Category Archives: Garden and Orchard

Everything you never wanted to know about fruits, vegetables, and growing things in zone 4, in the Northwoods.

Are You Behind? Garden Overgrown? Don’t Give Up!

Yes, that’s my bohunkus there, pulling weeds out of my paths again. “The girls” are enjoying a foray out into the wide world to eat bugs and clover.


Don’t quit. Never give up trying to build the world you can see, even if others can’t see it.  ~ Simon Sinek

Sometimes life gets away from us — often it happens in summer, I’ve found. Things start getting out of hand. You’re gone for awhile, there are a lot of graduation parties or family events or sports…. What started as a few weeds untended in the garden quickly become a daunting patch of weeds, then, if neglected, a jungle. My sister-in-law teases that she’s growing some nice weeds this year. Sometimes things happen and it’s too easy to start feeling overwhelmed. But I want to encourage you to stick with it! Don’t get discouraged! Don’t give up!

“But you haven’t seen what’s going on here,” you might think. Ha ha ha! I’ve lived it!

Things may not go as planned, but they still go anyway. We’ll have pumpkins whether I weed my paths or not!

In fact, this particular summer has been only what I can describe as “crazy.” It’s been a weird, crazy summer for me. As some of you know, my Mom has been ill for some time, and since late spring has gotten steadily worse. We live out of town, and it’s been a real challenge to keep up with her needs, to keep on top of her current state and do our best to help out. But it’s been weird in other ways, too. It’s been predominantly only me and my eleven-year-old daughter Betsy living at home this summer. JJ moved out last fall, of course, and Cecily and Danny are both working at The Ranch this summer, ministering to kids using horses in a camp setting. They are only home for about a day and a half on the weekends, and they are exhausted when they get home Friday afternoons. They pretty much sleep, wash laundry, and go back to the Ranch on Sunday. And of course, our load of hay caught on fire and we haven’t seen a replacement yet, so we’re scrambling to keep our horses fed. Altogether it’s been weird having almost no help around the place — and consequently, almost no routine or structure. We didn’t open our pool, haven’t really sat outside around the firepit or in the screen-room like we usually do, and it feels like we have hardly done any other summer activities.

One of my excuses for letting farm things get out of control has been this. I've spent inordinate amounts of time practicing all the cool things I learned at the Mark Wood Rock Orchestra Camp in Kansas in July. Basically, I've been picking strings instead of beans...

One of my excuses for letting farm things get out of control has been this. I’ve spent inordinate amounts of time practicing all the cool things I learned at the Mark Wood Rock Orchestra Camp in Kansas in July. Basically, I’ve been picking strings instead of beans…

So yeah, yeah, you don’t really care too much why my summer has been weird and crazy and totally disorganized. The point is, it has been. This spring I worked really hard to clear all the weeds out of the paths in the garden, and by now, guess what… yes, of course, there are weeds starting to take over the paths again in spite of a generous layer of mulch. And there are weeds in the raspberries. And I didn’t get my apples thinned and bagged. And there’s a too-big pile of chicken dookie under the roosts in the henhouse. And you know what? It’s not the end of the world! I’m still getting peas. I have lots of ripe blueberries and raspberries. My tomatoes and cukes are starting to come in. My pullets are almost big enough to take off their chick grower rations and put into the henhouse. Things are still moving along.

There may be a pile of chicken poo in the corner, but they haven’t boycotted me yet. The girls are still happy and they’re still giving us eggs. I’ll scoop the corner eventually. It doesn’t stink yet. LOL!

Sometimes, especially when we’re tired — especially when we’ve had two or three not-perfect years in a row we want to throw in the towel. But to be honest, when is it ever a “perfect” year? There’s no such thing. Granted, a couple years where things get way out of control may be a sign for us to cut back a little. Maybe don’t plant as much next year. Just do your favorites. Maybe just peppers, beans, and strawberries. Or whatever. Or maybe decide not to raise your own pork next year. Or hire someone to cut your firewood instead of doing it yourself. Scaling back is okay. That’s not quitting, that’s reality. Joe Perfect over the fence there, with his immaculate gardens, doesn’t really have a life. He does nothing but weed and start the next batch of seedlings. So give yourself a break and just ease your way into taking control again in five- and ten-minute increments. I always promise myself I’m going to go out to pick some fruit or veggies, and I’ll just spend five minutes pulling the worst of the weeds. I always get sucked into it and get more done than I planned. But if I don’t … so what!!! I got five minutes of the worst weeds pulled, and I’ll do five more minutes the next time I get out there.

Instead of getting down on yourself for not doing everything you wanted to do perfectly, pat yourself on the back for taking steps toward living your dream! It’s a journey, an experience, not a destination. It’s about spending time with your hands in the dirt, the joy of producing some of your own food, and the pleasure of creating a life that you love.



Filed under Farm, Garden and Orchard, Poultry and Other Animals

To Be Overcome

To be overcome by the fragrance of flowers is a delectable form of defeat. ~Beverly Nichols


The nasturtiums mingle with the flowers on the beans, the peas, and even a summer squash tucked in there under the peas.

I’ve mentioned in the past my unquenchable love for flowers. If my orchard were to disappear and nothing grow in the vegetable patch, so long as I had a space to grow some flowers I could still be content. One thing my Amish friends and neighbors have on us Englischers is their sublime idea of interplanting flowers in their vegetable patches. Last year I followed their lead and incorporated some flowers into my vegetable patch.

I’ve intertwined peas with morning glories right behind a few broccoli, and separated the spinach and lettuce with a small patch of impatiens.

In spite of the profusion of flower gardens that surround my house, the horse barn, even the henhouse, I tucked a few more in here and there among the beans and shallots.  This year I spread them around even more. Could I use that snippet of space in my small garden to grow an extra couple rows of carrots? Sure! But it wouldn’t give me the same satisfaction, I don’t think, to eat those carrots as it does to simply admire the color around me while I’m picking peas or trellising tomatoes. And why not? I’ve tucked tomatoes into the flower beds. Turnabout is fair play!

These pansies readily re-seeded themselves from last year. I’ve tucked them in between my garlic and strawberries.

It’s my hope that you will let go of some of your pre-conceived notions of what a small home farm should look like. I hope that what you are doing is experimenting, trying new things, talking to each other and exchanging ideas, and incorporating the things you find you love into your Small Home Farm so that when all is said and done, you find that it makes your heart sing!


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Fungal Disease in the Orchard

Photo courtesy of everystockphoto, by iLoveButter

This afternoon I received another question about orchard health that I wanted to share in case someone else is looking for similar help:

Hi Erin,

We are adding trees to our home orchard and are seeking some guidance regarding growing peach trees.

I purchased a Contender which I’ve had for a year but now it has Cytospora canker.

We have nearby wild cherries that are infected with black knot and I am in the process of destroying a wild cherry tree with Cytospora. Knowing this disease exists in the wild nearby should I even consider trying to grow a peach tree?

Thanks for your help.



Hi Christine!
Cytospora is a fungal disease. I can only tell you from experience of some natural methods you can try. You can google for fungal sprays if you are looking for more of a chemical control, but since I don’t use inorganic methods I can’t suggest any.

First, you want to keep good sanitation, removing any gummy residue from the tree and applying anti-fungal agents to any open wounds on the tree. Burn any branches, leaves, etc. that fall or are removed from the tree. I would suggest painting any wounds on the tree (where the gummy residue is leaking out, any pruned branches, and so on) with teatree oil, oregano oil, or olive oil infused with a lot of garlic. In addition, spray a solution of water mixed with the Bach flower remedy “crab apple” and also Bach’s “Rescue Remedy” in it over the tree.  I recommend spraying the entire tree regularly (as often as possible, even daily or several times a week) throughout this year’s growing season with the “crab apple/rescue remedy” water solution. You’ll simply have to monitor it next year to see whether it needs sprays or not.

The crab-apple will help the tree to throw off the fungal infection, and the Rescue Remedy can help it to overcome any adverse effects from the infection that have weakened it — but it may take quite some time for it to take noticeable effect. This should help the tree to naturally become stronger against the infection. In fact, you may wish to treat the wild cherry trees as well. Cytospora is actually carried by coniferous trees, though, and your other trees may be harboring cytospora as well.  A backpack sprayer is great for this kind of spray application. You will only need about ten drops of crab apple and ten drops of Rescue Remedy in a couple of gallons of water. Any anti-fungal agent (the teatree oil, oregano oil, or olive oil with garlic infused in it) you will want to paint directly onto any wounds undiluted. The anti-fungal oil only needs to be applied for a short time — one or two applications.

It’s important to understand that a healthy tree will not be very susceptible to disease and can withstand something like cytospora in spite of its presence in the area. This is why preparing a great, healthy soil before planting is so beneficial when possible. You may wish to google “cytospora resistant peach tree varieties” and see if you can find any that do well in your zone 4 climate when you plant your new trees. But most importantly, a very healthy soil will help your tree (and any new trees you plant) to be strong and healthy enough to withstand disease. You can have your soil tested to see what amendments you need to add to the soil around the dripline and under the tree. Using a good liquid organic fertilizer (such as manure tea, kelp, etc.) as often as recommended on the label to increase the nutrients available to your tree is a good place to start.

I have had excellent success interplanting garlic around my fruit trees, and among my fruits and tomatoes to ward off fungal, bacterial, and viral diseases, and find that my berries in particular do poorly when there is not garlic planted among them. The soil here is not good soil and there is a viral disease present from the wild berries that grow here. But the garlic helps them keep healthy. I also have had very nice success rescuing diseased or dying plants with the crab apple/rescue remedy combination as well.

You can actually also make a spray of “garlic tea” (a couple gallons of water with lots of chopped garlic steeped in it, then, strained) and use this as a topical spray to ward off fungal diseases. I would personally use several of the approaches I’ve mentioned in combination to try to save the tree, and prevent infection in the new trees that will be planted. It is becoming much more widespread among professional organic tree-fruit growers to use garlic sprays against fungus (scab, etc.), and they are sprayed immediately following each rain, and/or every couple weeks throughout the growing season. They will, of course, wash off in the rain, which is why they must be reapplied.

While you can certainly choose which approach sounds the best to you, if I found myself in your situation, I would definitely use the crab apple/rescue remedy spray, clean up the tree(s) and paint the wounds with garlic oil, plant garlic around the tree, improve the soil health, and also spray with a garlic water. A lot of concerted effort, certainly, but not terribly expensive. Just time consuming.

When you plant your new trees, if possible, you may want to plant them well away from the infected trees. This may not be possible, of course.

Here are some links to the crab apple and the rescue remedy, which also goes by the name “Feel5ive”:

I hope this helps. I’m afraid I don’t know much about conventional chemical sprays and medications for trees if that is what you were looking for, but I find the organic treatments mentioned above adequate in my own experience, and perhaps they can help you as well.

Good luck! Let me know how it goes! Great question – I will probably post both your question and the answer on my blog so that anyone else with the same problem can find some ideas as well.

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Spring: Codling Moths and Other Orchard Pests

green apples

I received a Listener Question this morning. With the warmer weather, it’s time to get busy in the orchard again!


Hi Erin,

If you have a spray you use on your apples trees in the spring, please let me know as I will need to spray in the next week or two.  I have a huge tree that gives tons of apples every year but the coddling moth ruins them.  I want to spray them with something that is not unhealthy for my boy and I to eat. 

Thanks so much and my best to you and your family!!


Have a great day! 



Organic Pest control can be confusing — and is potentially time-consuming depending on which methods you employ. But I really like the approach my Amish neighbors take about their farming and their work. They choose to see it as a privilege! And something pleasant at that.  They (and I) feel that being a good steward of the earth is its own reward. The satisfaction, serenity, and pleasure that comes in each act of caring for your plants and animals is refreshing when looked at, not as a “chore-that-must-be-done,” but as a chance to relax and enjoy nature. It’s all in the attitude you take as you approach the job at hand. Our experience is shaped only 10% what happens to us, but 90% by our attitude toward it! 

There are several effective ways of controlling insect damage in your orchard. Use one or more of them according to what you fancy, can afford or have the patience for, and what you find works the best in your own orchard. Codling moths can be difficult to manage, especially when the population has been allowed to build up over a season or two (or more). It’s definitely better to keep populations low from the outset if you have the opportunity.

The good news is — Codling Moth, Plum Curculio and Apple Maggot can be almost 100% eliminated by bagging your pears and apples, or by using a bagging and kaolin clay/”Surround” combination.  You can monitor the codling moths with sticky pheromone traps to know when when it’s time to bag the fruit, but in general, it should be done no later than four to six weeks after bloom when the fruit are between 1/2–1 inch in diameter. Later blooming fruits can be attacked by Codling Moth before they reach that size, and in general, later-blooming fruit is more susceptible to Codling Moth damage in general.  Also know that the larvae affect walnuts as well as pears and apples, so all must be treated to reduce the population of the codling moths.

What exactly is “bagging” and how do you do it? Bagging is simply putting the young fruit inside a bag and closing the bag to keep the codling moths off and out of the fruit. Some orchardists have good luck using nylon fruit socks to bag their fruit, but nylon does not seem to have consistently high results when using nylon alone as it does when using small paper sacks or using nylon in combination with “Surround“. Surround is one brand of kaolin clay that you mix with water and soak the nylon fruit socks/bags in. The combination is reported by the Home Orchard Society to be nearly as effective as using paper bags.

I suggest googling “bulk paper bags” and looking for a good price on how many you might think you’ll need. Here‘s just one example of 1000 #6 bags for $27.00.

You can take care of both thinning your fruit and bagging at the same time. After the “June drop” (when some of the small fruits fall off the tree), when your fruit has reached 1/2-inch in diameter, head out with a large supply of nylon fruit socks or with small paper bags, a stapler, and plenty of staples. To begin, pluck off all but the largest of the fruits in each cluster – usually it is the center fruit and it is called the “King fruit” because it is the largest. Now slide the fruit inside your nylon fruit sock or insert that small fruit into your paper sack, fold over the top and staple it shut, taking care to leave no open spaces for the codling moths to get inside the bag. So now you have one bagged fruit left instead of a cluster of unbagged fruits. Don’t worry, that one fruit will grow larger than it would have if you hadn’t thinned the fruit in that cluster since more energy will go into growing and ripening that one fruit. And of course, it is only one fruit to bag instead of five or six.

When your apples or pears are 1/2″ or slightly larger, thin them to just one per cluster and bag the remaining one fruit. Photo courtesy of rocketjim54 via

If you are using a “nylon sock/bag” and kaolin clay/”Surround” combination, you’ll want to soak all your nylon bags in a bucket of water mixed with the Surround and allow them to dry before bagging your fruit. Here are some detailed instructions by the folks who first promoted this method.

The bag on each fruit acts as a physical barrier to keep the codling moth off of the fruit. You remove the bags at harvest time. Do note that red apples won’t get as red without the sun directly on them. This is one reason some people prefer the nylon fruit bags, as the nylon allows some amount sun directly on the fruit. You can always use slider-type sandwich baggies as well, in order to let sunlight reach the apples, but you must snip off the bottom two corners to allow moisture to drip out of the bag. I haven’t seen the plastic baggies in use nearly as much as paper or nylon. If you have a heavy infestation, though, I would be inclined to use paper bags for several years until the codling moth population has been decimated.

Other methods of control involve interrupting the life cycle of the moth. You can use codling moth traps with pheromone lures to catch and kill male moths before they mate.  Set the traps out at the start of the bloom period, in the top third of the tree. Use 1-2 for small trees and 2-4 for larger trees. This method alone is not sufficient to protect against heavy infestations. It will, however, reduce the number of affected fruits when used alone. However, it is a great way to monitor the numbers of codling moths present, especially over the course of several seasons to help you see if your other control measures are effectively reducing the population, and may be sufficient control alone when codling moth numbers are minimal. We use traps solely to monitor populations at Aspendale Farm and not as a preventive.

Through the growing season, you should monitor fruits for entry holes and discard all affected fruits. In fall, you can wrap a sticky band around the trunk (coated with tangletrap) to catch the larvae as they make their way down the tree to pupate over winter in order to reduce numbers.  On smooth-barked trees, some have found it effective to wrap a band of corrugated cardboard around the trunk to catch the mature larvae as they seek a place to pupate, discarding and replacing the cardboard regularly to eliminate the larvae that do find their way inside to pupate. Banding with cardboard is not effective with rough-barked trees, and will not eliminate a sufficiently large number of codling moths to be used as the sole method of control. Use it in conjunction with other methods.

In addition, encourage woodpeckers to hang out in your orchard by providing them with suet.  They relish the tasty insects that destroy your orchard fruits and will help control the populations. Why not give them a treat! Hand-picking can take care of other orchard pests like tent caterpillars or leaf rollers. Walk through your orchard at least once a week, twice is better. Be on the lookout for signs of insects and remove them immediately, taking other precautionary measures immediately as needed.

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Using the Oven to Prepare Your Tomatoes for Canning

Photo Credit: benketaro

Rebekah N. from Rapid City, South Dakota remembered me mentioning an alternate way to can tomatoes in Episode 34 of Small Home Farm Radio.  She asks:


Hi Erin!
I just discovered podcasts & have loved listening to your show!

I am just starting out with gardening this year. I remember a tip you had at the end of a show on canning tomatoes. You mentioned something about putting the tomatoes in the oven. Do you remember what the tip was? I can’t seem to find it among the podcasts.

Thank you!


Canning Tomatoes an Easier Way:

I don’t like to stand over the hot stove scalding my tomatoes.  Here’s an easier way to prepare them for the canner:  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Wash your tomatoes, core them, and cut them in half.  Place them in a large roasting pan in the oven for about half an hour.  Remove them from the oven, take the tomato chunks out of the pan, leaving the juice behind in the pan.  Remove the skins and cut them into whatever sizes of chunks you like to can – I dice mine roughly.  Now heat them in a pot so they are nice and hot, then put them in your hot jars – the tomatoes and the jars need to be hot so your jars don’t crack when you put them in the canner.  Can them the conventional way, adding 1 TBSP. lemon juice and 1 tsp salt to each quart jar., them filling with tomatoes to the top, leaving 1-inch headspace.  Remove air bubbles from the jars by pushing the handle of a wooden spoon down the bottom of the jar and moving the tomatoes around slightly to let the air bubbles escape.  Wipe the rims with a clean, wet cloth, adjust the lid and ring and process for 1 hour and 25 minutes in a boiling water bath canner.

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Blooms and Blossoms


We had a cold snap about ten days ago, with snow and winds.  I definitely lost some of the flower buds in my orchard, but I’m pleased to see some blossoms still well enough to open this week.  In fact, while most of the buds on my pear trees didn’t make it, some of them did, which is a thrill!  I haven’t had pear blossoms for several years, as my daughter we managed to kill some of the most mature branches on our pears when white-washing them (an overzealous attempt) to protect them from the winter sun.  It’s all a learning process!

Not nearly as many buds blossomed as were on the trees before the cold snap, but I'm so pleased that we did get some blooms!

Not nearly as many buds blossomed as were on the trees before the cold snap, but I’m so pleased that we did get some blooms!

I ran across an article about how to make your own flower essences – super easy, really.  Just place the flowers in pure water and steep in the sun as you would when making sun tea.  That’s it.  So I looked up some of my favorite flowers and some of the flowers I have available in my gardens, woods, and orchard and proceeded to steep a few jars.

Flower essences can be used as flavoring, in biscuits, baklava, on fresh strawberries, or in other foods.  They can be used as a light scent or for various properties, such as the toning quality in rose water, in homemade soaps and other beauty products.  If you’re a little more adventurous you can try adding a couple drops at a time to water and sip it throughout the day to take advantage of the individual healing properties of whichever flowers you’ve used.  For example, grape hyacinth essence restores balance after stressful situations, bringing new energy and hope.  And coneflower (echinacea) essence helps strengthen the body against colds and flu.

I’ll be the first to admit that there are some rather – for lack of a better word – different people out there who get into flower essences, and talk about them in terms of fairies, conversations with the flowers, and having goddesses visit them — rather other-worldly stuff.  Can’t say that’s really my thing, but I do appreciate the subtle balancing properties of various flower essences!   ‘Nuff said.

So this week I’m having fun choosing flowers and making flower essences for various uses around the home.  And as a bonus, they look pretty in their glass jars!

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The Shady Vegetable Garden


Help!  I barely have any sun anywhere in my yard!  How can I possibly grow anything?

While most gardeners covet a nice sunny spot to showcase their prize-winning tomatoes, pumpkins, and peppers, even those of us (me included) with mostly shade can make good use of it.  In fact, if part of your garden is in the shade, blessed are you, for your lettuce and spinach will be much slower to bolt!

Living in the middle of a National Forest, I have to fight for every scrap of sunlight I can get, and you can be sure that any sunny space goes to my coveted tomatoes, squash, cukes, and other sun-loving beauties.  But fully 1/3 of my 20×40′ garden is in part-shade.  What’s a gardener to do?  Believe it or not, there are actually advantages to gardening in partial shade.  Your shade-tolerant plants:

  • Will be slower to bolt (go to seed and become bitter or tough)
  • Don’t need watering as often because they don’t lose water through evaporation so quickly – more is available, longer, for the plants to use
  • Can let you make use of shady spots, giving you more available garden space than you thought you had

Here’s an easy rule to follow to determine if a plant needs full sun (eight hours or more each day) or if it will still do well in part shade (4-8 hours of full sun each day, or all day in dappled shade):  If you are eating the roots, fruits, or seeds of a plant, it will do best in full sun (there are a few exceptions that will still tolerate shade).  If you are eating the stems or leaves, flowers or buds (as in the case of elderberry fritters, for example), they will probably tolerate shade pretty well.

While heavy shade (less than four hours a day of full sun) is less than ideal even for shade loving crops, you can still try planting many of the shade tolerant veggies.  Choose the sunniest of your shady spots.  Anything you plant in deep shade will be much slower in growing, and will probably not produce a full-sized harvest, but you can play around with it and see how much you do get.  Plant twice as much, or three times as much as you ordinarily would, and you might get enough baby lettuce, spinach, or snap peas by the end of the summer to make it worth your while.  If there’s nothing you can do about the amount of deep shade, you just have to pull on your big kid britches and work with it the best you can!

Here are some plants that will tolerate partial shade well.  In some cases, the yield may be smaller, but the quality and taste will still be good. It may take some trial and error on your part to figure out what works well in your yard:

  • Lettuce
  • Parsley
  • Collards
  • Spinach
  • Mint
  • Endive
  • Arugula
  • Lemon Balm
  • Cress
  • Mache
  • Dill
  • Snap Peas
  • Dandelion
  • Coriander
  • Radishes
  • Other Salad Greens
  • Tarragon
  • Blackberries
  • Green Onions
  • Thyme
  • Raspberries
  • Chives
  • Sorrel
  • Currants
  • Garlic
  • Bok Choy
  • Gooseberries
  • Cilantro
  • Mustard Greens
  • Some strawberries

    and huckleberries

There are some fruits that actually love dappled shade… blackberries and raspberries naturally grow on roadsides and the edges of clearings where they can get dappled or partial sunshine.  So do wild (alpine) strawberries, and huckleberries, which are really a small, wild variety of blueberry.  My entire (huge 58×20′) patch of raspberries is in dappled shade at the edge of the clearing across the way from my vegetable garden.  They do great there!

Remember those “exceptions” I mentioned earlier?  The ones that grow best in full sun but that might also tolerate partial shade?  You’re likely to get smaller overall yields from these exceptions, but when you need to make the best use of shade, you might try growing these in the sunniest of your shady spots:

  • Beans
  • Carrots
  • Rhubarb
  • Beets
  • Cauliflower
  • Strawberries
  • Broccoli
  • Kohlrabi
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Peas
  • Turnips
  • Cabbage
  • Potatoes

Remember that for crops that will still produce, but probably produce smaller yields, you can offset their lower production by planting more of them if you like.

So if you’ve been downhearted because you have a limited (or nonexistent) amount of full sunlight to plant a big garden, go ahead and do your happy dance, then start planning to make use of some of those shady spots next year!

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