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This year’s garden actually began way back during Thanksgiving 2017. We’d recently moved into our new home and hadn’t had time before the end of the growing season to put in a garden, so in anticipation of raising our own fresh fruits and vegetables, we got to work in the fall. First, we wisely planted an orchard so the trees could establish themselves and get to producing fruit as soon as possible. Next, we got to plotting our garden. As anyone who’s ever moved knows, along with moving comes loads and loads of cardboard boxes, which we’d already recycled from our local home improvement store. Instead of burning them, we drug them all out to the spot we’d chosen for the garden, just off to the side of the house, away from chickens, horses, and cows who might’ve otherwise helped themselves to whatever they liked in the garden.
Then, we piled on copious amounts of manure (and Jack says the horses are useless…), let it rest all winter, and waited for spring to arrive.

Problem was that it seems like spring was never going to arrive. It kept snowing and snowing and as much as I wanted to get outside without a winter coat on, it wasn’t happening. In an act of desperation, we took a field trip to our favorite nursery, at the normal time of year that we should have been planting our garden, and bought all our plants.

That was a stupid move.

By the time it was nice enough to plant anything, half the plants had died from lack of sunlight and infrequent watering, because, if we’re honest, Jack is the plant person in our house. I do way better with creatures that can at least moo or neigh or meow to let me know they’re hungry and thirsty.


We made do with what we had. First off, we had to hand till all the manure, and mix in some Indiana topsoil (meaning pulverized clay with sand mixed in…I really miss Nebraska soil, sometimes…).


We worked around a few crawdad holes, partly because they’re kind of cool, partly because they’re so deep that they’d end up rebuilding even if we knocked them down anyway.

Home of the mudbugs, a sort of land-dwelling crayfish. 
Then, it was time to plant! We drilled holes in old tires to put in potatoes…

Most of what we had were plain ol’ russets but Jack is a connoisseur of a great many things, including stuff he tries planting in the garden. This year, it was purple heirloom potatoes that yes, are naturally that purple and no, don’t really taste any different.


Planting what we had left, we still filled up most of the garden. Then, another late season frost came and wiped out just about everything except the Brussels sprouts and cabbage, which happen to like cooler weather anyway. Sigh. So, I went and bought a few more tomatoes and peppers and replanted.


We were super excited that all the trees in the orchard pulled through the long, harsh winter, despite being planted in late fall. Several of them even gave us some pretty blooms, including the cherry trees, which made it as far as producing a few fruits.

Baby cherries.

When all was said and done, the budding garden was looking pretty good and I felt confident in being able to manage it.


We even had help from all sorts of creatures to keep the unfriendly bug population under control. We spotted lots of praying mantises, a few stick bugs, a snake or two, and plenty of frogs and toads.

Can you spot the praying mantis hatchling? It’s TINY!

After such a bizarre winter and non-existent spring, I shouldn’t have been surprised that summer was any different. We hardly got any rain and the temperatures shot up to stifflingly hot for several weeks. We let the plants struggle a bit to establish their roots but eventually, made the call to water when they were looking limp with heat exhaustion.


The heat did produce one surprise for us…a cherry that actually made it all the way to ripe! It was a pie cherry so even though Jack split it in half to share with me, it was tart enough to make my mouth pucker.


One thing we haven’t gotten back into since our move is aquaponics. Why bother keeping fish and plants inside when there’s an entire pond outside, fully stocked with largemouth bass? Still, Jack is always experimenting and instead of an inside system, he cut out holes for pots and filled them with lava rocks and seeds to see what might grow as it floated around the water. Initially, the peas did well but were eventually killed by the heat, which then made several types of herbs grow in abundance. I foresee many floating gardens in our pond next year.


A few weeks, a decent rain or two, and the garden took off. Really took off. As usual, my ambition with the garden resulted in a tangled mess of plants who didn’t have enough space to spread, so they simply started climbing all over each other. The pickling cucumbers overtook the tomatoes. The watermelon and cantaloupe fought. And any peppers that might’ve done well were swallowed up in the zucchini. Sometimes, ambition isn’t a shining virtue.


I did my best to keep up with the weeding but after a trip to Portugal, followed immediately by a Nebraska Fourth of July, and we came home to find the garden chewed to the bone by bugs and/or nearly dead from another sustained heat. Sigh.


What always amazes me about Mother Earth is that even though I often fail at keeping up my end of the bargain to tend the garden, it still produces like crazy. We had zucchini, cantaloupe, watermelon, habanero peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, strawberries, cucumbers, cabbage, etc, etc coming out of our ears.


When we couldn’t eat anymore, we processed what we could, usually chopping it up and freezing it for use later in the year when vegetables aren’t as abundant.


Good thing during summer break there’s LOTS of time for kids to learn to earn their keep. Plus, give them a loud machine or sharp knife and they feel important and grown up.


The champion of the garden by far were the pickling cucumbers. They kept coming and coming until I’d made so many batches of pickles that I’m not entirely certain we’ll be able to eat them all before next year. What we didn’t use, the chickens ate…so, yay for not wasting! Jack turned his precious habaneros into dried powder and pretty much puts it on everything I make, the freezer is full of tomatoes waiting to be turned in to spaghetti and pizza sauce, and we have so much zucchini that we’ll be able to make breads with it for months.


Though the garden is always a lot of blood, sweat, and tears (I hate, hate, HATE those cocklebur weeds that popped up in the garden and look all innocent until you grab them, and they ruthlessly stab you), and it certainly pushes me outside of my comfort zone and challenges me to do better than I have in previous years. I’m learning slowly and at the end of the season, I’m pretty tired of dirt under my nails, but come next spring, I’ll be raring to go.

Claire eats raw tomatoes from the garden. I feel a little sick every time I see her doing it. But seriously, good for her.

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True stories of raising children, remodeling, braving the elements and plotting out life, all while living on a humble acreage in central Indiana.

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