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Mary ConleyDear friends,

Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Even the richest soil, if left uncultivated will produce the rankest weeds.” Well, my back surgery was unplanned, so after leaving my kitchen garden at the farm a few weeks before surgery, I could only imagine how the weeds had taken over by three weeks after. I tried not to think about the hard work I had put into it; how I planted the green beans during a chilly drizzle one weekend because of a time pinch. I told Larry that our latest experiment would be to see what could survive without a gardener's help.


Upon arrival, we passed what looked more like a bed of tall weeds rather than my garden. Sad.

Larry opened the wooden gate, and we waded through the weeds. Zucchini had survived! And maybe a puny cucumber plant might still make it if the weeds were pulled around it. What the bugs left of the spinach looked more like Swiss cheese, but we managed to salvage some for our Vitamix. Then there was the kale and chard I had planted for the first time. Such beautiful leaves! Exciting! A few beets could be found, and Larry asked me to use them to make a delicious chocolate beet cake. Four tomato and three green pepper plants were searching for sunlight, and, oh! There behind the tall weeds, the green beans were trying to climb up the fence. All was not lost, and I was thankful for every edible thing!

I felt sorry for Larry as the whole place desperately needed mowing again, but down in the field garden, there was good news: Sweet corn tassels were poking out above the red root, the potatoes were thriving, and the pumpkins and squash were alive and growing up the tall weeds! It was far better than we had anticipated.


(My favorite poem by Harry Kemp)

Each day we die a little more;

Stale custom takes its toll:

It is the Unexpected Thing

That brings life to the soul.

Yes, the unexpected thing happened. It looks like we'll have most of our organic produce again this year, and I'm thinking I'll be strong enough to help with the canning and freezing. It may seem unnecessary work to some, but once you've tasted homegrown food, it is hard to stop.

I hope your garden is thriving under your tender loving watch. Be happy and thankful you can take care of it! Now to make some of those delicious kale chips!


Mary ConleyDear friends,

Around a year or two after we bought our little farm, I figured out how to write about it on a place called Yolasite, and eventually recorded the first four years on the site. Luckily, my photo app kept my photographs chronologically, and I was able to recall the events in order. Writing seemed to satisfy some creative need I had, but I did it mostly for a diary, and Larry and our son Todd were thrilled to have everything documented. As I wrote the short stories, I sent them to a few friends and, much to my surprise, had positive feedback. Our friends were interested in what we were doing, and told me they liked my style of writing.

Along with the farm, came an interest in reading most everything we could find about our new life. I'm not sure how I started receiving the Capper's Farmer newsletter by email, but I probably had seen it advertised on the Mother Earth News or GRIT site. One day I answered their request for a blogger, thinking I might have something to offer. Capper's Farmer was a new site and so it took a while after I was accepted to get started, but my first blog appeared on Sept. 5, 2013. My first embarrassing mistake was not knowing I needed to write fresh material, and luckily I wasn't the only one. The other problem was that I had to have so much help posting my blog, although I'm not sure that it was all my fault since the new site was still getting the kinks out. My editor, Sarah, was so sweet and patient with me, or I would have just quit. Later, Jean became my editor and sometimes I have to laugh at her little quirks – like she doesn't allow me to say pictures, but I need to say photos or photographs! OK, so she is right! Jean has several of us bloggers now, so she has her hands full.

Sometime in there, I discovered that a day or so after posting my blog on the Capper's Farmer page, Sarah posted it on Capper's Facebook page. You may want to go there and "like" the page up at the top, so you can receive all their wonderful posts.

I don't know how it happened so quickly, but this is my 50th blog post! I have said to Larry, more than once, something similar to, "My blog only got a few 'likes'" and sometimes I wonder if anyone reads them. He'll say, "Remember that you do it mostly for us." Well, I'll keep on blogging because it has gotten in my blood, but I know that I hope people read them! I imagine people out there reading them, and I often look up the name of someone who "liked" my blog on FB. I read their FB timeline to see which part of the country they are from and other things they share. I feel a little kinship to them. Also, some of us Capper's bloggers have come to know one another from reading each other's posts.

I hope, dear friends, that you enjoy reading my blog, and have possibly been entertained, learned something, or been encouraged along the way. Blessings to you and let's meet again on Blog Post No. 51!

on my iPad at the farm 


Mary ConleyDear friends,

After celebrating the Fourth with family, we left our house in good hands, and packed the car to go to the farm for July and August. We took so many extra things that it was difficult for us to get it all together, and nearly impossible for Larry to pack it into the car. It was one of those times when he needed to roll the back windows down in order to stuff more in! We were concerned how I would endure the ride since it was only three weeks past back surgery, but we stopped six times for me to get out and walk a few steps to stretch. Thankfully, although the ride took longer, it went smoothly.

I want to tell you about my healing process because we have amazing bodies. The first few days after surgery, I needed to be helped doing most everything, from getting up or down from any sitting or laying position, and even being turned over in bed. Believe me when I say that back surgery isn't for sissies! Larry watched the nurses caring for me, and then was able to help me at home. I better add here that he was also a wonderful and patient caregiver! But here is what I thought miraculous: By the end of the week I could do all those things myself!

Being severely limited at first may seem like fun: No cooking, no doing dishes, no cleaning. Actually, no doing anything but watching TV, reading a little, or on the computer. A call or visit from the kids, grandkids, or friends helped immensely, but I had a short attention span. I became a big baby. A real whiner butt. I am used to being active, and I couldn't stand the boredom. It was worse than the pain.

Larry got so he smiled and said, "Here we go again," when I started telling him how bored I was. The days were so long! In the evening we would watch a recorded Hallmark movie or one Larry rented. Then about 8:30 or 9:00, I would start to tire and fall apart emotionally from a long day of struggle. That is when he would have to hear me complain with tears, "It is only 9:00! What am I going to do for an hour before it is time to go to bed?!" Our son, Jason, said that he can't remember having 10 minutes to be bored. It is something to be thankful for!

Eventually, I became a little stronger and the fog started clearing from my brain. Off pain meds and onto Tylenol. Without much help, I made breakfast or lunch! With every new accomplishment, I was excited like a kid. I had noticed in the mirror that my face was set in a permanent expression of determination. Then one day I felt somewhat relaxed and happy! Life was slowly getting back to normal.

Of course, there was some humor now and then. Like when Larry brought me home one of those reacher/grabber thingies late one afternoon because I'm not allowed to bend to the floor and he was having to pick up after me. The next morning, I dropped something on the bathroom floor and I thought, "I'll not bother Larry and go get my grabber." It was on the floor!  When I told him, we both had one of those long belly laughs!

Getting back to the farm, the very first day Larry brought me in some zucchini and I was able to process them in the Vitamix and freeze a few containers for the future. Then, the next morning, I made zucchini pancakes for breakfast. The following two days, he picked gooseberries and set out the large kettles for me, and I made 23 jars of gooseberry syrup! Life was getting good again!

Do you feel overworked? Too much to do and not enough time to do it? I can't remember the exact words, but I know that the Bible tells us that work is a good thing. How true. I know it will be quite some time before I'll complain about it again!

Thanks for listening, friends, and let's meet here soon. In the meantime, enjoy being able to do whatever is before you. Yes, work is a good thing!

fixing dinner 

Why would you want to go out to eat when you are able to fix dinner yourself?!


Mary ConleyDear friends,

A couple years ago, we took a wonderful trip to Ireland, and of course, we needed to kiss the Blarney Stone like everyone else even though it is a ridiculous moneymaking tradition. The grounds were beautiful, and we enjoyed our walk to the castle. Like others we’ve toured, it was missing its roof and it had just rained. Wouldn’t you think it would be roped off until the steps dried? No, and no one seemed to worry about that except me. Young and old climbed the slippery spiral staircase made of uneven, rough slabs of granite, while clinging to a large rope for a handrail. At least I was clinging. Every now and then we needed to turn loose of that rope and grab another. It was scary for me. I clutched my new iPad tightly so as not to drop it, with hopes of taking Larry’s picture as he kissed the stone.


Well, we finally made it to the top along with a lot of other people, and I got a good photograph of Larry. When it was my turn, I had to use mind control as I don’t like to lean over anything, let alone backwards. I also noticed that the two men who lowered me over were old. I couldn’t help but think it would be a fine time for one of them to have a heart attack! When they brought me back up, they said I could turn loose of the bar now and take their hands – more than once. I told my fingers to turn loose, but they just wouldn’t get the message. I thought someone was going to have to peel them off. All this while others were waiting their turn.

Then it was time to go down. I turned to the much younger couple behind me and apologized for being so slow. The nice lady said not to worry. She said that while coming up, she kept telling herself that if I could do it, so could she!

I hadn’t realized how much the climbing and wet uneven steps had played on my nerves. When we got to the bottom, Larry said, “I wonder if that couple behind us had every heard those words before.” Thinking of my father’s train of expletives that were stuck in my subconscious, I said, “Oh no, what did I say?” It seems that in my stressed-out condition I had said, “Oh my goodness gracious sakes alive!”

Now what does this blog have to do with gardening or farming? Not a single thing. It has to do with existing. I’m a week and a half into back surgery recovery, and I’m often hurting, bored, emotional, or all three. Besides, I’m addicted to blogging and need a fix! So, thanks for letting me share a memory of better times while I wait to be well enough to go to the farm. I’m certainly missing it and can’t wait to see our corn, potatoes, and gardens even though they will be full of weeds. Oh, and I’ll understand if you think this blog is full of blarney!


Blarney Castle


The Grounds

The people of Ireland keep their land clean and beautiful. Makes me proud to be mostly Irish!


Mary ConleyDear friends,

I had a heavy heart for about a month as I needed to make a decision about having back surgery. An area of my back has caused me some trouble for years, but I babied it and sat and slept with a lumbar roll. Then last fall, I stepped in a hole. Since the pain was in my leg instead of my back until lately, it had me fooled. I wanted to wait until fall for surgery, but finally had it on Friday, which means I'm out of commission for this growing season, and you know how much I love growing and harvesting our food. It also made me cry to miss my granddaughter Katie's senior piano recital and graduation, but realizing how much the pain escalated the last two weeks, I'm thankful I didn't wait another day, let alone until fall.

Everything in life is an experience, though, and now I know about the wonderful nursing staff at Immanuel hospital in Omaha. Thankfully, there are people with the much needed talent and compassion to take care of us when we need them. We had a great time together, joking and laughing through the pain and humiliating loss of privacy.

Now that I won't be able to do farm work this year, especially the important harvesting and preserving, I'm more open to the new role the farm will play in my life. Larry and I have been slowing down considerably, anyway, so an attitude adjustment was inevitable. Somehow, I've thought I must be the only person in the world who has too much to do, learn, and experience to get old. I've been mad that I wasn't 10 years younger, so I could work longer on the farm. Yes, there is always another type of tree or vegetable I want to plant for the first time.

I've often ended my blogs by telling you that we should meet here again, soon, to learn about something or another, but this time, I'll have to admit, I haven't a clue what that will be. I'm only interested in my next pain pill, and if I'll ever have another bowel movement. As I've mentioned before, "This too shall pass” or ”Just take me out and shoot me" or "What kind of a plan is that?" Take your pick!


Here, I'm doing "laps" up and down the walkway on our upper level. It is nice to have something to hang onto.

back brace 

My newest "best friend" is my back brace. It holds me together and gives me confidence that I'm going to make it. I also have a patient private nurse named Larry.


Mary ConleyDear friends,

If you are reading my blog for the first time, you missed a series I did on saving our old buildings. It has occurred to me that I haven’t written about one aspect of neglect that we encountered and perhaps it could be a helpful reminder to someone. You see, when buildings are abandoned, shrubs and trees start growing up close to the foundation, and eventually push it in causing cracks and leaning. The men had to first cut away a lot of this growth before beginning repairs on all our buildings.

I want to tell you about a building we still haven’t tackled that has this problem. It is located right next to the barn and was one of my favorites when we first came; maybe because of all the unusual things we found in it. A neighbor told us that it was built by a gravel company and used to repair their machines as they worked nearby. Thus, we call it the pit. We would like to rebuild on the foundation, if possible, because a lot of it is below ground level and would be perfect for a root cellar and other uses. However, time for doing extra hard work is running out on us old folks, so our immediate goal is to get the roof off as the asphalt shingles are beginning to blow all around.


The cleanup: Here is a photo of the inside after a lot of junk had already been removed. Interesting to me were the shelves of magazines, a sewing machine, wood shavings on the floor, and children’s toys. In my imagination, someone later used this for their hobbies while children played at their feet. OK, they probably just dumped their junk there before leaving! Eventually, we completely cleaned it out and it is very roomy with easy access. The tool bench was built to last, and Larry sometimes uses the vise on it. Granddaughter Erin used it to store hay for her animals.


Maybe you can tell on this similar photo that the left wall is leaning in, so let’s meander outside and find the cause.

hole in ground 

The men had cut down this tree the previous fall, but inquisitive Todd wanted to see just how the culprit did the damage. Notice that someone had painted the end of the pit and just enough of the side so that it looked finished from the house!


Now we can see firsthand a root the size of a large tree branch growing parallel to the wall and pushing it in. What a shame!

It was a wonderful, fulfilling feeling to have saved some of our old buildings even though we tend to be perfectionists and would have preferred everything new. However, it is doubtful we can even use the foundation of this one. It is a reminder for us all, though, to check around our house and buildings to prevent such a dilemma.


Mary ConleyDear friends,

The first summer we had the farm, which was five years ago, we were extremely busy doing cleanup, but managed to plant a few potatoes and some sweet corn in the kitchen garden. It was very exciting for us to have some land and to plant even on such a small scale. I remember when Larry told me there was some old hay in the loft we could use around the potatoes, I thought, “We have hay?” It was like a dream. Later, when the potatoes came up, I was concerned that when I left, the potato bugs would take over. Larry said they didn’t even know we were out there yet! He was wrong, and we managed to harvest wonderful Yukon Gold potatoes. They were the best we had ever eaten. 

We’ve had a drought in the area around our farm, but there were a couple good things that came out of it. There are few mosquitoes or chiggers which set me to puzzling over if a drought lasted long enough, would they become extinct? Or, would we?

Anyway, if you have been wondering if the drought caused a shortage of potato bugs, don't fret. We have discovered that when the grasses are dead, it leaves room for those horrible yellow sticker bushes to grow, and grow they did. Guess what? Potato bugs love sticker bushes, too. At first, Larry thought that only the “learning disabled” bugs were on them, but not so. I found one or two on practically every large sticker bush I whacked off this weekend, and I’m talking about hundreds. They would probably be called yellow sticker bush bugs if it wasn’t so hard to say.

A potato bug is the cutest little thing, if bugs can be cute, and I actually like to do bug patrol. I take a large cottage cheese or yogurt container filled with water and a squirt of dish soap, walk down the rows until I spot one and swish him off the leaf into the water. They are often mating and I can get two at a time! They lay their eggs on the leaves where a beneficial lady bug might come along and eat them. Last patrol, I got over a hundred, but saw only one lady bug. I’m not counting on that plan!


Look at that cute little face! Time for a bath!

potato plants 

Beautiful potato plants.

tiny potatoes

Here is a photo of the first digging of Yukon Gold potatoes last year. The skin is so tender, all one needs to do is scrub them before cooking.

Side track: Do you ever think, “What if?” We play that game quite often. Example: “What if you couldn’t get seed potatoes next year?” My answer is that I fill a couple egg cartons with egg sized potatoes and keep them in the fridge. Yes, it works!

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