Spring Garden Surprise ~ A Bunny Tale

Gardening is full of surprises. Many years ago while spring cleaning, I moved some debris within the chives and suddenly my eyes were focusing on some little pink things. My first thought was rats, but then I realized that I was looking at newborn cottontail rabbits.

Carefully, I covered them back up, trying to leave the hidden nest as I had found it. Every day when I was out in the garden I would gently uncover it to see how they were doing, and watched as they grew their hair and began to look more like rabbits.

I couldn’t believe the audacity of mama cottontail who made her nest right smack dab in the middle of my fenced garden! It reminded me of Beatrix Potter’s stories of Peter Rabbit and Mr. McGregor’s garden.

I never saw the mama rabbit. From reading on the internet, I learned that they visit their young for only a few minutes during dawn and dusk to quickly feed them. Baby rabbits are often thought to have been abandoned because the mother is nowhere in sight, but that usually is not the case. You can watch a YouTube video of a mama cottontail feeding her young here.

One day, as suddenly as I had found them, they were gone. Now every spring when I’m preparing for a new season, I’m reminded of that fun little surprise. Nature is so entertaining!

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


 

Spring Garden Surprise

City Girl, Country Woman ~ Living the Homesteading Dream

I grew up as a city girl, but I always longed for the country. My mother was a city girl who married my father, a country boy, and I’m an equal mix of them both.

Childhood Memories
Aerial View of My Grandparents’ Farm

My Dad grew up on a farm in northeast Kansas and I was always fascinated when we visited his parents at his boyhood home. They had a beautiful farmhouse, which seemed enormous to me as a child. It was surrounded by cornfields, and there were usually some animals, although they varied over the years. At times they had chickens, pigs, or cows, and there was usually at least one dog and some skittish cats. Trying to lure and catch them would keep my sister and I entertained for the better part of our visit.

I was always enthralled by the animals. I remember once when I was very young, for some reason I ventured into the muddy pig lot. I guess I wanted to pet them, but the mud was so deep that I sunk up to my thighs and I couldn’t get out. As the pigs ran frenzied circles around me, my Grandpa ran to my rescue. My mother was hysterical, fearing for my safety. I didn’t understand what the fuss was about, or why the pigs didn’t want to be petted.

My Grandma had a vegetable garden beside her house, and if we were visiting at the right time I got to tag along as she did some harvesting. It seemed like such a treat to eat foods raised right there on their farm. They really did seem to taste better.

Homesteading Dream

Those are some of the childhood memories I had of country life, and I wanted to experience more of it. My husband is kind of a mix, too. He grew up on his parents’ farm where they raised cows. Shortly after he graduated college he left for Houston and that’s where we met. He couldn’t wait to leave the farm and go to a big city, but after we married and started our family, we started to dream together about living in the country and being more self-sufficient.

My Green Thumb Sprouts
Homegrown Lettuces

My family moved around a lot while I was growing up. Scott and I have also moved quite a bit during our marriage, but it seemed each time it was to a house with a little more land, and a little further out of town. When our kids were young I kept busy with them, but I started dabbling with gardening in containers. I don’t remember being all that successful, but, hey, even a little bit of lettuce can be pretty exciting!

A Garden of My Own
Basket of Goodies from the Garden

When we made our big move to “the middle of nowhere” in southwest Missouri, that’s when my green thumb really grew. Scott helped me make some raised beds because we live on a hilltop with rocky soil. He even built a fence to protect it from marauding critters. I love spending time in there. It’s so peaceful. I have a bluebird house that my dad made mounted on one of the fence posts, and bluebirds flit in and out while I’m working. What could be better than keeping company with the Bluebirds of Happiness?! I like the smell of the dirt. I love seeing my seeds sprout and grow into (hopefully) fruitful plants.

A Melon Growing in the Garden

Harvesting the produce makes me feel thankful for God’s provision, and I marvel at His creativity. I think of it as my own little church because I do a lot of praying and singing out there.

The Orchard
Apples!

Over the years we’ve gradually planted our orchard. At the moment we have two peach trees, four apple trees, two pear trees, four cherry trees, and three blueberry bushes. It’s so exciting when they start blossoming and bearing fruit.

It’s challenging to protect them from insects and diseases organically, but I keep trying and learning. For nine years now I’ve grown more and more plants, and increased my experience with organic gardening.

God Provides
A Basket of Foraged Gooseberries

In addition to the plants I cultivate and nurture, I enjoy foraging on our 200+ acre farm. I collect raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries, huckleberries, and mushrooms. Occasionally, we’ll get something like persimmons, pawpaws, or possum grapes. I feel gleeful like a kid when I’m able to prepare a meal with foods that we’ve raised and foraged ourselves. It’s a great feeling to be self-sufficient in that way. I’m overwhelmed at how much God provides for us.

Morel Mushrooms
Animal Tales

One of my ideas about country life is that you can have as many animals as you want, so we’ve also had fun raising an assortment of animals. We used to have a dog named Hattie, and she once had a litter of thirteen puppies. It seems like we also had a litter of kittens around the same time.

I’ve loved seeing my kids with all the kittens and puppies, chicks and rabbits. What child doesn’t like animals?!

When we first moved up here our daughter, Margaret, had a couple of rabbits. They actually rode in the back of the suburban with a cat (separate carriers) on the trip from Texas to Missouri. She raised several litters of baby rabbits before tiring of it.

Scott and his father built a nice chicken house soon after we moved here. I was so anxious to have our own fresh eggs. We enjoyed the chickens, and it wasn’t long before we added turkeys, ducks, geese and guineas.

Scott and Piglet

My husband and a neighbor worked together to raise some pigs for a few years. I wasn’t very involved in the caregiving, but I appreciated the pork in the freezer.

Mammoth Donkeys

For awhile we had horses, mules, and mammoth donkeys. I made the hard decision last year to give them up. Our daughter was leaving home, and my husband didn’t really share that interest with me. As much as I enjoyed them, it was time to go a different direction. Those are cherished memories, though, and I’m so grateful that I got to experience them. I’ve never taken more selfies than I did with those donkeys. They made me laugh.

Gypsy

Of course, I loved my horse, Gypsy, too. She was sweet and beautiful, and I learned a lot from her. In giving them up, I needed to feel like I had done everything possible to find them good homes. I prayed about it, and it took awhile, but God provided.

Many years ago we visited some friends in Seattle. While shopping there I bought this beautiful painting by artist Sarah Clementson Yeager. I had it framed and it has always hung where I could see it in the dining room – every dining room we’ve had since then. Although I didn’t think of it as a goal, I think it was kind of my dream in art form. I wanted the elements in that picture – the apple tree, the beautiful country setting, the cats and chickens peacefully co-habitating, even the table and chairs in the shade of a tree. I realized that I’ve attained that dream. There’s nothing I like more than looking over my shoulder out the patio door to see a mix of dogs, cats, and poultry, as well as our young cherry trees. Or some goofy guineas peeking in the window.

Goofy Guineas Peeking in the Back Door

I’m so grateful to God and my husband for this beautiful country life!

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City Girl, Country Woman

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.Affiliate Links - Mid-Life Blogger

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
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A Quick Rinse of the Thai Roselle Leaves
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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

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 really 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 types 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.

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Purple Hull Pinkeye Cowpeas

My garden is part laboratory, meaning that I like to try new things, whether techniques or plants. One of my favorite seed companies is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. In the winter I love looking through their catalog while planning my Spring garden, reading the descriptions of plants from all over the world. I’m amazed by the boundless variety of plants from which they’ve collected seeds. Every year I pick some new things to try, but I’m actually trying to hone in on some favorites that I can plant and depend on every year. Purple Hull Pinkeye Cowpeas are on that list.

Purple Hull Pinkeye Cowpeas Seed Packet
Purple Hull Pinkeye Cowpeas from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

This post contains affiliate links for products that I use and recommend. Should you use one of my links to make a purchase then I earn a small commission that helps to support my blog, and I thank you.

Dirty Details

We live on the top of a rocky hill, so I garden in raised beds using the “Lasagna Gardening” method. Basically, it’s layering different types of mulches such as leaves, newspapers, compost, and kitchen scraps. I also garden organically, trying to learn and use natural methods to avoid chemical pesticides and fertilizers. I live in southwest Missouri, Zone 6B.

Purple Hull Pinkeye Cowpea Bloom
Purple Hull Pinkeye Cowpea Bloom
Pick Me! Pick Me!

I love this variety of cowpeas because when they ripen they turn a pretty purple, which makes it really easy to know when they’re ready to be picked. The hulls are edible, too. If you pick immature pods, you can break them into pieces, called “snaps,” and cook them with the cowpeas. One year I saved and dried the purple hulls and used them to make herbal teas just for fun. I can’t say I could really taste them since I combined them with other herbs, but they lent a pretty pink tint to my tea. It was just another experiment. I’ve had good luck with them for many years and haven’t had a problem with pests or diseases.

If you don’t already have a Baker Creek catalog, do yourself a flavor (haha) and request a catalog. You’ll be amazed, and your horticultural horizons broadened! Purple Hull Pinkeye Cowpeas are a warm-weather crop, so plan ahead for next summer.

Shelled Purple Hull Pinkeye Cowpeas
Shelled Purple Hull Pinkeye Cowpeas
Preparing Purple Hull PINKEYE Peas

After you say that three times really fast, here’s my favorite way to cook them: I usually preserve my peas by packing them in quart-sized zip-locs, which weigh about 24 oz. If you don’t grow your own, you could use store-bought, and of course, any type of cowpea will work fine. I start by chopping a slice or two of bacon, and put it in a pot over medium to start browning.

Then I use my nifty Vidalia Chop Wizard to quickly chop an onion and throw it in the pot, too. Although I have a food processor, this gadget is quicker to use and clean up when I have a small job. (And it’s fun.)

Vidalia Chop Wizard Makes Quick Work of Chopping Onion
Vidalia Chop Wizard Makes Quick Work of Chopping Onion
Vidalia Chop Wizard
Vidalia Chop Wizard

When the bacon has started to brown and the onion is translucent, I put in about two cups of water and a teaspoonful of Better Than Bouillon. If I have homemade or canned chicken broth I sometimes use that instead. You could even use plain water, I just think the chicken broth adds depth of flavor.

Better Than Bouillon
Better Than Bouillon

I add the frozen cowpeas, bring them to a boil, then lower the heat back to a simmer. After they’ve cooked awhile I add salt and pepper to taste. After about 30-45 minutes they’ll be ready to eat. Enjoy!

Purple Hull Pinkeye Cowpeas
A steamy pot of Purple Hull Pinkeye Cowpeas
Helpful Links

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds


 

Oak Hill Homestead

Easy Herbs for a Zesty Life

Herbs are among my favorite plants to grow. They are as easy as weeds and have few to no pests. Dill and cilantro come to mind as two of the easiest. I let a few plants go to seed and when they dry I sprinkle seeds over my raised beds and let them come up where they may. I actually find it hard to pull up all of the excess seedlings to make way for the other things I want to grow, but that’s a good problem to have. I get a kick out of using herbs I grow myself. It saves money, makes food more flavorful, and they have nutritional benefits, too. Herbs add zest to life.

Cilantro Gone to Seed by Mid-Life Blogger
Cilantro Gone to Seed
Cilantro Seedlings
Cilantro Seedlings
Herbal Favorites
Green Bean and Dill Seedlings
Feathery Dill Seedling on the Right

Dill and parsley, which are in the carrot family, play host to swallowtail butterfly caterpillars. I have plenty to share and don’t mind them eating their fill. Parsley is a little different in that it’s a biennial, meaning it flowers and sets seed it’s second year. It’s not quite as quick and easy to renew itself so I sometimes have to replant it.

Chives make pretty lavender flowers. They, too, will produce many seeds and quickly spread, so that’s one that you might want to deadhead and control. I found a recipe for Chive Flower Vinegar, so I tried that for the first time this year. It was quick and easy to make and I’ve used it to for vinaigrettes. I also keep minced chives in the freezer to add to my scrambled eggs or other dishes.

Basil
Basil

Basil is another of my favorites. It grows in the heat of the summer, and I usually put some among the tomato plants. It dries beautifully and is so nice to have on hand. I like to use it in my pasta sauces. Another favorite use is in La Madeleine’s Tomato Basil Soup.

We love Mexican food, so along with cilantro I also grow oregano.

Easy Herbs for a Zesty Life
Oregano before harvest
Easy Herbs for a Zesty Life
Oregano going into dehydrator

I grew some chamomile a few years ago for herbal tea, and two years later it still comes up voluntarily. It makes pretty little Daisy-like flowers and has a pleasant scent so it can also be used in crafts such as potpourris.

Mints are extremely easy to grow. They can become invasive, so it’s best to keep them contained in some way. I have spearmint and chocolate mint growing in raised planters. Walking out the back door to grab a sprig for my iced tea is a simple summer pleasure, but I also dry some for use in herbal teas.

This post contains affiliate links for products that I use and recommend. Should you use one of my links to make a purchase then I earn a small commission that helps to support my blog, and I thank you.

Preserving

Herbs have such concentrated flavors that you don’t usually need much at a time, so I use my Excalibur dehydrator to preserve them for later use. I’ve had mine a few years now. It has nine trays so I can dry a lot at once. I found a fun group on Facebook called Dehydrating Divas and Dudes. I’m getting all kinds of ideas from them on new ways to use my Excalibur. Besides using them in cooking, I use dried herbs to make my own seasoning mixes.

Basil Dried in Excalibur Dehydrator
Basil Dried in Excalibur Dehydrator

Although most herbs dry really well, cilantro is one exception. It retains its flavor much better when frozen. I’ve done it different ways, but usually I rinse it, spin it dry, roughly chop it, and put it in a baggie. If I’m in a hurry I skip chopping and just shove it in a baggie. Since I use it most often for salsa, it gets thrown into the food processor, anyway.

Herb Scissors
Herb Scissors

I like gadgets that help to make my work easier or more fun. These herb scissors make quick work of mincing leaves.

Other Uses

Besides adding flavor to foods, herbs have other uses such as medicinal and crafting. In the garden they can help protect other plants from pests. Dill, for example, repels aphids, squash bugs, and tomato hornworms. On the flip side, herbs attract beneficial insects such as ladybugs and hoverflies. They’re organic gardener’s friends.

Book Recommendations

Even though the internet offers easy access to all sorts of information, I like to have reference books. I still prefer looking at a pretty and useful book in my hands. Herbs, an A~Z Guide, Gardening, Cooking & Health, by Reader’s Digest, has recipes for household and beauty products, as well as craft projects. Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs contains a lot of wild herbs for those who like to forage (like me). They both offer information about growing and using. Just flipping through them stimulates my creativity and makes me want to try even more herbs.

Perfect for Beginners

Herbs are so easy, they’re the perfect plants for beginning gardeners. They don’t take much room or attention, and most can even be grown in the shade. Even if you live in a small place, you can grow them in pots on the porch or a sunny windowsill. Go ahead and give them a try!

Helpful Links:

Plants that Attract Beneficial Insects

Dehydrating Divas & Dudes Facebook Group

Excalibur Dehydrators

Excalibur on Amazon

Related Reading:

Seed Saving

How to Harvest Yarrow

Going to Seed – Basil

Homemade Herb Playdough


 

Be Still ~ God Provides Spiritual Rest

Occasionally we lose electricity for no apparent reason. I’m sure there is one, we just never find out what it is. That happened one day this past May.

Power Outage

It was a beautiful Spring afternoon and the electricity suddenly went out. These occasions are a stark reminder of how dependent I’ve become on electricity. The only thing I could think of to do housework-wise was sweep, so I did that, but just about everything else was dependent on electricity. We have a well, so without electricity we have no water, either. So no laundry, no vacuuming, no cleaning. Okay, well now I’m thinking I could have dusted, but that day I decided not to overheat my brain trying to think of housework I could do and to instead take the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful afternoon. I made a cold drink, grabbed some gardening magazines, and went to sit at a table in my front yard in the shade of a huge oak tree.

Be Still Garden Seat
Invitation to Just Be Still
A Taste of Heaven

The soft breeze made the flowers nod and surround me with their sweet scents. Sitting beside the hummingbird feeder, I got to enjoy the whirring of hummingbird wings as they flitted around, visiting the feeder, nearby flowers, and defended their territory. Other birds sang from surrounding trees. To say it was delightful would be an understatement.

Be Still by Mid-Life Blogger
Queen Anne’s Lace

I spend as much time as I can in my front yard garden, planting and tending flowering plants, but I hardly let myself enjoy it. Oh, I try. I sit on my front porch fully intending to relax and take it all in, but it doesn’t take long before my eyes see faded flowers that need to be deadheaded or weeds that need to be pulled, so I either have to get to work or go back in the house. This particular afternoon was like a gift, like God was telling me to just “be still” and know that He is God.

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”  Psalm 46:10 NIV

God Provides

I can’t be outside in this beautiful country and not be aware of how God provides for me, both for practical needs such as food and shelter, but also spiritual needs such as peace and relaxation. Sometimes I wonder what heaven is like. Scripture speaks of pearly gates and golden streets, but I hope He also has beautiful trees, gardens, and birds. Gardens were His idea, afterall.

Country life is simpler, and being further from city services we sometimes go without power, water, or travel for longer periods than city folk. It can be an inconvenience, but it can also be an opportunity to just Be Still.

Related Reading

A Gentle Breeze

Seek and Ye Shall Find