Asparagus Beetles

I love asparagus.  It is truly one of my favorite foods.  When we planted 75 roots a few years ago, I thought all of my future asparagus desires would be fully realized.  I was wrong.  We planted 50 more roots this spring.

Last year, I noticed these teeny tiny little black specks on our asparagus, and it occurred to me that they were the eggs of some kind of insect.  Yep.  No problem.  We just washed them off before we ate the stalks.  No big deal.

It didn’t occur to me to scrape the eggs off of the skinny stalks that we allowed to go to seed.

Our asparagus season began with serious damage done by those blasted asparagus beetles!  It is amazing to me that three relatively small insects can completely destroy a healthy stalk in less than 24 hours…and still have time to lay a few dozen eggs.  Ugh!  The good news is, that unlike cabbage worms and tomato worms, asparagus beetles are not at all camouflage.  They are easy to see and easy to kill.

Twice a day, I walk up and down my rows of asparagus, knocking dozens of beetles off of the stalk and into a cup of soapy water or smashing them between my fingers before scraping the eggs off each stalk.  Sounds fun, doesn’t it?  This is the reality of pesticide-free gardening, folks, and this is why you pay more for it.  Growers need compensated for the carnage.  Gardening can be a nasty business.

Between the beetles and a late freeze before which I neglected to harvest the stalks that were up, we’re a little light on asparagus around here.  It’s a sorrowful state, truly.

The way I see it, I have a choice here.  I can be mad about it or I can learn my lesson and move on.  I mean, I am the one who allowed the eggs to reach maturity instead of getting rid of them when I first noticed their presence.  And, I am the one who was too busy to take the time to cut the asparagus in case of freezing temperatures.  I can’t always control the bad things that happen around here, but I certainly can control the way I respond.

This makes me think of sin.  The devil plants negative thoughts in my mind.  Do I let them stay and grow into something destructive?  Life throws a variety of obstacles in my path.  Do I deal with the momentary inconvenience of handling them immediately or do I give them the opportunity to bring permanent, lasting damage?

I have a choice.  It is almost always easier to do the work up front than to shove it to the back burner to deal with later.  Just like asparagus beetle eggs appear relatively harmless in the beginning, so does the first sign of sin.  And, the Bible tells us that when sin is full grown, it gives birth to death.

Years ago, I heard a preacher say, “Sin will take you further than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay and cost far more than you’re willing to pay”.  Based on my life experiences, I can emphatically agree with that.  It will never get any easier to deal with the ugly in our lives than it is right now.

Frostbite

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We had a very heavy frost, possibly an actual freeze, a couple of days ago.  We lost both our sweet and sour cherry crops as well as most of our peaches, which is pretty sad for our family.  Fortunately, we had not yet planted much in our garden that would result in total crop failure.

Our potatoes sustained some frostbite, so I spent some time this morning cutting back the dead, damaged leaves so that the healthy parts of the plant can keep on growing.  We had mulched them pretty heavily the day before the forecasted frost, but we hadn’t completely covered everything.  Our broccoli plants and sugar snap pea seedlings still look a little rough, but I think they’ll rebound okay, too.

One of the things I respect about gardening is the reality that I am really not in control.  There are often certain things I can do to protect my various endeavors, but there is always an element that is completely beyond my grasp.  In my opinion, this is a healthy, humbling realization.  No matter what resources I have at my disposal and what energies I invest in all that I hope to accomplish, my ability to control every aspect is an illusion.  In order to have peace of mind, I’ve got to be okay with that.  I have to know when to keep working and when to let go.

Relationships have the same limitations.  We can only do what we can do.  Love.  Forgive.  Pray.  Repent.  Not every relationship is going to work perfectly.  Not every season is going to be an easy one.  At some point, we’ve got to be okay with that if we want to maintain peace of mind.  We can only do what we can do, and then we can ask God’s grace to cover over our mistakes.  That’s where the peace comes in.  We do what God calls us to do.  We work on the dead, damaged places in our own hearts, giving room for God to grow the healthy places into something living and productive.  We also have to allow for others to work on their own lives…or not.  We must relinquish the illusion of control.

I confess that this is a difficult concept for me–one that I struggle to learn time after time.  I can only do what I can do.  Love. Forgive. Pray. Repent.  Fortunately, if I shift my focus to these things, there is always more than enough to keep me well-occupied.

 

 

Deep Bed Mulching…Check!

Even though it ended with me completely drenched from the rain, I am thrilled to have deep-bed mulched almost all of my section of the back garden this afternoon.  It was a lot of work, because I waited too late in the season to do it (which meant having to mow or pull the weeds I’d allowed to get out of control).  And, to be honest, I was slightly tempted to mow the whole thing and just till it under.  BUT, it took me two years to convince Dave to leave a section of dirt for me to try my “hippie” approach for enriching the soil, reducing weeds and retaining moisture.  We’ve had remarkable success in this test area in the two years since I started it, but Farmer Dave is still reluctant to let go of time on the tractor for the rest of our garden space…and I completely understand.  I like driving our old John Deere 2010, too!
Today, I basically unrolled a huge round bale of hay that has been decaying at the edge of our woods for a number of years.  I then spread the rotting hay over the area that I had just mowed.  In some areas, I put down sections of newspapers under the hay, too, providing an additional barrier against the thistles that I’d allowed to establish.
In the past, I’ve mulched with grass clippings, soiled hay from our chicken coop and truckloads of dead leaves.  It’s a lot of work on the day we mulch it, but the energy it takes to maintain is almost nothing for the majority of the growing season.  Our plants stay moist in dry weather and don’t become overrun with weeds when the rains hang on.
For most of the rest of our gardens, I mulch in between rows after planting as opposed to covering the entire space each year.  This is still greatly beneficial, but driving that heavy tractor over it at the beginning and end of every season seems to undo some of the weed barrier and soil aeration that the deep bed mulching allows.
I ran out of hay before I could totally finish, but I know that, with all of the rain we’ve had, there will be plenty of grass clippings this week to fill in the gap.  It really feels good to have such a big job done!

Time to Plant

Ahhhh…planting season already.

Sometimes, in my brain, it sounds more like, “Awww…planting season…already”.

Other times, it resembles more of an, “Aaaaaaack!  Planting season!!  Already!”

Regardless of my current personal feelings on the situation, it is, indeed, time to plant in the State of Indiana.

Sigh.

We began putting in cool-weather crops a couple of weeks ago.  We followed up with a second planting of many of them today–beets, sugar snaps, radishes, leafy greens.  We also planted candy onions, kale, turnips, parsnips and kohlrabi.  A rainbow of seed potatoes were put in a week ago, and our rhubarb is coming up nicely.  The broccoli plants my husband started will be ready for the dirt in a week or so.  We should be able to sample our first little harvest of this season’s asparagus tonight.

I struggle to comprehend that it is once again time to plant the produce that it seems like I just finished putting up for winter.  I seem to have lost an entire month…or two.

Lately, I am increasingly aware of how quickly each day passes.  Weeks that used to seem to meander along are now gone in what seems like moments.  I am trying to hold on to the routine, the mundane, the essence of what our life here at home has always seemed to be while still embracing the changes that teenage children bring.

I’ll be honest:  I miss my little ones.  I miss their simplicity and wonder and snuggles.  I miss bedtime stories and tickle times and three meals together each and every day.  I don’t resent the changes that have come with having older children, and I do not wish things were different, but I genuinely miss those days of sticky fingers and blowing bubbles and three sweet kids being scrubbed in the tub.

I am so thankful that I was able to spend my days at home with them.  I wouldn’t change that for the world.  However, if I could do it all over again, I would choose to be even more present in the moment.  I would choose even more long, lazy walks, even more times together bundled up in the snow, more times looking into their eyes and telling them who God has created them to be.  I’d let go of more of the lesser things and hold more tightly to the greater.  I’d play more.  Cherish more.  Ask more.  Pretend more.

Listen more.

I’d commit to less outside of their world and do more in it.

I have never felt like I sacrificed myself when I chose to stay home with my kids.  Instead, I feel like I have been impacted in such a life-altering, faith-building, comfort-zone-stretching way that I am better for my investment in their lives.  They have softened me and challenged me and clarified for me in a way nothing else ever could.  I am seeing glimpses of the harvest in my children, and I am pleased and humbled.  They each shine in their own beautiful way even as they continue to learn and grow and navigate this garden of life.

I am so thankful that I took the time to sow when the soil was ready.  Lord, help me to tend to their fertile hearts with the fruits of Your Spirit.

 

 

My Favorite Things

I was recently invited to be the guest speaker at a ladies’ tea party.  The event was a community outreach, and the theme was “My Favorite Things”.  Various women in the church hosted a table then invited other women to fill the seats around that table.  Each table was decorated by the host, and guests voted for their favorite table display.  A light luncheon was served along with a variety of hot teas and a hot chocolate bar.  Music was provided by a local group and I was to speak on my favorite things.

I love the idea of this luncheon, because it is so personal for those who are invited.  Each woman is specifically asked to be there as the guest of someone with whom they already have a connection.  The planning committee was warm and gracious, and the atmosphere was relaxed and fun.

In preparation to speak, it was good for me to ponder upon my favorite things.  There is so much of life that I enjoy, but I found it beneficial for me to really meditate on those things that can be considered my favorites.  Because I was asked to keep my presentation between 20 and 30 minutes, I left a lot of things out.  Like my extended family, my pets, getting mail and Alaska.  I had to draw the line somewhere.

Here’s what I came up with:

My husband, Dave.  We celebrated 21 years this month.  He is patient, forgiving and hard-working.  Even though we had some significant trouble early in our marriage, we mostly live at peace now—especially when I resist the temptation to micro-manage him.

My kids.  As of this month, I have three teenagers in my house.  They are fun and funny (and sometimes frustrating).  It is exciting to see them grow in their giftings while learning to manage (or not) their weaknesses.  I see a lot of myself in them…and I see a lot of what I wish I’d done differently.

Our home.  We call it Country Haven, and it is my safe place in the middle of nowhere.  We have big gardens, a few animals, a young orchard, a big front porch and a warm woodstove.  At any given time, there are a dozen (at least) projects in the works, but we keep plugging away.  It is mostly a place of peace—one of the gifts Dave and I most wanted to give to our children.

Food.  I have loved baking since I was a little girl.  I learned to enjoy cooking as a necessity.  Most recently, I have come to appreciate growing and raising our own food as a means to an end.  And then there’s eating.  I have been highly genetically engineered to love to eat.  It’s a family tradition.

Managing my resources.  This may sound strange to some, but it’s true.  I kind of look at my family as my employer.  I manage our resources here at home in order to generate income for our family.  Sometimes the income generated is money for our homeschooling needs; more often the income fuels our bodies with healthy foods.  We work to live within our means, which isn’t always easy, but it sure makes life simpler.  I did not used to love this aspect of adulthood, but I was pleasantly surprised to realize that I now do.  I see it as an answer to prayer.

Naps.  I loved my kids’ naps when they were little, and I love my own power naps now.  Most people are more pleasant when well-rested; I’ve learned that my family prefers me to be pleasant.

Teaching, writing and sharing.  I have done some really dumb things in my life.  Like, seriously dumb things.  I have also done a lot of things that just didn’t work–as well as a lot of things which have.  I like sharing about all of these.  I enjoy encouraging others to focus on their own personal abundance of resources—their talents, abilities, time and money.  I believe that our culture prefers to encourage us to play the victim card, and I believe that recognizing the power of personal choice and responsibility can free a person to be who God has created them to be.  Whether it’s a class on cooking, canning, gardening, saving money, home management or parenting, I like sharing what has worked for me.

Change in seasons.  Each season holds wonder for me, and I embrace each one for what it offers.  Dave threatens to move south when he retires.  I’ll miss him.

Time with friends.  Whether it’s a cup of something hot to drink, long walks, dinner out, chit-chats, laughter, commiseration, heart-to-hearts or even the occasional hand smacks, I treasure my time with friends.  Though I prefer to do the smacking through the leading of the Holy Spirit, sometimes God uses a friend to smack my hand in regard to a particular issue.  This is not always comfortable, but it is necessary for personal growth.  I had my hand smacked over coffee with a friend a couple of weeks ago, and I wrote her a thank-you note.  I want to grow in my faith.  I want to be a better wife and mother and friend.  This is easier to do when I’m willing to take a good, hard look at what I’m doing (or not doing) and measure it against what God has said in His Word.  Sometimes, I find that I’m at peace with my choices; sometimes I find that I need to change something.  I am thankful for friends that speak the truth in love and for the maturity that allows me to weigh their words against the words of Jesus.

Though there are lots of good things in my life, things are not perfect.  I have real struggles with things like broken relationships, addictions, regrets, tight budgets, insecurities and misunderstandings.  Sometimes, I don’t feel appreciated, understood, valued or even loved.  In these times, I struggle with the temptation to focus on the yuck.  Part of me wants to lash out, part of me wants to pull in, part of me wants to somehow even the score.   Sometimes, I just want to check out of the situation altogether and quit trying.

Then I remember Jesus.

I remember the healing He brought to my marriage 18 years ago when we were one signature way from divorce and humbly re-committed our relationship to Him.

I remember the joy He has brought to my life through parenting.

I remember the cycle of abusive, angry behavior He is working on breaking with me.

I remember the times I just didn’t think that I could take one more day of the rejection, the disapproval, the regret.

I remember the times He has looked so deeply into my ugliness, seeing the utter blackness of my darkest thoughts and most hidden moments, and loved me in spite of them.

I remember the obedience of a young couple, the birth of their perfect baby, the patient determination of a carpenter’s son, the cruelty of the cross and glory of the resurrection.

Loving and being loved by Jesus are my most favorite things.

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Fall Food

Fall is my favorite time to cook.  We have an abundance of high-quality, low-cost ingredients on-hand and I feel good about spending the time to actually putter around in the kitchen with them.  During the summer months, when our gardens are at peak production, we eat well…but without much time invested.  We harvest what’s ready and slice it, grill it, roast it or steam it and that’s pretty much the extent of things.  There’s very little baking, very little time actually spent making something out of all of those amazing ingredients.

Once most of the harvest has been frozen or shelved, though, things are different.  I can feel good about spending time on actual recipes, dishes that have multiple steps–making sauces, layering flavors, taking the extra time that has eluded me since April or May.  Plus, the temperatures are cooler and the heat from the oven doesn’t seem quite so insidious.  Instead, it beckons me with aromatic memories of crusty breads, hearty meatloaves, tender briskets and caramelized vegetables.  Sigh.

Today has been such a morning.  I’ve been turning out food left and right:  maple-glazed butternut squash, chili-rubbed sweet potato fries, sausage fajitas, oatmeal-jam bars, chunky applesauce.  Almost all of these things have major components that we raised right here on our little hobby farm, and it just feels really good.  Whether the food is staying here or being taken to folks with new babies, I feel like it has been a labor love.  Truly.

I confess that I did not feel so warm-and-fuzzy six weeks ago when I was sweaty and exhausted and sore and dirty almost all of the time.  There were many nights that I wished a pizza fairy would delivered a highly-processed-hot-and-ready pizza pie directly to my tailgate so that I could wolf it down without having to even leave the garden.  And, from past experience, I can tell you that I will not feel quite so rosy about our homegrown fare once March rolls around and we are down to the ever-present frozen corn, canned green beans and stewed tomatoes.  But, even then, it feels good to not have to think about what’s for supper.  It feels good to live well within our means.  Even then, when we sit down to vegetable soup or green beans, sausage and potatoes for the fourth time that month, I am thankful.  Ever-conscious of having so much more than so many others.  Ever-grateful for the land, the energy and the opportunity to grow good food for my family and friends.

Now, though, we feast with friends and we feast with family, sharing the beautiful, flavorful bounty of another abundant season.  Thank You, Lord.

Planting Potatoes

I am a month later than I would like to be, but our potatoes have officially been planted for the year.  It feels good to have another garden chore checked off the list.

Potatoes are one of my favorite things to plant because they’re so easy.  We don’t even actually put them in the ground.  We lay them on top of the ground and cover them with mulch or straw or composted manure.  To keep the rain from washing the mulch away and the dogs from digging the spuds up, we plant as many potatoes as we can inside old tires.  This method has been a relatively simple solution to the problem of clay-like soil that prevents us from easily planting potatoes the old-fashioned way.  (Yes, I know we’ll probably die from the chemicals leaching out of the tires into the potatoes.  It will taste better than dying from Big Macs and Funyons.)

I must confess that I had a lot of help with the planting.  My three kids were there with shovels and wheelbarrow on standby.  Two preschoolers we know and love were ready to help with trowels and fistfuls of dandelions.  A neighbor rode up on his lawnmower and put all of the tires on his property at our disposal.  Oh, and the puppies.  Our two 10-week-old puppies provided lots of moral support and comedy relief.  And exercise.

If the seed potato people are right, I can expect approximately 150 pounds of tasty potatoes from the six pounds of seed potatoes I planted.  Wouldn’t that beautiful?!  There’s not a single potato dish I couldn’t try with that kind of harvest!  It’ll probably be three months before the plants die back enough for a complete harvest, but I confess that I occasionally begin sneaking out new potatoes as soon as I see flowers forming.  There’s just something magical about gently feeling around in the mulch for enough small taters to roast for our supper before carefully tucking and patting everything back in as I prepare to head up to the house with potatoes in my apron pockets.

That’s garden glory right there.

I’ll be busy enough over the next few weeks with all of the other tilling, planting, weeding and watering that time will fly by.  Soon enough, there should be potatoes on the menu.