This was a great exercise in foraging for materials. The rocks for the walkway came from our creek bed (which is now finally dry) and the "glue" for weaving the walls and roof together came from vines trimmed from our grape arbor. The hay floor was leftover from the archery target that fell apart over the winter.
With the exception of herbs, tomatoes, and peppers, our gardens are in. I took the less is more approach in planning this year, thinking of this year as more of a building the soil and figuring out the nuances of sunlight in our yard. I planted fewer things and left wide paths where we will add grass and leaves to work in. I did learn a few things from our tiny Utah gardens and I incorporated some square foot/intensive planting techniques into our very traditional looking garden. We built a compost box this spring and have been busy filling it up with compostable yard waste and food scraps. We still plan to add fruit trees, find a spot for some raspberries, and get some water barrels set up. It's a lot of work if we really want to improve our self sustenance, so it's all hands on deck when it comes time to get this stuff done.
Learning Our Backyard Biome's Flora
Growing our own fruits and vegetables is only one part of making the most of our little plot of land. We are also learning whatever we can about the plants that grow wild (and often abundantly) in our own backyard. Many are useful as food and/or herbal remedies. We've started a pressing book with each wildflower we identify and then we look them up in some of our herbal books and resources to find out what ELSE we can do with them. The kids are also doing the Herb Fairies program, through Learning Herbs and I admit I have learned a lot too. The Minnesota Wildflowers app for iPad has been really helpful, more than worth the couple dollars I paid for it! Violets and dandelions have been "harvested" so far for various crafts, food, and herbal making uses. We even created a dandelion cupcake recipe that was quite popular. We identified garlic mustard (edible), bloodroot (not edible for our purposes) and jack-in-the-pulpit (poisonous). We have been keeping our eye out for morels, but haven't seen anything yet. We started working with our copious amounts of plantain last summer, but the kids have been keeping an eye out for it now as well.
Biking and Other Outdoor Fun
Lucie has been digging our short trips in the bike trailer so far this year. She disappeared on us the other day and after a brief moment (which of course felt like an eternity) of absolute panic on all of our parts, she was discovered sitting in the bike trailer outside...with her helmet. Crisis averted, thank you guardian angel. Logan had been bike-less and Tim had been walking (the reason for short trips) with him alternating between riding and walking. Then at our parish spring festival this weekend (Mass at the fairgrounds, pork chop lunch, auction, raffle, kid games, etc), Logan won a bike! Actually, Logan won the bike with the help of his brothers and daddy who put their extra "second chance" drawing tickets in the bucket for the bike knowing that he needed a new one.
I guess all-in-all you can say we have been keeping very busy! Caleb has two more weeks of school and Aidan is working for an hour or two each day in the school room (which I moved- will share more of that, but maybe not until next school year) to finish up some projects and other things I would like him to finish. Our summer plans are coming together and it is looking like we will most certainly be very busy! In May we started on a grant that is paying for some extra things for Caleb and also allowed us to hire our own PCA for the summer. Looking over the summer schedule with her, I am already grateful for the extra pair of hands and flexibility she will provide for all of us. We are also planning trips to Grandma's house, a longer family vacation to the East Coast area, and hopefully a trip to the World Taekwondo Tournament again.
You can add more dandelion petals for a stronger taste. As is, there isn't a strong taste, more of a "Hmmm, there's something different (in a good way) than a plain cupcake here.....". They were tasty plain, and with strawberry coconut frosting, but I forgot to make sure I had enough powdered sugar for a regular batch of the frosting so we didn't really have frosting. More like a drippy glaze that ended up being just as good for pouring over graham crackers and freezing for Strawberry Coconut "ice cream" sandwiches.
Preheat oven to 400*
1.5-2 C. Fresh Dandelion Petals (try to remove the green part and use just the petals)
4 C. Flour
4 T. Baking Powder
1 t. Salt
1/2 C. Coconut Oil (or other vegetable oil, but coconut is our favorite for baking)
1 C. Sugar
1 C. Kefir
2 C. Milk (or omit Kefir and use 2.5 C. Milk)
Mix wet and dry ingredients separately and then combine. Fill prepared muffin pans (greased or tins) half full. Bake until finished (I'm gonna assume you know what that means), mine only took 10-15 minutes. Cool before frosting.
Strawberry Coconut Frosting
Cream only from 1 can of coconut milk (save the rest for smoothies or something)
Handful of strawberries with the tops cut off
Stir in Powdered Sugar to desired consistency
Note: Writing this post was a good exercise in focusing on all the good stuff going on in our lives, instead of the sometimes nasty stuff in my head- I keep looking back through the pictures and smiling at the memories! I think this is reason number one to find a way to keep blogging in my life for the time being :)