Blackberries at the BELL Garden

Every once in awhile it’s fun to get a great surprise. This weekend I answered the call on our local NextDoor app to help pick blackberries at a local non-profit farm and got a sweet one! Tucked behind the local middle school here on the west side of Nashville is the coolest garden project I’ve seen in a long time.

The Bellevue Edible Learning Lab garden is an oasis of a garden that shows off the beautiful volunteer work, company sponsored structures and an explosion of color. As you walk up to a wisteria- covered, rough-wood gazebo you are greeted with piles of produce that are for sale to the public on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Baskets of garden gloves are ready for willing hands and Miss Deborah is happy to direct you to a task. Saturday’s conscription was to pick beautiful blackberries that lined the western edge of the 1 acre garden guarded by a flock of purple martins.

The garden provides opportunity for all to invest in something bigger than themselves. Whether you’re young or old, there are jobs to be done and lessons to be learned. The BELL Garden provides an opportunity to everyone in the community to come together and even encourages the students at the middle school to take part. My mom would have loved this! She was a pioneer in her day of teaching the value of the garden in her fourth grade classroom in Upstate New York. I remember her writing grant proposals for garden beds outside her classroom and using some of that money to purchase red wigglers to demonstrate composting with her students. Ellen was a garden trailblazer and she would have drooled over this opportunity.

If you’re local, stop by the market on Tuesdays from 4-6pm and Saturdays from 9am-noon or check out the BELL Garden website for information on volunteering! If you’re not in the Nashville area, check out your local agricultural extension for information on projects near you. You might be surprised by what’s around your corner!

Sharing Your Garden

Some of my favorite things about our home are the things family and friends have shared with us.  My brother in law is an amazing maker and crafted a perfectly sized table in our entry way as a housewarming present.  It is the first thing you see as you enter the house and is a sweet reminder of him every time we use it. My mom and dad gave me a painting that she painted and he framed.  Every time I see it I think of my mom taking up painting as a retired elementary school teacher and how she thrilled to work with watercolors.   I remember the hours my dad enjoyed working on projects in his shop.  He would get so excited when he found a great piece of burled cedar or smooth walnut.  He appreciated the color, texture and natural beauty of every piece of wood he worked with and the smell of fresh sawdust is still one of the sweetest smells in the world to me.  These things add so much character to our home but when we head outdoors the blessings start to multiply.

Lenten Rose

Divide & Multiply

Just after we moved into our latest property my sister came to visit from Northern Virginia.  She brought along with her a few pieces of lamb’s ear, a section of Lenten rose and a couple of peony roots.  These have grown into the foundation plantings for two of our main flower beds.  Every spring I get so excited to see these gifts grow more and more.  These plants have history; a story to tell.

You see my grandfather was a gardener in the heart of Quincy, MA, just outside of Boston.  They fed their family and many others through the Great Depression as they used the land God gave them right in in the middle of the city.  He had a huge garden that took up most of their yard, chickens and even grape vines! He shared his appreciation for gardening and his peonies with my mom who raised us to love the process in Upstate New York.  She shared them with my sister in Virginia who in turn blessed me in Tennessee.  Those peonies have so much history!

As I look over our yard I see so many plants, both decorative and edible, that have been gifts from others and I strive to continue the blessing.

How to divide your plants

Root Plants

Sharing root plants is incredibly easy and beneficial for your plants, your own yard or better yet, for a friend!  When you see the leaves a bit smaller or the plants are outgrowing their space it is time to divide.  My favorite in-depth guide to dividing plants can be found at Garden Gate magazine.  Their drawings of the root systems are very helpful.  I’ve been most successful with this process in early spring while the ground is damp but not saturated.  I take a shovel and cut parts of the plant (such as hosta or lamb’s ear) off the side and tuck it into its new home.  If you are transporting the plants make sure the roots don’t dry out.  My sister kept wet paper towels around the roots and transported them in a sealed plastic bag.  Just make sure you don’t keep the plant in the sealed bag for more than 12-18 hours.

Lillies from my friend Jeanie

Bulbs

When spring flowering bulbs start to flower less and less, it’s time to divide in order to multiply.  Divide bulbs after their foliage has died back so you can see where to dig without damaging any bulbs. A good rule of thumb is every 3-5 years to keep your plants flourishing.  I tend to dig a few inches from where I think the bulb has grown in order to get any small outside bulb growth without causing damage.  After digging up the bulbs I separate them and replant or share with a friend. Make sure you check each bulb as they should be firm.  If you find any squishy ones throw them away to prevent the spread of any fungal issues or disease.

Seeds

Seed saving is one the easiest ways to share your garden wealth.  Each year I am more and more convinced that saving my garden seeds not only saves me money but the resulting plants are healthier and more prolific each season.  When the seed adapts each season to your specific soil and climate the results are fantastic and include larger blooms, hardier plants and larger harvests.  When we share with our neighbors we all benefit from regionally adapted seed.  If you don’t know where to find seeds in your area check out NextDoor, Facebook or a Seed Saver exchange at your local library. 

So, the next time you are admiring your friend’s garden or an abundant plant in your neighborhood ask if they might want to share.  It’s a great way to keep plants healthy and make a new friend!

What plants are in your yard that might bless someone?

Grandmum Burgess’ Carrot Cake

I don’t want to start a fight here or anything but my Grandmum’s carrot cake is the very best carrot cake, hands down.

2/5/21 carrot haul

Yep, I said it. You might think you’ve had the best but unless you’ve had this recipe – step back. Fact is, my Grandmum couldn’t have cared less who had the best recipe. She just kept herself very busy, working with my Grandpa to take care of their family and anyone God led into their lives. Waldo and Lenna lived on a massive 1/4 acre in downtown Quincy, Massachusetts and through thick or thin (including the Depression, wars and rationing) my grandparents home was open and tea was on the table.

I remember summers when they would visit us and settle in to enjoy “farm life” on our 5 acres in Upstate New York. Grandpa Burgess would help my mom in the garden while Grandmum would shell peas or grate carrots for her famous cake. I loved the cake but hated the raisins that my mom would ask her to include. Carrot cake doesn’t need the extra sweet, in my opinion, so I give you the real, the original, BCCE (best carrot cake ever).

For those of you who know my family and the way we eat, this is a very Saturday treat!

Best Carrot Cake Ever

  • Combine oil & sugar in a medium bowl and beat in one egg at a time. The mix will become fluffy.
  • 1 1/2 Cups Oil (I use coconut oil)
  • 2 Cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • Mix together:
  • 3 cups grated carrots
  • 1 grated apple
  • 1/2 C. crushed pineapple
  • 1 C. chopped nuts
  • Add in:
  • 2 C flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt

Combine all ingredients and pour into a greased 9″ x 13″ pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until firm and caramel brown on top. Frost with this simple, delicious, not-too-sweet cream cheese frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 1 stick butter (4oz, softened)
  • 1 block cream cheese (softened)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 cups powdered sugar

Beat all ingredients till smooth and frost your completely cooled cake.

Dreamy (Almost) No-Dig Vegetable Garden Project

This past year has been a wild one but afforded our family the time to start our first serious garden project at this house. I started the plans in November when my boys were out of the country with no idea that we would have ALL THE TIME WE COULD WANT to get it off the ground (or is that “in the ground”?)

We’ve completed SO many indoor projects in the past four years (I promise that one of these days I will post about our hall bathroom, game room and basement bathroom remodels), but it’s time to head outdoors. Our goal was to have a big enough vegetable garden to provide for our family with dreams of having plenty to share with friends and neighbors. Honestly, I also wanted a project big enough for my three children to be able to pitch in as well! Hard work is a great teacher and so much fun.

We planned for 32′ x 18′ of fenced space for annuals (I’m not interested in sharing with my wild neighbors) with an additional 3′ on each side for perennials. We’re starting this experiment with Charles Dowding’s no-dig approach. (As a side-note: if you need a way to escape the craziness of life, Charles Dowding’s YouTube videos are inspiring and really restful.) Now, let the digging begin. No, no digging. Well, we did dig the holes for posts but I think our garden still qualifies. My oldest daughter, Annika, and I got the holes dug for the posts in about a week. Not bad! We chose 6′ cow fencing for our sides and left a 4′ space on the east end for an entry gate.

Next we posted on NextDoor for cardboard boxes and were able to collect plenty to cover the entire garden area. Our walkways and entry area needed a solid mulching so we sent a request to ChipDrop and got a beautiful FREE load of wood chips from a local arborist. We found a local landscape company that had a February special that would deliver garden soil if we purchased 5 yards so $150 later, we were set. We spent a few days with the wheelbarrow and placed the materials in a pattern of rows that I planned out with the help of the Farmer’s Almanac online Garden Planner tool. We were ready to… wait. It was only the end of February. Our last frost date isn’t until April 27th dang it! Patience is a virtue and indoor seed starting is about to become a new skill.

My husband thought I needed a little shed-type entry area to hang tools and provide some shade for our house critters that like to visit the garden with me. He built a 4′ x 6′ garden hut that is perfect for all of us. That’s Misty the dog and Winter the bunny taking advantage of the shade – getting a break from their hard work.

Overall we have been extremely pleased with the results of the project. We were amazed at the amount of vegetables we have harvested and the fun it has been to cultivate. If I were to start this again there are a few things I would change. First, I would have made sure there were NO exposed seams in the cardboard. The weeds we had in the garden (namely: Bermuda grass, wild chive and dandelion) all came up through the spots that we did not layer the cardboard at the seams. We continue to weed those spots but hope with diligence that they will clear out eventually. Second, we would have dug a trench round the whole project. Because Bermuda grass spread with runners as well as by roots and seed, we are now digging a trench that will be maintained to spot those stragglers. All in all, it has been SO worth it.