Spring Things

Warm afternoons, sunshine, and the return of green, growing things… Spring!

spring swings

With the onset of spring comes a flurry of activity in and around our home. In addition to spending more time playing outside, we’re stirring the compost pile, planning the gardens, starting seeds, and bringing a bit of the outdoors in.

The most fascinating of our spring projects has been our twig study. Last week we snipped twigs from all the trees and bushes around our yard, brought them inside, color-coded them with strings of embroidery floss, and placed them in jars of water in a sunny window. Every day the buds on the lilac and apricot twigs have opened bit by bit, and today, exactly seven days later, we have abundant green leaves and fragrant white flowers! We’re still waiting on the maple, cottonwood, apple, pear, and unidentified varieties.


We’re also sprouting beans on damp paper towels in plastic bags taped to the window. The kids have enjoyed watching the roots (and mold—yikes!) grow. No leaves yet…


Last fall, Abram asked if we could plant a butterfly garden to attract the Monarchs to our yard, so this year we acquired milkweed seeds, which are planted and under the grow-lights inside. We’ll transplant the milkweed (hopefully!) when the weather warms up, along with broadcast sowing some mixed flowers in two empty plots around our house. The kids are also looking forward to receiving their butterfly garden starter kit from the National Wildlife Federation’s Butterfly Heroes program!


This year we started our herb seeds outdoors in plastic jugs using a method called “winter-sowing.” I find starting seeds indoors tedious, so I was immediately drawn to this low-maintenance solution. Now if I would only remember to water them…

wateringmore watering

Of course, no project is complete without a trip to the library in search of books about seeds and butterflies and outdoors projects and crafts. After perusing our books, both kids—without any prompting—got out their nature notebooks and drew pictures of the critters they hope to spot this summer. Then they flipped back through the pages, recalling our nature walks and projects from the fall. I revel in these moments of genuine enthusiasm, interest, and delight!

nature notebooks

Special thanks to my dear friends Sara, Rosie, and Meghan for sharing their knowledge, experience, and resources!


Last Year’s Garden

I started this post in August last year (although it was titled “Garden Update” eight months ago), and here I am in April finally getting back to it. I meant to follow my gardening journey all through the season last year, but I only ended up with one other post. As it turns out, gardening is rather time-consuming, and I honestly didn’t have time to blog. I mean, check out my behemoth plot:


Looking back, I’m still in awe at how lush our patch of dirt was at the height of summer. Nearly everything flourished, and my harvest was abundant. I wish I could take credit for being some ultra-talented master gardener, but all I did was plant the seeds and water them, weed, prune, and harvest. But I never fertilized or used pesticide, just let nature take its course. Ultimately, I had good weather, rich soil, and a lot of luck on my side.

Things I’m glad I did: Followed the square-foot garden planting recommendations. Companion planted. Planted flowers and herbs to attract beneficial insects. Trellised, staked, caged, and grew things vertically. Pruned the vining crops. Put down wood chips in my paths. Mulched around the pumpkins and melons with cardboard, newspaper, and grass clippings. Composted near the plot. Took the time to clean up the waste, put the garden to bed, and mulch with fall leaves. Froze, canned, and shared the excess. Read, researched, tried, and sought advice.

What I grew:

  • Boomsdale Longstanding Spinach (direct sown) – Really great until it bolted! The baby leaves were sweeter and more tender than the adult leaves, but all in all I was happy with it. Need to plant more this year for freezing.


  • All Year Round Lettuce (direct sown) – The best lettuce ever! Very sweet and tender, and held up in the summer heat really well without turning bitter.


  • Black Beauty Zucchini (direct sown) – Can you say zucchini exhaustion? If I missed a day of harvesting these guys, the fruits were absolute monsters! Will grow again, but only one plant instead of two. And will definitely give these huge plants a big tomato cage and plenty of room.


  • Sugar Ann Pea (direct sown) – These are so cute and tasty, just thinking about them makes me smile. I don’t think a single pod made it to the kitchen because Olivia and I ate them all in the garden! The plants didn’t produce produce much, but I would plant them again in a heartbeat. They liked the vertical trellis made with twine best.


  • Lincoln Homesteader Pea – The peas were tasty enough (we ate most of them fresh in the garden), but the plants didn’t produce much. I think maybe I planted them too late! Maybe we’ll have better luck this year. I trellised these with the cukes.
  • Blue Lake 274 Bush Bean (direct sown) – These tasted fine, but they didn’t produce as much as I’d hoped for. We didn’t have any excess to freeze. But they were easy to maintain, so maybe this year I’ll just plant more seeds.


  • Blue Lake FM-1K Pole Bean – These were a bust. I’m not sure what I did wrong! They only climbed halfway up the 6-foot pole teepee and produced a handful of beans. They were hiding behind the cucumber trellis, so maybe they didn’t get enough sun. Will try again this year.


  • Sweet Basil (direct sown) – Easy to grow, low maintenance, and smells divine! This variety produced heavily, so I will most certainly sow only one plant this year.


  • Brunswick Cabbage (direct sown and started seedlings indoors) – These plants were completely devastated by insects. On the upside, they were a good trap crop!


  • Lemon Balm (started seedlings indoors) – I’m not sure what to say about this since my plant just sat on my porch and I didn’t do anything with it. The leaves were pretty I guess!

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  • National Pickling Cucumber (direct sown) – I grew these just for pickling, though I ate a bunch fresh, too. They were good, especially if I harvested them before they got too big. I canned a bunch, but found I didn’t like how thinly my food processor sliced. This year I want to harvest the babies and can some spicy baby dills. I grew these on a 4-foot trellis with nylon garden netting.


  • California Wonder Bell Pepper (started seedlings indoors) – My transplanted seedlings did awesome! Alas, I started the seeds too late and never got any fruit from them before the season was over. The seedlings I purchased from the nursery (red, orange, purple, and green sweet peppers) did really well, though the fruits were on the small side and not as sweet as I’d hoped for. I put a small tomato cage around each plant, but I’m not sure it was necessary.


  • Garden Thyme (direct sown and started seedlings indoors) – I love thyme. I was glad I started this herb inside and glad I planted plenty of it to last me all year long. It’s easy to dry, too.


  • Golden Bantam Sweet Corn (direct sown) – Easy to grow, but not worth the watering. Every one of my plants was infested with earwigs. The kernels were tough and chewy, so we ended up composting most of the ears we did harvest. Cleaning up the stalks after the season was a pain in the ass, even though the kids had fun hiding in them through the summer. Final verdict: I’ll let the farmers grow corn for me. it tasted better. I won’t grow this variety again.


  • Bouquet Dill (direct sown) – Easy to grow! This plant got very big, and one plants was more than enough for my canning needs. I still have the other dried bush hanging in my diningroom.


  • Charentais Cantaloupe (direct sown) – Really sweet, juicy, and fragrant. But also very little. I grew mine right next to the compost pile.

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  • Crimson Sweet Watermelon (direct sown) – The BEST watermelon we’ve ever had! It was perfect–dark ruby red flesh, juicy, and sweet. Yum!


  • Danvers 126 Carrot (direct sown) – These grew well and tasted… like carrots! I wished they would’ve been sweeter. They were all different sizes. Definitely need to plant more this year!


  • Connecticut Field Pumpkin (direct sown) – Grew like crazy! I had to commit some seedling genocide after I realized I had planted way too many seeds. I ended up with two plants, which produced three large pumpkins. I tried to make the vines “jump the fence,” but they were too heavy and began to break. So I expanded my garden fence to accommodate these aggressive growers. I’m thinking about planting them in the grass this year. If cured properly and kept in cold storage, these will last many months.


  • Small Sugar Pumpkin (direct sown) – Two plants yielded over a dozen sweet little pumpkins. I’d like to learn to grow these vertically. It was tricky and time-consuming keeping up with all the extra runners on the vines, but I would’ve had waaay too many pumpkins had I not pruned them. Every last pumpkin leaf succumbed to powdery mildew at the end of summer, so I harvested a little early and cut down the plants. The green pumpkins turned orange in the sun during curing.


  • Waltham Butternut Squash (direct sown) – This plant was super aggressive; its vines invaded all the neighboring beds and crowded my poor carrots. I was glad I trellised this plant so it had some space to grow, but it definitely needs more room this year. I read somewhere that putting a suspended squash in a nylon will keep it from falling off the vine, but I later discovered that the stem was strong and sturdy enough to keep it attached until harvest.


  • Tomatoes – Sadly, the tomatoes I tried to start from seed never sprouted, so I bought seedlings from the nursery. The cherry tomatoes in the container on the porch produced a handful of fruit, but otherwise did not fare well. The heirloom variety never flowered and soon died. The determinate variety grew just fine and produced some large fruits. The indeterminate variety… well, that plant grew to the top of my 7-foot stake and was still producing lots of fruit when we put the garden to bed in the fall! I am so glad I built a sturdy cage for it: two large, round tomato cages attached (big sides together) with zip ties, one small end in the ground and one small end in the air. To the cages I attached (with zip ties) three 7-foot wooden stakes in a tripod.


  • Flowers – Yarrow, chamomile, marigolds, zinnias, sunflowers, borage, calendula, purple coneflower, nasturtium, and bachelor’s buttons. The flowers attracted swarms of bees to our garden, but amazingly, not one of us got stung! I thought for sure I’d have battle wounds, since I spent hours with my face and arms in the flowers, weeding and harvesting. More pictures of our beautiful flowers.