Hip Chick Digs http://www.hipchickdigs.com Adventures of an urban homesteader growing greens, preserving the harvest and tending a backyard barnyard Sat, 03 Jun 2017 04:16:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.6 http://www.hipchickdigs.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/cropped-HCD-logo-32x32.jpg Hip Chick Digs http://www.hipchickdigs.com 32 32 One More Seat http://www.hipchickdigs.com/2017/04/one-more-seat/ Wed, 12 Apr 2017 23:15:20 +0000 http://www.hipchickdigs.com/?p=9050 It turns out there was one more seat at our family table. We get to welcome a baby boy into the world in early October, just as summer is fading into fall. Although I am not blogging regularly anymore, the news just feels too big to not share.

Life feels very full, but somehow I just knew we weren’t quite done with our family. Juniper and River are both excited for their new baby brother. Jay and I feel so privileged to be able to make room in our lives for one more child.

Gosh, it was agonizing at times when we were trying to decide if three kids made sense for our family. It means we less times, less money, a minivan… But is also means more love, more adventure, more sibling bonding (and bickering), another set of hands searching for berries in the garden, and never having to wonder later in life “what if?”

The first couple years with a baby made homesteading a challenge, but I have learned how to pull back on things that aren’t important. It’s ok to buy tomato starts when you have a newborn. It’s totally fine to u-pick berries when you didn’t harvest yours in time. Homesteading is not a contest or perfection – it’s just doing your best to have balance, find simplicity, be humbled by nature, live in the season.

Both kids are now old enough to help me plant the spring garden, collect eggs, feed the chickens, harvest carrots, and so on. I know I won’t get all my canning projects done this fall with a newborn. But I also know this season of life won’t last forever, and soon enough I’ll have another set of taste buds wanting to try our homemade strawberry preserves.

Expect an update from my this fall, if not sooner. In the meantime, I’ll be in my studio working on landscape designs, outside tending our homestead, or perhaps kicking my feet up to watch my family play in our garden at dusk. I hope your spring garden gets seeded soon and summer brings you lots of bumper crops.

ASLA Award Winner http://www.hipchickdigs.com/2016/11/asla-award-winner/ http://www.hipchickdigs.com/2016/11/asla-award-winner/#comments Tue, 15 Nov 2016 18:48:25 +0000 http://www.hipchickdigs.com/?p=9019 asla-renee-wilkinson-award-winnerI was recently presented with a Community Service Award from the Oregon Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architecture (actually it was months ago, but better late than never!). This award puts me up in the company of leading regional landscape architects like Carol Mayer-Reed who have received the same Community Service Award in past years. It’s a real honor!

ASLA is the professional organization for landscape architects and landscape architectural designers (like me). Landscape architecture is a really vast design field that includes designing public parks, urban waterfronts, city streetscapes, foodsheds, natural play areas, hiking trails and larger-scale natural areas (like floodplains, forests, wildlife corridors, etc).

I served on the board of this organization for two very busy years, while juggling my first years of motherhood. It was important to me to represent younger designers on this diverse board. I provided input on what types of speakers, educational sessions, design workshops and information we shared. My biggest role was managing ASLA communications with designers throughout our state.

It’s wonderful to share the news about this award because I’m not your average landscape architectural designer. I have a passion for planting design, nature play, urban agriculture and creating sustainable residential gardens. Each of those areas can at times be under-represented in this industry. An honor like this tells me that my perspective, opinions, aesthetics and working style was highly-valued by this professional organization.

We can each make a difference in the communities we serve by devoting our time and skills to causes we care about. I’m always on the board of at least one thing and spending volunteer times on several more. This is my little sign from the universe that it does make a difference and all of ours voices need to be heard.

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Roasting Chanterelle Mushrooms http://www.hipchickdigs.com/2016/11/roasting-chanterelle-mushrooms/ http://www.hipchickdigs.com/2016/11/roasting-chanterelle-mushrooms/#comments Thu, 03 Nov 2016 18:20:06 +0000 http://www.hipchickdigs.com/?p=8962 I spend a good chunk of the fall foraging for wild mushrooms, specifically chanterelles, around the forests of the Pacific Northwest. As I’ve gotten better, my harvests have gotten bigger and bigger – leaving me with the dilemma of how to process and preserve so many in a short period of time. After years of experimentation, I finally discovered the perfect preservation method: roasting, then freezing these golden jewels.


My latest mushroom hunting adventure yielded 50 pounds of chanterelles – half picked by me and half by my sister

You start to develop a sixth sense for mushroom hunting over time. I can just “feel” that this particular spot would be good for chanterelles. I see Douglas Fir trees overhead, a slight hillside with sunlight dappling through and not much leaf cover. And sure enough, there will be too many to count just peeking their heads barely above the soft forest floor. It’s the most wonderful and exhilarating treasure hunt!

On my most recent trip I returned with 25 pounds of chanterelles. Chanterelles are amazing when they are fresh, but that is way to many mushrooms for a family of four to eat in a week. So with trial and error I have found they are still near perfection when frozen properly.

The past few years I would saute them in batches with a little butter until they “sweat out” all their natural liquid and absorb the butter. Once cooled, into the freezer they would go. But this year, after receiving a tip from an old friend, I tried roasting instead.

Oh my goodness, this is the only way to go! It was so much faster and super-simple.


Freshly picked chanterelles ready for cleaning

The most time-consuming part of the whole process is cleaning the mushrooms, which you should not do until just before roasting. Heat the oven up to 425-450 degrees and start wiping off any forest debris.

Place the cleaned mushrooms in a single layer on cookies sheets. Then roast for 15-20 minutes. Watch them carefully, as your oven might take more or less time. Adjust the oven temp down if they get too brown too fast, or up if it seems to be taking ages.


Cleaned chanterelles arranged in a single layer on a cooking sheet – ready for roasting!


Roasting two sheets at a time


Chanterelles “sweating” out their liquid in a high temperature oven

When they have sweat out their liquid and most of that has evaporated, pull them out of the oven. Toss with a little olive oil, then pop them back in for a final 5 minutes. They are done when they are mostly dry and lightly browned.


Tossed with olive oil and roasted another five minutes. These look done because almost all liquid is gone and they are light brown


Perfectly roasted chanterelles

Cool the mushrooms fully, then freeze. Tip: Pack them into muffin tins and freeze for about an hour, or until just frozen through. Then pop them out into a freezer bag. They will be 1/2 cup increments, instead of one frozen solid block.


Frozen roasted chanterelle mushrooms packed into muffin tins, then popped into gallon freezer bags

I have four cookie sheets, so I kept a steady rotation going of two sheets in the oven while I cleaned mushrooms for the next two sheets. I was able to process about half of my haul that way one evening.

I ended up packing our freezer with about four gallon bags of chanterelles – the others we shared with friends or ate fresh. Mushroom season will continue through November, but I think I have enough now for many months to come. Happy hunting friends!

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Homestead Tour http://www.hipchickdigs.com/2016/09/homestead-tour/ Thu, 01 Sep 2016 13:00:03 +0000 http://www.hipchickdigs.com/?p=8983 Check out before-and-after photos, garden plans and lots of pretty photos of our homesteads. See how our current home is in the process of transforming into a productive homestead after just two years. Or view images from our original homestead where we planted roots for eight lively years.




Slowing Down http://www.hipchickdigs.com/2016/07/slowing-down/ http://www.hipchickdigs.com/2016/07/slowing-down/#comments Wed, 13 Jul 2016 22:04:30 +0000 http://www.hipchickdigs.com/?p=8893 I have been chronicling my journey through modern homesteading for nearly a decade, and many of you have been with me for much of that time. This website began as a place to show everyday folks like you and me what homesteading on a small, urban lot could look like. There were very few resources at that time for urban homesteading or small-scale permaculture, but times have changed and this website needs to evolve with it.


Sheet mulching our first homestead in 2007. It drew attention from the whole neighborhood with all the kids and several parents pitching in to help.

Today you can find DIY projects for the small-scale homestead everywhere, both on and off the web. We can connect with thousands of other modern homesteaders through social media to swap ideas and advice. Homesteading is now a movement embraced by mainstream culture and I couldn’t be happier to see so many lawns being replaced with edibles and hearing distant clucking down so many urban streets.

The world of blogging has also changed significantly over the last decade. Updating a blog is not just about writing anymore – it’s about managing your online presence. That translates to scheduling constant social media updates, photographing posts so they look attractive on Pinterest, and a whole host of other extensions I’m not so interested in mastering. I miss the days of putting something up on the web because you genuinely want to share it, not as a game to get people to interact with it.

As a result, I have decided to slow down the blog portion of Hip Chick Digs. I am going to keep writing, but only occassionally from here on out. I want to write when I feel compelled to share with you: a new landscape design I just finished, a plant I love, pictures of how my homestead is growing in and life updates when it’s important. I’m looking forward to spending time in my garden enjoying the space without an agenda (i.e. what should I write about this week).


Harvesting tomatoes from the Urban Farm during a photoshoot circa 2011 for my book Modern Homestead. Photo credit: Isaac Viel

My recent website redesign is intended to make some of my most popular posts more easily accessible for those folks who stumble across my site for the first time. I also wanted to make it easy for you guys to check out my landscape design work so it can inspire your outdoor spaces. That is one area I think is still lacking in the greater online (and offline) world: pictures and designs for beautiful small-scale homesteads, edible gardens and permaculture-inspired spaces. I will add more project photos to that page as projects are completed.

You can follow me on Instagram if you want to see more frequent snippets of my homesteading life. Occassionally I share a good article or photos from our homestead on Facebook. And I go through bursts on Pinterest and Houzz collecting images for my design work. In other words, if you miss my frequent writing you can still find me in other corners of the web. You can also subscribe to the RSS feed for this blog to make sure you don’t miss my future sporatic posts.


Returning to the Urban Farm with my daughter Juniper on a recent day trip

What a kingdom we have all built together where bookshelves are lined with guides on sustainable gardening, front yards are packed with edible plants and the most mainstream magazines are talking about the best heirloom tomato varieties. Thank you for being with me on this journey and I hope to still see you visiting me here from time to time. Happy homesteading!

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Homestead Garden Update http://www.hipchickdigs.com/2016/06/homestead-garden-update/ http://www.hipchickdigs.com/2016/06/homestead-garden-update/#comments Sat, 18 Jun 2016 16:29:58 +0000 http://www.hipchickdigs.com/?p=8825 It has been two years since we uprooted ourselves from our first homestead and planted roots into our new digs – still in Portland, but closer in to the center and closer to family. I wanted to give you a peek around the place to show you how things are growing in.


Front yard, spring 2016

The front yard is a drought-tolerant design that includes lots  of ornamental grasses, which will reach their majestic peak in late summer. I wanted this garden to focus on textures and movement when the wind blows against our mid-century modern bungalow.


Drought-tolerant planting design in the front yard

The orange spring Oriental Poppies have faded. Purple is beginning to blossom on our flowering alliums, Blue Hill Meadow Sage and Berggarten Sage. The yellows of our Black-Eyed Susans will burst open in about a month. The Quaking Aspens are growing by leaps and bounds!


Backyard, spring 2016

We have nine fruit trees in the backyard and almost all were developing fruit for the first time this spring. I picked them off right away to keep the young trees focused on sending their energy into developing a strong root system. That will serve the trees better long-term – making them more resilient to drought, heat and stress. Next year, year three, will be the time I allow them to finally set fruit.

Juniper is busy as can be picking berries throughout the homestead. Our ever-bearing strawberries and raspberries have been her main focus for foraging, but blueberries and currants are just now beginning to ripen as well. We have enough berries planted to use fresh, but I’ll probably always be supporting our local farmers to get big enough quantities for our massive canning and freezing efforts.


Raised vegetable beds fully planted for the warm season. Pictured here: red romaine lettuces companion planted with yellow onions

The raised beds are now all officially planted out for the warm season. I harvested all of the cool crops – fava beans, spinach, leeks, etc – and transplanted out the summer starts – tomatoes, squash, melons, beans and many more. It’s the first time in several years that I feel like I’m finally on time with everything!

The folks are John Scheeper’s Kitchen Garden Seeds sent me some really cool direct-sow plants that I scattered throughout the planting bed areas. I am particularly excited about the Black Velvet Nasturtiums, Double Click Cosmos, and a bunch of unusual vegetable varieties. I’ll update you later this season to report how these little treasures perform for us.


Backyard food forest and Juniper berry-hunting, spring 2016

I repeated many ornamental flowers from the front yard in the backyard. It creates a more cohesive garden when you can repeat several of the same species. Soon there will be the same flowers here as in the front yard, but the backyard also includes lavender, echinacea and other beneficial-insect attracting plants. There will always be more room for additional smaller plants, but the foundation plants are now growing in.

Hope you enjoyed the quick tour! Look for more projects to be added over time on my Portfolio page. And I will post more pictures from our homestead late summer, when everything looks positively wild and beautiful!

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May Homestead Chores http://www.hipchickdigs.com/2016/05/may-homestead-chores/ http://www.hipchickdigs.com/2016/05/may-homestead-chores/#comments Wed, 25 May 2016 03:21:52 +0000 http://www.hipchickdigs.com/?p=8611 Spring is turning into summer in a blink this year and the homestead is in full swing. Here is a rundown of some seasonal chores we do every year in mid-Spring to prepare for the warm months on the horizon. A little extra time spent now will keep your garden so much more manageable this growing year.


The spring egg basket

Livestock Care

Twice a year we do a deep clean on the chicken coop and look the hens over closely to check on their health. The cleaning is more thorough than our weekly clean, when we muck out the coop and refresh supplies. During the deep clean, we scrub everything down with a diluted vinegar mixture. You can read a bit more about that process in this older post Deep Coop Clean. We give them a simple health check by holding each hen, looking between their feathers and on their feet for mites, and feel their body frame for any unusual bumps.

Spring is when the hens start getting garden goodies in regular supply again. It diversifies their diet to eat a wide range of foods, and keeps our feed costs down as well. They have been munching on bolted spring crops like arugula, freshly picked weeds and in addition to the regular kitchen scraps. Their egg yolks take on a nice, deep orange color when they are eating a healthy mix of nutrient-rich foods.


Our backyard chicken flock snacking of fava bean shells and other kitchen scraps

Soil Health

Typically at least one bin of our three-bin compost system is ready to harvest around spring planting time. We add finished compost to the raised beds before planting out our crops or top-dress around existing plants. We add compost to the beds a couple times a year to keep the soil nutrients high for our vegetables. Only the best soil makes the best vegetables.

We recently finished spreading a fresh layer of wood chip mulch on the top of almost all of the homestead – not on pathways or in the raised beds. Keeping the plant beds top-dressed with mulch will help with water retention, weed suppression and, over the time term, increase our soil structure. Read more about this in my earlier post: Using Wood Chips in the Garden.


Apply compost at least once a year if you are intensively growing vegetables. The best soil makes the best harvest.


Spring crops are ripe for the picking, including leeks, spinach, arugula, artichokes, fava beans and swiss chard. Juniper helped me clean out almost all of our ripe fava beans, then dutifully helped me shell them. We ended up with about ten pounds of beans! Combine all these crisp, spring crops with the 4-5 eggs were collecting a day and our table feels very full already.

It’s time to clear the root cellar, freezer and dried foods in preparation for the main growing season. I suspect we’ll crack open the last can of tomatoes right as we start getting fresh ones from the garden. I still have at least one bag of dried apple slices in the cupboard, but those are otherwise gobbled up. As for the freezer, we’re still far from finishing the huge stash of frozen berries I picked when I was in full “nesting mode” last summer. That’s a happy problem to have.


Juniper and I shelling fava beans


It seems odd to think about watering the garden this early in the season, but be mindful that newly transplanted veggies do not have well-established root systems. I have already turned my drip system on in the raised beds a couple times when we had a stint of 80-degree weather without rain for a couple weeks. Keep an eye out for wilty leaves as spring turns to summer.


Our spring crops getting doused with rain showers following two weeks of sunshine

What does spring look like on your homestead? Are you ahead or behind? Tell me about it in the comments below! PS: missing me in between longer gaps in posts? Follow me on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook to get more frequent, short updates on how our homestead is doing.

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Using Wood Chips in the Garden http://www.hipchickdigs.com/2016/05/using-wood-chips-in-the-garden/ http://www.hipchickdigs.com/2016/05/using-wood-chips-in-the-garden/#comments Fri, 06 May 2016 17:18:56 +0000 http://www.hipchickdigs.com/?p=8613 Spring is an excellent time of year to add wood chip mulch to your garden, before summer kicks your homesteading into high gear. We just got finished spreading a fresh batch of wood chips around our homestead to cover all of our planting beds. It was a big job, but the payoff of using wood chips in your garden is worth the effort.


Front yard topped with wood chips around all of our perennial flowers, ornamental grasses, trees and shrubs

Mulch is added to the top of your plant beds – not mixed or tilled into the soil. It sits on top of your soil to help retain moisture, suppress weeds and slowly decompose, which helps improve soil structure over time. We don’t use it in our raised beds, where we intensively grow vegetables – we just add compost here regularly and hand weed often. Our wood chip mulch gets added to every other corner of the homestead though to help it flourish.

I’ve heard some folks argue that using wood chips actually takes nutrients, particularly nitrogen, away from your plants. The answer to that is a bit more complicated and really based on how you’re applying the wood chips to your garden. Tilling wood chips into your soil will tie up some nutrients, but top-dressing (like I’m recommending) doesn’t have the same effect. Read this article from OSU Extension for a more thorough answer: Wood chips for mulch?


Strawberry bed topped with wood chip mulch

We used ChipDrop again this year to get a fresh mound of wood chips delivered to our home from a local arborist for free. The wood chips are more varied in size than if you bought from from a soil supplier, but the price is right! The larger the pieces, the longer it will take them to decompose, so we can get away with adding wood chips every 2-3 years as needed.

Eventually the wood chips will decompose and once they have fully broken down it is safe to dig them into your soil. At that point, the organic material has already broken down, worms have helped the process along and bacteria won’t be sequestering nutrients (particularly nitrogen). It’s a great long-term, natural and inexpensive method of improving sandy soil or heavy clay soil. It takes time and patience, but the pay off will be worth it: fluffy soil with good “loam” consistency that makes it easy for plants to grow deep roots, store water and air, plus room for micro organisms to make a home.


Finishing up the last of the wood chip pile. We spread a tarp out with cones to mark the spot where the arborists should drop our wood chip load.


It’s not too late for you to get your homestead whipped into shape with wood chips. Call around to local arborists or sign up with ChipDrop if they operate in your area. I specify no walnut trees, which can be toxic to other plants. Or add this to your fall to do list when you are cleaning up the garden for winter. That’s also a good time to layer in dried leaves and top off with wood chips. Read more about Using Dried Leaves in this earlier post. Happy mulching!


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What Makes a Homestead http://www.hipchickdigs.com/2016/04/what-makes-home-a-homestead/ http://www.hipchickdigs.com/2016/04/what-makes-home-a-homestead/#comments Tue, 19 Apr 2016 17:41:49 +0000 http://www.hipchickdigs.com/?p=8589 “What makes a homestead?” is a question I have been asked a lot over the years. Most definitions have a common theme: it’s a home attached to the land. My belief is that your perception is what makes your home into a homestead. Here are some examples of how our home life is integrated into the land we sit upon.


Fava beans covered with flowers and starting to set fruit

Sense the seasons

I don’t need to look at the calendar to know what time of year it is. The Asian pears bloomed weeks ago, replaced by apple blossoms that are just now beginning to fade. We’re harvesting thick, lush spinach leaves and the fava beans are reaching for the sky. The smell of our garden after a hard rain followed by a few days of brilliant sunshine tells me this is spring in Portland.

It’s a shift in your mindset when your home becomes a homestead. Books, website and the advice of others will guide you. But there is a rhythm to nature that requires all of your senses to be in tune with it. When that becomes second-nature, you’re knee-deep in homesteading.


Homegrown root vegetables and fresh herbs from our homestead

Eat from home

Most nights making dinner requires running downstairs to the cellar to grab a jar of something preserved, pulling out a bag of frozen produce we picked last season or filling our harvest basket straight from the backyard. We’re thoughtful about what we eat, where it came from and our homesteading efforts make a dent in where we source it.

There are exceptions, of course. Kids, jobs, modern-day pressures on our time mean that sometimes getting food on the table means it was prepared by someone else. That’s part of what puts the “modern” in our modern homestead. We’re balancing this lifestyle with our desire to live in the city and do other things to make a living.

I firmly reject the notion that there is a hard-and-fast ratio of homegrown food to qualify a homestead. If you plan a significant number of meals around what you grow or preserved, that’s enough for me. It’s not a contest.


Process is valued

Making food from scratch creates a sense of balance and stillness in my life that I truly crave. I love the process of baking and cooking just as much as the final product. The same goes for tending livestock or raising crops. The process of cultivating our homestead is just as meaningful as the act of harvesting.

Bonus points for having the entire family lending a hand! Everything goes slower with kids, so I’ve tried hard to slow down as well. It’s more important to me that Juniper helped me harvest eggs or roll out the homemade pizza than whether we eat dinner on time.

My thoughts on the construction side of our homestead have evolved over time. Ten years ago we DIY’ed everything: chicken coops, pergolas, fences, pathways, etc. Years of working as a landscape designer has taught me to respect and value the serious skill of a professional builder. I would rather design the larger projects and have an expert build it right, rather than do it all myself and then have to rebuild later on. There are still lots of smaller projects for my DIY skills.


Beyond the garden edge

Homesteading reaches far beyond our own little urban plot. It has woven itself into our vacations, pastimes and charitable work. We avoid travel during peak harvest times or we travel to places based on what’s in season there. We spend weekends hiking trails where we can forage for wild foods. We volunteer with organizations like the Portland Fruit Tree Project to harvest food for both ourselves and communities in need of fresh, healthy foods.

Homesteading is just as much a holistic lifestyle as it is a place enclosed by a fence. We can no longer tease out what counts as “homesteading” in our daily life. The lines are beyond blurred and happily so!


Spring eggs from our backyard hens

I would really enjoy hearing your thoughts on what makes your home a homestead. Do you have a budding homestead or are you an old hat? How is your space more than just a garden or windowsill or balcony? Tell me about it in the comments below! I’m excited to hear what you have to say.

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How to Build a Fairy Garden Planter http://www.hipchickdigs.com/2016/04/how-to-build-a-fairy-garden-planter/ http://www.hipchickdigs.com/2016/04/how-to-build-a-fairy-garden-planter/#comments Sat, 02 Apr 2016 00:10:15 +0000 http://www.hipchickdigs.com/?p=8563 This spring I began adding nature play “stations” throughout the homestead to make our outdoor space feel even bigger. I created a series of small fairy gardens at these stations using simple materials with Juniper’s help. They were easy projects to do together and have made a fun addition to the homestead.


Fairy gardens fit into the smallest spaces to extend play options in the garden

Our homestead has different use zones: intensive vegetable growing in the raised beds, an all-season outdoor gathering space, livestock and compost systems, meandering paths for strolling and a central open area for play. That nature play area includes a sand table (with cover to keep cats out), natural log seating and a teepee that is both kid hideout and pole bean support. The small fairy garden stations give the kids more options for quiet play in a somewhat secluded pocket, while also getting them moving all around the garden to burn off some energy.


Center of our homestead: the main nature play area surrounded by raised beds, fruit trees and in view from the patio

Making a fairy garden is as easy or complex as you want it to be! All you really need is a container, potting soil, plant starts and some imagination. You’re trying to set the stage for a miniature world, leaving room for kids to add play figurines, build tiny houses or whatever else they dream up. And less is better, as they will add to it and change the garden over time.


Hammer holes into tin containers for drainage

I went the easy and thrifty route with our fairy gardens by using second hand containers. I hammered drainage holes into a wide, shallow metal wash bin I discovered. Our shed has a forgotten ceramic planter I dusted off. And I used potting soil leftover from my seed starts.


Low, metal wash basin repurposed as a fairy garden container

Think about stacking functions as you pick your plants. I cut out some offshoots with roots attached from our herb garden of thyme and oregano. As they grow in, it’s another place I can dash out to harvest from when we’re making dinner.


Fairy garden planted with cuttings from the herb garden

Another container we filled with succulents and sedums. This fairy garden is located in the furthest corner of the garden, where we will inevitably forget to water. These plants require low water and will thrive when left alone this summer.


Fairy garden planted with low-water sedums and succulents. Decorated with rocks and a dried artichoke flower.

We are really pleased with these easy-peasey additions to the homestead. I would love to hear your ideas on how you integrate play into your homestead! How else do you get the whole family or household involved in your outdoor space? Tell me about it in the comments below!

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