Sweet William and some John Hartford.

There’s folks building homes as sweet as can be
They’re leveling their yards and planting their trees
But my little hut, I’ll just let it be
Lord Jesus is building a mansion for me

Mansions for Me, Bill Monroe

Joe has been planting trees and fruit brambles (does thornless also mean bramble-less?) and I finally have my garden planted. It was hot and dry and now it is cool and rainy. Maybe a false start to summer, but I am happy to be reminded I don’t get to be in charge of any of it. My little hut, I’ll just let it be…

My garden dirt is so happy though! I’ve never in my life had more crumbly, beautiful dirt. Between the topsoil last year on our no-till, cardboard beds, and the lovely compost from our wildflower nursery neighbors, it is excellent. I made a bunch of mounds to start melon seeds on and I’ll transplant the seedlings to the fence if they come out strong.

I tried to switch up the hugelkultur beds—if it had tomatoes last year, I moved in carrots and lettuce instead. Cabbage is with the onions; broccoli is minding its own business. I had done some lasagna method layering back in the fall with newspaper and straw and then I fluffed it all up last month. It didn’t break down completely but all the seeds I’ve tossed on top seem to quickly root and sprout up.

Over in the topsoil/compost area the beans look happy (they always do in the beginning) and I’ve got more hot peppers than I know what to do with—I think I was suckered in by the writing on the back of the package, pairs wonderfully with couscous! Dang you, Baker Creek heirloom seed marketing team.
I even planted corn for Joe in the best part of the garden—love is sacrifice, no? We will see how it grows.

May garden! Notice the cardboard along the edges.

I am stuffing bits of cardboard along the edge of my fencing to smother the weeds that want to join the fun. If I can just keep ahead of the weeds!

Last year I sprinkled a wild flower mix between the corn and sunflowers because we were going to set up our beehive by the garden. (This was idealistic, Colorado thinking at its best. Who in their right Midwest mind sprinkles glorified weeds in their vegetable garden?! In the mountains, it made sense.) Well, we ended up with the bees by the back barn but now the second year perennial flowers are popping up. I’ve got Sweet William and Siberian wallflowers and daisies—only one variety is worth keeping.

Sweet William. Before they bloomed I had no idea what they were because they have a really neat green tuft like a paintbrush!

I am so tickled to be out of school for summer. I was working my tail off and getting discouraged with the politics and educational misnomers. It is a breath of fresh air to make food and wash dishes and weed the garden. I stay up late and watch NBA finals with Jubal and read books out loud on the porch (Henry and Beezus).
Luke is channeling his inner John Hartford. Jubal is giving guitar lessons. FC turns on the Korg and will play all day if I don’t holler at him to turn it off. Gretty has been picking out Boil That Cabbage Down on her tiny fiddle. And if they do all the music and their chores I let them play Minecraft and Star Wars on the PS4. Maybe. (Ha.)

Ah, May!

Removing landscape fabric and reusing red mulch.

Some folks are back to school today; we are not. Thank goodness. I am hyping myself up for the second semester and trying to plan a start to what I hope turns out to be promising, fulfilling fun for kids and teachers (me) alike.

See also: don’t over-plan or over-expect. I got an idea, a flash of brilliance, this morning as I took a shower; I remembered a substitute teacher or two that came in last semester and they were of the piano-playing, accompanying ilk. I could bring them on board and they could help me with rehearsals! Fingers crossed that I can drum up help.

Only a year or so ago I was too shy to call people up and ask for help, but now I see it more or less as an emergency phone call, not unlike 911. I don’t hesitate or worry about my awkward rambling questions—I just instinctively dial the number. I need to remember the chutzpah this job has demanded I acquire…I am sure it will serve me well in future endeavors.

We have been, overall, plagued with sickness throughout the entire Christmas break. There have only been two days where I was moderately confident we weren’t sick, and then we were back to hacking and fevers within hours. I keep assuring myself and the family it is good to get it all over with while we are not in school or working. But it’s been pretty awful.

On the other hand we’ve had a couple days of beautiful spring-ish weather where I tackled the flower bed on the west side of the house.

It isn’t a flower bed at all, actually. When we first bought the house, there was a big patch to the west side bordered by limestone bedrock, covered with red mulch. It was kind of weird, like the previous owners were trying to hide a big ugly spot so they just dumped landscaping mulch and spread it under the trellised pergola porch that held up a massive wisteria vine. After we bought the place and asked what was up with the bed, the owners told us it had been a sort of garden bed of Martha’s and she’d grown flowers and strawberries along the retaining wall that led down to the garage. After I expressed a teeny bit of disappointment, they apologized for covering it up with landscape material.

Original red mulch landscaping. Almost too bright to look at now!

As soon as we moved into the house we dug into the deep mulch (sometimes nearly a foot deep), cut a hole in the black landscape plastic, and hit some nice soil. We immediately planted celosia, tomatoes, okra, pumpkin and zucchini. It was a wonderful, weed-free situation, for the most part. But once in awhile I would cut down through the landscape fabric and hit a rock. Then I’d have to move, dig a foot of mulch out of the way, cut a random spot and hope I didn’t hit rock again. It was getting exhausting, the fabric now had holes, weeds were coming through, and more weeds were beginning to seed themselves in the mulch.
I needed to know what was under there.

Last year as I made the backyard garden I moved loads and loads of the red much to make walkways and dress vegetables. They say red mulch is no good for gardens because of the dye that leaches into the soil but after a year, ours was decomposing rapidly—it was practically soil at the bottom of the mulch near the black fabric—so I took my chances. Plus, moving the mulch was still cheaper than buying a new truckload. In the back garden it had been amazing for weed control around the veggies. I’m a big fan of red mulch now, and thankful the owners left if for me to manage.

First year, red mulch garden sown with pumpkins, zucchini, okra, and a pile of weeds to the left (which I mistakingly thought were an old marigold variety , ha!)

Later, as I had time and energy, I pulled back the old landscape material and put in strawberries, tulips, and eventually radishes, tomatoes, peas, etc. Everything was doing so fantastic I decided I needed to go ahead and excavate the rest of the red mulch, pull up the landscape fabric, and check out the soil situation so I could have a full-on flower garden, the likes of which Martha would be proud.

Under the new fabric the owners had placed was actually some older fabric, the “naturally disintegrating” kind that never disintegrates and looks like ripped shreds of a spectre of death costume as you pull it up.

So this has been our weekend project, pulling up the old fabric, moving the rest of the mulch to the original bed, and laying the fabric back down on top for now to dissuade Minnie from previously planted tulip bulbs (which have already been fooled into thinking it’s spring by this crazy back and forth weather) and to allow for more decomposition before I put in more corms or seeds or whatever suits my fancy.
I have had luck buying close out bulbs and seeds this time of year because most (smart) gardeners put their stuff in the ground to overwinter. However, it seems like we always get a good weekend or two in December or January where I can sneak in some bulbs who don’t know any better, nor do they care if they’ve been in the ground 20 weeks or ten. So I get them half price, sometimes discounted even lower. Risky business!

This weekend, we stumbled on several clumps of tulip bulbs and went ahead and separated and replanted them—just enough of a taste of spring in January to keep me and Gretty going! We also added some garlic with the hopes it will also make Minnie mind her own beeswax and maybe it’ll be a nice succession planting.

I’m sure I will have to order a new load of mulch to cover these spring flowers (and veggies) but I’m really thrilled I got by the last couple years, making the most of the original mulch and already-installed landscape fabric. I was looking online at buying fabric pre-cut with holes and a 50 yard roll is not cheap!

Here is an article on lasagna gardening that has been fun to read as we have begun a new worm bin with our January crop of worms (lots having babies in the west flower bed?!) and are debating whether or not to put plastic or tarp over the hugelkulturs in the back to speed up the decomposing. I hadn’t fully thought out the whys of green (nitrogen) and brown (carbon) compost, but it makes complete sense, even in the worm bin and controlling the smell.

I love a taste of spring in January!

Where the tomatoes are good.

It never fails we are sick over Thanksgiving—at least some of us, if not all of us. I actually appreciate this foreknowledge because it goes right along with my approach to life: don’t plan things. Planned things tend to pack their bags with expectations, all of them quite lofty. We are better off when pleasantly surprised rather than outrageously disappointed. Once I planned a trip to Hawaii and within weeks of our flight, Covid-19 happened. Never again! I am convinced now that my planning must be conservative and only ever whispered, if ever born.

But. I am planning to have a thousand tulips pop up in April, something dependable on Honey Creek. The effort of planting is minimal and the effect is so maximal. I see it more as an investment. I am deciding on the top flowers I love (not roses or things that are woody, thorny or burr-y) and only putting those in the ground. Things that burst up and out in hoards. GK and I need more flowers. More!

I am slowly cleaning up the garden—much easier after it all dies, freezes and thaws a couple times. The hugelkultur system we made with mounding the beds worked like a dream this past growing season, but we need to add some nutrients rather than letting it all sit. I’d bought straw bales last February or March with the intention of planting in them. They were not quite broken down enough to do really well—I got tomatoes and cucumbers to grow in straw bales, but it wasn’t a smashing success. If I had let them sit for a whole year before planting, it would’ve been better.

Straw bale growing was developed more for folks who don’t have great soil or space or lack other resources. (In some countries, poor farmers are encouraged to urinate on the straw bales to add nitrogen!) We first saw people growing successfully in bales (not urinating on them, btw) when we lived in southwest Colorado. I wanted to give it a go just to experiment, but our soil and climate is so suited for growing that there’s really no reason to rely on it.

So I’ve been forking the partly-decomposed straw bales over the hugelkultur mounds, layering it with leaves and newspaper. Our resident 5th grader gets the local paper at school and usually brings me home three or four copies a week (“I know how much you love to read the newspaper, Mom,” lol). We will see how this lasagna method works for composting and enriching the soil. It should break down quickly.
*This gardener, who freely bashes every method of gardening, is resentfully tolerant, so it’s a go for me.

The most beautiful people live where the tomatoes taste good. I have thought about this for much time. I am telling you, it is the only philosophy. Vivi dove i pomodori sono buoni… once you have learned this, you cannot go back. It is the ultimate truth.

A Waiter in Paris, Edward Chisholm (2022)

Cypress Vine and low expectations.

Flying by the seat of my pants has always lessened the anxiety I feel in life. I think it’s the real key to enjoying everything: don’t over-plan, don’t over-stress, and always always have low expectations.

My music teacher days are filled to the brim with flying by the seat of my pants. I knew some of it would be this way, but I didn’t expect how much I’d love it. I need more hours in the week but at the same time I’m bone tired in the very best way possible. Even if there were more hours I’d spend them sleeping, not cutting out cute little pumpkins or working on laminating centers activities.

I knew (and know) a few people who do this teacher thing and are always complaining. I am not there yet, thank goodness, and I don’t plan on ever arriving.
We have kiddos who come to school from an absolute mess at home, or with a terrible, self-defeating attitude, or are the product of caregivers who are at their rope’s end. I’m even more grateful for my upbringing and the wisdom that’s come as a grown adult. I did not jump into the deep end unwittingly, and I’m so glad. It would really stink to imagine a class full of obedient, darling children and then be handed all sorts of belligerent, disagreeable, chaotic elementary kids. There are plenty of both.
I’ve had standoffs with kids who refuse to hand me the mallet once xylophone time is over. Kids who have no concept of personal space, and kids who are so exhausted from late night living (your kids need more sleep, parents! Put them to bed at a decent hour!) that they wallow on the carpet like puppies.
Kids who refuse to work with a partner (“we hate each other,” the nine-year-old said matter-of-factly, to which I replied, “it doesn’t matter, she’s your partner. Go sit in the corner and get used to feeling lonely, because that’s what life’s gonna be like for you if you can’t get along with people”). Kids who sulk and walk silent, threatening circles around me because I didn’t immediately let them disrespect me.

Then I have the lovelies who stare, gaping and thrilled when I bust out the autoharp, or the old typewriter, or the ukuleles. This is what it is about—all of it. For the former, I get to be an adult who cares about them enough to challenge them to grow into a decent human being. For the latter, I get to show them how learning is awesome and opens worlds of fun.

Burpee Cypress vine flowers

These are from my cypress vines. I planted two seeds along the deck on the house and a couple to trellis on the arbor near the garden. After we pruned back the wisteria on the deck I had hoped for something a little less destructively invasive, so I gave these a go. The leaves are feathery and light and the blooms are so fun! The hummingbirds love it, and I love having hummingbirds back around without a sticky red bird feeder.

Amazing how it comes from one little seed (cypress vine)

We will see if I still love it next year, if and when it reseeds itself. The wisteria is always threatening to make a furious rebound, which makes me fear for the deck itself. I keep thinking about the annoying ivy character from Darkwing Duck—Dr. Bushroot?!
(Confirmed. Though the internet wants to convince me his evil was born out of loneliness, not malicious intent.)

A bit of messy September gardening.

I’m working on a lasagna compost idea, but first I need to do some heavy weeding. Squash borers have infested my pumpkins—and I’d been so good about removing those plants to prevent the spread! Oh well. We have a good run.
The idea is to get more cardboard to lay down on top of the decomposing plant matter. I don’t know it it’ll work in the hugelkulturs—I’ve been re-mounding them with straw after I pull up the bed.
(The straw bales I’d bought in Spring didn’t work as well as I’d thought than just the soil for sowing seeds. Back in Colorado I was always impressed by one neighbor who regularly planted all his garden in bales, but I should’ve known not to bother since the climate and soil here is so great for plant life.)

Adam and Eve must’ve known—every pleasure can be found in a garden. If I were getting married, this would be my bouquet of choice!

Adventures in Hugelkultur: a sad tale.

I made a terrible mistake when I started the hugelkultur mounding project.
Backstory: Between the house and garden spot was a bush that buzzed with happy bees and hummingbirds. There was a viney plant intertwined and little pop-up lilies beside it. It was a mass confusion of overgrowth. The little birds loved it, but the flowers were few and far between. Half of the mess seemed to be dead branches. In winter I decided to chop it down and fill the spot with dry root strawberries and pineberries (hopefully to grow and flower next spring).

I didn’t know what the bush and vine were, but there were tubular red flowers which the hummingbirds hovered to drink the nectar. I love hummingbirds and didn’t want to lose them, but I figured pruning back a big, half-dead bush would be a good thing in the long run.

Original bush thing. Notice the trumpet flower.
Winter post-pruning of the bush/vine.
Ugly spot where I should’ve left a bush. I sure hope my strawberries come up.

Here’s where I went wrong: I was simultaneously building my hugelkulturs, the mounds for my garden. As I pruned, I put the dead branches in the bottom of the mound, thinking they were, um, dead.
Imagine my surprise when every single mound began sprouting trumpet vine!
The bush I’d hacked down was indeed dead, but the flowers the hummingbirds had loved were from the vine which had taken over the bush. And here I was, replanting it in every single spot of my garden. Ugh.

Prolific trumpet vine babies having a heyday near the Brussels sprouts.

Along with crabgrass, I’m picking out whole branches of trumpet vine. I’ll probably have to dig up all the mounds in the fall. Boo to not doing my research. Only rotting tree material and vegetation in the bottom of the hugelkultur, friends!

melon, hugelkultur, May garden status.

We planted all the squash and melon on Mother’s Day because that’s when the locals say to put seeds in the ground. I’d already greedily filled most of the hugelkultur plots with tomatoes and peppers, cabbage and broccoli.

My mounded hugelkulturs have sort of leveled out after a couple months and I think that’s okay. Before I began the mounding, something like back in February, I laid down cardboard to choke out the grass (a no-till approach). It seems to have composted well. There are worms everywhere and I drove in a stake which had no problem sinking down a foot and a half.

The rest of the garden we spread out dirt for sweet corn and made hills for melons, pumpkin, and squash. (The seedless watermelon packet held exactly three seeds, to which Joe commented, “some smart aleck packaged that.”)

When we lived in Denver, Jubal was flying his drone in the city park and accidentally sent it into a private backyard that backed up to the park. I dreaded going to the front door and asking to search for it, but it was part of a school project, so we crossed our fingers and rang the doorbell. A really sweet college girl named Stephanie opened the door and graciously led us into the backyard.
There was a koi pond and tennis courts and overgrown/underattended shrubs and paths. No sight of the drone. Stephanie suggested it could have landed in the koi pond (no worries–the koi had all died the previous spring during an unexpected hard freeze. Side story: Stephanie’s dad had put baby koi in the pond when she was born, so they died at the ripe old age of 20!). We were about to dejectedly walk away when I spied a small garage with a door cracked open. A wonderful, indescribable aroma floated from therein.

I’m not usually nosy, but I think I must’ve asked, “what’s in there?” and she showed us.
Her dad had fled Vietnam during the Cambodia-Vietnam conflict, settled in the United States with the help of extended family, worked to learn English and became a doctor. He had no hobbies, Stephanie explained, except one.
The garage was filled with tropical flowers, a veritable jungle of hibiscus, orchids, and gorgeous exotic blooms I’d never seen before.

“This is what he does for his hobby. It reminds him of home,” Stephanie said. I was blown away. This wasn’t a greenhouse–it was a small, unattached garage-style building equipped with grow lights. But it rivaled any butterfly center or botanic gardens I’d ever visited. And the good doctor was tending it for his own enjoyment.

As we departed, I noticed some trellising on the side of the building. There were panels affixed to stakes and paneling across the top. Long, bumpy vegetables hung from the top.
“Bitter melon,” Stephanie said.

I don’t know where to even buy bitter melon seed (probably Baker Creek sells it, but I’m not finding it in Lowe’s or Walmart for sure). I also highly doubt anyone at my house would eat it. But my aim is to trellis my own melons like Stephanie’s dad did in Denver.
And to care for a garden as fervently as he secretly and joyously tended his hibiscus.

May 17th garden.

post-february plans

We have had three four- and five-day weekends this February, courtesy of wintry weather and slick roads and school holidays. This amounts to half of February being eaten up by cabin feverish kids.
I love having them home because we plow through library books and get cozy on the couch. We put some seeds in trays and play music.

Ferry-Morse has the cutest coated seeds. Much easier to see and place in pods if kids are helping!

But they eat all the food, make a thousand craft projects with googly eyes, dump potting soil everywhere and destroy the house…It’s the best and worst of times.

I made this a heck of a lot more complicated by signing up for a teacher’s certificate program. Ignoring the American Board’s advice to give it four months, I gave myself two weeks to study the general material before the first exam. I do these things on a whim because it helps me procrastinate on other projects, but also subbing has really compelled me to at least be open to more-qualified teaching at public school…I didn’t foresee the study days getting eaten up by google-eyed milk jugs and the like, but that’s what happened. I crammed at night and during afternoon Encanto and My Fair Lady sessions.

During my online practice tests, I’d ask the boys who wrote the Zimmermann telegram and who received it, and they’d scramble to grab the Nathan Hales’ Hazardous Tales that applied. History nerds (as all nerds) are sorely underrated.

Thank heavens, I passed the real exam today. I know for a fact I missed the question on who settled Rhode Island and the difference between graphemes and diagraphs (I still think they’re the same thing), but I smoked the math and literary devices portions. All that pre-algebra during the pandemic and those dull books I constantly read…

Now all I’ve got to master are best teaching practices, and you probably already know I’m overly confident in the essay-writing arena. Watch out, American Board–you aren’t ready for the metaphors I’m about to drop.

So it warmed up a little–enough to get our and drag some goodies from the barns. The boys found me some boards in the chicken house (cross that out, mansion on a hill) so I’ve begun my garden beds a la hugelkultur

I’m delighted to find all this old stuff because I’m terrible at sourcing things on my own. I easily talk myself out of walking into Dollar General to ask if I can nab some of their cardboard boxes for my no-till garden. (Fear of rejection? Too hermitress? I don’t know.)

All I know is my inanimate friends at home are always cheering me on.


We keep hitting this weird cycle of warm, windy days followed by ice storms. A friend from Colorado asked about our snow totals (she and I both lived on the mountain where we regularly had five feet or more of snow on our roof at any given time, not to mention the ice rink which comprised our driveway) and I sent her a video of my kids sledding down the wheelchair ramp attached to the house.
It is slick, but disappointing as far as fluffy snow goes. Joe prepped the kids before our first snow of the season here by saying, “guys, listen. It isn’t like Colorado snow where you get to build a snowman. It’s like the frozen stuff you scrape out of your deep freeze.”
Too true. 

But in the meanwhile I’ve been trying to make a garden plan. When we moved here, we stuck plants right in the ground, digging through the red landscaping mulch and fabric the former owners had used to cover the patio. In old pictures I found in the barn I can tell there used to be a cistern and a strawberry patch. Before I’d seen the pictures, it was all guesswork. I’d shovel, slice open the landscaping fabric, hit rock, and try again.
It was convenient to not have to till and the extra mulch helped keep weeds out. 
This year, however, we are moving the garden behind the house and saving the strawberry patch area for strawberries and ranunculus. I’m in the process of carting the red mulch to the garden area to line the rows and have a nice walking space. We’re collecting cardboard boxes so we can lay them on the grassy area and create no-till rows for flowers and vegetables.
I’m mainly lazy and don’t want to build garden bed boxes because sturdy, well-made DIY projects aren’t up my alley. This presents a risk since Minnie and the armadillo gang seem intent on digging up every little scent I put in the ground…but Joe promises me a fence–maybe even an electric one, which he assures me will take care of that problem. He is also lazy about garden beds.

So while searching for a lazy-man’s approach to garden beds, I was flipping through a garden book and came upon a German method of gardening with mounded beds. Since we are in German Lutheran territory, it seemed like the only right thing to do.

The base of the mound is supposed to be five feet or so wide with the top about 12-18 inches across. I think you plant all over the mound, not just at the top, to reduce erosion. The benefits of the hugelkultur seem to be multi-fold, since I won’t have to think about composting, just layering in the nutrients that will break down quickly.
It is a rotating bed, so each year the crop changes and maximizes produce based on the state of the soil decay.
I didn’t put it in the picture, but by years five and six the mound will likely be flat (knowing us it will be flat by the end of this summer) and ready for perennials. Who in the world can plan five or six years out? I don’t even know what I’m eating for lunch today, but that’s another story.

And if I can keep Minnie out of the coffee grounds and eggshell layer, that will be a miracle in itself.