Jun 172018

This post contains affiliate links.

Earlier this year I was looking at rain barrels to add to the garden. I was not sure what else I wanted to add to the garden, but I knew my main garden planning goal is to set up a good framework for the future. Rain barrels fit into this overarching criteria, we needed them to help balance out the moisture of the soils.

The first rain barrel was added a few months back.  The puddle surrounding the back patio after each rainfall disappeared.  It worked so well I began to consider where I wanted to place my next one.

Before I got to that stage, though, I added a raised bed to the yard as well as a fig tree.  Our first fruit tree!

While adding rain barrels never left my thoughts, it was not the immediate thing I was working on.  Summer is not really our wet season, so I knew I could focus elsewhere for a while before we really needed them.  What I needed to be focusing on was adding a planting bed along the back fence.  The plan is to add more trees and other plants to it come fall/late winter.

The soil here is not exactly nutrient rich…unless you count clay and more clay as a nutrient.  If I want to give the new plants a leg up on growing, I need to begin amending the soil with compost, mulches, and other detritus. Not only will this give them the nutrients they need but help hold in the moisture.

In order to begin amending the soil I need create an edge barrier to do so.  Taking a page from the new flower bed, I decided to use concrete blocks along the back and edging stones along the front.  This will serve a few purposes:

  1. saves on cost
  2. allows me to plant along the fence, inside the holes in the blocks, thereby saving room horizontally
  3. hopefully makes it harder for the rabbits to come in under the fence

This will be done in stages.  First, I am going to block in the areas I want to put the trees.  I will add cardboard and other items inside these blocks, beginning at the most important parts of the planned bed.  Second, I will begin to expand this areas until they connect, adding cardboard (weed barrier) and other compost items as I go along. I am hoping in this way not to overwhelm myself with the project, nor have a lot of out-of-pocket at one time.

Knowing the trees I want to plant, as well as the area I have to work with (there is a shallow drainage ditch between our fence and our backyard neighbors), I am planning to make the bed rather narrow.  At 2′-3′ wide I think there will be enough room for the trees, all of which have a mature crown diameter of about 10′.

So far I have purchased enough concrete blocks to mark where I want to plant three of the trees.  There were purchased from a home improvement store with a $25 gift card I earned on Swagbucks.  By earning a gift card earned each month I will have all the materials I need in a few months time with minimal out of pocket.  If I am able to take advantage of deals or discounts, it will happen even quicker.

All throughout June you can earn large bonuses when sign up as my referral on Swagbucks. Swagbucks is a rewards site where you earn points (called SB) for things you’re probably doing online already, like searching the web, watching videos, shopping, discovering deals, and taking surveys. Then you take those points and exchange them for gift cards to places like Amazon, Target, or PayPal cash.

When you sign up through me this month, you can earn a 300 SB bonus! Here’s how:

1. Sign up using this link

2. Earn 300 SB total before July 1st, 2018. You’ll get a 300 SB bonus for it!

I have also been adding to the compost bin and gathering used coffee grounds from local coffee shops.  This is a bit harder to do here than in Small Town as they do not save them automatically here.  I have to call, ask, and stop in that day or soon thereafter.  My best source so far as been the coffee shop inside the local grocery store.  Who knew so many people got their morning coffee from there?!

With some other, larger, more expensive things we are looking to accomplish this year, I am glad to have a way to save some money on gardening.

What are some of your favorite ways to spend money on gardening?

Feb 042018

Have you heard?  Sugar maples (Acer saccharum) may be one of those things which go the way of the American chestnut tree – “When I was a kid, they were everywhere.  Forest ecosystems were based around them.  Now… well, they are so rare their locations are kept secret to keep them safe.”

At least, that is what a paper published in Ecology concludes may be one outcome in the future.  Looking at various studies and research done over 20 years, they combined factors to extrapolate the effect on the trees.  While the trees’ growth would benefit from certain factor changes, others may lead to them basically dying of thirst.

It remains to be seen if this is another the-sky-is-falling scenario, or if it will actually play out this way.  After all, the authors did say this would be a result of “growing under the considerably drier conditions characteristic of our most extreme climatic scenario”.

The Canadian Journal of Forestry published a research paper which highlighted just how tough it is to be a natural sugar maple seedling in New Hampshire.  From their study areas only 3.4% over 7 years.  “Location, location, location” seemed to be an important factor in their survival.

This, my Readers, is why trees put out so many seeds each year, they are hoping for just one to survive.  It is a tough world out there.

Oct 172017

This was the scene a few months back, at the house we were renting.  I was at the other end of the house when I heard a loud “Boom”.  I figured Jack had jumped off yet another piece of furniture.

When I did not hear footsteps or kids talking, I went to check it out.  What I found was two kids quietly, and appropriately, watching television.  Both were honestly innocent as to the cause of the sound. (Yes, mom can tell when you are not being truthful, no matter how much you try.)

Knowing I did not make up the noise, I investigated further.

Seeing that everything inside the house looked normal, I opened the back door.  And this is what I saw.  The tree top actually brushed along the windows to our rental house, while the base was in the neighbor’s back yard.

I did a quick check of the inside for damage, did a visual inspection of the roof, gave our rental company a call, then knocked on the neighbor’s door.

The kids thought it was fun and ran out to climb on the limbs.  It was a great activity till I began hearing the deep rumblings of thunder and had to cut the fun short.


Do you see where the tree used to be standing?  Did you notice a lack of a root ball?  This tree actually fell over right at the root collar, which is not an uncommon event for these trees.

Not only do they have a weak limb structure, due to the angle of the branches coming off the trunk, but they are not known for strong bases.

My recommendation?  Find a different tree to plant. There are options which will last longer and cause fewer headaches.

These trees also cross pollinate with native trees, creating a hybrid which is very difficult to eradicate.

So, please, go native.  Save us all a hassle while creating something which will last many years.

May 172017

how to tackle the challenges of a less than perfect garden collage

Each garden is unique in its challenges and abilities.  That is part of the fun, and frustration, of gardening.

Add in to this the fact that each gardener is different – desiring different things from their garden, using it differently, and having different abilities and time with which to dedicate their skills.  This is where we often find ourselves growing or letting go.

With our new yard, I was looking forward to a younger yard, one where perhaps the need to water and increase soil nutrients would be the biggest worries.

I was wrong.

While the previous owner took great care of the inside of the house, I can say with a fair amount of certainty that the outdoors were not where a lot of time was spent.  If there was time spent there, it was not on landscaping or improving soil quality.

The first time  I mowed was about 3 weeks after it should have been done.  It actually needed mowed the week I had surgery, the week after we had just taken a family vacation … it was not happening.  I had assumed I would be up for the task after a week or so of recovery.

Wrong again.

In order to mow the new yard, I had to load our non-selfpropelled lawn mower into the back of my car and drive it over there.  Then I had to unload it and push it around the yard.

“Take it easy and let others do things for you,” said the doc.  In other words, no lifting or pushing.  I assumed with it being the beginning of the season, I could get away with a few weeks off.

Wrong again.

By the time I was able to get to the lawn, here is what the backyard looked like:

new yard initial

Not exactly a monoculture of grass.  I was thankful it had not reached what I dub the “hay-mowing stage”, where all the grass is a lush 3 feet tall and you may as well buy a goat.

The weeds were/are still abundant and growing at a wonderful rate.  The soil you can see will easily tell you that topsoil is sorely missing.  Certain parts of the yard are getting too much water, while other sections are not getting enough sun. Other parts are doing great in regards to sun and water, but also have some serious weeds (beyond the standard crabgrass, dandelions, etc.)

So much for being an easy, challenge-free yard to begin our gardening adventure at the new house.

wet shaded yard initial

How are we going to tackle these challenge and turn them into something which will be productive and an asset?  While I do not have all the answers right at this moment, I do know one thing – small steps add up to big changes.

With that in mind I have decided to do those small steps, focusing on places where I can initially make the biggest impact or where the issue is something which can be handled quickly.  These small, high impact steps will help keep me moving forward.

#1 Choose a place to start, something which will make the biggest impact

First up – regular mowing, blowing the grass clippings back on the yard, as well as beginning a late spring garden.

By starting here I can remove one of the largest visual challenges.  It may not be the toughest thing to fix, but it will help me start feeling like the end is not impossible.

Also, by mowing, I am keeping this aspect from becoming a larger issue as the weeks pass.

Looking at planting calendars from my state’s colleges, I noticed it was not too late to start some of the vegetables we like.  What I did not have time for was to build a raised bed.

While out shopping one day, I noticed stacks of potting soil next to the cash registers.  I picked up a bag (and later another one), took it home and planted seeds. (more details to come).  This is probably the smallest garden I have had in over a decade.  Not really an issues, as I am not looking to provide all of our vegetables for the year.  My goal was to have a few fresh things now without causing too much work.

In a few months I will look into creating a late summer/fall garden.

to be continued …

Jul 162016


During a summer job in college, I was blessed to get to spend hours each day walking through nature, being exposed to sights and sounds many may never see.  When it is just you and the forest, animals appear that normally would not, you hear things that often get lost in the noise of the day, and you are able to sort through thoughts and ideas that you may otherwise not have time to consider.*

One of my constant thoughts was that the beauty of nature, the unique aspects on the minute scale as well as the large, were not randomly placed together.  They work so smoothly, with such grace and awe, they are a tribute to their creator, the Great Artist of our world.

While the different aspects left me in quiet admiration many times, I never thought to stop and worship them for their beauty, unique qualities, or graceful flights and songs.  Instead, I often felt small, reminded of how silly we often make things with our pointless worries and whining; how our focus is often taken off the original plan by circumstances which have caused flaws to appear in the initial design.  If the Great Artist can plan such large scale workings in such small, accurate detail, who am I to think I know better? What makes me so great as to assume everything around me must stop and focus on my whimsical desires? What makes me worthy of the grace shown in moments of need, when I was not even sure what to ask for?

I stood in the middle of a dry creek and watched water from a two-day-prior rain storm begin to fill the spaces between rocks, getting higher and higher till I had to move; in the middle of a pine forest watching humming birds fly between the trees; silently on top of a hill in a hardwood stand while two baby skunks wrestled and played their way to who knows where; along a hunting trail as a mama turkey tried to distract me from her baby chicks hiding in the nearby grass.  I passed old homesteads and new houses; daffodils growing in old forest openings, planted by somebody long gone, and walked through new openings filled with plants, fighting to be the first to reach the now plentiful sunlight.

If these creatures have been provided for, how much more so have we been blessed the the Great Artists’ plan?


This Is My Father’s World

This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
His hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father’s world, the birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white, declare their Maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world: He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass;
He speaks to me everywhere.

This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world: the battle is not done:
Jesus Who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and Heav’n be one.

This is my Father’s world, dreaming, I see His face.
I ope my eyes, and in glad surprise cry, “The Lord is in this place.”
This is my Father’s world, from the shining courts above,
The Beloved One, His Only Son,
Came—a pledge of deathless love.

This is my Father’s world, should my heart be ever sad?
The lord is King—let the heavens ring. God reigns—let the earth be glad.
This is my Father’s world. Now closer to Heaven bound,
For dear to God is the earth Christ trod.
No place but is holy ground.

This is my Father’s world. I walk a desert lone.
In a bush ablaze to my wondering gaze God makes His glory known.
This is my Father’s world, a wanderer I may roam
Whate’er my lot, it matters not,
My heart is still at home.

Click here to read a bit of background to this story and see a picture of the song writer.

*While I may have had weeks to “consider my thoughts”, that does not mean I came to a conclusion about everything. Specifically whether I thought my then romantic interest would lead to marriage and what I would say when the time came.  Turns out this inconclusive thinking caused great concern for a particular someone sooner than I anticipated, and over a decade later I am still teased about it.  Oh well, he can tease me for decades to come if he likes, and I will still do his ironing and cook him peas; both activities that should demonstrate exactly how much I love him.  😉

Jun 072015

DSC_0461aqThe above photo has nothing to do with this post.  I just like it.  🙂

I am supposed to be outside mowing the grass, trimming limbs, laying down weed barrier, and spreading wood chips, all before rain comes.

If little boys do not listen, Mama gets tired.  When we are tired we takes naps.  Therefore, it is nap time now for little boys.  Meanwhile, Mama is cleaning to lower her blood pressure.  Cleaning in the form of throwing things away brings peace that lasts beyond 10 minutes after nap time.

My little boys really are not little anymore.  However, at times when they respond and act like 2 year olds, it is hard to forget that.  This happens when they are tired, we have had too much going on in a day, or the schedule changes suddenly.  Is this ‘normal’ kid behavior?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that this is my life and we have been stressing self-discipline and restraint more.

It is a process.  (Look at the picture above, ignoring utility poles, and breath.  Again and deeply.  Exhale.  Repeat as needed.)

lionAgain, not related to post.  Just like the look of laying in the shade of a tree and resting.

Yesterday we had an impromptu visit in the afternoon with some friends.  I enjoyed getting to visit and the kids enjoyed a swim and playing in the backyard.  One of the reasons I like these friends so much, is that neither they or I feel the need to impress each other.  However, at one point I did clean their bathroom. Why? Because that is what friends do when their children make a mess of things.  (I could not in all honesty NOT clean it. That would have been unhealthy.) 🙂

Vanille coffee shop

Ooh la la, my husband just handed me a glass of “home-made” frappuccino.  Technically it is a mixture of ice cream, milk, and Old Orchard Iced Coffee Café Mocha (concentrate from the freezer section).  At the cost of <$2 per glass, it rivals anything a coffee house makes AND without the drive to Big Town.

Okay, that was not an advertisement, just a clarification in case you wanted to make some too.

‘Nap time’ is over.  I think I am going to give in on outside time today and let them watch movies while I go out.  It is in the upper 80’s and humid, so not exactly a day for them to run around.  Well, unless you are looking for over heated kids.

yard sale collage

Stopped by some yard sales yesterday.  The first resulted in a laundry basket.  It was not marked for sale, but I figured it would not hurt to ask.  She agreed to sell it for $1.  When I asked a question to clarify, making sure we were talking about the same basket, she lowered it to $0.50.  Lesson – it never hurts to ask, but please be polite about it.

The second – fourth were actually neighbors having sales at the same time.  Jack got a $0.25 shirt out of it, but does not know yet as he was disobeying at the time so had to stay in the car.  Also picked up a 1/2 price bag of kids cups that match the ones we use – $0.50.

The last yard sale, though, was the best in terms of getting what I was looking to buy.  Jack likes different pants than George, so I try to fill in what will be needed when he gets to that size of hand-me-downs with the kinds he likes.  The last sale added – a set of PJs, a hoodie, a t-shirt, 4 pairs of pants, 40 page projectors, and 30 index dividers all for $5.  Again, it never hurts to ask – the items were marked such that it would have been around $8.50 for it all.  It was the end of the day and I knew I had a $5 bill on me.  I offered, they accepted.  Jack is now good on pants for the winter.  (This is how I keep our clothes shopping prices low, have an idea of what you have/need and be on the lookout for good deals all year long.)

Once I was done looking, I let George see if there was anything he wanted to spend his 2 quarters on.  Meanwhile, I stopped to look at the “free” box and picked up a vest (for dress-up) and 3 more pairs of pants that just needed a good washing (no holes or zipper issues).

Weeping cherry tree stumpI mentioned having wood chips to spread.  They came from a few trees we had cut down last week.  I asked the guys to leave the chips, which they kindly did.  They may not be the fanciest looking wood chips, but they will break down all the same.  Oh, and they were FREE which I love.

These particular trees also have a scent to them, one that is not necessarily pleasant, but which also helps identify them if you scratch the bark during the winter.  The wood chips still have the scent, which makes for some less than ideal smells by the driveway right now.  A few rains and it will go away.

Speaking of rain … the boys are quiet and calm, so I am going to head back out and see what I can accomplish.  Later tonight I will post the meal plan for this week.

May 272014

Ohio buckeye collage

Thanks to the squirrels in our yard, there are an abundance of tree sprouts appearing in the garden and flower beds every Spring.  While this can be annoying, it does give an opportunity to view the intriguing process of a plant coming from a seed.  All the information needed to produce a plant is contained in each seed.  Even the smallest of seeds contain all the cells needed to produce the desired plant.

As you an see, the top of the plant does not come out of the top of the seed while the roots come out of the bottom, though that is often how I imagine it.  Instead, the seed sprouted and from there the appropriate cells began to do what they were programmed to do.

Some plants are sensitive to gravity,Gravitropism, with their roots going down and their tops going up.  No matter which way you plant them, the appropriate parts will grow either towards or away from gravity.

Other plants are sensitive to light, Phototropism, with their tops growing towards the light.  These plants will grow towards the greatest source of light, even if it is to the side rather than up.

This post was part of:

Prudent Living on the Homefront
Jan 152014

We are not quite to the season where you will see these, but it will be here before you know it.  The flowers of trees are as unique at the trees themselves.  Below are the flowers of a silver maple (Acer saccharinum) found in my front yard.  I could stand underneath this tree all day, staring up at the new appendages appearing from the end of these seemingly dead branch.  It would be so easy to miss these driving by, or looking down at your phone while on the sidewalk.

Maple, flowers

Silver maple in spring

Silver Maple

Take some time this Spring to look up into the branches of trees as you go about your day.  Which ones do you think you’ll see first?  Do you find yourself able to tell what kind of tree one is from a distance due to its unique look?

For a reference, here is a photo of a red oak (Quercus rubra).  Do you notice the difference between its bark and that of the Acer saccharinum above?

Hint: Look at the texture of the bark.  Also, do you notice a color pattern?

Red Oak

Another way to tell the two trees apart is that the maple trees have limbs that grow opposite each other while the oak don’t.

Oak limbs

Which trees have opposite branching? Remember – MAD Buck

M – Maple

A – Ash

D – Dogwook

Buck – Buckeye

There are a few other shrubs/small trees with opposite branching, though for the context of this post I am referring to larger trees.

Nov 242012

Not only is this scene beautiful, it is full of information.  Different deciduous trees turn different colors during the fall. They also do not all turn at the same time (notice the fully green tree surrounded by orange and yellow trees?). So you can get a sense of the amount of variety in this particular portion of the stand just by the fact that there are so many different colors.  Also, the vividness and presence of color is affected by weather.

The area this picture came from is mostly hardwood forests, though there are some evergreens found here.

For now though, I’m just going to enjoy the picture and try not to think about the science behind what I am looking at.  Creation is a beautiful thing.

Mar 292012

We were outside today playing, enjoying the sunshine.  There was a lull in the activity, so I took the opportunity to point out that the tree above us was beginning to have leaves.  “Soon, you won’t be able to see the sky through the limbs because there will be so many leaves.”  We talked a bit more about how trees go from having no leaves, to having little ones, then larger leaves.  Then fall comes, the leaves change color and drop.  Not really an in-depth conversation.  Nothing was said about the chemicals released by the tree for such processes to happen, nor about the mechanics of how it works.  Just that it happens.

One of the kids was sitting on a stump.

“Did you know, the stump you are sitting on … (hm, they may not know what ‘stump’ means) well, what you are sitting on is called a stump.  It used to be a tree.”


Of course.  The ever present, “Why?”

“It was leaning towards the house, so we had it taken down when they were removing a few other trees.  Do you want to see another stump?”

And so ensued the lesson on stumps.  The second stump we looked at was much more interesting.  It was from a tree that was dead and didn’t know it.  Yes, that was my official diagnosis.  Very technical wasn’t it.  Anyway, due to the state of the tree before it was removed this stump was much more decomposed than the original stump.  I pointed out how the bark breaks down and makes dirt.  Hands on learning ensued.

“Insects break it down and soon it will be all gone.”  I started to pull up bits of the stump, amazed at how loose and easy they were.  One of the pieces produced a surprise.  A slug.  Now, as a gardener I am not normally happy to see slugs.  However, with boys sitting beside me I was happy to find a slug.

“Can I touch?”

Now, I wish I could say that I was more than eager to engage in hand-on learning immediately in this situation, but I replied without thinking.  “No.”


Hmmm.  I had to stop and think.  Why is it that I said, “no”?  Why couldn’t they touch it?  Was I worried about them hurting the slug?  Was I worried that they would get sick from something on the slug when they then stuck their fingers in their mouths?  Did I just think the thought of touching it myself was icky?

So I amended my reply.  “Yes, you can touch it, but be careful.  The slug is not happy that we disturbed it.”

Now came an interesting realization.  One that I had witnessed before, but in a different situation.  Older Boy didn’t want to touch it, but encouraged Younger Boy to do so.  I think I see which might be the one more likely to have a bug collection.

After showing them that it had no feet, we put it back under the piece of wood that had come from.  Continuing with my curiosity, I pulled up another large chunk and found yet another slug.  It too was shown.  Again, Older Boy wanted nothing to do with touching it, but Younger Boy did.  Now, wait here guys.  I’m the girl.  Isn’t it supposed to be ME that doesn’t want to touch the slimy, squishy slug?  I think we will have to work on this a bit.

They were done with the second stump and were requesting more.  So on to a third.  Now, this was turning into quite the lesson on stumps.  So far the two we have seen have been very different.  #1 was from a healthy maple tree (Acer spp.) and barely broken down.  Some fungus had started to grow on the bark of the stump, but otherwise it was in great shape.  #2 had great soil in the middle of the stump and is deteriorated enough that I could pull it up by hand.

Well, stump #3 was from a buckeye tree (Aesculus glabra).  This stump has been prolific with stump sprouts. I have cut and sprayed to no avail.  That was okay today as it provided a lesson in buds and leaves.  I showed them a bud that had yet to open, one that had opened but the leaves were still curled tight, and other where the leaves had fully unfurled.  Of course, lots of touching and “ooh, aah” went on.  But first, we looked in the middle under dead leaves that had become trapped there.

We found a worm under the leaves, which I picked up on the request of Older Boy, who then would not touch it.  Younger Boy was eager to touch and did so gently. We then looked at the soil under the leaves.  I had intended to show how the leaves were breaking down and so on.  What I realized when I picked up some of the soil was that it was actually mostly worm castings.  This little guy in my hand had been busy breaking down those leaves.  So, we put him back so he could “do his job”.

So three very different stumps and experiences.  Surely they are good with the stumps we have found.  But, oh no.  They want more.  Well, our yard didn’t have any more, but the neighbor’s did.  It is right on the line between our yards, so it wasn’t like we were traipsing through their yard.  Stump #4 was even more different.  It was the oldest of the stumps, though it too was from a buckeye tree.  It was a gnarled outline of where a small tree used to be.  Perhaps about 6 inches in diameter. The center was completely full of dirt, there was no bark to be seen, and it was barely 1/4 of an inch in width around the ‘circle’ that was there.  Yet, there was a bud sprouting out of the base.  That is the only way I knew what kind of tree this had been.  That fact was mentioned, then all interest in this unique stump was gone.  However, I’m glad we took a closer look as I had noticed this stump several times and always wondered a bit about it.  Now at least I know what kind of tree it had been and that it had been a tree.

I was out of stumps to look for in the yard, so “stump” #5 was actually a hole in the ground where a stump used to be.  Not really exciting, but perhaps a good point to show that stumps are not always there.

So ended our study of stumps around our yard.  I now have a new appreciation for stumps.  Honestly, I had never really given them much though or taken a close look at what makes them different or the same.

How about you?  Ever taken a look at a stump?  Do you have a favorite?