foraging, The Great Outdoors

Two Ways to Eat Chickweed {spring foraging fun}

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It was about 2 weeks ago and I decided it was time. After a long, dreary winter that never seemed to want to stop…it was time to commence spring foraging.

I’ve been watching, waiting…observing the subtle signs that spring whispers to those who choose to listen.

Robins. Little green sprouting things poking through the earth.

Buds forming on the trees in my backyard.

Geese flying through the sky.

The sweet spring sun has come. Easter has passed and brought joy in so many different ways.

I’ve always seen Easter as the tipping point for the winter season. February is that first ray of hope and then it’s Easter and I think, “Almost. We’re almost there. Full blown spring is quite close”.

And it’s a time of celebration and joy and thanks for newness of life. All of nature brought together to celebrate the victory of life over death.

Ah me. I’m turning reflective. When this post is to be about foraging. Haha. Continuing.

One of the earliest plants to grow and really thrive in my backyard is chickweed. I’ve recently learned to really love the stuff.

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Until recently, I’ve really only looked at chickweed as a flat spreading weed with tiny leaves and pretty little white flowers. I never considered the benefits of chowing down on it.

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I’ve purchased a few foraging books over the winter. They are:

  • Stalking the Healthful Herbs, by Eugene Gibbons
  • Midwest Foraging: 115 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Burdock to Wild Peach, by Lisa M. Rose.

From those books I learned a myriad of things about the plant in question but mainly:

  1. It is called chickweed because baby chickens/small birds love to eat it.
  2. It has a ton of vitamin C.

It’s easy to find. It’s free. And super-healthy. It has a bland spinach-like taste, but not quite as strong.

Ok great. But how to eat it? Glad you asked 😊 Lately I’ve had 2 ways I love to fix chickweed.

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First off, salad. Here I combined beet greens, a bit of chickweed and some baby dandelion greens. Then I topped it off with some cucumber and radish slices.

It was pretty good and a nice way to get a mixed greens salad without buying a big container of expensive organic salad that I can never seem to finish.

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Next I decided to use a handful of chickweed as the greens in my smoothie. It accompanied frozen bananas, strawberries, quick oats, cocoa powder and almond milk.

And I threw in a few pieces of cantaloupe because I wanted something different.

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And it was! But in a good way. 😊😊 I loved adding in super fresh greens in place of my usual spinach leaves.

**I will post the recipe tomorrow for you guys. 😊🍓🍌🌱

Thus concludes my adventures with chickweed…for now…..

Do you enjoy foraging for spring plants? Any particular plants or recipes you wish to try?

Let me know, I’d love to hear about it. Everyone’s foraging experience is unique and I love learning from others. 😄😄

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Natural Living, Nature, The Great Outdoors

What’s That Plant? (Symphyotrichum pilosum or Aster pilosus)

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“They’s something kindo’ harty-like about the atmusfere

When the heat of summer’s over and the coolin’ fall is here…

But the air’s so appetizin’; and the landscape through the haze

Of a crisp and sunny morning of the early autumn days”

-From When the Frost is on the Punkin, by James Whitcomb Riley.

The beautiful month of October is here. In my corner of the globe in the Midwestern US, this means that fall is in full swing.

It is a time of harvest. Of slowing down. Of bidding summer goodbye. Of bonfires and cozy sweaters. Crunchy leaves.

In my mind, I see the green landscape slowly fading from green to autumn hues. Some plants, like my basil, are fading fast as the days and nights grow cool.

And others, like a plant I’ve recently learned about, are still in their prime.

It is a goal of mine to learn more about plant life. I want to know the names of everything. What they look like, where they are found, if they are edible. I want to learn as much as possible about the green world around me.

And so I wanted to share a plant I found that has a few interesting qualities.

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Name

This is frost aster. It’s Latin name is Symphyotrichum pilosum or Aster pilosus. Why 2 names?

Well, Urban Ecology Center explains that:

“As if to keep things fun and interesting botanists have decided to split up the genus Aster and there is now another genus, Symphyotricum. Consequently a newer name for A. pilosus is Symphyotricum pilosum.”

Appearance

Frost aster has alternate, smooth edged leaves that are long, thin and pointed.

It has composite flowers, with yellow disk florets (center) that change to redish-purple or redish-brown and 15-35 white ray florets that surround the disk florets.

This plant is quite tall, at least 4′ before the stems began to lean over. This is a bit taller than what most sources say this plant’s height range is but it’s likely so tall because it is a more mature plant.

Edible?

As far as I can see the answer is no. However, according to sources listed on Common Sense Homesteading, in the past the heath aster (not frost aster, see below) was used by Native Americans in teas, lotions and to “create a herbal steam” in a sweat lodge. Kinda like a herbal sauna. Sounds cool. Always secretly wanted to try the whole sweat lodge experience.

Unique Qualities

Two facts of interest:

  1. Frost aster is aptly named because it continues to bloom into the frosty days and weeks of autumn long after other plants and flowers are spent.
  2. For this reason, many insects rely on this plant for nourishment. I saw quite a few honeybees and bumblebees browsing busily amongst the flowers.

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Same plant, different location.

 

Also Frost Aster?

I found another plant that seemed to be similar to the frost aster. But it was much smaller and looked a bit different.

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I did a bit of research and narrowed it down to 2 kinds of aster.

Was it

Symphyotrichum lateriflorum (also called Aster lateriflorus) or calico aster?

or

Symphyotrichum ericoides, (also called Aster ericoides) or heath aster?

I decided it was heath aster because it had:

  • very short, narrow leaves
  • a bushy appearance, very short. It reminded me of rosemary somewhat.
  • no colorful flowers like described for the calico aster.

 

I enjoyed learning more about this unique plant. Isn’t it amazing how much variety and beauty there is in the world?

~Rachel

All photos are my own.

Gardening, The Great Outdoors

Summer’s Glory & Fade in the Garden

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Here in the midwest, my garden is still producing. But it won’t be long ’till…

~*~

Fall, in its crusty-

Leaved glory tucks summer in

For it’s year-long rest

 ~*~

And oh how I love fall.

But I wanted to record some observations and notes I’ve made about the plants I’ve grown this year. I’ve grown a lot of things I’ve never attempted before and just had a lot of fun with it.

There’s something about this in between time of year. When summer’s plenty gives way to fall’s decay. When the world prepares to sleep and we gather up a storehouse of food and supplies in preparation for the winter months.

As I think about this change of season, I’m reflecting on my gardening adventures this summer. Already I’m planning for next year 🙂

What I grew this year

 

From seed

  • Impatients-free seeds as a gift.
  • Resina Calendula-$2.75 for 50 seeds.
  • Munstead Lavender-$2.75 for 100 seeds.
  • Black Vernissage Tomatoes-free seed packet with my purchase from seed company.
  • Bright Lights Cosmos-$1.75 for 100 seeds.
  • German Chamomile-$2.25 for 300 seeds. I bought 2 packs.
  • Borage-$2.00 for 60 seeds.
  • Stowell’s Evergreen Sweet Corn-$3.00 for 75 seeds.
  • Brocade Mix Marigolds-$1.75 for 200 seeds.

All seeds except the impatients came from rareseeds.com. Highly recommend.

Plants Purchased Locally

  • Sun Gold tomato plant-2.50
  • Goldie tomato plant-2.50
  • Genovese basil-$2.50
  • Purple Ruffles basil-?
  • Silver Thyme-?
  • (6) Beauregard Sweet Potato Plants-$3.78
  • (6) Marigold plants-$1

Here is a collection of gardening photos I wanted to share with you guys.

 

My 2017 Summer Garden

 

Impatients

Last thing I planted so they are just recently blooming. I’ve never seen impatients branch out like this!

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Early August.
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Early September.

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Calendula

Grew fast and contrary to what I had read, the heat did not affect blooming. I’ve harvested and dried quite a bit.

Challenges: (A lot of) Aphids on the sticky stems. Not especially problematic just kinda gross and annoying to work around when harvesting. Slight problem with blackened leaves earlier in the year.

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Mid-June.
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Mid-July.
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Early August.

 

Lavender

Slow grower but seemed to really thrive in the drier soil on the edge of the garden.

Challenges: Just getting it to sprout and grow was a challenge. I understand why so many prefer to buy their plants. I planted about 6 seeds and in the end 2 plants survived.

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Lavender plant #1 mid-June.
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Lavender plant #1 early August.
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Lavender plant #2 early August.
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Lavender plant #1 early September.
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Lavender plant #2 early September.

 

Tomatoes

I transplanted all the tomatoes on 5/26. By mid-July, I had some sun gold (yellow cherry) tomatoes ripe. By late August I had tons of all types and I started canning them.

Challenges: I feared the Vernissage plants would never make a comeback. They were tall and lanky when I transplanted them. And then they developed bleached curly leaves which was odd…after that, they were fine and my only challenge was pruning them. Next year I need to give them a bit more space as they were massively intertwined this year.

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Baby black v. tomatoes (and tiny baby lavenders) late April
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Sun gold blossoms, mid-June.
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Sun golds, mid-July.
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Huge Goldie tomatoes. I love these! (Mid-July.)
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Mid-August.
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Black V. tomatoes, mid-July.
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Late August.

 

Basils

I’ve made 2 big batches of vegan basil pesto & its still growing strong! The purple ruffles basil has a very strong taste that I do not prefer but I do love the color. The Genovese basil is quite tasty but I can’t tell much of a difference between it and any other green leafed basil plant.

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Mid-June.
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Early September 🙂

The cosmos, chamomile and corn along with the borage are all past their prime and are in decline.

 

Cosmos & Chamomile

The cosmos and chamomile have done well, as I anticipated. Tons of chamomile flowers..I pruned chamomile and cosmos a ton throughout the year and this helped quite a bit with yield.

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Early August.

 

Borage

Grew fast. Still growing but waning. Bees still favor the flowers that are left. No challenges. This plant is awesome.

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Mid-June.
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Mid-July.
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Mid- to late July.

 

Sweet Corn

Grew quickly and well. No major problems. It did need a ton of watering and I believe I harvested it prematurely..as I have never attempted sweet corn before. Better luck next year!

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Sweet corn, early August.

 

Marigolds

I loved these giant marigolds. They required little care and literally became bushes as the description stated.

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Marigold plant mid-July.
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Early September.

Yet to be harvested are the melon and the sweet potatoes.

 

Sweet Potatoes

They have vined out a ton. I have cut them back at least 3 times. They are super healthy and haven’t needed much attention.

Challenges: Slugs. They hardcore chomped the leaves so I sprinkled diatomacious earth over them several times and boom. No more slug problem. Yay!

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Mid-June.
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Early September.
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I can’t get over how gorgeous sweet potato blooms are. Here you can see why they are a member of the morning glory family.

The sweet potatoes should be ready before first frost and after the beginning of October. It got down to about 42ish° yesterday morn so hopefully the weather cooperates!

 

Melon

The melon or “melon mountain” as I affectionately call it, was a huge surprise. I literally dumped melon seeds and peels repeatedly on the same spot in the old garden plot and melons sprouted. I did nothing!

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One of the many honeydews perched atop melon mountain. Early August.

Its funny because last year we tried to grow cantaloupe and…nada. Now at least 1 cantaloupe and many honeydews are growing.

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Just today I harvested my first honeydew melon. Looks like at least some of them will beat the frost.
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Super delicious 😋

This concludes my garden update. Next up…planting a tiny autumn garden. Garlic, spinach and kale are three things I hope to begin soon.

What things do you reflect on with a smile as summer fades to fall?

~Rachel

Poem and all photos are my own.

foraging, The Great Outdoors

Summer Nature Walk (Learning to Rest and Gearing Up for Foraging)

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Last weekend I went for a walk. Is that odd? No! But I was blessedly alone. Which is odd. I am never alone.

I’m learning that I do need alone time and relax time to thrive. To be better at well, everything. I’m learning to take charge and implement more time for quiet and reflection. I need more of it in my life.

What better way to spend a blissful cloudy afternoon than on a stroll through nature?

I’m currently reading a good book on foraging by Lisa M. Rose called Midwest Foraging: 115 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Burdock to Wild Peach. So I thought it would be good practice to look over the area where I live and see what plants I could find and name and if they were edible or not.

I didn’t harvest any of these plants. Most of them were near the road (not especially good to harvest from) but others I believe were on private property. So I admired from a distance 🙂 It’s very important to respect private property when foraging.

Below are some pictures of 10 plants I came across along with their name, family, habitat and whether and what parts are edible. Ready? Lets go!

 

Habitat: Yard

 

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Yellow Wood-sorrel (Oxalis dillenii)

Yellow Wood-sorrel is a member of the wood sorrel family and is related to the Wood-shamrock and Pink Wood-sorrel. It is a very common, delicate looking plant.

Edible: leaves, flowers, immature seed pods

~~~

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Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)

Elderberry is a member of the honeysuckle family. There isn’t a whole lot of it in our yard but I’ve enjoyed watching this one flower and bloom. It appears the birds are loving it so I just let it be.

Edible: flowers and ripe berries only (no stems). The berries are usually cooked and sweetened as they are rather bitter.

~~~

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Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella)

Sheep Sorrel is from the buckwheat family. This was the first plant I came across..right underneath my toes on the porch step.

Edible: leaves (tart) and seeds

~~~

Habitat: Roadside/Woods

 

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Pale Jewelweed (Impatiens pallida)

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This plant is from the Touch-me-not family.

Note: this plant is not edible but the crushed roots make a nice poiltuce of sorts that will help relieve itchy skin. I tested this out once and it did indeed soothe my skin.

~~~

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Wingstem or Yelow Ironweed (Verbesina alternifolia)

Wingstem is from the sunflower family.  (Asteraceae). This shouldn’t suprise me as the plant was very tall. Finding the name of this plant was quite tall. It wasn’t in any of my books. Finally I was able to find some websites with information. This was definitely one of my favorites.

~~~

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Sulfer Cinquefoil (Potentilla recta)

These beautiful cream/yellowish flowers hail from the rose family (Rosaceae). It wasn’t very widespread and it was difficult to get a picture of. Next time I’ll bring my better camera.

~~~

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Bird’s-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)

This common plant is a member of the legume (Leguminosae) family and pea subfamily. I’ve always thought it was a cheery little plant and the name is fun to say as it rolls off the tongue.

~~~

Habitat: Damp/Wet Soil, Visible from Roadside

 

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Joe-pye-weed (Eupatoriam purpureum)

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Joe-pye-weed is from the Composite family, Thoroughwort tribe (Eupatorieae). It is very tall and has pretty purplish-pink flowers that were just beginning to open up.

Some of the plants further away appeared to be very popular with the butterflies as I spotted at least 2 yellow Tiger Swallowtail butterflies congregating on the flowers. You can just barely see one in the 3rd photo.

Edible: most parts classified as edible by ediblewildfood.com.

~~~

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Common Cat-Tail (Typha latifoia)

From the cat-tail family. Aren’t you shocked?? This is a very familiar plant that usually is found in ditches and on the outskirts of lakes, creeks, etc.

Edible: certain parts are edible in springtime.

~~~

Towards the end of my walk, I spotted this wild apple tree peeking out from the edge of the woods.

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Tasty looking apples! No idea what kind but I was suprised to see them.

Do you enjoy going for nature walks? Have you seen anything interesting lately?

~Rachel

All photos were taken by me.

~~~

Resources:

1. A Guide to Field Identification: Wildflowers of North America (1984), by Frank D. Venning

2. http://www.ediblewildfood.com

3. http://www.dpughphoto.com

4.https://www.prairiemoon.com/actinomeris-alternifolia-wingstem-prairie-moon-nursery.html

The Great Outdoors

Butterfly Hospitality

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“A power of butterfly must be
The aptitude to fly,
Meadows of majesty concedes
And easy sweeps of sky.”

from My Cocoon Tightens, Colors Tease, by Emily Dickinson       

If it’s 3 things I’ve learned about doing fun activities with my young brood, it’s this:

  1. Keep it short.
  2. Keep it fun.
  3. And keep it free (or almost free).

Earlier this week we decided to take part in a free local activity which was…

Visiting a butterfly garden!

We had a blast.

And we weren’t there for long. Which is important, because little ones have short, oh so short attention spans. And I’ll be honest, I thought my 4-year-old might not understand how to be gentle with the butterflies. But he suprised me and did very well.

The lady who hosted the event was able to teach my kids a little about butterflies which was neat.

They got to hear…

  • That butterflies are different than wasps or bees because they can’t sting or bite you.
  • That butterflies are at the bottom of the food chain. Lots of creatures including many types of birds eat butterflies.

So many butterflies just chilling out and flying all around. Some magic was infused into the atmosphere. Not really, you know. But it felt that way.

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The garden was a screened in structure with potted and hanging flowering plants inside.
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Visitors had the opportunity to feed the butterflies with a q-tip dipped in watermelon juice.

 

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Monarch butterfly on purple coneflower.
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Buckeye butterfly.
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Mourning Cloak butterfly on pink yarrow flowers.
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Unsure of what she thinks of these gentle winged creatures.

(Attempts to photograph my son were met with reluctance/cropped/blurry photos haha.)

I loved learning about the butterflies. I grabbed a handout while I was there. It listed the different kinds of butterflies common in our area as well as the types of plants butterflies like most.

I can hardly wait till my own garden blooms so the butterflies can come around more often 🙂 🌸

~Rachel

Photo credit: cover photo, second, third and fifth photos were taken by a family member. Design of the cover photo is my own.

Gardening, The Great Outdoors

Where Dirt Meets Light and Love

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I’m in a writing funk lately. My week is about to become tipsy-topsy-turvy. (More on that later.) The inspiration is lacking. So I do what all good writers do, I go out and get busy. Get inspired. Lift my spirits with something that I love.

I love to garden. I always have and I think I always will. Ever since I was a child, I’ve always had a curious interest in plants. What makes them tick, makes them grow. Gardening is my therapy. It soothes my soul and propels me forward when times get tough.

Here is today’s work:

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Cute little nook in progress!

 

The larger one at the end has sweet potatoes and marigolds. Good companion plants. I bought all 12 plants for under $5 😀 My heart is doing a tiny frugal dance.

The bed on the right has my Lenten rose and impatient seeds. Both are excellent for shade.

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Fun fact: about a week ago my daughter chewed through the box of impatient seeds and spilled some all over herself. She might have eaten some. I don’t know. It was awhile before I noticed. Haha.

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And here’s a bit from the big garden, which was planted nearly 2 weeks ago:

 

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Silver thyme.

 

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Baby Calendula Resina (from seed).

 

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Munstead Lavender I started from seed. 2 months old, same age as my Black Vernissage tomato plants!

 

By the way, only 2 out of 6+ lavender plants survived. The Black V. tomatoes (4) are still a bit scraggly as well.

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Blossoms on my Sun Gold tomato plant.

 

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Baby borage (from seed). If you look close you can see the leaves are covered in prickly hairs already.

 

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Baby Vierling Dill (took for-ev-er to sprout). Update: not sure if this is dill. Maybe my dill didn’t sprout 😦

 

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The basils. Purple Ruffles and Genovese.

 

On occasion I overhear someone say that gardening is difficult or they have a black thumb or whatnot. And I am not the best gardener out there, but I’ve always thought that plants are just like people. All they need is a little bit of light and love.

Do you have a garden? If so what are you growing this year?

~Rachel

I had this verse running through my head as I wrote:

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