It’s keeping your eyes open for a pause in your day and taking advantage of it. Waiting for the pasta to boil? Tidy up the kitchen table. Have to come in and make a phone call? Fold some laundry while you do it.

And if you’re going to be outside ALL DAY, then this works well first thing in the morning and just before bed as well. A few minutes of tidying up before your posterior finally hits the couch (or the sack) will make a difference in the long run.

Recruit some help. You know, those little folks running around. (That somehow make such a large mess.) Right now, while I’m trying to finish up all the planting, my kids are doing a few daily chores indoors. Wiping down bathrooms, emptying the dishwasher, taking care of their laundry. It’s all stuff they help with all year, but I especially lean on them right now. I like to think of a family as a team effort, and it takes all of us to make this house run well.

Take a cleaning shortcut. Sometimes, good enough is good enough. For instance, I have hardwood floors downstairs. The hard floor attachment on my vacuum does the best job of getting all the grass and dirt and debris off the floor. And I HATE dirty floors. But it’s a big old canister vac, and sometimes a pain to drag out. So on busy days we break out the broom and dust pan. Good enough.

Good enough also means that sometimes, we cart the basket of clean clothes upstairs to get it out of the way, and we might not get it folded right away. Or the stack of mail and papers might be put into a tidy stack instead of filed then and there.

I’m not saying this is a good long term plan. Eventually things will drive me crazy enough to abandon the outdoors for a day and bring my kingdom back under control. But maintenance is the key.

It’s definitely a busy season. But’s it’s by far my absolute favorite!

How do you balance your chores this time of year?


You Grow Some, You Lose Some

Gardening is an unpredictable animal. Much to my type-A dismay, you do not always get predictable results. You can’t control the wind or the rain or the frost. You can’t make those little seedlings perform to your expectations. And you can’t do a darn thing about the brutal winter we had.

Growing your own food is out of your control in so many ways. 

I gotta be honest. It irks me.

But here’s where we stand right now.

The seedlings. Back in early March, we planted a slew of different peppers, tomatoes, eggplant and some herbs to start under grow lights in the house. Some of them are doing great!

tomato seedlings

 

Some gave it their minimum effort and decided it wasn’t worth it.

 

withered seedling

 

And others failed to show at all.

 

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Fortunately, the majority of what we planted is doing well.

Then there’s the outside. In mid April, we planted peas, radishes, greens and carrots in the garden. Now, before you yell at me not to plant until the 10th hour after the full moon two days removed from the last frost when Jupiter is aligned with Venus (I’ve met folks who sound like that–not exaggerating) let me remind you that I was following the express guidelines for my zone and the seed packet directions.

So there.

Except they really aren’t doing all that well. It’s been really cold at night. It’s been dry. All we have to show for it is one lone pea plant peeking out of the ground (I planted two full rows) a few radish sprouts and a sprinkling of lettuce sprouts. The swiss chard and spinach seem to be refusing to do anything.

pea sprout

And oh, I’ve been looking. You can frequently find me stooped over a mostly empty garden, peering intently into the soil, trying to decide if any speck of green is indeed a seedling–or a dreaded weed.

So, this week, you’ll see me out there again, only I’ll be reseeding a few places. I think I’m just going to shoot for overkill, here, and then continue to stare at the dirt.

When you can’t grow ’em, buy ’em.

I already know that I’ll probably have to pick up a few extra pepper plants to make up for the large bells that have done NOTHING. But while I was at the greenhouse this weekend–looking for onion sets–I saw these beauties. STRAWBERRIES!!

 

strawberries

 

Naturally, I forgot all about anything else and immediately bought a flat of them. Upon their arrival, my husband was motivated (maybe by visions of future strawberry shortcake) to abandon his giant plumbing/digging project and till up a spot for planting.

 

tilling 1

 

They’ll go in early this week nearby the berry bushes. Which, by the way, barely survived our brutal winter. Only thing growing are new shoots peeking up out of the ground. No fresh blackberries for us this year. Gotta just try to keep those new shoots happy and hope for the best.

The strawberries were kind of a gift for my oldest daughter, who had a tiny patch when we lived in the city and has been talking about planting them ever since we moved. A girl after my own heart!

So there’s what’s growing–or not–as the case may be. With fuel prices climbing and–therefore–food prices doing the same, I’m really hoping and praying for a plentiful harvest season. In the meantime, though, I suppose the big picture lesson here is if you’re trying to grow your own food, you have to be relentlessly persistent. Watch the weather (cause it seems like we get a giant wind storm every time I want to put something in the ground), tend to the seedlings, plant, plant and plant some more.

But just remember one very important thing. It’s really the Lord who brings in the harvest, spiritual or otherwise. Sooner or later, all we can do is sit and wait and let this process He began do it’s thing.

But I still might stare at the dirt.

 

How are things growing in your neck of the woods?

 

 


Spring Projects…Ready, Set, Go!

Finally, a break in the weather! I think this past week was the first we’d had (in months) where the white stuff didn’t fall. I’ve felt it creeping up on me for a few weeks now. The urge–NEED–to get moving on all the things that need done around here. Better weather moved in and suddenly (and much to my family’s chagrin) it seems like we have a 101 things that need done RIGHT NOW.

So we rolled up our sleeves and crossed a few things off the list.

The rest of the seeds got planted.

seed pots

 

We picked up a truckload of mushroom soil with fertilizer for the garden. The soil in that area has never been supplemented, and since I have such high hopes for tomato and pepper yields this year, we figured it couldn’t hurt. The whole family was out filling buckets and spreading out the lovely smelling stuff.

 

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And since it was such a beautiful day, my dad got to work on the neighbor’s tractor to till all that rich goodness into the garden. (Which he made just a tad larger. It makes me giddy, really.)

 

tilling

 

We went ahead and got a good sized plot of dill seeds planted and some cilantro seeds into the ground. Later this week, I’ll work on onion sets, radishes, greens, and peas. My mouth is watering!

Back inside, we began tackling the enormous job of sorting through things for my in-laws giant yard sale next month. My girls had totes and totes of clothes in the attic. It looked like they all threw up in my house for a day. But we got it sorted and ended up with quite a lot to give away or sell.

 

yard sale tub

 

It wasn’t all work, though. The sunny skies begged that we take our new (used) kettle grill for a test spin. So hubby got the charcoal going and we had our first grilled meal of the season. Nothing fancy. But oh-so-tasty.

 

grilling

 

Finally, you must, of course, look fabulous for all this working and eating. And my daughter was up to the challenge.

 

Ella's garden outfit

 

I get all charged up and excited about all this family productivity. Feeling my body and brain finally wake from it’s winter induced numbness. We still have another 97 or so things to check of the list. Garage needs cleaned out, wood shed needs cleaned out, more yard sale stuff to organize, more things to plant, and it would be nice to see out of my windows. (Okay, they’re not that bad. But still.)

It was a good start, though. Very good indeed.

What’s getting done at your place? Got any spring projects in full swing?

 


Got Seeds? It’s time to get ’em growing!

One way or another, I’m gonna play in the dirt. And hopefully grow some food in the process. I’ve got seeds, soil and pots. Our homeschool botany curriculum taught us that all a seed needs to grow is warmth, moisture and oxygen. Check (got a cozy place in the mud room), check and check.

But what about when those little boogers poke their heads up? Well, then, dear readers, we need us some light. Inside. In the bleak days of early-spring-but-it-still-feels-like-winter.

cabbage seedlings

That’s where today’s post comes in. The hubby and I have put together our own little, inexpensive grow station.

Check out my guest post this week at Modern Alternative Mama for all the how-to.

Happy (indoor) gardening!

 


Planning the Spring Garden 2014

Yes, I know it’s not spring…yet. Actually, at this very moment, there are another 2 or 3 inches of snow falling here. Again. But spring will come. Right? It has to get here eventually. And this gardener couldn’t be more eager to get out in the dirt and grow some food.

Planting before the last frost

img_2045Last year’s spring planting with Ella

I live on the line between zone 5 and zone 6. Our last frost is usually somewhere between May 15th and Labor Day. Last year we had a late heavy frost at the end of May and had to cover a few things, but we did alright.

But if your garden adventures have never gone beyond tomatoes and peppers you should know that there are all sorts of things to plant, even in cooler weather. Some veggies even thrive in the cooler temps and can withstand a good amount of frost.

I was pretty happy with last year’s spring veggies. So we’ll be revisiting some of our favorites and changing up a few others.

Direct seeding

seeds

I’ve got to say, this is my favorite way to plant. Just till and poke those little seeds in the ground. The end. And there really are a lot of plants that do just fine this way. Here’s the seeds I’ll be planting directly into the garden come mid to late March.

  • radishes (super fast germination means I’ll be planting new seeds about every two weeks until it gets really hot–for a continual radish harvest)
  • spinach
  • peas
  • onions
  • swiss chard (I ordered a beautiful rainbow variety!)
  • lettuce (this I’ll wait until a little later in the spring–depending on conditions here)
  • beets (these will also wait until a little later)

Starting seeds indoors

This year, I really wanted to grow our own seedlings for those veggies that do better as transplants. I’m hoping it will save us some money in the long run. Plus I get the added bonus of loads more varieties to choose from and I can select heirloom plants that will provide me with seeds for future gardens. This year, I ordered from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and I was really impressed with their catalog. Ordering from a seed supplier is new for me, but I’m hoping that this supplier will turn out to be good one.

Since the majority of the spring veggies can be directly sown into the soil, I’ll only be working with a few inside this year. My husband will be putting together a grow station of just a shelf and light fixture. (I’ll post about the grow station soon.)

I really want to grow our own cabbage. Homemade slaws and sauerkraut from home grown cabbage…yay! I selected a variety with a shorter harvest time, so hopefully we can get an early summer and then a fall harvest later in the year.

And I’ve decided that since I’m impatient, I want to start a few of the lettuce and spinach plants indoors. That way we can eat from them a little sooner while the direct seeded plants are maturing.

Hopefully this week, we’ll get the grow stations going and I’ll at least get to play with dirt a little bit. This totally counts as science, so I’ll be involving the kids as well.  Then, while I wait for warmer and drier days to till, my next project will be to learn as much as I can about organic pest and disease control. (Cause I’m terrified of cabbage worms.)

Lord willing, we’ll soon be watching our own little plants pop up. I can almost taste the fresh picked lettuce and the sweet peas!

Do you plant a spring garden? What will you be growing?


What the Garden Has Taught Me

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Last week, the electric fence posts were stored for winter. The last of the bell peppers were brought in. And except for a few remaining herbs, the garden has been put to bed. (Or mowed down…since the weeds had taken over where the plants once were.)

There was much to learn this year, since we’ve never had a garden quite so large. So if you’ll indulge me a moment, I think I’ll ponder over what this year’s garden had to teach us.

Don’t put your eggs all in one basket (or get your plants all from one nursery)

While I hope to start many of our plants from seed next year, this past spring we were without that luxury and had to purchase many of our seedlings. We used a local nursery that always has a great reputation and grows just about all their own seedlings. Unfortunately, this year they were infected with a blight. So just about everything purchased there had the potential to spread disease.

We had trouble with the tomatoes right away. (Which was also partially due to very wet weather.)

Next year, I plan to order some heirloom seeds and hopefully have a place to start them indoors. What we do purchase, I think I’ll mix up between a few different local nurseries.

Gardens are like young children

They need tended to regularly and often. Sometimes, they’ll have minor emergencies that require your quick attention. (Like when an unexpected frost threatens, or a storm blows over your tomato plants.) They need fed and watered and cleaned up after. They need trained and coaxed to grow up right.

Having a larger garden is like having an extra child or two to tend to.

There’s no science lesson like gardening

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Over and over again my kids were captivated with seeds sprouting, flowers blooming, food growing. The girls especially followed me outside almost every time I went out there and studied every bit of new growth with fascination. We kept them pretty involved from planting to weeding to harvesting. (Mostly just because we needed the extra help, but also to teach them.)

And we found satisfaction in teaching them a skill that can serve them and their future families all their lives.

The garden sets the schedule

I don’t think I was prepared for how much my summer would revolve around the garden. You can try to predict when you’ll be doing weeding or harvesting or canning. But the truth is, you’re at the mercy of the garden’s schedule. So when the beans were ready, we were obliged to drop everything else and tend to the beans.

When there’s lettuce, you eat salads. When the weather finally breaks, you get out there in the mud and pull weeds. Which brings me to my next lesson…

Mulch is not optional

I thought we could keep up with the weeds. I thought mulch was an unnecessary expense. I was wrong. Next year, we’re going to have to find a cheap source. And lots of it.

There is nothing as gratifying as a meal you grew yourself

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Every dinner plate that held something we had grown seemed a little tastier somehow. Even now that the harvesting is done, we get a special pleasure in opening a jar of green beans or pickled beets.

Gardening grows gratitude

You’re grateful when it rains. Grateful when it stops raining. Grateful for new shoots and pollinating bees and the single zucchini that grew. You’re just thankful for all of it, because you know it was a gift. And that tomorrow it could be gone, a victim of critters or weather or blight.

Alright, I know, I’m getting all sappy and sentimental. Bottom line is, I loved puttering around in my garden this year. I’m going to miss the dirt, sun and occasional solitude I found there.

In the meantime, anyone know of any good seed catalogs I can read through?


The Great Fruit Tree Experiment

We’ve planted a few plants here that we hope to see again next Spring, of their own accord. The herb garden is flowering and will hopefully come back next year. The two blackberry plants are going dormant and we plan to add a few more next year. Nothing too complicated, or costly should things go awry.

But now we’re talking trees.

Really, it's not a twig. It's a pear tree!

Really, it’s not a twig. It’s a pear tree!

Except for a dwarf Japanese maple, we’ve never planted trees before. This property, though, has very few trees, and we’ve been dreaming of our own little orchard for quite some time. After seeing the great bounty to be gained from one mature tree (my neighbor’s apples) I began to have hopes that it was indeed possible to get a good amount of fruit, from just a few trees.

And then the hubby came home telling me that the Home Depot had fruit trees on sale. That was about all the prodding I needed.

We loaded the girls into my dad’s truck with us on Saturday and came home with two apples and two pears. And after the other work items of the day were finished, we dug four holes and planted four trees. We staked and mulched them, and covered the young, vulnerable trunks with plastic pipe.

look how helpful the kids are...slackers

look how helpful the kids are…slackers

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And just so you know they actually did do things.

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Oh, and I did some digging too. But no one got that important moment on film.

Somewhere towards the end of this process my husband said, “You’d think we knew what we were doing.” And that’s the funny thing.

We have NO idea what we’re doing.

Except for reading an article in Backwoods Home, and a few other things here and there, we did absolutely ZERO research for this project. I’m not sure if the variety of fruit we chose is ideal for this location. I’m terrified of mice and rabbits eating bark, deer nibbling everything else, insects and disease. I know that Home Depot is probably not the best place in the world to get trees.

But nevertheless, we jumped in. The trees are guaranteed for a year, so that’s good. We will diligently water and shoo away critters. And my new research project is to take a crash course in all things fruit tree related. (So if anyone has a good reference to recommend–I’m eager to know.)

But there’s a slight philosophical side to this too. For us, fruit trees signify more than potential food. I remarked yesterday that gardens give food within a season. Even the berries yielded a couple dozen. This is the first time, though, in 17 years of marriage, that we have invested time and money in something like this. Plants that may or may not produce. That will take literally years before we see much yield.

No quick payoff. It means we’ve put down real roots. It means we’ve begun the long, steady (often slow) process of building a homestead that will, Lord willing, someday work for us.

Hopefully, these trees will winter well and add a little growth next year. Hopefully, we’ll add a couple more trees and berry plants.

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For now, though, I’m just going pray that they weather today’s high winds. Taking it one day at a time, people.