Saturday, December 26, 2020

New Flock at the Little Farm--3rd Time is the Charm!

Hens in the yard, near the big stump
We welcomed a new flock of hens to Berryridge Farm this fall, courtesy of our wonderful neighbors! Alan and Gretchen are terrific at raising chicks, and after John and I lost two separate flocks to predators, our first to a cougar, and the second to coyotes, they offered to sell us a few of their pullets. So this past September, we picked up 5 young Buff Orpingtons and brought them to their new home.

You may wonder, why don't we raise our own chicks? Well, our place isn't the safest, when it comes to vulnerable animals. It's kind of a long story...First of all, out of our 10 acres, well over 8 acres are thick woods. Also, John and I built our homestead in a piecemeal way, and by the time we decided to get hens, 4 years after moving here, we didn't have any space for chickens close in. So our coop and chicken run are a ways away from our house: beyond our main garden area, our 4 woodsheds and one of our orchards. 

Alan and Gretchen's place is far more open and thus safer: most of their 10 acres is cleared. Also, their hen operation is right next to their house, and they have a lovely Border collie watching over their birds. Most importantly, they made us an offer we couldn't refuse! 

I feel we've really lucked out with the Buff Orpingtons. They’re gentle, friendly hens, which is a nice change from the four bullies (Black Sexlinks) we had in our last bunch. Strangely enough, for all their aggression, those black hens had the worst startle reflex I’d ever seen—the slightest move from you, and they’d leap away, squawking in terror.  

Happily these new girls always come to greet us (sure, we’re bringing feed, but still). They’ve been good layers from the get go too! From my experience, young hens will lay fairly well through the winter—we’ll see what happens next year.

What else is new: John and I have improved safety measures firmly in place for them!

At the edge of the yard, where the best weeds are!

We know how happy chickens are to forage around the largest area possible—and it’s true, for the first couple of months, we let this flock run around the orchard adjacent to our food garden. But within a few weeks, they had torn up the ground into mud.

We have another, much larger fenced area next to the orchard, which we cleared out of the woods for our previous flock to forage in. When we’re working nearby, we’ll let the new kids scratch around in there. Otherwise given the predators here in the Foothills, we restrict these girls to either their covered, caged run, or a small yard with a 6 ½ foot fence.

Hopefully, they’re not so very bored in there—the yard has a little stump they can jump on, though by now they've scratched the weeds into oblivion. In the cage, there's more fun to be had. Besides their feeder and waterer, we have a large, big-leaf maple stump they like climbing on, with plenty of perches for all five birds. 

There’s also an outdoor covered roost if they want dry feet…and John created little roof over their feeder as well. They often hop up there too, and seem to be looking in the window he built into the adjoining shed. We only keep feed in the shed, so it’s a mystery what they’re looking at. Maybe it’s the visiting mice…or maybe they can smell the feed better up on the roof!  

If, despite all these features, they have nothing to do, there’s something to break the monotony…The girls have the thrill of John (or the Rooster, as we call him, since he’s the only male on the place) spoiling them: visiting every day to toss them some scratch. After the young lady at the feed store told me scratch grains are like hen candy, I have to keep an eye on John so he doesn’t give them too much! (Overdoing the scratch seems to upset their tummies a little. As a result, coop cleaning turns into a far more unpleasant chore than it needs to be, if you get my drift.)

If you have any tips for keeping hens, I hope you’ll share them here. You can also visit me at ...or starting this week, reach me on Facebook!

PS—Due to technical issues, I couldn't post to this blog for a few months. But the problem was finally resolved a couple of weeks ago—and I'll be posting regularly from now on!


Saturday, December 12, 2020

Finding Light in Dark Times

For this year's holiday season, it may be challenging to find the "Merry" in Christmas, or the "Happy" in holidays. With so many people going through hard times, sharing the usual seasonal greetings don't feel quite right to me. But sometimes, you can find hope out there... I wrote this holiday piece in 2013, after a very difficult year. Rereading it brings me comfort and joy--maybe it might do the same for you...

 Garrison Keillor says being joyful is a large task for people from the Midwest, “where our idea of a compliment is, ‘It could have been worse.’”

 But when it comes to the year 2013, I think sometimes that it actually couldn’t. For the first time in our marriage, John and I decided not to send out our traditional Christmas letter this year, filled with our happy times and photos of smiling grandchildren. It’s been a year of many sorrows and challenges—enough to make me conclude that there really is something unlucky about the number 13. Surely any truthful account of the last year would be too disheartening to revisit, much less share with friends and family. Still, here I am.

This difficult year began even before 2013 arrived. December of 2012, the holiday season promised to be already sad—John and I were facing our first Christmas after his mother passed away, and he was also grieving over the loss of his childhood home, which had just been sold. I was cooking our New Year’s Eve dinner when we found a voicemail on the phone—from a hospital in Phoenix, Arizona

John’s son had been in a car accident, hit by a distracted driver. Collin’s injuries were serious; after extensive surgeries, he was in no shape to care for himself, so John spent six weeks in Phoenix looking after him.

It was a lonely time for me—worried for Collin, and trying to look after Berryridge Farm by myself in the darkest days of winter. With John away, I learned to be more self-sufficient, but I also got a taste of what widowhood might feel like.

 John’s return and the advent of spring was a lift, but in March, we got another phone call. It was John’s brother—their sister Becky’s cancer had progressed and she had only a few weeks to live. It turned out the time she had left was more like days. So right away, we traveled to her care center on the other side of the state to say goodbye. She died two days after our visit. Losing Becky felt all the more poignant knowing she had struggled through illness for much of her life. And that she, who had such a generous and loving heart, and who adored kids, never found a life partner, never had children of her own.

John’s birthday begins one of the loveliest months of the year in the Foothills—the sun doesn’t set until 10 o’clock. But this June, it dawned on us that we were facing a plague of tent caterpillars, such as we had never, ever seen. So it began, our month-long battle: we hand-killed caterpillars at least five hours a day, and sometimes up to 8 hours to save our orchard and our many dozens of berry plants. 

I can’t describe how revolting the experience was, but I will say it cured me of squeamishness. The long days of squishing insects, bracing myself to kill other creatures by the hour, seemed endless. By the first of July, however, the caterpillar plague had pretty well petered out. But I felt like I’d lost one precious month of my life.

 John and I were just regrouping when we lost our small flock of chickens to a cougar. For the first time since we moved here, I wanted to get away from our farm. Get away from the sad little corpses, from the feathers strewn around the chicken run, from the empty coop. Get away from the guilt we both felt—that we’d let our girls down by not protecting them. After so many blows this year, after this one, I couldn’t seem to bounce back.

There's a verse in the Old Testament that has become part of the Christmas story: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” This Christmas, I see that it has been the light that has brought healing. In August, I went to the Oregon coast with our granddaughter and spent time with my daughter and her two little sons. At the beach one evening, I watched the setting sun and the silhouette of my granddaughter frolicking in the surf, saw the golden-pink light bathing my grandsons’ rapt faces as they played in the sand, and I felt an incandescent joy I hadn’t felt in long time.

In November, John and I went to visit his daughter and her family in Los Angeles. Seeing the kids’ bright little faces, being called Grandma by the children for the first time, walking on the beach in the warm sunshine, when at home it would be dark and cold, I felt my heart lift even more.

 A few days later, John and I took our granddaughter to Portland to attend an Oregon Symphony Orchestra concert, which featured a young singing prodigy. Christmas lights were all over the city—the eighty-foot fir tree in Pioneer Courthouse Square all lit up brought back the wonder of my childhood. At the performance of gorgeous music, I feasted my gaze on the stage lights playing on this young singer’s face as she sang, the sequins on her gown sparkling, and the lighting behind the orchestra dancing in the changing hues of a rainbow. It was a joy-filled evening.

Holiday warmth
 So after the darkness, if you’re patient, the light comes back to you. Right now is the time of winter solstice, the darkest days of the year, but we have the light. The light and hope of the Christmas story, that speaks of a bright star that shone over a miracle, the light of generosity that the season brings…

 Back to 2020: This Christmas, you may be missing seeing your loved ones...John and I are among the millions of folks who won't have the joy and pleasure of visiting our family or friends. Yet I take comfort from little things --a cozy fire in the woodstove, my favorite holiday decorations, rereading the Christmas story--which makes me believe the light will return. But maybe it never went away...surely all the caring and dedicated people who have helped others during this crisis are bringing light and hope for the future. 

Christmas figurines
I also take hope from a lovely Christmas wish that took place years ago, when the Apollo 8 spacecraft carrying  astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anderson first orbited the moon. Bidding goodnight to the American people, that Christmas Eve of 1968, Mr. Borman said, 

"Merry Christmas, God bless all of you. All of you on the good Earth." 

Take good care, and this year, may you create holidays that bring you comfort and light.  

Thursday, September 10, 2020

New Irish Novella--Available Now!

In the midst of bear damage control, harvesting buckets of blueberries, and attacking weeds gone crazy, I've released a new book! My latest is The Little Irish Gift Shop, the first book of my new Fairy Cottage of Ballydara mini-series. This short novel takes place, in Seattle, but it's very much connected with the world of my other Irish novels, set in County Galway. Here's more about the story:

There's a story behind this cover
A summer in Seattle, a charming little shop, and a once-in-a-lifetime chance at a new life...

New release! In this sparkling novella, Dublin girl Emma Carey jumps at the opportunity to start fresh in America—her old friend Fitzwilliam has offered her a job running a picturesque Irish shop in Seattle. At 30, she's always played it safe, but that hasn’t saved her from regularly mucking up her career, and the shop seems perfect—plus Emma’s wise younger sister Hazel (who's also a bit mystical) is entirely supportive.  


Arriving in Seattle, Emma discovers the shop is full of surprises. And so is geeky Fitz. Yet she’s determined to make a go of her unexpectedly tricky situation. Can she pull off taking the risks to jump-start her life? Full of heart and humor, The Little Irish Gift Shop is just the beginning of Emma’s unforgettable journey to her heart's desire.

I had imagined this little gift shop on a street in a lovely historical district in Seattle--but I couldn't find any photo for my book cover that matched my ideas. At a loss for what to do, I was scrolling through a bunch of photos John and I had taken in Ireland, on my research trip a few years back. In the seaside village of Dingle, County Kerry, John had taken a photo of a sweet little stone nook, that led up to outdoor seating for a pie shop. When I saw the photo again, I just knew the nook could lead up to my little shop! 

Another novel coming soon...

Watch for more of my Irish novels featuring Emma, her sister Hazel, and the O'Donoghue family from my short story, The Christmas Visitor. Book 2 of the Fairy Cottage series, Becoming Emma, will be released Fall 2020! 

You can find The Little Irish Gift Shop at your favorite online retailer, including Amazon, Kobo, Nook and the Apple Store !  

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Bear Invasion, Round 2

When I saw a bear lumber across our small private lane two weeks ago--in broad daylight and just a couple hundred yards from our house--I didn’t think much of it. Only to remind myself not to take walks by myself at dusk!

It certainly wasn’t news that we have bears in the neighborhood—there’s enough bear scat dotting our little road to prove they’re close by. But yesterday, John and I had a big wake-up call.

At breakfast, I gazed into the yard, and noticed the rotting cedar stump next to our Tsugaru apple tree. (It’s been in our yard since the beginning, because it was way too big to remove by hand—the only way we can get rid of stumps around here.) I actually used the stump as a stool, to climb on for picking and pruning.)

But today, the stump looked different—chunks of wood were strewn around it. “I guess that stump is finally falling apart,” I said to John. Once again, I didn’t think much of it.

I was weeding the asparagus bed—sadly pulling out loads of pretty little violas that had completely taken over the whole patch—when John called from our south orchard. “We had a visitor last night.” He sounded a little…odd.

“A deer?” I called back. In our fourteen years on Berryridge Farm, we’d had deer worm their way into the yard, but only a handful of times. 

“Not a deer,” said John, exasperation in his voice.

I clambered to my feet, climbed over our rabbit fencing, and joined him. “Look at this!” John showed me his French prune plum, which had been dripping with fruit just the day before. “They stripped the entire tree!”

“A bear,” I said, resigned.

“A bear,” said John. “It’s a good thing I picked a few plums the other day.” The bear hadn’t permanently damaged the tree, but one of the main boughs was bent way over. Interestingly, the plum tree was right next to a weak spot in the deer fence where the bear had obviously gotten in.

Bear crashes down fence
Inspecting the rest of the orchard, we saw the bear had really made the rounds. The Italian prune plum, right next to the French plum, had been hit too. Although the fruit was not quite ripe, it was mostly gone, a few half-eaten purple plums littering the ground. Half a dozen Williams Pride apples had bites in them, and bits of crabapple were scattered beneath that tree as well.

Bear vs Stump, Stump Loses
 As for the stump, upon closer inspection, it was clear the stump was definitely not falling apart on its own. The center was full of little holes, indicating grubs and ants lived there, and the bear had torn away chunks of stump to get at the goodies inside.
Bear's way of saying "Hi, just dropped by for a visit!"

“Come see this,” said John, a short distance away. The bear had left a very large, and unmistakable calling card. If you needed hard proof a bear had done all this damage, here it was.

I harvested the rest of the Williams Pride crop, though it probably could have used a few more days of ripening, and tossed the damaged apples into the compost. John started a repair of the weak spot in the fence, and spent the evening putting in some reinforcing posts and re-wiring any gaps together. We went inside for the night, figuring we’d solved the problem.

Bear rustles crabapple into submission

This morning, a new sight greeted our eyes. Our flourishing, bushy crabapple tree, near the William’s Pride apple, was a shadow of its former self. Boughs lay all over the ground, the crop decimated. John went outside immediately, and saw the bear had found a second way into our yard, through another weak place in the fencing. The weak spot was right next to the crabapple.

A bear had gotten into our north orchard 3 years ago, and had eaten every last apple off the Florina apple tree. And had nearly broken the tree apart. Then, as now, the animal had gotten in through some wobbly fencing. In the north orchard, instead of simply repairing that portion of the fence, John replaced the entire side with new posts and steer wire. Since then, we had no problems.

That is, until now, in an area with—yep, you guessed it—a stretch of jerry-rigged fencing.

Moral of the story: we’d protected our place very effectively from the deer—which are lazier critters. They’ve already got plenty of browsing available to nibble on, and if a food source is easy to get, they’ll go for it. If not, they’ll simply move on.

Bears, we are learning with this second invasion, are definitely not nibblers. They’ll eat an entire treeful of fruit in one sitting. Also, they’ll work a little harder to at what they want, especially if there’s a quantity of food as a reward: like this portion of our orchard in harvest season, with 6 trees full of fruit. All they need to do is find a weak fence, using their vast bulk to push under it, over it or through it, and voila! A feast!

John will be spending this afternoon not shoring up this second spot in the fence, but installing brand new steer wire, and I’ll be picking up damaged crabapples and broken boughs. With 7 more apples trees currently laden with fruit around our place—hundreds of apples that need a couple more weeks of ripening—you can bet we’ll be checking our fence often.

As for our dinner plans tonight…we were going to grill hamburgers outdoors. Now, the last thing we want is to attract the bear with the aroma of roasting meat in the yard, so we’ll be cooking inside! 

Photos and captions by John Browne... Find more of our adventures with bears in my Little Farm books!  

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Free Gardening Guide--In a New Format

Just a quick update on my new Little Farm gardening e-booklet: Little Farm in the Garden: A Practical Mini-Guide to Raising Selected Fruits and Vegetables Homestead-Style...It's now available in PDF on my website. Just visit for your free copy!

Blueberry Picking Tip:

Blueberry season has just started here in the Foothills. Picking blueberries the other day, I was keeping in mind that even the blue ones can be sour. So I'd like to share a tip for finding the sweeter berries:

When it's early in the season, you're probably trying to select the ripe berries when there are still so many white ones on the shrubs. Here's what you do: just look for the clusters of berries where all but one or two berries are blue. Select the largest berries in the cluster, and you'll be sure to end up with more sweet ones!

If you like reading on your Kindle, iPad or other device, the Little Farm gardening guide also available on Amazon, Apple, Kobo, and all other online retailers. I hope you're enjoying your summertime garden! PS...I'm adding a quick note today, September 10...with fall just arounnd the corner, you'll find plenty of useful suggestions for your cool season gardening and preparation for next year's crops in Little Farm in the Garden!

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

International Fairy Day!

Today is June 24, and that means it's time to celebrate International Fairy Day!

If you've read my Irish novels, or looked at this blog, you know I'm a big fan of fairies. And despite these difficult times we're living through, it seems a shame to let the day go by without somehow recognizing fairydom.

My big dream is to build a wee fairy garden. (Okay, my dreams are actually pretty small.) But with berry season upon us, along with all the other summer homestead gardening chores, I won't be getting to that until...someday. Kind of like the rest of my big plans.

Irish Short Story
Since someday is a ways off, in honor of today, I'm sharing my new cover of my ebook The Secret Well. It has a strong fairy thread, and it's also one of the origin stories of my upcoming Fairy Cottage mini-series. While this story has been out for some time, it's still a perfect read for a summer day!

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Removing an Over-the-Range Microwave Oven--Homestead DIY

Time Management on the Homestead, 2nd in a series...

I’m coming late to the party, but after our over-the-range microwave gave up the ghost, I’m starting to realize just what a time-sucking black hole home improvements can be. 

In the 14 years since my husband John and I moved to our acreage, we’ve mostly focused on far more urgent, outdoor projects. Instead of keeping up the house, we’ve spent our time and energy growing food, processing firewood, caring for the hens, plus keeping the woods and critters from taking over. All these projects always take far more time than I figure they will. 

But as the old saying goes, the chickens have come home to roost. That is, the house itself is starting show its age (like us), so maintenance is getting more demanding. 

Not long ago, I put some cooked apples in our microwave oven to warm them up. Even on a low setting, the appliance emitted a labored sound—sort of like groaning. I tried not to let the strange noise worry me, but when a faint plastic odor wafted from the oven, I said “uh oh,” and immediately pressed “Stop.”

I have a friend who believes the electromagnetic waves that escape microwave ovens can cook your brains. I’m not on board with that, but I didn’t want to find out I was wrong the hard way.
“Honey,” I said to John, “I’m afraid our microwave is dying.”

John is the last one to be an alarmist, or even worry about a few plastic fumes, but the sound and smell coming from the oven was enough to convince him: the microwave really was kicking the bucket. “Well,” he said, “it is 14 years old. Obviously it’s time to replace it.”

“Should I call someone?” I asked.

“Heck no,” John said confidently. In the last couple of years, he’s gotten very big on DIY YouTube videos. In past years, he’d been reluctant to take on home fix-its, and preferred to just pay someone far more expert to do them. But lately, he has become not only more willing, but more adventuresome about taking on home repairs. “We can do it.”

“Okay," I said doubtfully. "If you're up for it.” I’d heard from my family that over the range microwaves were insanely complicated to replace.

“Totally,” said John. “I’d rather spend the money on something else.”

It wasn’t like we had a pile of money budgeted for home repairs anyway. Since my husband was willing to be the project manager, I was all in.

So first things first. We would have to remove the microwave, so I did a Google search for “Over-the-range microwave removal.” John and I viewed a few YouTube instructional videos, then I chose one to review if we ran into any hangups. “See?” said John, “it’s easy. The job will take like, 5 minutes. Fifteen, tops.”

“Really,” I said. That seemed pretty optimistic, but I’m a glass half full sort of person so I was game. And though it was a lovely spring day, and I was eager to get out into the garden, I figured I could spare 15 minutes. 

After John fetched some hand tools from the shop, we stood in front of the microwave and gazed at it for a moment. I’d never really thought about how large it actually was. “Wait,” I said. “How about if we get the stove out of the way?”

Otherwise, to lean over the stove and lift the microwave, we were cruisin‘ for a bruisin‘—at the very least, we’d be a couple of Boomers whose backs would never be the same. “Good idea,” said John, so we moved our fairly light electric range out from under the microwave. Then looked at the floor.

It had been a couple of years since we’d cleaned under the stove, and its footprint was covered with a film of grime, adorned with dust bunnies. If we stood on that greasy dust to take care of the microwave, we’d track it all over our carpet. “Take a break,” I told John, “while I clean this up.”

After many, many scrubs with vinegar and Dawn detergent, I deemed the floor passable. That had taken at least a half an hour. So onward to the oven removal!

According to the DIY guys we watched, this process is really straightforward. The oven is attached to the cupboard above it by some big bolts, and rests on a narrow metal ledge on the wall behind it. So after unplugging your microwave, you just undo the big bolts, and the detached oven, now supported only by the ledge, leans forward. All you have to do is lift the oven off the ledge.

Up to now, John said he didn’t need any help, so I’d been happy to act as the surgical nurse, handing Dr. John his instruments. But once he removed the bolts, and the oven rather alarmingly listed forward like a tiny sinking ship, I said, “You are going to let me help lift this puppy, aren’t you?”

“The microwave isn’t that heavy,” said John. “But it might be easier if we both do it.”

The now semi-detached microwave had revealed a metal frame attached to the wall behind it, and the 4 small ledges that had been supporting its weight. So John and I got under the microwave and I said, “Okay, on the count of 3—1-2-3 Lift!”

It wouldn’t budge.

Were we not putting enough muscle into it? We tried again. Then, since 3 times is often the charm, one more time. Still, the oven refused to shift off its little ledges.

Back to YouTube. We tried another video or two, hoping to find a new technique, but no YouTuber seemed to be addressing our problem.

Our next move was to pull on the oven from every angle, hoping to loosen it—and seriously, John and I wouldn’t have cared if the darn thing crashed to the floor, as long as we could get out of the way in time. But…nothing.

So far, the job had taken at least an hour, and we were no closer to removing that blasted microwave.
I finally peered more closely at the vent unit above the oven. “It looks like the oven might be still attached to the vent.” That hadn’t been the case in any of the videos we’d watched.

After poking around the vent, John revealed the roadblock. The top of the microwave was indeed attached to the vent, and the bottom portion of the vent was lodged into the guts of the cupboard tighter than an impacted wisdom tooth.

In our manufactured home—a house that we’d discovered had more flaws, quirks and wackadoodle workarounds than anything Rube Goldberg could come up with—here was one more: It seemed very clear that they’d installed the microwave and the venting unit at the factory, then built the kitchen cupboard units around it!

To detach the oven really would take surgery. And the process wasn’t pretty: John had to pry the vent away from the top of the microwave, both on the sides and the back, then cut through several layers of duct tape. Then pull the vent out of the innards of the cupboard. That took at least another hour.

Gap with mystery hole in the wall on the upper right
Finally, now detached at the top, the oven looked ready to lift. With much pulling, yanking, and brute force, John and I were able to wrestle that oven away from the wall and to the floor. What was left really wasn’t pretty: a big, ugly, gaping space in the middle of our kitchen, including a hole in the wall that served no purpose. But John and I were too sick of dealing with the microwave to worry about how awful the gap looked.

After a break, John and I took another look at the space. “I don’t know about you,” I said, “but after what we’ve been through, I don’t want another over-the-range microwave.”

“Me neither,” said John. “How about I build a little cupboard, and we’ll fill the gap with that?”

“Sounds fine to me,” I told him, and he went straight out to the shop and found some suitable wood for the job. He’s putting the finishing touches on it this week. (For me, this project further proved there's no such thing as homestead time management.)

We ended up buying a little countertop microwave that doesn’t have the oomph of our former one, but it works ok. To this day, I don’t know how people DIY an entire kitchen remodel, though I admire them tremendously. Fortunately, I'm much better at gardening, and far happier digging in the dirt.

If you are too, you might like to take a look at my new and free gardening mini-guide! It’s available in ebook at Amazon, Kobo, and all other online retailers, or you can request the ebook at your local library!

Monday, April 6, 2020

Free Gardening Guide--New Release

New gardening booklet!
As my way to help during this health emergency, I've created a brand new gardening ebook, Little Farm in the Garden: A Practical Mini-Guide for Raising Selected Fruits and Vegetables Homestead-Style, Book 3 of the Little Farm in the Foothills series. It's a friendly (I hope!), down-to-earth little guide for starting and maintaining a thriving food garden, and I'm offering it for free.

You can find the ebook at AmazonKobo, or your favorite online retailer...

Here's more:
Caught in the middle of the global health crisis, maybe you’re feeling helpless and anxious about the future. But there is something you and I and everyone else can do about this tragic, unforeseen calamity: Grow some of your own food—in a pot, a small plot or a garden. In “normal” times, homegrown food is not only a pleasure, but food gardening can be a pastime that helps to take your mind off your worries. In these dark days, it may be that raising some food may become a necessity.

Whatever happens, in the coming months and years, producing your own food supply can become a bulwark against uncertainty. In Little Farm in the Garden, I share the evolution of my own homestead garden, and cover how to get started on your own food garden with basic nut-and-bolts, selecting crops, and challenges you might encounter raising food. I also provide strategies for working with nature, dealing with wildlife, and raising your crops chemical-free.

If you’ve read my Little Farm memoirs, this booklet can be a handy addition to the homesteading experiences I've shared in those 2 books. But this also works as a stand-alone manual for simple ways to approach creating your own food supply, focusing on easy-to-grow vegetables, herbs, and fruit, and creating a balanced garden for the long-term—and includes a handy timeline for your food gardening activities too.

Wherever you are in your gardening journey--a novice, a flower fancier, or an experienced food-raiser, Little Farm in the Garden offers a lively, heartfelt approach for not only gardeners, but nature-lovers, and dreamers of all ages!

Here are a couple of photos of our place: when we first moved to our Foothills place, and years later. You'll find more photos of our little homestead at
...and more bonus books too!

Here's our place the week we moved in
And years later
Bee balm and hummingbird

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

St. Patrick's Day Sneak Peek

It seems a bit frivolous, in these difficult times, to wish you a Happy St. Patrick's Day--we're all far more worried about our loved ones' health and our own, and if we have groceries in the cupboard, than the way all the St. Paddy's celebrations have been cancelled.

This week, I'm working on a gardening guide, which, given the potential of food shortages, seems far more important these days, instead of plunking around with my Irish stories. But if you're game for a little distraction of the Irish kind, I offer you a look at the cover of my upcoming novel: the first book of my new Fairy Cottage mini-series, part of my Irish Village of Ballydara series.

The Fairy Cottage books are warm and tender stories about searching for love and home and family in the most unlikely of places. Look for The Little Irish Gift Shop in July!

I plan to have my new gardening guide ready in another week...until then, be well, stay safe, and I'm wishing you all the Irish blessings you can hold.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Homestead Time Management: First in a Series

Whether homesteading is your job, your hobby, or your passion, I should put this out there right away: Folks, there’s no such thing as time management on your homestead.

As someone who writes for a living, I’ve always been fascinated by ways to carve out time/create time/manage time to get more writing done. Convinced you can “take control of the clock,” I figured there was a "special sauce" for the whole idea. So I devoured articles, attended workshops, and created schedules about how to fit writing into a busy life—and if they included special tips, charts or spreadsheets, all the better!

But really, all that effort was for nothing. Because despite a gazillion strategies, there was no getting around  the truth: writing fills the time you allot to it and then some, and you never get as much done as you think you will.

I’ve learned the same about homesteading chores. I’m an optimistic person, but no matter what you’re doing: weeding the beds, chopping wood, caring for chickens, processing your harvest, I have learned every task takes three times as long as you think it will. Sure, you can take that with a grain of salt, and maybe I’m just inefficient or using the wrong techniques. Still, I give you Exhibit A:

The Cider Press Experiment

With 17 apples trees on our acreage, John and I planned for years to get a cider press. Finally, after an insane harvest a couple of years ago, we had come up with the funds and really, we couldn’t hold out any longer! So…what kind of press to buy?

Committed to the “slow life,” we are big on doing things by hand. In the kitchen, we forgo a blender or food processor to chop fruits and veggies or grind nuts with a chef’s knife. Despite my sister’s repeated urgings to get a bread machine, “they’re so easy!” I like to knead bread by hand. We’ve thought about buying a countertop flour mill, and had come across readers in Mother Earth News recommending electric models. The general consensus was that a manual model is far more work than you want.

Still, after pricing cider presses, electric ones seemed way out of our price range. So John bought us a small, manual model: made of a lovely light wood, it was very attractive and old-fashioned-looking, with a tub designed like a fruit barrel. We could hardly wait to put it to use.

So one day at harvest time, with many piles of apples to process, we finally gave our new press a whirl. After washing and chopping dozens of apples, washing the necessary press components,  and filling the tub, I figured we’d devote a couple of hours to our cider project. All that was left was turning the handle!

I tried it first and got exactly nowhere. “John,” I said, “maybe you could get things started.”

John’s a strong guy. He can hand-split massive logs, and harvests almost all our trees with a hand saw. But even he could hardly budge the handle. We took turns pushing and pulling on that dratted handle, but produced only the merest trickle of cider. “The apple chunks are too big,” John concluded.

So we squeezed what we could from the fruit in the tub, and started over with a fresh batch of apples. This time, we cut them up as finely as we could and started in again. Then we did it a third time. We got a tiny bit more traction trying to turn the press handle, and a few more ounces of cider, but even after a couple more hours of hard labor, not making much more progress. Finally, my arms throbbing from exertion, I suggested, “Let’s call it a day.” With both of us really putting our backs to it, just trying to turn the handle had taken all afternoon.

Now, all we had to do was disassemble the press, wash all the parts, soak the cheesecloth filter, pasteurize the cider and sterilize a jar for it. As dusk fell, when all was said and done, we had about 3 cups of cider to show for our day.

How about a Cost-Benefit Analysis? 

To sum up: $150 plus shipping to buy the press, about 7 hours of work, to make less than a quart of fresh, homemade apple cider.

Worst of all: we didn’t drink it. The jar of cider is still sitting in our freezer.

If you have some tips for success with a manual cider press, I hope you’ll share them here!

P.S. For the last three months, I've spent every spare moment working like mad on my latest novel--more news on that soon--but I will be posting here regularly again. Next time: another DIY project that got overwhelming really fast!