Getting Started In The Garden

After talking with a friend last week about our garden plans, I realized how nervous some get when trying to figure out their garden plan.  One year I helped a friend start a vegetable garden from scratch.  A plot was tilled.  Plans made.  We drove to the greenhouse to pick out a few things.  With great expectation, seeds were planted and watered.  But the harvest was somewhat of a disappointment.  Why?  A lot had to do with the conditions.  Soil, lack of fertilizer, children trampling and pulling out plants…too many factors.

Starting out in the garden.
Starting out in the garden.

We also discussed the enormous gardens of our childhoods and how it’s hard to scale down the methods to fit a much smaller property.  It’s a whole different mentality.

I certainly have had my share of fails and disappointments but over the years I’ve figured out what works and what doesn’t work for me.  Some things just don’t make since for me to grow.  I grow a lot in my small gardens, favoring things that do well for me.

The excitement of seeing your plants come up through the soil!
The excitement of seeing your plants come up through the soil!

There is nothing wrong with dreaming big but there is a need to be realistic.  Someone I know planted a whole bag of store bought potatoes in hard ground, then expecting potatoes to eat for the rest of the year.  That didn’t really work out.  Do some research.  Put your thoughts on paper.  Draw a plan. Make lists.  Keep a journal that can be used as a reference next year.  Write down your observations, successes and failures.

Sit down and plan your veggie garden!
Sit down and plan your veggie garden!

Think about how much time you have to maintain your garden.  Are you going to plant the garden then never look at it again?  Keep the plot manageable to ensure you can keep up with it.  Try just a few reliable things like tomatoes and green beans.

So, you’ve got big dreams of self-sufficiently but it’s okay to start out small.  If things work out, add more the next year. The biggest piece of advice I have for you is to JUST START! Every year you will get a little more experience under your belt and gain more garden know-how.  Go get that shovel out and get digging!

Dig in! Just start!
Dig in! Just start!

Are you starting a new garden this year?  What are you nervous about?  Thanks for checking in on the blog this week! Consider subscribing and you won’t miss a thing here at Everlongardener!

A Throwback To Times Gone By

Since we haven’t had any snow that has stuck around for the past two months, I’ve been spending a little time in the woods.  Normally it really is my time in the woods. Snowshoeing through places I never get to in the summer, spanning some  fifty acres.

There is so much to see out there if you just try to find the beauty!

Sunset through the maples.
Sunset through the maples.

If I have a few minutes I will check out the property borders. One of the corners has a granite marker.  Not far from this point is a babbling brook that can be heard from the house. Thick with moss and fascinating ice formations.  I jump from stump to rock as if I’m a child.

Fencing from the 1960's.
Fencing from the 1960’s.

When I get a chance to walk on the road, the bones of the landscape stand out so much to me.  When all of the trees are decked out with their leaves, it’s hard to really notice all the rock walls and old fencing.  Low lying shrubs cover up the abandoned farming equipment scattered over the edges of the fields.

An old potato harvester.
An old potato harvester.

The other day I stood at a three way intersection near my driveway and for the first time noticed how maybe at one time a rock wall stretched across the now paved road.  How long had a road been there?  How long ago did someone keep cows in the field?  The answers I do not know.

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When driving down the highway, old cellar holes can be seen sticking up through the leaf covered ground.  Last week I was passing a rushing stream that I’ve passed hundreds of times but this time I saw a large rock formation that I believe to be an old mill with a water wheel.  How did I not see this before?

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History is all around us.  We just have to look.  Bits of the past still hanging on for us to see.  I use these moments to think of the people of the past.  People whose very lives depended on their crops.  When seed saving would have been a necessity not a choice.  We wonder how we are going to get through a winter emotionally but many used to fight to get through the winter alive.  But for the moment, I sit in my snug, warm house and appreciate a time gone by.  How things are easier in some ways and harder in others.

Fern like moss on a maple.
Fern like moss on a maple.

Thanks for joining me on this journey back in time. Hope I didn’t depart from the gardening path to much!  Have you discovered anything this winter? Leave a comment or join us by subscribing by email in sidebar!  Follow me on Instagram for daily Garden and scenery photos!  If you like this post, check out more ramblings & reflections in Apple Trees In Bloom: A Window To The Past.

Hilary|Everlongardener

How To Take Care Of Hand Tools

Gardening tools.  Some we buy, some we inherit.  Do we take care of them?  If you are anything like me you may have room for improvement in this area.  A lot of times I simply have to get on with the next project at hand whether it be cooking supper or keeping an appointment.  Some tools, if taken care of can last a lifetime, or more!

Tools of the trade.
Tools of the trade.

My husband worked as a mechanic for many years and one thing he always did was clean and put away his tools after every job. Not at the end of the day, after EVERY job. The reason being is that when you clean your tool with a rag you keep your hands cleaner and the customers car much cleaner.  The reason for putting them all back?  You may not use some of the tools again that day and it’s never a good thing when a customer brings you back a wrench that fell out of their car. Pretty tacky!
Enough about car repair, although the same principles are true with gardening.  It’s never good when your tools look like you excavated them from your backyard!
So this year I want to take stock of all my gardening tools.  Clean them, sharpen them.  Just make a fresh start.  I have a tool box I used to keep on the back of my work truck and that’s where my hand tools live.  If I keep everything in there, I don’t have to spend time looking for stuff.

Pretty rough!
Pretty rough!

I have a pair of Felco hand pruners that needed some attention.  First I tightened the nut.  Cleaned up the blade with a sharpening stone, sand off any residue and oil them.  I did the same for my loppers.  Recently, I was reading up on tool maintenance and discovered something that oddly enough had never crossed my mind.  When you think of oiling a tool what would you grab?  WD-40? 3-in-1 machine oil?  Well, turns out that when a petroleum based product is used, you can contaminate your soil.  Something to consider especially in the veggie garden.  There’s a really simple instructional video at http://www.GrowOrganic.com.   As an alternative you could buy some Felco tool oil or use a vegetable spray.  Easy enough!

Sharpening along the factory edge.
Sharpening along the factory edge.

A few years ago I purchases a leather sheath and I don’t know how I ever got along without it.  No more dumping my clippers in the compost pile by accident and they are always at my side.  As for the other hand tools, try to take a few minutes after working to wipe or wash the soil off.  Putting them away dry and ready to use again will add years to their life.  Scribing your initials in them isn’t a bad idea either.

Cleaned up Felcos, ready to go.
Cleaned up Felcos, ready to go.

I sincerely hope that this post has given you the motivation to get out and see what shape your hand tools are in.  Here in Midcoast Maine we are having an early spring so it felt good getting some of these little chores done early.  Thanks for joining me this week.  Do you have any tool tips?  You can always leave a comment, subscribe by email in sidebar, join me on Instagram, Pinterest or Bloglovin’.

Making Your Own Terrarium

If you haven’t noticed, it seems that people have really become obsessed with terrariums in recent years.  You can find pictures of them inhabiting all shapes and sizes of containers.  Fish tanks, apothecary jars, wine glasses.  You can even use an old lightbulb!

I’m not really sure that they ever really went out of style. With beginnings way back in the 1800’s, growing under or in glass came about by accident.  I knew they were loved by the Victorians but what I read was really fascinating.  On the site http://terraruims.net I found some history of a Dr. Nathaniel Ward, a London physician who discovered that his ferns grew so much better in jars.  The high levels of pollution from nearby factories was too hard on the plants so Dr. Ward used fern cases or Wardian cases.  With this invention, specimens could be brought from exotic locations and preserved during the voyage.  This obviously introduced tropical plants to the masses.  Soon every self-respecting home could have their own terrarium!

All the materials for our terrarium!

Earlier this winter I was feeling the need for green plants.  We haven’t had a terrarium in a while so I thought it would be a fun winter project for my four year old and me.  We already had a large glass fish bowl for a container. This was a great excuse to visit our local greenhouse for a few plants.  Any excuse to be immersed in a warm, tropical environment!  Of course my son wanted to buy everything but we only really needed four or five plants.  I was looking for color, texture, height and something to creep along as a ground cover.

My helpers tools and decorations.
My helpers tools and decorations.

You will need at the very least a glass container, soil, gravel, plants, moss, tools and decorative items of your choice.  Many instructions call for adding activated charcoal.  This may sound a bit unnecessary but it can help with toxins, odors, chemicals and drainage issues that can harm the plants over time.  In the end I opted to not buy the charcoal.  I guess I’m too cheap!

Place small stones in bottom.
Place small stones in bottom.
Adding the soil.
Adding the soil.

We placed a few inches of stones in the bottom of our glass fishbowl, then added some soil.  For the plants we picked a Prayer plant, a variegated broadleaf plant with reddish undersides,  a ‘White Rabbit’s Foot’ fern, a Monkey plant which has pink flowers and my favorite, Baby’s Tears.  I could bore you with all the correct names but I will spare you.  Just pick what you like and plants with similar light requirements.

Planting time.
Planting time.

Place the plants where you want them and secure them with more soil.  Gently add water.  Now it’s time to personalize your little world!  Shells, rocks, marbles, driftwood…you name it.  Whatever you want it to look like.  Elegant or quirky.  We of course chose the dinosaurs to live in our little miniature tropical environment.  Since the terrarium will have its own water cycle, try not to over water but be careful it doesn’t dry out.  Trim any dead leaves to keep your plants looking their best.

The completed terrarium!
The completed terrarium!

There are so many resources out there to find inspiration for your terrarium.   Simply type in the word ‘terrarium’ and you will find a ton of info.    Pinterest was loaded with detailed how too’s and lots of beautiful pictures.

This was a great little winter project and we are still enjoying our spherical garden.  What is your favorite indoor winter gardening thing to do?  Feel free to leave a comment.  Subscribe via email, follow me on Instagram, Pinterest or Bloglovin!  Thanks for joining me this week!

Hilary|Everlongardener

 

 

 

 

Processing Maple Syrup

We had a few good sap days and a few not so good sap days.  Starting out with what we thought was not much sap we surprisingly ended up with over a pint of luscious maple syrup.

We ended up using propane for the job and the sap boiled down pretty quickly.  We may have used wood if we had been a little more organized.  Since we are not going all out on tapping every maple in sight it just made sense to use the propane cooker.

Cooking down the sap.
Cooking down the sap.
Finishing off in the kitchen!
Finishing off in the kitchen!

For the final part of the boiling we moved operations to the kitchen stove.  It had been since 2010 that my father-in-law and I made a few gallons together so we wanted to be extra careful about the temperature.  It’s amazing how quickly you forget!  Too much heat and we would have rock solid candy stuck in the bottom of our canner!  Not really the desired effect.  I was Googleing all the info to make sure we were getting it right.  Nothing like spontaneous homesteading!

Straining it out.
Straining it out.

With the help of the candy thermometer, we got it just about right.  After straining it, we admired that warm amber color.  After tasting it, we wanted pancakes!  The finished product can’t be beat in my mind.  Is anyone else tapping their maples?
Thanks for joining me here at Everlongardener for the maple syrup update.  Leave a comment and we will compare notes!  Feel free to subscribe by email in sidebar!

Gardening In February

So the other day I was outside walking around the house and I noticed my poor old cold frame.  Long neglected, broken down, rotten wood, maybe hit by the plow a few times.  It was the first bit of season extension that I ever tried.  I used it to winter over parsley.  That was about the extent of it.

The old cold frame.
The old cold frame.

One year I planted some Claytonia seeds and they reseeded for years after that.  I always considered it to be my survival food, always there waiting for me.  But then came that time I let the oregano go to seed.  Guess where it decided to live?  My cold frame!  Instead of complaining about the lack of snow and how I couldn’t go snowshoeing, I decided to clean out the cold frame.  The oregano had completely taken over.  I dug each plant out but I’m afraid the seeds scattered.  It may not be the last of the oregano!

Before the clean out.
Before the clean out.

After cleaning out all of the leaves, I found one little Claytonia plant.  If you haven’t heard of Claytonia perfoliata, also called Miners Lettuce or Winter Purslane, it’s a fantastic edible to winter over in a cold frame.  Self seeding, delicious, vitamin rich.  It gets it’s common name from the days of the California Goldrush.  The leaves don’t seem to last too long so I usually pick what I want and eat them.  Cut the leaves and it grows right back.

One little Claytonia.
One little Claytonia.

When the job was finished we found rich soil full of worms.  Perhaps I will sow something in there in the coming week.

Cold frame cleanup finished!
Cold frame cleanup finished!

After checking the whole property, I decided to tackle my tiny raspberry patch.  It was obvious which canes had to go.  I grabbed my lopers and started hacking away.  After removing a whole pile of leaves and canes, things were looking pretty good.  It may be early but I top dressed the bed.  I got so fired up about the raspberries I was thinking of planting more!  This February gardening thing is great!

Aged rabbit manure for my raspberries.
Aged rabbit manure for my raspberries.

Up the road there is an ancient row of maple trees and I noticed on Sunday that they had been tapped.  I scrounged around and found our taps.  I had a bit of resistance on this project.  Oh, the drill isn’t charged.  Then it was, we don’t have any gallon jugs.  So out the old fashioned hand crank drill came and we washed the jugs that we had.  Sap poured out immediately and by the next morning, two were overflowing!  We worked out more of the details as the week went on.  At least we started collecting sap!

The old hand crank drill.
The old hand crank drill.
Tree tapping time!
Tree tapping time!

It’s been lovely outside, even if my snowshoeing goals have dissapeared.  I feel like I’ve got a great head start on the outdoor chores.  Feels like spring is here but we still have to get through March!  Thanks for reading Everlongardener!  What are you working on this week?  Leave a comment, follow me on Instagram @everlongardener, on Pinterest, subscribe via email or on Bloglovin’.