Crystal Madrilejos

Design & Creative


Years ago when we started our first garden we jumped all in and grew pretty much anything and everything we could, even if we had no idea what to do with it. Back before Kale was all the rage, we grew it because we were young and ambitious and wanted to just grow the weirdest things we could find (Kale being one such “weird” thing) and when it was time to harvest we were like, “Now what?” – we literally had never made anything with Kale. Fast-forward to our current garden. We’re a bit more selective in what we grow due to space and time restrictions, years (it doesn’t take many) of gardening toil have made us a bit less ambitious in certain ways and a bit more humbled by the force that is nature (aka the damn deer, the groundhogs, chipmunks, birds, bugs and the weeds). But Kale… good ol’ Kale… has become a staple that goes into everything from smoothies and fresh juice, to breakfast scrambles or kale chips. Plus, not only is it really healthy, but it’s a workhorse during our zone’s colder months, a superfood in more ways than one! (more…)


A little recap from week one of maple tapping season 2014! We started tapping our trees on March 9th and between then and the day we boiled (last Sunday, March 16th) we got about 20 gallons of sap. The weather hasn’t been ideal, with only a few days going above freezing, but it was enough for us to get a decent batch. Since we knew we were only going to be able to boil on the weekends, we had to store the sap in the meantime and were a bit thankful for the cold weather. (more…)


It’s that time of the year again. When temperatures start reaching above 40 degrees during the day, but going back down below freezing at night, you know it’s Maple tapping season. We put the taps in this week and so begins our second year of tapping.

Last year we tapped the two huge maple trees in our backyard on a whim. I came across the post on Simple Bites where Aimee and Danny tap their trees with their kids and I was struck by how simple the process was. Put taps in the trees, collect sap, boil. Simple as that, though our process could definitely use some refinement. After only tapping for one year, we are hardly experts, but we did make enough maple syrup last year to get us through most of the winter (we just finished our last jar, but had to ration it towards the end) and are trying out a new boiling method this year. You don’t need any fancy gear, as last year proved. We boiled our sap in a large stock pot over a fire. It took many, many hours to do it this way, but it still worked. This year, we decided to take it up a notch because thats what we do! I plan on doing a post around our process this year, once we’ve got at least one boiling session under out belt so I can report on how our new set up is working out. But in the meantime, I reached out to a family friend who has been tapping the trees around her house for years to share some tips and insights into their process. (more…)


Last year was the first year we didn’t do any summer squash (zucchini or yellow squash.) Despite these being the most prolific of veggies and something I would definitely recommend for any novice gardener to plant because they give a lot of bang for the buck, we didn’t plant them for that exact reason. Every summer we drowned in zucchini, like we couldn’t GIVE these things away, and you have to be diligent checking your plants or you run the risk of huge mutant squash. Plus, we belonged to a local CSA last year and we knew we were going to have a fair share of summer squash already.

Since we didn’t have those massive zucchini plants taking up space, we were able to plant more winter squash and also some watermelon, all of which were a great success. (more…)

Tomatoes haven’t always been the most successful plants in our garden. Yes, there are factors that are not within our control, like the weather but a lot of attention goes a long way with tomatoes. They aren’t like some plants where you can just let them go wild and they are the better for it. Tomatoes crave attention. This past season, I made the tomatoes into my own little pet project. I was determined to have a big and healthy haul and I can say that it was our best season yet. Our goal is to grow and perfect a canning process that is suitable for the type of sauce Andrew makes for his pizza.  (more…)

It’s hard to believe that it’s that time of year again. Not only does it seem like we were just planning the garden not so long ago, but with this crazy winter weather, it’s hard to believe that spring is even around the corner. Instead of doing one massive garden planning post this year, I’ve decided to spread things out a bit to get us all ramped up for the planting season. So with that said, onto the garden planning!  (more…)

The Design Elements of a Chicken. Illustration from “Introduction to Permaculture” by Bill Mollison.

I first learned about Permaculture when Andrew was living out west at Bohdi Creek Farm. And from the moment he started describing the things he was learning while living there, I knew it was something life-changing. Who knew that, what would turn out to be an unplanned three month stint for Andrew in the Pacific NW, would end up being so influential on our lives?

If you are unfamiliar with Permaculture, here is the general synopsis from Wikipedia:

Permaculture is a branch of ecological design, ecological engineering, and environmental design that develops sustainable architecture and self-maintained agricultural systems modeled from natural ecosystems.

Andrew and I have talked about the general principles of Permaculture before and know some aspects of it from his time out west and the modest amount of research we’ve done, but something I read recently was sort of an “ah-ha” moment for me. It made things clear as to why the whole idea of Permaculture really speaks to me, and it’s basically this: Permaculture is design. (more…)

On Habitat

The Homestead

I mentioned in one of my previous posts about how I had to create an “Ideal Dream Day” for my creative coaching session, which is basically what I’m referring to whenever I talk about mine and Andrew’s goals.

Our goal is to build a self-sufficient, sustainable, Permaculture-based homestead for our family. I’m putting this out there, which isn’t something that Andrew and I usually do. We’re both of the sort where we don’t like to voice desires/wishes/plans until we feel like there is proof of being able to follow through with it. We’re usually not ones to make superficial claims – the whole “say what we mean, and mean what we say” thing. Though this is really more descriptive of Andrew and less so of myself. I’ve been known to get dramatic and use the words “never,” “ever,” and “always” when things get heated. But, I try to be aware of it. Anyways, side-note!

For a long time, Andrew and I have wanted to build a home for ourselves. We just couldn’t ever see us living long-term in something that was not our own. Something that we didn’t get to consider every aspect of. For the amount of money it costs to own a home, we couldn’t resign ourselves to having to make compromises. Of course, we’re realistic. We will have to make compromises even if we build our own home, but they will be compromises of our own design. What Andrew and I want is nothing elaborate. We want something that is sensible and smart.

After all these years of dreaming, we’re about at the point where being able to take action is visible on the horizon. We’re still a long ways off, but it seems like a real possibility. So, in the meantime, we’re doing what we can to research and learn about what it will take to build our homestead. Getting smart, as I said in a previous post.

I’m looking forward to sharing what we learn here! Any advice or tips from those of you who are out there building your own or have built your own homestead are welcome.

Coming up, I’ll talk more about the “Ideal Dream Day” that I came up with for my coaching session. It’s, dreamy to say the least!

Above is an image our backyard at the place we currently live. Pretty dreamy to wake up to everyday. That’s our house directly to the right of the barn, slightly obscured by the tree. (Not the house on the far right.)


Our gardening season is coming to an end. At least the majority of the growing part. We still have some things to harvest, but even with this crazy weather (that is causing tiny watermelons to sprout!) most of our plants are done for the season.

I thought it would be nice to focus on each variety that we decided to grow this year and give them their own posts instead of one super long post. That way, I can go into more detail about our experience.

Overall, this year has been a wonderful success that I’m going to attribute to the addition of a deer fence and raised beds. Even with our one groundhog incident, we still had a great harvest.

Acorn squash and one watermelon.

We got a good amount of acorn squash, though this was our first year growing them so I don’t have much by comparison. We grew Organic Sweet REBA (Resistant Early Bush Acorn) variety and they performed well. I didn’t realize at first that these were going to be a bush variety (despite the name!) rather than the vining type, so they got pretty crowded and huge!

Here they are as babies, nice and neat and tidy.

Here they were full size! Yikes!

I was a little worried that they weren’t getting pollinated when I noticed some of the squash were falling off before fully ripening. I did some hand pollination after some research and chalked it up to the fact that we got them into the ground really early.

Okay, I just remembered that we did have issues with chipmunks and squirrels digging things up, which resulted in this. But didn’t seem to effect the plant too much.

We haven’t eaten any yet, so I can’t vouch for taste. I did trade one for eggs with a friend and she said it was still good despite being slightly unripened. We will see as the cool weather ramps up and we get into fall cooking. Last Thanksgiving, Andrew made an acorn squash soup for our family – I think he spent like $20 on acorn squash alone. Not this year! Will post updates once we’ve opened one of these guys up.



Between work, family, freelance side projects and trying to stay healthy by exercising and getting good sleep – I’m maxed out. Any free time that doesn’t involve one of those things I listed, goes to the garden, but even with a lack of free time, this year has been going surprisingly well. I’m going to attribute the success to all the work we put into it last fall! Go, us!

If you forgot, this is what our garden looked like around mid-June.

Here are some new shots of stuff in the garden:

Green Beans – I think our trellis is a bit small. Or maybe we just planted too many plants. We have a tendency to do that.

We built this so that the beans wouldn’t crawl on our deer fence. But what are they doing? Crawling on the deer fence (you can’t see it from this angle, but on the back side of the trellis the vines have started to spread to the deer fence.) Nature, you know? It will find a way!

Tomatoes are doing great this year, but our trellis/staking is dismal. What. the. Hell! Every single year, we end up looking like fools with our tomato situation. We think we have it under control, only to realize – we don’t. These things are taller than me but are falling all over the place. I don’t know why we always try to do something different when it comes to staking when there are tried and true methods for growing tomatoes. I just ended up staking them this past weekend, which is what I should have done from the start. Always trying to reinvent the wheel. Next year, we’ll get it right from the start.