lessons learned: on growth, gardening boots, and grace

As I squatted by the trellis yesterday to plant more sugar snap peas, I looked down at the boots I was wearing.  I’ve had them for a couple of years now, so they are not so colorful anymore, but I fondly remembered that I’d written a couple of posts about them so I’m choosing to reblog one of them today.

I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us. ~Anne Lamott

This weekend, I celebrate being cancer free for two years!  The “story” is quite intricate, but just know, that it was God’s grace that I listened to my body and that my Ob-Gyn listened to me.  If we hadn’t trusted our intuition, each other, or God, my life surely would have taken a different path.

As I have mentioned in other writings, cancer and surgery offered me many gifts–discovering the peace and hope friendship can offer, learning how to let others care for me so that I too could care for myself, and appreciating the importance of rest for body, mind and spirit. It was a time of learning to surrender, a skill that has not only served me well as a person of faith but also as a parent, farmer, gardener, and homesteader.

Recently, I had a young colleague look at me and say, “I don’t know how you can be so laid back about all of this” as we rushed around trying to finish a project within hours of the deadline.  I looked at her and smiled, “Turning 40 and cancer will do that to you!”  She looked at me inquisitively, and I replied, “I was like you several years ago.  I appreciate where you’re coming from, but hitting middle age the same year I was diagnosed rearranged a few of my priorities.”  I can’t say that she understood, but I will note that it was a great affirmation for me to hear those words come out of my mouth.gardening boots final

And so, on my anniversary each year, I have bought a little trinket to remind me of how far I’ve come and how much I’ve grown since the new journey I started in March 2010.  This year, I delighted in purchasing pair of floral gardening boots for tromping around the farm and in the compost pile.  Gardening was a saving grace for me the spring I was diagnosed and couldn’t be as active as I’d wanted.  My new boots remind me how therapeutic and nurturing creation and the Creator were for me during that time. They took me where I was in my journey and changed my life in such a way that I am more fulfilled and at peace.   That’s what I have come to call “grace.”

recipe: growing grace farm’s kale chips

I love to hear my child exclaim “Yay!” when I announce I am making kale chips.  As thin and crispy as regular chips, we love to make these in the summer time.  Different kale will offer you different texture–needless to say, the thinner the kale, the less like a potato chip it will be.  We grow Vates kale and Russian kale for their hardiness, long season, and flavor.  They do make a thinner chip, however, which can almost melt in your mouth.

growing grace farm kale chipskale in dehydrator

ingredients:  raw kale washed and patted dry, olive oil, kosher salt, dehydrator

additional options–garlic salt or garlic powder, Italian or Greek seasoning (sometimes, I use Cavender’s)

In a large bowl, throw in 2-3 large handfuls of kale.  Pour olive oil in the cap or a teaspoon then drizzle over the kale.  Using tossing spoons or hands, toss the kale to distribute the oil.  Take a large pinch of kosher salt and sprinkle on the kale.  Toss again.

Place on dehydrator tray without much overlap (use as many trays as needed based on your dehydrator’s size).  Dry on vegetable setting for length of time that creates a crisp kale chip.  (Temps and times vary based on dehydrators.)

babying the berries–tips for springtime care

Two years ago, my out-of-control wineberry bushes began bullying my blueberry plants.  In an effort to call them off, I trimmed and tugged until the unruly characters ended up on their side of the garden patch.  A couple of months later, the birds and I enjoyed more berries than any of us could eat in one sitting.  I couldn’t believe the sheer number of them given the small area I had relegated them to.  For weeks on end, the juice stained our fingers as we grabbed handfuls coming and going to the car.

So, what are other ways you can baby your berry bushes?20130606-203950.jpg

  • In the Spring, pinch off the tops of the plants.  I can do this with gloves on–you’ll know where the tops are by looking for two things:  brighter green leaves that are smaller than others on the bush and the stems will be so tender you can literally pinch them off with your fingers
  • Berries like “deep” watering–make sure they get plenty of fluids in hot, dry weather.  Be careful, however, of oversoaking or having a lot of rain–they are prone to mold/rot.  I learned about it the hard way last year with all the rain we had.
  • As far as water retention, I also learned the hard way about too much mulch/compost around the base of the plants.  In a damp season, the roots cannot dry out properly and again, will mold/rot.
  • If space is limited, keep your berries trimmed to create bushier plants or build a vertical trellis for them to climb.
  • Cut out any dried, old canes (stems).
  • Berries love compost.  I usually sprinkle a shovelful around each base before winter.  We have a lot of trees as well so leaves offer a nice source of protection while allowing air around the base of the plant.
  • Prune only in Spring or Autumn.  My rule of thumb is cutting back plants (if needed) in Autumn then in Spring, clear away any dead branches/canes and pinching off the new growth tips at the top.
  • For new plants, especially blueberries, the first year may need to be spent establishing the plant–making all the bush’s energy to go into the plant itself and not berries.  Clip off any buds that form or flowers that blossom.

Most importantly, don’t forget the other reason berry growth is important–to provide nutrients for your fine feathered friends.  On our farm, we have intentionally planted wineberry canes in the woods near our bird feeders.  We don’t eat off these for they provide summer treats for the birds.  We know that it works because as we eat dinner on summer evenings, most of the birds in the neighborhood come to feast at our house.  It is just delightful!