How Does Your Garden Grow

My tomatoes are doing pretty well this year. 2015 tomato 1I’ve been eating the Sungold tomatoes daily (my favorites).

These green pear shaped tomato I’m really not sure what to do with. All these tomatoes were given to me by a friend and I lost the names of the varieties somehow.

I am going to pick this tomato and see if it is ripe and if it is not, I’ll fry it.

There are a lot of them to experiment with, so I can try and figure out if it is supposed to stay green.


2015 tomato 2These are Indigo Rose Tomatoes. I love the color. I thought it was ripe and ate one and wow was it unripe. It was awful. They turn so dark purple that they look black and I thought that meant it was ripe. Wrong!

It was super green inside even though the skin was deep purple. Now I am waiting to see if the bottoms of the tomatoes to turn color too. The bottoms of the tomatoes are still green.

The deer have been munching the tops off the tomatoes and ate all the greens off the beets.


2015 tomato 3This is one of the Sungold tomatoes. It is very productive and has bright orange fruit. Every morning I go outside and eat the ripe ones. They are so good they never make it into the house.

That’s OK though because I think eating live food is best for you. Plus they’re just really delicious that fresh.

After the deer munched the tops off the plants the tomatoes really took off so I guess that was a good thing after all.



2015 amaranthThis year I also tried Golden Amaranth grain. It is almost 5ft tall and has large flowers that will (hopefully) turn into giant seed heads. They’re really pretty too. The deer also like them.

I think it’s pretty successful so far. Here the plant is in full flower. We have not had any rain this season. It’s been very hot and very dry.

I try to water at least once a day but my energy levels are still very low. I am starting to feel better but it is still very slow going.


2015 corn patchMy corn is not doing well. The zucchini and squash are not producing either. I got exactly one small zucchini and that was all. Usually you see bunches of flowers and suddenly almost overnight, you have a lot of zucchini growing.

I don’t know if it is the extreme heat or the drought conditions, I water them at the same time as the rest of the vegetables but they’re just not growing.

It was so warm this year I thought the corn would do better. Even the beans that are growing up the corn stalks are not producing. They flowered and did not produce beans.

2015 sweet ptatoesNow these sweet potatoes seem to be doing vey well. I have never grown them before and I didn’t think it was possible for them to grow at all in the northern part of Montana, but, here they are. I don’t know if they are producing roots yet, but they are sure growing.

Some of the vines are over 4ft tall. I don’t know if I am supposed to, but I lay them on the ground and cover them with compost.

Don’t be afraid to try new things. You never know until you try and it could work out great. You just never know until you try.

Hanging Strawberry Bed

During the sunny sojourn of this week I got a few things done. I am glad I put the delivery of my yearly plantings off a couple week because it has been getting pretty cold at night.

I put the splitter on the hose in with one side going to this pipe and one going to the soaker hose.






I call it a poor man drip irrigation system and a hanging strawberry bed out of one of the two two 6″ leftover unused 8ft PVC pipes.

I ran a hose into one side and set the splitter to run harder into the right side, the soaker hose that I have never been able to use before. I threaded the soaker from the pipe through the stand of raspberries the pipe doesn’t water and around to the garden I put in to plant my sweet potatoes, I only have 3 slips so far, I should have started at Thanksgiving instead of Christmas. It’s not a very big bed and it is right next to the parsnip bed, also about 3ft by 3ft, then I put it so the little holes would squirt each of the three grape vines. I wasn’t thinking when I put it by the post instead of between them, rookie mistake.

It’s plenty hot in there. I am keeping a journal of temperatures. I had to set alarms on my cell phone at 9,12,3,6,and 9 again. I found it helpful having the first winter journal in predicting the artificial environment of the cold frame. The strawberry bed, along with the other soft fruits I am trying to nurture in there needs a good steady supply of water. While it is hot in there and moist with humidity but the ground is dry without rainfall.

  I cut this leftover 8ft unused 6″ PVC pipes with holes cut out in two lines that were originally intended for use as sewer pipes. So I counted the holes to make sure it would be an even amount before I started sawing. A good tip to remember: A good tip to remember is “Measure Twice Cut Once” because mistakes are costly.

I colored in the places so I would not make a mistake while I was cutting out the holes. It doesn’t look like it but it’s easy for me to mess up cutting every other one out.


It’s hard to tell from the pictures but the original holes were not even with each other so these large cut out holes are actually diamond shapes.There are 12 holes. I saw the ends here were sloping toward the center so I cut the holes on the other end to slope toward the center too to give it a pretty effect but the way the holes were drilled prevented that.

I’m really happy with how it ended up.  You can see here on my work bench inside the cold frame. This is the finished 12 hole strawberry bed. Then I knocked the dust off. I put the end of the soaker hose inside the empty pipe and looped it at the end. I turned the water on to make sure every part of the soaker hose produced a good supply of water. It’s the first time I have ever had water pressure and even though it seems like I exchanged problems, I feel blessed to have my own water source and it’s already making such a difference. I didn’t have any kind of outside water source for over 3 years and before that the outside water I had was only about 3 gallons a minute.

This hanging strawberry bed does not and won’t ever look fancy, like every thing else at my place, it may not look like all that but it is fully functional. The construction grade plastic walls on the cold frame should last another two years which along with a winter cover that I put on in the fall, it will give me time to get the walls framed in and windows and vents. It won’t be finished for awhile. The roof still has particle board at the top of the clear panels and it will until I can save up the money to buy 16 more panels to finish off the roof for full sun exposure.

UPDATE May 13, 2015

I messed up cutting the spaces in the very center, it weakened it. When I filled the pipe with dirt and soaker hose it sagged in the middle. I reinforced it with more wire coat hangers wrapped around the support beams.

It works but if I had the option to do it again I would leave the middle two spaces in.


Cold Frame Starting To Grow

It took a couple years now to get the raspberries and other plants used to living in this plastic cold frame. COLD FRAME Raspberries 2

COLDFRAME raspberries





I will be framing the walls of the cold frame using antique barn windows this month.

It will still have the bisclean cover for a while to come.

I am going to try and fight the cold nights with this temperature controlled cold frame inside a cold frame I am setting up to protect my tomato, broccoli and other vegetables I am trying to grow. I would love to just have a bumper crop this year! COLD FRAME Germination Station

You don’t have to have perfect stuff to make this work. Most of us don’t have the money to buy this stuff and there is no harm or foul making your own. I think it is a civic duty to know how to grow food no matter how much money you make but especially if you don’t make much.

COLDFRAME sweet potatoesSweet Potatoes. I’m making slips. I only have 3 started so far but we’ll see how many roots I end up getting.

I still have time. Now that they are out in the cold frame during the day the potatoes are really going strong.



There was a big learning curve with temperature controlling an area. I haven’t figured out how to keep it warm at night. It doesn’t frost in there but some stuff like the sweet potatoes can’t be out there in the mid 30’s.

COLD FRAME Parsnips April11This is the parsnip bed now. I missed some of the roots in my winter harvest s they’ll go to seed this summer and I’ll replant them next winter.

Here is what the parsnips look like only 10 days later.

COLD FRAME parsnips April 20They take a long time to grow but they’re delicious and great to know they are there under the soil waiting for me to dig them up.

In February.

How cool is that? Pretty darn cool. Eventually to have fresh vegetables in season in winter, summer spring and fall is the goal.



Putting In Gravel

It’s been a tough week. Here is what the driveway where the burn scar looks like now. Gravel can really make your property look nice and always adds property value.

I bought 3 – 12 yard dump loads altogether. It goes from the parking area here to the front and  the back. The driveway is straight through.

I wanted 4 trips to get 40 yards, I ended up with 36 yards. Contractors have trouble believing you know how much you want sometimes, They either take advantage of you and take your money or they try and help and save you money and this lady contractor saved me money and this is really nice gravel.

It’s not as thick in the back as it is in the front. She was real nice though and I know I can order another load after I finish shoveling this project.

I put some both sides of the step, joining the walkway and deck to the drive way because that’s where the firewood is stacked; it won’t be on bare dirt anymore. Once upon a time I planted grass seed and tried making a hosta bed. The bed is still there, in the picture on the right, covered with pallets at the moment for the firewood.


Both sides of the steps.







I want to get another bucket load for the area by the shop and under the splitter. Half a bucket piled there and the rest near the street and finishing off the back driveway good. 

I want to get all that wood under the white tarp there finished and split but I want that last bucket load in a pile right there in front of the shop so there is no delay in getting to the gravel in that area after I slowly get that wod done. I couldn’t split any until I got gravel under the pallets so one step at a time wins the race.

People think because your sick or disabled you can’t do anything and you can’t make your life better. Well you can! We all can. One thing at a time. Even if you move so slow people don’t know you’re doing anything. I had people say you been busy this week. I say This is the result of 15 years of planning and working toward goals.

Here is a view where it needed refining but for my design and for next winter. I am dragging a thatcher behind my lawn tractor combing the gravel and then I’ll pack it with my pickup.




Burn Pile

burnpile done Done! Exhausted and sore.

The 3 car parking spot going here could someday evolve from this humble beginning to a pad of three quarter inch crush at 3 inches deep to become the future house foundation base. That will be the kitchen and front entry. I want to keep the driveway there where it is.

It’s important to have a dream and realistically work toward it. You have to think so far ahead sometimes that it looks like you’re doing something different. Sometimes it totally looks like you are doing a random thing but it adds up. I do better in the mornings and then rest up.

I went out to the east garden beds and brushed off what little debris was on the soil and turned it a little with my hoe. Of course it only took a little while for the chickens to get nosey and come see if there is any food going on around there. They are nosy but you can put them to work for you by where you spread their feed.





Always busy.



This is what the burn pile of yard debris looked like before I burned it. I always try to be real careful. Now I have a well I actually have outside water I felt so secure. I like to start early in the morning when the air is still and quiet. It can get breezy during the day here. But I always go by the better safe than sorry motto. It’s going to look so much better with the gravel.

Trying to teach yourself to think things out so far in advance is both an art and a skill. I have limited physical abilities and I have to take 2 or three day recovery time. Doing that burn pile took several hours and my leg braces while they allow me to do a lot of things I’d never be able to do, doesn’t do anything for the pain and fatigue. This cancer sucks but I am going to keep trying to slug it out my own way. I’m trying really hard to get back in the land of the living.  I want my kids and everybody else to say, hey if, that crippled old lady can do this, I can do this too.

We should all have food that we regularly from our yard. We should all plant perennial fruit trees and vegetables every year as well. Everybody should learn this skill of at least partially feeding yourself.

Plant it, tend it, harvest it and preserve it. It is a basic human behavior and it is my own cultural background I a trying to reconnect with. Subsistence farming is something my family has done for generations before it was stolen from us by conquest.

Now as I feel the generational pull of my family history, it’s hard to know what to do. What can one person do to change the world? Grow food in your yard and teach others to do it too. Get together with neighbors who’d like to plant trees in a cooperative and share the harvests out equally. Make your yard and your neighborhood into a food oasis.

Yard Debris Burn v Compost & Why

I have until Easter morning as my goal to burn my pile of yard debris. I am going to rake and put the paper dry maple leaves in the sticks and branches off of the willow trees. They are dry and papery in large part because I raked them away from the tree trunk out to the weep line and then I raked and spread the chicken feed a few days and “Voila!”

The apple tree leaves and the little chunks and skins off last years apples as well as the apple tree leaves mixed generously with large amounts of deer poop goes into the compost ring. The assortment of ingredients in the compost pile is what makes a good, living, fermenting compost. Soil is a living breathing part of the planet.

The maple leaves will make good tinder on the pile and the ashes will eventually go into the compost bin. But, These leaves were buggy last year so I want to do some insect control.


The soft hail and off and on again rain makes an already challenging thing even more so. My future visualization is a survival hut from the architect who built earthships. That would be like winning the lottery for someone like me. Or maybe station containers, but the welding is a problem. Heck, any kind of hard labor is lottery dream stuff when you’re living poor in America.

Don’t be afraid to tarp your burn pile to minimize the moisture during frequent spring weather. For the compost pile the rain and precipitation is good because you want it damp.

If you do a little bit every day it will really add up and you can improve your life and find ways to grow food in your yard. Your deciduous leaves are a great resource that most people waste. You can create a lot of high quality top soil if you are diligent about using every source.





Plan For Shade

I’m feeding the chickens where I want them to tear up the long grass and encourage growth. I’m making them look for their food. They do an excellent thatching job where you put their grain in the mornings and afternoons. They also find and eat an assortment of insects where they do and that’s an effective long range insecticide.

1GardenIt’s shady in this particular spot in late March and it will be shady again in late August. Where I live the sun rises and rides high in the sky so this place will be sunny in the warmer months. Shorter season though or good for things like beets and fall greens. You have to plan for shade.

With massive amounts of sand like that backhoe left, I have to attract worms so I dug a shallow trench in the sand and put a few wheelbarrow loads of composted manure in it and covered it with the sand I dug out..

Don’t feel bad if you can literally only move a half a wheelbarrow load, start by doing small trips and dig in small increments.

You’ll get stronger or you’ll just always have to make small trips. The point is just start.

It’s easier to sketch out a garden plan on paper and then build your beds. I like to put in 3ft squares and just join them together. I need to get some more of those green livestock turnips. You have to cook them but the chickens thought they were really good. Easy keepers. One thing for certain I need some cockerels this year. I harvest all the young cockerels in that fall. Free range birds have tougher legs than their never stand up contemporaries at the factory, but the sure taste better and it’s kinder to give them 6 months of running free instead of 6 weeks of sitting in a shed.

The ones I get done now I will be able to plant for a fall harvest. I’m starting to catch on what to plant when. The snow peas go in when you can turn the soil. They seem to like a crisp start. I have yet to turn those front gardens, I work a day and rest one. The fatigue is a real struggle. But it adds up. The time I am taking to write this down is also a real help. I am putting more effort into problem solving. It’s nice when basic survival isn’t the main goal of the day. But, it’s always right under the surface so that is why gardening is so important to every American.

I went to the feed store yesterday, about 10 am. made a special trip and the people that worked there were there, just over at the greenhouse 50 yards away, I saw them and called hello? hello? I’m at the feed shed! hello? I’m here! and finally “I am not leaving this feed store until I get waited on, I know you’re busy, I’m busy too!” It took me awhile to figure out they were pretending they couldn’t hear me. They sort of hunkered down and kept moving trees from the cold frames to outdoors. So I just kept hollering that I wanted some feed. I wasn’t going to drive all the way home emptyhanded and then just to have to drive all the way back out there again and they may or may not wait on me.

They treated me like I was an unwelcome inconvenience at their WAY out of the way, up a bunch of gravel roads – family run business. I support local business but come on that was blatant disrespect to be open for business but pretend not to hear and sell me feed. On a weekday. During business hours. Finally a grandson got on a 3 wheeler, after I’m yelling my head off, came over from the nursery side, put the 2 bags feed in the truck and took the money. It literally took 2 minutes to conduct the business transaction. What kind of community do I live in? I am constantly amazed at the blatant disregard of basic manners from these people, and how to be professional. Then there is the difference in the rural people here and other parts of the country. The people here look down on the working poor.

I’ve been going there for over 2 years. They know I am an old lady who obviously farms too or I wouldn’t be a regular customer at a feed store. Who happens to have CMT and wears obvious leg braces, who is fighting breast cancer as well as being a chicken farmer. They just kept acting like they couldn’t hear me yelling “Hello!” and “Yoohoo” and “Hey!”  I took time out of my own busy day, working my own dirt and that just chapped my hide, they are supposed to be a pillar of the community family and they treat their customers without any respect, at all. Oh, did I neglect to mention I have been too sick to drive myself the last couple years and I drove my own truck for the first time in over a year to get feed alone?! I didn’t show up in a nice truck this time. That may have something do with it.

Forking in Dirty Straw Henny Looking For Worms

Forking in Dirty Straw Henny Looking For Worms

People want you to pull yourselves up by your bootstraps while they treat you like that. Discrimination is alive and well, my friends. All women, people of color. It’s not race as much as it is how people treat poor people.

I’m just an old lady trying to live my family’s subsistence culture, of just barely getting by out of food I grew myself, in my yard, planting a tree a year and a bush every other year. I’ve been trying for years, got pretty good at it too, before the breast cancer; it is the best therapy for fighting any cancer, I think. It’s more a gift to the future more than anything, when am I going to eat the fruit and nuts of these trees? In my lifetime? Then it will all get razed and turned into a parking lot when I am gone.

I hope not, I hope it’s a beautiful gem that my kids and grandkids will enjoy. I work for 15 minutes, really going at a good clip, then maybe get one or two 15 or 20 minute spurt of progress in over the entire day. It’s so much harder when you have health problems, but the best thing is to keep trying, a little bit of something, one thing at a time and it will add up. And once it’s in it becomes an established bed.

Those sections of 3ft are not connected completely yet, but they’re all in a row and since I have to redo it, I can put a little better thought into the design to maximize growth. I did pretty well on beets. I had enough to both make sweet and sour casserole (boiled beets and sour apple in layers with butter and nutmeg on top, baked at 350 for a half hour). And the beets I pickled are now pickled and aged well and delicious.

I’d like to grow some golden beets and pickle them with cinnamon this year. It’s nice to have jars of pickles on your shelves that you grew and made yourself. I have about a case of the red beets I pickled from last year to eat this year. Our yards are our last resource for any kind of  if not self sustained at least an active participation of our own food. It gives you a real sense of satisfaction.

One Thing At a Time

The backhoe took all the kitchens gardens and they have been destroyed. No soil just straight up sand. I am moving composted manure that is pretty hot but to attract worms to pure sand requires food. I try to make just a 3ft by 3ft square at a time.

New Kitchen Garden

New Kitchen Garden

It’s hard on weak or old bodies but I am doing this to document how to garden as I learn more. I’ve been doing it for years, little bit here a little bit there. I’m poor, I can’t afford to buy a bunch of plants. But I can buy one or two trees a year, mail order.

A food forest has 4 levels. the canopy, the sub-story, the bushes, or “brush” level and finally your ground covers. I ordered a persimmon tree and I have to get on the ones I have trying to survive out there. Now I have my own water well, It was too much for me without outdoor water.

Today I forked over the sand where I want the new kitchen gardens to go. I got 3ft sections done so far. One wheelbarrow at a time. I don’t know how many I’ll get in tomorrow.

It’s a good way to fight cancer, digging in the dirt, turning sand to soil.



Still Alive

I got lost but I’m back.

Now is the time for spring cleaning and getting your ground ready. It’s time to clean up what I should have done last fall. It’s hard work too! There is 3 years of leaves to rake up and put in a compost ring. It was a terribly hard winter. The hen house roof blew off in the first blizzard last fall and it had tarps over it until I put new asphalt paper on it on a sunny day in January.

I’ve been in the grey area between being a cancer survivor and being a living breathing well person. That chemo brain is a bitch. But I can feel it, I feel the fog lifting. I started tomato seedlings, broccoli, a couple watermelons (which are doing poorly) in a flat. I got a germination station as a Christmas gift and that is handy. It really helps your seeds in cold living conditions. Austerity measures have been taken with the furnace so it’s down right essential as many of the seeds live as possible. Keeping my fingers crossed there.

I compromised my seed quality for cheap and I can really tell the difference. It’s still too chilly to start most things but I like to plant snow peas as soon as I can work the soil. They’re early starters that like the cold. I have chores to finish before I get to plant though. I’m going to do this year right.

On a high note, the food forest is going to start taking off now that I have a water supply. I lost several trees to cancer, all the nut trees but one. So the canopy has to be replaced. The sub story is still alive which is a miracle in itself. I am planting the brush level with elderberry, goji berry and a male kiwi for that established girl vine.

That cancer, man. I feel like I’m all new, like a shelf model. It’s difficult to get myself going and then pooping out before I get much done. But, if I keep doing a little when I can, it really adds up. Look, I don’t know what’s going to happen next but it’s time to start again.