By golly, it's like Christmas morning here in the Braley house! I just tiptoed out of bed, carefully trying to make it to the bathroom without waking the Pablonator. And on my way past the window, so bright and fresh and green and sunshiney I couldn't miss them, were the seedlings I planted last weekend, stretching with great cheer toward the sunlight filtering through.
It was just yesterday that they were only barely popping out of the soil, all sleepy and hesitant. And now, now! There is a luscious miniature garden growing atop our monitor heater. 
It's possible that I went a little overboard with seeds this year. My friend Molly is planting her first garden as a grown-up this year, all by herself, and when she told me about it I obviously wanted to be part of the fun. So, together we drove to Andy's Agway to prepare for the coming of spring. Knowing my over-zealous tendencies, I had written myself a neat little list of the seeds I still had leftover from last year and the seeds that I would need to buy for this year.  When we got to the farm, however, I don't think that list ever left my pocket.  Brussel sprouts! Romas! Cilantro! Beets! Sage! We attacked that seed cart with reckless abandon.  
It was only when it was time to check out that we sobered slightly.  Molly took an honest assessment of her overflowing basket and realized that her garden probably wouldn't have room for all the packets of veggies she had selected.  I looked down at mine and shrugged - I would make room.... somehow. 
We spent the majority of the afternoon on the floor of my living room, sitting on a spread of old newspapers and filling soil into the tiny peat cups we bought and, after those were all used up, whatever we could put soil into.  Rice and cereal boxes, an egg carton, and an old spinach container all got repurposed as mini raised beds. We marveled at how these little flecks of seed could become tomato plants that would be fruit for sauces and salads.  We prayed that they wouldn't be a bust.
And now, only a week later, Molly and I have been sending pictures of tiny sprouts back and forth to one another in awe and amazement. Really, REALLY - have you thought about what a miracle it is that seeds grow into plants? Neither you or I could make that happen. On this Sunday morning, as the birds sing outside and inside Pablo is draped across my lap in leisurely bliss, I can't help but be in wonder of all of God's creation.  
And I can't wait to get those babies in the ground. 

Love well and eat well,

This weekend I faced what I couldn't ignore any longer - my withered, frostbitten garden.  It was a graveyard of half-chewed butternut squash, unpicked tomatoes turned a sickly pale color, and overgrown broccoli that never seemed to reach its peak. 
Sunday was a sunny but chilly day, and to be completely honest, what I really wanted to do was put my pajamas back on after church and pretend I was watching the Patriots game with Ethan so I could have an excuse to eat lots of chips.  But my garden was calling to me, one last time, and so I put on real pants and ventured out into the blustery November afternoon.

Sweet summer is fading.  Though it hasn’t disappeared completely, the days no longer begin and end with the same hot stickiness.  The frogs have stopped croaking into the warm evenings and I haven’t heard the triumphant morning songs of birds outside our windows lately.  There are still snippets of summer to be snatched, of course.  I went to the beach today to celebrate a successful end to my first week of teaching, and as I fell asleep in the sand with visions of assessments to be recorded in my head, the midday sun still had enough power to scorch my skin in the uncovered places. It looks like I will be sporting a nice blotchy complexion for this last summer hoorah, this sweet, long weekend we take off for Labor Day. 

It's no secret that people have a love-hate relationship with food.  They love it because it pleases their taste buds and gives them a temporary feeling of satisfaction, but then later hate that fleeting satisfaction and the way it makes their bodies look and feel.  Today I stood in my garden and contemplated this strange relationship we have with what we eat.  When I looked around,  I noticed  yellow blossoms bursting forth with squash.  Cauliflower was emerging beneath bound-up leaves.  Bean plants were falling over because they were so heavily laden.  I thought about how God made all of this grow, and suddenly felt astounded with the way He has provided such flavors, such scents, such textures and colors in this one tiny plot of land. And that's when I realized:  We are thinking about food all wrong.  We aren't supposed to be in a war with food.  God didn't intend for us to punish our bodies for not being perfectly chiseled, or for us to be constantly consumed by thoughts like  "I hate this or that about my body."  Oh no, no, no.  He gave us an incredible, infinite selection of things to eat so that we may nourish our bodies and - the best part of all..... so that we may enjoy it
There's already too much hate in our world.  The last thing it needs is for us to hate ourselves, too, and that chocolate chip cookie to boot.   How are we supposed to love others and make a change in the world when we are so consumed with our own lives and whether or not we have done enough cardio today to eat that bagel?  We are being distracted, friends, from what is truly important.  Loving others.  Loving ourselves.  Service.  Prayer.  
Of course, it's no surprise that we believe lies like, "My body isn't good enough," or "If only I could lose 10 pounds, then I would be happy."  Have you walked past a Cosmo or People at the grocery store lately? Gorgeous people with unheard of bodies laughing at their own beauty and enjoying the best sex of their lives.  That's what we're told, at least.  My heart breaks for little girls who look at those same magazines, thinking that worth comes from skimpy clothes and skinny waists.  It breaks for all of us older girls who get tricked into believing that, too. 

And believe me, I have been tricked. I have spent hours, days, months, even years of my life wishing I looked more like one of those Cosmo girls. That flawless skin! Those gorgeous thick brows! The pouty lips! Why don't mine look like that? And some days, I still do pass by those cover girls and think about how I should stop eating so much ice cream.  And it's nearly impossible to ignore the self-deprecating thoughts that come whizzing through uninvited every December when the Victoria Secret Fashion Show rolls around.  Those girls are like roadkill, only a lot prettier - you want to look away, but you can't.  

But God created us for so much more than that.  No matter what the world would like you to believe, beauty does not come from pouty lips and thigh gaps.  Our bodies are temples.  It is true and good  for us to be careful what we put into our bodies and to exercise often.  But it's also true that we mustn't let our days be so consumed with the way our temples look that we don't leave time or energy to think about truly important things, like what we can do to make a friend smile, or spending time with God. Instead of letting yourself become distracted with what not to eat, pick something from God's splendor today and enjoy it.  Savor it.  And let it remind you just how much He loves you, and how carefully you were made.  Then, go do something amazing with the body you've been given. 

Love well & eat well, 

I've been neglecting my garden for the past 3 weeks or so.  With all the craziness that comes with the end of the school year, an anniversary, a leisurely hike up Mt. Washington, and the celebration of America's independence, I found all sorts of convenient excuses not to weed.  But this week, with no traveling or celebrations on the horizon, I ran out of excuses and was finally forced to face the jungle that had become my vegetable patch.  I spent the better part of two afternoons thinning carrots, redirecting aggressive pumpkins, and crying out in agony every time I pulled out one of the thorny greens that has effectively invaded the garden. This was all much to Ethan's amusement, of course.  He snapped this picture above of me in my truest form: grubby, rubbing the sweat out of my eyes, and rocking a pair of Jose Cuervo sunglasses I got for free at Margarita's on Cinco de Mayo. 

This multi-day undertaking led to a series of emotions and events, including hesitant killing, single-minded endurance, quiet epiphanies, and mild heartache.  Who knew a little 12' X 24' garden could produce all that?





This past weekend, my husband and I went to Cape Cod to celebrate our second wedding anniversary. TWO years! We couldn't believe it. Even though most of the weekend was rainy or overcast, we had fun visiting the beaches, strolling through quaint Main Streets and trying on overly expensive hats, and licking (probably too many) ice cream cones. 

When we left, my garden was bursting forth promisingly. 

We returned Monday evening with the sun gleaming brilliantly through the cloud cover. My mother arrived shortly after I walked through the door, planning to spend the night at our place in preparation for our hike up Mt. Washington the next day.  Before she barely had time to put her bags down, I pulled her out the door to show her the abundance of my garden.  She, after all, still lives in Northern Maine - 300 miles north - and anyone who's been up there knows that those poor folks are at least 3 weeks behind our lower latitudes in summer.  Her garden is still in the "popping up stage," veggies hesitantly emerging from the ground for fear of an early July frost (hey, it could happen in the County!).

So, nearly jogging ahead of my mother as she admired the tiger lilies on the lawn and the apple trees overhead, I loped to my garden, scissors in hand.  That's right, I run with scissors. Especially when there is fresh kale on the other end. I reached the edge of my garden.  It was a rich, sensuous deep brown from the rain.  There they were. My gorgeous green beans.  My pumpkin plant stretching its tendrils right into the basil and parsley.  My carrots tangling in thick rows needed to be thinned. My peas mangled and ripped from their cages. My peas! I tiptoed to the back corner of my garden in disbelief, my rubber boots sinking in the spongy earth.  Sure enough, each and every pea plant, which had been growing so splendidly only 4 short days earlier, had been expertly chomped to pieces and torn out of the ground. 

Fury raged within me. I heard my mother approaching and turned around, and that's when I noticed the row of broccoli and cauliflower. Munched.  Completely munched. The plants I had hoed and weeded and cared for so thoroughly were simply eaten alive.  Not to be enjoyed by me, but by some stupid gopher.  I knew I should have shot that gopher last time I saw him, I thought darkly. 

"Wow, look at your tomatoes!" my mother exclaimed from the edge of the garden. She hadn't noticed the wreckage yet. 

I actually wanted to cry bitterly, standing in the middle of my garden with a defiled pea plant dangling from my fingers.  But how pathetic would that be? I just let out a sputter and weakly whispered, "Yeah." 

I've had a few days to think about the mangling of my plants since then.  I'll admit, I was mad.  Real mad.  I thought about fencing and sprays to keep the pests from coming back.  I thought about gopher traps.  And I thought about the peas, broccoli, and cauliflower I wouldn't get to eat this summer.  But all things considered, the loss of a few vegetables is nothing compared to the losses that life makes us face all too often.  God used my fallen plants to remind me, in His oh-so-gentle and loving way, that He is in control.  I was beginning to think I was responsible for how magnificently the plants were growing.  Praising myself a little too much for having a green thumb, and not quite remembering that those plants are, in fact, his plants.  He provided the nutrients in the soil and makes the rain fall from the sky.  He makes the sun shine. He was the world's first gardener, and certainly the best.  I'm just a girl who takes the seeds and puts them in the dirt, hoping God will provide all of the other things to make them grow.  And he has, wonderfully so.  It is the same with our lives.  We just go through our days, doing the best we can and praying to God that He will bless us, our families, our friends.  And he does so, with a faithfulness so amazing it's hard to comprehend.  Sometimes, we do experience loss.  But he catches us from falling into despair by reminding us of His love, and all the blessings he has surrounded us with.  So, today, instead of thinking deathly thoughts toward the gopher living near the garden or bitterly shaking my fists at the beautiful deer who surely feasted on my peas, I will look at all God has blessed me with and feel thankful for them.  Like my gorgeous green beans, my sprawling pumpkins, and my overgrown carrots. 

God has blessed my garden big time.  My peas have wound up their cages and are reaching toward the heavens with their big, beautiful white blossoms.  Yellow, velvety blossoms are erupting from my zukes, as well. And we've already savored some of the fresh arugula, kale, and spinach at our dinner table. 

But there is one area in which my garden is a hurting unit.

Many of my squash plants are being devastated by bugs. 

Just look at this poor buttercup. The leaves have been eaten alive, some of them so much that they have shriveled up and died. Many of my cucumbers and spaghetti squash are in the same state.

This. Means. War.

Now, Ethan suggested I just go to Home Depot and eradicate the little buggers with a good ole' fashioned pesticide once and for all, but I am trying to avoid using any toxic chemicals in my garden. Of course, there is always the au natural route - plenty of places sell natural sprays these days - but I thought, "Why buy it if I can just make it?" And so began my search for an at-home remedy for conquering the bugs and taking back my garden.

Today was Day 1 of the Battle of the Bugs. First I had to identify exactly which bugs I needed to battle.  Some bugs are good bugs, after all, and I didn't want to kill those. The biggest squash-eaters seem to be a small yellow and black beetle, pictured below. 

After doing some highly reliable research on Google Images, I decided that these stinkers must be blister beetles.  They matched the picture and description, at least.  After a little more research, I found a natural DIY recipe for bug spray for plants that is supposed to work on beetles over at Earth Easy. The recipe is: 

1 quart water
A couple drops of Ivory soap 
2 Tbsp baking soda
1 Tbsp cooking oil 

I combined these ingredients into an empty, rinsed out spray bottle that I had been keeping around just in case an issue like this arose. I shook well, then went out to my garden and sprayed the bejeepers out of those blister beetles.  

The good news is that the beetles (and all the other bugs in the vicinity) went running in the opposite direction. I almost felt bad, until I remembered that they were killing the fruits of my labor. I suppose it will take a few days before I'll be able to tell if this natural pesticide did the job.  Stayed tuned for updates on the Battle of the Bugs.  

Until then, happy gardening, friends! 

Do you have a specific pest in your garden that is worse than the others? How do you deal with it? Please share any natural remedies you have - I've heard that planting specific plants next to one another works in some situations, as do all sorts of natural repellants.  What has worked for you? What hasn't?

I am not a plant whisperer.  Things die on me all the time.  In fact, I've already planted, replanted, and then planted some of the vegetables in my garden for the third time.  I'm overzealous, I'll admit. I planted seedlings inside in early May, and by the time I could put them outside without fear of them freezing to seedling pops they had already grown much too large for their containers.  And then, they were scorched by the sun and shriveled up and died. 

The thing is, I just love getting dirt under my fingernails and have trouble waiting all winter to do so.  I love being outside with a purpose, knowing that all my hard work will pay off in the form of fresh herbs and veggies in a couple of months.  I love waking up every morning and checking for new growth in my little plot of land. 

I haven't always considered myself a gardener.  My mother always had a large vegetable garden when my sister and I were growing up, but mostly I was just interested in eating the raw peas.  Plus I was obligated to weed, which I roughly equated to being forced to grovel in the dirt while creepy creatures crawled and squirmed all around me. But something happened when we moved into our own place, with our own plot of land.  Maybe it had to do with the fact that I got interested in cooking, or because I was spending a lot more time grocery shopping. Or maybe it's a bug you get, something you just wanna do when you grow up and move into your own apartment. Whatever it was, I caught it.  And I've been trying to figure out how to keep my stuff alive ever since.

I do some experimenting out there, trying to figure out problems like wilty cauliflower and bug-invested cukes and a persistent little gopher with a taste for green beans.  I'd be happy for you to come along for the ride.  I can't promise perfect advice, or perfect greens either.  But enthusiasm for garden to table cooking? I've got it. And I will share what I discover along the way.

My plot of land is jam-packed with goodness this year.  It's got cantaloupe, cucumbers, butternut, buttercup, acorn, summer, and spaghetti squash, peas, tomatoes, pumpkins, tomatillo, basil, parsley, zucchini,  carrots, swiss chard, baby lettuce, spinach, arugula, kale, broccoli, green onions, chives, and cauliflower, plus a few zinnias sprinkled in for color. What have you planted? 

Please share your own tips and experiences, whether good, bad, or hilarious. Gardening is like cooking -  even better when shared. 



    Deidre is a small-town Maine girl with a hearty appetite. Read more on the About Me page.


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