When Life Sends You Lemons

Be amazed! About a year ago our Meyer lemon trees arrived and sometime over the winter they bloomed. Their delicious scent filled the room (the room is our living room where we do practically everything including house our tropical plants in winter). Since no bees were handy to do the work, we clumsily used a Q-tip to pollinate the flowers. Tiny fruits began to form and we watched throughout the summer as they grew to full size while enjoying the sun on the front porch. And now they are just beginning to turn yellow. Watching our own lemons grow reminds us of the miracles that are enacted over and over again to simply get our food to the table.

lemon tree

This winter I’m trying to learn more about germination cues. I wish I could find a chart or book that simply listed what works for each type of plant. I expected to find something that says, this plant needs light, this plant likes it dark and warm, this plant needs a winter etc.  But as much as I wanted a simple answer it became clear as I read a textbook on germination that nothing could be so far from simple. Again, the miracle that anything germinates at all became wildly apparent. And germination is just getting one foot out the door for that little plant. It then has a whole host of challenges before it completes its job!

However, I did find some helpful links and I will continue to try to become more informed …

Two handy charts:



And some colorful phenological signs:

  • Plant corn and beans when elm leaves are the size of a squirrel’s ear, when oak leaves are the size of a mouse’s ear, when apple blossoms begin to fall, or when dogwoods are in full bloom.
  • Plant lettuce, spinach, peas, broccoli and cabbage when the lilacs show their first leaves or when daffodils begin to bloom.
  • Plant tomatoes, early corn and peppers when dogwoods are in peak bloom or when daylilies start to bloom.
  • Plant cucumbers and squash when lilac flowers fade.
  • Plant potatoes when the first dandelion blooms.
  • Plant beets and carrots when dandelions are blooming (good succession planting plan, too).
  • Plant peas when the forsythia blooms.

Sources: The Old Farmer’s Almanac, University of Wisconsin Extension



One of the last must-do fall chores has been crossed off the list! 486 garlic cloves planted and mulched. I like saying that number! Compared to some friends who plant garlic, that is nothing. But it is the most we’ve ever planted and this time, for the first time, it was all our own seed garlic. Plus we have enough cleaned and stored for cooking to last until spring, at least.

Another bulb that we are developing an interest in is Camassiah Quamash. Apparently a staple that Native Americans used like a potato, this little bulb is in the lily family. When Ed ordered them he didn’t know that some versions are poisonous (the white flowers) and some are edible (blue). Since we don’t know whether the bulbs we ordered are the right ones, we’re holding off eating them until we see a bloom! The reason for experimenting with them is that they fall into the highly sustainable category because as a perennial they will self-perpetuate.  Hope they taste good. But if they don’t we’ll have a lovely mat of flowers down near the pond.

Like a Duck Takes to Water

Well … what if a duck doesn’t take to water? Our Khaki Campbell ducks that we raised from just a day or two old didn’t seem to like the water at all at first. I suppose that is quite understandable because they were initially raised inside a protective barn and they had no mamma duck to teach them. And I suppose the wide open (it really is a very small pond) water was a very scary place. Once they were introduced to the pond it took them weeks and weeks and weeks to discover the joy of water. Even when we would put a duck in the water it would scurry right out of it.

Then they discovered duck weed! It covered the pond for a while and even a few wild ducks came to explore and feed on it. Finally our ducks realized that they had something really yummy right at the tip of their beaks! All they had to do was take the plunge! And they did.  And now you can hear them laughing and splashing around in the water all day. Here is a video which isn’t all that exciting, but it is proof that our ducks have finally taken to water.

Which just goes to show you that sometimes you do have to take a plunge of faith sometimes. I doubt that ducky expression applies to me and my tarpaper skills (or my comfort-level on scaffolding) and a few weeks ago I was wondering if we’ll ever get an outside finish on our house. But what do you know! We are more than halfway done “wrapping” our house in preparation for stuccoing and other finishes.  And as of today we’ll have all the windows in and last week the floor was poured, so we are set for winter!

Reality Check

When writing this blog I’m usually feeling thankful or proud and generally lean towards painting a rosy picture of life up here on the hill. I’ve used phrases like “we’ve hit the escape button,” or “we are making a life instead of a living” and we really are thankful every day for being able to live a more grounded life … a life in which we feel more connected to people, to the earth and to our lives. But that isn’t to say that there aren’t some gray days literally and figuratively. Happily, today is one of those fall Finger Lakes days that is emblazoned with color and graced with a big blue sky.

But this day weighs heavy due to a sad event this past weekend. There was a loud party across the street on Saturday night with target practice and a DJ and lots of merriment, but something called out a wild thing and by morning all of our front yard chickens were dead. None were eaten, just killed by something big enough to barrel enough through the chicken wire with a bit of force. Experts around the area have various theories as to what happened. But this is the first time in three years that we’ve had any problems. As shepherds of our little space on the planet we feel the loss of 11 chickens in our care isn’t trivial.

As we live closer to life it means we also see a more vivid version of it. Things don’t come in shiny plastic-wrapped packages. The apples have some spots, the lettuce may have a snail on it, the eggs look a bit (or maybe a lot) less pristine than the ones on the grocery shelf and, like us, you may recognize these as symptoms of the benefits of such a harvest. But we also get to live closer to death and an unfair or untimely or out-of-scale death is hard to take. Thank goodness for the blue sky today.