Gardening Book Recommendation

As a child I loved to read the Laura Ingalls Wilder books about her life in the big woods and on the prairie.  What I found most intriguing in her family stories was the idea of being a self sustaining family.  Ma and Pa would get some staples from the Olsens’ store in town; but, for the most part the Ingalls family provided for themselves.  What they could not provide for themselves, they often bartered with others for the items they needed.  For instance, Ma would trade their chicken eggs for sugar and coffee.  Pa would put up a fence in a neighbor’s field in return for a baby pig.  

My most favorite Laura Ingalls Wilder novel is Farmer Boy.  This book is about her husband Almonso Wilder who grew up on a large farm in New York state.  Hard work and discipline is the life depicted in this story.  What captured my attention was the descriptions of the food that they would feast on daily.  This hardy food sustained their endless daily chores and was a source of pride for the women of the family.  

Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder

While reading these same books to my own daughters some 10 (maybe more) years ago, the whole concept of growing and preserving your own food stuck with me. One essential element of survival during this time period was the root cellar.  By carefully storing fruits of the harvest, a family could endure a long winter.  Last weekend, Martha and I were discussing root cellars and how to store potatoes and other root vegetables for the winter.  

Realizing that we needed some more information on the subject, I googled and found a book on the topic called Root Cellaring by Mike and Nancy Bubel.  Immediately, I checked this book out from our local library via an electronic download to my Kindle app on my phone.  After reading several chapters, I decided that I must invest in a print version of this book for my own library so that I could use it as reference and take notes in it as needed. 

Root Cellaring Book

This book is a wealth of information on planning and tending crops that will get you through the winter months.  The Bubels describe in detail their successes and failures and how to learn from the mistakes you make along the way.  This book is informative yet enjoyable to read because it is not at all dull or scientific.  It is practical and doable and I appreciate the simple way in which it is written; the photos and drawings are both interesting and educational.  

Inside of Root Cellaring Book

Today my print copy was waiting for me on my doorstep as I left for work.  Wow, Amazon Prime is speedy.  I am armed with a highlighter and ready to delve more deeply into the art of preserving and making the most of the food I grow for my family.

Since I live in central Virginia, I am interested in learning more about insulating certain crops in the field to harvest throughout the colder months.

How do you store your food for the winter months?  Which vegetables survive best?

Written by Jennifer Laughter Google


Planting Potatoes in the Rain

Since the diverter installation took most of our scheduled gardening time on Sunday, we decided to get together at the garden on Monday early afternoon to plant some potatoes and other goodies before the rain was scheduled to arrive.  Well, the rain came two hours earlier than expected.  The temperature was still mild, near sixty degrees, so we put on our rain coats and set about our work.

Martha inspecting the potatoes

Martha inspecting the potatoes

Martha had already planted the cucumbers and summer squash seeds in their dirt mounds.  We made three trenches for the potatoes, added some compost to the trenches, dug holes 12 inches apart and dropped our potatoes into the holes.  It was actually quite peaceful and enjoyable working in the rain.

Me taking shelter from the rain in the greenhouse

Me taking shelter from the rain in the greenhouse

As the rain intensified I headed over to the rain barrels to check and see if the downspout diverter was indeed sending water into our collection barrels.  As soon as I neared the plastic drums I could hear the trickle of water inside the barrel.  I lifted the top to reveal a steady stream of rain water into our first container.  Filled with satisfaction that our installation was working as intended, I eagerly ran back to the garden to report the good news to Martha.  About an hour later I checked on the progress and was pleased to see that the barrel was filling more quickly than I had anticipated.

Martha reported this morning that after a night of rain, the first barrel was approaching full and would soon be overflowing into our second container.  Harvesting rain water to use in our gardens makes me giddy with excitement.  Funny, if you had told me twenty years ago that this project would bring me such pleasure and satisfaction I would have never believed you.


Rain barrels connected to downspout

Spring Greens and Downspout Diverter

Today marked an important milestone for this novice gardener.  I picked the first leaf lettuce of the season along with some baby kale, spinach, beet greens and baby swiss chard.  These delicate, curly greens in various shades of green, red and purple were almost too attractive to eat.  I just stared at them in my salad spinner marveling at their intrinsic beauty.  I also pulled my first red radish from the soil and ate it with my salad greens.  Although it was not very large it was full of flavor – spicy and earthy in one little pink root.

First Salad Greens of the Season

First Salad Green of the Season

Little red radishes surfacing.  Ignore my finger in the photo; cropping it out detracted from the emerging root scene.

Red Radish

Little red radishes making an appearance.

Mixed greens…that’s what’s for dinner!

Raw greens for dinner

Raw greens for dinner. No salad dressing needed.

Martha and I spent over two hours improving our rain collection system this afternoon.  We have two rain barrels and we finally installed the downspout diverter and connected it to our barrels.  What a project this turned out to be for two women who are not too concerned with level surfaces and are unfamiliar with how to use a drill.  When all is said and done, I do feel proud that we accomplished the project.  We had to come up with some creative solutions to a few problems that we encountered; now we wait and see if our work is a success. Several days of rain begins tomorrow according to the local meteorologists.

Rain barrels connected to downspout

Rain barrels now connected to the downspout


Close up of the downspout diverter

Close up of the downspout diverter

So far this year we have put together a greenhouse tent and also installed this downspout diverter.  Based on the outcome of these two projects that tested our lack of mechanical and engineering knowledge and our disdain for reading instructions, I conclude that we make a pretty good team.  I look forward to our gardening journey this year.  Growing our friendship as we nurture our plants.

Written by Jennifer Laughter Google

chopped swiss chard

Rainy Weekend Halts Garden Prep

Most people I know really like rainy days.  While I wish I were one of them, a rainy day just makes feel feel anxious and cooped up.  Sad huh.  Rather than raking our newly plowed garden areas as I had planned today, I sat around the house looking out the window all day long hoping the steady precip would let up.

I did manage to finish reading a book that is due back to the library this week.  I have renewed it once already and thanks to this rainy day I can return it for someone else to read.  It is titled No Plot, No Problem and is a challenge to aspiring writers to stop waiting for the perfect time or inspiration to write a first novel and just do it.  The book invites literary procrastinators everywhere to commit to writing a 50,000 word novel in the time of ONE month.  It does not have to be pretty, it just has to get out of your head, through your finger tips and onto a document.  No real prep, no editing and no excuses.

Hmmm…April starts in a few days.  Book writing or gardening?  Is there a way to juggle both for thirty days in addition to a job and a family?  I had decided to eliminate unneeded stress in my life.  Would this be bad stress that takes a toll or good stress that leads to breakthroughs and adaptations?  Is this just another way to avoid getting that dreaded nine-to-five job that I am oh so good at eluding.  Crystal ball, I need you.

Jumping to another topic, I love swiss chard.  We have some swiss chard seeds started in our greenhouse; however, they seem a little spindly and Martha is worried that they will not grow as they should.  This whole gardening thing being new to me, I think they look great.  But apparently there is concern when seedlings grow too tall before their second set of leaves, their real leaves, appear.  I am hopeful that they will thrive.  Time will tell.

Swiss chard: growing, chopped, sauteed.

Swiss chard

Who doesn’t love swiss chard

Let me know you thoughts on saving spindly seedlings, growing swiss chard or cooking swiss chard.

Or if you want to join me should I decide to write my first novel during the month of April.  

Written by Jennifer Laughter Google

Homemade Raw Milk Yogurt

Raw Milk Yogurt

We have been drinking raw cow’s milk in my family for several months now. I had wanted to invest in raw milk shares for some time and finally made the commitment with a local farmer.  It is well worth the extra money for my half share of raw cow’s milk. Each week I pick up a half-gallon of unpasteurized, unhomogenized milk from the St. Stephen’s Farmer’s Market near my house where Jennifer Downey, owner of Night Sky Farm in Brookneal, Virginia spends her Saturday mornings. The milk that Jennifer delivers is thick and rich with two inches of cream at the top of each gallon mason jar of milk.

Raw Cow's Milk

Raw cow’s milk from Night Sky Farm in Brookneal, VA

Yesterday when I picked up my milk share, we still had half of last week’s milk in the refrigerator.  So, I decided to make raw milk yogurt with this leftover milk.  Having made homemade yogurt for my teenage daughters when they were infants, I was familiar with the yogurt making process.  Years ago I had a thermometer and an electric yogurt warmer that held cute little glass containers for the yogurt.  This go around I had no thermometer or yogurt heater. I heated the milk in a pot on the stove to just beyond warm, hoping that I did not overheat and kill the bacteria.   Transferring to a glass quart mason jar, I stirred in a couple of heaping tablespoons of plain full fat yogurt that I had purchased from the store.  The I topped the jar and placed the jar of warm milk into a small cooler.  I then filled the cooler with warm water around the jar, closing the lid of the cooler and wrapping in a couple of towels to insulate.  After about 10 hours I dumped the cooling water and added warm water again and covered for another 12 hours.

Homemade Yogurt in a Cooler

Place jar of warmed milk with yogurt cultures in a bath of warm water in seal cooler.

This morning I was thrilled to find that I had creamy, tart yogurt in my mason jar.

I think I may take the full gallon a week share and make yogurt each week.

Written by Jennifer Laughter


New garden area next to fenced compost garden

Soil Preparation

Trying to expand the garden area this year equals a whole lot of prep work to make the soil more conducive to growing plants.  We have been trying to get a truck load of compost delivered, but apparently people who advertise that they have compost to sell are not super reliable.  After many attempts to have a few different vendors deliver a load of compost, we have moved on to “plan B”.  Plan B involves a small kid’s wagon, shovel and a strong back.

Wagon full of composted leaves

Wagon full of composted leaves

We are fortunate to have a neighbor who every year adds his fall leaves to the same pile.  At the bottom of this pile lives the dark organic matter that will make our garden plot more fertile.  Or so we hope.  So, off I go with our little red wagon to dig from the bottom of this pile and fill the wagon with the composted leaves.  Besides being heavy, the leaves in this pile are being held down by a grid of vines that appear to be honey suckle.  So in order to get to the compost I must clear the vines before I can begin to shovel.

Slow and steady gets the job done.  Today I spent two hours and managed to shovel, haul, dump and rake out 8 wagon loads of compost.  I can see the area of our new garden taking shape.  Hopefully we will have the compost and manure down this week so that the tilling can occur this coming weekend.

Two good things about plan B: heavy lifting is good for the body and using a neighbor’s composted leaves doesn’t cost any money.

Composted leaves on new garden area

Composted leaves on our new garden area

After a seventy degree day on Saturday, we are getting a freezing mix of precipitation tonight that could result in a few inches of snow accumulation.  Fortunately the forecast shows more warm weather by the upcoming weekend.

New garden area next to fenced compost garden

New garden area is next to a fenced compost garden

Any tips for enriching soil?  What are some economical ways you have found to add nutrients to garden soil?

Manure and lime?  Where to buy and how much to use.

Written by Jennifer Laughter Google