Sunday, February 14th, was the perfect winter day for getting out for a walk. The sun was shining, the wind was light, and the temperature was around 30 F (-1 c). It was also before Old Man Winter dumped 13 inches (with drifts as high as 5 feet) of winter wonderland on us. It’s funny how a snowfall that can be welcomed and appreciated for it’s beauty in December loses it’s appeal by February. This particular “winter wonderland” that came on Monday and Tuesday only has us wondering how soon spring will get here.
As we all wait for spring to arrive I invite you to join me for a walk at the farm.
There were a only few inches of snow on the ground when my husband, who was preparing for the big storm that was in the forecast, put the back blade on the tractor then decided to test it out by making a path around the back field. (The snow that came with the storm was not so easily moved.)
Can you spot Trooper in the above photo (that’s him about dead center)? Ranger is out there too but we can’t see him in the photo.
We discovered several area’s when the deer had been digging to find food (grass) under the snow.
There were more of these areas behind the barn. (I wonder how the deer are faring post snow storm.)
The windmill was mostly still that day.
All of the plant life is dormant this time of year,
but I find the buds on the maple tree encouraging, even if they are long way from opening.
We have two squirrel nests on the farm but I didn’t see any signs that the squirrels had been out lately. No squirrels, no tracks, and Ranger did not pick up their scent.
The chickens were out enjoying the sunshine while trying to keep their feet out of the snow.
My husband had given them some hay to scratch and peck through.
Although the temperature was still below freezing, snow was melting on the top of the barn and flowing from the down spout. Sunshine on black shingles will do that.
My husband took some time to hang out with the boys (dogs) in the van, but when Ranger spotted me he made a quick exit.
He greeted me as I walked up the driveway.
In recent days my husband had repaired the lawnmower that he got from his dad. He couldn’t wait to show me how well it was working. You may remember this post from last year where we determined that my husband might be a little crazy. Yep, he is still at it. LOL!
So I thought we could have a little fun with this photo by offering you a chance to caption it. Please leave your caption in the comments section below.
P.S. We are not easily offended so go ahead and have some fun with it.
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.
Since the farm does not have electricity hooked up, watering the gardens is not as easy as hooking up a hose and turning on a sprinkler. One of the reasons we put in the pond four years ago was to have the ability to use it for watering.
Our pond was dug according to the township requirements. I don’t remember the exact slope ratio but it has a gradual slope for the first 30 feet all the way around the edge. We gave it less of a slope at the beach area because we anticipate grandbabies playing in the water. After the first 30 feet it becomes a deep hole dropping down to 20+ feet. The clay bottom helps to retain water. So there is not much likelihood of it drying up.
In the spring of the following year we put up the windmill. Like the pond the windmill has more than one purpose. It aerates the pond through a hose connected on one end to the windmill and on the other end to an airstone diffuser that sits on the bottom of the pond. The windmill adds life-giving oxygen to the pond. The windmill is located on the bank of the pond. It is somewhat central to our various garden locations. It’s second function is to pump water out of the pond for irrigation purposes.
We purchased this pump, from the same company that we bought the windmill from, in order to pump water out of the pond. While I can’t explain the mechanics of the pump, I know that one hose connects from the windmill to the pump. It pumps air into the pump. A second hose connects to an outlet on the pump and pushes water out.
We discovered the one downside to this pump a few weeks ago. In order to prevent it from being damaged by freezing during the winter the pump is removed from the water in the fall. It must be reinstalled in the spring. This spring the temperatures were slow to warm and we had many days without rain. Since my husband found himself carrying buckets of water from the pond to water things that were newly planted, we knew that the pump needed to be installed. The truth is if I had to install the pump, I would have continued to carry buckets of water to the plants. Even though I love spending time in the pond in the heat of the summer, it takes several days with temps in the high 70’s or 80’s before I am ready to go in. My husband on the other hand has spent much of his life either playing or working in or on the water. I am sure he has experienced water temperatures like this before.
I was not surprised on May 12th, being only the second consecutive day with a high temperature in the low to mid 70’s, that he decided he had to put the pump in the pond. I’m not sure what the water temperature was, but I do know that it was not warm enough for me to get in the water, and it was not comfortable for him, at least getting in. He asked that I not take pictures, so I complied with his request. I watched the faces he made as he walked into the water, and introduced his body, especially the sensitive areas, to the cold temperatures, I told him it was ok to cuss. He didn’t. It may have taken about 15 or 20 minutes for him to get the pump in place and afterwards he said “it really was not that bad”.
When the water is pumped out of the pond we run the hose to one of the strategically located 275 gallon holding tanks. My husband has installed spigots near the bottom of each tank that a garden hose will attach to. He also made a level area on the side of this hill for one tank to sit on. Since getting the water from the tank to the plants requires gravity the raised tank provides more pressure and the tank will drain down farther.
When we use the garden hose to water individual plants we place wooden stakes at row ends to act as hose guides so dragging the hose does not crush plants.
When we want to use drip irrigation we connect the hose to this pvc pipe that has small holes drilled in it. It is capped on the opposite end.
We also discovered the need to raise the drip pipe up in some areas so my husband went to a pile of limbs, from trees we have cut down, and found some branches that have a Y in them. He cut them so the are about 2 1/2 to 3 feet long and stuck them in the ground. Three of them, appropriately spaced, will support the drip pipe when it is placed in the Y of the three sticks.
While our prayers for rain were many, we are also extremely grateful for the wind that allowed us to irrigate the crops until the rains came. Last night and today we have had our first sufficient rainfall in several weeks. We will now be able to take a break from watering the crops and face the battle of the weeds that continue to grow with or without water.
I don’t know about other writers but it takes me a while, anywhere from couple hours to a couple days, to write a blog post. I’ll write some, then go back and read and edit and stop to do other things or just collect my thoughts, then I’ll write some more and reread and edit and you get the picture. It seems to happen quite often that I’ll be working on one post when something else comes up, and I decide to write about that instead. At this point I have no fewer then a dozen drafts saved, potential posts that are started but just haven’t got completed and published yet. I suspect that some will get finished in the future, some may be deleted, and some of the thoughts may be incorporated in other post.
With several things on my mind this morning, I just realized that life is happening faster than I can write. (This is probably why I’ve never been able to keep a journal for very long.) Todays post we be about various things.
In Like A Lion
It’s hard to believe that today is March 1st already. See what I mean about life happening fast. Today is actually March 2nd. Still hard to believe. Whichever day it is, March did arrive and in our area it came in like a lion. I wouldn’t describe it as a raging or even roaring lion but the lion was not sleeping last night either, it was perhaps was just resting or playfully romping. We got a decent amount of snow, but as seems to be the case lately, not as much as the weather forecasters predicted. Probably the most accurate weather forecast that I heard yesterday was given by the radio DJ that said “were gonna get a lot of snow”. Since it was snowing pretty hard at that time it was a safe bet that he was right. Looking at flat surfaces outside it looks like we got about four inches, but since it was a light fluffy snow and the wind was blowing, some areas on the ground may have eight inches while others only have a couple. The “lion” may have caused adverse travel conditions, and shut down schools and senior centers, but I am not aware of any power outages or actual storm damage in our area. The “lion” did give us the opportunity to play in the snow a little today. 🙂 My big hope now is that when “March goes out like a lamb” it is not an unruly lamb.
Maple Syrup Update
One thing I didn’t realize about sap flow, and I don’t know how typical this is, was how it will stop and start again. Since the temperatures have been so unstable we have had the sap flow for a day or two, then stop for several days, then flow for a day or two, then stop again. We had a whole week between the first sap boiling and the next time we had sap to boil, but this past Sunday, with temperatures topping out near 60 degrees, was a great day to be at the farm boiling sap. While my husband was there all day, I joined him there for a few hours and took some pictures of the process that I did not get during the last syrup making.
You can see in the above pictures that the sap has boiled down some.
The next series of pictures shows how the sap will foam up and boil over if the fire underneath is extremely hot.
Stirring the pot and reducing the flame brought it back down.
The next picture shows that were getting close to the point where we will finish it off on the stove in the house. It has cooked way down and is turning brown. It also tastes sweet.
When we brought the sap home the first step was to filter it. To do this we used a jelly bag set inside a flour sifter. It may not be a professional method, but it works. We did set the filter up on two small glasses to give the sap room to drain into the pan.
We then followed the same process that we did previously, boiling the sap until it became thick and reached 219 degrees Fahrenheit on the thermometer. Instead of bottling it immediately like we did last time. We let the temperature drop to 200 degrees and filtered it again.
Last time we did not filter it after boiling, and we ended up with sand in the bottom of the jar. I did a little research and found out that the sand is formed during the boiling process, so in order to have clear syrup it must be filtered after the boiling is complete. This time we do not have any sand in it.
My husband estimated cooking about 50 quarts of sap and our yield turned out to be these (10) 4 ounce jars of syrup, equal to 1 and 1/4 quarts, so our ratio of sap to syrup was 40:1. And the flavor is oh so good!
Sharing The Kitchen
With Sunday being such a nice day the sap continue to flow and my husband spent yesterday, again, cooking sap at the farm, while I spent the day at home peeling garlic to dehydrate. Once I got the approximately 3 lbs. of garlic peeled. I realized that Dom would be bringing syrup home to cook this evening. Knowing that once I put the garlic in the dehydrator the smell of garlic would permeate the house, I decided that I would wait. I don’t know if it would happen, but I didn’t want the syrup to pick up the smell and perhaps the flavor of garlic. Garlic flavored syrup just does not sound appetizing. I put the peeled garlic in a zip lock bag freezer bag and put it in the fridge for the night.
We cooked up some of the sap last night and the rest will remain in cold storage until we are ready to cook it. Today the garlic is in the dehydrator. It should be finished by tomorrow morning.
The chicks are doing well.
Getting their pin feathers.
Enjoying their playhouse.
And making new friends.
Others Enjoyed Sunday’s Weather As Well
The bees were out on Sunday.
The Chickens enjoyed the weather as well.
I don’t know if the pond ever completely froze over this year.
Widely because the windmill has done it’s job.
You can’t tell from this picture but the windmill was spinning.
That’s All Folks
At least that’s enough for today. Until Next Time 🙂