It’s inevitable

We have all heard it before, you can’t live forever. I know this, but to live it, well, that is just something entirely different. We all knew my wonderful father, Jim Ralston, was not going to live much longer. He was suffering from a terribly fast paced lung disease. One that was taking his breath to the point that he could not walk across the room without needing to “catch” his breath. It seems so terribly cruel for a man who had some of the strongest set of lungs anyone could ever wanted. My father was an amazing musician. The voice on him could be heard singing houses away while he sat on the back porch playing his guitar and singing. This was a nightly occurrence, if weather permitted. One that was not entirely appreciated  as a young person. Thankfully I came to know what a talented person my father was. I had the pleasure of singing with him weekly at church and for a occasional wedding or a public function. My dad influenced many people to pursue their own dreams of singing and or playing music.

This terrible disease known as, pulmonary fibrosis , stripped my Dad of his ability to sing. I asked him why he didn’t still play the guitar, he answered, “it’s no fun playing the guitar if I can’t sing too”. I know people who would have given their right eye to be able to  play the guitar like my Dad. Apparently they were like peanut butter and jelly to him. Can’t have one without the other. He loved PBJ’s too!

James A. Ralston

Jim A. Ralston with pruner in hand.

Another one of my Dad’s great talents was landscaping. We use to joke when I lived at home that he needed to move on to the neighbor’s yard. He had done all that he could with our 1/4 acre lot in the suburbs. My parents eventually did start a landscaping business. Many homes around the Bowie area still have the gorgeous landscaping my father installed for them.

The love of plants and the love of being outdoors is one of the passions I inherited from my Dad. His love fell on the side of beautiful landscapes and hardscapes. I very much appreciate that as well, but  for me the love is in the medicinal and culinary purposes of a plant. Though I do love to grow flowers that are non eatable.

Some how it just seems completely natural to me to be able to identify plants. People are often surprised how many plants I can identify. This I thank my father for. One of the other many things to be thankful for that my father instilled in me is the love of working with my hands. I love to get my hands dirty from hard work that will produce whatever it is I was looking for in the work. A newly pruned tree or shrub, a cleanly edged garden bed, tomato plants tied to the support, or a weed free garden. Trust me the list could go on and on!



This has been a very difficult week, to say the least.


Last week my beautiful rooster, Prince, was less active  than usual. Some thing I always keep an  eye out for with my chickens. My husband said, “he’s probably cold”. This you would think would be the case since the temperatures were barely leaving the 20’s, but the chickens definitely do not seem to mind the cold nearly as much as we do. They will lift a foot and tuck it under their body when it is real cold. Or they will tuck their head in closer to their body. Besides that, life continues as normal for them during the winter.

I hate to say it but my observation was correct. Prince was on his way to the other place we will all eventually journey to. For Prince I hope it will be a place with no predators, fresh clean water, all the feed any chicken could ever want, pastures to hunt for insects, hens to watch over, and a clean safe roost for the night. Prince went to his pasture heaven January 12, 2015 just one day after my Dad left his physical body to go to the next realm.

My wise retired Hospice nurse Mother has said for many years, “death is part of life.” This is so very true. Rest in peace my dearly missed father for one day, hopefully in the distant future I will happily be with you forever again.


Regardless of the everlasting winter

You know that expression “spring has sprung” ?  It is alive and well on my homestead! As it has happened for the many springs I have lived here, it is happening again. The many types of spring bulbs are rising above the soil waiting for their very own perfect day to emerge. Which is always a delight. The chickens are starting to increase their egg production. This is very much appreciated after their extremely slow production, which started much earlier this past late summer than in years past.  The maple trees are budding out, and the maple sap is flowing, which attracts a variety of insects. Unfortunately, our honey bees did not make it, so we do not have the pleasure of seeing them foraging on the maple’s sap or the Leather Leaf Mahonia’s lemon scented blossoms.

Another early sign of spring here in the mid Atlantic region is  the emergence of the red fox. I have not seen the red fox yet, but I am quite sure it has awakened from its winter slumber. How could I possibly know? The nose of a Great Dane mix, that is how. Lucy, my mixed Dane, which we do not know what else she is mixed with, has been bursting out of the door in the morning. I recognize her behavior from years past when we have had fox scouting the chicken yard for a way in.  Lucy runs around the yard following the fox’s invisible movements in the yard.  A dog’s nose is truly amazing! She will linger in a spot before moving on. I wonder what she could be “reading” with that amazing nose of hers? At times in her “senses quest” her hackles will raise. Curious. Even with a dog such as Lucy on alert, the brave and hungry fox will be so bold as to enter the fenced yard during the daytime to pluck a chicken from its seemingly secure foraging grounds.


Lucy the fox scout

My Danes are family dogs that live indoors with us. Yet being dogs, they have their innate sense of purpose. Danes were originally bred for guarding the estate as well as boar hunting. Seeing as we do not have boars to hunt in our mid Atlantic region, they will have to just stick to one purpose. They do a fine job, mostly, of estate guarding. They would love to keep the delivery people off the property, as well as any stray animals: squirrels, groundhogs, foxes, and dogs or cats that do not belong to the family.

praying mantis casing

Praying Mantis casing

During all this garden cleaning I needed to move my Jasmine vine. It had become too “pushy” with the side of my house. I would rather not have it move the wood we nailed in place. In doing so, I found 4 praying mantis casings. I have given 3 away and moved the other to a spot under my evergreens. It is truly amazing when you stop using chemicals on your land what insects can be found with enough time to establish themselves. We have a plethora of praying mantis here. They are a sight to behold. As well as study.

snow cardinal

Snow Cardinal

Yet another late winter snow. I have to say the cardinals do look amazing all fluffed out with the snow falling around them! I am happy to report that if you keep the seed coming all year round they know you are a place to keep coming back to. And we sure do love it.



apple tree

Apple Trees

I bought some apples that were local, organic, and heirloom. The children and I loved them. So I thought, we can grow apples, perhaps not so well as our northern neighbors, but they are the most important element to me in the fruit itself. So without haste I decided, “Lets give it a go!” So here we go. Did I mention from time to time that I find gardening/homesteading to be an ongoing science experiment?

Precious time

tomato plant in back yard

tomato plant in back yard

tiger swollow tail

tiger swallowtail



luna moth

luna moth

The older I get the more I understand how precious time is. Some of my family members love to sleep. I prefer the waking world. The morning, in particular, especially while everyone else is asleep. There are so many options in the morning, many more than there are in the afternoon or evening.
Take the luna moth for an example. It has no mouth. It’s sole purpose, in the adult moth form, is to find a mate, breed, and lay eggs. It only lives as an adult for about 1 week. I have been fortunate this year to have seen three. They are magnificent creatures with their impressive wing span and their unmistakable color.
Another exciting event for us on the homestead this early spring was the courtship of the toads. They were singing their beautiful courtship song for what I thought was a short period of time, perhaps 3-4 days. This, before enticing a mate into the pond for a brief courtship, mating, and many, many eggs. This entire process from song to eggs only lasted, what seemed 2 weeks. We eagerly watched the eggs waiting for the inevitable tadpoles. Which, again, seemed so fast to emerge from their eggs. But, alas, time slowed. We watched and watched, waiting for the tadpoles to grow legs. It seemed for weeks, perhaps months, that the tadpoles just stayed the exact same size. Hummmm, what’s this? Time has really slowed now. The children lost interest, and honestly, I don’t know what happened to the tadpoles. We haven’t seen them in some time now.

If I am cutting up tomatoes and the chickens are free ranging in the back yard,  I will open the kitchen window and just throw the tomato scraps out. So country sounding, huh? But convenient and practical. That’s me!  And low-and-behold, a rouge tomato plant pops up. Good thing for leaving the grass long. I just love these sorts of surprises around our homestead!

You know you have a healthy environment when you have toads.  A photo of a toad  my kids found, handled, and replaced back to the garden. Sometimes we find them as large as my fist. Very impressive!

I picked up an unknown plant from a plant swap at least 5 years ago. I came to know it as Jeruselum artichoke. Apparently grown in the colonial days for their roots, which are used like potatoes, as they are a tubers. I have not tried them yet. Mostly because I have used them in my garden for their amazing gift of attracting butterfly and bees. Bumble bees seem to be more interested than honey bees in the artichoke. It is a sight to behold to see the astonishing amount of bees and butterfly enjoying the flowers. It would be almost criminal for me to cut the flowers to bring into the house, seeing how the winged beauties treasure this flower so. I must share, and I do share, with the creatures that help to make this all possible on my homestead.

tomato love!

tomato love!

Isn’t this really why we gardeners, dabblers, homesteaders, & farmers alike have the passion for growing our own foods?!  I can tell you a heirloom tomato most defineitly hits my top 3 picks for the all-time most treasured foods to grow.

I know it’s the end of summer now and I am just now posting something. But as the title goes, time is precious, and I’ve been in the gardens!

As things begin to change.

Leatherleaf Mahonia

Leatherleaf Mahonia

As I last posted in, “Can You Feel It”, things are changing more rapidly here in the mid-Atlantic region of Maryland.   The bees are flying and looking for whatever can be found. Lucky for me, my dear father planted Leatherleaf Mahonia at least 18 yrs. ago. It is one of the first plants to flower and attracts the honey bees on a warm day on my homestead. If you do not know these plants, let me tell you a few things I enjoy about them. They have a holly look (and feel! ouch!), but more in an asymmetrical way. The plant tends to lean this way, then go that way, open here, then close up there. You have the picture. It’s interesting to look at. A very broad leaf that is smooth and glossy. My favorite part, that only lasts for a short time, of about 3 weeks in the early spring:  the tiny lemon, yes lemon, scented flowers. What a treat in the dull, dreary times of February! And as I said, the honey bees just love them.

Initially,  I thought it was 2 of my orginal chicken coop hatchlings of 4-ish yrs ago, that where setting. It appears that one of the triplets isn’t ready for the grueling 21+ day challenge. And, that is if the eggs don’t break. If you are wondering what I am talking about it’s the old girls that are setting, a.k.a, wanting to be Mommas, trying to hatch out eggs.

setting girls

Setting girls

This process is not for the wimps for sure. 21+ days of sitting on the eggs. Setting is actually the “proper” term.  And I do mean “sitting” on the eggs. These girls only get up 1x a day. Really, 1x!! Can you imagine?! They get up to eat,drink,stretch there legs, and defecate. During their tiny time off the nest a funny thing occurs. Other hens lay eggs in the box. I do not know for sure, because as of now I do not speak chicken fluently, but it appears that it’s a “hot spot” to lay eggs. Could it be, that as I have witnessed from years of experience, that there is the mentality of, “hey! there are other eggs here, here’s a good spot!” ?  Or, do the other hens knowingly feel that there is life starting here so lets try to get our eggs hatched? Can’t say, just know they are silly like that.

Tending to all that needs -to -be-done around here is different for all seasons. Sometimes it’s messy, sometimes just cold. So what to do when they meet? For me, dress for both. Trust me, I would not go out in public dressed like this unless I was going to the farm store. They all understand there. But I live very close to the D.C. Metro area, and they really don’t understand here! So I take off the boots that are just under my knees and take off the canvas coat, which is great for repelling water etc., and go out to do my “regular people” things. Kinda like a secret agent, huh?!

chilly me

chilly me

Treasures found with a keen eye.

surprise eggs

surprise eggs

It always amazes people who know me, what a keen eye for detail I have . I see things most people overlook. This is, of course, a blessing and a curse. I would prefer to think of it as a blessing. I will give some recent examples:

My husband was bringing the fallen leaves to our veg garden and I said, ” I hope you didn’t cover over the cilantro”. He had no idea what I was talking about. Seeing as how there were many types of weeds mixed together in the area, I could see how he could have easily overlooked the cilantro plants. Funnily enough, there were 5 cilantro plants growing in the lower part of the garden. They were brought up from a plant I let self-seed 2 years ago! Commmmme on, now that is cool. 2 years ago?! I was trying a technique I read about, which was tilling the soil every 6 weeks in order to bring up the new weed seed  to exhaust the supply. Yeah, that’s another post… But lo & behold, there are 5 amazingly healthy cilantro plant! One of my favorite herbs. What a nice unexpected gift!

The second part of the amazing was, I was covering over the straw that I have for various things on the homestead, when to my delight there were eggs laying in a patch of fallen leaves. These eggs were from at least 3, if not 4, different hens. It is one of the many interesting things I find about keeping chickens.   They like to lay their eggs where others have already layed them.  I guess they think, “well, this looks like a good spot”. Silly hens.  It had been very cold and surprisingly no cracks in the eggs from the plummeting temperatures. I have found in the past that if it is extremely cold out, the eggs will produce hair-line cracks from freezing. Mother Nature was helping me out again. I just love when she rewards me with unexpected gifts!