Sunday, April 30, 2023

Newest book now available!

My latest inspirational romance, The Quilter's Scandalous Past, is now available, either on Harlequin or Amazon.

Here's the back-cover blurb:

With her uncle’s health declining, Esther Yoder wants nothing more than to sell his mercantile store. But what she doesn’t count on is Joseph Kemp being the prospective buyer. He’s the reason Esther fled her Amish community, and Esther fears her shameful past could threaten the sale. Can they learn to forgive each other…or will old guilt stand in the way of their future?

This is the first of a three-book series involving two brothers and a sister. I'm going to have to write more sibling series, because these were fun to write!

Meanwhile, I'm just now finishing up the manuscript for "The Amish Beekeeper's Dilemma" (which is due, like, tomorrow). It's been a push getting this one done in a timely fashion. I haven't missed a deadline yet and don't intend to start!

I hope you enjoy "The Quilter's Scandalous Past."

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Thank you for that opinion

Hmm. I just received an interesting comment on a post I put up a couple weeks ago called "The only way to survive 2023." The subject of the post – and the only subject of the post, I might add – is the importance of frugality when it comes to weathering an economic storm.

This morning I received a non sequitur comment as follows (spelling, grammar, syntax, and profanity intact):

No Patrice b*tch only you and your relious Cult are the parasite a drain a virus to our society what the goal of b*tch like you and conservative propaganda Cult is to force there views on others most normal Americans understand women's right to het body is her alone just like marrying who two consenting adults is no onds business 

Okay then. What this has to do with frugality is anyone's guess. However the more closely I read this, the more amused I became.

There is the possibility English is not this person's first language, in which case the quality of writing is understandable (I would butcher any attempt to express my opinion in French or Tagalog or Hindi or any other language).

However if this person is a native English speaker, then this comment is a powerful testament to the effects of public education, in both opinion and quality. Yes, I find myself more appalled at the utter inability to spell, punctuate, or comprehend basic syntax than I am about his/her thoughts on my religious or political suasions (which have nothing to do with frugality).

So ... to whomever this mysterious reader is, thank you for that opinion. Happy frugaling!

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Planting potatoes

Last year, I tried an experiment: planting potatoes in grow bags. It was an unmitigated disaster, but not for the reasons you'd think. Rather, I blame two things: a poor choice of location, and poor soil.

The location was a narrow strip of land behind our shed, between the shed and the pasture fence.

It seemed logical: fairly protected, close to water, and out of the way. What could possibly go wrong? After a LOT of hard work, I got the potatoes planted in the grow bags (these are twenty-gallon bags, by the way).

At first they grew well, but then several things happened. One, as spring advanced into summer and the weather grew drier and hotter, it quickly became apparent that the topsoil we'd used was more like "top clay." Even though I watered diligently, the poor potatoes were baked into hard clay and had a difficult time growing.

And two, clay is heavy. When I tried to "mound" the potatoes by topping off the grow bags with more dirt, I could barely heave the clay-soil into the bags. Since one side was blocked by the shed wall, I couldn't access the back bags. I ended up just dumping the clay-soil over the potato plants from a distance instead of carefully mounding, which just buried the poor things. Bottom line, they all died. It was very discouraging.

This year, I was determined to mend my mistakes. I'm still enamored with the grow bags and feel they are an excellent alternative to growing potatoes in the ground or in raised beds. This past week, here's what I did.

The first thing I did was removed the bags, emptied them, and relocated them to a better spot. At first I thought it would be a simple matter of using a hand truck to remove each grow bag, but that idea quickly went south. Those bags must have weighed 200 lbs. each (remember, twenty gallons of heavy wet clay!) and I couldn't so much as budge them.

Instead, I laboriously dug the clay-soil from each bag with a shovel, one at a time, and put the clay-soil into the gorilla cart. After fifteen or twenty shovel-fulls, the bag was low enough that I could lift it and dump the remaining soil into the cart.

In this, I had (ahem) lots of help from Mr. Darcy.

One by one, I removed the bags and revealed the pallets on which they'd rested. I removed the pallets and placed them in the front of the house, alongside the Nuclear Strawberry beds, because they would be easy to fence in.

This is a temporary spot, but that's okay. Pallets are easy to move.

Above all, I wanted to make sure I could access the grow bags from all sides for ease of filling. To this end, I made a sort of cloverleaf formation with the pallets.

The next step was to improve the clay-soil. Fortunately we have a mound of compost...

...and a mound of sand we purchased last fall for purposes of amending soil (sadly, far too late to help last year's potatoes).

To a grow bag's worth of clay-soil, I added ten shovels full of compost and five shovels full of sand. Note the dramatic color difference between the clay-soil (at left) and compost (at right).

Then I mixed it all together. I flippin' LOVE using sand to break up clay. It's wonderful stuff. Together with the compost, the result of these efforts was a lovely rich friable soil.

As I emptied the grow bags, I relocated them to their new spot and filled them with about four inches of this soil mixture. To aid in that, I used a cut-off bottomless old garbage can as a funnel, which holds the mouth of the grow bags open while I shovel dirt into them.


This whole process was slow and took place over several days, also factoring in some rainy weather.

Meanwhile, I had a lot of seed potatoes – probably too many.

I have twenty grow bags, so I divvied the potatoes into twenty piles.

Then, for each pile, I cut the larger potatoes into two or three pieces, and left the smaller potatoes intact, for a total of six pieces per pile. I had a lot of seed potatoes, so I could afford not to be parsimonious.

I let them dry for a day or two...

...until the cut side was toughened up a bit. This helps prevent potatoes from rotting in the dirt.

By the way, these are russet potatoes, an indeterminate variety.  This means they grow in multiple layers and benefit from being mounded. In lieu of mounding, they will be "buried" up to their necks twice during the growing season.

On planting day, I placed six pieces in each grow bag.

Then, using the garbage-can funnel, I covered the pieces with about four inches of that lovely friable soil mixture.

For the time being, that's all I have to do. We had rain the day after I planted, so they're thoroughly watered.

Sometimes the side of a grow bag wants to collapse inward... I'll prop it up with sticks.

This won't be an issue later in the season as I "mound" more soil in the grow bags.

In the next couple of weeks, we'll bring in more horse panels and widen the fencing to encompass both the strawberry beds and the potato grow bags, to prevent the deer from munching the plants.

I'm confident the potatoes will grow better this year. For one thing, they're in much better soil. For another thing, I can "mound" the soil more carefully around the plants since I can access them from all sides, instead of trying to dump clay-soil from a distance. Time will tell.

It feels good to take a step toward growing things, even if the proper garden isn't built yet.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Are you SURE you want to nest there?

A year and a half ago, Don did a tremendous amount of deck repair around the house, including removing a wide section that was literally rotting through.

As a result, we have some freestanding posts that, eventually, we'll get around to removing (they're in the middle-right of the photo below). But for the moment, they're doing no harm and aren't in the way.

One of these posts has a rotted top.

This has apparently caught the attention of a pair of black-capped chickadees. They've been diligently excavating it, presumably in anticipation of nesting in it.

One or the other bird will land on the edge of the post, then dive inside. It emerges a few seconds later with a beak full of rotten wood debris.

It then flies off to dump its load...

...while its mate swoops in right behind it to duplicate the process.

Back and forth, back and forth, busy as beavers.

Personally we think it's not the best spot for a nest since I would guess the pocket would fill with water, but I suppose the birds know what they're doing. 

I don't know if they'll complete the nest – I haven't seen them at all today, perhaps because it's been rainy – but it's been fun to watch how industrious they are.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

The gardening itch

Despite persistently chilly temperatures, spring is upon us. No denying it. The trees are starting to bud, the grass is greening up, and the gardening itch is biting hard.

Here in our new (to us) home, we have the same issue of heavy clay soil we had in our old place. In fact, sad/funny true story: We have some lovely neighbors who moved in early last year. They're urban transplants and are eager to embrace a homesteading lifestyle. Last spring, they put up a four-foot fence (not understanding how high deer jump) around a garden area, tilled up the soil, and planted their garden. They were gratified by how many seedlings popped up (though less gratified when the deer started grazing them down; they've since doubled the height of their garden fence). However when we visited with them mid-summer and the subject of gardens came up, they were dismayed and discouraged that their vegetables had been baked into hard clay, and no amount of watering seemed to help. We sympathized and told them about the Wonders of Raised Bed Gardening.

Anyway, that's a long-winded way of explaining why we're never going to even bother planting any vegetables in the soil. It's raised beds all the way for us, baby.

For some time now, Don's been constructing beds. This year we anticipate we'll get 30 beds built, filled, and planted (we'll expand next year). Here are the first six:

In March, we marked off the dimensions of the garden. It will be long and fairly narrow. (That's Don down there at the far end.)

In the absence of billboard tarps (which we used for weed control in our last garden), we purchased some industrial-strength weed cloth. We're waiting for the pasture to dry enough that Don can plow the garden space under with the tractor. Then we'll lay down the weed cloth and anchor it with gravel before putting the beds in place.

However potatoes need to be planted right away. In the absence of beds, I'll use grow bags. This week I bought my seed potatoes.

Yes, that gardening itch is biting hard. It feels good to move, however modestly, toward our homesteading goals.

Monday, April 17, 2023

New face at the bird feeder

A flash of white caught my eye the other day, as a new bird showed up at the feeder.

I was puzzled because we don't have any white birds in the region. My first thought was it was an albino Cassin's finch, but it didn't have the characteristic albino features (pink eyes, legs, and beak). Nor was its plumage true white.

A few moments of research determined it's a leucistic Cassin's finch. According to this website, "A lesser-known genetic condition is called leucism. Unlike albinism, leucism doesn’t completely eliminate pigment. Leucistic birds have incredibly varied patterns. They may appear more muted than their counterparts or they can be dotted with white patches. These birds are occasionally mistaken for albinos, but leucistic birds always have some pigment in their feathers or other body parts, such as their feet, eyes or beak."

I mean, how cool is this?

Some sources I read indicated leucistic birds often get picked on by other birds, but I saw no indication of this. The white bird behaved just the same as the other Cassin's finches. However, that same online source added, "Birds with discoloration may struggle during courtship. Many birds use plumage color as a way to find and recognize potential mates."

Now that he (she?) has found his way to the feeder, I see him often. It's always a pleasure.

The only thing I noticed is this leucistic bird doesn't stand as high on its legs. Below is a regular Cassin's finch:

This leucistic finch, while appearing perfectly healthy, sits back more on its haunches. Perhaps it has weaker legs? No idea.

Regardless, it's a pretty bird, and very welcome at the feeder.