A Green Thumb Grows

It was such a beautiful day! All week I had been looking forward to spending it in my front yard flower garden. For a variety of reasons, I hadn’t been able to spend very much time out there lately. It was something I just had to do, for my own well-being as well as for the garden’s. As I was sitting out there pulling up grass and weeds, and enjoying the warmth of the spring sun, I thought about how my green thumb has grown over the years.

Some of my earliest memories involve flowers. I remember my mother growing red tulips when I was very young, maybe four or so. I remember enjoying the scent of peonies when I was about five. My mother loves gardening, so it’s not too surprising that I have grown to love it, too.

I’ve had this angel many years. My mother bought her for me and she has made many moves with us.
Seasons

When my kids were young, I didn’t have very much time to devote to gardening, so what time I had was given mainly to flowers. Even if it was a pot of petunias on the porch, I needed some natural beauty to enjoy.

When we moved out to the country almost ten years ago, our kids were getting older and more independent. We had the space, so my husband built some raised beds and fenced them in. That was the beginning of the vegetable garden. Each year I’ve spent more time in there, broadening the range of herbs and vegetables that I grow. Our kids didn’t show much interest in it, and I didn’t force it on them. It was something that I wanted to enjoy, not spend the time fussing at them. I had come to gardening on my own accord, and I wanted them to have the same choice.

Now that the kids are grown, I’m able to indulge my love of gardening even more. I’ve always admired the pictures of beautiful gardens in magazines, and now on Pinterest, but I had to be content admiring others’ works of art. I’m not sure my gardens will ever look like that, and that’s okay. It’s the journey that I enjoy – learning by doing, being free to experiment and make mistakes, and asking “what if?” Gardening takes a lot of time. Not only the investment of my time now, but seasons for things to mature. Because we’ve moved around a lot in the past, I was never in one place long enough to see that maturity.

Slow Change

The front yard was bare dirt when we first moved here. Our home is on a rocky hilltop with great drainage, so it dries out quickly. It wasn’t until my husband built a fence around the front yard to keep out traffic, both human and animal, that I was able to start working on transforming it. Every year I’ve started new beds, and planted more. The yard is finally starting to get filled in.

I bought this rabbit years ago while shopping with my mother and he has made many moves, too.
The Gardening Bug Bites

A few months ago I wrote a post called Homegrown Salads ~ A Simple Pleasure that included a giveaway for Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. A few weeks afterward, I was shocked to find out that my son had ordered some seeds from them! I was amused by what he chose. I guess, like me, he wanted to try new things. He ordered seeds for yellow and white strawberries. (I’ve never grown strawberries from seed, much less yellow or white ones.) He ordered some eggplant. (That’s one thing I’ve never grown, because I wouldn’t know what to do with it – that’s not something I eat very often.) He has some other things as well, like corn, peppers, tomatillos, and lupines. All of a sudden, my son that had never shown any interest in gardening, was sending me daily texts with pictures of his seedlings. And we’re now having conversations about plants. You just never know when the gardening bug is going to bite!

A text from my son
A Rewarding Hobby

Gardening is a rewarding hobby. When I was younger, I enjoyed arts and crafts, but now gardening has taken over as my art form. I love playing with the colors and textures while at the same time working towards some other objective, such as attracting birds and butterflies, having sweet scents, or food to eat. I can’t imagine ever getting tired of gardening because there will always be new things to try. A green thumb definitely grows on you!

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A Green Thumb Grows


5 Easy Ways to Brighten Winter Days

I love having the four seasons to mark the passing of the year, to give variety in the weather and in my daily tasks. Each season brings joys and challenges, much like life itself. I have heard that there is a high rate of depression in the winter months, and I can understand why. The days are short, and most are cold, cloudy and gloomy. When I look out the windows, all I see is brown and gray. There are some things that I do to make the most of them and lift my spirits, so here are 5 easy ways to brighten winter days.

*This post contains affiliate links and I may be compensated for this post. As always, my opinions are all my own.

1. Counting My Winter Blessings

Focusing on the positive always helps to make things more pleasant. Some winter blessings are because of what it doesn’t have: snakes, ticks, and chiggers. I can go walking around the farm or in the woods with little regard to any of them.

The view from our back porch.

In winter with the leaves off the trees we have a better view. From our windows we can see the valley, and our farm, down below. When driving through the country we can see things that are usually hidden such as homes or geographic features. When it snows, it highlights the lay of the land and we’re able to see the creeks, ravines, and bluffs.

No matter what winter brings, I have a warm home, plenty to eat, and a good husband. What more could I want?

2. Enjoying Nature

When we do have pretty, sunny days, I try to get outside to absorb the sun and allow my body to replenish its Vitamin D. Deep breaths fill my lungs with the cool fresh air and that makes me feel good, too. By taking a walk, I get some exercise which releases endorphins that make me feel happier and healthier at the same time. If I’m alone I sing and talk to God.  A real treat is when we’ve had a beautiful snow followed by some calm and sunny days. Once I’m bundled up they really don’t feel that bad, and it’s awe-inspiring to walk through pristine snow in our quiet countryside. Our rocky hillsides have a lot of springs that you don’t realize are there until crystal icicles form along the bluffs.

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3. Nesting

On cold, windy, dreary days I prefer to stay inside. I love scented candles and have bought Yankee Candles for over twenty years. Lighting them fills the house with a nice scent, and I believe the flame helps to purify the air. It puts me in a nesting mood so that housekeeping is enjoyable. Right now I’m still using a pine scent for winter, but soon I’ll switch to a spring flower scent. I get so excited about spring and the flowers coming up, and I can hurry it up a little that way.

Baking and cooking warm up the house and I get to use the foods that I spent so much time growing, harvesting, and preserving. Being able to take those fruits and vegetables out of the freezer, and season them with my own herbs, brings a taste of summer to every meal. I also love baking bread. Who doesn’t love that aroma?! I have a book called “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day” and I love it! I still haven’t tried all of the recipes because I like the basic “Boule” recipe so much. I can take out a little bit of dough, shape it like a bun or hoagie and have bread fresh from the oven. It really kicks up an ordinary sandwich or bowl of soup! Scott and I have enjoyed having some simple suppers by the fire together in the evenings.

4. Resting

God even gives rest to the plants and animals that hibernate through winter. I take advantage of this slower season by giving myself some rest, too. I refresh myself by pursuing new interests, such as blogging and photography.

5. Spring Dreaming

Just a few days ago I got out my seeds, took inventory, and made a list of the ones I need to order. I’m also starting to study my Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog, looking for a few new things to try this year.

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” – Audrey Hepburn

I’ve also started making a list of gardening chores that I’ll want to start on soon. Among the first will be replacing the landscape fabric in my garden walkways, and cleaning out my garden beds.

The buds on my fruit trees are swelling and I’m beginning to think about spring and wonder if my pear trees will blossom for the first time, and if the Blue Jays will get all of my cherries. (Or will we get a late freeze and not have much at all?)

Libby Snow-Bathing

I wish I enjoyed winter as much as Libby does. I think it’s her favorite season. Winter has its own charms, though, so I try to focus on those while I await the first signs of spring. If winter gets you down, try some of the things that help me. I hope they’ll help you, too!

5 Easy Ways to Brighten Winter Days

This post has been shared on some of my favorite blog hops.

Related Reading

Angela just recently started blogging from her farm in north Kansas. In “My New Winter Attire,” she talks about the importance of having the proper winter gear.

 

 

Kathi writes about the difficulties she faced at her homestead in central Oklahoma after a big snowfall in “The Big Snow.”

 

 

Deb takes you for a walk around her homestead in Southern Manitoba, Canada, in her post, “First Snowfall.”

 

 

Another Michelle lives in an 1800s farmhouse in New England. She writes about the first big snow on their new homestead in 3 Lessons I Learned in My First Winter as a Homesteader.

 

Nadine lives in Duncan, BC Canada, and she’s conducting a Winter Nature Study with her kids.

Red Thai Roselle ~ A Garden Adventure

I enjoy trying new things, so this summer I experimented with growing Red Thai Roselle (Hibiscus Sabdariffa). I saw it in the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog and thought it sounded interesting. They listed many uses such as tea, pie, and jelly, but using the leaves to make herbal tea appealed to me the most.

This post contains affiliate links. If you use one of my links to make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. It doesn’t cost you any extra, but helps to support my blog.

Growing

Although my garden didn’t have its best season, the Thai Roselle was one of the things that performed the best. The plants were healthy and mostly pest-free. In researching the plant, I learned that it is a member of the Hibiscus family and a native of West Africa. Other names for it are Jamaican Sorrel, and Flor de Jamaica. In tropical areas it’s a perennial, but here in zone 6B I have to grow it as an annual. Growing in full sun, it needs at least 90 days to mature, and as long as 150 days to harvest. Mine is about 5′ tall and 3′ wide. Although the calyxes can be used to make jelly, mine hasn’t bloomed yet. I was excited to see them starting to form, but it’s already October so I don’t know if I’ll get to try them this year. Since we’re nearing the end of our growing season, I thought I had better go ahead and start harvesting and drying some of the leaves.

Calyxes Starting to Form
Calyxes Starting to Form
Preserving
img_1897
A Quick Rinse of the Thai Roselle Leaves
img_1902
Drip-Drying in a Collander

I cut off a bunch of the larger leaves, gave them a quick rinse in the sink, and lightly layered them on all nine trays of my Excalibur dehydrator. They actually dried pretty quickly. I tried leaving the leaves whole, thinking it would be easy to strip them from their stems when dry, and that worked beautifully. The first batch nearly filled a quart jar.

Thai Roselle Leaves on Excalibur Tray
Thai Roselle Leaves on Excalibur Tray
Dried Thai Roselle Leaves
Dried Thai Roselle Leaves
Thai Roselle Layered on Excalibur Trays
Excalibur Trays Filled with Thai Roselle Leaves
Finished Product: Thai Roselle Stripped from Stems and Crumbled
Thai Roselle Stripped from Stems and Crumbled
Tea Time

Of course, I was anxious to try the tea to see what it tasted like. I filled a tea infuser and steeped it several minutes. I had read it described as “cranberry,” and that’s pretty accurate. It was tart and tangy, with a beautiful red color. I sweetened mine with a sprinkle of stevia. Later when it cooled, I added some ice to try iced tea, and I think I liked it even better that way.

Thai Roselle Steeping
Thai Roselle Steeping
A Cup of Hot Thai Roselle Tea
A Cup of Hot Thai Roselle Tea

On herbal tea ingredient lists, I’ve seen “hibiscus” and am now wondering if it’s this variety that they use. This is just the beginning of experimenting with this interesting plant. Maybe next year I’ll get the seeds started earlier to experiment more with the calyxes. In the meantime I can try combining it with other herbal teas or enjoying it alone. When I’m chilled in the evenings, it’s nice to have a hot herbal tea to sip by the fire that won’t keep me from falling asleep. If you’re adventurous like me, you might have fun growing it in your garden. Did you try something new this year? I’d like to hear about your discoveries, too.

This post has been shared on some of my favorite blog hops.

Helpful Links

Excalibur Dehydrators

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds Listing

Red Thai Roselle Hibiscus Tea

All About Roselle

Red Thai Roselle ~ A Garden Adventure
Red Thai Roselle ~ A Garden Adventure

Tronchuda Kale ~ A Super Green Worth Growing

I love experimenting in the garden. That’s why I enjoy the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog so much. I’m amazed by the vast array of plants that I’ve never heard of. Reading the descriptions, comparing, and picking out a few new things to try helps me survive the bleakest months of winter. Having said that, though, I’m trying to develop a list of my own favorites – plants that are dependable, productive, and of course…tasty!

This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase using one of my links I may earn a small commission. It doesn’t cost you any extra but helps to support my blog.

Baker Creek’s description for Tronchuda Kale claimed that it was more heat tolerant than other types and I’ve found that to be true, at least this year. We had a fairly mild summer, and although the plants slowed down with the warmer weather, they were fairly healthy despite fending off cabbage worms. I planted seeds in my raised beds in the Spring. The plants lived through the summer and started to revive again when the cooler temperatures arrived.

Tronchuda, also known as Portuguese Kale, has a flatter leaf than other varieties which have more wrinkled ones. I think I prefer the texture of these smoother leaves, and they’re a little easier to work with when preparing them, too.

Kale is one of the most challenging crops I grow, mainly because of the battle with my enemies, the cabbage worms. I’ve tried different methods, but I happened on a product that has really made a difference, and that is Captain Jack’s Deadbug . I have to reapply it after it rains, but it has really helped me to harvest some beautiful leaves. 

Tronchuda Kale
Cabbage moth eggs
When to Grow

Kale is a cool-weather plant, so in my area (zone 6b) I can grow it both Spring and Fall. Like I said above, it endured the summer this year so I didn’t need to replant it, but I’m not sure if that will always be the case. Our summers vary, and can be pretty brutal. It takes about 85 days to mature.

Why to Grow

Kale has many nutritional benefits that make it worth growing. Referred to as a “Super Food,” it is low carb and low fat, but very high in nutrients. There are many ways to work kale into your diet. Think smoothies, soups, dehydrated “chips,” and salads. Kale: Health Benefits & Nutrition Facts.

Harvesting

I use the cut-and-come-again method. I harvest the middle-sized leaves, leaving the small ones to grow larger, and the large or tattered ones for the plant. You don’t want to take too many, maybe a third, but the plant will continue to produce new leaves over the course of the growing season. You don’t need to harvest the whole plant. Like mentioned above, I’ve been able to harvest kale for an extended period, from Spring through Fall, although its growth was slower during the summer.

Tronchuda Kale
Oh, no you don’t! Cabbage moth on my kale.
Storing

I usually blanch it and freeze it in quart-sized freezer bags if I’m not going to prepare it right away. I’m also starting to experiment with dehydrating it. If you’re going to refrigerate it to use soon, it’ll keep better if you wait and wash it right before you use it. To clean, I submerge the leaves in a sink full of cool water and gently swish it around a little to flush out dirt and bugs. As I transfer the leaves to a colander I look for any cabbage moth eggs or larvae. If the leaves were real dirty, I might rinse them a second time in new water, but that isn’t usually necessary. I use the chiffonade method to cut the leaves. If the stem/midrib is large and tough then I remove it, otherwise I don’t.

Tronchuda Kale
Roll stacked leaves

img_1311Kale should be blanched for 2 1/2 minutes according to online guides. I usually do it for three minutes, though. Blanching is a simple process of briefly boiling/steaming the greens to stop enzyme action. Then the greens are transferred to a bowl filled with ice water to cool, then drained and put in a container for storage. If you’re going to use it for smoothies you could freeze it into cubes using an ice cube tray and then transfer to baggies.

Preparation

There are many uses for kale, but this is the recipe I use most often. I start by dicing some bacon. How much depends on how much kale I’m cooking, but maybe a strip per quart-sized baggie. I dice it and put it in a pot over medium to start cooking. I dice an onion quickly by using my Vidalia Chop Wizard and add that. When it becomes translucent, I add a few cups of water and a teaspoon or so of chicken bouillion. (I use Better Than Bouillion) Then I add the kale. My secret ingredient is Nasturtium Vinegar that I make in the Spring. You can use apple cider vinegar in its place, though, maybe a tablespoon or two. I don’t measure it, it’s one “bloop.” Add salt and pepper to taste. Kale needs to cook approximately 30 minutes.

 

Tronchuda Kale
Yummy Fresh Kale

Greens are a great addition to your garden. They have long growing seasons and can even grow in partial shade. All varieties of kale are worth growing, but Tronchuda is going on my “Favorites” list.

This post has been shared on the Our Simple Homestead Blog Hop.

Helpful Links

Tronchuda Kale from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

10 Health Benefits of Kale

Magnolia Blossom Tendril Pea

Magnolia Blossom Tendril Pea is a variety that I ordered through Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company to try this past Spring. I was very happy with its performance. I had some seeds left of another variety, Sugar Snap, from last year so I planted some of those, too, and was able to compare them. Both of these peas have sweet, succulent pods that are delicious fresh or cooked. They make a great snack right in the garden!

Plump Magnolia Blossom Tendril Pea Pods
Plump Magnolia Blossom Tendril Pea Pods
Beautiful Blossoms of Magnolia Blossom Tendril Pea
Beautiful Blossoms of Magnolia Blossom Tendril Pea
Magnolia Blossom Tendril Pea Closeup
Magnolia Blossom Tendril Pea Closeup

Peas like cool weather, so they can be grown both Spring and Fall. This pea has beautiful blossoms and, as described, it was very productive. When the heat of summer started to arrive, Magnolia Blossom produced about a week longer than the other variety. The pods were very crisp and sweet, too! It does have more tendrils than most, and the catalog description suggested using them in salads, but I didn’t remember to try that. I’m sure they’d be great, though.

Magnolia Blossom Pea Seed Packet
Magnolia Blossom Tendril Pea Packet

I was so pleased with this pea, I’ve already started putting out more seed for fall. If you’re looking for a sugar snap pea to add to your garden, consider giving Magnolia Blossom Tendril Pea a try.

This post has been shared on some of my favorite blog hops.

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Magnolia Blossom Tendril Pea