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Have I mentioned lately how awesome my children are?  Well, I should and I should do it often because –  they are.  Especially the wonderful daughter we got when our son married her.   I love my daughter-in-law Dani.  She is fearless!

When Dalton & Dani came back from Cheyenne (with the new hat, pretty little filly & sweet tattoo) they helped me do something else I had been putting off.  Something they got stuck doing the last time they came to the ranch and something they will probably have to do next time they come for a visit – we added more boxes to the bee hives.  Even though Dani is afraid of bees she has always jumped right in and helped out. 

I told you – she is fearless!!!

For the last month or so I had been watching those busy bees.  Watching as they came and went, packing in load after fat-legged load of pollen.  So far they’ve gathered white pollen, pale yellow pollen, bright yellow pollen and now it’s such a dark orange that it’s almost red.  Sometimes you’ll see 2 bees arrive at the same time with different colored pollen – obviously from foraging at different flowers.  And, if you sit there long enough, you’ll see the girls who have loaded themselves down with too much pollen.  These ladies are easy to spot because they’ll misjudge the landing pad and crash into the side of the hive or even miss the hive completely and fall to the ground.  It’s better than watching TV. 

As you can tell I watch them a lot.

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“Does this pollen make my butt look big?”

Besides pollen, they have been packing in other things too – stuff you can’t see like water.  We have an old galvanized bath tub under the eaves of our house.  It gathers the rain from our roof which I usually use to water the flower beds but this year there is always a bunch of bees at the tub.  They land on an old board floating on the water and get a drink before heading back to the hive.  Occasionally, I’ve seen them resting on the back of the large fat toad that lives in the plants beside the tub and swims in his own private pool.  When he’s not swimming he’ll sit on the board and be literally crawling with bees.  I think he likes it. 

Whenever I pass the tub I always look for bees – especially ones that have fallen from their perch and are swimming the best they can.  Which I have to admit, bees don’t do very well.  That’s probably why they are so quick to grab onto the end of my finger and crawl up my hand to escape a watery grave.  It’s fascinating to watch as they dry themselves off – needing the warmth of my hand and the sun as they wipe the water from their body and spread their wings to dry.  In less than a minute they are on their way back to work.  Once in a while one will slow down long enough to buzz my face before they leave. 

I always say “You’re welcome, Honey”.

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Some bees search out the sticky tree sap which they convert to a substance called propolis.  This is an antibacterial goo they use to seal every crack & crevice in their hive and basically glue everything together.  I’ve seen pictures of mice that have been stung to death in a hive and since the carcass is too large for the bees to throw outside they have sealed the whole mouse in propolis – sort of a sticky molasses-colored mouse mummy at the bottom of the hive. 

Lovely.

On calm evenings I like to stand beside the hives with my ear pressed against the sides – listening to the hum of happy bees as they put up their winter food supply.  A steady stream of bees coming and going with their pollen pouches full keeps the entrance of the hive hopping but if I’m off to the side nobody seems to care.  I think they have even gotten used to me being there.  It is a documented fact that bees can recognize human faces – amazing!  I imagine it would be a little like us buzzing the faces on Mt. Rushmore.  But I got to tell you, it would totally freak me out if Honest Abe moved and said “Your welcome, Honey.”

But I digress…

Over the last couple of weeks it’s been pretty easy to tell that things were changing in the hives.  I have been noticing lately that the bees spend a lot of time at the entrance with their butts in the air and their wings going really fast.  My theory is that the humidity is so high that they are madly fanning the hive to dry out the honey and help it cure.  I have no proof if this is what they are actually doing and not some weird ‘happy summer’ dance.  Until I find out different this is my story and I’m sticking to it.   I’ve also noticed as I’ve listened to the hives that the real ‘hum’ of the hive has been getting lower and lower so I was pretty sure the hive was nearly full.  I bet with a stethoscope you could really pin-pointed their progress but I don’t have one – so I guessed. 

When I suggested we add the boxes our selves Hubby was less than enthusiastic so we (Hubby, the bees and I) were glad to see the kids return.

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Here are my two lovely assistants.  The beautiful and brave Dani – complete with long gloves and you will notice she will be working without a veil this time.  She is overcoming her fear of bees.  And of course, we have the handsome Dalton who has never worked with a net and is waving to his fans in the audience.

The plan is simple.  They grab onto the handles of the bottom box and lift – hopefully leaving the floor of the hive on the stand.  I am ready with a mirror in one hand so I can look up into the hive and see how full it is and an extra box at my side – ready to slide it onto the floor so they can set the hive down again.  Easy-Peasy. 

It sounds good in theory but there is always the possibility of problems. 

The first hive – Beatrix’s hive was heavy.  Dani and Dalton lifted the boxes and the floor came with it.  I quickly loosened it and set it back on the stand. 

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This is the base of the hive complete with a whole bunch of bees doing the whole ‘butt in the air – madly fanning’ thing. 

Forgetting the mirror for the moment I grabbed my camera and snapped off some pictures – looking straight up into the hive.  I was a bit confused that the camera seemed to be having trouble focusing but once I stuck the mirror in to look I could see why.

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The bottom box was nearly full of comb.  In fact the comb had probably been attached to the floor and that’s why it stuck.  I love this photo! 

The bees in Beatrix’s hive have almost filled 3 boxes of comb and chances are good that the top two are full of honey.  Now if they can fill more boxes we just might get enough to harvest some this fall – as long as we leave them at least 2 boxes of honey to get them through the winter.  It takes a lot of honey to keep warm in this country!

Next we moved to Matillda’s hive.   This one is just a little behind the other hive – they are just getting a good start on the 3rd box.  The honey making still seems to be going strong so who knows how much more they can accomplish before fall sets in. 

We worked quickly but this time it just wasn’t fast enough.  As Dani & Dalton held up Matillda’s hive I was trying to get another picture when Dani started squirming and stating in a fairly calm voice that she was getting stung on her right cheek just below her eye.  I was horrified but so proud of her – she didn’t scream, she didn’t drop the hive and run, she just gritted her teeth and scrunched up her face till I could get the new box in place and brush away the angry little bee.  They quickly set the hive down and Dalton held it in place untill we could regroup.

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I am such a bad mother-in-law that I reached for my camera and snapped this photo as the rain started to fall and Dani carefully stepped away from the hive.  Our bee girls have drawn first blood!  And poor Dani was the target. 

We rushed to the house and found the ‘Sting Stick’ medicine in the cupboard.  Thankfully, Dani isn’t allergic to bee stings – since this is the first time she’s been stung she didn’t know.  The sting didn’t swell and she is as beautiful as ever!  Thank goodness.

And what did Dani say about this whole episode, you ask?

“That bee-sting hurt worse than the whole tattoo did!”

I love my kids.

 

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The thermometer says 10 degrees below zero and the wind is howling like a pack of wolves as it drives the wind chill to minus 30.  According to the weather man, by morning it will be snowing as well but tonight I am warm, huddled in my chair, under a quilt and a rather large dog and digging through a box of tiny miracles the UPS man brought me.

 Yes, the garden seeds have arrived.

It might not look like planting time outside but believe me, it is nearly time to start my tomato plants. Now, if you remember a post I wrote last spring titled ‘It’s a Tomato Jungle’ you might also remember that I have a slight ‘problem’ when it comes to tomatoes.  In fact I will admit I have several problems when it comes to tomatoes.  But do not fear, for this year I have vowed to break my addiction to tomato seedlings in the dead of winter.

This year I will go cold turkey.

This year I will wait until February 15th before planting the first seed.

And this year, I promise, I will only plant as many tomatoes as I have room for in the garden.

I have also pledged that if, by chance, a few ‘extra’ seeds dare to sprout in my presence I will be heart-less, cold-blooded and cruel. I will rip their frail little roots from their cozy potting soil homes and, ignoring their screams of protest, I will cast them off, not even entertaining the thought of tucking them into another pot of their very own.  No, I will not do it!!!

I will be strong this year and I will show no mercy.  My potting bench will be a veritable House of Horrors for the weak, spindly plants which fail to thrive.  They will be tossed to the top of the compost heap without a second thought to make room for the large, beefy plants with stems like tree trunks and leaves the size of my hand.

This year I will garden like a professional – not the lily-livered plant lover that I have always been!

And because of this new attitude my garden will glow with health.  All who walk the grounds will move slowly,  heads bowed in silent reverence, their lips trembling as they fight back tears of pure rapture at the beauty laid out before them.  Tomato plants will stand tall, stretching for the heavens like Jack’s magical bean stalk.  Blossom end rot will not dare to rear its ugly head! Perfect straight rows of beans, peppers, beets, lettuce and corn will be heavy with a harvest beyond compare.  Squash, pumpkins and gourd vines will sprawl in their designated areas, content with the patch of ground I have staked out for them.  And they will produce thousands of orange, tan and white globes – each one perfectly round and roughly the size of  Volkswagens.   

And the people will come.  They will stop before my Farmers Market stand, riveted by the wonders before them.  Unable to stop themselves they will drop to their knees on the cold, hard pavement as if it were the shrine of the Holy Grail instead of a humble vegetable stand.

Yes, I can see it in my mind. The heaven’s will part and golden rays of sunshine will flow down upon the garden’s gentle slopes. Butterflies and bees will dance above the blossoms and all God’s creatures will gaze in awe from a distance, unwilling to enter this garden of Eden less they mar its beauty.  Abundant rain and humus rich loamy soil will nurture the vibrant green plants and all will be right in the world…

As I breath in the promise of a new garden packaged neatly in the plain brown cardboard box before me, a sigh escapes my lips. The dog snuggled at my feet, looks up.  His chocolate-brown eyes brimming with loving adoration for me – his master.  As our eyes lock, for a brief instant, the pathway is open – his gaze reaches to the very core of my soul and he knows the depths of my desire.  As countless dogs before him he sees my dreams laid bare and he knows the truth…

Then with one furry eyebrow cocked he snorts in disdain, as if to say,

 “Yeah, right! That ain’t gonna happen!”

He rolls his eyes.  His head drops to the quilt.  He stretches out, taking more than his share of the chair and quilt and with a final yawn his eyes close in sleep.

Damn dog! 

He knows me too well.

 

Hope he enjoys sleeping on the porch tonight!

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Last Friday and Saturday Hubby and I went to Cheyenne, WY to visit our son and daughter-in-law, Dani who graduated from LCCC’s Equine Science program.  We even got to visit the place where she has been working – training and breeding horses.  It was great to get away but by Sunday morning we were back home, rested up and ready to get started on the giant jigsaw-puzzle-soon-to-be-hoop-house in our back yard. 

Luckily we had done some of the ‘dirty work’ the weekend before.

This is how it all began…

May 12th we started with a fairly level piece of ground and dug 34 holes.  Each one had to be at least 2 feet deep and 12 inches around.

Check out that great water hydrant in the middle of it all.  Water is a wonderful thing!!!

Then we hired a professional. 

We hired John (the best cement man in the world) and he brought his mixer and a truck full of sand – talk about a rolling mobile beach.  Kind of makes you all nostalgic for a pair of flip-flops and a Pina colada doesn’t it? 

We even used my anniversary gift – the big yellow ‘garden tractor’ on the left.  Hubby brought a couple of scoops of gravel for mixing cement with it. 

Even though it’s my loader I still let him drive it once in a while – if he behaves himself. 

Yep, some girls just get diamonds and flowers. 

Not me…  I’m a lucky, lucky woman.

This is Johns’ ride.  Don’t you just love big, red Mack trucks with shiny chrome stacks and big bumpers? 

I do.  Especially when they have great Mack bulldog hood ornaments like this.

So 2 weeks ago (on Mother’s day) we mixed and poured cement.  Then we had to wait…

We waited for the cement to set up and we gave it time to cure and we waited some more because it rained…  for several days…   and then we went to Cheyenne…

But finally, last Sunday, with the ground stakes ready to take the weight of the hoops and a lot of help from our neighbor, Paul we ‘dove in’.  We made pretty good progress without too many mistakes.  The instructions could have been a little more in-depth but what really helped the most was to lay out all the pieces before we started putting anything together.

Actually, the worst part of the whole day was the wind.  It started to blow by mid morning and by noon it was really starting to get with it.  But we kept on working till about 5:00 when it got so bad it would just about blow us over as we stood on the ladders.  It was darn exciting!  See the ladders in the photo?  That’s the way they looked if you weren’t holding them up.

We worked all day and didn’t quite get to the half-way point but now we can see just how big this thing is going to be.

I don’t think I have enough tomato plants started.

And it doesn’t look too bad for our first attempt.

Of course that was last Sunday and as of today (when I took the pictures) we have not been able to do anymore work on it because we had 40-50 mph winds on Monday and Tuesday and then rain ever since.  I don’t know about you but patience has never been one of my strong points.  Unfortunately, there’s not much I can do about it but whine and I’m sure you don’t want to hear that so instead here’s some photos of our Nanking Cherry bushes.  This is the 5th summer for them and they look great.

They’ve had a pretty hard life so far.  We planted them 2 years before the end of a 9 year drought and for the last 3 years we have had a horrible infestation of grasshoppers that have totally stripped the leaves and fruit from them but just look at them now. 

Take that you pesky hoppers! 

You’ve got to be tough to survive this country – just like the people who live here.  We might have some scars and rough spots but once in a while we do put on a really good show.

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It is spring!

The snows have turned to rain and the grass has started to grow.  We’re getting ready for branding (when the last of the girls finally decide to have their babies) and I’ve been working in the garden – even though I still have to wear my coveralls to do it. 

Last spring I started something that I didn’t have time to finish so it must continue this spring.  It’s what I do…

I pick rocks.

I love rocks and heaven knows we have plenty of them.  And since they are abundant and ‘free for the picking’ I can pick as many as I want.  So almost every evening after work, I pull off the driveway and get a small load of big rocks.

And what do I do with all these rocks?  You ask.

Enquiring minds want to know! 

I build flower and planting beds like this. 

This is the herb garden.  There are 4 planting beds that roughly form a rectangle.  The closest bed is finished and soon the perennials will return and the newly seeded herbs will begin to sprout.  The bed in the center of the photo is enclosed with rocks and ready to be filled with good, black soil.  Hubby will bring a couple of back hoe buckets full of soil from the spot where the old sheep shed stood about 20 years ago.   This is extremely well-rotted manure that the plants love – unfortunately the weeds do too so there is usually quite a bit of weeding to do the first year.

This is the last section of the herb garden.  The black spot in the middle of it is where the cook had his fire for the wedding meal.  It will soon disappear under a load of dirt. 

I’m still hauling rocks for a new strawberry bed but I was glad to finish up the herb garden.

We’ve got a wide selection of rocks at the ranch.  I look mainly for rocks that are large enough to stay put when you stack them but still small enough that I can lift them without hurting myself.  And you should see my biceps – by the time I got done last spring it felt like someone had installed Arnold Schwarzenegger’s arms on my body – they just didn’t fit the same. 

I’ve also discovered that when you pick rocks for a hobby no one messes with you.

We have some beautiful rocks.  I especially love the ones with moss or lichens growing on them.  Believe it or not the lichens on this one are actually that color.  They almost look fluorescent when the setting sun hits them.

We’ve got big ones with trees growing out of them.

And really big ones that I can’t get into the pickup because they are roughly the size of the pickup.

Around here this type of rock is known as ‘Lerverite’ – because you ‘leave-her-right’ where you found her.  Not even Hubby’s Tonka Toys can budge it.  I actually think it’s holding up the mountain beside it.

There are also some rocks that have interesting patterns. 

You just never know what you will find when your out picking rocks or the views you’ll see.

 

Even though its heavy work I really enjoy it.  It’s a great way to take out frustrations after a rough day of work and the garden beds look great.

And just check out these cute little doors and windows we found at our Hobby Lobby craft store – they are supposed to be mounted on nails driven into trees but I used Liquid Nails (a really good construction type glue) and glued them onto a couple of rocks.  Just too cute!

When the neighbor kids found them and wanted me to open the tiny door I told them I couldn’t because when the fairies are home their magic seals the doors and windows  shut so humans can’t disturb their sleep and that’s the way you know if you have fairies in your garden – along with their footprints in the foxglove flowers, of course.  Everyone knows fairies love foxglove.

Every garden should have a touch of magic and a bit of mystery – don’t you think?

I only have a short ‘window’ of time from the time the snow and ice melts and the time when it warms up enough for the rattlesnakes to come out of hibernation.  On nice days I’ll kick a rock first before I reach down to pick it up and once the rocks start ‘buzzing’ I call it quits until next year – flower beds are nice but they’re not worth getting bit over.

Happy Spring!!!

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You will never guess what we have in our back yard.

It is something I have needed for a long, long time and hopefully it is something that will help save my sanity from the grasshoppers that have infested our place for the last 3 years.

OK – it’s not therapy but that might have been cheaper in the long run.  HA!

Here’s a clue.

It fits on a flat bed trailer and looks like a bad accident.

Or a giant jigsaw puzzle.

Have you figured it out yet?

From this photo only one thing is obvious to me – whatever it is –  it’s going to be a challenge. 

Ahhh!!!!   Another new project – I must be crazy.

I haven’t finished Nadine yet and now we have this sitting in our yard.

 It’s a hoop house – basically, a plastic covered greenhouse without additional heat.

South Dakota is one of the states chosen for a pilot program with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQUIP).  EQUIP is split into several conservation programs – water projects, sage grouse protection and one for hoop houses.  There are other ones too but these are the main 3 we hear about in SD.   This program is meant to encourage the organic production of vegetables and specialty crops by helping ranchers and farmers purchase hoop houses on a cost share basis.  It’s a wonderful idea and we were one of the lucky ones who qualified this year.  We have heard there hasn’t been much interest in this program so it may be one of the programs cut with the new budget.

For the last few years I have been trying to sell vegetables at the local Farmers Market and fall festivals.  The demand is defiantly there – especially for fresh veggies grown organically.  Everyone has been very encouraging and very eager for more than I can produce – especially when we have to share with millions of grasshopper so hopefully this will help.

That is – if – we can get it put together.

There seems to be a lot of pieces…

Lots and lots of pieces…

Big pieces and lots of little bitty pieces…

So many pieces that Hubby seems a little overwhelmed at times…

But at least Julio (the cat) is there to help.  Even though he doesn’t have thumbs, Julio does what he can – like rubbing against your leg and letting you know that he loves you even if you’re an idiot and can’t understand what the instructions are trying to tell you.  It’s OK. 

It’s good to have warm, fuzzy friends.  Sometimes you just need a warm, fuzzy hug.

For me it’s easier not to look at the whole project because that can send me running home to my mommy or down to the corner bar.  Instead I tend to break the big jobs down into lots of smaller jobs.  Instead of one big job – we have about 583 small jobs to do before I can plant seeds.  Then it’s not quite so scary.

Especially when you have good help – last night our neighbor, Paul and I were in charge of unloading the trailer and counting all the parts.  Today Hubby digs in the new water line and installs the hydrant.  Then it’ time to lay it out on the ground with stakes and string so it’s square (actually rectangular) and then we start digging post holes for the ground stakes. 

 Just like the old saying:

“How do you eat an elephant?”

“One bite at a time.”

 

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Every year I do it.

You would think that after 5, 10 or even 20 years I would learn.

But no – I never will.  

At least, now I can admit it – this major flaw in my character.

I have no patience – especially when it comes to certain things.

It starts in January.   There could be a major ice storm wiping out power lines in a 3 state area, snow could be stacked 7 feet deep on the driveway, and the blizzard of the century could be howling outside the front door but all it takes is one garden catalog in the mailbox to push me over the edge.  I have to do it.  I can’t stop myself no matter how hard I try. 

I have to plant tomato seeds.

Maybe it’s the smell of fresh potting soil  or the fear that for the first time since the dawn of mankind, spring will come to South Dakota in February and I won’t be ready.   OK – I know that this will never happen but I am an old Boy Scout leader and I must be prepared at all times – I took the oath!!!

There is some warped sense of timing buried deep in my psyche – a biological clock with a wild, twisted spring that makes me start my tomato seeds way too early and the saddest part is – I do it every year.

By early February they’re in the soil and by the end of March they look like this.

 

I call it the tomato jungle.

And that’s not all – there is another problem.  Every year I tell myself I will only plant 12 tomatoes of a couple of varieties – which I do.  But that’s just the beginning, if I only plant 12 seeds and half of them don’t sprout I won’t have enough – right?  So I decide to plant 2 seeds in each cell. 

You do it too – come on – admit it. 

We’ve all read the books and the seed packages and in our minds we calculate the germination rates and the odds of survival.  After all, these are delicate living organiziums  – there’s no way they will all survive – not in a cold house with zero humidity and next to frosty window panes that barely let in any sun.  And then there’s the harsh reality of moving them outside where animals will eat some and step on others, hail stones will fall and late freezes will kill and then, if your like me, you have a husband who gets overzealous with the lawn mower and heavy equipment. 

We also have to figure in the age of the seed because we know for a fact that we have had this one particular package of tomato seeds for over 5 years.  Remember?   It was way cheaper to buy in bulk.  It’s a fact – seeds get old and every thing I have ever read says that when seeds get old they don’t germinate – it’s the law of nature and more importantly, it’s in black and white for pity sake – it must be true!   We know we are bound to lose more plants so just to be on the safe side, we decide to plant 3 seeds per cell. 

But for some unknown reason germination has never been a problem when it comes to tomato seeds.  Perhaps that ‘plant by’ date on the package is just a marketing plot to make us buy new seed every year? 

I wonder…

  Two years ago I planted tomato seeds that were 17 years old.  I found them in the bottom of a box of garden stuff.  The package was old enough to be sold on Ebay as an antique.  It had gotten wet, torn and was so filthy I could barely read what kind of seeds they were.  Some of them had slipped through the tattered package and drifted around the bottom of the box for several years.  They had been frozen, overheated and probably exposed to harsh chemicals so I knew they wouldn’t grow but I planted them anyway.  It was a miracle…  those little seeds were just waiting to touch real soil and once they did – they grew!  I would bet I had 99% germination from those hardy little buggers.  Of course – thinking that none would grow –  I had planted all of them so we were blessed with 86 tomato plants.  We didn’t need 86 tomato plants but I had to keep them – these spunky little plants had waited 17 years for their one chance to grow and I just didn’t have the heart to pull them out by their tiny little roots.  I couldn’t let them die a slow painful death of dehydration – could you? 

 I didn’t think so.   So I transplanted them all. 

And in March I transplanted them again… 

 And they grew into a Jungle on the living room floor….

And when spring finally came (around mid June) I planted them outside…

And we did get a few tomatoes.

 

I must admit, this picture was taken after we had given away or sold at least half of them.  After awhile, the neighbors and relatives quit stopping and people would turn the other way when I met them on the street.  It was worse than a plague of zucchini.  We had tomatoes in the corner of the living room for almost two months and as unbelievable as it seems, almost every one of them ripened – maybe because of the heated floor.  I canned tomatoes, I made spaghetti sauce, tomato sauce, froze them, dried them.    It was a scary tomato year.

And did I learn from this year of tomato gluttony? 

You be the judge – here’s a picture of the living room floor today.

 

138 tomato plants. 

I’m so ashamed.

Is there a support group for this?

 

 

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I’ve started my gardening for the year!!!

I’ve planted seeds for tomatoes, peppers, egg plants, okra and a mixture of flowers.  They are sitting on our heated floor in the living room. 

Playing in the potting soil made me think about the many things I have learned from my garden.  Here’s a short list of the top 10.

1.  Rain is a reason to celebrate – dance in it every chance you get.

2.  Remain flexible through-out your life.  Being stiff and rigid can cause you to break in a storm.

3.  No matter how hard the season has been – do your best to look good.

4.  Accept help.  Sometimes it is better to ‘Round up’ your problems then to continue fighting a losing battle.

5.  Have deep roots.  You can always come back from your roots – I learned this one from creeping jenny.

6.  It doesn’t matter how many thorns you have – if you put on a good show people will still love you.

7.  Some of the things that bug you the most may just turn out to be your best friends.

8.  Storms and tough times make you stronger.

9.  Even a day filled with crap can be a blessing.

And finally,

10.  I don’t care how old you are – spraying someone with the garden hose is always funny and good for your soul.

Gardening can teach you many things.  It will thrill you one day and drive you to drink the next but through it all it will make you a better person and reward you with riches beyond belief (mostly in the form of zucchini).  Share these blessings and pass on the joy to the next generation.

Go forth and Garden.

Spring is just around the corner!!!

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