In the garden: February

It’s fun to go to a garden center in spring to pick out baby plants to transplant into your garden. If you are looking for unusual or particular varieties of plants to grow in your garden, you might enjoy starting your own seeds instead. It’s a little more fuss than buying seedlings and takes a little space, but seed starting is a great option if you are looking to start your gardening fun while it’s still winter!

It’s a bit soon to start seeds in the upper Midwest because the plants won’t be able to get in the ground until the middle or end of May in most cases. I have a new LED grow light set-up so I started some arugula and salad mix a couple weeks ago; they will be ready to harvest and eat before I need to start seeds for the plants that will go outside.

My set-up has trays with a rack in them, wicking pads on top the rack, and then the trays with the seeds. Water goes in the section with the racks and the wicking pad moves water up to the base of the seedling tray. It’s great because I don’t need to water them daily (even though I admire and sweet-talk them almost daily!). I bought this set-up with the LED lights but a DIY version would be a fun project. Seeds like warm feet so a warm room or plant heating pad really help, as does a good light source. Sadly window light in most houses isn’t enough for starting seeds.

In the garden: January

IMG_0639The garden companies don’t wait until after Christmas any more. Seed catalogs start arriving as early as mid-December, and my garden daydreams surely follow.

This year I’m planning to plant more and a greater variety of vegetables. Gardening teacher Megan Cain, through her excellent books, gets me thinking about planting what we like to eat most; that’s sort of a moving target in our home, but I won’t mind if the list is different each year. I mull over past tomato blights and squash vine borers. Somehow in January I never think about the weeds. Ever. Until this year, because I don’t want to complain again about them in the summer (my readers breathe a sigh of relief). So more mulching in the raised beds and containers is the plan, along with an earlier attack on the weeds where the non-edibles grow.

It’s been maybe 5 years since we’ve started our own seeds. After that, I donated our long fluorescent grow light to the neighborhood school, hoping to get something LED and a little smaller if I ever tried again. My new seed-starting gear is on the way, and I’m super excited. It’s definitely less fuss to buy seedlings, but this way I can try all the vegetable varieties I want and start some dye plants as well! Stay tuned.

Thinking about starting your own seeds? Here are a few questions to help you be more successful:
What zone do you live in?
How much space do you need for the things you want to grow? Using wide rows, square foot gardening, or other methods, you can pack a lot of productivity into small spaces.
How much of each crop do you want at one time, and will you do succession planting to spread your harvest out over a longer period?
What do you need to simplify the care of your garden? By this, I’m meaning ways to water, mulch, maybe some trellises or stakes.
And if you’ve gardened in the past, what didn’t work? Too little light, bad drainage in parts of the garden? Maybe you can rearrange where you grow things or substitute other veggies or varieties.

All the food, fiber, and gardening of summer

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This summer I had my head in the game but not my butt in the chair when it comes to writing (to steal a phrase from the #AmWriting podcast). I missed blogging but let myself be swept up in the moment. They won’t be teens at home forever and, despite what one often hears, these are great parenting years.

Lots happening around the Yarnstead with the basement finally getting spruced up and the tree that’s too close to the wires coming down. There was gardening, cooking, going to the farmers market, learning lots about food photography (a great day of learning and sisterhood plus my debut as a hand model;), making of yarn, making of things with yarn, and going to the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival. Many but not all of these photos will be familiar if you follow me on Instagram. Off blog topics, there were visits to both of our amazing Great Lakes and many hours of teaching my eldest to drive (gulp).

Memorial Day garden gallery

Left column (top to bottom): herb garden, walking onions, tomato and ground cherry bed, kale that resprouted from last year, pollinator garden in dire need of weeding

Middle column (top to bottom): Also in dire need of weeding, the top two are views of the   big mixed garden bed (perennials, rhubarb, blackberries, new asparagus, some dye plants); bottom image are the raised beds close to the house with veggies and flowers

Right column (top to bottom): Blueberries, raspberries, front corner so we don’t have to mow there garden bed, 3 new Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium, edible berries and a dye plant)

The yard is always a work in progress! The weeds thrive in all kinds of growing conditions, which can be frustrating in the spring, but getting my hands in the dirt to weed can be a meditation.

Five years of blogging!

On October 21, 2011, I pressed “Publish” on my first post, Adventures in wool dyeing.pablo-2A lot has happened in five years!

90 posts, the most popular of which was my May 2014 review of the stash2go app for iPhone and iPad

4 recipes: ground cherry salsa, savory potato, easy sauce from roasted tomatoes, and improvised cream cheese pockets (chicken & vegetarian versions)

1 free knitting pattern

A fair number of garden layouts that didn’t last

A lot of experimenting to find the right balance of gardening/CSA/farmers’ market as sources for produce

A three-year old picture of creeping bellflower in my yard three years ago with the caption “volunteer bellflower” with no irony at all (it is pretty-but ah, such naiveté … followed by the devastating discovery that is a really, really invasive species)

An easy way to dry herbs

Tips for success with your CSA box

A lot of happiness from growing and cooking with local food (especially my homegrown herbs and berries), talking blogging with friends, and building my cookbook collection

Recurring struggles with making creative space, finding family balance, setting goals that are challenging but not crazy-making, and getting spinning back into my life

A pattern of circling back to natural dye plant gardening and yarn dyeing

65 finished fiber arts projects of various sizes (no clue I was that productive, absolutely no clue. Ha, just said that to my daughter, who said it sounded about right and lovingly mocked me bringing my knitting everywhere. Ahem, anyway, thanks to Ravelry for making it easy to keep tabs)

9 frogged fiber arts projects (plus some that never got far enough to get on Ravelry in the first place)

Guest appearances on the blog by crochet, weaving, felt making, and needlepoint. In an ideal world, I’d be good at sewing, have time for it, and use Grandma’s sewing machine for more than mending!

And just in the last year or so, some developments that help me look forward to the next five years: Wisconsin Whisk welcomed me to their blogging collective, my blog got a new look and domain name, and thanks to a Whisk blogging workshop, I’ve gotten lots of advice and encouragement for additional improvements.

Thank you, readers, for your support! Stay tuned for my new challenges: whole grain baking, more food preserving, my fiber arts activities as part of slow fashion, and a deeper dive into how gardening, food, and fiber arts interconnect.

Garden to table Autumn 2016


Sometimes having a garden is a lot like having a cat: who’s really in charge? Late summer and early fall are a time of overlapping harvest as the summer vegetables aren’t always done before some of the fall ones are ready. It can be hard to keep up! My food garden is heading for even lower maintenance next year: berries, new asparagus (planted this year, but no harvest for 2-3 more years), garlic, herbs, and kale.

Kale is a gardener’s dream: it’s not much bothered by weather and, if left to its own devices, can self-seed. I had cabbage moths flitting prettily around my yard. They decimated the broccoli in its container, but the kale only suffered a few holes. Finches frequently landed in the kale, sometimes as many as a half-dozen birds at a time, and pecked enthusiastically, so I think I can give them credit for natural bug control.

A garden of raised beds and containers worked great for our needs. It certainly makes the weeding easier and reduces critter problems. My daughter had great success with beans and carrots in containers. The carrots were a nice surprise since carrots never grow well in our heavy soil when we plant them straight in the ground. Our three sisters garden got a late start, so we’ll try again next year. We may even try to use the cold frame (which got a mention in a recent Mother Earth News article) to get a much earlier start on the corn.

The rest of my garden was a mixed success. The tomatoes grew very large and tipped their support cages over, but many of the fruit were diseased. The cherry tomatoes were healthy and non-stop, hurrah! We grew enough green beans to freeze a few, and the jalapeños were roasted and frozen for later use also.

As Megan Cain reminds readers in her book, Super Easy Food Preserving, we don’t have to grow all the produce we want to preserve. A lot of days there’s not time to both garden and cook. I miss  food preserving and want to do more cooking from scratch year-round…


So I’ve been planning to do more preserving from the farmer’s market. That’s assuming I can manage to not use up every bit of the goodness I get there!

img_3828 My upgraded landscaping has taken more time than I expected and has more weeds. Some of the volunteers are edible (like purslane and lambs quarters), and one is a dye plant (pokeweed). Many of the weeds are outgrowing the perennials I’m starting. Some volunteer sunflowers are always welcome. Morning glories went nuts, climbed everything, pulled some sunflowers to ground, and nearly toppled the new clematis trellises. Since I have morning glories elsewhere in the yard, I have tried to remove them from the clematis, which would have been a better idea in spring. The thing about gardening, though, is that there’s always next year.

Garden to Table August 2016: tech support for food & yarn lovers

IMG_0120The long days of summer with a chaotic mix of heat and rain make everything grow like crazy! August is a time of great abundance in the Midwestern garden, and the farmers’ market tables are loaded with so many choices that we forget how hard it was to wait for tomatoes. Maybe you’ve picked up some yarn at the farmers’ market too…after all, fall is coming in a couple months.

Some times you might want a little help figuring out what to do with all that goodness. Here are a few of my favorites that you can use for free on your computer, smartphone, or tablet (or some combo of those):

Evernote – Great for saving online articles, blog posts, and recipes. Free to join on up to two platforms. Syncs between platforms so your notes are always read t0 go. Also great for writing draft blog posts and note taking!

Google Keep – While I can keep lists in Evernote, I like to use Google Keep for lists instead. This no-frills and easy-to-use app loads quickly, syncs between platforms, and allows quick and easy sharing of lists and notes with others.

feedly – Great for reading blog posts. Subscribe to your favorite blogs. feedly checks them regularly and compiles the new posts in your account. You can organize them by category (I have Assorted, Food, Fiber Arts, Gardening, Science) or just enjoy them any which way.

Ravelry – Love yarn? Then super-fun and useful Ravelry is for you. So easy to use, it has a database of yarns and patterns (so helpful to see what that pattern you’re considering looks like in different colors and yarns), online forums for many topics, online pattern shop, and sections to keep track of your projects, yarns, needles/hooks, and library! I love using Ravelry to search through my library from the comfort of the living room (“Hmm, I know I have a pattern somewhere in the house for a worsted weight scarf. Which book is it in?”). Want to access Ravelry on your phone or tablet? Try Stash2go for iOS or Android, or use the Ravelry mobile site.

E-books – Not everyone loves to read or work this way, but I’ve been able to get a lot of books for very little money this way! E-book publishers have short-term sales (and you can always check the Kindle bestsellers list in categories of interest on Amazon), so follow them on Twitter or subscribe to their lists (Storey Fresh Picks is one of my favorites for cooking, gardening and craft books) to find out about them. The picture above shows some of my favorite Kindle books and PDFs.

NYTimes recipes – A good iOS app and a really good website to get you access to the many recipes the Times has published over the years.

PDF reader – Really handy to be able to “mark up” a PDF of a recipe or pattern. I like GoodReader (iOS) and save a copy of both the original and my marked-up PDF knitting patterns that way.

Craftsy has online classes for crafts but also cooking and gardening! They have a number of free ones to get you started, and if you sign up to watch some, you can get notifications of sales on classes.
What did I miss? I look forward to reading about your favorites in the comments.