Saturday, February 18, 2017

3 Simple Tips to a Successful Garden this Year

February might be brown and cold here in Pennsylvania, but colorful seed packets are arriving in the mail and I'm beginning to dream about gardening.

There is a danger in dreams. I've watched gardeners turn over soil and plant seeds in May with hopeful optimism. But too often those same gardeners throw up their hands in despair three months later as the August weeds put the death-choke on their plants.

Sometimes that gardener has been me.

What can I do to help insure a successful garden this year? 

This past year I watched two beginning gardens. Both were located on a road that I travel often. I don't know if this was the gardeners first garden, but in both cases, they started with a bare stretch of lawn and turned it into a lush garden. From driving past on the road, I couldn't tell how much they harvested from their garden, but both gardens were obviously cared for throughout the season.

Here are a few of my observations of these two gardens and the tips I've gleaned from my own gardening experiences.

1. Dream within Reality

Neither of these gardens were large. I might be a poor judge of distance, but I'd guess the one as a 10 by 20 foot plot. The other garden consisted of four raised beds maybe 3 by 6 feet. They did not turn their entire yard into a garden. They didn't plant a market garden. I have seen many beginning gardeners fail because of planning too large of a garden.

A wise gardener will plan realistically, which is more difficult than it seems in the spring. It is easy to forget the reality of August, when the weeds, heat, and bugs conspire against the most hardy gardener.

Last year I purposely planted a smaller garden. I knew I would have a six-month-old baby in August and I decided that it wasn't the year to break records.

I didn't regret that decision.

While the two gardens I observed last year were small, they appeared to be well-maintained, which will give courage to plant a garden next year, and maybe, with a little experience under dirty fingernails, the gardener can successfully extend its size.

Planning a smaller garden will also help make sure you are planting wisely. Why plant zucchini if you hate it? Or ten tomato plants if all you want is a few cherry tomatoes for your salad? Evaluate what you already eat and don't pretend you will suddenly acquire a love for eggplant.

2. Have a Plan, And Do It

Both gardeners that I watched last spring obviously had a plan. They didn't walk out to their yard one day, dig a hole, push some green bean seeds in the ground, and hope they would grow.

One of the gardens actually began the year before. One Saturday in late summer Ed and I drove by this yard where a man was busy at work with a shovel and wheelbarrow. It appeared as if he was removing the sod. We made guesses about what he was doing. Planting a tree? Building a shed? But after a few weeks it appeared that the project was abandoned. A neat rectangle section of sod had been removed but there were no further signs of progress.

A few weeks later Ed mentioned that it appeared that they were layering grass clippings and leaves on this section of bare earth. Throughout the fall, more leaves and more grass clippings were added and we guessed that this spot was meant for a future garden. Sure enough, in the spring, this new garden was planted. Those months of adding mulch and a winter for it to decompose would have made a wonderful rich planting bed in the spring. The summer appearance of the garden proved the gardener was rewarded for his efforts in planning a whole season before planting his garden.

The other gardener I watched last year prepared four raised beds. They were simple wooden beds, narrow enough to reach into the middle easily. Again, the work of preparing this garden was resulted in lovely growing conditions.

3. Sit and Enjoy

I've long been a proponent of "walk your garden." In other words, spend regular time in your garden, both to enjoy it and recognize problems while they are still small.

But maybe I should change that to "sit in your garden." The gardener with the raised beds placed a bench beside the garden. They also planted perennials, maybe herbs, nearby. The garden was directly beside the house and certainly added beauty to the home's landscape.

The other garden didn't have a bench beside it, but I often saw a small child's riding toy in the yard and a large deck was nearby. My impression was that these were people who spent time outdoors.

If you plant a garden, find ways to enjoy it. Take your coffee outside and listen to the robins at dawn. Or carry out a lawn chair and watch the bats come out to eat the mosquitos at sunset.

There are many ways to provide food for your family. A garden is not a necessity for most of us. So keep it manageable, plan well for your success, so you can sit and enjoy it in August.

If you find ways to enjoy your garden, you are more likely to have positive memories to make you spend your brown February days planning the success of your next garden.

What are your tips to a successful garden? Or am I the only one who is dreaming of gardening?

For more garden info, check out our garden page.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Question: Baked Beans

A reader sent me the following request.

I am looking for a special recipe of baked beans that are baked for hours in a stoneware crock. I lost my mother's recipe. Would you have one by any chance? - Gloria

I have tried making baked beans several times, but have never been entirely pleased with my recipe. Can any of you help out me and Gloria? They don't have to be baked in a stoneware crock, but I am looking for baked beans that don't come from a can. :)


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Five Marks of a Bond Servant

I've been working on a Sunday School lesson from Luke 17 this week. With its topics of faith, servanthood, and gratefulness, it has been a personally challenging passage.

Roy Hession wrote about this chapter in The Calvary Road. He gave five marks of a bondservant. I'm sharing them here.

Five Marks of a Bond Servant

by Roy Hession from The Calvary Road

1. Must be willing to have one thing on top of another put upon him, without any consideration given him.

2. In doing so he must be willing not to be thanked for it.

3. Having done this, he must not charge the others with selfishness.

4. Must not congratulate himself for having done the first three, but realize that it is only the Lord in him that enables him.

5. Realize that in doing and bearing all this in meekness and humility, he has not done one stitch more than was his duty to do.

This is the Way of the Cross.

Read the whole chapter from The Calvary Road online.

Friday, February 3, 2017

22 Favorite Soup Recipes

It may be cold and dreary outside but as long as I can serve my favorite soup and stews, I can keep it warm and cozy in my kitchen. I think soup is the ultimate one-pot meal - chock-full of veggies, easy on the grocery budget, and always yummy.

Here's some of our current favorites.

Chicken Rice Soup

Zesty Venison Soup

Stuffed Pepper Soup

Taco Soup 

Garden Chowder

Steak Soup

Cheeseburger Soup

Italian Meatball Soup

White Chicken Chili

Broccoli Cheese Soup

Tuscan Bean Soup

Beef Vegetable Soup

Ham and Bean Soup

French Onion Soup

Corn Chowder

Zuppa Toscana Soup

Hamburger Soup

Wisconsin Potato Cheese Soup

Soups In a Jar
I like to keep a few soup-in-a-jars on hand for those busy days when I need a meal I can dump in the crockpot and forget for the day.

Friendship Soup

Five Bean Soup

Southwestern Three-Bean and Barley Soup

Peasant Bean Soup

What am I missing? I'd love to try your favorite soup recipe.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Bookmarks: Africa Children's Books

I might not be able to visit the sunny plains, vast deserts, or dusty roads of Africa but through books, I can take my children on an African safari. I love that books help my children see life through the eyes of another child. A library card is much cheaper than plane tickets.

Here a list of some of our favorite children's books set in Africa. Except for the last book on this list, these are all picture books.

Babu’s Song by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen, illustrated by Aaron Boyd
Bernardi longs to go to school where he can play soccer every day, but he and his grandfather have no money for school. When an unexpected source for money appears, Bernardi has to choose how to use it. A sweet tale of family love set in Tanzania.

Where Are You Going Manyoni? written and illustrated by Catherine Stock
Colorful water-color paintings take you on a journey in the Zimbabwe bush as you follow Manyoni through the African veld on her way to school. Excellent examples of the camouflage that animals use to hide.

Handa's Surprise, written and illustrated by Eileen Browne
Handa prepares some fruit for her friend, but along the way Kenyan animals help themselves. A fun story for young children introducing both African fruit and animals with delightful illustrations.

Planting the Trees of Kenya:The Story of Wangari Maathai, written and illustrated by Claire A. Nivola Wangari was appalled at the destruction of trees in Kenya and started the Green Belt Movement. This is the true story, told with watercolors, of the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

At the Crossroads, written and illustrated by Rachel Isadora
Our fathers are coming home,” sing the children as they wait at the crossroads. But when will they arrive? From the segregated townships of South Africa comes the story of family reunions after long months of separation.

Rain School, written and illustrated by James Rumford
Thomas can't wait to go to school and learn to read, but first the school has to be built. Vibrant illustrations take you to the African country of Chad where children work hard for the privilege of attending school.

Galimoto by Karen Lynn Williams, illustrated by Catherine Stock
Seven-year-old Kondi wants to make his own galimoto and through perseverance, and the help of his neighbors in his Malawi village, he makes his own toy.

Beatrice's Goat by Page McBrier, illustrated by Lori Lohstoeter
In small Ugandan village, Beatrice tends her goat, the goat who has given her a new house and a chance for education. A sweet story with bright paintings that demonstrate how the gift of an animal can help lift a family out of poverty.

The Soccer Fence by Phil Bildner, illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson
Hector loves to play soccer, but because of the apartheid in South Africa, he can't play with the white boys in the other part of the city. A gentle story which tells the story of the 1990s and how soccer brought the people of South Africa together.

Akimbo and the Crocodile Man by Alexander McCall Smith

Life is never boring for Akimbo since his father is a ranger at a wildlife preserve in Kenya. But when Akimbo volunteers to help a crocodile scientist, he gets more adventure than he expects. This, and the other books in the Akimbo series, have short chapters, perfect for beginning readers who want to learn about Africa's wildlife through exciting stories.

Where are you traveling through books this winter? 

This post contains affiliate links.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Question: Adapting a Sourdough Starter

I'm often asked some variation of the following question.

A friend gave me a sourdough starter. It is fed with sugar and potato flakes. I like how your starter is fed with only water and flour. Can I adapt my starter to be fed with water and flour? Or is my kind of starter different than yours? Can I use your bread recipe with my starter? - a reader

My answer to this question: "I don't know." I never tried it, and though I'm tempted to do some experiments myself, I don't have a potato-flake starter to do some trials.

So I'm throwing the question out to all of you. Have any of you adapted a sourdough starter from being fed with potato flakes to just flour? Were you successful? Have you used a potato-flake starter in the sourdough recipes I share here?

I'd love to hear about any experience - good or bad, yummy or bleh. If you would rather not let a comment here, you can email me. Thanks.

Looking for general sourdough advice? You can find what I DO know about sourdough at the sourdough page.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Spinach Dip

As you might have guessed, I'm sharing some of the recipes that were stashed on my kitchen counter over the holidays. I always wish I had more time to blog in December since there are so many great foods to write about - but this year I decided I'm sharing some of those favorite recipes in January.

A friend shared this spinach dip with us in the fall and it is my new favorite. I know, I know, it is green. And it has spinach boldly in the name. That is enough to scare most from even tasting it.

But I like this dip so much I can eat it straight out of the bowl with a spoon. Except that my children love it too so either I have to hide it or eat fast before it is licked clean. All that cheese masks any spinach flavor, but I can still pretend I'm eating my green vegetables.

And did I mention it is super simple? As long as I have the ingredients in my fridge I can mix it up in minutes.

Spinach Dip

8 oz spinach
8 oz cream cheese
1/2 cup cheddar cheese 
1 T mayonnaise
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp lemon juice

Steam spinach and drain. Place  hot spinach with all other ingredients in food processor and mix well. Serve warm with crackers.

We accidentally ran out of crackers and found this makes a perfect sandwich spread too.


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