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A Lesson I Shan’t Soon Forget

Anybody else out there starting a fall/winter garden? I am beginning my first cold-weather garden in I think three years.

My very first cold-weather garden on our rural property.

Where grasshoppers are everywhere until we have our first frost.

In Plano, I would maybe see two grasshoppers a summer – and I may be exaggerating, but I saw them so infrequently I hardly ever thought about them. But since we don’t yet have chickens, we have all sorts of grasshoppers on the homestead.

I knew I was taking a risk in not covering my newly-emerged plants. I had even not mulched the bed to keep pill beetles from being tempted to lurk there and eat the seedlings as soon as they came up (which happened to me one spring with lettuce). I don’t know what I was thinking.

Yes, I do. I was thinking that I was going to have to water the four-by-ten foot bed at least twice a day until most of the seeds came up, and that I didn’t want to have to deal with moving, then setting back into place, a row cover every time.

I did cover the buried Smart Pots into which I’d planted broccoli and kale.


But, look at this:


Out of forty baby lettuce plants I should have had by now, I have six. I reseeded them and have had a whopping two or three that have come up.

All of my kale had germinated, as well as most of my kohlrabi. I now have none of each.

I have only half the Swiss chard I planted.


Of course, it’s not purely the fault of the grasshoppers. Some of the seeds undoubtedly dried up because when temperatures persist on being near ninety degrees, it’s hard to keep the soil moist! Then again, having a row cover over the bed would have helped. I take full responsibility.

I am determined to have a winter greens garden this year, and so planted all the seeds (and then some) that either didn’t come up or were eaten in a seed sprouting tray. I will transplant them while they’re still relatively young to prevent transplant shock; however, this time I am going to suck it up and put row cover down.

So there, evil grasshoppers! Your babies will be chicken food next year, heh-heh-heh.



Life Without Running Water


The 1550-gallon tank that receives the rain from our gutters.

People think we’re crazy when we tell them we have chosen to live without running water. I’m not sure why, since until the mid-1800’s, no human being had running water in their home. And they got along fine.

Of course, the people we talk to do their best to be polite and nod their heads in pretend understanding when we tell them and try to explain why.

But I think it’s safe to say that they don’t understand. Let me see if you can, just a little bit.

Why we don’t have running water

Plumbing problems occur all too frequently.

When I was single, I experienced multiple plumbing problems. One was my fault. I tried to adjust the float valve in an ornery toilet that didn’t want to settle down and pulled it off, sending a cascade of water shooting through the air.

The other times were accidents that happened in the apartment above me, a leak from the kitchen sink and then later, a broken water line in the refrigerator. Both times, my ceiling got soaked.

In our suburban house, we had two pipe leaks that I can remember offhand. One was in the wall right by the shower in the master bath, and ended up requiring that the entire shower be replaced. We had to repair or replace faucets and toilets on several occasions. And most occasions created stress and inconvenience.

Plumbing problems are expensive to repair.

We ended up spending several thousand dollars on plumbing repairs during our eight years there. We spent very little on electrical repairs, and only a couple of minor things when we were getting the house ready to be put on the market.

Having running water in the house encourages waste.

Most non-farming Americans use dozens, if not hundreds, of gallons of water every day. (Farmers, of course, use much more.) Much, if not most, of that is pure waste (“pure waste”. Does that make any sense?). It drove me up the wall the way B would let the faucet run just for the fun of it.

Speaking of waste…

How we take care of our bodily waste

We have a basic composting toilet, a five-gallon bucket housed inside a box under a toilet seat. Immediately upon defecating in it, we cover it with dirt. There is no odor, and no flies unless somebody (a-hem, our son) forgets to close the toilet lid.

Every day or two, J digs a hole somewhere and buries the toilet-bucket contents.

Urine is taken care of differently, and I’ll let y’all use your imagination there. Hint: it’s less complicated than the poop bucket.

How we bathe

Swimming several times a week during the summer takes care of most of our personal cleansing needs.

Beyond that, there is the old-fashioned sponge bath. It uses a lot less water than even the shortest shower. We also don’t bathe every day. Doing so does two things: first, it eliminates many of the beneficial microbes living on the skin. Second, when you scrub vigorously or use soap, you wash off the precursors to vitamin D that the sunshine causes to form on your skin. In other words, daily showering can create a vitamin D deficiency.

How we do dishes and wash hands

Our faucet is the bottom part of a Berkey water filter, which is a stainless steel container with a spigot. Our “sink” is currently a plastic tub. When we move into the new house, however, we will have the Berkey set up above an actual sink, which will drain into a five-gallon bucket below.

How we get water into the house

We have a couple of five-gallon water jugs that we keep more or less filled from our water storage tanks. From these jugs J fills the filter part of the Berkey and we fill the faucet part of the Berkey. Water for drinking and cooking comes from one of three of the five-gallon buckets into which the water is filtered.

How I do laundry

I put water into a plastic tub set aside for the express purpose of washing laundry. I either pour it from one of the jugs, or fill it straight from a water tank.

The perfect graywater system

When I finish doing laundry or the sink gets full, I carry whichever tub to whatever tree or part of the garden that I think at the moment needs a bit of irrigation. If it has rained recently, I dump graywater into a large black plastic container that is supposed to be a landscaping pond to save it for when the soil dries up again.

“But don’t all these things take a lot of extra time?”

The two things that take the most time are burying the contents of the composting toilet and the laundry. But, guess what? We have the time to do them. The other tasks only take a few minutes out of every day.

And having chores like those to do ensure that even when the weather is at its nastiest, we get some physical activity in.

In other words, living without running water just may improve our health. And to answer the most burning question my readers will have: no, we don’t miss a shower.  Usually.


Baby Greens And Mole-Proofed Beds





It’s been a while since I gave y’all a garden update, and I’ll be honest: because after publishing the “My Fried Garden” post, I got so sick of watering that I tore up all the plants that I didn’t really care about, or that weren’t producing well.

But now that fall has arrived and the daytime weather doesn’t make me feel like sleeping all day, I’ve got things growing again. Some things are summer crops, many are fall/winter plants; namely, greens and carrots. Above you can see how well my potted pepper is doing. We’ve harvested two red peppers from it.

Following is a photo of what I think are baby arugula seedlings. They are between the blueberries and the New Zealand spinach path, and must have been dropped on the day I planted the – on the other side of the garden. I am doing an experiment and not watering them, just to see how they do with only dew as their moisture (not a lot of rain around here yet).


Next, baby lettuce growing in my official greens garden. Notice the landscape fabric sticking out. Having lost most of my kale seedlings last fall to Mr. Mole, I decided to mole-proof my greens. I dug this bed up six to nine inches down, lined it with the fabric, then filled it back in with the dirt.



I also dug the Big Bag Beds into the ground for mole-proofed growing. The row cover keeps the grasshoppers (which will not go away until we have our first freeze) from eating the seedlings.


Here’s the other big bag bed. The cabbage seeds are covered with cups (which are weighted down with rocks) so I don’t have to water it every day. They are taking so long to germinate, I reseeded them three or four days ago.



I am growing red Russian kale in two 20-gallon Smart Pots that are half-buried in the soil, with the soil inside the pot at ground level. This is so that the plants can receive the benefits of soil insulation when temps fall below 25 degrees (F). The second photo shows actual kale plants. They’re already getting their true leaves, along with the broccoli. :)



I have one cucumber plant (I had two) that remains healthy. But with temperatures forecast to start dipping into the mid-forties, I’m not sure how long the heat-loving veggie-fruit will keep producing. Production has dropped off considerably as it is. Here it is. Note that I pruned it a couple of times a few weeks ago.


Another summer crop: basil. I’m not eating off it now, as it’s lost a lot of its flavor. But because of its seeds I have at least two baby basil growing near it. I include its photo to show you how big and green it is even though I quit watering it a long time ago.


What follows is a blurry photo of a carrot seedling. I am planning on growing at least half our carrots in the 200-gallon Smart Pot, above ground, to keep the pill beetles from instantly eating them as soon as they germinate and to keep rain from washing the seeds away into eternity. The photo after shows you the actual pot.



The New Zealand spinach patch was one of the casualties during the drought. But can you beat it? Now there are several dozen seedlings growing there! The parents apparently seeded before I ripped them out of the ground.



We’re going to have potatoes! (This is the first time I’ve grown them.) This one and the smaller one behind it are the two out of eight or so that I planted in the ground and did not overwater and therefore cause the spuds to rot. The next photo show three potato plants in a 20-gallon Smart Pot.



Here is my sweet potato patch. I’ll be harvesting them in about three weeks; I’ll let you know what we get.


If you’re doing anything for a fall garden, or preparing for a spring/summer garden right now, feel free to share in the comments below! :)



I made a video with the details; sorry for the crummy quality, but it delivers the info you need.

Click here to download my novel, The Envelope.

Click here to download The Ultimate Guide To Raised Beds.

Click here to download Hatching The Nest Egg.


Regaining My Gardening Sanity

By mid-August, thanks to this year’s drought, I was ready to give up on gardening. Then I found out about Larry Hall’s self-watering container gardening system, and began to make the transition toward doing that next spring.

In essence, I was going to throw out all my principles and long-held beliefs about natural vegetable gardening and instead spend gobs of money on pond liners, float valves, and soil-less potting mix ingredients. I was going to go against much of what I teach in my book, How To Grow Vegetables Without Losing Your Mind.

I believe I had lost my mind.

Don’t get me wrong. If you often travel or live in a place where gardening in the ground just can’t happen, Larry Hall’s self-watering system can allow you to grow an abundance of your own food, regardless. But two things kept bothering me as I set out to prepare my garden for the switch – no, three, because whenever I have to spend money I am bothered.

The other two things were first, I knew that if I would just be patient, the garden soil would eventually be amended to the point where it would hold water and nutrients; and second, even using Smart Pots the potting mix in containers dries out much more quickly than the soil in the ground. Sure, peat moss retains a lot of water, but things are not pretty if you let it dry out, and to not let it dry out requires – what?

More water.

In the meantime, as you know if you are one of my avid readers, I discovered Paul Gautchi and his wood chip mulch method. And I volunteered to be a guinea pig.

Guinea pig no more

Regardless of how I was going to grow my summer vegetables, I’ve been determined to become self-sufficient in greens once again, as I was when we lived in Plano. Thanks in part to breaking my arm last fall, in part to living in a tiny house, I had no greens last fall and winter. This year, I decided, was going to be different.

So while I continued to ask God to guide me about what to do with my summer garden, I spent a good week digging my Big Bag Bed Smart Pots and landscape fabric into a few spots in my garden in order to mole-proof my greens beds. I kept watching more Paul Gautchi and Back To Eden garden videos.

I began to lean toward transitioning my garden to wood chips whether or not the method would allow it to be “irrigation free.” At the very least, I would not need to irrigate it nearly as much as I had to this year.

A couple of days ago, something happened that took me completely over to the “Back To Eden” side of the fence. A friend (shout-out and public “thank you!” to D.G. here) e-mailed me a link to a video confirming my decisions.

I don’t have to be a guinea pig. Angie Hepp, who lives in NORTHeast Oklahoma (we live in the southeastern part, in case you’ve missed that) volunteered before I did. Check out these two videos, shot within a month from each other. During the first one, we were still in a drought. Tell me if her garden looks like it’s in a drought.

During the second, the drought had ended but its end had not brought anything close to an abundance of rain.

The Hepps live only a couple hours north of us. They have the same kind of soil, the same kind of climate (perhaps their USDA growing zone is ½ to 1 down from ours, but it still was in the upper nineties and higher with no rain for at least a month this summer).

Angie only watered the seeds to get them germinated. After that, she did not irrigate one time. Not even during the drought. She saw only a handful of pests the whole summer, and got an abundance of delicious food without having to fertilize.

For us, the orchard will still be priority. If the next six months we can only obtain enough wood chips to put eight inches in the orchard (that’s a lot of wood chips, folks!), then I am going to be satisfied with doing lasagna gardening (more on that in an upcoming post) in my vegetable garden next year and transition it to a “Back To Eden” garden as we are able to obtain more wood chips.

Nevertheless, the day is coming. Angie Hepp’s videos got me so excited, that I dreamed about Back to Eden gardens that night. I did. For real.

I look forward to the summer when, in the miserable heat and humidity of mid-July through August, I will continue to enjoy gardening because I won’t have to do much work during that weather.