What’s in the Garden? Weeds? Oh my!

Weeds, weeds weeds. IMG_6039[1]
The last two weekends I have had no time to plant because all I can do is fight the weeds. It’s a problem we have because fall turned to winter before we had a chance to take our normal precautions to prevent weed growth. Now we have massive dandelions, bull thistle, stinging nettle and plenty of grasses. After many hours of work, I have one row in the big garden, two raised garden boxes and one flower bed that are weed free. It is a long process! I know for most folks, weeding is drudgery, but for “unusual me” it is generally soothing and something I don’t mind. Of course, when it takes up Saturday after Saturday it even wears me down!

Today I wanted to share the tools and techniques I use to banish weeds from our garden. We generally use five methods: the human power of a strong back and pair of hands, small hand tools, a propane weed torch, other organic weed killers and gas-powered mechanical tools.

Human Power

Hand weeding is essential–get the weeds out while small and young so that they can’t go to seed and produce thousands of additional weeds–but this work can be hard on your body! Be sure to stretch out! Take advantage of the winter months to strengthen yourself and prepare for the spring.

Maybe try my newly favorite approach. After cancer treatment I was a weakling. I had no strength and my motivation was low. A good friend of mine encouraged me to start doing yoga once or twice a week to regain my strength. Yoga? I had to think about it for a while, but I did start and the strength and calming mental health effects I gained from yoga classes have been so worth the effort. Yoga is great for women AND men, so guys, don’t you be afraid to try it. Yoga has also been beneficial for me, being a person who now has one less lobe to my lungs, because the breathing techniques that are a part of the sessions help me to feel well, instead of out of breath and wheezing by the time I finish my exercise. In preparation for gardening, yoga strengthens your back muscles! I found it is excellent for gardeners who are always bending over to plant or pull those weeds. Build your strength with yoga, my friends!

Did you know that gardening counts as exercising? Please read the following article from WebMD if you need the evidence Get Fit by Gardening. I was very happy with this information because I spend so much time in the garden.

Protect those hands! Here is my favorite pair of garden gloves linked from Amazon.com Nitrile Garden Gloves. These are in nice colors for the ladies, but they also come in black if that works for you. Be certain to pay attention to order your size, you want them to be like a second skin.

Favorite Hand Tools

Bypass pruning shears I’ve used a lot of different brands. This pair surprised me because they were still in great shape even after I left in the rain for too long. Oops. I often misplace hand tools in the garden. Luckily these are affordably priced on Amazon.com.

This is my favorite Weed Digger. I like the wooden handle. This one doesn’t come apart like so many plastic-handled tools I’ve owned. I am also not impressed with the thicker shaft models like the Fiskars brand, because they are hard to drive into the soil to get underneath the weeds well. We use these weed diggers often with the many dandelions in our gardens and lawn. Our kids also use these hand tools to earn money (and when they need time to think about their problem behavior.)

My husband, The Midnight Gardener, powers through weedy patches with a stirrup (also known as an action hoe). We’ve owned several over the years and all worked reasonable well. Our soil can be rocky, so a good quality steel blade is important so the hoe can be re-sharpened and will hold an edge. One winter he wanted the Swiss-made Stirrup Hoe from Johnny’s Selected Seeds so much that he bought it for himself as a gift one holiday season. I remember thinking, “That was expensive!” Now I love it and don’t use anything else.

Burn Those Weeds

Okay, we do occasionally use a propane garden torch. Correction–The Midnight Gardener uses a propane torch, a.k.a. Gardening Flamethrower. I am too afraid of burning something down. We have an agreed upon rule that he can only use it if I am home. There is some history there that (cough) we don’t need to go in to (let’s just say that we may have had a little fire incident that wouldn’t have turned out well if I hadn’t been there and quick with the garden hose). A quick pass of the torch kills many weeds. It is most useful for large scale weeding away from delicate plants, such as along borders, pavers, ditches and rocky, hard to weed areas. Amazon.com has well-priced and basic model Weed Burner to which you add your own propane tank, such as one from a BBQ grill.

Organic Weed Killers

We plant cover crops at the end of the gardening season. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we often use a mix of winter rye, crimson clover and vetch. The result is a dense canopy that covers and protects the soil from winter erosion. These lush, fast-growing plants block weed seed germination and out compete all else. As a bonus, these crops are cut down in the spring resulting in a large quantity of organic material that amends the soil with nutrients just in time for spring planting.

We’ve used rolls of plastic sheeting for effectively killing weeds in large areas. It isn’t a quick solution, but is very effective when left in place for months, such as when preparing new garden beds. The black plastic serves as an occultation cover, denying light to the turf or weedy soils. Clear plastic sheets can be used over soil to kill weeds, and pests through solarization, which concentrates the sun’s energy in the top 12-18 inches.

When we invest the time to do things right, landscape fabrics have been the answer for weed free walkways, borders, around trees and the like. For many years we’ve used the 4 ft. wide commercial quality products carried by discount clubs and big box stores. Recently we found a local source for Dewitt Sunbelt Woven Ground Cover and have begun to use it due to its durability.

A lot of gardeners have made use of vinegar for killing weeds. This is something I’m learning about. Understand that this isn’t common household vinegar, but is something much stronger. The potent stuff can contain 20-25% acetic acid, and may be called horticultural vinegar where you live. Where I live there are laws about its sale and use, and safety precautions to be considered, so please do your own research.

Gas-Powered Mechanical Tools

If you have a large garden or yard, the right tools are time savers. A rototiller can be useful for breaking up new garden beds or adding large quantities of organic matter, but for us it isn’t something we use frequently because of the impact the machine has in pulverizing the soil and destroying the soil food web. A year ago we invested in a high-impact set of garden tools that rule! The Stihl Kombi System in my opinion rocks! This system consists of an engine component and attachments that allow you to cut, trim, edge, prune, cultivate, blow, and sweep. You buy the separate attachments you need. We have found the time savings to be worth it. We bought our system at a local Stihl dealer and it has saved us so much time and effort!

And this my friends is all I can recommend to help you in your weed fighting efforts. All this work inspires me to do more for weed prevention–but that is another subject for another time.

Off I go to do what? Yes, of course it’s time to weed again.

 

 

Half Way There..Surviving & Thriving

Today I am stepping away from my garden to share with you my good news. Good news nope, Great news! On Friday, I celebrated two and a half years of freedom from cancer!! The Midnight Gardener and Clever Girl went with me to my two and a half year check-up with my Doctor, Kimberly Costas. We looked at the scans together and they looked perfectly clean from anything cancerous. I am of course happy, delighted and relieved.

My heart continues to be so full of gratitude to God for his constant goodness, for a gifted surgeon, and supportive team of Doctors and of course for amazing family, friends and church family. I celebrate you!! Cheers to a great six months!! Jen

Never Boil Another Egg Again!

Perfect Steamed Eggs

Yes I know eggs don’t grow in gardens but they do come from chickens, that live on farms, where gardens grow. Oh, well I just had to share this recipe because it is still close to Easter right and my enjoyment of hard boiled eggs increased immensely after I received this recipe.

One day I was outside weeding in my front garden beds when my neighbor Jim stopped by to give me the best hard boiled egg recipe ever.  When I read the title I was surprised because it said, “Best Steamed Eggs.” I was intrigued. I tried it and I haven’t boiled an egg since. Steamed eggs turn out tender, with no grey edges around the yoke every time. They are so easy to peel the shells just slide right off. Just follow this simple recipe.

Ingredients

10 eggs, salt & pepper to taste. (That’s it!)

Fill a steamer with around four cups of water and bring the water to a boil. Once the water is boiling place ten eggs inside the steamer, cover with a lid. Next, set a timer for 14 minutes. When the timer finishes immediately pour the hot water out of the bottom of the steamer. Then fill the steamer with cold water enough to cover the eggs. Let the eggs chill in the water for 5 or so minutes. Finally, crack, peel, sprinkle with salt & pepper and eat. Perfect every time. If you want fancy steamed eggs use a sprinkle of crystal salt.

Adapted from a recipe given to me by my nearly 85 year old neighbor Jim. Thanks, Jim!

R is for: Reliable Easter Egg Radishes

It wasn’t until I became a gardener that I came to appreciate the lowly radish. One of the earliest vegetables to germinate in the cold spring soil, I find delight each spring season when I spot these tiny green seedlings against the expanse of dark, wet earth.

Now, if you want to introduce and involve children in your gardening efforts, look no farther than the radish. Find a packet of seeds labeled “Easter Egg Radish.” The packet will include a blend of three or four varieties of radish seed, each of a different color. Radishes are also ideal for kids to plant because they want to see results quickly. While no seeds sprout immediately (magic beans?), radishes go from planting to harvest in a short three to four weeks. When harvest time arrives, the children will be surprised to discover a colorful bunch of crisp radishes–purple, pink, white, and crimson–hiding just under the soil. Come on! Get the kids in your life a packet of these seeds and the results will be rewarding for all. 

The Easter egg radish colors are delightful, but what is best about a quality variety of radish seed is that it is hard to mess up! You can trust that if you plant a radish seed, a tiny green plant will come up because they are the most dependable seeds in the garden. Even if you think you can’t get any seed to grow, just follow the direction on a packet and plant a row of radish seeds and you can consider yourself a gardener!

Radish seeds are always reliableimg_5532

 

My radishes are already up. They are pretty, right? Okay, okay, I know they need to be thinned a little. I tend to plant too many seeds. 

Easter means new life to me. With spring the earth comes alive again. In Christianity we celebrate Christ’s resurrection and the knowledge that He lives again. We feel peace as we contemplate our faith in this truth, and our certainty that He is with us, that He knows us and that He is reliable without question.

I have needed to wait on the Lord (Isaiah 40:31) and His timing on many occasions in my life. With some trials, He has taken me to the end of my rope and to where it seemed to me I was dangling from a piece of dental floss. But there have also been so many times when He answered my need in a hurry, to my great delight and wonder. Here is just one of those remarkable stories:

As I wrote in “F is for: Fluffy Soil,” I have known since my fight with ovarian cancer at age thirteen that I would not be able to give birth to children. With time I came to recognize that the blessing of adoption could be my way to grow a family. And later, when I married, my husband and I prepared our new life together to be centered around this desire. When he finished graduate school, the time came for us to complete our adoption paperwork and then wait. We had been told the wait could be long, and we had prepared for that eventuality.

We also expressed our righteous desire to welcome a child into our family through prayer and fasting. While we thought the wait would be sooo long, it wasn’t! Within only a few short months we got a call from our adoption agency with the news that we should be expecting a child in the spring of that year. This would be a little baby girl, a tiny 5 pound 14-ounce peanut. God had heard my prayers, my husband’s prayers, our parent’s prayers, our family member’s prayers, and His answer came so quickly that all were astounded. Including this little lady into our lives filled us with joy, and so Clever Girl was given the middle name “Joy.” 

God taught us through this sweet child that we could trust Him and He blessed us over time with opportunities to adopt three other wonderful children. Now these three darlings did not come as quickly as the first. In truth, my trust in Him was weak on many occasions, but in time I learned again and again not to doubt Him. Reflecting back on these challenging times, I should not have doubted His timing because each of our children joined our family at what we recognize was the perfect time for us. I see this now–I just couldn’t see it at the time, and I wish I would have always lifted my spiritual gaze to a place of faith instead of focusing in the intensity of those moments.

We can be assured that God is reliable. We, as His impatient children, need to set aside doubt and fear and trust Him enough to wait patiently for His perfect time.

Reliable Easter egg radish seeds will grow without fail. Plant them. Trust God. Plant your faith in Him and He will help you grow. And sometimes you will be astounded how quickly it comes to you too.

T is for Tulips…Plant Them Deeply

We live in Washington State, not far from the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. Spring is the time to visit and tour the fields when they are covered with thousands of tulips or daffodils. The first time we visited I naively traveled all that way to find fields of daffodils in decline and fields of green tulip plants not yet in bloom. I learned that year how important it is to check the bloom status when planning a trip. Prior to the next visit, I called the Tulip Festival’s phone number to ask when the tulips would be in full bloom. The person I spoke with was kind, but I did hear a tinge of exasperation in the response, “Like it says on the website, tulips do not bloom according to a precise calendar date—rather, the schedule for blooms is weather dependent.” I’ve now know to check the website to ensure the fields are in full color before we trek to Tulip Town.

Like the farmers and gardeners who create the displays at the tulip festival, I also made a great effort this past year to plant tulip bulbs in mid-October. I do this so that as April approaches there will be brilliant spots of color amid the grey scenery and dreary spring rains of the Northwest. This year is no exception. I planted a lot of bulbs and the first of my tulips are about to bloom. But let me stray from the subject of tulips for a moment…

Growing and changing as a person is not an easy task. Developing ourselves takes faith in God, a willingness to trust Him and to do the hard work, and it helps if we have patience and are persistent. With my own growth in mind, I set a goal for myself during my second fight with cancer. I wanted to memorize an important scripture in hopes that I could come to understand the lesson that God had for me in that very difficult time. I planned to work on my goal while undergoing the many radiation treatments in order to distract and occupy my thoughts.

My radiation treatments happened each weekday for six weeks. At each visit I had to lay in a large machine called a linear accelerator. Technicians used laser crosshairs to ensure I was positioned precisely so that the machine could deliver focused doses of radiation to the desired target locations inside my chest with minimal damage to the surrounding tissues. During the treatments the machine moved around me to deliver the radiation from multiple directions.

While I didn’t feel physical pain during the procedure, it did come later each day as the cells in the affected areas reacted to the powerful radiation. However, I did experience considerable anguish during each treatment! From the moment I was positioned in the machine I was required to be completely motionless and remain that way until the treatment was over. (Oh, and there is the fact that you must do this while at the same time being exposed… This is because the alignment cannot be established and maintained if clothing is in the way.)

I am terrible at being still. It is torture to me. That is where my goal came in. I would lay still and work on my goal as the minutes ticked by slowly at a snail’s pace. I kept repeating the scripture to myself, reciting it over and over again, and I did this each weekday for 6 weeks. I prayed during that time too, and I thought a lot about my children and my family. These practices were the only way I could maintain the stillness and make it through the treatments.

I didn’t memorize the scripture. I tried and tried. I remember lying there and just trying to remember only three or four of the words–but they would be just out of my reach. It seemed to be simple goal–just one scripture. Ridiculously easy for most, but try it with a chemo brain, lying absolutely still in a machine that is moving around you and all while in a minor state of undress!

Reflecting on it now I realize I was planning to be an overachiever! It may seem silly but I still don’t have this scripture memorized. At first I was disappointed in myself. “Why couldn’t I memorize it?” I despaired. But after some time and quiet reflection, I realized that I had achieved something more valuable than rote memorization of those words. I gained deep within myself a profound understanding of the message in that scripture. There was no rushing in this planting, there was plenty of time. The understanding I gained is so deeply planted in my soul that it influenced me to change.

Just as the tulip’s bloom is weather dependent, so is the changing of one’s heart. My life’s weather was incredibly stormy when this scripture was planted over and over again. The repetition created the perfect conditions for my heart to be softened and for God’s words to be planted deeply and as He intended—so that I could act upon the desire to change.

Italian Tortellini Soup

I am going to start this page by sharing an award winning soup recipe. Italian Tortellini Soup. Award winning you say? Yes that is right, award winning!  The office where I used to work holds an annual soup competition. Employees prepare entries and each office selects their favorite soup, and sends the winning employee to the regional soup cook-off. This recipe was my office’s winning soup and at the region competition it was declared the overall regional winner. Great recipe! My supervisor was so delighted when my recipe won that she and another co-worker plastered my wall with pictures of soup cans. It brightened the office for a couple of weeks.

Where did the recipe come from? We had a neighbor who had Italian family roots, and she shared this soup with my family. We loved it. That was about 10 years ago. I’m glad that I asked her for the recipe. She gave me a copy of her family’s cookbook, The LaFrance Family Cookbook. You’ll love all the healthy garden produce that is the highlight of this recipe.

(I have a little secret–over the years I adapted the recipe to simplify the preparation and to take advantage of the bounty of my summer garden all year long. I now make the recipe with my own homegrown tomato sauce, which makes it extra delicious. I’ll share the adaptation soon, it is not included in the recipe below. What follows is the inspirational recipe that was given to me.)

Italian Tortellini Soup

Ingredients

1 lb. Italian sausage (bulk or remove the casings)

1 cup onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 cups Roma tomatoes, chopped (or 2 cans diced tomatoes)

5 cups beef stock or canned beef broth

1-8 oz. can of tomato sauce

1 large zucchini, diced

2 large carrots, thickly sliced

1 orange or yellow bell pepper, diced

½ cup of 100% grape juice

1 tbsp. dried oregano

1 tbsp. dried basil (or 3 tbsp. fresh)

1 tsp. Italian seasoning

8 – 10 oz. fresh cheese tortellini (results are also good with frozen tortellini)

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Fry the Italian sausage in a heavy Dutch oven over medium heat until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer sausage to a bowl.

Remove all but one tablespoon of sausage drippings from the Dutch oven. Add the onion and the garlic to the Dutch oven and sauté until translucent. Return the sausage to the Dutch oven. Add the stock, tomatoes, tomato sauce, zucchini, carrots, bell pepper, grape juice and the herbs / spices. Simmer on low until vegetables are tender.

Add the tortellini to the soup and cook a few minutes until tender. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve garnished with a sprinkle of with Parmesan cheese.

Pruning Fruit Trees

Saturday was sunny and not too cold, the perfect weather for pruning our fruit trees. Does pruning also hold a bit of mystery for you? I have studied the topic, and while the basics were clear, it remained a mysterious art to me for years. Even though the authors offered guidelines, photos and some diagrams, because those images didn’t look like my trees, I was still left uncertain. By applying the guidelines and my limited sense of esthetics, I started experimenting. I’ve learned a lot over the years, but I still often wonder whether I’ve done it “right.” I am not yet an expert home orchardist, but I am learning. The trees are healthy and we get good amounts of fruit, so I know I’m doing some things well.

What have I learned?

  • I prune the fruit trees during the late winter while the plants are dormant.
  • Because I know that a blunt tool can lead to unintended damage to a tree, I sharpen my tools frequently. This step also makes the work easier.
  • To prevent the spread of disease, I keep my tools clean and the cutting blades disinfected. I repeat this between trees. To make this easy, I use bleach-free disposable wipes.
  • I know how to use four pruning cuts (pinching, heading, thinning, shearing) as appropriate and I understand each will result in corresponding change in the growth of the tree.

Pruning Resources:

Pruning Basics from OSU Extension Service

Pruning Your Home Orchard from OSU Extension Service

Fruit Trees: Training and Pruning Deciduous Trees from UC Davis Cooperative Extension

Disinfect Your Tools to Prevent Disease

 

The dormant season is also an ideal time to plant trees.

  • You can purchase trees sold as “bareroot” plants, growing in containers, or with their root ball wrapped in burlap.
  • I prefer bareroot trees for two reasons: 1.) they are relatively lightweight which makes them easier to move and plant, and 2.) the roots are visible such that I can determine their condition.
  • I have planted fruit trees from containers, and those trees have flourished for the most part, but I have also found trees for sale that had been in the container too long and had developed circling roots that could strangle the tree, and wouldn’t venture far into the surrounding soil leading to a less healthy and potentially unstable tree.

Planting Resources:

Planting Your Bareroot Fruit Tree by UGA Extension

Planting Bareroot Trees from Fine Gardening Magazine

 

Garden well,

The Midnight Gardener

Beautiful Basil

Basil is beautiful for so many reasons. Shall I list them for you? OK, just for you:

  • Basil has an amazing aroma and flavor. It has the ability to transform a simple dish into something spectacular.
  • Basil has a gorgeous appearance–it is like a beautiful houseplant but is one you can also eat.
  • Basil is great for your health. It is high in Vitamin K and offers smaller amounts Vitamin C, Calcium and Iron. It’s aroma will lift your spirits.
  • Basil will regenerate. That is right. Clip off  a bunch and even more beautiful stems and leaves will grow back.
  • Homegrown basil is beautifully easy on your purse. The only cost is a few dollars for a seed packet and a bit of soil. Store-bought fresh basil will only provide enough leaves for 1 or 2 meals, and at a steep cost of $5.00 or more.
  • It is beautiful that a flush of basil leaves growing now can be preserved for use later. I slice up the leaves (see chiffonade of basil) and then stir in a quality olive oil until well coated. I loosely pack about a tablespoon of this mixture into the cups of  mini-muffin tray, to about 3/4 full. I add a bit more oil to cover. Then I take the tray to the freezer overnight. I remove these “basil hockey pucks” from the tray and store them in a freezer bag. Later, when I want to add basil to a dish or sauce, I can simply add the quantity I need from the freezer. Coated in the oil, the basil is preserved such that when used, it is closest to fresh. In this way, I have fresh-tasting basil all year long!
  • Basil is truly beautiful to grow, and it will add what my daughter, Keepsake Collector, calls a “pop” of gorgeous green color to your kitchen.

We grow basil year round–you can too! I promise. It is so easy and it takes very little time.

Steps to Grow Basil

  1. My favorite basil variety for cooking is Geneovese. I also like growing other varieties. Select which kinds you want to grow and purchase a packet, or get one of the packets that has mix of several types.
  2. Fill a 6-8 inch decorative houseplant pot with moistened potting soil. Firm the soil down, adding more as needed. (If you have seedling mix, you can improve germination by add 2 inches of seedling mix in a layer above the potting soil.) You should have 1-2 inches of space left between the soil and the top edge of the pot.
  3. Plant 6 or 7 basil seeds in the dirt. They should be scattered evenly, not just in one spot. Add a very thin, light dusting of soil to barely cover the seeds.
  4. Cover the pot with a layer of plastic wrap to keep things moist.
  5. Place the pot in a sunny windowsill or under indoor plant lights where it will receive 8-10 hours of strong light each day. All will be ok if the soil gets warm, but avoid locating the pot in too hot of a place or nothing will grow (I use plant lights and a heating mat with a plant thermometer that together keep things at about 80 degrees.)
  6. Wait. Practice patience. If the soil was moist and you keep it covered with the plastic, you shouldn’t need to add water until after the seeds germinate.
  7. Germination can take 5-10 days. When you see the tiny green seedlings begin to emerge, you can check the conditions. If all is moist, keep things covered for a few days longer as the tiny seedlings get their start. Then uncover the pot.
  8. Watch the seedlings. If your light source is insufficient, the seedlings will shoot up in search of light and become fragile and leggy. Also, watch the conditions of the soil. Add water before the surface of the soil begins to dry out. (I use a spray bottle for the first weeks as the subsoil will still be moist but the first few inches need to be misted.)
  9. Depending on the brand, there may be some slow release nutrients in the potting soil or there may be very little. If I am uncertain, I begin to add diluted liquid fertilizer with each watering (25% of the strength described on the product) after the seedlings are about 2 weeks old.
  10. Because germination won’t be 100%, I encouraged you to plant more seeds than is advisable in a small pot. After the seedlings are 2-3 inches tall, select the best seedlings and cut out any others that could compete and create crowded conditions. The pot in the photo below is 6-1/2 inches across and is full with 4-5 plants. IMG_5358
  11. To achieve a bushy plant full of leaves, basil plants should be “pinched.” Without this step, the plants will grow along a single main stem and develop very few leaves. I start once the seedlings have 3 or 4 sets of leaves. I use my fingernails to “pinch” the main stem just above the 3rd set of leaves, being careful not to damage the tiny waiting buds that form in the leaf nodes. I use the trimmed leaves in my cooking. Additional details and photos can be found in How to Pinch Back Basil and Make Pesto.
  12. Once the weather is warm enough for tomatoes to be planted, take your basil starts out to the garden too. Plant them in a rich bed of soil and continue to maintain similar conditions and continue to pinch the plants as they grow. You’ll be amazed by the results. Enjoy!

Start with Good Seeds

Long before it is time to plant seeds, while it is still winter outside here in western Washington, there are steps you can take to get great results in your garden. What planning do you do now?

My planning starts with reflecting on the prior year, and establishing a plan for the coming season.

  • What crops grew well, and what didn’t?
  • What were the biggest successes at the dinner table? Anything we didn’t like?
  • Did we grow too much or too little of anything?

The next step in planning for me is learning about and acquiring seeds. While I buy a lot of seeds, I also grow and save some of my own seeds and I swap seeds with other gardeners. I rarely buy anything from the seed racks at the national retailers however. Large-scale seed suppliers offer their top quality seed to farmers. Home gardeners aren’t their top priority. In my experience, such seeds lead to limited success and considerable frustration.

Over the years I have had the best results by selecting high-quality varieties that are adapted to my climate and region. For example, I live in the U.S., north of Seattle, Washington, where we have relatively mild winters and a late start to sunny, summer conditions. I have to select early varieties and perhaps use season extending techniques. If I were to choose plant varieties that require a long growing season, nothing would be ready for harvest before end of the season.

Instead I buy from seed companies who cater primarily to small-scale growers and home gardeners. The best suppliers also operate regional trial grounds and conduct regular germination tests. Take a look at one of their seed catalogs and you will note that such companies distinguish themselves by offering fantastic culture information about each plant. Reading these catalogs will provide a gardener with a lot of information about the advantages of different varieties and the way in which the best grow them.

This is a list of my favorite seed companies:

Garden well,

The Midnight Gardener

F is for: “Fluffy Soil”

Hair: brown hair, blonde hair, black hair, white hair, auburn hair, strawberry blonde hair and today there is blue hair and sometimes even pink hair too! My hair: bright, bright, the brightest of bright-red hair; the not-so-good color of red, that garish-stand-out red color. This is a hair color that works in some people’s favor because they have a firecracker personality to match and they are fine to stand out. As a young person I did not want to stand out, but on the night of this memory I was a teenager at a dance and I did want someone to notice me and ask me to dance. No one did. I stood alone at the edge of the dance floor. All of my friends were invited by boys to join them and dance. Who knows why no one came over; my mind at the time blamed the fluffy, over-permed, (you know what I am talking about my 80’s friends) bright-red hair!

I am a late bloomer when it comes to believing in myself and recognizing who God knows I am becoming. Through much of my life I was convinced that I was not good enough, had little talent, and that no one liked me. In a way I was so “me” focused that I thought everything was about me. I mistakenly thought everyone noticed everything I did and said, and they thought it was all flawed. Hopefully we all know that this kind of anxious thinking just isn’t connected with reality. It has taken time and extremely difficult experiences involving this same hair that I am now seeing myself as inherently good—divine even.

To explain further let’s consider two staples in any kitchen garden, fluffy soil and home grown carrots.

Have you ever seen homegrown carrots that are gnarled and forked, like when three carrot roots grow from one carrot top? What happens to cause these carrots not to grow to their ideal potential of long, straight roots? My husband (The Midnight Gardener) has explained to me that during the first weeks after sprouting, a carrot seed sends a fine, thin root deep into the dirt, which if it doesn’t meet obstructions such as compacted soil or stones, will grow straight without becoming stunted or forked.

When he first built our garden boxes my husband spent hours screening our gravel-strewn soil through a homemade soil sifter with the help of our oldest daughter. I remember thinking, “What a waste of time! Those bits of stone are tiny.” I felt annoyed with him and the unnecessarily meticulous and slow process. What I have since realized is that while his preparations with the soil took a lot of time, it was not time wasted because only fine, fluffy soil will grow garden vegetables as glorious as they are meant to be. My favorite carrots happen to be purple and when they are grown in the finely screened soil of our garden boxes, they are delicious, truly divine. Our oldest daughter, Clever Girl, the one who sifted all that soil, eats them straight out of the garden box.

Oh, and by the way, if you visit our garden please do not walk on my husband’s fluffy garden soil—stay on the paths or risk a scolding! Because the soil slumps over time, he aerates and maintains our garden beds each spring with a broad fork.

Returning to my fluffy, over-permed red hair…I hate to bring up the word cancer, but it is one of those words that has been a part of my life since the age of 13. Ovarian, lung and skin cancer have rocked my world and been the cause of the battles that helped me recognize and access the divinity within myself.

When I was thirteen I was thrust into a frightening fight with ovarian cancer. I underwent surgery, during which doctors removed a grapefruit-sized tumor and the affected parts of my body. Surgery was followed by three months of chemotherapy treatments. During the 1980’s cancer patients, especially children, were required to stay in the hospital during these treatments. I was in the hospital for a week, then could be at home the next—this pattern continuing during the three months.

Near the end of the treatment, I noticed that my hair had begun to fall out when I brushed it. So I stopped brushing my hair altogether. My hair next began to snarl into knots. Finally, when only a few strands held the snarled mass to my head, my mom and I sat in the shower as I sobbed and she gently removed what was left. After that, I wore a wig to school until my hair grew back.

Years later, at the age of forty-two, I had to subject my body once again to chemotherapy treatments. This time it followed a diagnosis of lung cancer. One morning I startled awake to the feeling of hair against my face. With dread in my heart I noted the many hairs on my pillow. It was at 4:30 a.m. when I woke my husband. It had become my determination in the preceding weeks that this time it would be up to me when my hair came out. I had made my decision. I asked my husband to shave it off right then. I wanted it done before the children awoke.

In those next moments he became known to me as the “Great Beautician.” Why? Because he took the time to use the clippers, then an electric razor, and finally shaving cream and a razor to leave my head nice and clean. He kept my spirits up by talking about funny things, and he told me, “You look beautiful” when I felt truly hideous! My practical (read: “cheap”) husband has teased me off and on throughout the years that I didn’t need an expensive hair dresser because HE could cut and color my hair. (And this from the man who did my daughter’s hair like Farrah Fawcett one Sunday when I had early meetings, and who brought her to church like that, with a part down the center and those feathered wings, and who, when I accused, “She looks like Farrah Fawcett from the 70’s!” cracked a naive smile and responded appreciatively, “Perfect! That is exactly the look I was going for!”) In response to his offers, I would just laugh, roll my eyes and change the subject! But, on this early morning with gentle curls of my red hair strewn on the kitchen floor around his slippers, I considered him to be a great beautician, my best friend and the love of my life.

Over the months that followed, my lack of hair was a daily reminder of my diagnosis. My 7-year-old daughter offered this unvarnished observation, “Momma, you look like an alien.” One morning when I came downstairs without a hat on, my 6-year-old son looked away and pleaded, “Mom, I am going to turn away and when I turn back around, you will have your hat on.” I laughed at each comment, instead of crying because they were both oh, so sincere. I did wear many cute hats instead of a wig, as I had done as that 13-year-old bald teenage girl. Thoughtful family and friends knit, sewed or bought me lovely hats. And you know, I began to realize something about myself—looking at my altered self each day in the mirror, I started to realize that I was beautiful with hair or without hair. I recognized something deeper and I began to understand my own worth through God’s eyes.

“Boo hoo” to all the self-esteem books out there. We are endowed with divine worth! As children of God we have a deeply-seated and intrinsic value. I began to understand that I needed to love and forgive myself more. I needed to stop deleting every imperfect photo of myself, for example, and eliminate the belief that I looked awful every time my face appeared on my phone’s screen. “Ahhhh!” I used to scream when I saw myself on the camera. I try not to do this anymore, but change is hard! I am however, seeing myself more and more as He sees me. I am striving each day not to let my potential for growth be stunted by overwhelming negative thoughts about myself. I am asking you, and telling you, that you can do the same. We must stop stunting our growth by stamping down the fine, fluffy soil within us—we must remember that we are created by a perfect God!

I want to be loved by the people that surround me—we all do, but more and more I am caring less and less what others think of me. And maybe no one will ask us to dance, or like the looks of our freckles, or our hair, or enjoy every word that we speak, but to me it just doesn’t matter. I know I am a daughter of God and what He thinks of me and how I feel about Him is of greatest value to me. As this knowledge sinks more deeply into my heart, I find more peace and I feel less fearful and worried.

Who He intends for us to become is beyond anything we can imagine. The sifting here on earth, for me and I am sure for you, has been and will continue to be difficult, tedious, and yes—plain old hard work. We may continue to have moments when we doubt ourselves. But, over the past two and a half years of recovery, I have heard His words in my mind over and over again, “Trust me.” In Psalms 91:2 we read, “I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in Him will I trust.”

My friends—believe in Him, trust Him and rest in His love. For when we meet Him face to face again He will not care about the state of our hair but He will recognize the condition of our hearts and want to know that we trusted in Him.

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