Posts Tagged ‘Garden’

Garden Update ~ Less Work, More Fun

2019 remains my lowest maintenance garden year yet. While I have very few edible annuals growing, the herbs, flowers and fruiting shrubs continue to produce. Our bird and butterfly population keeps growing, too. With temperatures finally in the 80’s, the slowpoke basil took off, and frequent nighttime rains plus well rooted perennials mean I’ve only needed to water the garden three times so far!

I’ve been waiting forever for these Casablanca lilies to bloom. I love how they contrast with the butterfly friendly liatris.


I thought the Polar Vortex claimed all my hummingbird mint, Continue reading

Garden Update: Cat Naps, Fairy Crossing, and Shades of Fall

The magic continues at our new place. The wonderful neighborhood cat, who so successfully shooed away the groundhogs and scents the garden whenever bunny nibbles get too big, has taken to napping with me, just outside the sliding glass door. Whenever I decide to take a quick BioMat snooze in the back room, I usually find something like this:


or this: Continue reading

Bronson Park Garden Fun

We saw these yesterday on a visit to Bronson Park in Kalamazoo, Michigan. There were many more, but these were some of my favorites. Too clever and lovely not to share:





End of an Era ~ Goodbye, Faery Hof and Goodbye, Goshen!

After literally two months of packing, cleaning, sorting, teaching, and gifting, first with Haus Am See and now with our home, mini farm and food forest of the past almost five years, today we turned in our keys in a misty eyed exchange with our landlord. We are officially no longer the caregivers of Faery Hof. We and all the Faeries and Spirits of the Land wish Linette, Jason and their animal friends a magical, loving and joyful move-in tomorrow!

The first sunflower of the season popped out to mark the changeover:


All my indoor and outdoor container plants have made the journey, and tomorrow begins their shift from containers to raised beds, so these patient tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, kale and especially the very pot bound collards can release and expand into the new, just as we are. Our new yard has “good bones,” but it needs some loving care, which we’ll finally have time to address this weekend, intermixed with much unpacking.

Everything has occurred in such obviously perfect timing and with the perfect people with this entire process that this massive amount of work feels very satisfying. We’ve been so busy we’ve not really had time to process all the changes, but we already love, love, giddy love our new home. Details some other time, as we still have many moving parts. I’ll be back to regular sessions after the 4th of July.

Thanks to everyone for your patience, love, prayers, Reiki and good wishes during this sacred time. It truly feels like we shifted timelines not only for ourselves but for many others with this move, opening so much space for growth and abundance. We look forward to seeing what bursts forth for all of us.

Blessed Be … and be the blessing. It feels so good. 🙂


The Incredible, Edible Canning Adventures of Laura Bruno

Perhaps I should begin this post by admitting that it is ever so much easier to be a Lazy Raw Foodist than an Amish poseur/faery homesteader. Indeed, spiralizing, Vita-Mixing and dehydrating have nothing on canning when it comes to complexity and sheer multitasking brain power. Nonetheless, I’m having fun with it and thought I’d share some tips and mishaps that might either encourage and help others or maybe send them running for the nearest Whole Foods salad bar. Whichever.

First, the gear. You’ll need:

1) A large canning pot
2) Clean canning jars with brand new lids
3) Several other pots, depending on your recipe — one or two for whatever’s going into your jars, plus one to warm the lids
4) A funnel that fits into your jars
5) A clean cloth to wipe the jar tops so you get a good seal
6) A mini spatula to help release air bubbles from each jar before sealing
7) A jar picker-upper
8) Magnetic lid lifter
9) Timer
10) Towel to protect your counter from very hot jars
11) Large ladle
12) Produce scale
13) Recipes designed specifically for canning. Unlike raw food, canning is not forgiving of substitutions and changes to ingredient proportions. It’s chemistry, baby, and changing the acid balance could leave you with botulism, so express you’re inner rebel in some other food venue. Canning requires exactitude.

(You can sometimes find most of the specific canning items bundled together in a complete canning kit and a set of new jars with lids. My canning kit came with some other tool that I’ve still not figured out what it is or why it’s there.)

Optional, but very helpful:

1) One or more silicon gloves for BBQ-ing, so that you can reach into the pot of boiling water without scalding your hand, as well as keep a good grip on the jar picker upper without getting scaled by steam as you lift the jar.

2) A hair tie if you have long hair

3) An apron. Because … in my kitchen anyway … canning is rather messy:

Laura in apron

The Good News.

Canning is bizarrely addicting in a pain in the elbow, completely overwhelm your kitchen and kill three hours kind of way. It also uses up bumper crops or cheap bulk purchases from the Farmers Market. In our house, it means being able to customize canned foods with foodie flavors and healthier ingredients than we’d ever find on store shelves. I’ve primarily used recipes from the book, “Put ‘Em Up,” as well as an online Jalapeño Jam recipe using Pomona Pectin, which allows you to sub birch sweetener, honey or other alternative sweeteners for the sugar, as well as lowering the amount of required sugars. Canning also makes for fun little gifts for friends and family — a way to share your garden harvest with people who can’t just pop over for some fresh tomatoes and kale.

The Slightly Frustrating and Humorous News

Did I mention multitasking? Get your brain on straight, and don’t even attempt canning if you’re tired, have brain fog, sore muscles or a lot of distractions. Certain parts of canning require uninterrupted concentration and perfect timing, so don’t be trying to answer the phone, make sandwiches and play on Facebook at the same time.

David snuck this photo when I was concentrating so hard I didn't even know he was standing there.

David snuck this photo when I was concentrating so hard I didn’t even know he was standing there.

You really do need to have a sense of humor, because sometimes a few details slip — like the time I heated up the lids but forgot to put water in that pot. Doh! Can you say, “Burning plastic melted onto the metal pot?” We did. Toss any questionable lids. It’s a waste, but they won’t seal properly if you’ve mangled them or used them previously. The rings and jars can be reused, but not the lids. We get BPA-free lids from Ball.

I’ve not canned that many times, but each time has brought some kind of unexpected (or several unexpected) things to deal with in the moment. We have very hard water here and use a water softener. All but our cold water faucet in the sink gets softened. One time, I forgot to fill the big canning pot with hot water, so not only did it take eons to heat, but all my jars had a lovely hard water mineral film on them after processing. David’s former home-ec teaching mom gave those jars the safety approval, but they look pretty grainy on the outside!

When I made the jalapeño jam, I neglected to wear gloves while chopping fourteen incredibly hot peppers from our garden. I did wash my hands, but apparently, not enough, before putting them into the silicon gloves. At first, I thought the gloves were leaking, because my hands just burned whenever I got near the canning pot. Then, I realized it might have something to do with the peppers, so I washed my hands again. And again. And again. They finally felt better, until I put the gloves back on — gloves that were now coated with jalapeño oil. To make matters worse, I had little paper cut-like slivers in both hands from wrestling with a tomato plant the day before.

Let’s just say that by the time I finished canning that jam, I was actually hopping up and down in the kitchen and blowing on my hands to cool them. I tried vinegar, as recommended online, soap, cold water, aloe, MSM cream with peppermint oil. Nothing worked for more than about 45 seconds. In the end, those hands just burned for about 14 hours. The next time I put on the gloves as a test, the fun began again! Ohhhh, the fun. There’s nothing quite like having your hands burn so bad that you can barely move your fingers. I washed and washed out the silicon gloves, and I’m happy to report, they’re fine now. Sheesh, though! Potent lesson. Wear latex or some other kind of disposable gloves when you chop hot peppers, especially if you’re going to stick those hands in heat resistant gloves. Trust me when I say, “You will feel quadruple the heat of both the peppers and the hot water if you combine those experiences.” O.M.G.!!!

Moving on now … that was three canning adventures ago. 🙂

Tomato salsa’s a bit tricky. You really need to lift those air bubbles out before putting on the lid. Otherwise, you’ll have a lava lamp looking salsa to wow your friends. Oh, yes, we do.

Today’s canning really took things to a new level in terms of mishaps. I decided to make the pickled beets with cumin and cloves recipe from Put ‘Em Up. I boiled the beets until slightly tender, just like it said, chopped them into 1/4″ slices, just like it said, although not how the photo looked. Hmmm … Then I neglected to trust my intuition that told me a double recipe of that would fill 7 pint sized jars not 6 like it said. Sure enough, I got the six filled and had just enough beets to fill a 7th jar, which I heated and prepared like the rest.

The trouble arose when I poured the brine over the beets. Um … I doubled the recipe for brine, but it only filled half my jars. Check, double-check, triple-check. OK … it’s the acid ratio that’s key, so I made another batch of the vinegar-birch sweetener-water-salt brine and poured it over the beets. That worked perfectly.

Then, I sealed the jars lightly, also as recommended. You’re not supposed to strangle the lids with those rings, so I didn’t. While texting with my sweet friend Tania Marie –who had just opened a goodies package I’d sent her earlier– I commented about how good our kitchen smelled while those jars were processing. (Once the jars are sealed, you really don’t smell what’s in them.) I also mentioned that my friend Tim Glenn had alerted me that Jupiter was exactly squaring my natal Uranus at 6 a.m. this morning. “Expect the unexpected,” he advised “… and don’t push it.” Those two lines of texting should have clued me in as I waited for the timer to count down on those jars, but no.

Sure enough, when I opened the lid after the ding, what to my wondering eyes should appear? A whole messa beets, that’s what! All over the canning pot. At first, I thought a jar exploded. Great Jupiter energy, but no. It was more of a wacky Uranus thing, since one ring had unscrewed itself to free the beets. Here’s the creepy looking scene after removing the other 6 jars:

beet mishap

What a mess! The good news is that I had been thinking I needed to put vinegar in the pot to clear out the rest of the mineral crust from the hard water mishap. Done! I had also been thinking I wished I had just saved some beets for myself to have on my artichoke, raw goat cheese, mixed green salad. Also done. The vinegar from the pickles has done a lovely job dissolving those minerals, and I must say, that well-earned lunch totally rocked. Super awesome. Plus, we now have 6 jars of cumin and clove pickled beets:

pickled beets

Like I said, it’s a lot easier to be a Lazy Raw Foodist than a pretend Amish woman/faery homesteader. Of course, I do have the star — a favorite of Amish homes and witchy gardeners alike. When David’s dad saw it, he said, “That’s the closest thing to an Amish hex sign I’ve seen around here.” Why, yes, it is. Only good faeries and happy friends and family are welcome in my garden. 😉

Star hex

Star hex

Garden Lessons from Harvest Season

This past Saturday, my friend Suzanna and I attended a harvest celebration in honor of the soon-to-be changing season. Even though the Autumnal Equinox occurs on the 22nd this year, signs of Fall have already begun to reveal themselves: chilly mornings, grey days, changing flowers and foliage. Some of the tomato plants have become so huge that they’ve sprawled far beyond the “Bed Bed,” developing blight from all the damp mornings. Cool weather crops like radishes, brassicas, celery and Chinese greens push their way through straw mulch in the newly planted “Guarden Bed” that will house winter greens and root veggies under a cold frame. Most dramatically — for our yard anyway — most of the sunflowers took their final bow yesterday.

Instead of this:

Lemon Queen Sunflowers

Lemon Queen Sunflowers

We now have this:

fall display

David and I cut down the huge stalks and heads of completely spent sunflowers and left ones that still seemed to have a bit of life in them. I moved the geraniums and lemon balm over from the side of the house to fill in some of the empty space, but it still looks bare to me. I’m grateful for some of the continued color, which will remain at least until next week when I begin lasagna gardening and mulching out an enormous swath of front lawn (on an angle) in preparation for next Spring’s planting of rose bushes, a quince tree and all my edible front yard ornamentals, which may or may not include an heirloom corn as part of the Three Sisters planting. At the very least, Scarlet Runner Beans will make teepee appearances on either side of the sunflower patch. We’ll see what else wants to play out front, depending on how well the lasagna layers break down over the winter.

Our front herb garden has changed colors, too, with more emphasis on the nasturtiums and just-beginning-to-bloom Fall Asters:

herbs and asters

The front yard presents some lessons of letting go, releasing Summer’s beauty and learning to appreciate the lag time between bright Fall leaves and the fading of Summer’s glory. Due to the major project I have planned for next Spring, which involves Fall layering and Winter decomposing, this letting go very much underscores the idea of how each season fades and grows into another season, all in a cycle and natural rhythm. Part of me would love to freeze time when I find something I love, but in Nature — sometimes even more obviously than the rest of life — things continually change. Life becomes death becomes seeds (or compost) becomes new life, and on and on and on…

The Mabon (Harvest) Celebration focused on gratitude along with the “releasing of projects not completed” or laying to rest of “things left undone.” We each wrote one or more things for which we felt thankful this year and then listed one or more things we had intended to do but didn’t or tried implementing but found that for whatever reason, didn’t turn out as well as we had hoped. We then walked a labyrinth and I felt the usual coming to center and letting go — followed by a potluck feast!

I brought a pesto, tomato and chickpea dish topped with nasturtiums. Except for the chickpeas, the main ingredients all came from that afternoon’s harvest from my garden:

Pesto Chickpeas

I don’t follow recipes, but here are some rough guidelines:

Chickpea Pesto with Tomatoes and Naturtiums:

2 large + 1 small can(s) of organic chickpeas/garbonzo beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup or more to taste of cherry tomatoes, halved

Vegan Pesto:

an entire Vitamix filled with fresh basil
two cloves garlic
dash of olive oil
juice of one large lemon (slightly less, since I used some for the drink I brought)
generous teaspoon of miso paste
1-2 TBSP Parma vegan parmesan (I often use chipotle cayenne, but I used the garlic herb blend for this)

(optional: crunchy addition like sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, etc. — didn’t use for this recipe due to the crunch of the chick peas)

Blend all but the optional crunch addition in the Vitamix, or use a food processor. The Vitamix may require use of the tamper, since the basil can fly around without blending everything. Taste test and add salt and/or pepper to taste. If adding the crunchy additions, add in and just pulse until broken down but not blended into the rest of the pesto.


Put chickpeas in a bowl or carrying dish, mix in the pesto. Add tomato halves. Freshly harvest the edible nasturtium flowers (which give their own peppery taste) and arrange on top. Enjoy!

Since I had so many extra ripe tomatoes and jalepeno peppers, I also brought a Virgin Bloody Mary mix:

Virgin Bloody Mary

I wasn’t sure whether to call it a Virgin Mary, a Goddess Mary or a Maiden Mary, but whatever the name, it had quite a kick! Rough recipe:

Vitamix full of ripe tomatoes with cores cut out
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
4 stalks celery
Splash of wheat free tamari
1-2 jalepeno’s without seeds
just a pinch of birch sweetener

Blend until smooth. Chill or enjoy as is.

Speaking of extra tomatoes, something about the previous night’s celebration and reflection encouraged me to begin digging out some of my massively overgrown tomato plants that have become too messy and difficult to harvest:

tomato madness

Above, you see them toppled over to the back of the “Bed Bed” where dozens of tomatoes have literally been feeding squirrels and/or rotting on the vine because despite my best efforts, I can’t harvest them fast enough or easily enough to keep the area clean. I realized that I’ve had excellent performance from these three plants, but for the past week they have become more of an annoyance and chore than a delight. I’ve been dehydrating and giving away tomatoes like crazy, because our freezer’s full! I even tried our friend Phil’s solar dehydrator:

solar dehydrator

I’m so grateful he let us borrow it, because I’ve learned that building our own solar dehydrator is another project I could have put in the “didn’t get done, doesn’t need to get done” category. I suspect things would have gone better had I used it at the peak of Summer rather than this flirtation with Fall, but after two sunny days and two damp nights, I had a mess of fruit flies, damp tomatoes and crinkled up damp squash. Thankfully, I had put that experiment on parchment paper and just tossed the questionable produce. For now, I will happily continue our electric Excalibur, which — so long as I run it on our front porch — doesn’t even smell up the house for the 48 hours of drying time. We have loads of dehydrated, intensified flavor tomatoes to enjoy all Winter, and we didn’t waste an entire weekend building a solar dehydrator more suited to the dry summers of Arizona than the hot and humid Midwest ones. Live and learn! Another lesson in releasing …

Anyway, back to the tomatoes: I have a difficult time getting rid of living things (and even people) in my life that aren’t “bad” but nonetheless don’t really bring me joy equivalent to the work involved in maintenance. After the previous night’s focus on just letting go those things that either no longer serve or that something in us opted not to include in our experience, I realized, you know what? I have five other tomato plants besides these three. Some of them are loaded with varieties I’ve not yet even tasted because they’re still ripening. We’ve had these three plants’ tomatoes all Summer, and they really are becoming more trouble than they’re worth. To me. And ultimately, it’s my garden. I have influence over this experience. I can thank these plants for their service, carefully separate out the healthy leaves, stems and fruits from the blight and spotted ones, and I can make room for a new Winter crop of peas, which will add nitrogen back into the soil and look a heckuva lot cleaner than these sprawling, rotting tomato vines.

Easier said than done, of course! I only managed to cut through one of the three plants yesterday before it started raining. From that one, I harvested many a squirrel and rabbit nibbled tomato, but I also hauled out eight pounds of green tomatoes, enough to double “Put ‘Em Up!”‘s recipe for Tomatillo or Green Tomato Salsa. That will be today’s canning adventure:

green tomatoes and lemongrass

We even had some super fresh ripe tomatoes for last night’s Greek Salad, and I’m excited to try my first solo canning run. Another new skill put into use by rooting out the old. I’m sure there will be more where this came from, since the other two plants I intend to remove have even more tomatoes at various stages of ripeness.

The other day, my friend Martha, who loves, loves, loves our kale, asked if I was “winding down the garden.” “Well, not really,” I replied, “It’s just different.” Harvest Season is upon us, whether we grow gardens or simply live in the Northern Hemisphere. As we approach Thursday’s Harvest (Full) Moon, it’s a natural time to take stock of how you’ve grown this year. What have you accomplished? What have you learned? How will you snuggle into the Fall and Winter Season? If you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s time to set goals and celebrate the opportunities for watching seeds grow into fruition. Wherever you are, please take a moment to honor your participation in Nature’s Web of Life. “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens”:

The Green Backyard

Thanks, Colette!

This is so timely, as I’m working with some neighborhood youths to apply for an available local grant for youths aged 15-20 to improve our neighborhood. My idea? Plant fruit trees in a ho-hum park down the street to beautify the space and provide food security for our town.

I had asked for the grant-required youths “to just show up at my door,” and yesterday, they did just that! Three were congregated outside our back gate, and we started talking. It turns out that one of the guys had actually asked our landlord if he could plant fruit trees on this property after our landlord cleared away most of the overgrown, neglected trees last year. I had hoped to find youths that would be willing to engage this project as a community service or for college application building, but this young man is passionate about Nature. He’s actually been wanting to plant fruit trees in our neighborhood, and he wants to get his girlfriend and friends involved, too. Here’s hoping the synchronicities continue all the way to grant qualification, planting, community building, and (eventually) harvesting!

The video below illustrates some of the ways that gardening and beautification ripple out into the community.

From the YouTube description:

“This is the story of a once neglected urban wasteland in Peterborough, recently transformed into a much loved community resource by a crew of eager volunteers, led by the father and daughter team of Rennie and Sophie Antonelli. This is a light-hearted and candid portrait of this garden that brings together its flora, fauna, people and activities in a symbiotic fashion. Through its simple approach to placemaking the green backyard carries a bigger environmental message for our urban areas and highlights that it is often the simpler things in life that carry the most meaning.

For more information please contact me I am currently based in Amsterdam, but interested in new projects wherever they may be.”

email daryl [at]
or on twitter @darylmul

More about The Green Backyard here