Tuesday, June 21, 2011

adding livestock to the backyard

there is a new addition to our backyard garden. his name is basil, a holland lop rabbit. i have wanted to add a rabbit to the mix of things for awhile. their poop is a perfect source of natural fertilizer that can be added directly to the garden beds & with this kind of soil, we need all the help we can get.

once i started talking about my rabbit ideas, a friend offered to give me her hutch that was no longer in use. i placed the hutch under the shade of a tree, painted it & added some handmade curtains for extra shade. we also attached a fan to the side of the hutch. i've read that any temperature above mid 80 can be difficult for rabbits. in our area, a typical summer day can get up to the high 90s with very high humidity.

i also keep a frozen water bottle in the hutch to keep the rabbit cool during extreme heat. by doing just a couple of extra steps, we hope to adapt our rabbit to its climate & ensure its health.

throughout the last couple of months, i have researched the care of rabbits. the most helpful books i have found are-
storey's guide to raising rabbits
country wisdom & know-how
barnyard in your backyard

are there any other sources you recommend? also, do you have experience with rabbits? i would love to learn more!

Friday, June 17, 2011


i had always wanted a small flock of hens and was not about to let our limited space stop us from keeping them. we got our first flock about 6 years ago and have been hooked ever since. they are such a wonderful addition to the garden in so many ways.

it is so fun to collect their beautiful eggs each day. and they help to keep the insect population at bay. and let's not forget about their poop! yes it is a wonderful addition to the compost pile. but mostly we get a lot of enjoyment from just watching them scratch around in the garden and listening to their sweet little clucking sounds. we are now onto our second flock and have chosen a variety of breeds.

columbian white wynadotte

americauna (a blue egg layer. we are very excited about this!)

partridge plymouth barred rock


silver seabright bantam (a favorite around here)

they are about 2 months old now and are just starting to free range around in the garden.

they are beginning to get used to our outdoor space. one of their favorite spots is our back porch where they peck around, preen their feathers and roost up on the bench.

for those of you thinking about starting a small flock of your own, i highly recommend the book Keep Chickens! Tending Small Flocks in Cities, Suburbs, and Other Small Spaces by Barbara Kilarski. it is a simple and easy read full of information about raising healthy chickens in a small space.

the girls make the garden feel complete. heck they even help with identifying our address. when people ask where we live, i'll say "we are the house on the corner, the one with the chickens." they nod and know exactly where it is.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Garden thoughts

Today I find my gaze drifting out the window, and am thankful my eyes can rest upon the garden. Last night we said farewell to really good friends who are moving and this transition along with some decisions I'm making with a new business venture have me in a bewildered state. So for now I listen to the rain and thunder through open windows. Smile as the busy wrens find insects for their new brood in our little birdhouse. Will cherish the tender, golden raspberries I picked this morning. Wonder at the red of the cardinal as he rests upon the wood pile. Laugh (and fuss) at the squirrel stashing green plums in the empty robin's nest. And I am thankful for all this that God has made and will do what I can to take care of these gifts.

But seriously, how do you keep squirrels out of the fruit trees?!!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

raised bed gardening

we moved & are settling into our new home on the arkansas-oklahoma border. the first goal of our new home was to build raised beds. with some untreated wood, tools & a little elbow grease, we built four garden beds. we used the mu extension publication as our guide. (by the way, if you haven't connected with an extension office near you, i highly recommend it. they have a wealth of knowledge & are paid to help you!)

with our small amount of space, we used every inch of growing room-

planting shade-loving swiss chard in between tomato plants

& building trellises for squash & cucumber to climb (for this trellis, we used bamboo & gardening twine).

we are making progress in this bare yard, one step at a time.

what are some of the ways you use your garden space efficiently?

Friday, June 10, 2011

gardener's hand scrub

i like to think you can tell a lot about a person by looking at their hands.

i have yet to have my palms read but my soil stained lines just might give it away that i love to dig in the dirt.

i personally am not a glove kind of gal. and obviously manicures are not my thing.

but soil can be rough on one’s hands.

mine tend to get dry, chapped and stained from working in the garden.

but having a good nail brush and a moisturizing scrub by the kitchen sink can do the trick. below is a little recipe that is quick and easy to make and helps to clean and soften up my hands in a pinch.

gardeners hand scrub

1/2 cup coconut oil
1 cup coarse sea salt
1/4 cup dried lavender flowers

mix together and store in an air tight container

take a tablespoon of mix. massage and rub.
get out that nail brush and scrub.
rinse with warm water.
your hands will feel a bit oily after but it soon soaks in.

cleaned up and ready to pick the first of the blueberries.
happy scrubbing!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Strawberry-lemon slushie

As in much of the country we've been experiencing higher than average temperatures this week. The other day, after overdoing it in the heat, I came indoors with a beet red face and tongue hanging out, panting, I want a slushie! So I began throwing frozen strawberries (from our garden), ice cubes, squeezing lemon juice, and drizzling agave nectar into the blender. Whirrrr... in moments I was feeling revived, and even went back outside to enjoy it in the shade. This drink is fruity and not overly sweet, and definitely perky.

Last night I made it again, jotting down (loose) notes of ingredient quantities, using simply the wide mouth jar for measuring. Makes about 2 cups or 2 servings.

Strawberry-lemon slushie
* 4 oz. water (for a spoon-thick slushie) or 6 oz. water (for a drinkable slushie)
* 1-2 Tbls. agave nectar, or sweetener of choice (swirl it into water to dissolve then pour into blender. Honestly I didn't measure it, the amount is a guesstimate.)
* juice of 1 large or 2 small lemons
* full mason jar of frozen strawberries
* 4 ice cubes

Add all ingredients to blender and whirl. Taste and adjust sweetener if necessary. Garnish with fresh mint and sip or slurp away!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

vertical growing

pea trellis

basket of chard (and calendula)

hanging cans

to maximize my growing space (when i grow up, i want to be like amy!), i'm doing my darndest to grow as many plants as possible vertically this year.  here are a few of my new vertical growing methods.

the first is a pea trellis that i constructed out of salvaged branches and some twine.  i tied the three branches together at the top and then ran a line of twine around the bottom between each branch. i then took about 4-6 pieces of twine on each "side" of the trellis and tied it from the top point to the line at the bottom.  pretty easy.  those peas are climbing up like gangbusters, can't wait for them to start producing!

the second is a simple hanging basket with two chard plants and one calendula plant. i have a couple other hanging baskets this year, but i need to get some more brackets to hang them from.  hanging baskets are a great way to save space, but remember to water them regularly as they tend to dry out pretty quickly.

the last of my vertical growing adventures (so far!) is the one i'm most proud of.  i came across this photo earlier in the spring, which was the inspiration for it, and later realized that there is also a similar photo in you grow girl.  i salvaged these large tomato and tuna cans from my neighborhood cafe's recycling bin (with their permission, of course), poked some holes in the bottom with a nail, and two holes on the side near the top.  i spray painted the outside and inside to pretty them up, and prevent rust.  i looped some coated steel wire though the two holes near the top and hung them on screws on the side of our garage.  i have basil, lobelia, chamomile, and orange mint planted in these four cans.  i have one more can waiting to be painted, and i'm hoping to collect a couple more as well. 

i have a few other vertical growing ideas up my sleeve for later in the summer once things really start growing.  it's just one more way to save space and fit as much as you possibly can in that garden of yours!

Monday, June 6, 2011

a quick tip


just a quick tip for today.

don't forget to save your eggshells for use in the garden. crushed eggshells provide a great source of calcium for your plants. tomatoes, in particular, love the extra calcium. the crushed eggshells also provide a deterrent to garden pests such as slugs. a win-win, right?

before using them, you need to bake the eggshells in the oven for about 10 minutes. let cool and then crush them around the base of your plants.

do you use eggshells in your garden? if not, give it a try.

Friday, June 3, 2011

mazimizing my growing space

i constantly find myself marveling at how much useable growing space there is wherever i go. as i walk around my neighborhood i drool over my neighbor’s front lawn, i envision bushels of food harvested from a nearby abandoned lot, and look up at a local restaurant's flat roof and think green! having limited growing space has definitely helped bring out the creative side in me, helping me to think outside of the box to squeeze in as much as i can, however i can. before i give up or tell myself there is just not enough room i stop, look around and begin to marvel at my own space as to how much more we can do. below are a few ways we have managed to squeeze in just a little more.

building living roofs on structures gives a whole new dimension to one’s growing space. last year we built one on top of our rabbit hutch to grow salad greens and herbs. we have designed our new chicken coop with a living roof as well.(pictures soon to come) a big dream is to also build a living roof over our back porch where a bee hive will live.

i recently created a living table where i placed a piece of a milled stump over a planter and stuck succulents and herbs in the open cracks. more growing space but also allows a place for a glass of lemonade.

another way to maximize our growing space has been to grow on the strip between the sidewalk and the street. this area is technically public property, but it is our responsibility as the property owners to care for it. rather than grow just grass, we grow a variety of plants including strawberries, kale, cherry tomatoes, blueberries, gooseberries,currants, herbs, horseradish, swiss chard, rhubarb, ferns, and perennial flowers.

our backyard space has transformed over the years as well. when we first moved in, it was just grass with a cyclone fence around it. we removed the fence and slowly began to add plantings that grew around sandboxes, and play spaces for our girls. now that they are getting a bit older and use the sidewalks, streets, and alleys behind our house for more of their play with friends, we began to really fill things in.

instead of replacing the fence we built a rock wall and planted shrubs and tall growing perennials. The plantings give us privacy, are beautiful and even feed us.

i love window boxes and was thrilled when my grandfather built the ones that hang below our dining room windows. in the early spring i plant them with lettuces. i then grow annuals and herbs for the rest of the season.

you would think with such a little space that there would be an end to it all. but there always seem to be a little more room for something new. hmmmmm, now how to fit in that greenhouse?

Thursday, June 2, 2011


Remember the collard plant from my first tend post that wintered over? Well we're letting it go to seed so we can harvest the seeds. One morning a few weeks ago I was out in the garden with my film camera. The bees (mostly honey bees) were swirling around the collard blooms, the sun was warm and beating down, and it was simply a glorious morning. Can you see the bees?

On another sunny day this past weekend I made a few sunprints from one of the collard stems (pictured above left). For the second sunprint pictured I picked a weed that had an interesting leaf pattern. I believe it is wild carrot, or something of that nature. Making sunprints is another way I like to bring the garden inside. Have you made them before? The process is straightforward and a fun activity for kids to see art and science overlap.

And the sugar snap trellis:

Last week you commented you'd like to see the sugar snap trellis made from last year's okra plants. We literally left the okra stalks in their original row in the ground over the winter. Then this spring planted sugar snaps beneath them. Since the sugar snaps are now four feet tall or so we added stakes for additional support and have simply leaned the plants to the stakes. The sugar snaps attach on their own. You could string the plants to the stakes for a tidier appearance. Ah, I see it's time to pick sugar snaps!