So…hey there. (Smiles sheepishly but waves enthusiastically while wondering if anyone still remembers me…) Hope you’ve all been healthy, happy, and staying reasonably sane through the chaos that is still our world. As for me, all is surprisingly well. But after having disappeared from the blogosphere over four months ago, I wasn’t sure how I should step back in. Catch you up to date? Or just pretend like the whole disappearing act never happened?
But honestly, there’s nothing new to tell; you’ve heard it all before. It’s simply been more of the same, me taking wrong turns before getting myself back on course only to take the exact same wrong turns again. I’ve tripped on multiple occasions and even fallen flat on my face once or twice, but you know what? It’s fine. Perfectly fine, even, because those wrong turns have been leading me–in a roundabout and sometimes confusing way–to the balance I’ve been missing. So to sum up the past four months, I’ll just say this: I’m back. Again. Because for whatever reason, it’s where I need to be. And for the record, that’s also perfectly fine with me.
So Many Puns
But before I dig into my post (haha, a pun that you’ll soon understand), there have been some necessary changes here at Follow Us Home. Back in 2017, when I hatched this idea, it was a grand and ambitious plan involving the whole family. I liked the plan–we all did, to differing degrees–but a lot has changed since this blog was birthed. So while on rare occasions (I hope) you’ll still find a post from one of the girls winking back at you from your inbox, this space is now mine. All mine. Which means…you can expect a lot of talking. And sharing. And excessive use of adverbs.
In an effort to support this ambitious “hobby” of mine, the Follow Us Home Etsy shop is also up and running again. I just wanted to nonchalantly throw that out there and ask that you consider my humble little shop for your holiday gift needs. Your everyday gift needs, actually. The profits will go towards the survival of this space and allow me to keep on sharing what I love. (I’ve been making my own make-up, guys!) The shop has all of our old eco-friendly goodies, along with some new eco-friendly goodies. The shelves are nicely stocked, and I’d love it if you’d take a peek. That reopening has been many weeks, countless pictures, and much effort in the making.
But boring business talk aside, let’s get to this post. After a four and a half month “vacation,” I thought I’d step back in gently, if not briefly (she says, four thousand pictures later…). Really, I feel compelled to apologize now for the lengthy post that follows. Other than the girls, I’m not sure who’ll come out awake on the other end. My hope is that maybe you’ll be gracious enough to humor me and consider it one robust post to make up for all the time I’ve been silent. (I say that like my next post will be short and sweet…as if I’m capable.)
So today, opting for the physical over the metaphysical in topic, I decided to share a little bit of what grounded me this past year (oh my, so many unintentional puns). It was a time of getting back to my roots (groan) and re-embracing some parts of myself that I thought I’d permanently let go of. So even though I know the season is over for many of us, let’s talk gardens.
I’ve always had gardens. We had a huge one in the backyard when I was growing up, and while I don’t remember being much help out there, I do remember playing hide-and-seek among the cornstalks. I remember the joy of watching our happy pigs turning over (and fertilizing!) the spring soil for us. I remember compost piles and garden fresh squash and my mom’s many herbs. My first garden memories are good ones, sweet ones, and it’s no big surprise that I, without even thinking, incorporated the habit into my own adult life.
My first vegetable garden was enormously unimpressive. But the meager harvest didn’t stop me from trying again, and through the years the gardens got bigger and bolder. The plot size grew and the harvest size grew. Through all those many planting seasons, it’s never stopped feeling like a small miracle to pop an innocent little seed in the ground and then end up with an enormous plant. Abundant food. Breathtaking flowers. Or better yet, all three.
But several years ago I was feeling burnt out, and the thought of tending a garden was way too overwhelming. So much energy was needed each spring/summer/fall, and I was tired of battling the wildlife, the bugs, and Mother Nature. I just figured I’d be much happier if I focused on the eating part and left the growing part to others. In fact, at the beginning of 2020 I’d decided to forgo food completely and just toss about an abundance of flower seeds. I was more than willing to ditch the work and simply revel in the beauty of the blossoms.
My Crummy Attitude
But then the unexpected shock of a pandemic happened, and I rethought my garden decision. I rethought much of my life, actually. And I decided it wasn’t the gardens that had to go but my crummy attitude instead.
And so in spite of the drought and the insects and the pilfering woodchucks, I reconnected with the earth again. Dumping the “too much work” mindset was exactly what I needed this year, and instead of one garden, I went a little wild and tended two. Were they a ton of effort? Of course they were. But did I love it? (Nearly) every single minute.
So for this first post, having just tucked my gardens in for the winter, I thought I’d take you through my plant-filled summer. It involved a lot of food, a lot more work, something close to a million pictures, a vegetable surprise, and perhaps some Solid Gold. Ready? Let’s take a stroll through my summertime backyard…
The Much-Loved Trellis Garden
This first garden (designed by me and built by Scott in 2016) is affectionately called the Trellis Garden, and it’s a fabulous space to grow in. After two years in the planning, it was designed with one goal in mind: Keep the wildlife at bay. Thankfully, it works like a charm. There’s no need to defend my work and veggies from predators because except for the bugs, all animals are kept safely out and my veggies are kept safely in. The Trellis Garden is pretty low maintenance and only demanded the usual amount of work this year.
We struggled some with the green beans, just finished harvesting the beets (super delicious after a couple good frosts), are feasting on some superb butternuts, and I discovered the joys of winter heather shrubs. But that’s pretty much all you’ll be hearing about the Trellis Garden. This post is reserved for my last-minute, crazy-ambitious second garden plan that demanded excessive amounts of both time and energy. Thankfully, having culled so much of the superfluous from my life (thank you COVID), I had just enough of both to make this dream happen.
The Back Garden
Because this was the sorry state of my other garden, fallow and reclaimed by Mother Nature. This second garden involved a “wee” bit more (back-breaking) work. The Back Garden, as it will henceforth be called, had been my only garden for many years before it was abandoned in 2014(ish). I was tired of trying to come up with new and ingenious ways to keep the critters from decimating my growing vegetables and had finally surrendered in defeat. (And then spent two years plotting the critter-proof Trellis Garden.)
But 2020 demanded more space than the Trellis Garden offered me, and so an overly ambitious plan began to slowly germinate. It started with two lone tomato trellises (seriously, that’s it) before gaining momentum and morphing into a complete garden makeover. And then, with more than a little bit of coaxing on my part, I enlisted the help of most all family members. With only a month until planting time, I gently shoved a rake into each of their hands and promised them they’d thank me for it later.
Deer Proof At Last
Once the leaves and debris had been removed (and saved), the girls and I got busy tearing down the existing fence. Unfortunately, Riley Mae ended up with a nasty case of poison ivy for her efforts and just as unfortunately, it was a scenario that I repeated many months later. But now that the old, ineffective fence was finally gone, Scott and I were free to replace it with a higher and hopefully deer-proof version. Much to my relief, it did exactly what I needed it to, and the deer problem was easily solved.
Once the new fence was hung, it was time to tackle garden beds. I’d decided that instead of expending enormous amounts of time and energy turning over the soil (not to mention disrupting all of the helpful microbes, worms, and critters!), I would go the lasagna garden route. This simply meant suppressing the weeds with a layer of cardboard and then building the beds up, much like you’d create a lasagna. Lasagna gardening–also called sheet composting– is great if you have less than stellar soil, which half of this garden is.
After laying down the cardboard base, we added layer after layer of decomposing leaf mulch, grass clippings, and soil. The garden bed along the entire perimeter is designed to keep woodchucks at bay, but sadly, it was a dismal failure.
Groundhog Proof? Not Even Close
Those green plants in the perimeter bed are lemon balm and mark the beginning of my groundhog plan. The idea was to create a barrier of plants that woodchucks despise in the hopes that they would be repulsed by the smells and keep their distance. Turns out the plant choices were good ones–rosemary, thyme, chives, peppermint, lemon balm–because those whistle pigs never even took so much as one tiny nibble.
However, their dislike didn’t stop them from invading all the same. Stealthy little tunnels were dug in between each of the offensive plants, allowing fairly easy access to my growing and vulnerable veggies. Thankfully, the rodents only showed sporadic interest until the end of season, when they were fattening up for their winter slumber. But the brief feasting was enough to make me throw my hands up in defeat yet again.
My deer problem had been quickly solved, but it was back to the drawing board for my woodchuck friends; my barrier definitely hadn’t worked as I’d hoped. But never fear, because I’ve already got a new and improved plan for next year: think onions. Lots and lots of pungent onions. And quite possibly some…urine. Yup. I’ll keep you posted.
So here we are, halfway through May, and the beds are all in place. Planting time is around Memorial Day weekend here in Connecticut, so I was actually ahead of schedule and feeling pretty great. Maybe I could even kick back and relax until planting time; popping seeds into the ground was going to be a breeze after what we’d just accomplished. Which, in retrospect, is pretty hilarious. Because as you probably could have guessed, the unexpected happened. So here’s my story (how come I always have a story?), and we shall call it: “The Solid Gold…That Never Was.”
As you can see, we built up a lot of beds, requiring a lot of materials. The leaf mulch came from my dad’s, and since it was springtime, grass clippings were free and abundant, too. We also had animal waste from the barn and all of the debris we’d collected when clearing out this space. But that still left me very short. I needed dirt, a lot of dirt, but from where?
A couple years ago I’d had to purchase soil from a local landscape company to fill in some raised beds. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a complete waste of money. Nothing grew well in it and what did grow was tasteless and pretty terrible. I had no desire to repeat that experience, so when Scott suggested that we dig into the old manure pile, I thought it was genius idea. So genius that I (briefly) wished I could take credit for it. That pile had been growing there for many years, and when Scott nicknamed it “Solid Gold,” the name stuck. Giddy, we started hauling in gold by the tractor load.
I was feeling pretty fabulous when we finished up that last bed. Sure, I was exhausted, but so what? The gardens were complete. I headed upstairs that night thinking about how good it would feel waking up the next morning and knowing the job was finally done. But standing in the shower and letting the cool water wash away a layer of hard-earned grime, an unsettling thought struck me.
While spreading the Solid Gold I’d noticed a lot of what I thought was old animal bedding, just old shavings that hadn’t fully broken down. It was no big deal because it would have made for perfectly fine lasagna garden material. But now I had creeping doubts. Doubts that I didn’t really want to entertain because it may make all of those beautiful beds…unusable. And after a quick trip out to the manure pile and some superficial digging around, my suspicions were confirmed. It wasn’t shavings I’d innocently spread, but decomposing…particle board.
What ensued was a family conversation in which everyone desperately tried to convince me not to do anything rash (like walk away from the entire garden plan). They reasoned with me, perhaps got slightly frustrated with me, and tried to convince me that it was all fine. Perfectly fine. To which I replied that I would sleep on it. So I did. And upon waking the next morning, I quietly slipped on my boots, headed out to the garden…and systematically began tearing apart vegetables beds. Each and every one.
I quietly hauled away many wheelbarrows of dirt. And then I just as quietly hauled in many more wheelbarrows of leaf mulch to replace it all. And did I mention it was hot? Because it was. Summertime hot. But since I knew that Scott was experiencing significant guilt (he’s the one who tossed the old particle board out there, in spite of my many lectures that it wasn’t a garbage pile but a manure pile), I went about things quietly. In order to spare him further remorse, I didn’t announce my plan; I simply got to work. Time was ticking, and if I wanted this garden to happen (and I did), there was much to be (re)done.
Jordan and Riley Mae eventually caught on and while Scott was at work, we slowly, steadily, and laboriously remade each bed. This time was exponentially harder with no tractor at our disposal, but I’d decided there was no way I was going to plant my precious organic seeds in beds laced with chemicals. And one day, working out under the blazing hot sun, Riley turned to me with a smirk and said: “Solid gold, huh? Looks more like fool’s gold to me, Mom.”
And on that witty note, I’ll end the sad story of how overnight my Solid Gold became Fool’s Gold. I imagine I was just as disappointed as any self-respecting prospector, and likely just as tired and dirty too.
New (& Last) Dilemma
And now I’d very much like to tell you that the renovation/restoration is over, but sadly…it wasn’t. Not yet. (Seriously, this project grew by the day.) The next major phase of the makeover presented itself not long after my baby plants began reaching for the sun.
I’d originally decided to leave the paths between the garden beds as grass. I’d envisioned neat and lovely grass-ways that my bare feet would happily roam over the summer months. It would be quiet and soft. But my lush garden paths weren’t manifesting as I’d envisioned them. Instead the growth was straggly and tough, and it was determined to spread only in the spots that I didn’t want it to. I’d made time for gardening, but I had no interest in making time for excessive weeding, too.
More family talks. More plans introduced and more plans tossed out. But finally, after one quick phone call, yard after yard of crushed stone was delivered. Thus began the final phase of the garden makeover. And after more cardboard layers and many (very heavy) tons of stone, the Back Garden was finally complete.
And after that, the real magic began…
Mornings were my most favorite time out there. In the cool quiet I would water all of my thirsty little friends, noting their progress and marveling over vegetable babies. Everything was doing well and the pests were at a minimum. I was harvesting summer squashes by the basketful and admiring new blooming flowers every day. But there was one growing thing that baffled me…
The pumpkin seeds that we’d gotten from a friend were growing beautifully, taking over the garden in their usual lush and green way. The “problem” was that only two of our pumpkins were orange, while the rest were oddly white. I kept my eye on them, wondering if maybe they were some type of gourd. The mystery only deepened as the summer wore on and the white things grew and multiplied.
After our final harvest, Riley Mae decided to investigate. Her sleuthing ways paid off, and we discovered we’d grown a hybrid. It wasn’t until we cut one open that we completely solved the mystery and learned we grown…Squmpkins! Our friend’s pumpkin plant must have cross-pollinated with a spaghetti squash last season and the result was a pale hybrid. With flesh similar to a spaghetti squash, they turned out to be delicious! And minus the one we lost to a ravenous woodchuck, we harvested about half a dozen from a single plant. They were a fun (and tasty) garden surprise.
Until Next Year
There were other unexpected (and large) jobs that presented themselves to me over the course of the summer: Some poultry wire to keep out the bunnies, some sand to keep out the slugs, and some new beds for next year’s herbs. As poison ivy threatened to invade, I bravely stepped in and eradicated the pest. And then was quickly rewarded for my efforts with a very itchy and sleepless week and a half. The poison ivy might be gone, but it definitely had the last word.
And so that is where I’ve been hiding myself. The plants were happy, I was happy, the bugs and the groundhogs were happy. Our harvest was plentiful, and plans are already underway (at least in thought) for next spring. I didn’t get to try my hand at canning as I’d anticipated, but there’s always next year. Because if I thought gardens were a thing of my past, I was obviously (gratefully) wrong.
But now the beds have been put to bed. They’re all tucked in–nice and cozy–with a fresh layer of leaves for the winter. Quietly they’ll sleep away the snow and the cold in preparation for the growing days of spring. I’m already looking forward to it, and for some strange reason, I get the feeling my gardens are, too.
And for anyone who made it this far, I thank you. I’ll be back soon, because I’ve got so much to share: recipes, tutorials, perhaps some deep and wandering thoughts… So much to say, so little time.
Many blessings ~ Melinda