Monday, May 26, 2014

Spring in the Redoubt

It is spring - glorious spring!  The weather has been beautiful - just right for planting and working in the fresh air.  We have been spending most every daylight hour outside, either working in the garden, cutting firewood or playing with the bees.  The earth is bursting with new life and we are giddy with joy just to feel the sun on our necks.

One of our goals this year is to have all of our firewood cut, split and stacked in our wood huts long before the searing heat of summer beats down on this vast prairie.  We have a load of firewood that was delivered earlier this spring that we are slowly whittling away.  As the logs disappear from the pile, the huts fill with freshly split wood.  It is a wonderful feeling of accomplishment!  One of the things we have figured out over the years is that a little work every day goes a long way toward filling our wood huts before the winter snows fly.  Sir Knight leaves for work early every morning, however, the children and I are home and are able to spend a chunk of time in the cool of the morning sawing, splitting and stacking.  We only work for an hour or so, but our progress is swift and sure. 

This weekend we made wood cutting a family affair and really made progress!  Sir Knight and Master Hand Grenade both ran saws (Saw Wars) while Princess Dragon Snack and I ran the log splitter.  Dragon Snack ran the hydraulics (she does a phenomenal job) as I hefted the wood.  Master Calvin hauled wood from the log deck to the log splitter and the guys periodically stopped sawing long enough to stack the split wood.  It was perfect symmetry.  Maid Elizabeth took care of household duties (cleaning, baking and laundry) while we worked outside and Miss Serenity spent her day working in town.  One more row and our first log hut will be filled!  Now, only two more huts to go.

Almost full!

Ready to fill another hut.
Gardening on our prairie has proven to require an ability far superior to mine.  When Sir Knight and I moved to our prairie home, I was under the impression that I was a master gardener.  No so!  I quickly came to realize that I was a fine gardener as long as all of the conditions were favorable.  This prairie proved more challenging that I could have imagined and my gardens failed year after year.  Finally, in an act of desperation, I began building raised beds.  Over the years Sir Knight and Master Hand Grenade have built a number of garden beds, but not enough to provide for all of our produce needs.  This year, in an effort to greatly increase our yield from our limited number of beds, we are planting a "square foot" garden.  It is amazing how many plants you can actually plant in such a small space!  I will keep you posted on our progress - I'm hoping that it will be a lavish yield.

Our garden arranged in "square foot" fashion.
In another attempt at unconventional gardening, we put in a few "potato towers" next to the garden beds.  We read a number of articles before putting these towers together and the opinions seems split - a lot of people said they had great success while a number claimed the towers to be a total failure.  Again, we will keep you posted of our progress.  You can judge their effectiveness for yourselves!

Potato tower cages fashioned from 2x4" welded wire, anchored with
a metal fence post down the center (for wind).

An 8" layer of straw.....

Followed by a couple of handfuls of dirt....

Cutting a seed potato.

The seed potatoes arranged close to the sides of the wire cage.

Master Hand Grenade arranging more potatoes.

Almost full.

Finished with a layer of soil.

Three completed potato towers.
Among all of the work, we took time to smell the lilacs and the children took time to be children.  Master Calvin became Calvin James - "Gentleman Adventurer".  He spent his time filling his satchel with treasures and looking very dapper indeed!

Calvin James - "Gentleman Adventurer"

I hope your spring is bursting with hope and life! 

Until next time....



  1. Enola,

    Great job on the raised garden bed and the potato towers. I can't wait to here more about your potato towers as time goes by.

    Having your wood all chopped and stacked before the heat of the summer makes a world of difference, than having to rush before winter rolls in.

  2. Keep us posted on how the potato towers work out.

    I have not seen that method before-- all the towers I have seen are solid dirt (very expensive in my situation, unless I want to make several divots in the yard that will be most distressing to my hubby, and also somewhat high-maintenance as you must add several inches of dirt every few days).

    It will sure be interesting to see what develops.

    By the by, how do you deal with the tendency of raised beds to dry out?? I tried raised-bed gardening when we were living in NW AR. I almost could not water fast enough to fight the heat and the dry (and I watered very early in the morning, sometimes as soon as it was light enough to see). Came to find out, I would have been better off to have hired a jackhammer and made SUNKEN beds instead.

    I ask because I figure your summer rainfall isn't that high, and doubt that irrigation is a big part of your survival gardening plan.

    1. I will definitely keep you posted! We, too, are excited to see how the towers work.

      Yes, the raised beds do like to dry out. The very best way that we have found to combat that is mulch - lots and lots of mulch. The mulch retains moisture better than anything. You're right, our summer rainfall is not very high, and, I don't like to spend hours watering a garden. The potato towers are full of straw, which is very good at retaining moisture and I made small divets prior to planting each seed, in an effort to help the soil retain moisture. As soon as the plants pop through the soil I will heavily mulch between each plant - reducing the weeding and retaining moisture. I will post pictures as we go and let you know how much watering is required.


    2. What do you mulch with?? I have been mulching with compost (boughten, we barely make enough to fertilize, much less mulch). We get plenty of moisture in PA so a deep mulch is not really necessary but I do not plan on remaining in the northeastern quadrant of this country once my grandmother has passed on. We are looking at the western Wisconsin/eastern Minnesota, western NC, and the Spokane area (pulling for Spokane myself but that's probably heavily affected by how much I enjoy "knowing" you and Patrice).

      Either way I will have to be better at gardening with less moisture, and do not again plan to be dependent on the electric well pump or a slave to the garden hose.
      Hoping to put in berries soon, on a 2-foot row system. I do not particularly want the job of fighting a mower between the rows. Wondering if wood chips (pine bark chips are available quite cheaply) would be functional.

    3. MC

      Well, I do know this wonderful little "Shouse on the Prairie" that's for sale.....

      Mulch? Lots and lots of rotten (or even fresh) straw or hay. We really like to leave a couple of bales out over the winter. They get wet and stinky and begin to decompose and the little plants just love them. Store-bought compost is really not worth the money. I don't put wood chips directly on top of the garden - it seems to mess with the pH of the soil, but I do use a lot of biomass in my garden beds. I have a book on permaculture that I am absolutely in love with. I will give a bit of an overview and put it on my blog so I can share it with you! I really think its the way to go, but we will do a little as we go - as time and money allows.

      Keep us posted on your longed for move!


  3. I have great success using this method of potato planting....harvesting is a snap, with no digging!

  4. I so enjoyed the beautiful photos of your life and work. It is almost a shock to me to suddenly realize that there is no baby left in Master Calvin. How he has grown!
    I am excited to read more about your gardening adventures. We are relocating to a place I think may be "in the neighborhood" (which having lived in Wyoming my definition is different than most people's) and I plan to try the Back to Eden method of gardening, which like you posted, takes lots of mulch.
    I was the "advanced scout" for our family a few weeks back, taking a pickup and horse trailer load of our possessions through sun, rain, snow, sleet, rain, sun over multiple mountain passes in three states and then over a hilly, twisty, narrow road that had very rough places from construction, during which cars piled up behind me, so I pulled over no less than four times when I could find a spot long enough for my rig. It was dark, I was tired and the people behind me on a Friday night were angry at my unfamiliarity with the road and ability to stop a heavy load on a time when I spied someplace that "might" work. I drew honks and arms extended out the windows (with the finger that means something special to them). I pulled onto the road where our new home is located and there was a rig with a flat bed and men were loading a vehicle onto it. It was a welcome relief to be still for a minute after 13 hours. I didn't realize how wiped out I was until I saw someone that looked familiar and just that caused me to relax, to feel safe. I thanked God and then called out the window to tell the men to not hurry. In a couple minutes they pulled out and I traveled on to the house, walked the dog in the starlight and went to bed.
    The man I saw looked like Sir Knight. It was just enough to remind me that not everyone was a carload of young people, angry at the older lady from out of state that would not risk bottoming out her trailer hitch in the rough patches, who was praying that she wouldn't find the young and wreckless off the road in the lake around the next corner, as they sped by well over the posted 45mph.

  5. Oh I love the idea of the potatoe tower. Please let us know if it works.

  6. I love the hoop hut! Very clever. It will be interesting to learn how the potato towers work out. Thanks for sharing both ideas.
    Montana Guy

  7. Do you have your own log splitter, or do you rent/ borrow one? I would like to get one, but they are so expensive.

    1. Jonathan;

      We own our log splitter. They are expensive, and because of that, we put off getting one for years. Sir Knight and I split all our own wood, admiring our friends log splitters from afar. Finally, after some excruciatingly stringy white pine, Sir Knight traded some ammo for a log splitter. We have never looked back. I am so thankful for the splitter. It enables Sir Knight and Master Hand Grenade to saw while Maid Elizabeth, Miss Serenity, Princess Dragon Snack, Master Calvin and I split and stack. Most of the time, Princess Dragon snack runs the lever, freeing up the bigger kids to do the heavy lifting. We have found our log splitter to be worth its weight in gold!


  8. I also am intrigued with the potato tower. :) And the hoop hut is clever indeed. I am wondering how your bees are doing? I had not noticed any updates and am very interested to know how it is going. Thanks!


  9. I look forward to hearing how your potato towers work out. I have heard very mixed revues from the various "schemes" over simple row planting. Please let us know when you have harvested them.

  10. Thanks for the gardening tips. Loved the super cute pics. Much too cute.

  11. Oh my I love love his little outfit!!!!!