State of the Garden Address: Fall 2013

I can’t say my garden has been terribly successful this year, though it is much better than last.  About half of my plants perished from the heat, swimming after downpours, neglect, or simply not being harvested. The victims? My lavender, the spinach (though I did get one small harvest out of them, yum!), the cauliflower, the dill, the lettuce.

What did survive is slowly being transplanted in hopes of allowing it to expand. I’m starting to think ahead to next year and what I’ll do differently. I need to keep a journal and do some more research into what I’m buying and how it grows best. This year I put them in dirt and hoped for the best.

When I say I transplanted them, I mean I did it last week. Sean built me planters back in June, and there have been bags of dirt sitting in them since. I finally pulled them out and dumped them in. Bad news: leaving bags that long deceives the local 8 legged population into thinking they can move in. Good news: the grass below was killed and worms had made their way into the bags, so my planter boxes have some wriggly soil enrichers. Natalie got a kick out of the worms, asking to hold them and laughing uncontrollably when I put a wiggly one in the palm of her chubby little hand.

Here’s what the blueberry bush looks like now. Forgive the insane pine needlage, we were gone for the weekend and it was insanely windy.


Here are the strawberries, which are still producing.


The tomato plant, which have only produced mini tomatoes so far. At the top of the picture is the pepper plant.


My sunflower circle was a success! Giant sunflowers grew, interspersed with smaller ones. I’ll be harvesting the head of the furthest right flower in the picture below so I can improve upon my design for next year.



A Haven in the City

I grew up in the sticks, and I was very happy there. Now I live in the city, a fact that I haven’t yet come to complete terms with.

It seems the longer I live on this busy street with the grocery store a mere 500 feet away, the harder my spirit is retaliating and yearning for country life, animals and simplicity around me. I have this romantic idea of becoming an urban homesteader, with a garden that shames the best produce departments and chickens that lay sunny yolked eggs for only my family. My thumbs itch, they want to be green SO badly.

Last year’s attempt at a garden wound up dying of dehydration and failure to plant. I hung my head in shame. But did I learn? Nope. I’m back at it again this year.

However this year I’m making more progress than last. The big difference is that I’m spending at least an hour outside with Natalie each day and she adores nature. She is enthralled by plants and flowers and bugs and dirt. So my plants are in containers and are getting a nice daily watering.

Here’s what we have going on so far:

Strawberries – I’m very excited about these. They are my second plants, as the first two got too dried out and didn’t recover from transplanting. But these second ones are already berrying up! 


Blueberries – The bush is in a large container for the moment. Once the yard is more settled, I’ll find a place to properly plant it to let it flourish. But it’s already flowering!



Spinach and Cauliflower – The cauliflower was an accident, I meant to grab broccoli, but the canisters were all mixed up at the store.


Sweet Mint and Dill –


Tomatoes –


Pepper and Cabbage – The cabbage was an accident, I meant to grab lettuce, but again, I blame the messy shelf labeling over my inability to  double check what I’d pulled.


Red Lettuce –


And what I’m most excited about, the Sunflower House! I’ve planted 2 varieties, one will grow about 4 feet in height, the others 12 feet!!! So *green thumbs crossed* we get some mammoth flowers. The robins will love the feast the heads will provide. However, I realized after the fact that this would become a mowing nightmare for Sean, so I’m kicking around some ideas on how to remedy this. My leading thought is to make the inner circle a sand pit for the kids to dig in. Any other suggestions?


Natalie and the other day care kids adore being outside, and it’s my favorite time of the day as well. So I want to really make our yard a magical and enjoyable place for both  kids and adults. I have many other ideas swimming about in my brain, and I’ll do my best to keep up with updates on how things are changing!

A Bird in the Vent

I’m linking this post up to the Homestead Barn Hop over at The Prairie Homestead.

Warning: I feel like I should title this post “The Improper Housewife”,  this is by no means a professional or recommended how-to!

Sean, Natalie and I were sitting outside, enjoying the beautiful spring sunshine, when we were dive bombed by a couple of birds. We laughed it off, ‘Ha ha, silly birds’, but then we noticed where these birds were headed.

Our drier vent.

And what was worse? They had nesting materials in their beaks.

‘Tis the season.

We had learned a hard lesson last year, when we had a couple of birds nest in a hole in our eaves. My sympathetic heart wasn’t hard enough to kick them out into the frigid snow, and what harm could a couple little birds do?

Well, the birds were OK, but they were quickly kicked out by a couple of squirrels, who chewed the hole larger to fit their fat butts in there and PROCREATED.

Their ungrateful little brats wrestled all night above our bed and mocked us as we got in and out of our cars. Four little heads would poke out of the hole as we yelled empty threats to get out “or else!”

I think the neighbors thought we were crazy.

But we finally brought in the big guns, a wildlife exterminator, who chased out the ingrates, set out traps, and patched over the hole to keep them from coming back.

And while we aren’t worried about squirrels chasing the birds up there, we don’t want the threat of cooked birds or eggs or vent fires when I run a load of laundry.

Sean had to run to the doctors to get his wrist looked at. We were afraid he may have gotten bitten by a brown recluse spider while working in the yard, but luckily(?) it was just a nasty bit of poison ivy.

So it was up to me to nip our vent issue in the bud. Time for a ghetto fabulous patch job.

I gathered some materials – pet screen, duct tape and scissors.

Used a highly technical tool to clear out any nesting materials.

And got to work taping.

I clipped the corners of the screen at an angle so it would bend into a square cleanly.


It’s not pretty, it’s not practical, but it’s enough to keep nesters out until Sean can address it with a more permanent solution.

Homesteading Mission Statement and Goals

I’m submitting this as part of The Prairie Homestead’s Monday Barn Hop.

Many may wonder why I want to go through all the work and effort behind homesteading when I have a grocery store and a convenience store right just a few doors up from me.

There are a number of reasons behind my efforts:

  • Fresh fruits and veggies will have us eating healthier
  • We’ll save money on produce and in other areas
  • We’ll know exactly what goes into our what we’re eating or using
  • Teach Natalie where her food comes from
  • New adventure/hobby
  • Help break my addiction to technology and live simpler
  • Overall better quality of life for our family as a whole

The Gardell Homestead’s Mission Statement:

To use and protect the natural resources that God has given us, while learning important life skills and passing them along to our children.

To help further focus my intentions for this endeavor, I’ve developed loose goals for one year, five years and ten years from now.

One year from now, I’d like to:

  • establish 2 raised bed gardens
  • put up a clothes line
  • learn how to make soap
  • make my own laundry soap
  • give homemade/homegrown Christmas gifts

Five years from now, I’d like to:

  • teach Natalie to tend her own plant or two
  • add 2 more raised beds along with hanging baskets
  • have a matured composting system
  • have a rain barrel which supplies all the water for the garden

Ten years from now, I’d like to:

  • have chickens for free-range eggs
  • have an established enough garden to sell produce at a farmers market (or set up mini CSA)
  • be established enough in my soap production to sell at a farmers market or online
  • give Natalie her own raised bed to tend

Little Split Level on the Urban Prairie

I’m submitting this as part of The Prairie Homestead’s Monday Barn Hop.

Anyone else think of Gnomeo and Juliet?

I feel like the gnome in this picture, with Monday’s little gremlins carrying off my stiff, lifeless body. Her Royal Highness has been testing me today, swinging between happy and miserable within seconds. My hope is she’s just overtired and stimulated from having visitors the last 4 days.

I’ll recap this weekend later on this week, but today I’m writing about a new obsession I have.


Yes, you heard me right. Homesteading. Like, goats and cows and chickens and bees and veggies and other crunchy granola-type things. And yes, I’m well aware that I live in the city of Worcester, on a main road, with my neighbors’ homes just a little too close for comfort. And the only thing I’ve successfully grown is weeds.

But there is such thing as Urban Homesteading, and I’ve been reading up on it. And the top title in the picture below pretty much sums up my approach.

homesteading books

It started with a brand new e-book called Your Custom Homestead by Jill Winger, the gorgeous author of The Prairie Homestead. It helps you discover what aspects of homesteading you want to incorporate, and it’s broken up into 21 days, with brief and easy assignments each day.

Sean and I did hit up the Flower and Patio Show yesterday, which was, for the most part, a complete disappointment. Not worth the $10 entry fee. But we did catch a very neat presentation on cooking with herbs, where I learned about infusing vinegar, creating dressings, and making herb butter. Do I sense Christmas presents this year?

The horticulturist who presented was selling a seed propagation kit for $25. It included seeds, soil, trays and the vented mini greenhouse to house them. And directions…very important.

cat guards greenhouse

Not to mention it’ll keep my little seedlings safe from our rogue chewers.

So next, I have to plan my garden. What I’ll grow when, building the raised beds, and composting!