Pallet Garden

Ok, folks.  Here I am after a long hiatus from blogging.  There’s no real reason for the hiatus, just got caught up in real world living, I guess.

I’ll start with one of the real world things I’ve been up to lately:  pallet gardening.

2015 Pallet Garden2

I really do enjoy gardening.  Much reward and satisfaction comes from watching things grow, knowing you had a hand in it.  I say a hand in it, because it’s so obvious to me that there’s a life principle, put there by the Creator himself, that I have nothing to do with.  If God didn’t do the growing, my hand wouldn’t do much.  Every time I drop a seed into bare earth and cover it up, I can’t help but feel a twinge of doubt that this hard, dry little something will produce a green living thing.  Incredible!  And when green shoots peek through, and in time bear fruit — there’s just a thrill to it.

Back to the pallet garden.  The basic idea is to lay a pallet on the ground and fill it with compost.  And there you have an instant raised bed, without the pains of building one.  The rows are neatly planned out for you.  And each board between the rows acts as a weed-block — yay!

I chose to use it for my spring and fall crops.  I got inspired with the idea last summer, when all the space in my main garden was spoken for already by a bunch of luscious summer vegetables.  I figured I could make a new plot to grow my fall crops pretty quickly this way.  And thanks to my wonderfully kind husband who laid down the pallets, brought in a couple loads of compost and helped me pack it in all those slots (a bit of a time-consuming task, I’ll admit), this inspiration of mine became a reality.

Allow me to show you around a bit.

We laid down 4 rows of 3 pallets,

2015 Pallet Garden

and planted lettuce, spinach, cabbage, cauliflower, and carrots.  (I think a pallet garden would also be  fabulous for an herb garden!)

2015 Pallet Garden6

2015 Pallet Garden3

2015 Pallet Garden5

The compost was rich enough soil that I decided I could crowd the plants pretty closely– maybe only 12 inches apart, sometimes closer.  Gladly, this didn’t seem to hinder production, and allowed me to pack a bunch of vegetables into this one little plot.

2015 Pallet Garden4      2015 Pallet Garden8 2015 Pallet Garden7

We enjoyed fresh salad vegetables all last fall and again this spring, and I even had enough extra broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach to freeze.

Now that the spring crops have ended, I’m ready to plant seeds for a fall crop (July planting of seeds, or August planting of greenhouse starts here in zone 6/7).

I have found that compost needs to be added between each planting.  And… that all gardens grow weeds as well as good things!  But the weeds are easier to manage with less space for them to grow, and they pull up with less effort in the loose compost.

So maybe I’ve sparked an interest, or desire, or maybe even motivation for you to try a pallet garden.  Go for it!

Categories: Gardening, Gardening and Canning | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Rediscovering the Value of Nature Study

2014-5-24 Snails 005

Nature study took a back seat in our homeschool this year.  It wasn’t intentional, and I offer no clever excuse. I just didn’t make the effort to find the time, I guess.  I could tell my nature-observing senses were growing dull, because I’d give a quick glance and an indifferent, “Huh,” whenever the kids presented me with a nature find.  Thoughts about re-starting this habit came to mind on occasion.

Last week I decided to recapture this gem of home learning.  As I dusted off the Handbook of Nature Study and opened its pages, I felt the excitement return.  I remembered how fun it was to learn new and interesting things about common, everyday things found in nature.  I read through the pages describing the garden snail — its looks, its habits, its peculiarities.  I got excited about exploring these critters with the kids.

2014-5-24 Snails 002

My next stop was the Handbook of Nature Study website to browse the topics listed in  the Spring category.  Garden snails were listed there, and I knew they would be just the thing because Carmen has been finding all kinds of them lately around my perennial beds.  (She even keeps them in a box and “takes care of them,”  which means she carries the box around wherever she goes, often lifting the lid to see how they’re doing).

The Outdoor Hour Challenge is a wonderful resource.  Each study usually includes helpful links:  sometimes YouTube videos, sometimes photos, sometimes interesting articles.

It made our study particularly interesting that the kids were holding snails in their hands as I shared with them my highlighted notes from the Handbook of Nature Study.  The little critters cooperated quite nicely, sticking their necks out, stretching their eye stalks, and sliding around on the kids’ hands, arms, and laps,  leaving snail trails of course.

2014-5-24 Snails 043

We  had the privilege of observing in real life these interesting facts about garden snails:

  • Their “foot” secretes fluid which they use both as an adhesive and as an aid to help them slide more smoothly.  When this fluid dries it leaves the glistening snail trail that we’re familiar with.

2014-5-24 Snails 032

  • They hatch from the egg with only one spiral in their shell.  Their shell grows along with them;  more material is added at the opening, extending the spiral a bit at a time until it is full-grown.

2014-5-24 Snails 009

  • They have a breathing hole on their underside right where their soft foot meets the shell.  The kids watched closely and got to see the hole contracting and releasing to bring air into the snail’s lungs inside the shell.
  • When a snail is attacked or when it is faced with overly dry or cold conditions it pulls itself inside and forms a sort of “glass” door over its opening, leaving only a tiny hole for air.

2014-5-24 Snails 007

  • The longer “horns” are eye stalks, which can move independently of each other and which shrink back when touched.  The shorter “horns” are their feelers.
  • Their head end is the first to hide and the first to come out of the shell.  We got to see one slooowly ooze out of its shell.PicMonkey Collage--snails

We found out from the Handbook of Nature Study that we could make a “snailery” (don’t you just love that word?), with a bit of soil and some moss, a dish of water to one side, and leaves, lettuce, or fruit for the snails to munch on.  We improvised with our butterfly habitat.  It has clear, plexiglass windows, giving us a neat view of the snail’s foot rippling as it glides up the surface.

I had the kids draw a picture in their journals.  We haven’t touched them since the fall — sad,I know.  Some complained about having to do it at first.  But, as I anticipated, once they started drawing they had fun with it and ended up with more than one picture, including different angles, close-up views, labels, and lists of  interesting facts.

Snail nature journaling

Getting into the details of garden snails reminded me of the good things about nature study.  When I study such details on purpose, my observation senses are heightened, causing me to notice additional interesting things in nature.

It also is a good opportunity to interact with the kids in a unique way, seeing the individual ways they experience and react to 2014-5-24 Snails 058nature.  Some are very hands on, not afraid to touch or poke their hands into anything.  Others are more hesitant, preferring to use their eyes from a safe distance.

I got to see my youngest’s sensitivity to what animals might be feeling when she grew quite concerned about the snail we found who had its glass door closed, probably because it got too dry.  She wanted to put it in water and offer it food right away.  And she cried about her tiniest snail when it wouldn’t come out of its shell, sure that it had died.  In my grown-up, hard-hearted way I replied, “Honey, snails come and go;  I’m sure you can find another tiny snail.”  I’m afraid it’s sometimes hard for me to step back and view life from the perspective of children.

But I do know that since we are now well-acquainted with these fascinating little critters, we won’t look at them in quite the same way again.  As I told a friend afterward, observing nature like this always makes me marvel at the variety and detail in God’s creation.  He wouldn’t have had to make such interesting creatures, but he did — to glorify His great name.

I can’t help but praise Him.


Read more about how and why we do nature study in our homeschool.

Nature Study is part of the Charlotte Mason homeschooling method.  I’ve been enjoying this series at Simply Charlotte Mason about the benefits of a Charlotte Mason Education.



Categories: Gardening, Homeschooling, Nature, Nature study | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

Our Family’s Favorite Homemade Jam

StrawberryFreezerJamThis is the absolute best ever strawberry jam.  It’s a freezer jam, which means that the flavor is better preserved — no canned strawberry taste.  Yeah, it’s got way too much sugar in, but it’s fantastic.

You’ll want to start with ripe strawberries.  Take the caps off, then mash them with a potato masher. strawberrycollageMake sure you have your containers washed and ready to fill at the start.  I like to use jars.  The jam looks prettier in a clear glass jar than a plastic container.  And since I often forget to get  it out of the freezer until right before dinner is served, I can pop it in the microwave for a bit ( I don’t like to microwave plastic).  If you don’t have jelly jars, though, disposable Ziploc containers will work nicely too.

  • Combine 2 cups crushed strawberries with 4 cups of sugar.  You’ll need to stir a while until all that sugar is dissolved.  Let stand 10 minutes.
  • Stir one package of powdered fruit pectin, such as Sure Jell, into 3/4 cup of water and heat to boiling in saucepan.  Boil 1 minute, stirring constantly.


  • Remove Sure Jell mixture from heat and immediately stir into fruit mixture.  Continue stirring for 3 minutes.
  •  Then ladle into jars, leaving 1/2 in. head space.
  •  Cover and let stand at room temperature 24 hours.  Then store in freezer.
  •  It makes about 5 cups.

There you have it — a simple recipe for a delicious homemade jam.  The most time-consuming part is capping the strawberries.  The actual making of the jam really doesn’t take that long.

This recipe can be found in Mennonite Country-Style Recipes and Kitchen Secrets.

For another way to enjoy fresh strawberries this season, you may want to check out this post from last year: 2013-06-08  Shortcake 007

Categories: Canning, Housekeeping, No-Fuss Home Cooking | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Kids Love this Kind of Meatloaf!


meatloaf rings 2

Here’s a fun variation of the traditional meatloaf that kids love.

I remember this recipe from the kids cookbook we had when I was growing up.  I don’t have that particular recipe, but the idea is the same; it works with any meatloaf recipe.  Instead of forming it into a loaf, you just put several dollops of meatloaf on a baking sheet or 9×13 baking dish.  Then you make rings out of them — flattening the dollops slightly, smoothing the edges, and stretching the middles into holes.

The meatloaf recipe I use has a sauce to go on top, so I just drizzle that on the rings before I pop them in the oven.  They bake for 35-40 minutes at 350*.


While they are baking, I cook potatoes and mash them, adding salt and milk to make them smooth and creamy.  Then when the rings are done, I top them with mashed potatoes and shredded cheese, then stick them back in the oven just until the potatoes are good and hot, and the cheese is melted.

Here is a very basic meatloaf recipe.

  • 1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
  • 1 1/2 – 2 cups of bread crumbs
  • 1 1/2 cups of milk
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • dash of pepper

Mix all ingredients together.

And here is the sauce to go on top.

  • 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 3/4 Tbsp. prepared mustard


(Recipe adapted from Mennonite Recipes from the Shenandoah Valley.)



Categories: Housekeeping, No-Fuss Home Cooking | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

We’re Still Here…..and We’re Still Happily Occupied!

That’s right.  Even if this blog has been quiet lately, we’ve been keeping ourselves busily occupied as always.  I somehow have just not found the time to let you all know about it!  So I’ll do a little catch up post.  Here goes:

We came home from our summer vacation to find half of our garden taken over by volunteer gourd vines.  The girls got their heads together and decided to set up a little stand at the edge of our front yard, right along the gravel road that goes past our farm, to see if they could sell any – 50 cents apiece.  Sure enough…..friends, neighbors, family, and passersby dropped enough money in the can ($25.00+) to pay for an official aquarium for our pet newts.

You see, the kids had found these two pretty little critters while at a lake late this summer, and they had been keeping them in a plastic jug aquarium, feeding them earthworms.  For two months they had thrived in captivity, and so it was time to give them a real deal home.  So we made a trip in to Petco and picked out an aquarium, a floating dock, and a pretty, scenic background.  We already had a collection of fake plants and pretty pebbles from our (late) Betta fish’s bowl.

These are red-spotted newts.  And from our research we’ve found that they are supposed to be quite easy and fun to keep as pets.  So far so good!

gourd and newt collage


Autumn in the Shenandoah valley is a beautiful time of year indeed!  We’ve so much enjoyed watching the leaves turn, as we do every year, wishing we could hold on to the fleeting beauty of the colors just a little longer.  A few weeks ago we took a hike on Skyline Drive (in Shenandoah National Park) with some friends from church (and fellow homeschoolers) on a sunny Friday afternoon.  The kids had a great time running around, exploring all the fun rocks to climb on, picking up pretty fall leaves, and finding just the right stick to use as a walking stick.  The moms couldn’t get enough of the peaceful beauty and brilliant colors.

skyline drive collage


Our most recent excitement has come in the form of a cute little 4-month-old lab puppy.  We got Maggie this past Saturday, after weeks (no, months) of begging from the kids to get a dog.  Maggie is just the right kind of dog for our family.  She fits right in as a sweet and playful friend.  She had a great time tagging along with us on our nature walk the other day.  She loved rolling around in the lush, green barley.



And, of course, we have been busy with school.  Over these first several weeks of this school year, I’ve jiggled and jaggled  our curriculum and schedule (as I always do at the beginning of a year), trying to find what works best for the kids at the stages they are in.  I’ve updated my post about our 2013-14 curriculum choices, so you might want to go over and take a look at that (scroll down to the bottom of the post for the update).  Our main diet is still the regular reading of quality, well written books of all kinds, followed by narration.

Some other highlights of this year include:  a study of hymns, using the book Then Sings My Soul ; memorizing the entire book of James (!) –  so far we’ve memorized the first chapter;  coloring and journaling with note-booking pages for our history reading.

Homeschool HIghlights Collage


I’ve taken a more relaxed approach to nature study so far this year.  Instead of learning about a particular topic during school time, then walking to find and observe that topic, I’ve more or less let the kids draw whatever strikes their fancy.  I have given them some guidelines on a couple of our walks, though.  Pictured here are the results of our Fall Color Nature Walk, and our Fall Seed Pod Nature Walk.  I think Fall is the best time of the year for nature study, personally!

PicMonkey Collage

fall seed pod collage

So there’s a tour of the last several weeks in the lives of these homebodies.  I hope to post more regularly in the coming days.  Look for posts on easy, delicious meals; what Carmen has been up to in pre-school this year; what a homeschool schedule with 5 kids, pre-school to 8th grade looks like; house-keeping tips; and other such “homey” kinds of topics.   Thanks for reading!


Categories: Charlotte Mason, Family & Fun, Homeschooling, Nature, Nature Journals, Nature study, Nature Walks | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

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