Winterizing the Chicken Coop and Run

It’s a blistery, cold day here in central Ohio as the winter storm impacting much of the US this early February hits us. Also, Punxatawny Phil says it’ll be 6 more weeks of winter. So, what better time to share how we’ve prepped the henhouse for winter this season? While I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, I also wanted to ensure our methods worked before sharing… just in case some of you look to our half-assery for guidance. So here it is…

This was the first year we had to winterize for chickens–our flock last year went to Gigi’s (Tarin’s mother) before winter. When the hens stopped laying eggs mad-fall, Gigi came by to help us see if it was something we were doing… it was. We learned that we weren’t letting the hens out early enough nor did the feed we had provide enough calcium for layers. And because we had no idea what we were doing or plans developed for how to brace for winter, Gigi offered to take the hens to her coop for the winter. Needless to say, that flock stayed with Gigi as the Norris’ welcomed their newest little one to the world and the idea of taking chickens back on was a little much for them this spring.

This spring, the Camp kids pleaded hard and presented some strong cases for getting chickens again. They vowed to help care for the hens every day–rain, sleet, ice, or snow (like the postal code goes). It’s been amazing to see them work together to care for the hens, though they need reminders from time to time. This flock has a few hens that are STILL producing eggs, which amazes me. While the adorable little coop we bought for the last flock is less than ideal for a number of reasons–difficult to clean, flimsy door, barely large enough for 8 hens–we decided to refrain from investing in a larger coop just yet for two reasons:

  1. I wasn’t completely confident the hens, or really the kids, would last through the winter. This pregnancy has really sucked the energy out of me so the responsibility of keeping the hens alive has been soley on the kids and just supervised by Sr. and me. We fully anticipated the possibility of the kids throwing the towel in and needing to rehome our sweet hens.
  2. Our barely-big-enough coop actually seems to be an advantage in the cold winter while a larger coop might require more work to winterize. Our coop is designed for 6-8 hens, we have 8. But the tight quarters are actually a benefit as they keep the hens warm with less dead space to have to keep warm.

We’ve had some pretty cold, icy, and snowy weather this winter and the kids, hens, and coop continue to persevere. I’m glad we chose to wait on a bigger coop as the winter care experience will also help us determine the best coop feature we want when we upgrade in the spring.

So how did we winterize this year? It was actually pretty simple and cost-effective! First, I did some research and came across the idea of winterizing the run by blocking the wind with clear tarps. Since our coop sits in the run pen, we determined that this would be a two-in-one solution!

I purchased four 8 x 12 clear heavy-duty tarps from Amazon. These would not only block the hens, and their coop, from blustery winds but also allow us to maintain some visibility in the run. We ran the tarps horizontally (with the 12 ft side across the walls of the run) and secured them with zip-ties. The sides of our run are less than 8 ft but the excess height of the tarps actually provide a little coverage from snow on the edges of the run.

We also purchased a few bales of straw to provide more insulation in and outside of the run. Inside the run, we placed two bales against the open side of the coop, which is placed in the corner of the run. Outside the run, we placed the remainder of the bales against walls. As we get snow and ice, we use straw from the bales to provide a dry pad and walkways for the hens to walk on and stave off possible frostbite. The only issue we’ve run into is, recently–because we don’t have our straw bales covered–they freeze and are next to impossible to break apart. We’ve just used our pine bedding on the floor of the run instead.

Speaking of bedding, we’ve upped how much bedding we use as well for the winter. This helps insulate inside the coop and maintains a dry space for our hens.

When it comes to water, we’re simply using a bowl of water, checking and refilling throughout the day, when the temps are low enough to freeze up our gravity waterer. I thought for sure we’d have a water warmer by now, but haven’t seen enough need to invest in one just yet.

Whether you come here for guidance, curiosity, or entertainment, thank you. And know we always welcome your questions and comments!



Cranberry Heat Dip **Repost**

It’s another year of my favorite holiday appetizer! I’ll be making double or triple batches this season. Check it out below!

If you’re looking for an appetizer that’s sure to impress, you’re in the right place! This one’s creamy with a sweet heat and all the right holiday flavors. But I’m no food blogger so I’ll cut straight to the chase and give you the recipe… if you like a little story with your recipes, feel free to read the second half of this post for how this recipe came to be.

Cranberry Heat Dip

Prep Time: About 20 minutes

NOTES:

  • This recipe requires that you let the ingredients rest in the refrigerator overnight for the best flavor.
  • This recipe gets it heat from Serrano peppers, which are hotter than jalapeños (about 5xs hotter). Don’t worry, the citrus from the orange with the cream cheese cool it down. If you’re heat sensitive, you can try using less Serranos. If you’re a heat-weeny, you can sub them for jalapeños.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 12 oz fresh cranberries, uncooked
  • 2-3 Serrano peppers (depending on your heat preference)
  • 1/4 cup green onions
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 orange
  • Pinch of salt
  • 16 oz whipped cream cheese
  • Crackers (I like Triscuits or Ritz)

TOOLS:

  • Knife
  • A nice pie dish to serve your dip
  • A medium bowl
  • A spoon or rubber spatula
  • A zester (or a fine cheese grate will work in a pinch)
  • Colander

DIRECTIONS

  1. Chop your cranberries. If you have never chopped fresh cranberries before, you’ll find these boogers can be messy. You don’t need to chop them all individually but you want to avoid any whole cranberries.
  2. Dice the Serrano peppers and chop the green onions.
  3. In a medium bowl toss in the cranberries, peppers, and onions. Combine the mixture with the sugar and salt
  4. Zest your orange into the bowl then cut it in half and squeeze the juice into the bowl and stir well incorporated.
  5. Cover and place in the refrigerator overnight.
  6. The next day, remove the bowl from the fridge and give it another good stir.
  7. Spoon the whipped cream cheese into your serving dish.
  8. Pour the cranberry mixture into the colander to strain the excess juice.
  9. Pour the strained cranberry mixture over your whipped cream cheese. Cover and put back in the refrigerator if not serving immediately.
  10. Serve your dip with crackers and a spoon to help spread onto crackers.
  11. Enjoy!

The Story

As we all know, 2020 has been one giant shitstorm. The impact of COVID-19 has lasted much longer than we all anticipated and has overshadowed the winter holidays. Despite celebrating much smaller than usual and a day later, we still planned to have the traditional dinner at Thanksgiving with a few family members. A few days before Thanksgiving we were invited to celebrate over dinner with our good friends the Sickles. Having the main, sides, and desserts covered, Rachel asked if I could bring an appetizer. Well, turns out I’ve never made an appetizer for a holiday meal!

So I did what anyone does when searching for inspiration… I hit Pinterest. This Cranberry Jalapeño Dip caught my eye so I had Sr. pick up the ingredients during a last minute run to the grocer. Sr. couldn’t find jalapeño’s so he brought home Serranos. My friend Carlos once told me that Serranos we much better than jalapeño, with better heat and flavor. To be safe I only used 2 Serranos, since they can be significantly hotter than jalapeños.

Additionally, we’ve been binge-watching the Kids Ultimate Holiday Baking Championships. So with the inspirations of great flavor pairings and Grace’s desire to zest every orange she sees like the kids on t.v., we decided to replace the lemon in the original recipe with orange.

This dip was a HIT y’all! The creaminess of the soft cream cheese, the sweet tang of the sugared cranberries and orange, and the slow heat of the Serrano make it pure joy. It was so good I let the Sickles keep the rest and made another dish the next day for dinner at our house. Sr. mentioned that it could be a but hooter so the second time I used an extra pepper and will use 4 the next time.



At War with Mother-in-Law’s Revenge

When we first moved in, Kay, the previous homeowner, came to pick up some mail and offered some gardening tips on how to care for all the beautiful perennials she planted in her 40 years in the home. One of the first things she said was that I needed to pull the “mother-in-law’s revenge” early and often.

What’s mother-in-law’s revenge, you ask? Well, Kay didn’t really know what it was but she named this formidable garden invader after her mother-in-law gifted Kay a few seedlings for her garden claiming they’d be the perfect filler and ground cover for her beautiful front gardens. Kay’s mother-in-law passed shortly after she planted them and said they’ve been haunting her gardens ever since. The seedlings quickly multiplied and choked out many of her strongest plants. She’s been pulling them from her garden–and cursing her mother-in-law–every year since.

Since making this our home and taking over the gardens, I too now curse Kay’s mother-in-law every time I have to weed it out of the gardens. It doesn’t just cover the open, available real estate on the ground, it likes to hide in the middle of other plants–like my hostas, chrysanthemums, and russian sage–making finding them early and pulling a bitch. And despite my best back-breaking, weed-pulling efforts, it seems to come back with more vehemence each time. I’m telling y’all this stuff could flourish in a vat of bleach with no light.

Finally, I did some research last year and discovered the real name of this pest–goutweed. Goutweed is an extremely aggressive, invasive perennial. Savvy Gardening calls it the “cockroach of the botanical world” and “a beast to eradicate”. While on the prohibited or restricted plant list in some states, goutweed can be found in some garden centers under the name of “bishop’s-weed” or even “snow-on-the-mountian”.

Turns out, Kay’s approach of pulling the plant, which often comes up fairly easily, is one of the worst things you can do! Goutweed stems from a web of rhizomes which branch far and wide underground. You see, rhizomes have a nasty habit of multiplying from broken or left behind roots in the ground–like when you pluck gray a hair and five more emerge, thriving and taunting you.

So how do you get rid of it? It’s a painstaking process. Many sites recommend fully covering it with plastic, essentially “cooking” the devil which can take anywhere from 8 weeks to 2 whole seasons. You can also smother it by cutting it down and covering it with cardboard and mulch – 2-3 feet beyond the menace’s prersence. Another option is spraying it down with a vinegar solution or even chemical-based weed killer like Round-up.

My initial plan was to try the smother and cover method. I figured I could cover around some existing plants and add good soil above, building up the gardens and planting new perennials which would look better in the front of the house than black plastic. Besides, I had PLENTY of cardboard thanks to Amazon and Christmas time which I stored for several months. Unfortunately, when we prepared for hosting my sister-in-law’s engagement party in May, Sr. wanted the garage clean and recycled all my cardboard. To be fair, I caved and gave him permission.

June is always a busy month at work and difficult for me to get in the gardens and then I was out of comission for several months with nausea in my first trimester. By the time I got back to life–and the gardens–in September, mother-in-law’s revenge had ravaged the front gardens.

Exhausted and over it, I’m not ashamed to say I finally caved and turned to the chemicals. After all, this was war. I came to terms with the fact that there’d be some casualties, like my russian sage, mums, and a few other perennials. After the first careful spray, I was disappointed that the beast didn’t begin to wither within hours. I had totally imagined a scene out of The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy douses the Wicked Witch with water and finally ends her reign of terror.

No such luck. However, after a few weeks a difference could be seen. AND my chrysanthemums didn’t die! Two more rounds of spraying and I’ve made a serious dent in the rein of Kay’s Mother-in-law’s revenge.

Unfortunately, the arrival of the cold weather has stalled my progress because the chemical sprays are recommended for using weather above 60 degrees. Looks like there will be more work in the spring. I’m thinking I may need to srpay again a time or two and then will likely cover with cardboard and fresh soil so I can plant a few new beauties. This will allow the new plants to thrive while the chemicals dissipate under the decomposing cardboard barrier.

I also haven’t touched the bed of hostas in front of the kitchen bay window yet but I plan to smother and cover that small bed. With my Japanese Maple in that bed, I don’t want to use any chemicals. Besides, the hostas are overgrown and can’t be divided because they’re infested with goutweed so removal or covering is the best option. I’ll cover it this winter and it’ll be fun to design a new perennial bed there in the spring–something that doesn’t have hostas maybe?



Vintage Drawer to Ottoman Project

I’ve been working on my glass porch/sunroom makeover since late Fall. It all started with a darling mid-century sofa with an eccentric floral print. I recently got a gorgeous vintage chair that paired beautifully with the sofa and really made the room feel like it was coming together. The only issue was the coffee table, a Marshalls find from October, was too heavy for the room and didn’t seem to fit. Besides, we used it more for propping our feet on than holding items. I moved the coffee table to Grace’s room and swapped it for a great side table with mid-century vibes that I’ve had since my college years.

Of course, this still left us with nothing to put our feet on – and with my new chair’s comfortable matching ottoman the sofa seemed the less desirable seat in the room. I really felt we needed a light colored ottoman, preferably with storage for blankets. Then I remembered the drawer I had in the basement. It had been sitting on the floor for two years now, since last Christmas when we removed it from the vintage vanity we got Ella for Christmas. Both girls were dying for a vanity, like Fancy Nancy. I found a beautiful vintage vanity about an hour away.

When we got it to Ella’s room Christmas afternoon, the bottom drawer had almost no more stability left and was barely functional so my father-in-law, Jeff, recommended we just remove the bottom drawer and leave the top on. My Mother-in-law, Becky, told me to keep the drawer and do some kind of up-cycle project with it, like a shelf or something. I didn’t see the vision she had at the time but I kept the drawer and bottom molding anyway. It’s been tucked away in a dark corner of the basement ever since–holding my favorite cowboy hat of Sr.’s and a few old frames. I actually only remembered it because I stubbed my toe on it while trying to hide gift for Christmas.

Anyway, I thought this might be the perfect base for an ottoman. Originally I considered a tufted look like this ottoman I found on Pinterest, but quickly pulled myself back into reality. I mean, it was a few days before Christmas! Who was I kidding? I was giving no more than a half-ass effort at best. Also, I had no idea what I was doing when it came to upholstery and tufting seemed a little too advanced.

The next day, I took my brother Josh (Josh was here for Christmas!) to the hardware and fabric store. I spent more on the one yard of “high density” 3″ foam than I did anything else.

For this project I used:

  • 24 x 32 inch precut plywood
  • metal brackets and hardware
  • chalky finish spray paint in Antique white
  • 1 yard 3″ high density foam
  • 2 yard upholstery fabric (more than I needed but it was on sale for $9.99!
  • Cotton batting
  • spray adhesive
  • 4 4″ table legs
  • rotary saw
  • bread knife
  • power drill

First, I measured and cut the plywood down. This would butt up against the back of the moulding and serve as the lid. Then I used the spray paint to paint the bottom of the board, the legs and the other 3 sides of the drawer, the front was already painted. It was the perfect mild, sunny December day for sippin’ whiskey and watchin’ paint dry.

Once everything dried I traced the lid on the foam and used a bread knife to cut the foam into shape. There with blocks supporting the lip on the molding I needed to cut out as well.

Next was measuring my fabric and batting. I had been thinking about how I’d attache the cushion to the lid all day and still hadn’t decided but felt like I could try to attach it with the spray adhesive first. Of course, this meant that I’d have no great way to stretch the fabric over the foam. I tried it anyway but ended up with more mess than success. My finger kept sticking to the spray trigger and ripping it off the bottle. I felt like Clark Griswold trying to read the magazine after handling the Christmas tree.

Not only that but the velvet fabric was too bulky for the adhesive, or my patience. I quickly changed tactics and found the staple gun. This was much more satisfying. Unfortunately, at least as mush as I have figured it out so far, wrapping the cloth round the lid base means I wont be able to add the hinges I planned for. Never the less, the fabric looks much better and the top is light enough to just lift or shift out of the way to grab a blanket from the drawer.

Josh helped me add the legs by extending the thread posts so they could be attached to the bottom.

And voilà!!

I couldn’t be more please with the project, though I’ll likely do a little adjusting–to my corner seams for example or adding a little trim detail. It’s just the right height and the perfect size for the space.



Cranberry Heat Dip

If you’re looking for an appetizer that’s sure to impress, you’re in the right place! This one’s creamy with a sweet heat and all the right holiday flavors. But I’m no food blogger so I’ll cut straight to the chase and give you recipe… if you like a little story with your recipes, feel free to read the second half of this post for how this recipe came to be.

Cranberry Heat Dip

Prep Time: About 20 minutes

NOTES:

  • This recipe requires that you let the ingredients rest in the refrigerator overnight for the best flavor.
  • This recipe gets it heat from Serrano peppers, which are hotter than jalapeños (about 5xs hotter). Don’t worry, the citrus from the orange with the cream cheese cool it down. If you’re heat sensitive, you can try using less Serranos. If you’re a heat-weeny, you can sub them for jalapeños.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 12 oz fresh cranberries, uncooked
  • 2-3 Serrano peppers (depending on your heat preference)
  • 1/4 cup green onions
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 orange
  • Pinch of salt
  • 16 oz whipped cream cheese
  • Crackers (I like Triscuits or Ritz)

TOOLS:

  • Knife
  • A nice pie dish to serve your dip
  • A medium bowl
  • A spoon or rubber spatula
  • A zester (or a fine cheese grate will work in a pinch)
  • Colander

DIRECTIONS

  1. Chop your cranberries. If you have never chopped fresh cranberries before, you’ll find these boogers can be messy. You don’t need to chop them all individually but you want to avoid any whole cranberries.
  2. Dice the Serrano peppers and chop the green onions.
  3. In a medium bowl toss in the cranberries, peppers, and onions. Combine the mixture with the sugar and salt
  4. Zest your orange into the bowl then cut it in half and squeeze the juice into the bowl and stir well incorporated.
  5. Cover and place in the refrigerator overnight.
  6. The next day, remove the bowl from the fridge and give it another good stir.
  7. Spoon the whipped cream cheese into your serving dish.
  8. Pour the cranberry mixture into the colander to strain the excess juice.
  9. Pour the strained cranberry mixture over your whipped cream cheese. Cover and put back in the refrigerator if not serving immediately.
  10. Serve your dip with crackers and a spoon to help spread onto crackers.
  11. Enjoy!

The Story

As we all know, 2020 has been one giant shitstorm. The impact of COVID-19 has lasted much longer than we all anticipated and has overshadowed the winter holidays. Despite celebrating much smaller than usual and a day later, we still planned to have the traditional dinner at Thanksgiving with a few family members. A few days before Thanksgiving we were invited to celebrate over dinner with our good friends the Sickles. Having the main, sides, and desserts covered, Rachel asked if I could bring an appetizer. Well, turns out I’ve never made an appetizer for a holiday meal!

So I did what anyone does when searching for inspiration… I hit Pinterest. This Cranberry Jalapeño Dip caught my eye so I had Sr. pick up the ingredients during a last minute run to the grocer. Sr. couldn’t find jalapeño’s so he brought home Serranos. My friend Carlos once told me that Serranos we much better than jalapeño, with a better heat and flavor. To be safe I only used 2 Serranos, since they can be significantly hotter than jalapeños.

Additionally we’ve been binge watching the Kids Ultimate Holiday Baking Championships. So with the inspirations of great flavor pairings and Grace’s desire to zest every orange she sees like the kids on t.v., we decided to replace the lemon in the original recipe with orange.

This dip was a HIT y’all! The creaminess of the soft cream cheese, the sweet tang of the sugared cranberries and orange, and the slow heat of the Serrano make it pure joy. It was so good I let the Sickles keep the rest and made another dish the next day for dinner at our house. Sr. mentioned that it could be a but hooter so the second time I used an extra pepper and will use 4 the next time.



The Half-Ass Henhouse

A few weeks ago, we lost our sweet lap hen, Hazel, to a hawk.

We have 2-3 hawks in our neighborhood (plus a large fox and a few coyotes) that have been making quiet a ruckus this late-summer. I noticed their calls in mid July and heard from the McCrearys, who live two doors down, that one swooped down on their young flock as Molly was trying to usher the hens in the coop.

Despite the McCreary’s close encounter, their distant calls and a few sightings, we weren’t too worried about the hawks as predators since our hens are pretty much full grown. It was the fox that always appeared at dusk,just after the hens went into their coop , and liked to hang out eating groundhogs behind the shed that we saw a a real threat to our free-rangin’ ladies. After all, when the hawks’ squawks neared, the hens always ensured they were under the cover of the brush in the gardens. We knew we couldn’t keep the hens free-ranging for long and would need to build a bigger coop and/or run but it wasn’t at the top of our list. Unfortunately, our delay worked in the hawks’ favor.

On a Monday, I debated letting the ladies our as I was working a number of back to back virtual meetings, as is the norm in back to school season. However, it was going to be a hot day and their adorable coop is just too small for comfort so we decided to let them out for the day. Just before a new customer meeting, Sr. came in from the garage and said, “I think something ate the chickens, there are feathers everywhere!”

With my meeting just moments from starting, I told him to get the kids and try to find the rest of the flock and put them away. I then texted Tarin to let her know what was happening and started my call. Luckily, 5 of the 6 hens were found safe, but terrified, in the ferns at Tarin’s house. Hazel was the only one missing. Sr. wasn’t lying. There were feathers everywhere. Poor hazel seemed to put up a good fight and looked to have almost made it from the treeline, where the trail began, to under the old Chevy truck where the trial abruptly disappeared. We searched the grounds to see if she might have survived but found nothing.

By the next day, we had decided that it wasn’t in the budget and we didn’t have the time to build a new coop with a run like we have been planning so Plan B would have to be another solution. We found this covered pen and decided it’d be just what we needed for now.

The pen arrived in 2 boxes– chicken wire and aluminum poles. Thanks goodness Sr. had the patience to put the aluminum frame together Thursday or else it wouldn’t have gotten done this weekend. Saturday, we all worked together to cut and attach the chicken wire roof and walls. The kids transferred the hens to the pen and smothered them all in love (they missed wrangling them) while Tarin and I did a deep clean of their coop- which desperately needed it after nearly 2 weeks of 5 hens being cooped up in there 24/7.

After clearing out a few branches and debris from under the pines, we positioned the pen over the coop and set out their food and water. We even found a small board to serve as a nameplate for their new digs.

Now the new problem is keeping the kids, especially the little ones from going in and out of the pen–1. because they’re more likely to leave the pen door open and 2. because the poor hens have no way to escape or hide from those little arms.



Mulching with Grass- Not So Half-Ass!

One major error we made in our big garden last year was with mulch… we basically didn’t have any. Due to a tight budget, we used straw as our walkway mulch but we overlooked mulching our growing rows. We also missed the memo about planting cover crops over winter. Turns out, the raised row garden technique isn’t so weed-free when you don’t mind your mulch.

This year, we’ve been dropping the ball on mulch–again. We had big plans, y’all, but they didn’t happen. The walkways are in desperate need of new straw but more importantly the rows were getting are dry and cracked just hours after every rain and with longer stretches of summer heat drawing close, we needed to figure out something quick.

After Sr.’s brain surgery, our great friends, the Sickles, have been helping us with the lawn. The first mow, I told Paul the wrong level to cut at and the lawn got a hefty trim. With so much cut, we had rows of clippings across the lawn Sr. asked me to use the lawn sweeper to sweep the clippings off the lawn the next day.

As I struggled to maneuver the first load of clippings beyond out of the sweeper my first few rounds. It was a sight to see. I couldn’t seem to get the grass dumped out at the right spot. I decided to toss a few shovelfuls of clippings on the new compost pile. Turns out, grass clippings are great for compost AND as mulch.

Here’s what I learned:

IMPORTANT NOTE: You should only use clippings from untreated yards.

Grass clippings are are a great source of green or brown material–depending on if they are fresh or not–in the compost. If fresh, they count as a green and require a brown, such as dried leaves to balance things out (I’m still learning A LOT about composting and pretty much only know three things: there are “green” things, (2) there are “brown” things and (3) there should be “balance.”)

Mulching with grass clippings, it not only cools the roots and helps retain moisture, like any mulch, it also can add up to 25% of the nutrients growing takes out of the soil. When using fresh clippings, you should use thinner layers so it can break down and you don’t encourage rot.

Finally mulched rows!

Since most of my clippings were brown, I piled it on nice and thick. I was able to get half the rows done before I ran out of clippings and had to sweep Clint and Tarin’s yard. The second round of sweeping was much easier once I figured out I didn’t have to get off the mower if I used the black rope, and that I could just dump it as I drove by the front of the big garden.

Once I finished, mulching, I took some of our left over soil builder and put it at the base of the plants. They have been LOVING it and so have we–less watering, yay! And the best part – totally FREE!


Watermelon Lemonade: The Perfect Drink for this Summer!

Y’all! There seriously couldn’t be a better summertime lemonade!

We have been so blessed these past few weeks after Brian Sr.’s brain surgery with dinners and treats from friends, neighbors, and family. The food has been delicious. One of our favorites was a taco dinner Bridgette made for us, complete with a cold pitcher of watermelon lemonade.

This lemonade was everything y’all! It was pretty–a sunset pink with little slices of lemon and chunks of watermelon. It was also simply delicious. We sucked it down before the day was over.

Sr. was still in the ICU and didn’t get to enjoy the lemonade with us so this weekend I decided to try and recreate it. I texted Bridgette for the recipe but there wasn’t one. She totally winged it! Bridgette did share what she could remember of how she made it so the girls and I took that and ran with it.

Now I have to be honest, Bridgette’s recipe included fresh squeezed lemons and organic cane sugar… I didn’t have enough lemons to make lemonade so I just used good ole Country Time lemonade mix–a pantry staple in our house when the weather is warm. We also added a garnish of lemon balm from the garden!

Watermelon Lemonade Recipe

Prep Time: 10 – 15 minutes

This recipe uses 3 parts lemonade, one part watermelon juice. You can use whatever lemonade recipe you prefer–whether fresh squeezed or premixed.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 ripe watermelon
  • 3+ cups of your favorite lemonade
  • Lemon slices (optional)
  • A few leaves of lemon balm (optional)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Make your lemonade. You’ll need at least 3 cups.
  2. Cut and juice the watermelon. You’ll need at least on cup of watermelon juice and a few cubes for garnishing your lemonade. To juice you can take what pools form cutting the watermelon, or you can make juice by placing watermelon in a cup or bowl and mashing it with a fork. Strain the watermelon juice into a measuring cup.
  3. Mix lemonade and watermelon juice in a pitcher – 3 parts lemonade and 1 part watermelon.
  4. Garnish with lemon slices, cubes of watermelon, and lemon balm leaves.

Voila! Serve chilled or over ice.



The Big Garden, Year One: Our Half-Ass Fence

This first year of raised row gardening is the most expensive, as you spend you money on not only plants, but dirt, mulch and other essentials supplies you may not have. Initially, we decided we’d try to avoid the need for building a fence during the first year since we didn’t have it in the budget. We made plans for using marigolds and Irish Spring soap to deter animals from our garden.

Before we got out plants in the garden, a groundhog helped itself to our tender crops like they were a buffet. Luckily, (for the groundhog) it stopped hanging around in the house shortly before planting time, However, once we got the plants in the ground, Tarin and I started feeling a little paranoid about all our plants just hangin out in the open. In addition to groundhogs, our beautiful neighborhood is full of wildlife, including and abundance of deer and rabbits. I felt like every time I looked out the window the deer were standing around the garden mocking me.

While we never saw them IN the garden, their presence around it was enough.

We asked around on some local Facebook groups about the costs to have someone build our fence and the cost of labor alone was way out of our budget. Having mended fences on our old ranch back in Texas, I was pretty confident we could do a simple fence ourselves. After a few conversations with my Dad about how to go about it and the spacing of posts, and pricing our various fencing materials, we decided to got with t-posts and chicken wire as they were the most inexpensive options. Again, the garden plan I created came in super helpful when figuring out our materials list!

I picked up all the materials at Tractor Supply and had Brian Jr. Help hammer the t-posts in place. When Tarin got home she and I tackled the chickenwire, which was a bitch. The wire and posts were the same height… until I put the posts in the ground… because I hadn’t accounted for that 🤦🏻‍♀️. Chicken wire is also super flimsy and can easily stretch out of shape. So all along the top the wire was loose given we didn’t have supports aside from the posts and we were too lazy to rig up a fence stretcher–which would have made some difference I’m sure.

All in all though, we got the fence up, and the extra fence height I hadn’t accounted for went on to the ground as a skirt on the perimeter, which would be great for keeping small animals from digging in the fence.

By the time we got to the gate our half-assery was in full swing, partly because we were exhausted, partly because we were discouraged but how not-so-great the fence looked, and partly because we had not idea what we were doing. I resorted to a primitive gate method we used on many fences in ranches back in Texas… we just took some chicken wire across the gate opening and used wire to hook it closed. It was by no means sturdy but it closed the gap.

Surprisingly, we had no animals break into the garden last year! Our hopes were to build a new, legit fence this year… more on that later.



The Big Garden, Year One: The Garden is Taking Shape Despite Shitty Soil

In a raised row garden, there is no need for tilling and working the ground soil or building boxes for your garden beds. You simply cover your walkways with a non-producing mulch, straw, or rock material and create raised rows of quality soil about 18 inches wide and 6 inches high in the middle.

Once we had out big garden plot marked off, we decided to cover our walkways first with a weed barrier cloth since we didn’t have it in the budget to spend a lot on materials for the walking paths. This way if we couldn’t get enough mulch to cover the pathways, the cloth would keel the grass and weeds down. I created another diagram to help us determine where and how much cloth we’d need.

With the weed prevention fabric down, we then covered them with straw–our cost-effective “mulch” alternative–and ordered our soil. Unfortunately, we were a little late on the garden soil request. Because we waited until the last possible moment to order our soil, many places were out–something Tarin and I hadn’t considered as a possibility. I finally found a local place that not only had soil, AND would deliver that weekend.

The soil arrived when Tarin and Clint were away so the Camp kids helped me transport all our dirt into rows. Pretty sure this is when Jr. began to hate gardening 🤣 However, I was pretty proud of how hard Grace worked with her kid-sized shovel. We were all pretty proud once it was done.

Unfortunately, all that soil, wasn’t as great as we thought it was. When Tarin and Clint got home we went out to the garden to bask in the way everything was coming together. As Tarin looked at the soil in rows, she commented on how much the soil looked like mulch… in fact it looked exactly like mulch. In a panic, I called the place we ordered it from to confirm they had not delivered mulch instead, I mean it was all ready in TWENTY ROWS, how on earth was I going to give it back to them?!

The dirt company had a completely calm response to our freakout. Turns out, it was soil but it hadn’t finished “processing”. We were told to “just water it and it’d look like dirt” and as time went on the particles would finish breaking down. In other words… It was totally mulch, y’all!

Despite mulchy soil, we were ready for planting… or so we thought.

Our first lesson in plants

While we were able to get pricing on dirt (your most expensive purchase in year one), we had no idea what plants or seeds would cost. Tarin and I meandered around the aisles of our local nursery, list in hand, but overwhelmed at the where to start. Luckily we stopped an employee who shared with us which plants we could start by seed–a much cheaper option (cucumbers, squash, zucchini, carrots, green beans, peas, lettuce, spinach and kale) and which we should transplant ( tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, and herbs).

After several questions, I’m sure the gardening specialist, sensed our ignorance so she shared that we needed to “harden” our plants before planting and that we should wait until after the danger of frost has past–which is after Mother’s Day here. While we were bummed we’d have to wait 3 weeks to plant, we were thankful for this extra bit of wisdom as it snowed into mid-April that year.

While we waited for Mother’s Day, and the danger of frost to pass, we followed the instructions from the garden specialist and hardened our plants on the back deck. Our plants sat on the picnic table toughening up, that is until a ground hog decided it was a buffet and ate all our broccoli and cauliflower down to nubs. That groundhog wasn’t the slightest bit phased by the marigolds surrounding the plants, nor my presence in their sunroom Trying to remain professional during a video conference while the groundhog went to town. (This was the first sign we’d need a fence.)

What’s ‘hardening’ mean? Plants from nurseries are started and kept in greenhouses, living the lush life. The shock of transplanting them to new soil combined with sudden and constant exposure to the elements (wind, sun, rain) can kill theses tender little plants. therefore, you need to toughen those babies up by gradually increasing their exposure to the outdoors over a week or so–setting them outside during the day and bringing then indoors in the evenings if cold or daytime if really hot.

Once Mother’s Day passed, and what was left of our plants had sufficient time to harden, we got to planting in our mulchy soil. We had everything except the popcorn seeds (that row remained empty the whole year) and the boxes for our herbs, onions, and potatoes (which we never got around to planting).

This first year of raised row gardening is the most expensive, as you spend you money on not only plants, but dirt, mulch and other essentials supplies you may not have. We decided we’d try to avoid the need for building a fence during the first year since we didn’t have it in the budget. We made plans for using marigolds and Irish Spring soap to deter animals from our garden… more on that later.