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Gardening, Motherhood

Peace in the Garden: Recharging When Life Stresses You Out

June 1, 2015
Finding peace in the garden

Life slows down for most people this time of year with the kids getting out of school, getting ready to go on vacations, and enjoying Saturdays by the pool. I wish that was the case for us, but life in the Muse house is full steam ahead.

My husband works three weekends a month, we home school year-long, and our vacation is not until mid-November this year. I have been hired to write for two different websites Shoeaholic No More and Retire by 40, which is amazing and so exciting. Having this opportunity, to write professionally and expand my resume, is a welcome kind of stress, but there has definitely been a bit of a learning curve with finding “my work from home mom” rhythm. Taking care of the kids all day and writing all night means that I am pretty tired most days.

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I have found that I am less likely to unravel if I start my days by doing something I love to do. Most days that means tending to the garden.  In a fast and stressful life, I love that I have a place where I can find peace and quiet. When life becomes crazy or feels just a little bit overwhelming, spending a quiet half hour tending to the garden recharges my emotional batteries and gives me the peace I need to face another day. I love that you can’t hurry a garden. You have to give it light, water, nutrients, and time. It’s a process that can’t be rushed. It makes you slow down.

I love our crazy, chaotic life. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, but I am grateful to have a quiet retreat where I can go to unwind, do something I love, and find some peace at the beginning of the day.

How do you unwind? Do you start your day doing something you find peaceful?

DIY, Gardening, Self Suffiency

Berry Picking a Path to Self-Sufficiency

May 26, 2015
Berry picking a path to self-sufficiency

In five years, my husband and I hope to have the money for a down payment on a piece of property where we can start a small, self-sustaining, completely off the grid, homestead. It feels a bit like a pipe dream, but it is our dream nonetheless. We have a long way to go to reach our goal of living a sustainable and self-sufficient lifestyle. We are learning now, though, that self-sustainability doesn’t have to mean solar panels and well water. It starts with the ability to figure out how to do most things completely on your own.

Canning and freezing seasonal fruits and vegetables, both from local farms and our own garden, is one thing that we taught ourselves to do in order to become more self-sufficient. We believe in trying to eat as seasonally as possible and storing what we can for the rest of the year. Not only do we support our community’s farmers by eating locally grown food, but we also save a lot of money by preserving food when it is at it cheapest.

My kids eating them as fast as I could pick them

Strawberries happen to be cheapest in May. We like to go strawberry picking every year to save a little bit of money. We always try to preserve as many as possible to eat throughout the rest of the year. Some go into the freezer for smoothies and pies, and the rest gets turned into jam, marmalade, or conserves. We enjoy the time spent together at the farm, picking the berries. We also enjoy the time spent together as a couple, preserving the berries after our kids are in bed. It has become an annual date night for us, and we are even a little bit competitive about it now. My husband likes to think that his strawberry lemon marmalade is better than mine. I beg to differ.

Just 33 lbs of our strawberries

Just 33 lbs of our strawberries

The “pick your own” strawberries from the farm down the road from us cost us $1.57 per pound. Grocery store strawberries cost $3.99 a pound. It took us roughly 1.5 hours to pick 50 pounds of strawberries. So, in 1.5 hours we saved ourselves $121 dollars. It’s just a small amount compared to the rest of our food budget, but we enjoy going, and we would rather support our local farmers than pay for the over-priced grocery store strawberries shipped from California.

first batch of jam and freezer berries

first batch of jam and freezer berries

If eating local is important to you too, but you don’t have access to local farms because you live in the city or don’t have a car, look into local CSA (community supported agriculture) programs. Many of them deliver or have local pick-up points.  Try looking for a CSA local to you at http://www.localharvest.org/csa/

There are a million ways to become a little bit more self-sufficient. You could plant a container garden on your deck or have a full-sized garden in your yard. Even having a pot of herbs on your kitchen window sill is a small way to grow your own food. Don’t let the home you live in decide the kind of life you want to live or the kind of food you want to eat.

Do you try to eat locally grown food?

What steps do you take towards self-sufficiency?

Gardening

Garden prepping with snow on the ground: Get your kids involved!

March 1, 2015
snowy farmland

I know what you’re thinking. Gardening? In March? But, but, my yard still looks like this…completely covered in snow! My kids are still building snowmen!

I know, I know. My yard looks like that too right now. But if you want to have a successful garden, you need to plan ahead, think ahead, and have your stuff ready to go the moment the threat of frost has passed. Hinckley was right, you can’t plow a field in your mind, but it is important to know what you need to get done before spring arrives.

Here are 8 things that you and your kids can do right now to get ready for planting season.

1. Make a plan

The first step to growing a vegetable garden is to have a solid plan. You need to know square footage of the soil for effective spreading of manure, blood meal, compost, and peat moss etc.  If you have never started a garden before, or you aren’t sure what to do or how to get started, I highly recommend utilizing the awesome resources at The Old Farmer’s Almanac webpage http://www.almanac.com/gardening. They have charts, video tutorials, and free planting calendars for each region of the country.

Sit down at  the kitchen table with your kids and ask them what they think you should plant this year. Most kids love getting their hands dirty, so the prospect of getting to start a garden will be thrilling for them. Your plan should include where you want to plant in your yard (sunniest is best!). You should also think about what fruits and vegetables you would like to grow. Speaking entirely from experience, your kids will want to eat vegetables  that they have planned for, cared for, and toiled over. So ask them what they would like to take over as their own special project, and help them make a plan for those vegetables.

2. Do a soil test

 

It is so important to know the composition of your soil. If you can find a non-frozen piece of ground to get a dirt sample, you will be able to plan ahead. Is the pH too low or too high? Is it lacking nitrogen? Maybe it could use magnesium? Plants need nutrients to give nutrients. If you want nutrient rich vegetables for your family, it is so important to have nutrient rich soil . A soil test will tell you what you will need to improve your soil quality.

3. Buy seeds

Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Catalog

Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Catalog

 Once you have a plan based on your region of the country, order seeds! Sometimes local feed and seed stores carry heirloom varieties, but your best bet is to use a reputable online seller.

I highly recommend Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds at http://www.rareseeds.com/. They will send you a free catalog of all of the beautiful seed varieties they offer.  Sit down with your kids and go through the catalog together. It’s great fun to see all of the different colors and shapes. My daughter is especially excited about planting Dragon’s Egg Cucumbers this year.

Another great heirloom seed website is http://www.seedsavers.org/

Also, look on Facebook or Craigslist to see if anyone has established an heirloom seed swap. These events are a great way to find interesting varieties and to meet other local farmers and gardeners.

4. Paint row signs

garden-markers

 Gardens can get pretty confusing in the early stages when all of your seedlings look the same. If you know what seeds you will be planting, have your kids look for larger stones or even just some thicker sticks from the yard to paint as row markers. Let your kids use waterproof paint to turn ordinary yard debris into decorative markers for you garden rows.  If you want to get fancy, you can pick up some thin stakes from the hardware store to paint. The kids will have a great time using this garden project as a fun cold-day craft.

5. Stake out your garden

Once you have your plan written out and your seeds ordered, stake out your yard. Literally go out to your yard with the kids. Let them help you hammer in the stakes and connect them with string to form a schematic plan for your garden. Whether you’re doing raised bed or traditional in ground planting, it’s a great idea to visualize the surface area you’ll be working with.

6. Plant flower bulbs

Pollination is so important for so many great varieties of fruits and vegetables. A good way to lure bees into your garden for pollination is to surround your garden with beautiful flowers. Planting bulbs is easy, fun, and the kids will love helping you. Planting bulbs is best done in the fall, but you can get away with it after snow but before spring. To plant bulbs you simply dig a hole, add compost, fertilizer, or other organic matter, place a flower bulb in the hole, and cover the hole with dirt again. Water the bulb, but don’t keep it saturated. Soon you will have big beautiful blooms to lure in those busy bees.

7. Start seedlings indoors

seedlings2

Once your seeds arrive, you can start your seedlings indoors! Cardboard egg cartons work great for this, so start saving them each time you run out of eggs.  You can also buy small seedling containers at the feed and seed store or your local hardware store. Keep your seeds in a warm place out of direct sunlight. Task your kids with keeping the seedlings moist but not saturated, and in a few weeks you will be ready for transplanting!

8. Visit local farmers

 

Take your kids on a family field trip to a local farm. Let them see how things are done on a grand scale and what the farmers are doing in preparation for spring. Befriending big-time farmers can be crucial to your small-time home garden. I have bartered for manure, compost, and mulching from local farmers for my small garden. You can get what you need for a fraction of the cost of going to a big hardware store.

I know it feels right now like winter WILL. NOT. END. It will though, and spring is just around the corner. If you get the whole family involved, you will be ready for spring planting in no time at all.

What are you doing to prepare for spring? Do you get your kids involved in planning your garden?