Archive for the ‘gardening’ Tag

Cottonpatch Wisdom   1 comment

Alaska has a really pretty invasive weed called bird vetch that will grow pretty much anywhere and strangle just about every other plant.

The thing is, it’s very pretty and delicate-looking, so people don’t recognize the problem until it’s too late.

Image result for image of bird vetchI had never encountered it in all my years in Alaska until about 12 years ago when I decided to plant a wildflower/perennial meadow along the road next to my house. The former owners had neglected this area because it was outside of the fence, and I didn’t want to work very hard at it, so I raked up the couple of years worth of leaves, mixed my perennial/wildflower seeds with top soil and hand-broadcast the results.

For the first couple of years, I had fireweed, yarrow, bluebells, lupine, and many others, plus wild rose and raspberries that had already spread through the fence from our yard and just needed to be uncovered.

Every summer, I would renew with another broadcast of seeds. Occasional “volunteers” would join the party and mostly were welcome. Dandelions seemed intimidated, oddly enough.

There was this pretty purple vine that joined the party and at first, I didn’t think any of it. I had heard of wild sweet pea and I figured it might be that. That year, the fireweed didn’t bloom. Well, fireweed likes old burn areas and my citified meadow didn’t really see a lot of flames, so …. The next summer, I saw a lot more of the pretty purple vine. So, one day, I walked around to the outside of the fence to pick raspberries and realized that the tendrils of the pretty vine were wrapped around several yarrow stalks, choking the life out of them and that some of the raspberry plants hadn’t produced because they were being covered by this vine.

Image result for image of bird vetchResearch showed that this bird vetch does not play well with others. I burned my meadow and started all over again, but the next year, I still had vetch coming up. I started hand-pulling it so that I could keep my meadow and I’m still doing it, every Sunday during the summers.

I like to do it after church on Sunday because it’s a quiet time for contemplation of the sermon. Lately, our pastor has been preaching from Hosea, the Old Testament prophet who married a harlot and reaped the consequences, but kept his covenant with her, even buying her back from a slave brothel.

Hosea’s marriage was a metaphor for Israel’s relationship with God and it could just as easily be a metaphor for our relationship with Christ.

If you ever wonder why truly faithful Christians flee sexual immorality, the answer is found in Hosea with some cross-reference with the New Testament. Jesus said the church (Christians) would be the bride of Christ. He would take, love, adore and protect her and she would wander away and cheat on Him. He would go find her in the brothel she had sold herself to and bring her back because He had made a covenant with her.

So when I’m out there in the sun or the rain, pulling vetch up by its roots, I have these lessons clicking around in my head. And last week, I thought about how vetch is a lot like sin. It’s going to crop up in your life because mankind bent his own nature when he disobeyed God about that stupid fruit. We are incapable of walking with God and accepting His love without any bumps in the road. We wander. He never does. And because we wander, sins (which are anything that stands between us and God) will crop up. Often sin will look pretty and it may even seem similar to things that are desireable, just as vetch looks a lot like jacob’s ladder.

Image result for image of jacob's ladder flowerWe have to stay on top of vetch and sin. Just like vetch, we can’t let sin flower or produce seeds because sin also has long roots that burrow all over the place and push through where we least expect them. Our bodies breed corruption today just as vetch binds nitrogen and therefore out-competes the plants we would prefer. We want to do what is right. We want to serve Jesus. We fail to do what is right and we all too often spit in God’s face in our haste to do what feels good.

Image result for image of bowing before jesusVetch seeds will stay in the soil and able to spout for six years, meaning that if you turn your back on it for a summer (or even two weeks), it will sow the seeds of corruption for years to come. Sin in the same way. When we encourage it or even pretend it doesn’t exist, we allow it to spout from seeds that might lay dormant for decades.

That’s hard to do because often sin seems so attractive. It doesn’t look harmful. Look how pretty and delicate and purple it is. But it destroys everything around it if you let it gain a foothold.

If we want to be a beautiful bouquet to  God, we must stay vigilant and weed out the pretty vines that will drag us astray and strangle our beauty.

Prepping for Winter Wonderland   3 comments

Related imageWelcome to the blog hop! Have you checked out any of the other stops along the hop? I suggest this because some of my fellow authors actually prepare their garden for winter while I — living in Alaska — abandon mine to the elements like any sane sub-Arctic dweller does.

Check out PJ Fiala’s garden preparations and, while you’re at it, check out her books. I’ve often said I don’t read romance, but romance involving the motorcycle culture actually sounds entertaining.

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This topic comes late for me because I live in Alaska. We harvested most of our garden Labor Day weekend. There is no “prepping” really to do. We pull the crops, strip away any weeds that haven’t been plucked, dump the summer compost bin on the ground, drop the sides of the high tunnel and walk away.

You can’t really prep a garden for surviving an Alaska winter. You don’t winter over plants. Our prep is the high tunnel that keeps snow off the ground so that it thaws more quickly in the spring and creates a poor-man’s greenhouse for early starts and some late-season plants to reach maturity after the first frosts in late-August (tomatoes, broccoli). We dump leaves on our perennial beds to give them some protection from the cold, but the fact is — the grounds going to freeze five feet down here no matter what we do, so garden preparation for winter is mainly not worth it. The high tunnel pictured is a friend’s down in the Palmer area. Ours is made similarly with electrical conduit instead of plastic pipe and greenhouse panels for the roof because we get more snow than he does. The rollup plastic sides are our ventilation system.

So, that would be a really short blog post, but we do a lot to prepare our houses for winter. Contrary to popular belief, Alaska (well, Interior Alaska where I live) has hot summers. Average daily temperature is 70 degrees, the sun doesn’t ever really go down and our windows are open all the time because we don’t have air-conditioning. Almost nobody here does because it’s hard to have a heating system that is cold-weather efficient and can also cool air. It’s not completely impossible, but having two systems is expensive, so we just open our windows and set up fans.

We actually prep for winter throughout the summer. We’ve usually spent at least a couple of weekends during the summer processing firewood. We also spend some warmer weekends in the winter cutting trees so we have firewood to process the following summer. It takes six months to a year to process a birch tree from felling to woodstove. After cutting down a tree, you limb it and cut it into stove-lengths. When we had a mechanical splitter, we would split it while green. Since that died a couple of years ago and we haven’t replaced it yet, none of us fancies hand-splitting green birch, so we stack the rounds in a green house structure that acts as a hot box so that the sun can dry the wood out and then we split the rounds after a month of curing. We then stack the split wood back in the hot box to continue the cure. We need 4-5 cords for the winter supply. Since we’re often harvesting off my brother’s 2-acre lot, we combine firewood gleaning with family social time. And, yes, that is our high tech “hot box”. This is our first attempt and that’s about a cord of firewood. We have four hot boxes that hold two cords each.

Starting Labor Day weekend, we start to shut things down outside. Although it doesn’t usually snow until some time in October , we have had an occasional freak snow storm in September. This year, it snowed a foot in the last week of September. It then rained and melted all the snow. It snowed again and it is now raining again and melting the snow. Ah, the joys of sub-Arctic living! I’m not really complaining as it helps to keep our population low.

We planned ahead and then just let stuff go for spring. Sometimes a casual attitude to seasonal deadlines is the only way to survive at Latitude 54.

Usually we mow the lawn before the leaves start to fall and then we’ll use the mower as a leaf vac in October. Mowed lawn, check. Vacuumed up leaves — well, I guess we’ll rake come spring. We’ll just call that using natural fertilizer. It’s not like we try very hard to maintain a lawn.

We coiled up the hoses and shut off and drained the supply valves because it gets so cold here that it will actually break pipes inside the house if you leave them open to the elements. We stacked the lawn furniture under the deck. We usually harvest the crab apples (apple butter – yum). This year, the red apples look lovely on the leafless tree.

We check the weather stripping on doors and windows and replace it as necessary. We sealed off the fireplace a few years ago because all a fire there does is suck warm air from the house and pump it up the chimney and when there’s no fire there, the cold air drafts back into the house. We check to make sure our weatherization there is still good (one year squirrels had made a home there, which lead to air leakage. I find the tubes of heavy wool filled with buckwheat (locally called draft dodgers) to push up against the bottom of the outside doors because the thresholds will always contract when it gets cold and cause a trickle of cold air to come in.

You probably have caught a theme here. It’s all about keeping the cold air out of the house.

Brad tunes the boiler. Boilers need to be swept down of soot at least every other year and, as Brad used to work in that field, he makes sure everything is running well for the winter. The boiler has often been shut down for the summer, so the tune is part of a whole process of getting it up and running again.

While he does that, I often am on the roof. I’ll sweep down the chimneys for the wood stove and the boiler, remove any moss from the shingles and make sure the gutter downspouts aren’t plugged. It’s a simple division of labor where the person who doesn’t mind heights works in her skill set while the one who doesn’t care for heights works in his. His job is much dirtier, so it’s fair. Weather permitting, I’ll do this one last time in early October to assure the gutters don’t back up in the spring. (Last week, Brad and I did this together with Kyle while the snow was falling).

No, that is not me in the photo above, but it is a gal from our church working with a group called World Changers, that rehabs low income houses. I am usually and preferably behind the camera.

We lay in straw for the dogs.  We have a husky, who likes to live outdoors, and a Lab who prefers the great indoors, but does need to spend some time outside because dogs must get their Vitamin D from the sun. We test their bucket warmer so that they have water all winter (the husky will eat snow if we don’t provide fluid water, but the Lab gets too cold doing that). The bucket sits just inside the woodshed where we have run electricity. We get out the Army surplus blankets for a corner of the shed because the husky thinks only wimps sleep in dog houses and we want her to be comfortable in her stubbornness. (Sometimes in the winter, we’ll go out there to find she has rolled herself up in the blankets like they are sleeping bags).

Designing Samantha's LoveWe make the kids clean the windows inside and out because when you only have 2 1/2 hours of daylight on a winter’s day, you want to be able to see it dirt free. Although we don’t heat our garage in the winter because of the cost of space heating here and don’t park our cars in it because it’s too narrow to open the doors, we do also make the kids (well, kid these days because our 20-something is traveling) clean the garage in the last weeks before winter. That way, when we dash out there at 40 below to take the dogs to the back yard or grab a tool, we can at least find stuff and our slippers don’t get grimy.

Inside the house, we pull the sheets off the furniture. Alaska dogs shed all summer, so the sheets keep the furniture from being too furry. They stop shedding as soon as the weather cools off. We replace the sheets with blankets because we don’t believe in heating rooms more than absolutely necessary. Many of these are quilts I made myself.

Finally, I swap the summer silk flower arrangements for the fall silk flower arrangements (coz color is important for surviving five months of winter) and hack up a spruce bow to fill a basket on the hearth (for the aroma).

We’re ready. Or, er … well, ready or not, the winter wonderland has begun.

Hey, and winter is a great time to curl up with a good book, so check out PJ Fiala’s on Amazon —


a voracious reader. | a book blogger.


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