lessons learned: putting the gardens to bed

Yesterday, my daughter and I updated our kitchen calendar with events for the next couple of months.  In the corner, I noted some projects I have planned for us to complete over Labor Day weekend–paint the bathrooms, steam clean the upstairs, and put the gardens to bed.

“‘Put the gardens to bed,'” my daughter exclaimed, “isn’t there a more technical term for that?”  (For someone who’d rather pick up a cell phone than a hoe, who was she to be so persnickety?!)

“Well, many gardeners use that term,” I noted nonchalantly, and with that I snapped the top on the marker and walked away.

As I spent time homesteading in the kitchen that afternoon, I meditated on why I like the phrase “put the gardens to bed.”  Perhaps, it connects me to the earth in a way that feels good–like a parent who gently tucks in her child each night before sleep comes.  Maybe, it symbolizes the way I nurture my gardens as I carefully tend to them in preparation for winter.

Either way, I believe the phrase reminds me of what Autumn brings with her–a time for slowing down, a season of preparation.

Putting the gardens to bed in September removes any parts of the summer that may pull energy out of the soil.  It also includes nourishing the dirt with organic amendments or mulch that will enrich the earth over the winter.

But most importantly, it creates the opportunity for Nature to “just be” with the Creator.

Sometimes, we forget the importance of preparing for rest–transitioning from an active life to a quiet one.  If you have ever cared for little children, you know they cannot come right in from playing outside and head straight for a nap.  They need to slow down first, prepare their little bodies for sleep, then head to bed.

It is the same for us as adults.  Putting the gardens to bed reminds us to be intentional about resting in God on our journey.

As I walked into the kitchen this morning, I noticed the list again.  I began making a mental checklist of all that I wanted to accomplish prior to Winter’s rest.

I smiled when I realized that I wasn’t focusing on Growing Grace Farm but about my own spirit.



let’s hear it for the girls: raising girls who know how to homestead

In the past two weeks my 15-year-old has made me so proud as a homesteading mama.  On a weekend afternoon, she decided she was going to put together our unfinished wood chairs.  From there, she sanded them down then picked out the stain she plans to use to finish them up this weekend.  One afternoon, I came home to our newly remodeled den with a beautiful curtain rod hanging perfectly straight over our 109″ wide french doors.  When I asked her if she’d installed them on her own, she answered, “Well, yeah, with a drill of course.”

As I basked in the glow of her self-confidence and pride, I remembered this post I had written a couple of years ago.  What a delight to re-read it and appreciate that I was practicing what I preached, even during a time when moms and teenage daughters may have little in common.  Tonight, I am reposting it in honor of my daughter and her most recent achievements.  Keep on homesteadin’, my sweet child.


Today, my 13-year-old daughter and I worked finished her extreme bedroom makeover.  Yep, 3 months after we started it, we committed to finishing it.  We both agreed we would commit to the following:

  • no whining
  • lots of humor and laughter to ward off frustration
  • no longing to be outside
  • a commitment to working until we finished
  • sharing the responsibilities whether they included screwdrivers, drills, hammers, or paintbrushes

Now, I realize as I type this post, you are probably asking yourself, “Where is this going?  What does cleaning a teen bedroom have anything to do with gardening, farming or homesteading?!?”

I’ll tell you.

I am raising a girl who will eventually become a woman. I am nurturing her, tending to her, raising her.  Just as my parents did for me, I am teaching her skills she’ll need to be independent and self-sufficient whether she follows in my footsteps as a farmer and homesteader or not.

I am amazed that in this time and day that stereotypes still exist about what girls can and can’t do.  For example, did you know that girls can hang a picture and drill a hole, but that we need a pink tool kit to do it.  Seriously?!

So how do we raise girls to become women who can not only bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan, but can also launder it, build it, hang it, drill it, hoe it, nail it, rake it, plant it, and on and on and on?  Well, here’s what I’m doing:

  • Model it–I don’t just fix things on my own, I let my daughter get involved.  I show her how to do it first then give them the opportunity to try it herself.  My daughter wanted to put all the door knobs on our doors when we started converting our home to a little farmhouse.  At 10-years-old, she learned how to accomplish this task.  Even if we still have to tighten them time and again, her sense of pride when she was done is worth it.
  • Share it–I tell girls about my successes, mistakes, and dreams.  I let them know they can do anything.  Mistakes are ok, successes are many, and dreams are always attainable.
  • Try it–Girls of a certain age have a tendency to feel insecure about their abilities.  I show them first then teach them  how to do it for themselves. I offer a lot of encouragement as they complete a task.
  • Be it–I don’t expect my daughter to pick up skills from tv, magazines, cell phones, and computers.  She needs to see me cook, garden, plant, fix, build, etc.
  • Talk it–As I “be it,” I also “talk it.”  She needs to hear the step-by-step process by which I complete my homesteading/farming/gardening tasks.  If she doesn’t participate, I also tell her how much I love being outside, canning jams, fixing things around the house,etc.  She may not think they are “cool” now, but I’m planting seeds for the future.

    now, that’s a tool box that’s been put to work

Most importantly, enjoy it!  It doesn’t have to be “work.”  Make it engaging and interesting.  Needless to say, sometimes, teens and tweens don’t necessarily want to do those boring or hard jobs they see us do as adults.   It is our attitude and approach, however, that determine if our girls grow into women who can, as Beyonce so fondly sings, “rule the world.”

As for my daughter and me, we may not be running the world today, but we sure did install a ceiling fan, hang box shelves, and patch holes in the wall.  For today, that is enough.

drying tomatoes for a taste of summer all year round

Last year, I came across some yellow roma tomatoes at the farmers’ market.  I bought a bagful, dried them, and saved some seed.  This year, these tomatoes were the heartiest of the bunch in our tomato bed.  This past weekend, I spent hours washing, slicing, and drying, and I know come January, it will have been well worth it.  I’m reposting this one for anyone looking to taste that summer sweetness when the cold wind blows.

There is nothing I like more than throwing a handful of sundried tomatoes into a dish to add a bit of tangy punch and a little bit of summer.  Tonight, I wandered out to the tomato and pepper bed, rounded the corner, and ta-dah!  The sundrying tomatoes are ripening!  Start your (dehydrating) engines and sterilize the Mason jars–it’s time to start drying.

A couple of years ago, I got fed up paying so much money for dehydrated tomatoes in the store when I knew I could do it produce.yellow roma tomatoesmyself.  I will admit, I do not actually “sun dry” mine.  I bought a relatively affordable and effective dehydrator and started making my own dried tomatoes.  I like to slice them thinly so they almost become crunchy.  No worries though–once I bake, saute, or cook them, they soak up moisture and taste just like they did in July.

Some quick tips for dehydrating/drying tomatoes:

  • Using a tomato grown for drying makes the process much easier.  I have been using Amish Paste and Principe Borghese from my favorite seed company, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (http://www.southernexposure.com).    They are both very flavorful and are great for other recipes that require a tomato with less juice and more “meat.”  They are also a great size for slicing and drying–small enough to stay together to make beautiful circles which look lovely baked in an omelet or stirred into pasta.
  • Tomatoes will shrink.  If you want a decent amount of dried tomatoes to get you through fall and winter, make sure you plan for several visits to the garden/market and even more trips to the dehydrator.
  • I prefer a dehydrator because you can control the temperature and air circulation so that the tomatoes dry evenly.  My dehydrator with four trays usually dries thinly sliced tomatoes overnight (8-12 hours); the thicker the tomato slice, the longer the dry time.
  • Seeding the tomatoes will help them dry more quickly.
  • Since I slice mine thinly, I don’t remove the skins.  Some people prefer to, but I find that they cook just fine and the texture and flavor are fine with me.
  • Do spray the dehydrator trays with a thin coat of oil or coking spray.  It will make removal much, much easier.  Believe me and my fingernails–dried tomatoes can be a bit like bamboo shoots if you end up scraping them off the trays.
  • Let the tomatoes cool all the way before packaging.homesteading.dryingtomatoes

There are several methods for packing and storing dehydrated tomatoes.  The primary goal is to keep them dry until you are ready to rehydrate–the last thing you want to find is mold or some other creature taking over your delicious goodies.  Some suggested packaging:  zip-top bags, stuff and seal bags, containers with lids, and my personal favorite–Mason jars.  As a precaution, I sterilize my jars, either in a boiling water bath or in the dishwasher, then let them air dry.

Now that you’ve dried and stored your tomatoes, what to do with them?   Some of my favorites:

  • For breakfast, I make an omelet or egg souffle with spinach, sundried tomatoes, and feta cheese.
  • I throw a cup into marinara sauce and soup (homemade or store bought) to add texture and flavor.
  • We love them on pizza.
  • I bake them in bread dough with basil and parmesan cheese.
  • I add some into a crock pot with chicken, garlic, onion, and herbs for a quick dinner on an autumn eve.
  • I add to dips for color and flavor.

So now that you know the ins and outs of drying tomatoes, give it a try–your wallet and your recipes will thank you!