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Our orchard

July 13, 2015

This year has been the year of planting fruit in the garden.  I had intended to control myself and choose two or three plants a summer to add, as fruit trees and bushes can be a little pricier than perennials.  But then I decided that since it can take a few years before fruit trees have much of a yield, it made more sense to put it all in as soon as possible and get them growing, and therefore, on their way to making fruit for us to enjoy sooner.

I am still thrifty, however, so my “trees” are bitty specimens.  No matter.  We plan on sticking around here for awhile.  They’ll grow.

Since most of our new acquisitions are not much to look at yet, here’s a collage of what we have planted, all from stolen pictures.


The yard had enormous rhubarb plants when we moved in, and we’ve fully enjoyed them, although I’m attempting to move some of them to more convenient places.  I don’t want to move it all at the same time and limit my harvesting options.

We put in black, pink, and red currants last year.  This year we got a few handfuls of berries.  The pink and red ones are tasty, but we all agree the black ones are disgusting.  Are they better cooked into jam?  Is it worth even trying?

Elderberries.  I hope to both attract more birds and make elderberry syrup to use in the winter against colds.  I planted Nova and York varieties (two needed for cross-pollination) and they are already going gangbusters, putting out tons of vigorous new growth.  This is the one selection I fear I may regret, but I’m prepared to prune heartily.

Honeyberries.  I’ve never had them, but they sound like a good alternative to blueberries and their acidic soil requirements.  Borealis and Cinderella varieties planted.  One is extra crispy and probably dead, so I should contact the nursery one of these days…

Raspberries.  I ordered a fall-bearing variety and received some summer-bearing canes from a friendly neighbor.  The rabbits are attacking both.  I hope some roots survive and they come back strong next year.  Also, the spot they are in seems much too shady, but I had no ideal spaces left.

Contorted flowering quince.  I planted a dwarf variety because it looked cool.  That’s a good reason, right?  I should have put hardware cloth around it because the last time I checked, the rabbits had eaten a good portion.  Grrr.  Hoping it survives.

Columnar apples, red and green varieties.  I love the idea of these skinny trees.  They grow up, not out, and should easily fit in the small space in a sunny perennial border where I put them.  They won’t yield tons of fruit, but we don’t have space for even dwarf apple trees, so this sounded like a fun option.  The green one arrived with a dead axial bud so the nursery is going to ship me a new one.  On a regular apple tree this probably wouldn’t have mattered, but when it’s designed to only grow, up, it really needs that bud!  Sadly, bare root trees only ship in the spring, so I’m stuck waiting another year for my replacement.

Cherries.  These were my first priority this year.  We are trying a Carmine Jewel dwarf, a North Star dwarf, and Nanking bush cherries.  The North Star actually had a few pieces of fruit already this year, but the birds got to them before we did.  They looked delicious.

Part of a concord grape vine also hangs over the neighbor’s fence into our yard, which we enjoy in the fall.  My only complaint is it keeps trying to grow up into my lilacs.  They are delicious enough that I don’t grumble too much, though.

So that’s the fruit in our yard.  We are probably just setting ourselves up to feed more birds, but that’s OK.  The boys are nearly always in the backyard, so I figure they’re like living, moving scarecrows.

Garden invaders

July 13, 2015

My garden is a mixed bag right now.  Peas and lettuce and herbs are happy, but the damp, cool weather hasn’t been good for the tomatoes, cukes, or squash.  Powdery mildew and early blight, I hate you both with a fiery burning hate topped off with grouchy hate sprinkles.

Overall, the garden is a success this year, however, because the kids are involved and loving it.  Pea in particular has been a big help with weeding.  He’s gotten pretty great at identification of some weeds I didn’t know until, um, perhaps last month when I looked them up.  He is also hell-bent on growing sweet corn, his most favorite food, despite my warnings that we don’t really have the space.  He tucked some seeds into the path at the back of the garden and declared it off-limits for walking.  Sure enough, there is some corn growing.  I hope the universe will throw him an ear or two – it would make him monumentally happy.

Tea hasn’t been quite as interested this year – his sole request was pumpkins, which we planted outside the fence due to size constraints.  Planted from seed in mid-May, the plants are still only a few inches tall with 4 leaves each.  It would take a miracle to get pumpkins off those things before frost.

I’m not sure why, but my plants seem to grow much slower than other people’s.  I don’t know if there’s not enough sun or I’m not fertilizing enough (I barely fertilize, I admit).  Thank goodness at least the spring vegetables have done well.

Last month my niece and nephew visited for a week and one of my favorite memories is the evening they invaded the garden with their cousins.DSC_03831 web

They descended on it like locusts, pulling everything in sight and devouring greedy handfuls.  “Rook”, 3, would ask for a positive ID before putting each leaf in his mouth.  “Arugula?”  “Lettuce?”  “Basil?”  Our assurances were met with bright smiles as his fist repeatedly entered his mouth.DSC_03771 web

“Cricket”, 5, was a bit fancier, and liked to roll herbs up inside her greens to make “salad”.  She also requested a bowl so she could bring some inside to eat with her dinner.  (This is especially great because “dinner” was strawberry shortcake – the one night a year we indulge in dessert-for-dinner as per old family tradition.  Actually given dessert for dinner, she wanted salad.)

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Watching all 4 cousins scampering around the garden and eating with gleeful abandon was a beautiful sight.  I don’t expect my kids to share my passion for vegetable gardening, but I will be thrilled if they find some small joy in eating something home-grown.

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Planting all the things

May 23, 2015

In my vegetable garden, there’s nothing left to plant.  All the seedlings and all the seeds have been crammed in with a shoe horn, and I’m again wishing I had more space for eggplant and okra and kohlrabi.  Next year.  There’s more included than left out, and if half of it produces, we won’t need to buy much at the farmers market by mid-summer.   

 This is year 2 in the garden.  I didn’t have to plant as much this year, as a lot self-seeded.  The arugula, lettuce, green onions, onions, bok choi, cilantro, and dill (holy hell, the dill!!) all volunteered themselves.  The garlic I planted in the fall looks great.  Most of the asparagus and neglected onions, and all of the green onions and oregano and chives and currants survived the winter.

This year I added a border around the fenced-in veggies for perennial herbs like lavendar, chamomile, calendula, climbing nasturtium, anise hyssop, etc etc etc.  Some rhubarb, yarrow, hollyhock, and cosmos are in there for good measure.  I’m looking forward to the herbs growing so it’ll be extra pretty and the boys can make their own herbal tea from a whole host of choices.

Pea is an enthusiastic garden helper.  Today he earned 91 cents pulling black nightshade seedlings at a penny a piece.  Normally a bit lax on the weeding, I didn’t really want to let those get big, being poisonous and all.

A young friend planted a tomato in our bed today, too, and we look forward to extra kid-hands helping weed and water this summer.  Or at least extra kid feet running through the yard, which is also nice.  ;)

For me, today is the day the garden is at its height.  Everything planted is still fully possible.  Weather hasn’t yet failed to cooperate, bugs haven’t yet descended, and the pestilence of last summer’s powdery mildew is a distant memory.  You can’t plant a garden without a whole lot of hope.  I see it lush and full of delicious food and beautiful flowers in my imagination.  The garden is full of possibility, and I love it dearly.

Kids in the kitchen

March 5, 2015

Our awesome PTO offers an after-school class called Book and Cook, where Pea’s beloved kindergarten teacher reads a story involving food to a group of 5-7 year-year-olds, and then they make said food together.  In a kindergarten classroom, with 25 kids and 3 adults, in one hour.

If I taught this class, I would find a story where a hedgehog eats apple slices, or an astronaut builds a baloney sandwich.  Not this group.

  • Week one: a full breakfast of waffles made from scratch (including beating and folding in the egg whites), pancakes, sausage, and eggs.
  • Week two: Spring rolls with noodles and zillions of veggies and herbs.
  • Week three: homemade roti and mango salad.
  • Week four: tacos with salsa rice, homemade refried beans, and all the fixings.

There are two classes left, and Pea is living for each one.  He counts down the days until his next class.  This morning, it was, “I HAVE BOOK AND COOK TODAY AFTER SCHOOL!  And THEN I only have to wait SEVEN MORE DAYS until it’s BOOK AND COOK AGAIN!!!”  It’s a huge hit.  He recites the recipe for roti from memory like a prayer.  He pumps his teacher for clues about the next week’s menu.  He is a little boy obsessed.

Wanting to capitalize on this interest, and inspired by my friend Cindy, whose kids cook each Monday, we’ve recently made Tuesday “Kids Make Dinner” night at home. The boys alternate weeks.  When it’s their turn, they make the menu and the shopping list, and are in charge of all cooking.  I hang out in the kitchen to operate the oven and make sure everyone keeps a constant number of digits during chopping.

We’ve had some good meals from the kids so far.  Pea’s spring rolls, for example, were second to none.

spring rolls

This week, however…well… I don’t know how to put this kindly.

Anyone who’s an Arrested Development fan (and if you’re not, how are we friends?) will remember Lindsay’s brief foray into cooking.

hot ham water

“Mmm…so watery.  And yet there’s a smack of ham to it.”

Pea is possibly a little too comfortable in the kitchen, and never wants to use a recipe.  This is OK with spring rolls.  His choice this week was soup.  “Perfect Soup”.  He claims he read it in a book at school.

Our conversation to make a shopping list:

“Corn.  And carrots.  And tomatoes, but not the ones in a can.  The ones you have to cut up with a knife.”

“Sounds good.  Anything else?”


“OK, and some salt?”

“I guess so.  And pepper.”

“Great.  Can you pick a protein?  There’s lentils, quinoa, chick peas, tofu, any kind of beans…”

“Black beans!”

“Perfect.  Sounds delicious.  Do you want to make bread or scones or corn muffins or something to eat with it?”

“No.  French fries in the oven.”


The soup wasn’t terrible, but it began with a stockpot filled nearly to the brim with water.  There were at least 20 cups of water in the pot.  Mmm.  Water.  When his back was turned, I ladled out a whole lot of it, which wasn’t easy because he’d already dumped in the corn.  Still, it was a bit weak.  We all ate more bowls than usual to feel full.  I am not complaining, because he is gleeful about cooking, and presumably, by the time he’s 10 he will be able to make something on his own that doesn’t taste like it came from the tap.  Also, the french fries were delicious.

Is it Spring somewhere?

February 19, 2015

It is currently -2°F in Madison.  I’m not complaining.  I will enjoy the warmer weather when it gets here, but this is February in Wisconsin.  It happens.  I have coffee and Hulu to see me through.

What really surprised me is that in the last week, I’ve gotten orders for 4 of the decoy wasp nests I put on Etsy last year.  Truth be told, I’d forgotten I had them listed.  There haven’t been any wasps around here for at least 4 months, and won’t be again for several more.  But still, I knit them and tucked them into boxes, ready to send them on their way to places that must be far warmer than here.

Today, I carved a stamp so I can pop a note in before I seal the box.  I probably should have mopped the floor instead, but sometimes I need to make something that isn’t going to be undone in an instant.  I decided to focus on the fact that there is warm weather around the corner.  My Master Gardener Volunteer training starts next week, so it must be so.


Now excuse me while I put on long underwear, wool knee socks, my jacket, mittens, facemask, and scarf to get the box to the post office.  Brrr.

Buttons should not cause this much angst

December 17, 2014

All that was left to finish up my sweater was the buttons.  I have failed to find the perfect buttons for my cardigan, and for now I am giving up the fight.

I drove around town to 4 places.  None had 5 matching buttons that were right.  My preference was wood buttons, but they were all the wrong size, the wrong color, or the store had but 2 of them.  I tried leather but it was the wrong look.  I would have tried something silver and old fashionedey if I’d found the right ones.  No store stocked more than 3.  What would you do with only 3 buttons?  I am disappointed in you, Madison Button-Stockers.  You are falling down on the job.

I ordered some buttons on Etsy – and gave them the wrong shipping address.  They ended up back with the seller in California.  You could say I took it as a sign, but really I just lost patience.  I ultimately settled on the wrong color for the sake of being able to wear the sweater sooner.  I’ll still keep a look-out though.  Switching buttons is easy.

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Punkin and I now rock matching sweaters, which feels very lucky.  She’s had a rough month, poor old girl, with cancer-removal surgery and then emergency surgery to deal with an scary abscess.  Happily, her staples came out yesterday, thank goodness, because she was an absolute menace to the Christmas tree – the cone of shame flung ornaments in all directions every time she walked by.  But I digress.  This is about our lovely matching sweaters (I did not knit hers).

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BUTTON UPDATE:  Moments before hitting “publish”, the doorbell rang.  The post man delivered a small package from California – the buttons found me after all, despite the long-expired forwarding address and being marked “return to sender”.  Hurray!  It’s a button-miracle!

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Sleeve surgery and final sweater assessment

December 17, 2014

Shortening the sleeves on my cardigan was far more mentally than technically challenging.  I used instructions from the excellent TECHknitting.  I measured 42 times to verify where the cuffs should begin, picked up the stitches onto my needle, and chopped off below it with scissors.  Cutting straight through knitted fabric feels reckless and horrifying.  I don’t believe I will ever be able to steek anything.

I started knitting ribbing directly at the needles.  Phew, that was a lot of extra fabric!

I started knitting ribbing directly at the needles. Phew, that was a lot of extra fabric!

I thought I’d be thrifty and reuse the yarn, but since I’d already blocked (washed) the sweater, the yarn had definite ideas about what shape it wanted to stay in – small intestine shaped- and reknitting it wasn’t going to happen.  Luckily I had spare yarn, because I didn’t want to take the time to recondition the old yarn.  I know it can be done, and I’ve saved the yarn to sit in my yarn stash forever collecting dust fix it in the future.

Seriously kinky yarn

Seriously kinky yarn

Overall I’m happy with how it turned out.  Three niggling things annoy me a bit but not enough to keep me from wearing it.

  1. My row gauge must have been a bit off because the arm hole is too deep.  This makes things fit a little wonky so I just try not to think about it.
  2. I made an error on the yoke in the back, probably using the wrong-slanting decrease, so there’s one bloody stitch that looks out of place in the nice crisp line of stitches across the shoulders.  I can’t see it when I’m wearing it.  But I KNOW IT’S THERE.
  3. The length is longer than I was going for – I should have taken the weight of the fabric pulling it longer into account.  But better too long than too short.

It’s not terrible, it’s just not perfect.  It drives Kyle crazy that I say this, as he knows the time I put into it, and to him it just looks like a sweater.  He is not a knitter, so he does not understand, and so I forgive him his annoyance.  I’ll still enjoy wearing it, and I can give it another go, maybe next fall with a different pattern, and incorporate the things I’ve learned.


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