The First Harvest 2018

Heirloom tomatoes

Going into this, I explained to my son that we had several challenges and unknowns and that the goal for the first year might be merely to raise enough seed for next year, preferably enough seed that we could sow it in a thick tangle with enough left over in case a late freeze killed the first round of seedlings.

We did much better than that, at least for most things.

We had a gallon of tiny tomatoes about every 2 to 3 days and a good supply of peppers too, more than we could eat and dehydrate easily.

We managed to get about two quarts of black beans for seeds, and the Chinese brown cotton made enough for seeds too.

On the other hand, the rabbits killed the squash plants by chewing the bases of the plants, and so we only got a few scalloped squash and zucchini.

The corn was a complete loss in spite of growing very well. The squirrels ate it all.

Tomatoes of different heirloom varieties.
Tomatoes of different heirloom varieties.
Continue reading “The First Harvest 2018”

The Pond in High Summer

The pond in high summer-20180807_195824

The pond’s first summer was 2018, just a few months after it was dug, but the sprigs of plants we put in it grew explosively, and the frogs and insects colonized it immediately.

It was surreal how quickly the pond established itself because I didn’t use fertilizers or tend the plants or do anything that might put appearance or speed ahead of letting it happen on its own with minimal input.

But, by the time August rolled around, the pond looked and functioned like it had been in place for years. Hummingbirds and dragonflies and bees flew in and out constantly.

The pond in high summer was filled with in aquatic plants and surrounded by flowers for pollinator insects.
The photo above is from late June, and the vegetation is already thick, but not as thick at it would get by August. Less than three months before, this was a hole being dug in the ground in a small patch of lawn beneath a retaining wall.

Bird Watching Blind

My bathroom window is now the best bird-watching blind for hummingbirds.
My bathroom window is now the best bird-watching blind for hummingbirds. The summer before it was just a patch of St. Augustine grass, and insects were fairly minimal, mainly wasps.

My bathroom window is now a great bird-watching blind, especially for hummingbirds and dragonflies and bees of many types. There are lots of songbirds and butterflies and the rabbits that eat the sweet potatoes I have growing around the pond mixed in with the milkweed.

Continue reading “The Pond in High Summer”

Building the Tree House


I put off building a tree house for my son because I didn’t want to damage the  beautiful maple tree in the backyard by hammering nails. (Nails in trees are an entry point for fungi and other diseases.) Then it occurred to me that I could support the framing for the deck in the Y of the tree and not put any nails into the tree itself.

Building the Tree House. Photo 2.

I wanted to build the tree house with my son and not for him so that I could teach him about basic construction. Growing up, I was always working with my father on carpentry or shop projects or gardening with my mother because like most children up until a generation or two ago, I was expected to be productive from an early age and to learn useful skills all the time. Continue reading “Building the Tree House”

Painting Rocks


I spend afternoons with my son, and now that the summer heat is here in full force, it makes doing things outdoors during our time less than ideal. Fortunately, I remembered that I had a box of studio-grade acrylic paints that I had saved from years ago, and I knew that my son liked finding rocks, seeds, and other materials outside . So I proposed that we find and paint rocks, and he thought it was a great idea.

It was a great idea. The student-grade paint didn’t contain toxic cadmium oxides like my studio stuff, and we could do the painting in the relative cool of his mother’s garage.  And like any activity, there were many opportunities for teaching basic life and work skills if I paid attention. Continue reading “Painting Rocks”

Acorn Adventures

Acorn Adventures

I wanted to teach my son about oak trees because I grew up learning about the outdoors constantly from my father and great uncles, who always pointed out different trees, plants, insects, animals, what animals ate, where things grew, if it migrated, was it native, etc.

It was easy for me to take all that in as a boy because I loved it, and I didn’t have video games and Youtube constantly competing for my time the way my son does.

I chose oaks as a starting point because they were something that was available in Decatur and didn’t require driving, and because the leaves and acorns of different species are distinctive and easy to learn. Continue reading “Acorn Adventures”

Planting the Three Sisters


My son had to teach a lesson in third grade, some activity he was good at, and when I heard him propose something about video games, I immediately suggested planting the three sisters and pushed the idea hard. I didn’t give my son time to suggest other ideas and come up with his own, which is how the assignment was supposed to be.

I hate that I did that, but I did it because I was afraid his mother might let him get away with some easy but dull idea because he had to pick an idea that night and was wanting to play video games rather than think about it. I also wanted to make sure that most of his time for the lesson preparation wasn’t spent shopping for craft materials aimed at children and buying an idea.

I couldn’t stand the thought of that opportunity being wasted when it could be used to show the children something real that might literally change some of their lives, possibly plant a lifelong passion or interest in someone.

But who knows, maybe he and his mother would have come up with making a healthy salad or something equally important for him and the other kids to learn.

I felt so guilty about railroading the planting idea on my son that I wrote up why I thought it was important to have this as a lesson. Continue reading “Planting the Three Sisters”

Blackbeard Island

Dried up rattlesnake

Each year, my friend has a fishing trip with the guys from college at a house on the north end of Sapelo Island, the part that is completely wild with hogs and rattlesnakes and alligators. Except for one other small house owned by  Georgia’s DNR, my friend’s house is the only house on the north end, and it is in the woods at Raccoon Bluff. The wild hogs and other animals come right up to the house, especially at night.

The house is only occupied a limited number of days per year because the island is protected and access to the property is limited by DNR for good reason. The ecological and historical and cultural value of this wilderness barrier island is enormous.

Sapelo Island
Blackbeard Island trail heading north. Blackbeard shelters the north end of Sapelo from the open sea, and so there are larger live oak groves on Sapelo, but there are also larger pine burns thickly regrown with palmettos. 

Each year, a few of us always kayak across to Blackbeard Island on the last day, which is even more isolated than Sapelo. Blackbeard is smaller and is a protected National Seashore. We paddle down to the strand of beach at the southern tip of Blackbeard and then back up the river a mile or two to the dock at the ranger station. Then we hike north from there to the northern tip.

On the bluffs at Blackbeard Island.
On the bluffs at Blackbeard Island. We saw a glimpse of what the southeast coast looked like before the Europeans came. Just up the bend the bluff is steeper, and the trees taller.

Continue reading “Blackbeard Island”

Native American Garden First Planting


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Native American Garden

We aren’t using any pesticides on our plants. We aren’t shooting the squirrels, although I have explained to my son that in a time of hunger, we wouldn’t have to worry about them because they would have already seen the inside of a pot.

I only hope they leave us enough for seed. I’m hoping to raise enough seed to over sow the entire garden next spring with a mix of everything in one big tangle. Continue reading “Native American Garden First Planting”


Germination Room 1: Formerly Known as the Dining Room

Instead of buying plastic germination trays, I wanted to show my son how to reuse recycled materials like cardboard and the rolls from toilet paper in some totes on loan from the warehouse. Continue reading “Seedlings”

Digging the Tadpole Pond

digging tadpole pond. March 19th day 9

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The Yalobusha

In the backyard, we dug a Yalobusha, a tadpole place. We dug it after school together between dirt-clod throwing contests. Continue reading “Digging the Tadpole Pond”