All posts by Patti

How To make Compost


First I start by leaving the leaves on the ground throughout the winter. It’s harder to clean the leaves up when they are wet and soggy. They’re heavier for one and there is also a layer of dirt that comes up when you that them up.

I use a thatching rake. It seems awkward and heavy. Which it is and the blades of the rake are pretty close to being knives.

I’ve cut through my sneaker sole once, accidentally bumped the blades or  stepped on them. They’ll cut you if you aren’t careful.


It’s angled so that if you use one side of it, the tines dig in deep and the other way they skim over the top and don’t take a lot of dirt.


Then you start making a whole lot of piles of leaves depending on the texture and moisture. The different tree types have different characteristics you can use to your benefit.

Nature gives you everything you need for free in the fall winter and spring. And in bountiful proportions if you have a lot of leaves every fall. 

I’ve read that it’s best to clean your leaves off in the fall, but that is what is best for lawns not a nutritious blend of natural graze native grasses to your area. I have sweet grass, sage, oregano, rye grass, wheat grass all mixed in with the dandelions and any wildflowers as well as some trees the birds have brought in, like Mountain Ash, Maple and Honeysuckle bushes.

I separate the maple leaves which are less wet and light and crunchy from the apple leaves and keep them in separate stacks. You should start at the base of the trees and work outward in 4 parts, in a clock like pattern.

You want to get all the leaves moved away from the trunk to help resist the insect larva from from under the leaves and climbing their way up to the flowers to become apple worms, for instance. Every tree has it’s own pest that feeds off it. I never really get all of the bugs out of the trees and because I am practicing permaculture I want to bring in the beneficial insects to eat the pest insects.

Then you take your stacks and layer your wheelbarrow so you can layer your compost ring. Sticks under dry leaves under wet soggy leaves and repeat. Add in layers of green which is grass trimmings, and a layer of dirty chicken straw every once in a while and ash from your wood stove to add many more layers of nutrients.


This is a good sustainable way to have several aged compost that can be used as long as you do it.


I like to go over the  tree lines that was done the afternoon the previous day. I noticed in the afternoon when you’re tired is the place you start missing the finer details of your work.  And it is the best place to start the next morning.  It’s already loosened up a little or it’s just a small area that was missed. 

It’s easier to get every tiny bit,  by thatching very small areas that border over each other. Every little area ties into the neighboring areas and by the end of the day what looks like a patchwork quilt in the morning is a lovely bit of beauty in the evenings.



You take your clock/pie chart  pattern outward from the leaf line out to the nearest tree neighbor that was finished yesterday. Or mostly finished. It is a lot easier to pick up a stack of rake debris on a patch that was previously and thoroughly raked.

Then I moved toward the blue spuce line.      I lifted each blue spruce branch that was trapped under the tall grass that had them stuck down all the way down the front of the 125ft “wall of living art”  blue spruce line, so the thatching rake didn’t tear up the lower branches. It adds different texture and nutrients to the debris of yesterday’s harvest. I like to mix up the layers of material in the compost ring.

I did the front and then I almost finished the back 125ft.    before I moved to the Hanson cherry bushes that I raked the heck out of too.


Also known as a sand cherry it makes a pretty flowering hedge along the driveway.





It is better for growing as a source of foraging for the chickens with the dark red fruits that have a large pit and bitter skin, Although it does make a remarkably beautiful red wine.


If you’re tired, rest


Pick up the piles of debris and put them in the ring.

June July August

Start adding grass clippings for your green layer. Add dirty straw from the chicken coop for the brown layer. I like using the old wet leaves, the weeds I pull out of the gardens and as much of the grass clippings as I can collect.

Compost your coffee grounds and anything the chickens won’t eat.

With Nothing But Heart

I should have gotten a different name for my website. How-to-barely- or How- to- live- on- pennies- a- day- because- you- have- no-

The Forbes quote of the day, was from Frederique Dame  “Whether success or failure, you need to move forward. The momentum is what is critical.”

So I blew air in the pipes and forced some water out. Got about 10 gallons out, still clogged. Then I carried in some water for tonight. And I took my hoe and went out to find the hose so I can drain that hot water tank and try and get the thing flushed out and just hope like mad it breaks loose. Because that is the last thing I can do from inside the house and not under it.

I found the end at the chaise lounge, next to the garden wagon.  I have no idea how long that hose is. I dug for a long time. Three and four attempts over the course of the afternoon.  I’d say I dug 20 ft in one direction only to find out it looped and went back the same way and now I have both ends out and who the heck knows how much deeper it can go. I’m pooped and I fall even more when I’m tired and if I break an ankle or something, man! I don’t know what I’d do.

It could be bad. You know I never used to think about stuff like that, that breaking a bone in my position could actually be like game over. I’m coping with my Charcot Marie Tooth, barely, my leg braces are broken and can no longer be replaced so I tried to make my own from different things, which actually work pretty well, so that’s good, I am surviving triple negative breast cancer for  over five years, which is a miracle of it’s own, that’s another thing to be grateful for.

Let’s see, rare muscular dystrophy, broken leg braces, my truck is broke down, no running water in the house, but luckily have water in the yard. It really sounds like my life sucks and all that but, things could be so much worse. Yes, my telephone line started crackling yesterday and then when I woke up I found out the line had no dial tone but the internet was OK!  So there ya go.  Made it through the day!

With Momentum. With nothing but heart.

Tomorrow I’ll dig the rest of that hose up. I mean, really… how long is that thing?!

Then, I’ll wash my hair.


Just Snow

That’s about 4 very solid feet of snow







That’s  buried yard equipment,  and the chicken coop and hen house.




The cold frame. The mound of snow that I had shoveled off before was actually taller than the lower edge of the roof.






Me forcing my way through waist high snow to try and get near enough to the cold frame to shovel it off.






The cat house for sheltering my cats between the time I let them out until I let them back in.



Desperate Times Call For Desperate Measures

Week 2 without running water.  I have to carry several buckets of water into the house for just flushing. I had no idea how much water I go through a day. And I always thought I was frugal with water!

My biggest complaint … Oh my gosh I really thought I was done with the living in the aftermath saga of cancer and chemo and that doesn’t even count the surgeries and reconstructions!

But there it is.

I have no strength in my body anymore. I can barely get the water carried in every day. Now, most of it isn’t the walking back and forth, it’s the falling. The tremendous amount of snow we got has softened and hardened and softened again so many times. My walking path, I call it a snow bridge, is softening too and every few steps, one or the other foot will sink through and I’ll slop the water out of the bucket, and it seems like it’s always on me. The end result I have twisted ankles and knees and hardly any water left in the bucket when I get to the house.

I was so tired this morning I didn’t wake up until 11:30. I had make some progress (I thought) by yesterday afternoon. I opened up the farthest spigot in the house and used my air compressor in the cold water pipe behind the washing machine. The air pressure may move the clot enough to just get a flow, right? That’s my thought. I got several gallons out of the pipes, not much out of the kitchen but, still. Any movement should be good.

If I can get it moving maybe I can get it washed out. Next move for tomorrow is I’m going to drain the hot water tank, I may be desperate enough to wash my hair in the water if it has any warmth at all. Two long weeks without a shower and I am really starting to feel the stress of the whole mess.

I never ask people for any kind of help and I’ve become less trusting after being taken advantage of when I was sick for so long, so, I won’t tell anybody anything anyway.

I can make it on my own. I always have. The only person I’ve ever had is me. That’s not likely to change in this lifetime. I’m not fun to hang with like the kid’s Dad, but you know who they call when stuff gets real? So, I know I’ll figure out something.

Record Snow Expected

When things go wrong and they always do, I say to myself whatever happens I’ll handle but man! Sometimes it’s just hard. We got snow, then more snow and then more snow.

Then rain. And more snow. My day is spent in a flurry of worry and trying to shovel the cold frame, the roof, the roofed part of the outside chicken coop.

This may be the biggest snow season I have ever personally had to get through. About 5 and a 1/2 feet in two months. I was getting nervous about it. Then just when I thought that was going steady if not as good as I’d like, I woke up and went to the bathroom and flushed and then the quiet of no water refilling the tank made my heart drop right in my stomach.

I tried the spigot in the tub, no hot, no cold. My dread deepened as I tried the sink.  Nothing. The slow walk to the kitchen, nothing there either. My first thought was what was the temperature last night?

It was about 4 or 5 degrees, WAY too warm even though we had been having a cold spell for the last weeks at minus 20 and colder, bitter bitter cold. I lost the hot water in the kitchen once, but I turned on the dryer and I had the water flowing under the house in an hour or so.

I checked the well control panel fine, the outside hydrants had water. So I knew it was a plug. I tried blowing into the pipe, I have an adapter on my tub spigot. I blew as hard as I could and got a mouthful of mud.

Now, when I got that new well drilled, he told me to run it at least a month. Well, there was a kink in my plan and it took me about 40 days to secure the loan and it didn’t get finished till the first week of October and then we had a freak early freeze of 35 below, so I didn’t understand, apparently, the frost free ranch faucets actually can but, I was afraid that the hose could freeze and then the hydrant would too.

So, I didn’t.

BIG MISTAKE. Now that mud is somewhere in my mainline. I didn’t have the part I needed for the air compressor but I managed to get a ride to town. Because of course my truck is broke down too. I blew a hose when I gave the guy who foolishly jumped my fence to cut through my yard and met my dog (he jumped out pretty quickly too) a jumpstart … so I can’t drive even if I could manage to shovel it out enough to move it.

So, I have the part now. I’ll open the cold water faucet behind the washer, disconnect the hose and try and blow out the pipes and at least get the obstruction cleared enough to – I hope – get it blown out.


Essence of Tomato

I got a special request to explain the essence of tomato and how it’s prepared.

This is a delicious appetizer that is sure to impress. Best of all it is made with what would normally be considered to be the waste product of tomatoes you use for something else.

When you cut your tomatoes up, save all the seeds and juices off your cutting board. I use a tea strainer so I won’t lose as much juice as a coffee filter. You can use a coffee filter but it takes longer as well as it soaking up the juice.

It doesn’t matter what size or type of tomatoes you use, it will be a clear liquid that looks like water.  Of course the bigger tomatoes will give a better yield. It works with either homegrown or store bought.

Put your strainer over your jar or cup. I like to use a bell jar. Pour your seeds and juice into it and let it strain. It can take a little while so I usually just put it in the refrigerator and come back to it.

Throw away the seeds unless you want to keep them for planting later. The clear juice that is in the jar is your essence of tomato.

It is incredible tasting.

You  serve it chilled in a little fancy snifter if you have one, I personally like a shot glass because it’s the perfect portion size.  I also like to put a fancy cracker over the top of the glass.

Immediately before you drink it you drop just a few, like one or two grains of salt in it. I use coarse kosher salt because I like the way it looks suspended in the liquid and then you drink it.

It will fill your mouth with the most incredible tomato flavor. It is always a surprise how much taste can come from that clear liquid.

It will keep for a long time, I’m told a month but it’s so delicious that  I have never had any leftover so I really don’t know for sure.

Enjoy! It is sure to please.

Treat Day

The weather is holding pretty good. In the 30’s, it’s not snowing.

I took the chickens out a nice pumpkin for a treat.

They used to like them a lot more than they seem to this year. I don’t know why.

I may end up having to cook the rest of them and making them into dog biscuits.

I have to say, It’s sure hard to try and find things to to write about during the winter.

It’s a beautiful day again. The sky is almost purple it’s such a deep blue.

This picture is a picture of the remaining ice dam. It’s melting pretty good now. The snow behind it is melting and the water is flowing out pretty good. I’ll go out later today and try and pull the rest of them off.

It’s about time for me to start work on the inside of the cold frame. I am going to harvest whatever parsnips there is this year but I’m not going to re-seed the bed. I decided to grow corn in there.

I’ll do the one side in corn and beans.  I want to experiment in there with early planting and see just how well the different things will do.

I need to check a companion planting table to make sure the grapes won’t suffer. The raspberry canes grew to an enormous height in the summer. Some were taller than me. I was also pleasantly surprised at how bushy they were. It seems like here in northern Montana the canes are short and just a single cane.

In the protected area of the cold frame, they bush out with actual branches growing off of them.  I’m going to have a tremendous berry harvest this summer. I hope.  The berries grow on wood and I didn’t think about that when I planted the canes. I should have staggered the planting by year instead of having cane growth one year and berries the next.

I’m always surprised that no matter how cold it is outside I can go in the cold frame and be able to dig in the soil.

It doesn’t freeze in there even though it’s only 10 to 15 degrees warmer inside.


A Word On Ice Dams

With the Montana winter comes the build up of snow and ice dams on the roof.

The last several days I have been shoveling my roof to get the snow off only to find large ice dams that were too hard to break up. I tried pulling them off then pushing them off only to almost go over the side myself.

So, I tried poking it with the roof shovel handle and that is what finally worked.

I’ve had ice dams before, many times, but this winter has been pretty brutal.  Huge snow loads. It was -35 at night getting up to maybe 7 during the day. High winds pushed them out a good 6 inches and they are heavy!

I learned the hard way not to stand too close when the one i got loose over the back door fell. It knocked me on the arm on it’s way down and part of it knocked the outside light clean off the house.

But, the snow is now falling off by itself and is breaking off nicely.

Look at the pretty day I have to work with today.  A sunny, almost balmy 33 degrees.



Even my chickens are out enjoying the warm weather.

I don’t know how people get videos and pictures of their chickens walking through the snow. My chickens poke their heads out, look around, say nope and go right back inside.

Thank You!

I finally figured out how to let people comment and I’m so happy to read all the nice comments that you all left.

I have to tell you I thought of giving up more than once but I am so thankful for your feedback.

I am happy and surprised by the outpouring of well wishes and your words of encouragement.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you so very much.