Not gonna eat a lot of peaches

I posted recently about our peach tree. It wasn’t producing much fruit –probably because it’s still young. But I was excited to see maybe 20 or so tiny, fuzzy peaches on it. (I said 10 peaches in that post, but it was more than that. Certainly not more than 20, though.)

And then we had a thunderstorm.

Catastrophe!

This sad scene greeted me yesterday when I took a walk around the yard. The part that broke off is the part that had the most fruit. The part that is still intact has maybe two peaches growing on it.

Guess I’ll have to buy my peaches at the farm market.

Where the Cottonwood Blows

It’s that joyous time of year when downy cottonwood seeds float through the air. And then they land. And cover everything. We actually had big clumps of them all over the yard. They got in our clothes, our shoes, Blitz’s fur … Thankfully, I’m not seeing quite so many this week (she writes, as she spies one floating past her office window).

I’ve been pulling huge amounts of what two different apps on my phone identified as false dill or dog fennel. Turns out, it’s actually larkspur. We still have huge amounts of it (so I’m not really mad about how much I pulled), and it’s blooming now. It’s featured prominently in this week’s bouquet.

Tansy, larkspur, coral bells, and yarrow — I have a feathery leaf theme going on this week.

I had a decent harvest yesterday. The mulberries are finally ready. The cherries — what few of them we have — were mostly ready to be picked. And strawberries, of course. Though I’m not fond of this variety of strawberries the previous homeowners planted. They’re small and get squishy very easily. I suspect this is a variety meant for jam, and I eat most of my strawberries raw.

Anyway, this harvest was roughly one cup of fruit, so I tossed in a cup of frozen blueberries to make a chia jam to swirl into my homemade yogurt. (Eaten with my homemade granola.)

Cherries and berries

Carnage yesterday: It looked like a bird exploded in our backyard, though the only evidence was the piles of feathers everywhere. My brother (an ornithologist) identified the feathers as a raptor of some sort. His best guess: a red-shouldered hawk was attacked by a great horned owl.

But that’s not all.

I walked out to the front of our house, only to see a dead opossum on the road at the end of our driveway. Its poor little corpse is positioned right where neither one of us can avoid hitting it if we have to leave the house. But what alerted me to the dead opossum was the vulture that flew right over me to come and feast on its carcass. The vulture was soon joined by a friend. But they didn’t stay long.

It’s still there. I put in a call to the township office that has jurisdiction over our street. (We literally live right on the township/county line, and it’s not our township/county that takes care of it.) They said they will send someone out either today or tomorrow.

I didn’t hit it and kill it (and trust me, if I had, I would be inconsolable), so I want nothing to do with the disposal of it. If only the vultures had stayed. I watched them in morbid fascination for a while. It was like watching a nature documentary right at the end of the driveway. But they honestly just made it worse.

Can’t say this is something I ever had to deal with in the suburbs. Sure, we had the odd dead bird in our yard now and then, but nothing like this.

It looks like we have some rain headed our way. I mentioned before that our yard tends to flood and then stays soggy for days afterward, but that issue isn’t as bad this time of year. We have a few squishy spots that take longer to dry up, but for the most part, the yard has dried up faster as the weather gets warmer. And at least I don’t have to water the gardens.

Ebb and Flow

I know I’ve been posting a lot about how grateful I am that we ended up here. This house on five acres is never the type of place I imagined we would be, but I know a peace and joy here that I haven’t known anywhere else.

That said, it’s not always coming up roses. I’ve been a bit down in the dumps this past week just thinking about all the work we have to do and how we can never do it all. Just trying to keep the weeds under control is a full-time job in and of itself.

Some of the fruit trees are clearly not producing. The pond needs cleaning (in a way that won’t affect the bullfrog population that’s living in it). The barn needs repairs. The tractor in the barn needs repairs (currently in progress). Some trees need to have dead branches cut off. A few trees even need to be cut down. The raised beds need to be dismantled and rebuilt. Invasive plants need to be cut back and managed …. and on and on and on.

Too many projects, so little time.

Not to mention, the learning curve is steep. We’re learning as we go. I am constantly doing research.

And I’m trying to balance all the work we need to do here with the tasks I need to accomplish to build my business and line up paid client work.

I felt under the weather yesterday and was honestly glad for the excuse not to do anything outside. I just feel overwhelmed, and I keep wondering what we were thinking when we bought this place.

But, it’s now June 1. A new month. A fresh start. And also my birth month and the month that marks the end of spring and beginning of summer.

It’s supposed to rain this afternoon, and it’s already muggy and buggy and will heat up as the day goes on. But I put on my gardening gear, ignored my feelings of overwhelm, and just focused on a little patch of the flower bed next to our back porch. It was overgrown with weeds. I put on a podcast and weeded, then threw down some coreopsis and mixed wildflower seeds. The rain can water them later.

And now I feel better. Even clearing a small area of the flower bed feels like a big accomplishment. Especially when dealing with tons of sow thistle — the bane of my existence at the moment.

Thought I’d share some photos from my last couple walks/inspections of the property.

Despite the weeds, we had a glorious display of peonies this year. They are starting to droop and fade now, which makes me sad. I love peonies and they are too short-lived.

I may go out and cut a few more for another bouquet before they’re gone. I try to go out once a week to cut some flowers for the house. Last week’s bouquet was my favorite by far: peonies, multiflora rose, dame’s rocket, and blue false indigo.

Living here has really fired up my creativity, and creating flower arrangements with something different every week is another way of expressing it.

Oh, and another piece of news … I now have a worm farm! Me! As a girl, I couldn’t even stand to touch worms. And now I have a bucket full of red wigglers in our basement that I’m feeding and caring for so they will reward me with beautiful, rich compost.

This is a very small worm farm at the moment. I ordered 250 worms and they are living in a 5-gallon bucket (with holes drilled for air and for drainage — it’s stacked on another 5-gallon bucket that collects the compost tea). I’ve done a lot of research, so I am confident I’ve made the environment to their liking. I just need to check in every so often to make sure the bedding/blanket stay moist and add more food scraps/worm food.

Fingers crossed this experiment is successful, but it’s all part of that steep learning curve I mentioned earlier.

Remember and Honor

Luxembourg American Cemetery

Shortly after I moved to Germany, I signed up as a volunteer for the Girl Scout troop at U.S. Army Garrison Schinnen in The Netherlands.

One of the most rewarding experiences I had as a volunteer was helping the troop place American and Dutch flags on the graves at Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten.

Margraten, Memorial Day weekend 2004

It was moving to visit this cemetery, not only because it’s a tranquil and beautiful place for reflection, but because it symbolizes the eternal gratitude and respect the Dutch have for these brave Americans who died liberating their country from Nazi occupation.

Of course, you will find other cemeteries like this around Europe from both world wars. I highly recommend visiting at least one if you’re traveling through Europe.

I also had the chance to visit the Luxembourg American Cemetery, briefly, on a one-day bus tour of Luxembourg City. It is worth noting that Sandweiler German War Cemetery is just down the street, perhaps a mile away or so. And the contrast between the two cemeteries could not be more stark.

The American cemetery is a place of beauty, reverence, and honor. The German cemetery feels dark and depressing. They both evoke powerful, but very different, feelings.

The only two places I’ve visited in the U.S. that evoked similarly powerful feelings are Gettysburg and Arlington National Cemetery.

Most of us have never experienced war firsthand, and we can only imagine what it might be like through eyewitness accounts, movies, television, etc.

But it hits a little closer to home when you visit sites like this.

It’s not only cemeteries, though.

I remember a weekend in Bastogne, Belgium, during a re-enactment of the Battle of the Bulge in 2005. It was freezing and snowy — similar weather conditions to what the men experienced during this battle.

At the Battle of the Bulge re-enactment

War-era Army Jeeps rumbled through the streets of town. Everywhere you looked, there were re-enactors in uniforms representing both sides. But there were no exploding shells. No bombed-out shells of buildings. No smoke. No machine gun fire. No bodies. No blood. No way to get a real sense of what the Battle of the Bulge was like, and thank goodness for that.

I cannot imagine the true horror and the true cost of war, but I am grateful every day for the courage of the men and women of our armed forces who are willing to sacrifice their lives to stand up to injustice and evil.

What a different world it would be without them.

Movin’ to the country, gonna eat a lot of peaches

Fun fact: One of my childhood nicknames was Peaches. Though I honestly don’t know why.

OK, so this peach tree is actually pretty small, and I don’t think 10 peaches are even developing on it at the moment. But I’m delighted to see that I will have peaches this year, provided nothing happens to them before they are ready to harvest.

(This tree was originally identified by one of my nature ID apps as a plum tree, so I was mystified until now because I distinctly remember being told by the previous homeowner that there was a peach tree on this property. And I keep finding peach pits in the raised beds.)

We seem to have a few cherry trees, too. And we thought we only had one. A few days ago, I identified a black cherry tree growing at the edge of the wooded area. Pretty sure it wasn’t planted by the previous homeowners. It’s developing a lot of fruit, and I am very much looking forward to eating those cherries when they’re ready. I love black cherries.

I think we have at least three fruit-producing cherry trees. And at least one ornamental one. Though I noticed a problem this morning with one of the cherry trees.

“Tiny, pear-shaped aphids suck the fluids out of soft plant tissue including leaves and shoots. They excrete sweet, sticky honeydew, which attracts ants. In exchange for the sweet meal, ants protect aphids from other predators, allowing them to feed uninhibited on your cherry tree.” — SFGate

That is exactly what’s going on here. Fortunately, the aphid and ant party was isolated to one branch that isn’t even producing fruit. I grabbed my trusty loppers, clipped off the branch, and threw it in the burn pile. Problem solved. For now, anyway.

So, here’s an inventory of the fruit trees/vines/shrubs I’ve been able to confirm that we have:

  • apples (variety/varieties unknown): multiple trees
  • pears (variety/varieties unknown): multiple trees
  • cherries (variety/varieties unknown): multiple trees
  • peach: one tree
  • black raspberries
  • blackberries (wild)
  • mulberries
  • Concord grapes
  • strawberries

And then I added two blueberry bushes to this, but time will tell if those produce. And three of the apple trees honestly look iffy, so I don’t know how well those will produce.

The war against weeds continues. It’s a war I won’t win, but I can at least clear out the worst areas. Like the flower beds right at the back of the house.

Stinging nettle is a huge issue, but most of the weeds in the photo on the left are false dill. It is thriving in our flower gardens and raised beds.

We still have a lot of work to do in these flower beds, but we’ve made some progress, as you can see. I was able to sow some seeds: sunflowers, zinnia, dame’s rocket, coleus. And we’ve cleared away the weeds around the plants that are supposed to be there, such as the geraniums and sedum.

In other news, we will have a worm farm for vermicomposting here in the next few days. I ordered 250 red wigglers and a starter kit (1-month food supply, worm blanket, and a coco coir brick) from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm.

As for the actual farm, it will be composed of 5-gallon buckets. I bought food-safe ones from Home Depot. I am using these instructions to assemble it.

We don’t have a garbage disposal, so this is a great way to use our food waste to make quick compost. Though I know the worms multiply quickly, so I’m a little worried we’re going to end up with more worms than we can deal with. Though I suppose it would be fairly easy to get rid of extra worms on Facebook Marketplace or something.

I’ve started saving kitchen scraps in a bag in the freezer so they don’t get moldy. It’s mostly asparagus ends at the moment.

Spring update

A morning walk in our woods with Blitz, last week

Two posts in one day! But a lot has been going on.

For starters, I planted two blueberry bushes recently. Blueberries are one of my favorite fruits, and as many fruits as we are growing here, we aren’t growing those. So I figured I might as well.

On Monday, I noticed that something snapped off the top of one of them.

WOE!

I put fencing around both of them after this.

I planted a cucamelon. Never grew them before. I’ve never even eaten them before. I’m pretty sure it’s dead now. I just had a peek at it when I was out in the yard and it looks dead. It was an experiment in the first place, and now it’s a failed experiment. It happens.

I also keep finding more potato plants. Everywhere I look, potatoes. Most of them came up on their own accord, but I did plant some Yukon Golds before I even realized there were already potatoes.

Three heads of lettuce came up on their own. I also planted two heads, so I am good whenever I want salad.

Also, someone planted asparagus some time ago, in the same bed where I planted the blueberries. I like the taste of asparagus just fine, but I don’t like growing it. But I can’t do anything about it, so I just keep harvesting the spears each day. But my hands now smell like asparagus.

I also have mint coming up. Dill, too. I didn’t plant those either.

I am excited to have strawberries soon. (Two beds full of them … already established when we got here.) I’ve already harvested some rhubarb and put it in the freezer. (Again … didn’t plant.) What I did plant: broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, decorative gourds, onions, chives, basil — those are all in progress and looking good so far.

I discovered a nearby farm market today — literally a 3-minute drive from our house. They have their own apiary and sell their own honey, as well as other Ohio-made goods. The farm market isn’t open yet for the season, but they are currently having a barn sale with a lot of rustic farmhouse décor, kitchen appliances, and other goods for sale. So, I drove over there to see what they had and bought some stuff, including some lemon creamed honey from their bees and some local jam.

I’ll definitely be back often once they are open. They will have produce, of course, but they also sell baked goods from Der Dutchman. The family who runs it is super nice, and so is their dog.

As for what I purchased — I needed décor for our fireplace mantel. It was bare except for the giant wall clock mounted above it. Birdhouses sort of became the theme in that room, so I shopped accordingly.

Anyway, the blue birdhouse above has a chain on it for hanging. And what better way to hang it than to bring in a branch from our yard? So I went outside to find the perfect branch, placed it in a mason jar, filled the mason jar with pebbles, and wrapped twine around the top of the jar.

Voila! Pretty pleased with how it turned out. But now I really need to paint that wall soonish. It’s just way too white/beige.

An auspicious sign?

My passion for gardening extends to houseplants.

Before we moved into this house, the previous homeowners asked if they could leave their split-leaf (tree) philodendron behind. It apparently went crazy in the corner of the Florida room, so they didn’t want to relocate it. But once we got the keys to the house, I understood why they left it behind. It’s massive and heavy. (If I ever have to repot it, I’m not sure how I will manage it, to be honest.)

I don’t do much to it. I water it on occasion (it needs at least a gallon every time). I rotate the pot from time to time. I add supports when needed. I dust the leaves.

On Monday, I noticed something unusual about it.

What’s this? A flower?

This is miraculous, really.

“Philodendrons are tropical flowering plants and while they rarely, if ever, flower indoors, they certainly bloom in their natural habitat.” — PlantIndex

So, this is a rare occurrence, apparently, which makes me fortunate indeed. Because this is clearly not its natural habitat, and I think the ones that bloom indoors are likely at conservatories/botanical gardens that replicate their natural environment.

This habitat is a Midwest sun room. Definitely not tropical.

Anyway, I hope to see more flowers. The flowering period is from May to July — I’ve been researching this since I discovered the flower. The flowers only open for two days. By Wednesday, this flower was closed up tight.

I’m not a really superstitious person, but I think this is a sign of good luck. Don’t you?

Planting the seed (or, why I chose to be my own boss)

Photo by Judit Peter on Pexels.com

I’ve been a freelance writer and editor off and on since 2005. It happened by accident. We were living in Germany at the time, and I had a travel blog to keep friends and family updated on our adventures around Europe. Because of that travel blog, I was approached to write some travel guides for pay (not book-length – just short travel summaries for websites). It eventually snowballed into assignments with other companies in other industries. 

It was the ideal way to make money as a military spouse. It’s difficult to maintain a career when you move every four years. But freelancing was done virtually, so my location didn’t matter. 

It’s worth noting that I didn’t make a lot of income from doing this. I didn’t need to. My husband’s income at the time was more than enough for us to get by, plus I wanted to devote most of my time in Europe to actually enjoying Europe. But it supplied me with fun money to go on short trips with friends, go out for lunches and coffees, and buy books. I also enjoyed the work … most of the time.  

Doing it wrong

It’s also worth noting that I did freelancing wrong for much of this time. I did a lot of work for content mills, which notoriously underpay. I rarely sent pitches, which is what I should have been doing. And I lowballed myself for fear of not getting the gig. I was basically the poster child for everything you shouldn’t do if you’re serious about freelancing. 

I got lucky from time to time – two articles for The Seattle Times jobs section, and a full-time gig for several months writing facility descriptions for recreation.gov. But most of my assignments were nothing to brag about.

It was only a matter of time, especially once we were staring military retirement in the face, before I realized that freelancing wasn’t sustainable. Or at least I didn’t know how to make it sustainable. Once my husband became a civilian, I would need to work full-time, too. If we wanted to buy a house and have money to travel and enjoy our lives. 

Changing my path

Not knowing what to do, I decided to get a paralegal certificate. At least it was a plan. And it led to a fulfilling, full-time job that sustained me through my husband’s final two years in the Air Force. 

Then retirement came. And moving out of state. And leaving that job. And starting over again. There was no job market for that type of work here in Columbus. (Note: I didn’t work as a paralegal, but my legal knowledge helped me get that job.) Actual paralegal work paid well below what I had been making. So I thought I’d rely on my writing and editing background once again. That’s always been my first love anyway. 

Not getting ahead

I’ve done some in-house work in marketing and communications since we moved to Ohio in 2016. But the corporate world has not treated me well. I haven’t been able to realize my full potential, even after getting my master’s degree in marketing and communications. I seemed doomed to be stuck in the same position at one company, unchallenged and unfulfilled, despite doing excellent work and asking for a promotion. (And not even being granted an interview when I applied internally for a position I was qualified for.)

I transitioned to another company in December 2021 – a better title, at least on paper. But it was clear right away that it wasn’t a good fit. I’ll say no more than that.  

Discovering my why

At the same time, we moved to this house with over 5 acres of land and a lot of fruit trees. I didn’t know at the time we were under contract that this was basically a small-scale farm. I only learned that on the day of the inspection when the sellers informed us of all the fruit trees and fruit-producing vines we had on the property. It occurred to me immediately that profiting off of this land is my future. Selling at farm markets – fresh, whole fruit and/or fruit products. I never considered it before, but I decided to lean into it. This is now part of my journey. An unplanned part, but one that I embrace. (It’s hard work, but I love it.)

A few weeks ago, when the apple trees were blooming. (We have 8 of them.)

But the farm market thing won’t happen for at least a year. I need to go through one growing season first to see how much we produce. I need to go to farm markets, talk to other small-scale farmers. I need to figure out how this all works. 

And I knew I could have multiple streams of income working for myself – not just the farm, but writing and editing, too. I was coming up with a plan to do all of this gradually over the next few years. It wasn’t something I planned to do overnight. 

However, my full-time job wasn’t working out and was causing me an incredible amount of stress. And as spring arrived, I realized that I needed a lot of time to get this property in shape. A LOT of time. It’s planting season now, and I have a lot of weed removal to do in the vegetable beds before I can finish planting. (Fresh-cut flowers may also be part of the farm market plan, but the flower beds are choked with weeds, too.) 

Taking the leap 

I left that job a month ago. Thankfully, we have a safety net. Had it not been for that, I might not have taken the leap. And the thought of that is even more terrifying than the fear I am currently feeling.

At the end of March, I registered a trade name with the state: Words in Bloom Writing and Editing Services. My aunt (a graphic designer) designed a logo for me.

I started reaching out to people in my network and other professionals in my field. 

So, I’m back to freelancing. For real this time. No content mills. I am using my connections to line up work. This is week 4 since I left corporate life, and I lined up two clients already. The work will be varied, so it should keep me on my toes. And since things are a bit slow at the moment as contracts and onboarding are finalized, I’m spending a lot of time working outside. 

I come in from a day’s labor in the yard, covered in mud and sweat. But I’m happy. And I can hop in the shower and be online for a Zoom call with a client or spend some time writing or sending emails.  

I think this is where I’m meant to be. 

Quick Patio Planter Project

Six years ago, just before we moved into our last house, I spotted this outdoor cooler while we were out shopping. I thought it would look great on our patio, so I talked my husband into buying it.

This is how you waste $89 + tax

We bought it, and he assembled it and stained it. We used it once or twice. It actually sucked as a cooler. The ice melted way too fast, and the drainage was inadequate. It wasn’t long before the inside of the cooler started to rust.

It sat on that patio, unused — slowly rusting and decaying. When we moved here, I couldn’t bear to part with it. I thought it could be repurposed into a planter box.

I finally made it happen today. And the weathering on it just makes it fit in more with this rustic farmhouse thing we have going on.

I found several small wood blocks in the barn, which I stacked to cover the bottom as much as I could. Drainage is still accessible this way (for whatever that’s worth, obviously), but I didn’t need as much soil to fill it. I only needed one bag of raised bed soil to fill this, and it went almost to the top.

Oh, and I removed the lid.

My new salad garden!

I had two lettuces to plant in this: red romaine and buttercrunch. That way, I don’t need to get out the rabbit fence, which would be required if I planted these in the raised beds. And if I feel like having a salad, all I need to do is step out the back door and harvest some leaves. (I have other salad ingredients in the raised beds, though not remotely ready to harvest.)

Once the lettuces are done, I will plant flowers here.

I saved the lid. The insulation piece can be removed and we can do something creative with it, I suppose. I’ve never been much of a crafty person, but moving here has stirred the creative juices.

Spring at the Farm

I love experiencing our first spring here. The yard seems to always be muddy and the weeds are out of control, but I love witnessing the changes in our woods, our pond, our trees … Living here is hard work, but I have no regrets. It’s rewarding, tremendously peaceful, and quiet.

Right now, I’m focusing on getting the raised beds ready for planting. We have THIRTY-SIX raised beds. I have no idea what to do with that many. I thought the raised bed at our last house was too big for my needs. And that was just one bed.

I think flowers will go in most of these. But two of these beds have strawberries in them, which are coming back from previous years. I also discovered rhubarb, lettuce, and scallions.

Honestly, these raised beds were the most intimidating feature of the house for me. I think the main challenge will be controlling the weeds between the beds. They’re just going to reseed in the beds again. Our long-term plan is to smother those weeds and put gravel down between the beds. But we have drainage issues here that we need to sort out first. This is one of the muddiest areas of the yard when we get a lot of rain.

Anyway, planting time is here. Though I won’t get most of the seeds and seedlings planted until mid-May, I definitely need to have the beds ready to go by then. Too bad it’s going to be raining most days this week.

I’m working on a furniture rehab project today that I can’t wait to show you. I have been working on it for two months, actually, but the painting can finally be completed today because it’s not rainy and windy for once.