Old Dog, New Tricks

The Abandoned Farmhouse

Mary ConleyDear friends,

I may have mentioned before that our hobby farm consists of a house surrounded by a barn, other outbuildings, and a little land cut off from the rest of an old fashioned farm. We were told there was a time when you could drive down our road and see many such places. A farmer and his wife not only had crops, but raised a variety of animals and most of their food. There would be milk cows, pigs, chickens, and gardens. Oh, and a clothesline.

The scene has changed here in southwest Nebraska, and although there are still homes, we often see abandoned houses here and there. At first, I found the dilapidated buildings depressing and wondered why they hadn't been torn down and cleaned up. I rarely notice them anymore.

Locals seem to have a different view of the buildings. I hear endearing words like, "Oh, that is the old such-and-such place!" They also like to take photos of the abandoned buildings, cars, and machinery and post them on Facebook or Nebraska Through The Lens. Friends who once lived in this area join in on the reminiscing in their comments. "Oh, I remember when ..." or "I once had a car just like that!"

As I mentioned, I rarely notice these buildings anymore, but this week we were returning from shopping and Larry said, "Did you see that?" He stopped and backed up. One of the abandoned houses has been been reclaimed. New residents have moved in and are very friendly.

Old farmhouse and cattle

Old farmhouse and cattle

They came out to greet us. We would liked to have stayed for a chat, but there was the matter of the electric fence between us!

It's called reuse and repurpose!

Carrot Time Fun Time

Mary ConleyDear Friends,

I know. This is the third post I've done on our garden this season. I can't help it. I've had somewhat of a garden many times, but I've never had such a beautiful, complete kitchen garden like this one in my whole long life! It is such a delight to go to it almost daily and pick fresh vegetables.

According to the carrot seed package, today is the day the carrots should be ready. I have been pulling one each day to grate into our salads, and put a few in with a roast this week. But today, ta da, I declared them finished.

Carrots in sink

Half carrots: Do you know about half carrots? Well, I didn't, and I also didn't notice those words on the seed package. So, that is what I planted. Half carrots. As you can see from the above photo, they are short and a little too fat at the top, but really very nice and not misshapen as long carrots often are. They taste just fine, too. Although my soil was dug deep with the Mantis and mixed loosely with sand, I was thinking that half carrots might be the answer for some of you who can't prepare your soil deep enough for the long variety. Just a thought.

Anyway, I was pulling the carrots and snipping off the tops, when Larry saw me and asked if he shouldn't be doing that hard work for me. I said, "No, it isn't too difficult." Then, I got to thinking that I always get the pleasure of the harvesting, and so I told him he might actually enjoy it. I had to smile as I saw from his body language that he really did think it difficult and was about to give a mighty tug! Out popped the carrot from the soil he had so nicely prepared back in May. He smiled and never tired of hearing that little "pop" as the beautiful carrots came out of the dirt. Together we completed the task, as he pulled and I snipped off the tops. Then we carried in our pail of carrots and took the tops to the compost. We not only had a good harvest, but shared a rewarding moment. It was fun.


Mary ConleyDear friends,

We have mulberries! Yes, wonderful mulberries! I'm not talking about the wild mulberry trees in our lower pasture, under which Larry has often stopped the tractor, while mowing, to eat his fill. Then he comes home with stains on the seat of his pants, where the berries have fallen on the tractor seat! These mulberries are from two trees we purchased a few years ago from Stark Bro's Nurseries and Orchards Co. The fruit is dark purple, up to 1 1/2 inches long, extra sweet, and delicious. The trees were also advertised as a good way to lure squirrels and birds away from your gardens.


An advantage of mulberries is that the fruit grows in clusters called drupes, and then individually ripen from mid June through August. This allows us to pick the ripe ones about every other day, or as often as we wish. I have been adding them to our smoothies, and they are as good as the strawberries, raspberries, or blackberries that we usually use. I also freeze them in two cup quantities for future use.

Mulberries are a snap to process. All you need to do is wash them. I always let berries soak in water with a tad of vinegar for a few minutes to kill germs and make any little bugs turn loose, but it isn't necessary. Larry eats the short stem along with the berry, and the Vitamix turns them into part of our smoothies. Otherwise, you could snip them off with scissors.

The sweet flavor is not the only good part. I looked up mulberries' nutritional value and discovered by eating a serving, we could skip our multi-vitamin for the day. They are also an antioxidant powerhouse. One serving has more vitamin C than an orange!

I'll not bore you with a nutritional chart that is long and full of wonderful things, but I do want to mention zea-xanthin, which helps protect against macular degeneration and cataracts, and reservatrol, that important discovery found in grapes and wine. Mulberries also contain compounds that support balanced blood sugar levels, reduce risk of blood clot formation, and relax the blood vessels.

Maybe you should call up Stark Bro's and order a mulberry tree to plant this fall! They are self-pollinating, in case you only have room for one. Our trees are disease free and very beautiful. Yes, you really should order one or two, and BTW, wear disposable gloves when picking and processing the berries, or the stains around your nails will last for days.


Trivia: Mulberry trees' large, shiny leaves are fed to silk worms.

Early Garden Rewards

Mary ConleyDear friends,

On a past post called "The Garden of Hope," I shared my feelings about the enjoyment I felt while planting our garden on Mother's Day at our farm. Then I left for three weeks, hoping that the weather and the sprinkler system would be kind to me. They were. Three days after returning, we started eating from the variety of lettuces I planted. I've constantly added to those large, almost daily salads, other nourishing things such as radishes, sugar snap peas, and small kale, Swiss chard,  and beet leaves. This week, we also ate our first beets. 

Have you noticed when our gardens have lettuces, we need to buy cucumbers and tomatoes, and by the time the cucumbers and tomatoes are ready, the heat has bolted the lettuces? At least we always have something growing fresh for us.  

So far, my garden's only enemies have been bugs. I have sprinkled on food grade diatomaceous earth, an organic alternative, several times, and I see the affected plants are now sending up bug free leaves. I have noted to be proactive next year.

 mustard lettuce greens again

Mustard greens: I planted mustard for the first time this year, and we liked the flavor mixed with our other lettuces. However, it was the first to show bug damage.


My kitchen garden: On the far left, I have a good crop of carrots. Green beans are starting to climb the fence at both ends. We have another bed with various vine plants, and another with potatoes, sweet corn, and sweet potatoes. 

I am so fortunate to have my fenced in kitchen garden, and it makes me happy to be able to view it from the table where we eat each day. It's close proximity also reminds me to get out there and pick the food. Larry and I often discuss the fact that our salads are practically still alive as I pick and clean them just before lunch. Compare this to the produce in the store, which has had such a long shelf life before we actually eat it. Yes, my garden not only helps make me happy, but healthy, Even if you don't garden, I urge you to find a small area, a barrel, etc, to grow your own lettuce. It couldn't be easier or more rewarding.

The Garden of Hope

Mary ConleyDear friends,

How did you spend Mother's Day? Did you go to church or out to lunch? Your young children may have showered you with homemade cards and small gifts. Perhaps your adult children visited, called, or sent cards. I hope it was a happy and rewarding day for you. I remember spending many Mother's Days visiting my mother in her home, then senior housing, and finally the nursing home. I miss her and often wish I could tell her what we are doing on the farm, or ask something about the past. This Mother's Day, I had a wonderful time doing something very special and I wish Mom could have done it with me. I planted the large kitchen garden at the farm.

Larry did the difficult job the day before as he and the Mantis worked in the amendments until I had a gardener's dream of fine, rich, loose soil. Rain was in the forecast to spoil my plans, so I started that very evening, getting as much planted as possible before dark. The rain held off, and Mother's Day morning was cloudy, cool, and calm. Perfect for planting! It was a quiet, pleasant, and fulfilling job with only me and the serenading birds. I finished about 1:00 and it still hadn't rained! Later in the afternoon, Larry and I planted all the vine plants and sunflowers in a different location while working in a refreshing light mist. We finished. Sometimes plans do work out right. Let it rain!

As I planted the garden on such a perfect day, I felt so happy and full of hope. If only everyone could garden and enjoy it as much as I did. I'm experienced enough, though, to know that hope can be dashed with a late freeze, hail, insects or disease. There are occasions when one might wonder why we continue to do it year after year!

I have to leave my newly planted garden for three weeks and place my hope in good weather and a sprinkler set on a timer. Wow! A lot can go wrong. Then there are the weeds. Can you imagine how the weeds will sprout and grow in such a perfect environment in three weeks?

kitchen garden gate

Larry replaced the fence and gate of our 20x30 kitchen garden this spring. A surprised deer visited while I was planting and snorted displeasure of me invading her property.

So, what all did I plant? Well, Larry thinks I planted orange flags because I have them all over marking where one type of vegetable ends and another begins. If I tucked a radish or flower seed in anywhere, it has a flag. Leave it to me to pull out something I just planted thinking it a weed! Mustard greens are my experiment this year, and I'm curious to see if we like the flavor in our salads.

My hopes:

In the kitchen garden: green beans (climbing on the fence), carrots, beets, two kinds of kale, swiss chard, cabbage, tomatoes, peppers, radishes, spinach, several types of lettuce, cucumbers, zinnias

In a second fenced in bed: cantaloupe, zucchini, butternut squash, acorn squash, sugar pie pumpkins, 1 jack-o-lantern pumpkin, sunflowers

In a third fenced in bed: potatoes, and we still need to plant sweet corn.

Then there are the dependable perennials to give us hope. It has been our best year for harvesting asparagus. The strawberries are blooming and the rhubarb is almost ready. Fruit is setting on in the orchards. The mulberry trees are leafing out. Gooseberries, Russian sage, mint, chives, and horseradish are growing. Next on our to do list is cleaning up the blackberry/raspberry bed.

Yes, it was a wonderful Mother's Day. Did I mention our children called and sent cards? I even received flowers! Have a happy day filled with hope.

Books and Breaking the Cycle

Mary ConleyDear friends,

Here is a sad statistic from Utah First Lady, Jeanette Herbert: “86 percent of all juvenile offenders have reading problems, and 60 percent of prison inmates are illiterate.”

I’m sure you have read about the importance of reading to a child. There are many statistics about how children who are read to have higher achievement and better self-esteem. Well, I wasn’t one of those to receive this help. It makes me sad to think that I didn’t have a single book as a small child, and have no remembrance of either parent reading to me or holding me and looking at a picture book. I even inquired of my older sisters-in-law if they remembered me having any books; they did not. 

My mother went through the 8th grade, and my father went part time through the 5th. They were hardworking farmers, and I have no resentment towards them for my lack of books and being read to. I often wonder how my mother had any time to give me attention or even keep me safe while she did all required of her back then. When I was older, she told me I could do anything I set my mind to. However, I often wonder how different I might be if I had had books and other important stimulation as a young child.

I never owned a book until a class friend, Connie Marsh, gave me one at my very first birthday party. I’m guessing I was in third or fourth grade. I still have it. So, when did I fall in love with reading? Well, in grade school, our teacher often read a continuing story aloud after the noon hour, and it was my favorite time of the day. It could be argued that she wasn’t actually teaching during that time, but we were given something very valuable — the love of books. Also, my mom started gathering with a few ladies on wintry Saturday nights at the small public library in our home town of Washta, Iowa. They mostly sat around knitting or crocheting, but one night she brought home one of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” series. I was hooked.  

When I had children of my own, I had the time and opportunity to break the cycle. Not only did our young children benefit from my reading to them, but I often felt that I was reclaiming some of my own childhood. I have been so thankful to know that the privilege and appreciation of reading has been passed on. It has been a real blessing as I’ve watched our grandchildren not only be read to, but from such beautifully written and illustrated books.  

reading to children 

My daughter-in-law Krista reading to Charlie and Sophie at bedtime.

"You may have tangible wealth untold
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be.
I had a mother who read to me."
— Strickland Gillilan

I have a precious daughter, who on Mother’s Day and my birthdays, finds something for which to be thankful. This past birthday, Amy wrote about how thankful she was that I read to them as children and dragged them to the library. She mentioned how I read aloud to them in the car on vacations. She said that consequently a book is never far from her reach.  

Then, much to my surprise, our oldest son, Perry, who is a reading specialist at Boy’s Town, Nebraska, called and talked about what he was studying on the vicious cycle of young people not knowing how to read. Then he said he had mainly called because he wanted to thank me for reading to him as a child. It was something he had taken for granted — something he thought normal, but now realized differently. His call seemed quite a coincidence, and I told him about Amy’s message on my birthday card. He agreed with her, and then we reminisced about going to the library when he was little and then reading half of the allotted six books by nap time. As a parent, it is always good to be reminded that you did something right.

I’m going to leave you with an inspiration from one of my favorite poets:

"You’re never too old,
too wacky, too wild,
to pick up a book
and read to a child."
— Dr. Seuss

That Library Inside You

Mary ConleyDear friends, 

In my last post, “That Person Inside You,” I received several comments from people identifying with the matter of aging. Some were experiencing it, and some had parents who were. It was interesting to share our heartfelt concerns and emotions, and I decided to post a few more thoughts on the subject.

There is an African proverb that says, “When an old person dies, a library burns down.” That statement is so profound, I could have written just it, and sent in my post. But, I want to say that we are starting to relate, only ours is a very small library! When Larry and I bought our hobby farm, we never thought that in only seven short summers, we would be slowing down. We are now 73 and 74, and when I realized what is now happening to us, I made the comment that we have learned so many valuable skills and now we are just going to die, and what a shame!  


Larry learning a new skill.

Those words have sometimes become our joke with each other after a new achievement. For example, Larry has been acquiring new carpentry skills. After each completion of a project, he will look at his accomplishment with pride, and I will say, “Look what you’ve learned, and now you’re just going to die! What a waste!”  (Not to mention all the tools purchased!) Some of you may think this is rather sick humor, but for us, it is reality. Not that we are necessarily going to die any time soon, but that our bodies won’t be able to continue the work. 

When I think on the above African proverb, it makes me wonder if “the whole library” really needs to burn down. Perhaps some of it can be saved or preserved by passing on what we have learned. It reminds me of the young couple who came out to the farm to salvage our junk pile. They loved our place and wished that they could have bought it. While giving them the tour and showing them what we’ve accomplished, I told them that we are constantly learning. The young man said, “Well, I know I learn something each time I talk to you.” I thought that was about the best compliment I had ever received.

I’m sure hoping that many of our personal “library books” won’t have to be burned because we’ve already lent them out. For instance, my husband has passed on his books on “How to Love Your Wife” to his boys, and “A Good Work Ethic.” Probably, we’ve lent out books on skills. I’m remembering getting two young neighbor girls and some granddaughters started on crocheting. I’m also thinking about us bloggers for Capper’s Farmer, Grit, and Mother Earth News. As one of my blogger friends told me, “We blog because we are passionate about what we do and want to pass on what we’ve learned.” Most likely, you’ve passed on many skills and words of wisdom to those around you. I just stopped my typing and thought extensively on those whose whole professions are about teaching. What a library passed on! Maybe we should all consider how many “books” we can lend out in our lifetime, or last few years, so they won’t all “burn down.” 

Or one can always lend out the book, “Caution” and use Catherine Aird’s quote: “If you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to be a horrible warning!”