Category Archives: In the Dirt

Zone 5 gardening!

Gardening for Life

Want to grow more, healthier, tastier produce in your garden, without breaking the bank? Invest $20 in the new book “Gardening for Life” by Wayne Burleson, and start applying their ingenious methods! Wayne and his wonderful wife Connie garden in a USDA Ag Zone 4 garden in the foothills of the Absaroka-Beartooth mountain range in Montana. They also travel to 3rd world countries teaching native people groups how to grow healthy food using found resources and creative methods.
Wayne teaches that the health of any plant is in the soil, and that sometimes the old and mostly forgotten ways are best, feeding the soil and earthworms in order to gain a powerful health base for vegetables to really produce. To make these ideas work in modern America as well as poverty-stricken areas on other continents, he applies his natural problem-solving perspective to new ways of thinking.
It is a wonderful book, one I had the extreme pleasure and honor of pre-reading, and I recommend it highly!


Location, Location, Location!

Location, location, location! Whether you are looking to sell or buy a home or are searching for just the right spot to grow a kitchen garden for your family, location matters!

It can be completely overwhelming to consider putting in a garden. For those who did not grow up with a garden in the yard or community, the mere word “garden” implies unpleasant things… like the “Three W’s”. Work. Weeds. Watering (endlessly). And then you end up with (click link to finish article) “

The Lawn Ranger

I have to admit that I despair when I see the lawn care chemical trucks start rumbling through town in early Spring. The little flags go up to warn folks to stay off the grass… I nervously check the wind, call my barefoot children in from outside, sometimes have to close the windows on the side of the house that is sharing frontage with a neighbor out to murder their weeds.

We have been on a journey, removing toxic chemicals from our foods, our home environment, our lives. Despite my always having believed instinctively in the concept that an organic garden was a healthier, happier place for me to while away my time, I had no idea that I would be so “crunchy” about so many other aspects of life once I became a Mom. But first the boy, then the girl, came to change the way I thought about consumption, being a consumer, and being a participant in the world at large.

Seven years into this journey, I now grow a greater portion of our family’s vegetables. I grow enough to do some major preserving come harvest time – from dehydrating to canning to freezing. My canning total in 2011 was 353 jars. I scaled back (due to a better idea of what we used and when) in 2012 with less than half that, but increased the amount I dehydrated and froze. The theory is simply to grow what we will eat, and to eat what we can grow.

Somewhere along the line of our Urban Organic Farmer growth, my eyes turned to the lawn. From this article at (

  •  “researchers reporting in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that exposure to garden pesticides can increase the risk of childhood leukemia almost sevenfold. Contact with low levels of pesticides increases miscarriage rates, and a study recently published in the American Journal of Epidemiology documented a link between residential pesticide use and breast cancer risk in women. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that frequent exposure to pesticides increased the incidence of Parkinson’s disease by 70 percent.

OK, so pesticides applied to lawns – and these can range from our personal front- or backyards to those surrounding businesses, churches, parks and sports fields – can seriously increase the potential for harmful and even deadly disease. Besides the pesticides and herbicides themselves lie danger in the “inert” ingredients, which are not even required to be labeled. Heavy metals, anyone?

Here’s a very informative site about easy organic lawncare. Wait, EASY? I thought anything organic meant a lot harder to accomplish? Not really. Honestly, what grows a healthy lawn is the same thing that grows a healthy garden (which grows a healthy person), and that is healthy soil. Natural, God-given, nutrient-rich, earthworm-active, biologically-exploding soil!

From sites like and Organic Lawn Care, I find that the reasons my grass tended to struggle a bit in the summer are twofold: first, we mowed too low. Setting the mower higher, the grass is sturdier, stronger, takes up more nutrients and fights off the bad guys (aka weeds). And second, we were bagging our clippings. Now, in our defense, we were either feeding the clippings (remember, these are untreated, natural grass with no chemical dressing) to our small flock of urban hens, using them spread thin as a mulch in the garden, or using them to make compost. They were not going in the dumpster to drive on down the road… however, even alternating mowings and leaving one to self-fertilize the lawn and taking the next for the abovementioned activities, the lawn still benefits.

So… there are my thoughts about urban lawnkeeping! I have to admit that a bigger chunk is retrieved from our front lawn every year as I keep expanding my gardens. Even in a front yard, with graceful lines edging the beds, and the beds themselves a lovely cottage-garden style of mixed flowers, herbs, and attractive vegetables, I find no reason to make a garden look like a mini-farm. A birdbath here and there, some foundation flowering or evergreen shrubs, attractive woodchip mulch, and you have a front yard that feeds the senses as well as the body, helps along the avian wildlife that keep bugs minimized, and reduces the amount of water and energy that are strictly for “show”… ie, an American front lawn. But there is a place for most everything, and if it is integrated well and has a purpose, and we are good stewards of the land under our care, even a lawn can be healthy, attractive, and easy!

Back to Eden Film

How absolutely lovely it is to find a film that combines two of my very favorite things in the world: God, and gardening! If you haven’t spent the time to sit down and watch “Back to Eden” (free at, you don’t know what you are missing! Gardener Paul Gautschi shares how God has revealed Himself through His creation and His Word.

“The ground is a living organism. As all living organisms, God has designed and made it so it is always covered with something. It’s all about the covering!”
– Paul Gautschi

For about 20 years now, I’ve been a huge believer in sheet composting. Basically, rather than tilling the soil, which I find:

– destroys soil tilth (if there is any at all);

– kills earthworms; and

– kills your back to boot

the concept of sheet gardening involves covering any existing sod with several layers of (non-slick) newspaper, wetted down. Then you apply a nice layer (4″ or so if you can) of compost, and this can be fairly raw! Weed-free animal manure is great – if you can get it from the source, even better. Then layers of available materials… chopped leaves (run them up in your lawnmower instead of raking), peat if you have it and don’t mind using it… a thin layer of fresh (untreated) grass clippings… finished compost (either from your compost bin or the bagged stuff)… and finally a visually appealing layer on top.

So where the Back to Eden gardeners differ is primarily in their choice of top covering. They choose wood chips, and have plenty of gorgeous garden and example to prove why it works! I’d always heard conventional wisdom to say that wood chips took up too much nitrogen when used in a garden, but here’s the rub. That is not the case if they aren’t tilled in! These are on TOP – a nice deep covering (4-6″). They very slowly decompose into the soil, releasing nutrition as they go.

So after “mostly” using this type of garden for the past two decades, I have decided that wood chips are my new top covering of choice, trumping chopped leaves. I’m going to begin implementing them immediately on my various gardens (from every corner of the yard, to our church, to my community garden plots). Heavy mulching and lots of composting has always been very effective in my experience; it will be exciting to garden with a Biblical approach!

My gardens are a combination of several non-conventional styles: companion planting with square-foot gardening spacing (although I only rarely measure), lasagna raised beds with Back to Eden covering. I’ve got happy worms and lovely vegetables, herbs and flowers! And the best part is that it minimizes both weeding (bleck) and watering needs, while improving the soil itself. What a blessing!

No matter where you live, if you apply a covering to your garden, God will do the rest, and you will be blessed!” – Paul Gautschi

Harvest Tine (sic)

One of the biggest problems with harvesting potatoes is with the subsequent tine-pokes or shovel-slices. No matter how careful we try to be, it seems like about 10% of our potatoes end up dinged. When, like this year, you plant an awful lot of potatoes to begin with, that 10% adds up very quickly! So what to do with the damaged spuds that must be cooked right away?

Enter “Potato Bark”. I was looking for some tips on dehydrating, and stumbled onto This guy is awesome! It kills two birds with one stone, as my husband recently asked me to look into dehydrating some meals for his He-Man Backpacking Trips. (He doesn’t call them that, I do. They involve several days of backpacking over Montana mountain peaks. I stand in awe.) Backpacking Chef has lots of recipes for backpacking meals – dehydrated etc.

Potato Bark involves taking your potatoes (in our case, scrubbed and sliced up with the damaged parts removed) and boiling them until cooked. Since the crockpot takes this ridiculously low amount of energy ($$), I tossed my tater slices into my big crock and added lightly salted water. Then, mash your cooked potatoes with an appropriate amount, depending on your volume of potatoes, of fat-free vegetable, beef, or chicken broth (and homemade broth is another post). Add salt, pepper, garlic powder to taste and as desired. Beat the lumps out: by hand, by blender, by mixer, by food processor, whatever. Now you have nice, smooth, fairly thin mashed potatoes. Not too runny, ok?

Spread this tasty mixture out onto your dehydrator “fruit leather” sheets, or on top of parchment paper cut to fit your dehydrator, whatever you have. Backpacking Chef says you can do this in the oven too, but I’m doing it in the dehydrator. Lots less energy! ($$)

Spread thinly, about 1/8″ thick. Then dehydrate it until it’s, well, dry. Dehydrators vary. You want it into a brittle sheet that will break up into small, convenient pieces when done.

Still with me? Here’s the beauty of this stuff. You don’t have to take it on He-Man Backpacking Trips! You can keep it in a Ziploc or a glass jar for practically EVER, and when you want a nice thickener for your soups, stews, etc? Toss a handful in! This is alot better option than cornstarch as a thickener, as you’re getting some nice health benefits from your good potatoes.

And of course you don’t HAVE to use your own organically grown potatoes that got stuck by the potato fork tine or the shovel. You COULD just make it with whatever potatoes strike your fancy. That’s the beauty of it!

I just love how things all tie in so nicely sometimes. Need to use up potatoes? Need to come up with some backpacking/camping/hiking meals? Need to just have some great, nutritious thickener on hand for your upcoming Autumn and Winter stews and soups? Well here ya go. Thank the Backpacking Chef!

Springtime in the Rockies…

I love flowers. Love. Them. I love lilacs especially, the smell is wild, crazy, gorgeous! These early flowers – crabapple, tulips, miniature grape hyacinths, lilacs… they’re all a hug after a long, hard winter. Thanks God – I love You, too!! 🙂

Great Garden Quotes…

… for your Garden Journal or stationery… for garden signs… for sharing!

• Gardens are a form of autobiography. ~Sydney Eddison, Horticulture magazine, August/September 1993
• Gardening is about enjoying the smell of things growing in the soil, getting dirty without feeling guilty, and generally taking the time to soak up a little peace and serenity. ~Lindley Karstens,
• You can bury a lot of troubles digging in the dirt.
• Half the interest of a garden is the constant exercise of the imagination. ~Mrs. C.W. Earle, Pot-Pourri from a Surrey Garden, 1897
• No two gardens are the same. No two days are the same in one garden. ~Hugh Johnson
• I think that if ever a mortal heard the voice of God it would be in a garden at the cool of the day. ~F. Frankfort Moore, A Garden of Peace
• In order to live off a garden, you practically have to live in it. ~Frank McKinney Hubbard
• One of the most delightful things about a garden is the anticipation it provides. ~W.E. Johns, The Passing Show
• I have never had so many good ideas day after day as when I worked in the garden. ~John Erskine
• Green fingers are the extension of a verdant heart. ~Russell Page
• It is utterly forbidden to be half-hearted about gardening. You have got to love your garden whether you like it or not. ~W.C. Sellar & R.J. Yeatman, Garden Rubbish, 1936
• The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,
One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.
~Dorothy Frances Gurney, “Garden Thoughts”
• Gardens are not made by sitting on the shade
. . . Rudyard Kipling
• Weeds for sale – pick your own
• As is the gardener, so is the garden
• I meant to do my work today,
but a brown bird sang in the apple tree,
and a butterfly flitted across the field,
and all the leaves were calling me.
• Kind hearts are the garden,
kind thoughts are the root,
kind words are the blossoms,
kind deeds are the fruit.
• You have to eat a lot of parsley to be an old sage
• Every thought is a seed. If you plant crab apples don’t count on harvesting Golden Delicious.
• Bless my bloomers!
• Bring on the sunshine!
• Have patience… nothing grows quickly except weeds!
• Herbs add spice to your life.
• I plant the seed, you make it grow.
You send the rain, I work the hoe.
• “Weed it and Reap ”
• “Grow where you’re planted”
• “God blesses the hands that work in a garden.”
• “Don’t grumble that roses have thorns …be thankful that thorns have roses!”
• Life is a garden – Dig In!!
• I’ve been wanting to make a sign to hang my garden tools on and it will say “Carpe Ritula” which means “Seize the spade”.
• “Weeds? What Weeds?”