One of the best things I've done for myself in this stage of my life is sign-up for the Master Gardener course through the Iowa State University Extension & Outreach Office in Black Hawk County.
Plug the word "garden" into the search bar of my blog and you will find that gardening has become a huge passion of mine. It has always been an interest, but until I had the space of our acreage, I didn't have a chance to explore it fully.
I wanted to start the Master Gardener journey now versus later (most members are 50+) because I thought having a formal education about gardening would benefit me tremendously as I continue to expand our little farm. Having "book knowledge" to combine with my practical knowledge and apply to my future experiences will be wonderful.
When signing up, I did not know what I was getting myself into. After taking the required pre-assessment before classes started, I REALLY didn't know what I was getting myself into. Essentially, the pre-assessment taught me that I knew NOTHING about gardening. I was a complete rookie. Which was humbling, motivating me even more to do well in this course.
Our classes were primarily in the classroom, watching educational video presentations by experts from Iowa State University. Sprinkled in were a few live classes ranging from private gardens of Master Gardeners to established greenhouses. Those classes were my favorite because hands-on experiences are the what my brain absorbs best. These trips were also the most inspiring to me, seeing how others were applying their knowledge about gardening in so many different ways.
Our trainings all led up to a hands-on class on the Iowa State University campus. Over 300 Master Gardener trainees from across the state came together to learn and share their knowledge. It was amazing! I got to know the people in the Black Hawk County group better (funny how we never talked in class but when put into a new situation we were inseparable!) which was very nice.
I loved every minute of the on-campus training. The dots started to connect for me when we were able to apply what we learned in a variety of different labs.
My favorite labs were Botany:
And surprisingly, Entomology:
I also really enjoyed Plant Pathology, identifying diseases in plants. I didn't snap a photo of that because we had to circulate through 10 stations really fast!
Overall, the experience was even better than I expected. It was nice to be with like-minded people who daydreamed about their gardens as much as I do.
I passed my post-assessment (WOO-HOO!):
So what this means is that I am now an official Master Gardener Intern. I'll complete 40 hours of volunteering and 10 hours of continuing education in 2019. In January of 2020 I'll officially be a Master Gardener. It will definitely be worth the work and the wait.
I will be honored to hold the title and share what I learn with others. I can already tell this is the beginning of a fulfilling journey! My heart feels full. Like I'm doing something I'm meant to do. And that's nice.
Hit me with your plant questions, I'd love to help you (probably learning a thing or two myself while I'm at it)!
Becoming a gardener has been one of the most rewarding hobbies I’ve ever stumbled upon.
Flowers have always been my favorite. I worked really hard in the yard and flower beds of our first home to establish landscaping that made me smile each time I was outside (while adding charm to the exterior of course). When we moved to our second, and potentially forever, home on two acres of land my head started swimming with ideas of what I could do with so much space.
In a little over two years’ time, my plants have been the best teachers. As I’ve sweated over landscaping around the entire house, planted a huge vegetable and wildflower garden, and made plans to fill in spots begging for the chance to host perennials – nature has spoken to me.
There is so much to learn from the simplicity of the outdoors. It exists. If you allow it the basic necessities to live – off it goes. No pomp and circumstance. In its own time and at its own pace, it grows.
I spent a few hours in my vegetable and wild flower garden last night since I haven’t been able to be as hands on with it as I was last year. I was missing it. And you know what I realized? Even though I wasn’t there to pluck every single weed, prune every little tomato shoot, or thoroughly water every one of the plants – there they were – growing stronger before my eyes. The control freak inside of me softened. There were weeds, the tomato plants were out of control, and it could have used a watering – but it was my garden and my tiny seedlings were well on their way to bearing their fruit without any handholding from me.
In their own time, they will bloom.
And sometimes…they won’t. Enter – the humbling part of being a gardener.
I tried starting seedlings this year. I was off to a great start – everything was sprouting. And then it wasn’t. I tried more water and less water. Airing them out. Time outside. Every combination I could think of. Unfortunately, only six green bean seedlings were the sole survivors out of 54 pods of seedlings. The seedlings that once showed promise shriveled away and the egg shells I started them in were worked into the dirt around the seedlings I was forced to buy. Ouch. My mighty green thumb wasn’t as mighty after all. Turns out I’m not naturally good at everything. Sometimes, even if you use all of your charm and try all you can, you fail. Fall right down on your face. Into a pile of dried up seedlings.
In addition to pride, humility, and more patience – my plants have given me a feeling of purpose and contentment.
If you have read my blog, you know I’m my worst critic. I beat myself up a lot. But since becoming a gardener, especially at our new home, one of the most comforting things I can say to myself is, “You may not be good at everything. You might not do everything perfectly. But you are good at something. And after you’re done with X, Y, Z – you can come back here, to your garden, and you’ll be OK.”
Having something in my life that makes me feel that way is truly priceless. I suppose you could say I’ve found my happy place in the garden. The place you can close your eyes and visualize and smile about.
I hope you’ve found your happy place, too. And if you haven’t – take time to reflect on what makes you feel and keeps you grounded. Run towards it. Throw everything you’ve got into it. I promise the lessons it teaches you along the way will be worth it.
We had a pretty nice holiday at the Sires' household. We soaked in the glow of our Christmas tree, watched lots of holiday movies, snuggled in with our pups, and indulged in too many treats!
To balance out the peaceful calm, we threw some chaos of our own making into the mix. As usual, we were the people out shopping for ALL of our gifts the week before (up to the day before) Christmas. Never fails. We never mean to wait so long and we're not unthoughtful people, it has truly just become a laughable tradition of ours. At least we're experiencing the madness together!
This year was a little different for us because some of our normal traditions with family shifted slightly. The shift meant that we had Christmas Eve completely open, no commitments. (!!!) We tried to be intentional about what we chose to do in hopes of creating one or two new traditions that we could carry into the future.
It was a pretty laid back day. We slept in, rose slowly, had brunch, wrapped the last of our gifts, napped, took a walk, and went to church in the evening. The pace was dreamy. It felt so strange to have such a leisurely day in the middle of the busiest few days of our year, but I think we both welcomed and needed it.
My absolute favorite part of our Christmas Eve together was our walk. We took a walk around our property, taking time to stop, look around, and breathe in the crisp air. We fell in love with our acreage in the winter, so winter always feels an extra kind of special around here. Our dreams for this place took shape in the quiet, cold, and snowy months before we made it our home.
This type of reflection as a couple is undoubtedly the best new tradition that sprouted from our extra eight hours together during the holidays. My love for him, who we've become as individuals and as a couple, and the life we've built together has never felt stronger than in those stolen hours.
I hope you embraced new traditions along with the old this holiday season and were able to be present in both. Wishing you a wonderful holiday and happy new year!
Here are some “family photos” we attempted on Christmas Eve! Attempted being the key word. No amount of treats can persuade our dogs to take a photo!
We have been frantically trying to wrap up some big projects before winter arrives. I had high hopes for this summer in terms of our landscaping and I have to say - we did good! We didn't have time to get to the fire pit, but the space will be there waiting for us next year!
Here's a little peek at our landscaping. There was nothing around the house before, so what we did was a huge upgrade!
We also did major work on the trees all around our property. The wind did a number on them last year - tops broke off, full trees fell over, large branches partially fell but were still hanging on...I acquired a fear of wind after awhile...
With the help of a family friend who owns a tree trimming business, Joel and I were able to get everything cleaned up! It was A LOT of work, but everything looks so much nicer.
I had a bit of a hard time losing a few of the trees, but when a tree's dead, it's dead, and it's got to go.
We also had help from my uncle, Joe, who came over and ground all of our stumps for us! My goodness we are so lucky to be surrounded by family and friends who take good care of us.
Joel did most of the work cleaning up the aftermath of the stump grinding, including removal of the final tree we'll cut down this year.
Last weekend, I spent a lot of time cleaning out the gardens. I started tearing out everything except for our strawberries. Those I covered with hay, they'll come back next year.
I had the most fun harvesting our sweet potatoes! They vine out and take up so much space, so I didn't know what to expect. We had a good crop from four plants. Most went to my sister for baby food, but I kept the rest to enjoy myself. I love sweet potatoes!
My hydrangea bush did really well this year and had several blooms left before the frost, so I cut them off to use as decor indoors.
You are supposed to put them in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight to dry. I chose to hang ours upside down, and so far they're doing really great. They have a beautiful burgundy color and go really well with our decor.
Although I'm really, really going to miss spending time outdoors - especially in my gardens - over the winter, I suppose winter happens for a reason. We all need a chance to hibernate and rest so we can come back as a better, stronger version of ourselves when the snow begins to melt. I'll try my best to welcome this slower pace and take in the beauty of country living in its next season.
I talk a lot about being present, being mindful. But a lot of times, that's much easier said than done.
Joel and I have been on opposite schedules lately - job changes, working long hours, a lot of personal commitments - all in addition to adding a new puppy to our family. I could feel myself starting to break down and the consistent calm that I can normally connect to in some way, shape, or form was nowhere in sight.
I let myself get to the point where I was near rock bottom. I know when I'm reaching this point very clearly - I'm angry. Very, very angry. At everyone and everything. And I can't hide it - THAT'S the biggest giveaway.
I'm always the person to say, "If you don't like something, change it." I'm not a complainer and I don't like complainers. So I had to get tough with myself and take my own advice. I had to change something to get myself back on track. I knew I had the tools to dig myself out - I was just allowing everything that was going on and the anger I was feeling to cloud my normally mindful thoughts.
A good outlet for me when I'm feeling this way is to write it out. Sometimes I write everything out feeling by feeling. A lot of times I write out a plan that will get me into a better head space. For me, plans are calming! So that's what I did. Here's what my plan said:
Morning - Rise at 6 a.m.
That's it. Nothing more, nothing less, no teardrops on the pages. Just a plan. A plan incorporating the tools I know I have in my toolbox, so it was a realistic plan for me to run with. I haven't missed a day since I started, and I hope I never do.
Incorporating these practices into my daily schedule have allowed me to feel present in the midst of fast pace surroundings and unpredictable circumstances. I try not to simply look, hear, smell, touch - I aim to see, listen, inhale, feel - be HERE (I share an example of this with the image below). That alone in itself is so important. My thoughts and actions feel more intentional. I feel happier, and lighter, and love myself a little bit more than I did before - which was needed.
What tools do you reach for when you're at a breaking point? What items are part of your routine that keep you grounded? I'd love to know!
I spotted this bright yellow moth on the door of our garage before leaving for work. I was running behind and had already started backing out of the driveway. But I stopped. This brilliant, florescent moth against our red door was just stunning. I took a deep breath, told myself that it was OK to take the time to fully be present in that moment, got out, and took time to enjoy watching the moth warm its wings in the sun. It was peaceful and beautiful. And guess what? The world kept turning while I paused. I don't regret that brief moment of extra time I took to enjoy that moment.
It's a very exciting time on The Farm - our gardens are blooming and producing! The flowers are settling into their new homes and veggies are starting to appear.
Pictured above is our fruit/vegetable garden in front and wildflower garden in back. I planted the following in our fruit/vegetable garden this year:
The cucumber trellis I created out of an old baby crib is working really great, so I plan to use it again next year!
Our wildflower garden has a large selection of items in it. I don't know what most of them are because I just dumped a bunch of seed packets into a bowl, spread them out and raked them into the soil. Along with the seeds, I did plant a few established plants - butterfly bush, lavender, cone flowers, columbine, queen anne's lace and some other unidentified flowering "ditch weeds." There's a fair share of weeds in this garden as well, but it's intended to be a "wild" garden, so I'm letting it be!
In other areas of the yard, my hydrangea (which I planted last year) finally bloomed and milkweed sprouted up, making my Monarch butterfly friends happy.
We also planted some herbs in the vertical herb garden I built earlier this year! We've enjoyed one round of mint, basil and rosemary, and it's about time for me to clip them all back another time very soon.
I'm really happy with how everything has come together outdoors this year! It has taken A LOT of time and energy, but has been so worth it.
If you have any questions or tips about gardening, I'd love to hear them!
I'm getting really excited for Summer to arrive! I spent all Winter daydreaming about the projects I could get to once the snow melted. Two big goals of mine for this year was to get some landscaping done around our house and start a garden. I'm happy to report that both are well on their way to being finished!
I started with the garden space, choosing to till two large plots. One for food, one for flowers. Thanks to my amazing uncle Rick who lent us his tiller, my dad and husband knocked out the plots in minutes flat.
I also got to try out the tiller, which was fun. I love all of the new equipment I've been able to operate on the farm! (Don't mind my outfit...matching hasn't been my biggest strength lately!)
I have some starter plants already purchased for the fruit/veggie garden and scored on seeds for the flower garden. I want happy pollinators in my backyard, so I'm crossing my fingers that both gardens succeed! I haven't started planting just yet. My grandma has always told me to wait until after Mother's Day - and this old wives' tale has never been wrong.
The next thing I tried my hand at was laying out plans for landscaping around the house. I had a blank slate to work with. An absolute dream...and nightmare...because the ideas just keep coming!
To plan how far out I wanted to go out from the house, I used two main tools: Weed Killer and Spray Paint! I measured and eyeballed how I wanted to lay everything out first. I then used spray paint to draw a line around the house where I wanted the landscaping to reach and sprayed weed killer between the house and the spray painted line.
I'm filling in the mapped out area with rock, surrounding several buried pots that I'll fill with flowers. I also plan to build some simple planters to place between the buried pots to add some height variation.
I wanted the front yard landscaping to be simple and easy to maintain since we have a lot going on in our backyard (a more "wild/native" plant approach) to support my B's (bees, bats, butterflies, birds). You could say I'm following the "Mullet Philosophy" for our landscaping - business in the front, party in the back!
Like the gardens, this is still a work in progress. I'll post a full DIY tutorial on both when they're finished!
I'm happy with where we're at for only being at the farm for a year and two months! So much has changed already, with so much more yet to come. We love this little place of ours that continues to feel more and more like home. We don't take a second of country living for granted, and take as much time as we can pausing to give thanks for the beauty it has brought into our lives!
When was the last time you went to a class, just for the fun of it? To learn something new or explore more about something you are already passionate about?
If you look in the right places, there are a lot of free or low cost options in the Cedar Valley that you can (and should) take advantage of! I'm going to tell you about three that I've signed up for recently and will urge you to keep learning by looking for classes you might enjoy!
Beekeeping for Beginners
Sure, you can look up all of these things online, Google it, YouTube it, etc. - but nothing beats sitting in a room of like-minded people learning about something you're all interested in. You learn from each other as much as you learn from the curriculum. Let me know what classes you plan to or are currently giving a try!
I believe Joel and I have become accustomed to the ebbs and flows of country life and being acreage owners. We've had some interesting and challenging things thrown our way over the past few weeks, but here we are, still going strong!
To summarize what we've learned recently:
All in all, it's been just fine. Like I said, we're getting used to the flow of things, but it has been a learning curve.
The wonderful thing about all of these "adventures" is that it has kept our life interesting, our attitudes about what's important in check, and we're more active than ever. Gone are the days when we come home from work and lounge for an entire night. We have both been outside every night doing something for a few hours before we wind down.
I've probably mentioned before that Teddy Roosevelt is my #1 hero and is a huge inspiration to me. He was very physically active and encouraged others to be physically active as a way to live a better life. He was also a big outdoorsman. Loved nature. I think about him often when I'm dragging branches from the front to the back of our 2 acre property. When I'm scraping paint from various nooks and crannies with sweat dripping from my brow. And especially when I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and give thanks for the beautiful habitat we've surrounded ourselves with.
I've observed a growing sense of pride, accomplishment, and gratitude within each of us after we end a long day at work with a long evening outside. It's amazing and new and so lovely. Something we can share. Another way we are growing together on our journey.
I snapped a few pics of our recent work outside. Below you'll see Joel at work clearing (a lot) of brush after the last big (surprise) storm we had. And along with it, my work on our porches. This was the project Mother Nature interrupted. But it's still coming along nicely.