Crystal Madrilejos

Design & Creative

What’s new on the homestead? Harvested some ramps from a friends property (pictured above – ramps as far as the eye can see), garden is underway, pond stocking is in progress, potatoes are sprouted, the reclaimed wood for the compost bin is nail free, a couple more raised beds have been built, and deer fence is almost up. Now, we just need the weather to cooperate! It’s been up and down the past couple weeks and I guess that’s why we have “last frost dates” – but man, am I itching to just get going with the warm weather already!

Today we started putting up the new deer fencing that was my gift to myself last year when I got a bonus at work. Who buys deer fence with their bonus? I do. It’s that important to me. With our past experience, it’s just not worth it to garden in our area if you don’t have either a dog or a deer fence. We don’t want a dog, so we went with the fence. I’m really, really hoping this does the trick because I love having a garden but the stress of the deer almost makes it not worth it.

I wish I had more pictures for you from the past few weeks, but I’m too lazy to upload them right now.

So here is a picture of one of our raised beds before we installed it last fall. You can see the basic construction in this photo. The outside rails are attached to four posts that will go into the ground so the bottom board sits flush on the ground.

After installing them, we put a layer of black weed blocking fabric, followed by a few layers of cardboard, a layer of leaves, a layer of alpaca manure, then another layer of leaves. This then sat for the past six months to kill the weeds and grass and also create the nutrient rich base for a layer of composted soil that went on top last week. If you can do this in the fall, it will save you a lot of work come spring (and summer, since it will save you lots of time weeding.)

Okay, so I know some of you are wondering why we used pine when it’s going to be outside and will eventually rot. Ideally, cedar would be the wood of choice since it’s naturally rot resistant. But Cedar is many dollars. We figured if we can get a few years out of these beds before they rot, it will have been worth the price we paid for the wood. I think down the line, we’re open to trying different things. We just don’t have the money for cedar ones at this point. One bed can run upwards of $200 – which is double what we paid to make ALL our beds.

We also didn’t seal the wood. And the reason being, we don’t want any toxic materials touching the soil that will be growing the food we’ll be eating. This is also the reason we didn’t use pressure treated wood, which again is rot resistant but also treated with chemicals. Here is Quil helping Andrew with the beds last fall. And by helping I mean, running around like a maniac. I just got him during a moment of stillness in this shot.

I will post more current photos of our progress soon, I promise!


I’m a working Mama. I’m also nursing a 5-month old baby, so that means I have to pump while at work. When I went back to work in November after my maternity leave, my co-workers gave me a potted Amaryllis bulb as a “Welcome Back” gift. Turns out, this is the PERFECT gift for a pumping Mama!

Pumping isn’t the most glamorous or the most fun thing to do with one’s time. It’s a lot of just sitting there (thank goodness for smart phones and this bra.) And you look and feel like a milking machine with tubes and bottles and plastic breast shields. It’s quite a sight.

However, I’m fortunate to at least have a pumping room at my office with a lot of natural light. When they gave me this potted Amaryllis bulb I decided, rather than put it at my desk, I’d put it in my pumping room. These past two months I’ve been back at work I’ve been able to watch my plant grow and it’s been absolutely fascinating, calming, and peaceful. Since Amaryllis are very fast growing it gives me something to look forward to every time I have to pump. This week, it bloomed (as you can see in the photo above.) Here is a rough time-lapse from the past two months:

This could be a great gift for a non-working Mama as well. It’s easy to care for and has a big impact when it blooms.

Any working Mama’s out there who pump during their workday? How do you pass your time while pumping?


It’s that time of year again! We had a little break from garden planning during the holiday, but now the seed catalogs are out and the mad dash has begun to be ready to hit the ground running once the weather starts to warm up. I know, I know it’s still January and we have many cold days still to endure before the ground is even close to ready. But it sneaks up on us every year! We always miss those cool early days that are perfect for greens, lettuce and spinach and I am determined to get as much growing time as possible this year. We got smart after last growing season and started prepping the garden in the Fall before it turned cold, but more on that later since that’s a bigger post. Super excited to share all the new garden plans.

But for now, here’s a list of what we’re planning on growing (all our seeds are from High Mowing Organic Seeds this year):

Kentucky Wonder Pole Beans – We’ve done bush and pole beans in the past, but I prefer the pole varieties. Not only am I sucker for any plants that climb (space savers and they are beautiful to look at) but I like the fact that we don’t have to harvest all at once. You get just the right amount of beans over a longer period of time.

Green Arrow Peas – My nieces loved eating peas right off the vine. It’s like finding little treasures in all those pods. I’m hoping Quil enjoys them just as much.

Danvers 126 Carrots – Another fun veggie for the kids to harvest. Root veggies are Andrew’s favorite to harvest. Again, it’s like finding treasure!

San Marzano Paste Tomato – We aren’t fans of huge tomatoes. They are too watery and seedy and aren’t that great for making pizza sauce either. Which is the main reason we grow them. San Marzano’s are the best for sauces and such because they have a lot of pulp (aka, the good stuff.)

Greens / Lettuce
We eat a lot of greens and we like to share them with our friends and family, so we always grow a ton. I may try to start some indoors this year to take advantage of their tolerance to cooler temps. And definitely going to space out the timing of our plantings so we don’t end up with a ton of lettuce all at once that becomes impossible to consume. In the past, we’ve literally had so much that even if we ate salads every single day for every meal, we still wouldn’t have made a dent.
Lacinato Dinosaur Kale
Outredgeous Lettuce
Parris Island Lettuce
Red Salad Bowl Lettuce
Salad Bowl Lettuce
Waldmann’s Dark Green Lettuce
Green Towers Lettuce
Shanghai Green Baby Pac Choy
Renegade F1 Hybrid Spinach
Grazia Arugula
Mirlo Lettuce

Squash / Melons
We stopped growing Summer squash a couple years ago. Mainly because they took up so much room and we didn’t eat that much of it. It’s unfortunate because it’s extremely productive and easy to grow. If you aren’t vigilant about picking them, you’ll end up with zucchini’s the size of your leg. And that’s just too much zucchini. No point in using up so much space. Instead, we save the space for Winter squash because they store well and we can eat them all winter long.
Sweet REBA Acorn Squash
Waltham Butternut Squash
Cinderella Pumpkin
Sugar Baby Watermelon
(Those last two were our “just for funs” this year.)

This year we got our seed potatoes from the Maine Potato Lady. We made sure to get our order in before Jan. 28th so we could be part of the March shipment. Potatoes are another favorite to harvest. Growing is sort of a pain because you have to build the soil up as the plant grows, but it’s worth it in the end.
Organic Banana
Organic French Fingerling
Organic Chieftan
Organic Daisy Gold
Organic Red Maria


We haven’t done flowers much in the past. In previous years, we just didn’t want to expend any more time or energy tending to things that we couldn’t eat. But this year, we’ve finally branched out. No pun intended.

Sea Shells Mix Cosmos
Nasturtium Mix (You can eat these, btw.)
We have more perennials that went into the ground in the fall. All of them from family and friends (thanks Mom and Barb!) Looking forward to seeing them sprout back up come spring. My Mom also got me a little fig tree for my birthday, that is chilling in a dormant state in Andrew’s parents garage. Excited to bring it out to meet its other plant friends this year.
Here’s a photo of Andrew and Quil getting the new beds ready this past fall.
Here are past posts, if you’re interested in reading more about our gardening adventures.
More to come, for sure.

Every year we do something different to stake up our tomato plants. These things get seriously unruly. I think the first year we planted a TON of pea tomatoes (never again) and we didn’t even try to stake those. When harvest time came, it was a total mess. Andrew describes the experience as sounding like you were stepping on bubble wrap. Just tiny little pea tomatoes everywhere popping underfoot. Til this day, we still have volunteer tomatoes popping up all over the garden from those little guys.

This year has been a good year for the tomatoes. Even the New York Times is talking about what a great year tomatoes are having. Apparently we aren’t the only ones enjoying this phenomenon.

For us personally, I think it also has to do with the fact that we weren’t overly ambitious in the garden this year. Yes, a lot of stuff just downright failed. But I didn’t feel overwhelmed with a huge garden and its never ending to-do list. The tomatoes were growing like crazy and the only thing on my list was to stake them up. Easy-peasy.

In a couple hours over the weekend, I was able to fashion this bad boy out of some sticks that we had lying around the yard, some wood tomato stakes from some previous year’s experiment, and some string. It’s totally got that “a face only a mother could love” look to it, but it works nicely and it’s sturdy.
I’m planning on building ones in the future based on this design, but in a form that can be re-used every year. Meaning: not using ratty, old, half-rotted sticks and not having to tie them together with string. Until then, this one is working like a charm for our humble little patch of earth.

It’s been an… interesting… year in the garden.

We’ve scaled back a bit and tried some new things this year with varying amounts of success. We only did 2.5 plots and we did them lasagna garden style. It started off well, though we were a bit late getting things in the ground considering the unseasonably warm spring we had. Actually, we planted on time for our growing season but we didn’t take advantage of that extra bit of time when it seemed that everyone and their mothers, due to the crazy warm weather, were getting things going in their gardens. Ah well, I’m pregnant. That’s my excuse.

In terms of successful growth, we were opposite from other years. Normally, our tomatoes are one of our lesser performers and we usually end up with more salad greens than any normal family would know what to do with. This year though, we didn’t get ANY salad greens! I believe rabbits were the culprits this time. They burrowed into the garden and ate themselves silly just like poor Peter Rabbit. I hope, just like Pater Rabbit, they tore their fancy jackets and lost their little shoes in the process too.

Same for our green beans and carrots. Eaten before they had a chance to produce anything.

Butternut squash…argh… I’m pretty sure chipmunks kept digging up the seeds and just eating those. I planted those suckers TWICE and every time I went out there, the seeds would be gone!

Basil – never recovered from one night of odd frost.

Strawberries, we had a couple. But at one point I found a freaking toad burrowing beneath one of the plants. Birds did their damn best to get through our netting that we draped over the row. One even died in the process, which is always pleasant trying to detangle a dead bird from netting. Thank goodness Andrew can stomach such things. The rest, I believe, fell victim to the chipmunks as well. They scoffed at our netting AND the bird tangled in it.

We bought our seed potatoes. Just never got around to planting them.

Don’t even ask about the blueberries. That is just straight depressing. There were so many! Birds ate them all before we could harvest even one.

Our tomatoes were the one promising and shining ray of light in the whole bunch. They were thriving and looking awesomely full (possibly due to the drier weather?) until some damn deer decided to just bust through our fence and take a siesta right in the middle of the tomato bed.

All in all, pretty dismal showings. The one thing that makes it somewhat bearable is the fact that we didn’t put too much effort into it. Yes, the lasagna beds took some time to build up. But we can still use them again next year. And there is always next year! This year isn’t over and I’m already scheming about next year’s garden, which may or may not involve a greenhouse and a front yard garden. One thing is for sure though, the one word that will describe our plans for 2013: Smarter!


via UrbanHomestead

How awesome is that photo?!

The garden this year has officially gotten out of hand. Sad to say, but we just couldn’t keep up with the abundance of weeds. I don’t mind weeding, really. Andrew hates it which is completely understandable. The best way to keep them down is to make time every day to go out and pull those suckers out. And the one thing we are short on is time. And Quil isn’t quite at that point where he can run free in the garden. He’s as bad as the damn deer! He just walks all over everything and pulls unripened veggies off the vine, grabs lettuce greens by the handful. He also likes to put rocks in his mouth and eat dirt. Typical!

Both Andrew and I know that having a garden requires a lot of commitment and effort, especially if you want to do it right. My dad is a great example of this. He is out in his garden every single day, rain or shine. Right now, that just isn’t feasible for us. So, Andrew and I have decided that instead of spending our time fighting weeds and feeling bad about our neglected patch of earth, that we are going to be smart about this and create something that works for us and or current situation. I am still holding out hope of having a modern homestead someday with sprawling vegetable gardens, fruit orchards and chickens. But until then, we’ve decided to build a modest greenhouse where we can grow the stuff we eat all the time, all year round.

We’ve been doing research and I wanted to share some of the inspirational images I’ve found.

via CSGD

via HGTV

via Alm Farms

via SinaEnglish

via Pinkpollyanna

via Apartment Therapy

via FlipFlipMeHeidi

I realize most of these are completely unrealistic. Don’t judge! They are truly just inspirational. I like the idea of doing something different, smart, and efficient.

We also realize that a greenhouse isn’t like a rotisserie, you can’t just set it and forget it! It will also require work but hopefully not as much weeding. Soooo, once we can carve out some extra time to build this bad boy, then we’ll be good. Right? RIGHT? Wish us luck!


We’ve got veggies, people! Cucumbers and salad greens, to be specific.

I think growing food is one of those things in life that you can feel really good about and not have the time you’ve devoted to it weigh negatively on you. Unlike video games and reading gossip mags. Both of which, I’m known to indulge in. Super Mario is my jam!


A couple weekends ago, I decided to finally address this little miserable patch of yard that is next to our porch steps. I’ve been meaning to for awhile, but other projects always seemed more important. But we didn’t have any pressing issues to deal with (like the damn deer) so I figured it was time!

The main issue with this little spot is the lack of sun. Most of the day it’s in the shade of a huge maple tree. We went to a local nursery and got some great advice from their perennial plant expert, Henry. It was so hard to choose, but this is what we went with:

A fun little mix of Hostas, Coral Bells, Solomon’s Seal, and Ferns! They will probably get totally crazy and outgrow this little space but then I can transplant them to other areas. Also, baby boy had so much fun helping prepare the area. He probably ate 10 pounds of dirt, but it really was sweet seeing him get so excited about digging in the dirt!

Anyone else have any fun gardening projects in the works??

Hot damn! We finally got out to the garden to plant! This rain has been really been… raining on our parade (jeez, i’m dumb.)

We decided to scale things back a little bit this year. We’ve been overly ambitious the past couple years and while it’s been fun, it’s also gotten to be a headache at times. Plus, we have this tendency to just cram everything in. So this time, since we have a little more room to play with we’re giving everything room to breathe.

Yesterday (before it started pouring) we were able to get tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs, sweet potatoes, sugar snap peas, and carrots in the ground. Unfortunately, we were so late that we missed our chance to do regular potatoes, which have been the most fun to grow in the past. All the seed potatoes were gone before we even could consider planting, and we didn’t have any left from last year. Boo hoo!

Hoping to get the salad greens in and the fence up very very soon. The damn deer have already destroyed any strawberry plants we had left. They are such jerks! Heard this story on NPR the other day and it confirms my suspicions that the deer are hating on us hard.


p.s. How awesome is that garden in the picture above? Found it while looking for garden inspiration!

(I posted this image of our garden last year, but I love it so I’m posting it again, deal with it!)

So all the signs are pointing to the beginning of our gardening season! Friends and colleagues have been talking about their plans and efforts for this year; and last night while browsing the latest issue of Organic Gardening, I got all giddy with ideas for our garden this year.

It’s still early for us to get anything in the ground. I know some people have already started planting but we live in a valley so we like to wait about a week after the last frost date before we get anything into the ground. Also, it’s been so wet lately that we haven’t been able to till the soil.

Our first year, we started most everything from seed. But for right now, buying starts is just easier. I think as Q gets a little older and can get excited about planting too (and not just eating anything he can grab and shove in his mouth), we will go back to starting seeds.

Overall, last year was pretty successful. And every year we learn new things and how to improve for next year. So, what did we learn?

1.) Deer fencing is awesome and worth investing in. There is nothing worse than waiting patiently for all the bounty of your efforts only to have it completely destroyed by some damn deer!

2.) Unless you absolutely LOVE zucchini and yellow squash, plant only one plant. These things produce like bunny rabbits and next thing you know, you will have more than you can handle. I mean, you gotta really love this stuff. Like, breakfast-lunch-and-dinner love.

  • If you DO plant too much of anything, share the wealth and donate!
  • When it comes to zucchini and yellow squash, check your plants for fruit often and pick often or else you will end up with only a couple gigantic ones that will scare you and your co-workers.

(Ok, I’ve posted this image before too. I’m lazy)

3.) Make sure trellis’ are securely anchored into the ground. Or you will be cursing the wind as well as the deer.

4.) We are not fans of the mixed salad green packets of seeds. There is always one thing in the mix that goes bitter before everything else and ruins your salad.

5.) Beetles will live just to annoy the hell out of you. To combat this annoyance, go out early in the morning and pick their sleepy asses off your plants and put them in a jar of soapy water. Then their corpses will annoy you with their god awful stink.

Those are just a couple things that I can think of off the top of my head. If I can think of more, I’ll be sure to post. A post on our plans for this year’s garden will be coming soon!