Michele raking mulch

Garden Improvement 2023

Garden Improvement 2023

Chocolate Box Cottage Diary, Volume 2
Week 12: March 25, 2023

Garden improvement

“Garden Improvement” – a work in progress!

You’ve heard of home improvement, right? Well, this is garden improvement. Shortly after Christmas, Samuel removed the dilapidated raised beds from our garden and leveled the soil by hand with a shovel to smooth out the entire surface. We covered the garden in brown painter’s paper to suppress weed seeds.

Then we got busy raking leaves! πŸπŸ‚ Lots and lots of leaves. We raked the leaves onto a tarp and Sam dragged the tarp to the garden, where we added them to the soil and raked them out about a foot deep (30.5 cm).

The snow, which lasted about 5 weeks, made a moist, thick blanket over the leaves and compacted them, which is helping them break down into the soil. πŸͺ±πŸ€ŽThe earthworms are happy! This is good!!

We plan to convert two sections of our vegetable garden and the apothecary garden to deep mulch, which will conserve water and build the soil, leading to healthier plants. It will also be less work for us over time, all of which will be important improvements.

I sent soil samples off to a lab and we are formulating a plan to gradually add those nutrients that our soil is deficient in, so that the vegetables and herbs we grow will be more nutritionally complete. I will share about the books that we are finding helpful in this process in another post.

Sam brought home the first pick-up load of “green waste” mulch and we spread it along the wide main path – because it was a muddy hazard. As he brings more mulch home, we will continue outward until the sections we are planning to cover are covered in at least 8-12 inches (20-30 cm) of mulch.

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.

~ inspiring proverb, commonly attributed to the Chinese (though they dispute it)

Two weekends ago we planted the fruit and nut trees we bought between snowstorms.

These pictures aren’t the prettiest. Do you know why?

Because bare trees are ugly.

No matter, they will be beautiful in time. We believe in that and so we plant, even though the bare brown sticks don’t look like much.

In a matter of a month or two these unpromising sticks will put out shy, frail blossoms of ephemeral beauty, followed by leaves so green they will at first glisten when they unfurl. Branches will lengthen, new twiggy growth will develop.

There won’t be fruit the first year or two or three. The trees’ upper grow will be mirrored underground in root systems.

We will wait a few years for apricots, peaches, cherries, nectarines, persimmons, and walnuts. But not really. Time passes and we will be busy with other things, so it’s not really waiting. Soon enough there will be fruit to harvest, to enjoy, to preserve. Oh for the day!

For a list of what we planted, read Bejeweled with Icicles.

Shepherd’s purse, Capsella bursa-pastoris, is named for the triangle-shaped “fruit” which will form after the white flowers subside. Although it is considered a weed, it is a useful edible and medicinal plant. The small leaves impart an irresistible peppery snap to salads. Do your research to be certain you can positively identify any wild plant before harvesting or consuming it.

In the top right corner, that little feathery green blur is Zloty Lan Chamomile returning from last year’s roots. Happy I am to see it!

Thorburn's Terra Cotta Tomato seedlings

Instead of planting my peppers and tomatoes 12 weeks ahead of our expected last spring frost, which is around Mother’s Day, I planted 8 weeks ahead. Next year I may try 6.

One of the varieties of tomatoes I planted from seeds I used to grow annually but have let lapse. The tiny cluster of seedlings you see are Thorburn’s Terra Cotta tomato, which I last saved in 2015. Expecting lower-than-normal germination to the age of the seeds, I planted 5-6 per cell. It looks like they may exceed my expectations.

Wood stove maintenance

We had enough of a break in the weather to be able to clean out the wood stove.

Continual burning and the angle of the stovepipe cause soot and creosote to build up inside the stove pipe, which then requires periodic cleaning.

Sam has stovepipe cleaning down to a science. In 45 minutes he has the wood stove cleaned out, the pipe reamed clean, everything put away, and a new fire laid.

Clinging stubbornly to spring!

In spite of evidence to the contrary, it is Spring and I am sticking to it! I know well how capricious Spring is; that does not stop me from reveling in sporadic sunshine, counting the green shoots as they appear, and spending time in the greenhouse.

As the snow recedes, we can see signs of change: day lilies, hyacinth, and daffodils are showing leaves!

Indoor salad garden

My Indoor Salad Garden keeps producing basket after basket of lush greens. I have been growing greens indoors since 2016 and mainly choose to do this from Autumn through Spring, until the outdoor garden is producing. See the VIDEO.

Weekly tea at Mom’s

The harvest you see above made a large Asian Chicken Salad to take to Mom’s for our weekly gathering.

After a lunch of Asian Chicken Salad with Mom, Rolly, Miriam, and Joy, it was show-and-tell time! Joy brought a newly completed red-white-and-blue quilt top for us to ooh and ahh over. She planned this one as a wall hanging in honor of America’s Independence Day and plans to have Rebekah Richardson, a local long-arm quilter, do her quilting magic on the sandwiched quilt before it is bound and labeled.

Fresh eggs daily

The eggs keep coming and we are grateful. Having made two batches of Lemon Curd with Meyer lemons, I turned to oranges: Cara Caras. I found the juice very sweet, so the addition of zest from one lemon along with orange zest added sparkle.

Egg whites leftover from making Lemon and orange curd went into another Angel Food Cake made with rye flour milled fresh in my grain mill. (affiliate link)

This week may hold a baking day – we are out of bread. DeSilva pottery is safe for cooking on the wood stove. I store the pieces on plant stands next to the wood stove.


Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook AND Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Recipes for Two (We’ll call them NYMSC and NYMSCRT)

How many slow cookers do you own?

Are you in a slow cooker rut; making the same few dishes repeatedly?

If you are ready to change things up and try something new, take your pick between these two books! They are both chock-full of fresh, flavorful recipes that will bring color, texture, and nutrition to your meals. You might even give your slow cooker a permanent place on the counter!

The author(s) cover(s) all makes and models of slow cookers, with NYMSCRT focusing on small (1.5 to 3.5-quart) cookers. You will find tasty recipes that work without being overcooked to mushiness. There are lots of helpful charts and tips, such as how to convert conventional recipes to the slow cooker.

NYMSC is encyclopedic; with 350 recipes it covers breakfast, grains and beans, all kinds of meat from beef to seafood, as well as desserts. And yes, there is an entire chapter devoted to casseroles.

I love the Mexican, Italian, and Asian recipes in NYMSC! Having used this cookbook for over 12 years I have never had a recipe failure. Favorites at our house: Quick Teriyaki Chicken, Orange Hoisin Chicken, Thai Pork with Peanut Sauce (though I add the peppers near the end) and Slow Cooker Pinto Beans, which is so easy and foolproof.

NYMSCRT belongs to my mom. I gave it to her years ago, along with a 3.5-quart Crock Pot, and the book is splattered with Post-It notes. Salsa Chicken, Texas Chili, Chicken with Basil Cream, and Ginger Plum Pork are just a few of Mom and stepdad Rolly’s favorites.

Published in 2005 and 2007, respectively, both books are time-tested and proven books on Mom’s and my cookbook shelves. We invite you to seek them out! They are still available through bookstores and you can find gently used copies inexpensively available on eBay and secondhand online booksellers.

PS. The heart-shaped measuring spoons were a gift from Mom years ago and the wooden spoon is one I found at a thrift shop and restored to service with a bit of sanding and polishing.

Good bye and have a good week,
Michele and Samuel

Note: This post contains links to products and vendors I use and appreciate for their quality and usefulness. Some are affiliate, some are not. I may earn a commission from qualifying purchases when you use the links I provide; this does not change your price. Thank you.


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