Posted in Gardening, On Writing, organization

My backyard revisions meet a drought

The 2021 garden season was the culmination of a three year project to transform the damaged deck and perpetually soggy backyard into a functional space where kids could hang with friends, the cats could enjoy the outside from the safety of a screened in porch, my native pollinator garden, needing no extra water, would be in full bloom, and the abundance of pollinators would guarantee a good tomato yield.

That dream is not fully realized this year. Between Covid-19, smoke from wildfires, high heat, and drought, the plot twists did not work in my favor. (BTW – neither did technology – this is take two on this post. The first one poofed when I tried to fix a typo.) Even though the garden photos are not as lush and in bloom as I would have liked, I’m happy to share some photos.

Before: A deck that heaved every winter, stairs that ended in a hill.
After construction, before landscaping. And yes, there are mud puddles.
Year Two in progress. The retaining wall redirects the water away from the flat part of the yard.
Phase Two complete. The sump pump empties into the rock river bed under the stairs.
Year Three! The plants are a little droopy. In a wetter year, it would be easier to see the yellow and pink blooms along the rock river bed. The pollinator garden is on the left side, and the right has prairie grasses. The lawn has a mix of grass and clover, and is a great place for soccer or bocce.

The process of revising the back yard is a lot like revising a book. It takes time to plan, build, fix what is not working, and at some point you have to accept that while it may not be quite what you first envisioned, the end result is satisfying.

Posted in Environment, Family life, Gardening

Earth Day 2021

The past 12 months have been challenging for this lazy person committed to both supporting local business and adopting small changes to help the Earth. The pandemic caused me to discard the old syllabus. I hope Mother Nature is grading on a curve.

In an effort to support local restaurants, my family and I got takeout at least once a week. That generated a lot of takeout containers, most of which were not recyclable. Some got repurposed into craft projects or places to start seedlings, but eventually, they went to the trash.

On the other hand, my takeout dollars went to small businesses in the area. Not every place survived, but I banded together with a group of moms in my area and we shared information about struggling small businesses, especially those owned by women and BIPOC communities, and those who used locally sourced ingredients. Owners of five restaurants and three other businesses have acknowledged the moms as the reason they made rent and kept doors open.

Even if I don’t like the accumulated takeout containers, I am making a difference for people in my community and that feels pretty darn good. Fingers crossed these “Foreverwear” containers become wider spread.

When I look at this year and how my baby steps worked there are plusses and minuses.

The bad and the ugly:

Takeout containers use increasing.

Overall increase in packaging – from deliveries to not using reusable bags, it all adds up.

The hubs “cleaned” a garden bed and got rid of my swamp milkweed patch.

Swamp Milkweed – the pinkish purple flowers are prettier than the name.

What went well

Reduced carbon emission from travel. No flights, and not too many miles on the car.

Increased the number of native plants in the yard. Got promise from the hubs he will restore the milkweed.

Better meal planning meant less food waste and fewer trips to the grocery store.

Reduced impulse purchases. We tried to reduce packing by ordering only when we had a list. There was no “Oh this looks cute” or “that smells great” items dropping into the cart.

More clothing repair. The kids are still growing – we cannot stop all clothing purchases, but I learned to patch jeans and reinforce seams.

My Green Living goals for the next year:

Collage of flowers and landscapes with the words Plant Kindness

Grow more vegetables and herbs. Buy plants from the local greenhouse.

Add more native plants. How cute are these Pocket Prairies? Very, in my opinion. Maybe there is something similar in your neck of the woods.

Be intentional in my purchases and my travel. Both will happen again at some point.

It’s a short list. Share your green living hints to give me inspiration.

PS – I added an image after a reader mentioned needing to look up Swamp Milkweed. I guess I’ve lived in Minnesota long enough that I forgot how uncommon it is elsewhere.

Posted in Books, Environment, Gardening

Thinking Spring and Bees

My Minnesota backyard is still covered in snow, but some of you are already enjoying flowering spring bulbs. This is the time of year I start getting serious about what my summer garden should look like. I should be planting more swamp milkweed this year, and hopefully my tomatoes will be happier in the 3 foot by 3 foot bed that is being added to the back yard.

One longed for addition will not happen. My town council decided not to allow backyard beekeeping. Ever since I moved to this house, I’d been aware of efforts to change the town rules to allow for backyard chickens and bees. The council voted last month to allow chickens, but not bees. Having been pecked by my grandma’s chickens more times than I can count, I have zero interest in chickens. What surprised me the most was that although more individuals in a survey of citizens said they would keep chickens, the percent of the population who opposed chickens was about 15% higher than those who opposed backyard bees, but the city stands to collect more in licensing fees from the potential chicken wranglers than from bee keepers.

My current writing project features a bee keeper who hates chickens. Personal curiosity drove my research into pollinators and bee keeping, which in turn fed my manuscript and efforts to change town laws. I won’t be able to set up a backyard hive, but I am looking forward to welcoming bees and pollinators to my yard with a variety of colorful blooms and native plants.

Posted in Environment, Family life, First Friday Five, Gardening

First Friday 5 Cheap ways to help the Environment

To celebrate Earth Day that falls later this month, I’m sharing Five Cheap Ways to Help the Environment. No fooling in this post.  I love when being green helps me save some green.

  1. Make your own foamy soap. I used to pay $3-5 dollars per bottle for luxurious foaming soap in the bathrooms. Now I spend less than $3 per year for three sinks. soapHow? I ran across this recipe a few years ago. Now I buy scented dish detergent at Dollar Tree, mix 3 Tablespoons of it with 2/3 cups warm water and voila. I refilled the same container for two years, although, I confess I recently splurged for more stylish bottle that has the fill lines marked right on it. I save money and reduce packaging.
  2. Forget buying special potassium rich fertilizer for your roses. Feed them banana peels instead. You can chop them up and scatter them up top or bury the peels. I heard this from an avid gardener, but here’s some online info.
  3. Compost. Depending how much space and waste material you have, you can go big or keep it small. Either way, composting reduces the waste stream and helps your other plants grow strong and healthy. Your local Cooperative Extension Service is a terrific resource for practical information whether you live in an urban apartment or on rural acreage.
  4. Use a reusable shopping tote. Some stores, like Target, take five cents off your purchase for each bag you bring. Those pennies add up almost as fast as those plastic bags full of plastic bags used to.
  5. Take care of those jeans you bought secondhand. I wear jeans almost every day so the news that some washes are not so environmentally friendly was a tough blow. I also used to wear out at least one pair a year. Unfortunately, the brand that fits me best costs over $120/pair when new. The brand that fits second best is about $80/pair new. If I shop at consignment shops in the nicer parts of town, I can get those brands for about $20, sometimes with the original tags. When Tommy Hilfiger said he never washed his jeans, I was intrigued. For the past 18 months, I’ve pretty much stopped washing my jeans, unless they get too dirty to spot clean. I air them out after wearing and pop them in the freezer for a day or two once a month. I have significantly cut back on my overall laundry – saving time, electricity, water and detergent. Even better, the fibers stay strong. I haven’t had a single rip appear since I started doing this, which means I haven’t had to buy a $20 replacement.

Do you do any of these thing to be green and save green? How do they work for you? As for me, I saved so much money with this post, I think I’ll treat myself to a new book.

Posted in First Friday Five, Food, Gardening

First Friday Five: The #Zucchini Edition

Each August, my garden reveals the extent of my annual exercise in futility.  This year, the chipmunks destroyed crops, putting teeth marks into tomatoes, stealing the strawberries and digging up the potatoes.  Only three items thrived this year–a lone onion bulb, the rhubarb planted by a previous owner, and, of course, zucchini.

To celebrate my overflowing zucchini vines, I present Five Things to do with Zucchini Aside from Playing “ding-dong ditch” at the Neighbor’s House.

yellow zucchini ready for harvest
yellow zucchini on the vine

1.  Sautéed zucchini. This is my kids favorite and it’s so simple, I have no recipe.  Slice up some summer squash about 1/4 inch thick. If you use zucchini – toss the slices in a colander with some salt and wait 20 minutes. Pat the slices dry. Heat olive oil to medium heat in the largest pan you have. Cook the squash until you get some browning, flipping once. You can add onions if you want and I usually cook it alongside the squash. YUM.

2. “Posh Squash” – At least according to the recipe card I have. When I looked on-line to find a link to share with y’all, most recipes called for eggs. So here goes. 2-3 medium zucchini (sub yellow squash if desired), One large tomato, one medium onion, cheddar cheese, breadcrumbs, butter.  Slice the veggies thin and layer starting with zucchini, onion, tomato, cheese and ending with more zucchini. Dot with butter and top with breadcrumbs. Bake in a 375 oven for 30 minutes for a 9×9 pan or 50 minutes if you do a double batch, and with all that zucchini, why wouldn’t you?

3. Tired of eating yet? Take a break and play with your food. I hope this video of Art in Zucchini Duck works. If not check out the amazing work of ItalyPaul on youtube.

4. Back to the dinner table! My husband made a corn and zucchini salad similar to this one featured on thekitchn.com except he shredded the zucchini instead of dicing.

Corn & Zucchini Salad with Chives found on thekitchn.com

 

5. I’m not sure if I’m brave enough to try this, but I’m intrigued! I’ve pinned this recipe for blueberry-zucchini cake from  iambaker.net and it looks like the most delicious way possible to use up excess zucchini. If I make it, I’ll share the results. If you make it before me, please let me know if it’s worth the effort.

 

zucchini blueberry cake found on iambaker.net

If you have any zucchini recipes to recommend, please add them in the comments section.

Posted in Gardening, On Writing, organization, South, Uncategorized, Writing

Weeding

With the weather turning tolerable (meaning lower humidity and temperatures under 90), I’ve finally begun giving my long neglected flower beds the treatment they deserve.  I’m pulling the weeds.

My front walk flower beds became so overgrown this summer, that I hereby apologize to every milk man, newspaper and package deliverer who has graced my door over the last few months.  I do not extend this courtesy to door-to-door marketers.  They deserved to be slapped in the legs as a punishment for taking up my time.  The others did not.

I pull the weeds by hand rather than spraying for three reasons.  First, it provides a bit of exercise. Second, manual labor is cheaper than chemical sprays that cost money and probably add to the pollution in the nearby Chesapeake Bay. (Stepping down from my soap box – sorry). Lastly, pulling weeds gives me a deep sense of satisfaction.  I can see and feel and even smell the progress. Chaos gives way to harmony before my eyes.

Weeding is a form of editing, act of destruction that allows beauty and creativity to thrive.  Soon I will plant pansies or perhaps violas in the vacant spaces leading to my front door. A riot of color will greet me and I’ll smile.

So let me ask you, have you done any weeding lately?