According to almanac.com the dog days of summer run from July 3 through August 11 which is normally the hottest and most humid time of year in the northern hemisphere. Around here every day is a dog day. Just ask Ranger and Trooper. But, yes, the HEAT IS ON and it is accompanied by a dry spell so keeping the gardens watered has been the main focus for the past week or so. If you are curious about how we manage that on our off-grid farm you can check out our off-grid irrigation system here.
In the mean time I put together a collection of pictures that I’ve taken over about the past few weeks to share with you.
This is how Ranger cools off on these hot days. (Did you know beagles can swim?)
and Trooper enjoys laying on the beach after a swim in the pond.
The grandbabies love the water as much as the dogs do.
Dragonflies are yet another creature that appreciate the pond.
This one is drinking water from the sand. Check out the honey bee (on the left) that photo bombed this shot. She too was coming to the beach for a drink of water.
This beauty hung out with us on the beach, for a couple of hour yesterday evening, fluttering about and pausing now and then to rest or perhaps get a sip of water.
One last pond picture because we can never have too much cuteness. LOL.
Speaking of cuteness, here is a double dose – twins.
The lavender is gorgeous this year and the bees and butterflies are all over it.
We have transitioned from strawberry season to blueberry season. On the same day that my husband, and (daughter) Kara, picked the last of the strawberries, I took (daughter) Tina, and Jackson and Addy into the blueberry patch to pick the first ripe berries. While Kara took her 3/4 of a basket of strawberries home. Addy couldn’t wait, so she ate all of the blueberries we picked while they were still at the farm.
Start them off young – that’s my motto. They posed for a group photo then dad took Jackson and Addy, one at a time, for a ride on the tractor.
The garden is flourishing. I have harvested basil and calendula flowers twice so far.
We have green tomatoes, peppers starting to develop, blossoms on the eggplant,
blossoms on the green beans and the corn is knee high.
We cut garlic scapes (check out this post to learn more about scapes) about two weeks ago and will be digging garlic soon.
It seems that every summer our back field is dominated by different plants. This year it is full of clover and birdsfoot trefoil and I think it is just gorgeous. It’s also great bee food.
I’ll leave you with one last photo of this pair who stopped by our deck for a short visit last week. They were kind enough to stay so I could get a photo then they hurried on their way.
Thanks for visiting and remember – stay hydrated, breathe deep and stay well.
I have to admit that writing this post has been very challenging for me. As I thought about what our prayer garden is and what it represents my thoughts ran deep, and at times it seems like the answers to what it is, why it exists and how it came to be have turned into questions that that I can not definitively answer. As I struggle to convey the information about our prayer garden I can only pray that God will give me the words I need and that they will perhaps be a blessing to someone who reads them.
Flowers offer more praise to God than man ever shall. ~ Ninian Riley
What Is A Prayer Garden?
When I typed that question into my internet browser this was but one of the definitions that showed up. I selected it because it does seem fitting.
It said: “Used as a quiet place to relax and recharge, a meditation or prayer garden is a place of peace and tranquility. It’s personal space with no right or wrong design elements. A prayer garden can be a small, private corner of a larger garden, or an entire section of your landscaping may be designed around a theme of thoughtful serenity. Planting perennials helps to avoid stress from constant garden maintenance chores, and including beautiful accents — natural or manmade – helps you focus on positivity.”
What Is Our Prayer Garden?
It could be called a flower garden or and herb garden because of the vast array of both flowers and herbs that we grow there. It could be called a rock garden because many rocks were used in it’s construction. It could be called a pollinator garden because bees, butterflies and many other pollinating insects are attracted to the various flowers when in bloom. It could be called a memorial garden since we have planted flowers in memory of my mother, my husband’s mother and my Aunt Shirley. It could also be called a friendship garden since many of the plants have been given to me, some by my children, others by my sisters and some that were added this year were sent by a lady who my husband met this year while working at his landscaping job, and when the plants in the garden need to be thinned I often dig the roots and pass them on the family, friends or neighbors who will give them a new home. Our prayer garden is all of these things combined.
It is the center piece of our farm from which everything else seems to radiate. It is bordered to the west by the pond and the east by the driveway with the barn standing on the other side of the drive. The windmill stands directly to the north of the prayer garden, only a few feet outside the garden edge, and the apiary is just a short distance from there. It is not visible from the road so when in bloom it can be a glorious view as you round the bend in the driveway and are greeted buy the colorful display.
Honestly while it is this “center piece” that we refer to as the prayer garden, it is the entire farm that evokes feelings of peace and serenity and elicits the desire to pray – to commune with God. While it may seem contradictory, we find that even while working on the farm we are often able to recharge.
In Our Beginning
When we first bought our farm, the property had been unused (by humans) for many years. The previous owner had planned to build a house there so he had done some excavating, put in somewhat of a driveway and the well, but it seemed that it had been at least few years since those things had been done. What I’m trying to say is that things were growing wild. We spent a lot of time exploring, discovering and deciding.
We wanted to be good stewards of the piece of earth that God had given to us, so there were many decisions to be made. We wanted to make the land useful, that we may grow our food and raise livestock, while utilizing all of what the land could offer and preserving much of it’s natural beauty. Through exploring the land we discovered that God had given us much more than we had prayed for.
One of our early priorities was having access to water. There was a well on the property but at that time there was no pump to retrieve the water – it was simply a capped well. Since there was no electricity on the property, and that was not a priority, we purchased a hand pump suitable for deep wells and then had the company that drilled the well come out to install the pipes that were needed to hook up the hand pump.
Another thing we needed to do was to protect the well head. It was in an open area and we feared it was at risk of being hit and damaged by some type of vehicle. We purchased a galvanized metal ring and placed it around the outside of the well head then filled the rest of the ring with white stone. It then seemed to be a good area for a flower garden so in the fall we planted tulip bulbs.
The pictures below are what it looked like one spring day in 2012.
The following day when I arrived at the farm the deer had eaten all of the blossoms off of the tulips and all that remained were stems and leaves. I wanted to cry.
In the fall of 2012 we decided to have a pond dug. My husband and I have done the majority of the landscaping and building on the farm. Only twice have we called in professionals to do work which was beyond our abilities. The first was digging the pond. The second was building the barn last June.
While it was necessary to have excavators do the digging, the design of the pond was ours. We spent hours talking about the layout, measuring, staking, then cording off the area that was to be dug out. They needed to stay a certain distance from the tree line on the west side of the property and a certain distance from the well. They were given explicit instructions and my husband was on-site most of the time the work was being done to assure that our expectations were met.
The above photo was taken in the spring of 2013.
After the pond was dug my husband and I worked together to landscape the area. He brought in top soil with the tractor bucket and we raked it out. We used rocks that we found on the farm to build a retaining wall to prevent soil erosion. I can’t remember exactly what plants we put in at that time but I know they included lavender, salvia and thyme (all deer resistant plants by the way). We then purchased mulch and spread it.
The large rock was one that was unearthed when the pond was being dug. My husband and I found it appealing so we decided to display it in the garden.
We ordered the windmill that spring. It was a bit pricey but would serve dual purposes. The first would be to pump life sustaining oxygen into the pond. The second was for watering plants during dry spells; so along with the windmill we purchased a pump that would pump water out of the pond. You can read about our off grid irrigation process here. After the windmill arrived my husband and I worked together to assemble it. We then invited family over for a windmill raising party.
Over the past few years the garden has continued to evolve. Many new plants have been added and most of what we have planted there has flourished. I sometimes find it necessary to remove plants as well.
The photos below were taken over the past two years.
Why A Prayer Garden?
Now that I have covered the “what is our prayer garden” and told you how it came to be I will address the Why. This is where I was most challenged when putting together this post.
I am not sure when the idea of a prayer garden first came to me or where I even first heard the term. It was likely something that I read about online because that is how we get a lot of information nowadays. I do remember that it was around the time when we were working on landscaping the garden area that I decided that making garden stepping stones was a craft I might enjoy. I experimented with making a couple that I gave away and one that I made that I wanted to place in our garden.
On the stone I made for our garden I imprinted one of my favorite Bible verses. For we walk by faith, not by sight. 2 Cor 5:7. I have found this verse meaningful for many years but even more so after our experience with buying our farm and the blessings we received by waiting on God’s timing. I place the stone in the garden as a continual reminder of how God is always working behind the scenes and if we follow His lead we will be blessed. I think it was around this time that I decided to call this our prayer garden.
I have grown to see the prayer garden as an offering to God – a way to honor and glorify Him, so I was struck when I read the quote at the beginning of this post. These words – Flowers offer more praise to God than man ever shall, were spoken by my Great, Great, Great, Great, Great, Great Grandfather, Ninian Riley, who lived from 1725 – 1814. It was while contemplating this post that I received an email from lady named Kathy Strawn, a third cousin that I have never met, and the family historian. She sent some documents that she had created regarding family history and one of the documents contained the above quote.
Upon reading those words I felt an immediate, yet somewhat eerie, connection to this ancestor who lived so long ago. I wondered where did they come from? Where were they documented? Kathy had referenced the Diary of Nancy (Riley) Clarke Salt as the source and an internet search led me to this site where I was able to read Nancy’s diary. Indeed within the pages Nancy explained that as a hobby her grandfather, Ninian, enjoyed tending to flowers a she attributed that quote to him.
This information led me to some questions: is this just coincidence, finding that my distant ancestor had a love of flowers like I do and that his words that were documented more than 1 1/2 centuries ago would so accurately define my feelings? or is there something more – some type of divine inspiration perhaps? These are questions that will certainly not be answered in this lifetime.
While writing this post it also occurred to me that God would likely be pleased with a garden that was built and maintained in His honor. I draw this assumption from the realization that in Genesis 2:8 “The Lord had planted a garden in the East, in Eden; and it was there that he put the man.” God Himself was a gardener and thought the garden to be a fitting place for His greatest creation – man.
I think I will conclude this post by answering a question that may have been on your mind throughout your time reading this – “Do you pray in the garden?” you ask.
Yes, I do pray in the garden, but not as you might imagine. It is when I am on my hands and knees in the dirt, working the soil or pulling weeds, that I feel God’s presence and am moved to converse with him. I offer prayers of thanksgiving and pray for those in need. I pray for friends and family and if you come to mind I will likely say a prayer for you as well.
I know this post was longer than most of my posts and if you have read to the end I am grateful.
It’s hard to believe that autumn is here. I just wanted to hold on to summer – perhaps indefinitely. Since it is humanly impossible to stop time, the best I can do is hold onto and treasure the memories that Summer 2019 gifted me. I have decided to place some of these precious memories in this post where, like keepsakes in a trinket box, they will be safely stored and I can return to them whenever I like. I will also share them with you.
At The Farm
In early August I used my hours at the farm for picking blueberries, watering plants, and mostly weeding the prayer garden (this is the time of year that weeds really start to take over if they are not kept in check).
I had mentioned in one of my earlier posts that the prayer garden was in full bloom. My husband said he wanted to correct that statement but didn’t. He is right of course – by design the prayer garden is in continuous bloom, from early spring, when the daffodils appear, until late fall, or at least until we get the first frost of the season there is always something blossoming.
By mid August my chore list had changed. We had some decent rain so we didn’t have to do much watering. We began picking tomatoes and peppers and I began cleaning our 2019 garlic crop.
For the past four weeks or so the focus has been on harvesting our garden and either cooking and eating or preserving the harvest. While most of the tomatoes have been frozen so far, I did manage to get 15 quarts of tomato sauce canned. We have been enjoying fresh red skin potatoes (boiled or made into potato salad), Swiss chard (sautéed with garlic, cooked into an omelet or added to a cream cheese stuffed chicken breast), baked butter nut squash, tomatoes (fresh on the side, on a sandwich, or cooked into homemade pasta sauce) and stuffed green peppers. I also cut up three small cabbages and started the process of turning them into sauerkraut. This is the time of year that all of the work pays off.
Busy, busy, busy.
We have eight healthy hives right now and our son-in-laws hive is thriving as well.
We have harvested honey three times this summer from three different hives. Each harvest yielded approximately 30 lbs. of honey. After we harvest the honey and wax from the frames my husband sets the frames back out for the bees to finish cleaning them up. The picture above shows the bees completing this task.
A few weeks ago one of the hives swarmed. My husband captured the swarm and put it in an empty hive. He then placed a feeder with honey in it on top. The next day the bees had left that hive. We are not sure why they weren’t happy there but they did fill up on the honey before leaving.
The eight Jersey Giants that were cute little chicks this spring are now full grown hens. They began laying in eggs in August and will hopefully keep us in fresh eggs through the winter months.
Normally I don’t make a lot of soap during the summer months but I found I was out of a few varieties. I decided to have some fun with it.
My sister had given me some silicone mini molds so I made a few small bars using them. I can see making holiday themed sample soaps or using teddy bears or duckies as favors for a baby shower. They would however need to be clearly labeled “Don’t Eat It!” as I would want someone thinking they were white chocolate.
I have also been practicing using my soap stamp and getting better at it. It’s really a matter of stamping the soap when it is still just a little soft.
Family and Fun
In early August we planned a family picnic at the farm. Not all of the girls could make it but Tina and Ken brought our grandkids and Kara also came out. After we ate, our three year old grandson, Jackson, went fishing with his dad and grandpa and caught his first fish. I didn’t get any pictures of this because Tina and Kara and I had taken (granddaughter) Addy to pick blueberries.
Not only did Addy enjoy picking the berries she enjoyed eating them as well. The cutest part was that each time Addy, who is learning to talk, picked a berry she would say appo (apple). The first time she said it we thought it was so cute we laughed before telling her “berry”. So after that each time she picked a berry she would say “appo” and laugh then when we told her berry she would say “ber-ry”. Her laugh was so contagious that we were all laughing each time she said “appo”.
In August my husband and I went plant shopping. Normally I don’t like shopping. The exceptions are going to a greenhouse or nursey and shopping for yarn or other craft supplies. Each spring we usually go to a local green house and pick up a least a few plants for the year but it’s quite easy for me to get carried away and buy way more plants than I need.
You may remember from this post that my husband was working at a greenhouse this spring and was able to bring home many plants that would have otherwise ended up in the dumpster. With all the free flowers we had there was no need to go plant shopping…until August. While working the landscaping job that he started in July my husband had to make a trip to a nursery where they purchased anise hyssop plants that would be planted at one of the jobsites. “They had pretty purple flowers and the bees were all over them,” he said as he told me about the plants. I knew this herb had some medicinal properties and if the bees like it then we should definitely plants some.
I did a little homework and found that anise hyssop is generally a plant the deer avoid because of it’s strong fragrance. This sounded like the perfect addition to our prayer garden.
We purchased two large plants that were in full bloom and two smaller (less expensive) plants that should continue to grow each year until they are about a foot wide. I understand that these plants also drop seeds each year that will readily sprout into new plants. These plants are still blooming more than a month after we planted them and I saw bees foraging in them yesterday. 🙂
As we were walking through the green house I noticed a table full of flowers that I was not familiar with. They had bright orange and yellow flowers. They were marked $5 each. After asking an employee if the deer would eat them and being assured that it was not likely, I picked out two yellow and one orange. (There I go getting carried away.) The plant is called lantana. It wasn’t until we got them home that we realized that they are an annual so will not be coming back next year. 😦
We took a Sunday off in August to visit the Armada Fair and watch the tractor pulls.
My husband and I wore our matching tractor pull t-shirts so my daughter snapped a photo of us. We were joined by daughters Kara and Lindell and Lindell’s boyfriend Brysen. We arrived early enough to walk through the animal barns and view the exhibits before the tractor pulls began. I’m not sure which is cuter baby goats or baby cows. I love seeing them both.
We also filled up on lots of expensive fair food. I wonder which was higher the calorie count or the price.
For those of you who, like Brysen, have never seen a tractor pull, let me sum it up. Basically tractor pulling is a competition to see who’s tractor can pull a weighted sled the farthest. If you would like a little more information see this article.
This tractor, named Cruel Intentions, is owned by the Capozzo family. They also own and operate the excavating company that dug our pond. This is the tractor we were rooting for that day and they did take first place in their class.
After the tractors were finished they brought in a couple of semi’s that did an exhibition pull.
In the photo below I was trying to get a shot of the score board that electronically records each tractor’s speed and the distance they pull but my aim was a little high.
After viewing this photo I did spot something I hadn’t noticed before. The street signs to the right of the score board mark the intersection that leads to the adult beverage tent. If you can’t make out the signs they say “Good RD” and ” Beers LN”. That made me chuckle.
The beverage tent was the other place we visited at the fair and while I mostly stuck with non alcoholic beverages that day I did end up drinking a glass of hard cider when Lindell ended up with an extra one.
Even though autumn has arrived, and the temperatures have been slowly cooling, we are forecast to have at least one more of summer-like day today and I will happily take all that we can get.
It is said that as you get older time seems to go faster. It is also said that time flies when you’re having fun. I’m not sure which it is, and I suspect it is a combination of the two, but time sure does seem to be going quickly. Here it is well into June already and it seems I have missed a lot of the things I should have written about. I thought I’d make this a catch up post.
Planting and weeding were two of our priorities in the last week of May and first week of June. My husband and I worked mostly together to do a thorough weeding of the entire garlic field. We spread it out over 5 or 6 days working 2 to 4 hours each day and it looked really good when it was finished. We are now just pulling big weeds as needed in the garlic. I have also spent time pulling weeds in the Prayer Garden, and devoted almost a full day to weeding the strawberry patch and asparagus. We have pretty much waged war on weeds and for now we seem to be winning the battle.
My husband has also spent a lot of time getting the garden planted. He started with the fifty tomato plants that he has grown from heirloom seed, as well as some green peppers, cabbage, and cucumbers. We had our annual date to the local green house. The green house is one of the few places I enjoy shopping and usually I spend way too much money buying plants. This year there were only a few thing that we needed because my husband had started much of what we needed from seed. He picked out a couple of egg plants and some leeks and I bought a couple of rosemary plants but they were all out of culinary sage that I wanted. I did get a couple of Russian sage plants. Although they are not edible they should look nice in the prayer garden and the blossoms are said to attract butterflies. Maybe the bees will like them as well.
We had another swarm of bees. We watched the entire event. Above is the beginning when the group was starting to leave the hive.
It’s hard to make out in the above photo but all the little yellow spots against the green areas and all of the black spots against the blue sky are bees. They settled in a picturesque location nearby.
The flexibility of the pine branches made it easy for my husband to slip a bucket up over the swarm. He then shook the branch while holding the bucket around the swarm. Nearly all of the bees fell into the bucket. He covered it with a lid and carried it to the empty hive.
He dumped the bees into the hive and put the inner cover on. He placed a piece of wood over the hole in the top of the inner cover to keep the bees inside. He went back to the pine tree and repeated the process to collect the bees that were left behind.
We watched the hive and saw bees gathering at the small slot in the side of the inner cover. This was a good indication that the queen was inside and the workers were going in to be with the queen.
It’s now about a week later and this hive along with our other 5 are all doing well.
The Irises are in full bloom in the Prayer Garden. When I was planting rosemary and sage the other day a lovely fragrance caught my attention. Since the Irises were the nearest blossoms I walked to them and took a sniff. Wow! Spicy-sweet. I then took a long deep breathe to fill myself with this wonderful scent. These have only been in place for a couple of years and have really just taken off this year. I always thought that Irises were planted for their showy flowers, and that is why I planted them. I never realized that they were aromatic as well.
I guess this just goes to show that we should take time to stop and smell the Irises. I’ll consider this a lesson learned.
Harvesting and watering are now our primary activities. Our asparagus crop was significantly affected by the wet weather this year and we harvested less than 50% of what we had last year. The strawberries are ripening and I have picked about 7 quarts so far. I am freezing them for now and will make jam with many of them when I have more time. I have also picked and dried oregano, spearmint and chocolate mint.
In 2013 when our prayer garden started to take shape it was only about 1/3 of it’s current size. To dress it up that spring I remember buying 8 bags of mulch. It was not enough. I ended up making a second trip for 4 more bags.
The following year, after we had expanded the prayer garden to nearly it’s current size, buying bags of mulch was just not feasible. My husband took his pickup truck to the local landscape supply and brought me a truckload of mulch. When I had emptied the truck and spread all that mulch in the prayer garden, it wasn’t enough. He made a second trip and brought back another truckload of mulch so I could finish the job right.
The next year the prayer garden had expanded slightly to it’s current size and since it is a main focal point on the farm dressing it up is important to us. It took three pickup loads of mulch that year to do the job. This was getting to be expensive.
Last year we decided to take a different approach. I had read that often times tree trimming companies will deliver free mulch if they are in the area and need a place to dump it. There is actually a website where you can sign up to have mulch delivered. https://freemulch.abouttrees.com/#!/home Rather than take our chances with this website, hoping that maybe one of the companies in our area participate, we decided to take a more direct approach. Last May when I saw a crew trimming trees in our community I immediately told my husband. He found where they were working and stopped to talk to them. He asked what they do with the mulch. He was told they usually take it back to their facility and sell it. He told them if they wanted a location near buy to dump a load we would love to have some. He left them with the address to our farm and his phone number. We didn’t really hold much hope that we would be getting mulch from them, but later that day when we arrived at the farm we were pleasantly surprised.
This mulch was a little crude. It had larger pieces and some whole sticks that apparently passed through the shredder unscathed, but the price was right. I was more than happy to pick out the pieces that didn’t belong as I spread the mulch over the prayer garden. Not only did we have enough to cover the entire prayer garden we were able to use it for some other projects as well.
We used it to build up a couple of pathways through the woods, and we mulched around our currant and blueberry bushes.
This year we have a different priority. We had an extremely wet winter and that weather pattern has continued on in to spring. I am hesitant to curse the rain as for several weeks last summer it was so dry we were praying for rain. So since we can’t change the weather we have to find a way to deal with it. Our property is old farm land that has not been graded, groomed or manicured, as a result we have high areas and low areas. In wet seasons the some low areas do not drain and become either puddles of standing water or just a mucky mess. We decided we needed to work more on drainage by building up the low areas. We talked about using wood mulch, but since our supply from last year was nearly gone we thought saw dust might be a better option.
We are blessed to have a friend who owns a saw mill in the area and we thought we could get a couple truck loads of sawdust pretty inexpensively. When my husband went to get the first load he found that there was an abundance of saw dust and our friend refused to take any money for it. “Just get it out of here” he told my husband. So my husband shoveled the back of his truck full of sawdust and brought it to the farm.
We started by dressing up the area around the chicken coop.
The second truck load was spread in the apiary and a third load we used to build up another muddy area that we use often.
While sawdust might not be as effective as mulch for weed control, it will certainly help build up low areas, absorb water and eventually biodegrade.