Monday, June 24, 2024

International Fairy Day and Garden Magic!

Photo by Pixabay
“A fairy’s heart beats fierce and free.”       — Oona the Fairy, from the movie “Legend” 

“Sometimes fairy stories may say best what’s to be said.” — C.S. Lewis

Irish Fairies

International Fairy Day inspires me to ponder a bit about nature, mystery and of course, fairies. In Ireland, June 24 coincides with the Feast Day of St. John, traditionally celebrated widely all over Ireland. 

Fairies in Ireland have long captured my imagination. Evidence abounds of this powerful fairy race, with fairy forts all over the Emerald Isle.

I saw a fairy fort (also known as a “rath”) in County Mayo, on our visit to Ireland a few years back. It was a simple circle of stones in the middle of a sheep pasture…but as the farmer showed it to us, he still gave the fort a wide berth.

Keep in mind, you disturb a fairy fort at your peril! There are many stories of Irish people struck by illnesses or other troubles who messed with fairies.

You might think this belief was back in the day—but as recently at 2011, the financial ruin of a land developer who bulldozed a fairy fort was attributed to fairy revenge.

Two of my fave fairy books

Irish fairies are reputed to be rich, beautiful, and that they do what they want. In fact, people live in fear of them. 

I’ve long wondered if the fairy mythology grew not only from the ancient Druids, but also from all the Norse and English invasions over centuries. 

My theory is that the belief in fairies may have helped the Irish people particularly the poor, powerless folks, to feel like they actually did have a little power. 

In other words, maybe fairy karma would get the landlord class in the end!

Oona the “Legend” fairy isn’t an Irish fairy…but her name is (the Irish spelling is “Una”), and with her fierce heart, she could be!

Are Fairies Really Imaginary?

The fairy stories C.S. Lewis refers to may not only be his Narnia series… Perhaps he’s paying a tribute to all the story spinners (creators) and story “spinees” (readers), and the gift of the writers’ and readers’ imaginations!

I think [a child's imagination] comes from fairies,” said author Tom Robbins. “…Certain children are visited by a fairy in their cradle, and are tapped on their forehead with a small but luminous wand. After that, even all the forces in our culture, and there are many, are unable to totally subdue it.”

Here’s my favorite Fairy Day post from way back…

Personally, this time of year, I think a luminous sort of magic abounds in the garden. Here in the Foothills, there’s a softness to the air, before the weeks of dry weather set in. Sage, coral bells, and wild foxglove are in bloom. As the wild bees go about their business, the air is filled with a low, sweet little hum. 

Bee in the sage: the wee yellow blob at the middle-right

Asparagus, as it develops into a tall fern, is full of tiny yellow flowers, which the bees adore! My asparagus patch this time of year, I have to wade through the five-foot ferns, bees buzzing all around my head. 

But what’s lovely and miraculous about bees is if you don’t bother them, they seem perfectly content to simply keep you company while they do their magic. In my mind, they’re the good fairies of the garden!

And part of all nature’s wonders… May you be touched with that “luminous wand” on this day of celebrating fairies, and may you let your imagination run fierce and free! 




Friday, June 21, 2024

Food Gardening To-Dos for the 1st day of Summer

Loads of baby apples…but most will have to go!
When you’re raising food, May can feel like a busy time: weeding, sowing, weed-whacking…But June, whew! Your food garden is at warp speed!

Here in the Foothills, there was snow last week in our neighborhood, covering the highest peak we see from our front yard. 

At our place, it was 48 degrees in the daytime and pouring rain. Night temps were even colder.

Naturally, the weeds were thriving. So more weeding chores, but it was too rainy to get out and get to work.

Now, in these “Junuary” spells (as cold June weather is called around here), cool weather crops will generally do okay. But when it comes to warm weather crops…well, any seed I set in the ground would have simply disappeared. 

Then finally, this week the weather got the memo that it’s summer! In this brief window of 80 degree daytime highs, I’ve been pulling off winter mulch and prepping beds. I’m just winding up planting less hardy crops while the soil is warm: tomato starts, as well as cucumbers, zucchini, and winter squash seeds. 

Once the seeds germinate, they will be okay with a bit more cool weather.

Apple tree maintenance:

Meanwhile, everything else needs your attention! For instance, do you have apple trees?

If so, it’s an optimal time to check on your fruits. This spring, we had fruit set on steroids, where every fruit cluster has four or five fruits, so no time to waste!

To give each fruit the chance to develop into a full-size, healthy apples, it’s a good idea to check your fruiting clusters. When your fruits are about the diameter of a quarter, time to thin! 

Generally, you want to identify the most robust fruit in the cluster, then remove the others. Then, once you’ve thinned your clusters, check the distance between each fruit. Ideally, there should be about 5 inches between fruits. 

If you haven’t been hanging out in your orchard for a while, you may want to check for caterpillar nests too. 

Here in the Pacific Northwest, tent caterpillars are the scourge of home apple growers. My husband John found one nest in two of our apples trees a couple of weeks ago. It was lucky timing: the caterpillars were getting ready to migrate from the nests to devour the leaves.

Happily, he only found the two—but a neighbor had a bad infestation in the wild apples trees on his property line. John and I went out in the pouring rain and cut out the nests—there must have been at least 30 of them—and had an extra benefit! We ended up meeting the neighbor for the first time! 

And if you’re interested in learning all about tent caterpillars… Well, I’ve been through the wringer with those monsters, and I actually wrote a short ebook about them! And it’s free at my website! Just scroll down to “More Free Short Reads.”

In other fruit news…Blueberries:

June is a great time to check for “mummies.” At this point, the healthy blueberries are still green. But any purple ones need to be removed: they’re afflicted with a fungus, called “mummyberry.” Which basically destroys the berry. 

I’ve found that picking off these purple guys, keeps the fungus from spreading throughout the shrub. 

Garlic:

Pointy tips are where the seeds are developing!
If you’re growing hardneck garlic (it has a woody stem in the middle of the bulb), I recommend checking for seed stalks. 

The stalks are called “scapes”—the garlic plant will send up a sturdy shoot from the middle of the leaves, with swelling tip: the bud is a future flower, which will produce seeds. 

These scapes will take the plant’s energy away from the bulb, resulting in smaller bulbs. So time to cut off the stalk! 

Some folks like to use the scapes in cooking, but they seem a little tough to me. 

There’s more about growing garlic and maintaining your orchard in my freebie gardening guide, Little Farm in the Garden…

It’s free on all ebook stores like Amazon, Kobo or Apple and other online retailers!

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Father’s Day Freebies!

If you’re celebrating Father’s Day, I have a couple of free “dad” stories you might enjoy! One is true, one is made up, but both stories are a wee bit mystical in their own way.  

First, the real-life story. 

I’ve always loved the night sky…and my dad, an inveterate star-gazer, was the one who introduced me to its wonders. Whether it was a rare comet, the aurora borealis, or his favorite celestial event, a meteor shower, he wanted to share them with his kids.

You can find the rest of my dad story at Little Farm Writer!

If you like life-affirming short fiction, “The Secret Well” features a man’s tender relationship with his grown son, and his extraordinary experience in a verdant little glen deep in the woods. 


“Such a great story, beautiful and touching, creating a feeling of a mystical country abound with fairies.” —Becky Burns, reader. 

Read the ebook for free here

I’ll be back next week with more food gardening tips! Thanks so much for reading—

Susan



Monday, June 3, 2024

Why You Pick Asparagus Every Day, Chickens, + a Bear Update

Missed a few days of harvesting, and look what happens!
Asparagus is one of the most resilient permanent food crops you can grow. Harvest time begins in mid-spring, and asparagus produces reliably whatever the weather. 

But beware: don’t leave your garden when it’s ready! 

Recently, we were away for three days for a family commitment…and returned to our asparagus patch going bananas! 

Generally, you want to pick a spear when it’s the most tender and flavorful: about 6 or 7 inches high. 

You can even go maybe 10 inches…but any spear taller will lose flavor and texture. And as you see, going 3 days without picking, most of the spears in my patch were too mature to harvest. 

It’s not wasted food, however; the tall, unharvested spears will develop into a fern structure, which feeds the asparagus crowns below the surface of the soil—creating a robust crop for the next season. 

Asparagus is super easy to grow, you simply keep your patch weeded, mulch it over the winter, and watch for slug predation. Your spring reward is to enjoy 6 or so weeks of fresh asparagus! 

This past month has been unusually chilly and rainy—yesterday, about 50 degrees and at least a 1/2 inch of rain. And while the spears’ growth slows down, it’s still robust!

Yesterday’s harvest in a 50 degree downpour!

Asparagus does have one pest…Last May, I had a severe asparagus beetle infestation. While the bugs are only about a half-inch in length, they can do a lot of damage. Early in the season, I had a whole bunch of inedible spears. 

The simplest way to deal with asparagus beetles is to hand-pick the beetles (it’s not too bad, not like dealing with slugs!) and dispose of them in a container of vinegar. 

A few weeks ago, I found 5 beetles in my patch. Into the vinegar they went, and all I could think of was, oh, no, not another infestation!  

Credit: University of Minnesota Extension

But all my beetle management last year had paid off. All I found were those 5. And there you have another reason to pick your asparagus every single day…so you can check for beetles.

As I write this, we’ve had 3 days of solid rain and counting. Which means the Foothills’ weeds have gone as bananas as the asparagus. And now my patch is full of horsetail again. So as soon as the clouds break up, that’s where you’ll find me, yanking on that pesky horsetail…

In Other News:

Little Farm in the Henhouse, my new book, is now available in ebook and print

It’s full of practical tips and strategies for healthy, productive and content laying hens. Since the book’s release May 1, it hit Amazon’s Top 100 for several days in its ebook category, #66!

If you love chickens, and like “free,” you can request Little Farm in the Henhouse at your local library!

If you’re in the mood for a shorter read about laying hens, I’ve created a little bonus ebook featuring Miss Broody, my favorite hen—it’s in my Little Farm Writer Chicken Issue…where everything is free and open to the public to read. 

The May issue has an update about “our” neighborhood bear, though I don’t want to claim this destructive critter as “ours” in any way!

But back to chickens…you’ll find more about “Henhouse” at susancolleenbrowne.com !

Thursday, May 9, 2024

Irish Novels On Sale—25% Off All 7!

1st Ballydara novel, free everywhere!
Do you like warmhearted Irish love stories? And ebooks? Then come with me to the cozy little Village of Ballydara!

My Ballydara novels are all about love and friendship and family—but some, like It Only Takes Once, are more of a romantic comedy. 

And though all my Irish novels are available separately in ebook format, I’ve also packaged them up in ebook box sets …to give readers like you a special price!

My first four Village of Ballydara Irish novels make up Box Set 1…you see I loved this red-haired girl so much she got to be on this book cover too! 

The set also includes The Galway Girls, which features two love stories, plus a little start up farm, a gardening plotline, and chickens!

Irish Box Set 1


Ballydara Box Set 2
The Galway Girls
’ follow-up is a trilogy of novels featuring Dublin girl Emma, her beloved little sister Hazel, and the love of her life Declan—Box Set 2 of Ballydara novels. 

The set also includes two novelette-length short stories about Declan’s family, set in the misty green hills of County Galway. 

I’m delighted to announce Kobo Books has selected both sets for their current promo, 25% Off Box Sets Sale… code MAYBOX!

Now, a lot of you may focus on Amazon or Apple to look for great reads, and they are wonderful ebook retailers. 

Kobo Books might be unfamiliar, but it’s a terrific platform too. It’s based in Toronto, Canada, and they have a wonderfully supportive team that publishes ebooks, with frequent sales and promotions!

Kobo Books is such a terrific place to buy books, I like to return the favor by making my Emma trilogy, Box Set 2, exclusive to Kobo. Although you can find the book at all ebook retailers, if you’d like to see it on Kobo, just scroll down to “Even more boxsets and bundles”!

Of course, most people might like to read just one book in the series before taking on a box set. Here’s a way to check out the series risk-free…

My first novel, It Only Takes Once, pictured above, is free at all ebook retailers—Amazon, B&N, Apple, Kobo and every other online bookstore you can think of! 

There’s more about It Only Takes Once on my website’s Village of Ballydara page.

You’ll find all about the rest of my Village of Ballydara books and more “Free to Read” homesteady reads and fiction at my website too…

The Kobo 25% Off Box Set Sale won’t last forever—it’s good through Sunday, May 12. So I hope you’ll take a look…

And keep in mind that all my books, whether my Irish novels or my Little Farm books, are available at your local public library—just put in a request! 


Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Little Farm in the Henhouse is Now Available!

Miss Broody—find her own little story below!
If you’ve dreamed about having a lively flock of chickens in your backyard, or you’re looking for tips to manage your laying hens, I hope you’ll check out my new book, Little Farm in the Henhouse: A True-Life Tale of Hen-Keeping Homestead-Style!

In this 4th book of my Little Farm in the Foothills series, you’ll meet our three flocks of hens—and discover all the joys and challenges my husband John and I experienced raising hens on our Foothills homestead. 

The book is in both ebook and paperback!
In “Henhouse,” I also share tips like:

*What to do when your hens stop laying eggs

*Dealing with challenging flock dynamics

*Managing broody hens…and more! 

It’s available in ebook and paperback—and you can request it at your local public library too! Here’s a sample of the book …

Little Farm in the Henhouse is now available at AmazonKobo and all your favorite ebook retailers

Miss Broody gets her own story

I promised you an update last week…

Being pretty busy, chicken people (and we know who we are) may not have time to read an entire book! So just for you, I’ve created a fun little bonus ebook, Little Hen in the Foothills: The True Story of Miss Broody, the Brave Little Blond Hen. It’s in The Chicken Issue, my March Little Farm Writer newsletter. Just scroll down to the PDF! 

If you like buying direct from authors, you can get a special price on the ebook, $3.50, from my website homepage…just click the brand-new online store link to buy from my little store. Within moments, you’ll receive the ebook in your email!

You’ll find lots more about our homestead in my monthly newsletter, which is free and open to all, so I hope you’ll take a look… Wishing you a happy month of gardening and/or chicken-keeping!

Thursday, April 25, 2024

New Little Farm Chicken Book!

Penny the Alpha Hen
Have you dreamed of a few chickens scratching contentedly in your backyard? Or you’re looking for practical tips for raising your flock of laying hens?

Then you might enjoy Little Farm in the Henhouse: A True-Life Tale of Hen-Keeping Homestead-Style, my brand-new Little Farm book!

New chicken book!

In this 4th book of my Little Farm in the Foothills series, you’ll meet our three flocks of hens—and discover all the joys and challenges my husband John and I experienced raising hens on our Foothills homestead. 

In “Henhouse,” I also share tips like:

*What to do when your hens stop laying eggs

*Dealing with challenging flock dynamics

*Managing broody hens…and more! 

You can read a sample of the book here…

Little Farm in the Henhouse is out May 1–but is now on Preorder at Amazon, Kobo and all your favorite ebook retailers. You can preorder the print book too!

And from now through Tuesday, April 30, you can get a special price on the ebook, $3.50, from my website homepage…just click the brand-new online store link to buy direct from my little store. Within moments, you’ll receive the ebook in your email!

I’ll be back May 1, book release day, for more Little Farm in the Henhouse updates!