Welcome to “The Earthy Alchemist,” where we dive headfirst into the captivating world of gardening and the wonders of the natural realm.
As the dandelions bloom and nature signals the perfect time to plant potatoes, I can’t help but feel like an excited child at the window. Although Mark and I have retired from our gardening business, Homegrown Harvest, our passion for gardening knows no bounds. With a focus on savoring the flavors of homegrown delights, we craft our garden with our stomachs in mind. And let me tell you, there’s nothing quite like homemade potato soup or salsa made from our bountiful harvests! We can the salsa and freeze portions of the potato soup, ensuring we can enjoy tastes of homegrown goodness even on those tired winter days when starting from scratch seems daunting.
Fabric bags, like the ones we use for growing potatoes, offer remarkable versatility, especially when space is limited or unconventional. You can transform patios, balconies, and driveways with fabric bags into thriving gardens. As long as you have access to adequate light and quality soil, you can grow a wide variety of plants in these bags, from vegetables to herbs and even vibrant flowers. The best part is that the yield can be just as impressive, if not better, than traditional in-ground gardening. We’ve experienced bumper harvests of potatoes, tomatoes, and other crops that rival those grown in traditional beds. And let’s not forget about the convenience factor—harvesting from fabric bags is an absolute breeze. When it’s time to collect your bounty, you only need to dump out the bags and sift through the soil, revealing a treasure trove of homegrown goodness. So whether you’re short on garden space or prefer a more manageable gardening experience, fabric bags are a versatile solution that will deliver impressive results and make your harvests a joy to gather.
Now, if you’re eager to grow your own potatoes, starting with quality seed potatoes is essential. Old grocery store potatoes aren’t recommended since commercially grown varieties prioritize shelf life over flavor. Aren’t we all tired of the same lackluster selection at the local store? I highly recommend exploring reputable sources like the Maine Potato Lady and John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds. The variety of colors, tastes, and textures they offer will mesmerize you. We fell head over heels for the German Butterball, its creamy and buttery texture creating the most heavenly soups.
Once you find a potato variety that tickles your taste buds, I encourage you to save your seed potatoes from the harvest. It’s a satisfying and sustainable practice that ensures a repeat performance of your favorite spuds. As for our preferred method, growing potatoes in grow bags has proven to be an absolute game-changer. Not only does it save planting space, but it also simplifies the harvest process. Just tip over the bags; it becomes an exhilarating potato treasure hunt! The flexibility of the bags allows us to reuse the soil, filling eroded areas and replenishing nutrients through composting.
But that’s not all—grow bags offer even more garden freedom. Once emptied, they can be folded and stored for future use. And guess what? You can enhance the flavor of your tubers by adding companion plants to the tops, such as basil, parsley, or thyme. The beans contribute nitrogen to the soil, while flowers like petunias and marigolds add beauty and beneficial companionship. Lettuce and radishes make excellent companions, too, offering a quick-growing and delicious secondary crop.
Now, let’s discuss one of our favorite recipes—potato soup! Thanks to The Pioneer Woman, we discovered a perfect potato soup that never fails to delight. When you have homegrown potatoes selected explicitly for their creamy texture, you can dial back on the added dairy while still enjoying a luscious soup.
Life is all about embracing new experiences, including stepping into the gardening world. Don’t let fear of the unknown or fear of failure hold you back. Whether trying out fabric bags for growing food or experimenting with new vegetable varieties, taking that first step can be the hardest. But trust me, the fruits of your labor will be incredibly satisfying.
Remember, every seed holds the potential for a bountiful harvest. Embrace the transformative power of gardening and nurture your connection with the natural world.
This month I listened to six books and continued to make snail-like progress in the physical books I chose to read. Thirty-three books at the half-year mark isn’t a bad situation, considering I am 57% towards finishing my yearly goal of 58 books. I find that I continue to either choose home runs only to follow it up with a strike or a foul ball. Ok, maybe they are base hits and just feel like strikes after hitting homers.
I began the month coming off of a strike last month with My Year of Rest and Relaxation and choose Brood to begin the month with. I figured I could relate to another chicken tender.
I really enjoyed listening to Brood by Jackie Polzin and narrated by Rebecca Lowman. Brood is more than a story about a woman’s experience with her four chickens. At the core, this is a book about loss and grief. So from that perspective, the book has a depth that some may not be able to fully relate to.
Despite the sadness that the reader can hear in the author’s voice, there is humor in the story. Where there are chickens, there is usually something to laugh and smile about. I have four chickens of my own just like the author, so I can relate to her experiences with them. I learned a few new things too which as a chicken owner is always helpful. Much like parenthood, I had no idea what to expect from raising chickens, so also like parenthood, it’s helpful to see how others do things.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who has chickens, loves animals, or is interested in a quick good read.
I decided that I would like to read/listen my way through the entire Agatha Christie collection. As a young girl who struggled reading, I found I was always interested in reading an Agatha Christie mystery. I have read And Then There Were None many times. So to begin my journey through the Christie Collection I thought I would start at the beginning.
I aim to read/listen to all of Agatha Christie’s books, starting with this early work (1925), The Secret of Chimneys. This story is filled with a large cast of characters, some of who pop up in later works of Christie’s. Superintendent Battle is introduced, although he plays a more supporting role.
A lot is going on in this book, so I found myself confused for a good portion of the story and not in the good murder-mystery way. Upon doing some reading afterward, I discovered Agatha Christie admitted that when it came to ‘Chimneys,’ she made the mistake that many young authors do by trying to put “far too much plot into one book.” This explains my confusion. Overall, this wasn’t a favorite of mine and it was just okay.
I was disappointed that one of my favorite go-to authors let me down. But to keep it in perspective, it was her first novel and there was plenty of room for improvement which we know she achieves throughout her career. We can’t always hit home runs, particularly early in our career.
I choose The Henna Artist next, as it had been on my TBR list for some time and in following along with exploring authors from other countries and cultures, I picked this novel next.
The Henna Artist submerses the reader/listener into a colorful world of saffrons and cinnamons, her words making you smell the curry and cumin wafting in the air as you learn about Lakshmi and her world. Alka Joshi’s debut novel paints a vivid picture of 1950s India and the challenge for women, particularly in a world controlled by men.
The story focuses on the life of Lakshmi, a woman who has fled an abusive husband and reinvents herself to gain her independence. Life becomes more challenging for Lakshmi as her past catches up to her and threatens to unravel all she has worked so hard for.
Trigger warning: two themes that may disturb readers/listeners are abortion and infidelity
I like this book and highly recommend it to readers and listeners. Sneha Mathan does a magnificent job narrating the book and giving life to various characters.
I felt it was time to switch things up and I discovered that Audible has a fantastic series out called Words + Music. I actually listened to one of the first in the series with the James Taylor: Break Shot two years ago. Each one is about 90 minutes long and narrated by the musician. The Who is touring this summer and I have never seen them. I don’t plan to, my concert days are behind me. But I do enjoying sitting down and listening to the artist tell their stories about the music and their lives.
I enjoyed listening to Pete Townshend’s Somebody Saved Me; it felt like you were sitting in a room with Pete as some instruments surrounded him while he talked about his career. I have always liked The Who’s music so learning a bit about the man behind the music and some of the songs that I grew up with is always a treat. Fans of The Who will appreciate spending a couple of hours with Pete. Well done, Audible Originals – I hope there will be more memoirs like this produced where the musician can play their music as they are talking about it. I realize ASCAP/BMI prohibits that a lot, but it adds to the overall experience of listening to the tunes, like in this wonderful Audible Original with Pete Townshend.
I decided from there to revisit a genre that I hadn’t in a while – the world of fantasy. I am a fan of fantasy books and so going back to my trusty TBR list, I checked out the Fantasy collection and selected Piranesi which had been on my list since 2020.
Suzanna Clarke’s Piranesi is a story centered around the title character, a likable man in harmony with nature and his surroundings. I was struck by the feeling of having gone through the wardrobe ala C.S. Lewis and ending up in a world like the Eagle’s Hotel California. “Such a lovely place…There’s plenty of room at the Hotel California…You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!” In the fantastical world in which Piranesi inhabits, the House is an ever-expanding one, filled with endless halls and marble statues, the ocean floods its basement, and the clouds engulf its top floors. The narration is mainly through Piranesi’s journals which he meticulously keeps, so we discover and untangle the mystery along with him. He is an engaging character whom I came to care about as I saw his patience and fortitude. I also keep journals, so I was amused at his indexing system and thought it somewhat clever. The few characters in the book add to the isolation of Piranesi’s world. The story is not just one of fantasy though but also one of dark mystery challenging the reader/listener. Clarke borrows the name from the 18th-century artist, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, known for his etchings Carceri d’Invenzione, (Imaginary Prisons). It’s not essential to know this upon reading the story; however, it helps in being able to interpret the larger picture. There are multiple layers to this book, rich in imagery and symbolism; you’d probably see something you missed the first time in each reading. I listened to the unabridged version from Bloomsbury Publishing on Audible which was wonderfully narrated by Chiwetel Ejiofor. It’s a quick listen at 6 hours and 58 minutes. 4.5 stars
So far it had been a good month of listening. My dog needed surgery so I was stuck at the house for a couple of weeks since we were literally tethered to one another via a 6-foot leash the entire time. I made some headway reading Smile by Sarah Ruhl. I haven’t even touched There, There by Tommy Orange all month, as I was trying to finish Smile before moving on to another physical book. This month for my Literati club, I switched to the Atlas Obscura club and have added to the TBR List The Puzzler by A.J. Jacobs. I love puzzles and games, so I could not miss the opportunity to read this book. Which I will – hopefully soon.
To close the month I went to another book which had been on my TBR list for about a year – Hamnet.
Hamnet is a story of a multigenerational family and their domestic life in late 16th century England, around the time of the Plague. Grief is a central theme explored. The story revolves around how the individual family members deal with their grief and how that grief affects their relationships within the family.
The narrator, Ell Potter, does a beautiful job with the lyrical prose of Maggie O’Farrell. I was somewhat disappointed in this book. I was expecting more after reading some of the initial reviews, which caused me to put it on my TBR list. I found myself initially very confused; knowing I was reading a fictional account of the marriage of William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway; it was hard to recognize them. Anne is only referred to as Agnes, and William is barely mentioned by name. The title character, Hamnet and Hamlet, were interchangeable at that time. This, coupled with the multiple viewpoints which make up the narration, made things even more unclear.
However, somewhere three-quarters of the way in, maybe sooner, I became more invested in the characters and what they were experiencing. Hamnet is a story of a marriage and a family who endure life in a time when survival was at its most challenging; sacrificing themselves for others, surviving separation when it is necessary, and finding love can bring about the greatest heartbreak of all. This isn’t my favorite piece of historical fiction, but it was a good story in the end. 2.5 Stars
Oh, well – we can’t always pick winners. So where now will I turn my attention? I have a lot of things going on here. I am working on having my book published which is very exciting and a huge undertaking. I have my garden to finish planting and seeding for this season. There will also be plenty of weeding to do since it’s been raining here for the last few days and things are getting lush. I’ll need a good book to listen to as I weed, it makes that chore so much more enjoyable! I wish I had a wheel I could spin that contained all the names of the books on my TBR list that at a push of a button would spin and reveal the title of my next book to read or listen to. Sometimes I find selecting a book to be the biggest challenge of all.
Let me know what you are reading or listening to this summer. I am always looking for new titles to add to my ever-growing TBR list. Until next month, happy reading and listening, everyone!
We’ve had quite a productive week in the hen house, despite the rocky start. Up until this week we had been having 3 eggs per day for the last week or so. Then we had a four egger, but one was dropped from the roost and cracked on the poop board. The other was jelly. This was a surprise to discover but I had read about eggs that have no shell and feel somewhat like Jello.
I knew that Lucy was the last to start laying eggs because I had put a trail camera in the hen house n the nests so that I confirm what I suspected. What I saw was Gertrude, Ethel and Khaleesi all laying their eggs in the nest between the hours of 7am and 11am. Lucy on the other hand, kept walking around, looking in the nests, getting in the nests, getting on top of the nests, getting off the nests, walking around and then finally settling on the roost and dropping another one from there.
I reached out to others on a Beginner’s Backyard Chickens group on Facebook to see if anyone else had a chicken dropping eggs from the roost, but never for any answers, just a few thumbs up for the photos I guess. Luckily our little Lucy figured things out and for the last three days we have been getting four eggs in the nests everyday.
As a reward for having a four-egg day and since it arrived in the mail from Amazon, I skewered a head of iceberg lettuce and hung it up in the chicken coop for the girls. They LOVED it! I watched the four of them peck at the hanging lettuce. At first when they pecked at it, it swang and swayed causing a couple of them having to duck.
When I returned, there was nothing left was the core. I was astonished that they were able to eat as much as they did cleaning the core like I have never seen. There wasn’t a scrap around to be found.
Gertrude’s eggs have gotten quite large in the last few days. JUMBO size, for sure. There is a big difference between the eggs from the hens that have been laying for a while versus Lucy’s eggs which are much smaller. I thank the girls for the beautiful eggs every day. I am so happy that we have the chickens. We have been enjoying the eggs all sorts of ways – fried, scrambled and I’ll have poached soon, that is once I learn how to do a decent Hollandaise sauce.
It will be three weeks this Sunday since getting our four Rhode Island Red pullets. It’s been an eggciting week here as we have had a total of 9 eggs laid since Monday. We thought we had narrowed it down to two of the girls, but that third egg yesterday made us think three hens were laying. But today we only got two eggs – so maybe they are all laying and take a day off every so often. They just started laying their eggs for the first time, so they are still figuring things out I’m guessing, as am I.
I’ve had so much fun watching them in the outdoor run hop around on the old wood ladder we never got around to putting in the wood furnace this winter. So glad it was too big to throw in and too lazy to fetch the sawz-all to slice it up, The chickens love it! After seeing that some enjoy sitting up on a swing, I made one out of some parachute cord and a thin piece of wood, also not burned this season.
Decorating the outdoor run with old logs and rocks has been so fun and I love watching them climb and hop around on all the obstacles I provided for them. As a new chicken mama, I couldn’t help but buy them a couple of toys as well. I read that they enjoy pecking at a xylophone, so about two weeks ago I bought a colorful, cheap xylophone and threw it in the outdoor run. They only seemed to peck at it when I tossed some grass on top of it and as they pecked at the grass it chimed a little. Not a lot. Occasionally one of them would walk on it and cause it to click, clack for a second.
A couple of days ago, I was in the outdoor run tidying things up when I noticed that the xylophone was gone. I had been raking their dust bath area and adding in more wood ash from our outdoor wood furnace and herbs from our garden, so I was pretty certain they hadn’t buried it somehow. But how could that happen? I had Mark take a look too just in case I missed it somehow. He didn’t find it either and is a little concerned about potential poltergeists with weird musical tastes now.
There is no way that an animal like a chipmunk or anything else could have dragged it out. We both just checked for breaches in our runs security – no breaches. This seems like a case for Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys and the Bobbsie Twins perhaps!
This morning when I went out to the see the girls, I discovered the first of what I hope to be the first of many eggs. I was so excited, like a little girl who just got her Barbie Dream House excited. What an unbelievable feeling! I realize I didn’t actually lay the egg but wow! This is very cool for a first time chicken mama who was born and raised in NYC, let me tell you.
So excited, I went out about an hour later to reward the girls with some dandelion leaves when I noticed Gertrude was in the nesting box. So I gave her some privacy and returned 15 minutes or so later to discover she had laid an egg. So we collected our first two eggs ever today. Who the other layer is eggactly I’m not sure since there are three other candidates.
About a week ago I walked through a new door to a new chapter in my life – raising chickens. So far five days in all seems to be doing well. I had four Rhode Island Red pullets which are 18 weeks old. I am told they could be laying eggs sometime in the next couple of weeks.
The first few days in their new hen house, they have spent getting to know the place. The weather has been cold for May as we have had snow and two freeze warnings in the last week and it’s been windy, blowing the dogs off the chain for days making the temperatures feel like it was mid-February. Every morning around 5am I head out to the hen house to check on the ladies and open their door to the outside run which is enclosed with chicken wire and hardware cloth.
On Tuesday, I was sitting on the blue painter’s bucket I had flipped over to use as my perch so that I could spend some time getting to know my chickens. I sat in the corner watching and photographing them as they pecked around at the food and jumped on the roost. Then there was a moment when they were all down by the food near the door to their run when two of them poked their heads out and walked down the plank to the grass. The third one quickly followed suit and then the fourth. The fourth one who is the only one to have a nickname so far of Khaleesi/White Pants. She gained the nickname Khaleesi after having been pushed on the swing and held on for dear life as my friend’s seven year old rocked the swing wildly back and forth. They had been the ones to get the pullets and were dropping off the four we wanted and they were keeping another 8.
I’ve never been around chickens but I figure like any animal they need some time to acclimate to their new environment. On the other side of the door to the hen house are our dogs. They stare through the glass door to the hen house which depending on the time of day and lighting, reflects back their own images. They can smell them though and unbelievably one curious girl came out to check the dogs out.
The morning that they all four walked out the door of the hen house and into their backyard enclosed run, I was so happy. New doors were opening up for all of us and we just have to trust our instincts about when it is the right time for to walk through those doors.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there! Today I became a chicken mama of four Rhode Island Reds. I’m so excited and a little nervous too as I’ve never raised chickens before. So this is completely uncharted waters for me. But I’m psyched to learn.
So we are getting chickens today! We have been thinking about raising chickens for a little while now. Our house came with a chicken coop/goat shed which we have been using as a garden shed these last four years.
About three weeks ago a good friend of ours, Dennis told us he was getting 12 chickens and wanted to know if we’d want four of them. “Absolutely!“ came out of my mouth quicker than my brain registered what I was saying. “Great, I have to go pick them up sometime mid-May.” Two days ago we ALL found out mid-May actually meant Mother’s Day weekend, including Dennis who is still has to build his entire coop for the 8 chickens he’s holding on to!
When Mark told me the chickens were coming this weekend, my mind instantly flashed to the I Love Lucy episode when Lucy and Ricky had moved out to Connecticut and became chicken farmers. I remember Lucy and Ethel running around with all those hundreds of baby chicks. Luckily, I’m only starting off with four chickens.
Luckily, three days ago we started to clean our garden shed out. I needed to get the Tower Gardens (aeroponic systems) set up anyway and the shed needed to be completely emptied out. Mark is ‘spatial man’ so the goat shed is now the garden shed and the Tower Gardens will have to find a new home for winter. Right this second, they are being snowed on as we are having an unseasonal snowstorm that has dumped about three inches so far.
Thankfully yesterday was a beautiful day to work outside. The temperatures were cool at first but once you got working, vests and jackets were shed. I was so impressed with my daughter, Samantha yesterday. She’s such a good worker and since she’s been recovering from a concussion she sustained three months ago now, it was even better that she had no symptoms reappear. Fingers crossed, since it’s been a rollercoaster.
Sam helped Mark with constructing the outdoor chicken run. We have dogs so I wanted to make sure that the chickens have their own area to hangout during the day where they will be safe from our dogs and other predators like hawks. The chicken coop was already positioned inside our already chain link fenced area which should help keep them safer as well. Eventually, I’ll gate off the side yard so they can free-range a little more but be safe from the dogs.
Since Dennis first mentioned the chickens, I have been all over Pinterest, joined every chicken raising group on Facebook and Instagram so that I can educate myself on what exactly is needed to raise chickens. A poop board was something I quickly saw was highly recommended to have. Chickens shit a lot and that poop is awesome to add to our garden compost. I knew I would have to deal with this, so I built a poop board for the roost. I’m learning all sorts of new vocabulary in this endeavor. Roost, poop board, layers… Thankfully I found a guide to help me get up to speed.
Everything we used to build the coop with the exception of the two post holders and the chicken wire was lumber we had here at Marleywood. That’s what we named our little piece of paradise here on the mountain four years ago when we move up here. It’s also the name of our company that we named after our dog, Marley.
I’m excited and nervous at the same time about getting the chickens. We’ll be receiving four Rhode Island Reds which from my limited reading I understand to be a good breed of layers and should expect 150-250 eggs per year each hen! Plus we aren’t getting chicks, Dennis said they’d be laying eggs in a couple of weeks, so they’re not babies. But from what I understand their not hens yet, since hens officially are over a year old. So I’m not really sure what their called – pullets I think, since that’s the term for a chicken under 1 years old.
I know I have a lot to learn and I’m excited about it! Who thought at the age of 55 years old I’d be entering this new world?! I know my 3 siblings are all probably shaking their heads. Our Nana grew up on a chicken farm in Georgia; her spirit is probably laughing right now. I just hope my ancestors passed a little of their chicken farming blood down to me. And if anybody reading this has any advice, I’m open to hearing about your experiences and what you’ve learned about the do’s and don’ts of raising chickens. I’m going to need all the help I can get.