Category Archives: Gardening

Sowing the First Spring Seeds

It’s been quiet around here lately.

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No lie – I’ve been trying to cut back on the daily computing.

I’ve been needing to get outside.

Luckily, the weather was warm over the weekend, so we headed out to the garden for some peace – and hard work.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I would plant much this year. I’ve felt so bad about neglecting last year’s garden that I haven’t even started any seedlings yet this spring.

But when I knelt down by our carrot patch, where that crisp orange smell still lingers in the soil, I knew I had to raid our little seed bank.

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As usual, I sowed ‘em thick – two rows of traditional carrots, one row of purple carrots, one row of beets and one row of root parsley.

Over the past couple of years, our gardening experiments have taught us that root vegetables – from sweet potatoes and carrots to turnips and radishes – are easy.

And the dogs tend to love tasty roots as much as we do.

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I’m hoping for a bumper crop of root veggies this summer.

In the meantime, the fruit trees are full of buds and dozens of onions are just begging to be trimmed as garnishes or dug up for roasting.

And there are wild things to harvest.

Come back tomorrow to learn about the weeds we’ve been eating and a recipe!

Have you begun gardening yet this spring?

A Holiday Drink with Homegrown Lemons and Homemade Ginger Syrup

It’s lemon season.

Meyere lemon wedges

Citrus heaven.

Well, technically, the season for Meyer lemons grown in temperate areas, such as a big pot in my Missouri dining room, can be year-round. But we just finally picked the first golden bursts of sunshine from our little tree.

In a little over a year, we have seen our little Meyer lemon tree burst into bloom a couple of times. After creating an intoxicating fragrance, most of the flowers fell off. But last spring, several of blooms gave way to little green fruits.

Two of them lasted through the hot, hot summer, my inconsistent care and a move back inside for winter. I eyed the lemon babies daily for signs of yellowing. Finally, they were ready.

Since we only had two, I wanted to be sure we used them for some special and memorable recipe.

homegrown meyer lemons

There they are! Two homegrown lemons!

By chance, around the same time, my DIY gourmet friend Lisa gave me a bottle of her homemade ginger syrup.

So, Zach cut up the lemons – which were amazingly sweet, tart and juicy – and mixed up some delicious drinks (with a little help from the Sodastream that I previously bought on Lisa’s recommendation).

Check out the recipe for the drinks and the syrup itself!

Lemon Vodka Gingerade (Crystal’s approximation of Zach’s recipe)

Ingredients:

  • Vodka
  • Lemon wedges
  • Ginger Syrup
  • Unflavored sparkling water
  • Ice

Directions:

Fill a pint glass with ice. Add vodka. We usually pour to about 1/4 of the glass. This would be about 1 to 1-1/2 shots if you’re measuring.  Next, add sparkling water, leaving about a finger’s width of room at the top of the glass. Grab a couple lemon wedges and squeeze them into the drink. Then, add ginger syrup to taste.

Now, stir, and enjoy!

Lemon Vodka Gingerade and Ginger Syrup

That bottle of syrup didn’t last long at our house!

A Loose Recipe for Ginger Syrup (Lisa’s Recipe)

Ingredients:

  • 3 big pieces of ginger, about the size of your hand
  • (Filtered) water
  • 2.5 – 3.5 cups suger, I used about 2 parts white, 1 part lt. brown, 1 part raw
  • A few pieces of lemon peel from an organic, unwaxed lemon, no pith

Directions:

No need to peel the ginger, just wash it well.  Pulse in a blender until it is well minced. Cover with water in a heavy bottom pot. I just eyeball the amount of water, about 3 times more than the ginger.  But err on the side of less since you can always add more water later if it is too strong. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 45 mins. Strain and try to press out as much of the liquid from the ginger as possible.  Discard ginger.  Return to the pot and add the suger. Simmer on low for another 30 mins.  Turn off the heat and add the lemon peel.  Let the syrup cool then strain it one more time.  Done. It’s ready to get made into some amazing drink.

Note: I just filter it though a medium/fine mesh sieve a couple of times, but if you want it less cloudy and pulpy, you can pass it though cheese cloth a few times before you add the suger.

On this batch, I boiled the ginger down a second time with a couple fresh cups of water.  I thought I could get more ginger flavor, but I think it just got a bit bitter.  I probably wont do that again.

Have you ever made your own syrup for flavoring fancy drinks? What’s your favorite sparkling drink for holiday time?

The garden isn’t dead yet

Tiny cuts cover my hands from Sunday afternoon’s weeding extravaganza. Crabgrass and tall, unknown wild plants have been choking out the neglected garden all summer.

As Zach and I removed the invaders, we were surprised to find a rogue tomato plant thriving in a spot far away from our designated tomato area.

hidden green tomatoes

Who’s hiding back there? It’s me, Roma!

As long as the weather holds, these babies should ripen soon. I know we will enjoy them as much as the small basket of tomatoes we harvested a few weeks ago.

Weeding day also yielded a big, fat eggplant and a handful of peppers. We expect a lot more peppers in the coming weeks. After looking sad all summer, the eight or so plants that have hung on are getting heavy with blossoms and pepper nubs.

eggplant and peppers

Black Beauty and her pepper army.

How is your garden growing this time of year?

Want fresh produce from local farmers? If you are in Kansas City, stop by the Waldo Farmers’ Market today between 3 and 7 p.m. This is the last market of the year!

Making choices toward a happier and less hectic existence

Sometimes the rhythm of life gets a little out of whack.

Small dog at 5 a.m.

Why aren’t we in bed at 5 a.m.?

That happened to me over the past few days, and it’s why I had to take a three-day break from blogging. Although I’ve never come right out and said so, my goal for Wayward Dogs is to post new content a minimum of five days a week. Seven would be fantastic. (Some weeks that actually happens.)

Unfortunately, such bold ambition kind of goes against my other current goal of streamlining my life and dropping any responsibilities that I just don’t have time for – with the ultimate hope of gaining more time to spend relaxing with Zach and the dogs, exercising or hanging out with friends.

This is a topic I expect to be thinking about quite a bit more in the next few days, while I’m reading Happier at Home, author and blogger Gretchen Rubin‘s follow-up to her inspirational bestseller The Happiness Project.

Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin

We could all be a little happier, couldn’t we?

Although she lives in New York City, Gretchen is from Kansas City and will be back in a town for a reading later this month.

Interviewing her by phone was one of the tasks I accomplished over the weekend. Gretchen is the subject of a freelance article I’m writing for a local publication.

In addition to blogging for myself and for my employers, I write stories on a variety of topics for magazines, newspapers and other websites pretty often. Because I like writing so much, this is fun for me – and it helps me put a little extra money in the bank.

But freelance writing is time-consuming and effectively means that I spend extra hours each week “working.” Although I don’t see myself ever giving up freelance writing, it’s a point I have to remember whenever I review my life and consider which commitments I can step away from.

As a chronic overcommitter, it’s difficult for me to say no or disengage from any cause or activity I believe in or enjoy.

But one of the life truths I’m getting familiar with in my 30th year is that when you stretch yourself too thin you can’t cover any of your bases very well. (Case in point: my neglected garden.)

It will take a while for me to figure out all of the ways I can lessen my load, but a couple things will be toned down soon.

December marks the end of my two-year term as an executive board member for the Thomas Hart Benton Group of the Sierra Club.

I intend to still participate in Sierra Club activities, such as serving lemonade at the annual Santa Caligon Days festival in Independence, Missouri (which I did over Labor Day weekend).

Thomas Hart Benton Group of the Sierra Club at Santa Caligon Days

Want some fresh squeezed lemonade?

But I have to be honest about the fact that I don’t have time to be a great leader for the organization right now.

Other areas where I’ll be backing off: gardening and dog fostering.

It’s safe to say that Wayward House will always be growing fun things in pots and in the ground. But next year’s garden will certainly be smaller in scope and, ideally, easier to maintain.

We also intend to be a two-dog household, at least for a while, after Charlie Machete finds his real forever home.

To that end, he attended another Midwest Adopt-a-Bull adoption event over the weekend. No one showed much interest in him, but he did get to meet the man who loves pit bulls for the first time in real life.

Charlie Machete in a cage.

Adopt me?

Midwest Adopt-a-Bull’s founder Mike Kitchens agreed that Charlie Machete is a very handsome boy who just needs to work on feeling comfortable in a crate. By the end of the event, my foster dog was as big of a fan of Mike as I am, and he showed it by covering the man in friendly pit bull/lab/chow kisses.

Even though Charlie Machete is likely to be our last foster project for a while, I do plan to always contribute to the animal rescue movement in other ways – by promoting adoptable animals and worthy organizations on this blog and by stepping up in the many small ways that can make a huge difference (walking shelter dogs, assisting with transports and fundraising).

I know there are other things I can do to streamline my life to ensure I’m giving my best to every project and relationship in which I’m involved. I’ll be sure to share as this endeavor unfolds.

Have you ever made a point to simplify your life? What did you cut out? What other advice do you have for me?

Want to adopt Charlie Machete? Apply to make him yours through Midwest Adopt-a-Bull

black dog on a walk

Best. Running. Partner. Ever.

Sweet Potato Peanut Butter Blueberry Frozen Goodness

This is a recipe for master estimators.

It is the only kind of recipe I can follow. And it’s for dogs, who will never tell me, anyway, if there’s a smidge too much cinnamon.

No bake sweet potato cookies.

No bake sweet potato cookies.

Sweet Potato Peanut Butter Blueberry Frozen Goodness

Ingredients:

1. What’s left of last year’s sweet potato harvest. Or, as many sweet potatoes as you feel like cleaning, chopping up, boiling and pureeing in the blender – minus the amount of mash you decide at the last minute to save for yourself. Because mashed sweet potatoes are so awesome to eat they require no condiments (although a dash of salt and butter can’t hurt).

Chopped sweet potatoes.

Chopped sweet potatoes.

chopped sweet potatoes in a Blendtec blender

Will it blend?

Pureed sweet potatoes

It blended.

2. Peanut butter. As much as you feel like spooning into the pureed sweet potatoes, but probably not an equal amount or the batter will get so voluminous that you’ll be at this all day.

3. Oats – regular or the instant kind. Really, the dogs won’t know the difference.

4. Cinnamon. Put the container on the sprinkle – not the dump – setting, and use your judgment.

Pureed sweet potatoes, peanut butter, oats and cinnamon

This is basically what your mix should look like before you stir things up.

4. Dried blueberries. For topping.

Directions:

As the photos above indicate, you will mix all ingredients together. Be patient – the potatoes are light and fluffy, and the peanut butter is thick and heavy. Feel free to keep adding oats, since they seem to help stiffen up the taters.

Once you are satisfied that the mixture is sufficiently even, you will 1) wonder why you mixed things by hand instead of putting it all in your ridiculous $400 Blendtec blender and 2) proceed to the next step.

“The next step” is easy but messy: Use your fingers and a spoon to deposit little lumps of batter onto wax paper. How big you make these lumps is entirely up to you. How big are your dogs? I made two sizes – tablespoon-size for big dogs and teaspoon-size for my elderpin.

When you get sick of spooning out lumps, or when you realize you’re running out of containers to store them in, you might grab the nearest Kong toy and stuff it with this delicious-to-a-dog mixture. Just don’t drop it, or there could be a fight.

A pit bull mix, golden retriever and a miniature pinscher lust after a Kong toy stuffed with sweet potatoes, peanut butter, oatmeal and cinnamon.

Three handsome beggars, Part Deux.

Once the Kong is stuffed, go back to the gooey lumps. Tuck a dried blueberry into the center of each, because it makes them look cuter. And, blueberries are good for dogs.

Small no-bake sweet potato dog treats.

Scooby-size sweet potato snacks.

Finally: Freeze everything. Including the few sweet potato chunks you skimmed for healthy “training” treats.

Frozen sweet potato dog treats.

Not as many snacks as it seems.

Like everything else I make (including yesterday’s basil mint tea), this recipe is adapted from a more specific version. When you don’t have sweet potato mash and blueberries on hand, make the simpler No Bake Peanut Butter Oat Treats by For the Love of My Dogs.

What homemade goodness do you make for your pets?

Easy basil mint tea in a pickle jar

We love jars.

Pickle jars, mason jars, jelly jars, olive jars, old Kombucha bottles. If it’s glass and it has a screw-top lid, the Wayward House is loathe to let it go – even to the recycle bin.

The bigger jars are really fun. I like to use the biggest mason and pickle jars for making slow brew, cold brew or sun tea. It’s still hot enough in Kansas City for the latter, and because volunteer basil is among the things thriving in my shabby garden, I have been getting creative with my jar-brewed tea.

Basil sprigs and tea bags brewing in the sun.

A fresh take on sun tea.

For this batch, I used all three of the basils we have growing this year: Genovese basil, lemon basil and, the one we have the most of, Thai basil. I also used some of the wild peppermint growing in our backyard (being careful to pick the freshest sprigs that seemed untouched by dogs).

I picked an amount of herbs I thought would fill up the jar, about equally split between the basil mix and peppermint.

After rinsing the sprigs under water, I broke them up a bit and stuffed them in the jar along with two bags of green tea and poured filter water over the top. Then, I set the concoction on our porch for about eight hours.

Basil sprigs and tea bags in pickle jar.

Just brewed basil mint tea.

When I brought the jar inside and removed the lid, a lemon-y, minty, basil-y fragrance emerged.

The next step involved separating the tea and the herbs. For this, I placed a funnel into the mouth of a juice pitcher and covered the top of the funnel with one layer of cheesecloth.

DIY cheesecloth tea strainer

Cheesecloth + funnel = no-strain straining.

Lucky for me, I picked the right juice pitcher. It held almost exactly the same quantity of liquid as the pickle jar.

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Perfect!

After taking this picture, I chucked the used herbs into the yard to decompose.

The tea stays good refrigerated in the pitcher for about three days – if you don’t drink it all in one day!

I like to separate my batch into single servings that I take with me to work. Of course, I reuse screw-top glass bottles for that!

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Reused kombucha bottle.

This recipe is adapted from one I received from a Sierra Club mailing list. View the original here.

Do you ever make your own tea? Share your suggestions and ideas in the comments!

What’s in the pot?

Gardening hasn’t gone so great at Wayward House this year, but many of our containerized plants are alive and thriving.

Here’s a look at a few of the potted plants I currently count as successes.

Fig tree

This little fella is on its second summer with us. We bought the baby fig from Bear Creek Farms, one of our favorite vendors at the Waldo Farmers’ Market, last year. The little tree looked about like this then, and it kept gaining leaves throughout the winter, which it spent in a warm, bright corner of our living room.

We though we killed the fig when we moved it outside this spring. All of its leaves turned brown and fell off. Then, they came back. It is due for a repotting. Perhaps someday it will actually produce figs, which are highly nutritious.

Garlic chives

Our dear friend and helper Debbie left a surprise on our kitchen counter fairly late last year – an organic garlic chive seedling. Because I am a procrastinator of epic proportions, it took some time for me to get around to potting the little chives. Fortunately, they’re hardy.

These tasty chives overwintered in our dining room, providing a springy color throughout the off season and enhancing the flavor of Zach’s delicious homemade soups and other dishes. During spring and summer, the garlic chives have thrived on our front porch. I steal one of the grass-like blades and eat it raw every other time I pass by.

Hibiscus

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Because I am obsessed with Hawaii, it is necessary for me to have a hibiscus bush. For about three years, I had one that bloomed red and existed in a big, plastic, self-watering pot. Unfortunately, because the pot was plastic, it tended to blow over during last summer’s frequent wind and thunderstorms. The hibiscus spilled out of its container too many times and eventually croaked.

When I finally picked up a replacement hibiscus a couple months ago, I gave it a ceramic home. The plant has given pinkish red blossoms a few times. The next time it produces, I will harvest the blooms and make homemade hibiscus tea.

Meyer lemon tree


This is the potted project I am most proud of. Our little Meyer lemon tree is now on its second year with us.

Every so often, it bursts into the most fragrant white blooms. As you can see, a few of them turned into lemons this year. The fruits seem to take a long while to mature, but I hope I get to taste one before the end of the season.

Don’t be fooled – container gardening at Wayward House has only been as successful as our regular gardening. The potted pineapple never flourished (although it did root), the living Christmas tree dried up, and the air-improving money tree succumbed to a fungus.

In pots or in the ground, I am not so good at watering my plants at regular intervals. This has led to the death of several non-edible houseplants. Luckily, the species highlighted in this post have proven to be pretty hardy. So have most of the aloe plants we potted up last year.

Do you have containerized plants? What’s growing in your pots?

Letting nature take its course on the garden

Embarrassing truth: Gardening just wasn’t a priority at Wayward House this summer.

This fact disappoints even little Scooby.

“You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”

Although I began the season with great seedy intentions, weird weather and my tendency to overcommit led to a very poorly managed garden in 2012.

There was much death, underproduction and waste – of money, water, plants and time.

Fortunately, a few species persisted in spite of my neglect. There was that bumper crop of mutant squash.

And my uncaged, untied, laying-down-on-eachother, half-mowed-over tomato plants managed to produce a bounty that, while very modest, dwarfs our total tomato failure last year.

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At least three varieties of cage-free, homegrown red and yellow tomatoes.

The tomatoes are so sweet, delicious and few that we have been careful to savor every single one.

A few other plants in the garden still show promise.

Some of the healthiest things seem to be the ones I didn’t even plant. Lots of basil self-seeded from last year.

Volunteer lemon basil.

Volunteer Thai basil

A rosemary seedling we bought at the Waldo Farmers’ Market seems rather robust.

Fragrant, green rosemary.

The only eggplant that remains from my own starts is struggling to survive at the foot of our sad, dead pear tree. The bright purple blooms give me hope.

An optimistic eggplant blossom.

If the weather cooperates, we could get some sweet potatoes this fall. These vines were started from last year’s huge sweet potato harvest.

Sweet potatoes ready for a watering.

Although there are signs of life, this summer’s garden will not go down as a success. I allowed it to get truly wayward, in the bad sense of the word.

So, what’s the takeaway for next time? Simple:

  1. Focus on fewer species and overall quantity of plants.
  2. Plan out the design instead of planting willy nily.
  3. Figure out how to make watering easier so that I don’t get lazy and skip it for too many days in a row.

“This was a depressing garden tour. Leave me in the house next time.”

What brings you success as a gardener? How is your plot looking at this time in the season?

Uninvited guests

“Is that dog waiting for someone?”

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That’s what a visitor asked upon seeing Luke in this pose – perched at the end of the deck, ears erect, eyes intent, his body facing the gate to our driveway.

“Yes,” Zach replied. “A mouse!”

A family of mice lives in our fencing. I hear them scuffling nervously every day when I open the back door to let the dogs out for their morning break.

Before the deck went up, I often saw the little buggers, too. Gray shadows flitted past the gaps in the boards. Or maybe a little face peeked through to see if the coast was clear.

Luke’s not the only one keeping watch.

Foster dog Charlie Machete knows about the mice, too.

He races Luke around the corner of the house daily. They even attempt a sort of team hunting tactic, with Charlie Machete ducking under the deck from the back and Luke crawling in from the other end. This strategy has yet to prove successful.

In the spring, the fence mice attracted another kind of predator.

Luke found the evidence - a snake skin, half buried in a mound of dirt next to a fencepost. It was beautiful.

I hope the former wearer of that skin enjoyed a mousy meal before slithering on.

Last year, the mice inhabited the garden.

They nibbled the melons and excited Luke and past foster dog Minnie, who rushed to the melon patch at every opportunity to nose every possible mousehole in the hopes of catching something. (Ideally, not a disease.)

One of those times, I snapped this familiar picture:

A few minutes later, Luke succeeded at hunting! The mouse trapped between his teeth did not succeed – at life.

At least the killing was quick.

I was more grossed out than mad. But I won’t gross you out with a picture of a bloody rodent.

Truth be told, even in death mice are pretty adorable.

Their pointy little faces can’t help but remind me of a certain very old, pointy-faced toy dog, if only his head was the size of a thimble.

Scooby has in fact been known to engage in dirty, mousy behavior.

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But let’s be realistic.

Cute though they may be, mice are not creatures I want lingering in or too near my home. I’m glad Luke’s looking out for us.

However, something tells me I may need to get him some back-up in the form of pet-safe traps.

Do your dogs chase mice or other small animals? Do you have a foolproof method for deterring mice?

Do you know this squash?

My mutant squash seems to have matured.

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We harvested a dozen of these things this week. I am unsure precisely what they are. All are colored like butternut squash and some have that shape.  Others are bigger than a butternut, with a crooked neck.

They really are huge.

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No matter the shape, each squash has a base about the size of a coffee cup.

The crookneck squash are about Scooby size.

How could I not know the variety of squash harvested from my own garden, you ask? Well, suffice it to say I’m not a very organized gardener.

I planted several varieties of squash, pumpkin, melons and cucumbers in very close proximity. The lone plant that yielded these fruits pretty much took over. And I was pretty sure that seedling – which I grew from seed – was a giant pumpkin.

Until we solve the mystery, these mutant squash are a nice addition to our kitchen decor.

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Do you know what these mutant squash might be? Do you know a good squash recipe?

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