Posts Tagged ‘gardening’

Let the gardening begin!

March 9th, 2010 3 comments

Most of us have noticed the longer days, warmer temperatures and the insatiable desire to wear shorts and sandals.  Not only does that mean spring is coming, it means we are getting ready for things like weekly disc golf, trips to the farmer’s market, barbeques, and picnics.  It also means the gardening season is fast approaching.

Last night, we borrowed a friend’s tiller to prepare the garden (FYI – I have another trend going: for the past three years I have broken a belt on a tiller).  As I was breaking up the soil, I realized just how much I love this part of the process; in fact, preparing the plot is probably my favorite part of gardening.  There is just something about putting the sweat equity into a project after several months off.  Plus you get the instant gratification of seeing your accomplishments.  So much in gardening requires patience and persistence; it often takes months for your work to pay off.  Tilling is the one time where brute force actually works in your favor.

2010-03-02 Chef, spaghetti 172 [Garden half way through the second tiller pass.
Notice the asparagus patch in the back right.

But, it’s not just the actual work of prep that I enjoy – it is also what it represents.  In order to till you have to have had several days of sunny spring weather, so the process usually starts right when people are getting spring fever.  Tilling also goes hand in hand with planning.  It is exciting to begin deciding what crops are going to be planted where and what schedule you are going to follow.  While I was tilling, the neighborhood kids were out playing, the birds were swooping into our bird feeder, and the sun was just dipping below the horizon.  I could not ask for a better life.

For Beth and I, beginning the garden holds special significance as it reminds us of the birth of Mikayla.  Last year as we were prepping the garden, we were also getting ready to welcome our daughter into the world.  Three days before she was born, we were planning our crops.  And, as we were nurturing her and working through the challenges of a newborn, the garden was our escape and place of renewal.

Depending on how our plans for Swaziland develop, this could be our last year to garden here for quite a while.  That makes the start of the season even more poignant for us.

We have many hours of work ahead of us in the garden this year, but as anyone who does it knows, you do it because you love it.  We are both looking forward to another year of playing in the dirt.

Technical Note:

For those of you who are interested, I thought I would quickly mention our plans for this year’s garden:

  • We expanded our garden space by about 20% this year.
  • We have already planted two rows of onion sets.  Last year our onions did not do too well, but I think it was because we planted them too late and they were too wet.
  • After we tilled the garden, we covered it with black plastic.  We did this last year to kill the grass and it seemed to work well.  It also helps to keep the ground warm, keeps it from getting compressed, and doesn’t allow early spring weeds to grow.
  • Instead of a regular compost pile, this year we are going to use a home-made compost tumbler.  I will keep you posted on that process with that.
  • We are going to use our rain barrel again, but this year we will raise it up off the ground and possibly try adding a second capture container to it.
  • Here are the crops we have planned: sweet corn, tomatoes (mostly roma, but some larger varieties), peppers (at least green, jalapeno, banana, and chili), broccoli, onions, carrots, parsnips, basil, okra, asparagus, squash and zucchini.

Looking Back

January 5th, 2010 No comments

A year ago I was a student at Asbury, working at Kaleidoscope, expecting my first child.  12 months later I am a stay-at-home dad with my MA working at a distillery.  Quite a bit has changed in 2009.  Here is a look back in pictures. [HT: Dave]

January -Stephenson Chapel

bowling2 bowling

[Bowling with the Youth from Stephenson Chapel]

In January I continued my work with Kaleidoscope writing grants, but also began a stint as an interim pastor for Stephenson Chapel.  At first it was only supposed to be a few week fill-in gig, but it ended up lasting 6 months.  The folks at this rural church in Russellville were an amazing example of community and incarnate love.  They put up with my quirks and gave Beth and I amazing support.

February – Ice and Stitches

Christmas - New Year 189 knee

[Ice damage and damaged knee]

In late January a major snow storm hit the Bluegrass.  Along with many other people I spent several days running a chainsaw helping with the cleanup.  Most of my time was out at Camp Loucon, a Methodist camp and retreat center near Leitchfield KY.  On my third day in I was sawing a hanging limb and it kicked back in a weird way sending the chainsaw bar (the chain was not moving) into my leg.  I ended up with 24 stitches in my knee, but was sawing again within 3 hours.  Some people never learn.

March – Corsair

Christmas - New Year 070

[Custom Still at Corsair]

Beginning in October of last year, I completed several distillery tours in the state.  They are always a fascinating mix of industry, craft and science.  The most interesting was Corsair Artisan, a micro-distillery that just opened in Bowling Green.  After several visits, in March the owners asked if I would be interested in helping them out on a few projects.  My role in the company gradually expanded and now I am the Distillery Manager and handle most of the daily operations.  It is a great mix of duties that keeps me on my toes and works with my schedule.

April – Birth of Mikayla


[Mikayla at 1 week]

Some months carry more weight than others.  Thus is the case for April 2009.  On the the 28th at 10:36am, our baby girl Mikayla Lillian Kickert was born.  She weighed in at 7,7 and was 20” long.  You can see more blog posts about her here.

May – Graduation

grad june 008 grad june 011

[Celebrating with the family in all my regalia]

After 3 years, $33,000 ($21,000 out of pocket), and over 3,000 hours of work I finally graduated with a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies from Asbury Seminary.  This time was certainly formative, but looking back at it I am not convinced I would do it again if given the choice.  It was simply too much of a sacrifice for what it yielded.  For me, graduation was more than just an achievement – it represented a transition to freedom.

June – Blogging / Time with Family

June 2008 019

[G-ma Morgan meets Mikayla for the first time]

After graduating and ending my stint at Stephenson Chapel I discovered a void in my life.  I no longer had an obvious outlet for my creativity or an avenue to work through my thoughts.  In order to fix this I began blogging (technically I took blogging back up, but my previous attempts had never amounted to anything).  Also during this time Beth, Mikayla and I had the opportunity to spend a lot of quality time together and visit with family.  We basically had 2.5 months together and took full advantage of it.

July – Garden

2009-07-04 Late June 005

[The garden at the height of the growing season]

While not specific to July, one of the highlights of the year was our garden.  This was the first year we moved it to our house and it was also one of the best crops we have had.  It was a great escape and the food we produced was excellent.  Here is an earlier post about our garden and one about lessons learned throughout the year.

August – Stay-at-home Dad

2009-08-23 August 014

[Watching Mikayla while Cooking]

When Mikayla was born Beth and I decided it made sense for me to stay at home with her during the week.  In August, my “job” started in earnest.  I had never pictured myself as a stay-at-home dad, but I have really enjoyed being able to spend time with her and it means the whole family gets more quality time.  To be honest with you, sometimes I wonder what Beth was thinking when she trusted me to not do anything stupid with Mikayla.  So far so good… for the most part.

September – Grandfather

2009-09-02 Somerset and Chicago 021

[Grandma and Grandpa with Mikayla]

Some transitions are harder than others.  One of the tough ones for 2009 was the passing of my grandfather.  In his life he had overcome many illnesses and obstacles, but his last few months were filled with pain and everyone knew in September it was his time to go.  I wrote some of my thought about the transition of life here.

October – Long Term Relationships

2009-October and November 111 [Kickerts and Altmaiers at Abrham’s Falls]

It is amazing how fast time goes by.  In October, Beth and I celebrated our 5 year anniversary.  A few months earlier we had celebrated 10 years together (dating+marriage).  Even though it sounds trite to say, I could not imagine my life without her.  That same month we spent a great weekend with old friends (Dave and I go back to Ms. Fitzgerald’s first grade class).  For Beth and I, Dave and Catherine are the type of friends that you can jump right back in with even after several months apart and never feel like you missed a beat.

November – Camry

2009-10-06 Camry 014

[The Culprit]

November represents one of the most frustrating months of 2009.  A few months earlier the engine in Beth’s Camry blew (read about it here).  After a month of trying to figure out if was worth fixing, we finally bought a used engine to install.  Long story short, the engine was bad, we hit a bunch more hurdles, we have spent 3x the amount we planned on spending and as of the first week of January we still don’t have a car.  Ughh…

December – Christmas

2009-12-25 Christmas 137

[PJs, Hot Cocoa, and Pictures]

Since this was Mikayla’s first Christmas we made sure we spent part of Christmas day at our home together.  We were able to initiate some family traditions of our own (Beth has a great post about it).  One of the things we did was get dressed up in our pajamas (I had to buy some), make hot cocoa and take fun family pictures together.

Overall 2009 did not turn out the way I would have expected it to, but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else than where I am right now.

Garden Lessons Learned

August 14th, 2009 1 comment

As August rolls on, more and more rows in our summer garden come to their end.  Just yesterday the last of our sweet corn was harvested and the stalks cut down.  While the okra is still going strong, the tomatoes are reaching the end of their production, the zucchini is winding down (never really produced too well — too wet), the basil needs to be cut, and the only peppers left are the jalapenos.  The asparagus is growing up and hopefully will be ready to harvest next spring.  So far we have been able to track our gardening season along with Mikayla’s life — we planted most of the crops 2 days before she was born.  It seems like just yesterday the crops were first coming in and Mikayla was  beginning to sleep through the night.  We have come a long way.


Now that our third year of gardening is wrapping up, it is a good chance to look back on this year (and the others) and make note of the lessons learned.  Here is what I have learned from our mistakes, and accidental successes:

  • Each year we have started in a new location.  Every other year we have struggled with weeds, but this year we beat them early on.  We tilled in early April, then covered it with black plastic for two weeks to kill the grass.  When we pulled the plastic we tilled again and never had a major week problem.
  • It takes at least 4 dry days before you can till a garden.  Be on the look out starting in mid-march because there are only a few good opportunities.
  • When it comes to planting, while the average last freeze is April 20th around here, there is nothing wrong with planting into mid-May.
  • Get your transplants at the school greenhouses or the farmer’s market — they are exponentially cheaper.
  • Plant less squash and zucchini than you think you need, but more broccoli.
  • Don’t forget how freakin’ tall okra gets.
  • If you want a steady stream of corn, plant it in stages separated by about 2 weeks.  You can plant as late as June if you are willing to water.
  • If working with stage-planted corn, or small batches, you really need to pollinate by hand.  Cut a tassel or two off every other day or so and rub it on the silks.
  • It is better to harvest corn too early than too late
  • After the corn reaches 2′ you can stop weeding, but make sure you weed the first few weeks or it will affect the production.
  • Planting two tomato plants per cage doesn’t produce any more.
  • Bucket tomatoes (hung upside down) do in fact produce, but not nearly as much (25% or less) of a regular planting.
  • Don’t underestimate the weight of a tomato plant — use a cage and a tobacco stick or rebar to support it.
  • Broccoli gets bitter after the first cutting or two.
  • Okra can grow off the main stalk, so be sure to look carefully.
  • It is easier to weed every other day or so than to let things go for a week or more and try to catch up.
  • Asparagus takes a year to produce
  • You have to plant garlic the autumn before, so plan ahead — we have missed our opportunity each year.
  • It is a great experience to do community gardens, but it is less stressful to be able to walk out into your backyard to harvest or weed.

So what about you, what have you learned in your time gardening?

10 Activities

July 23rd, 2009 No comments

So far Beth and I have discussed what we like, what we want to accomplish, and a bit about who we are.  Today our list of 10 will look at what we like to do.  Here are my top 10 favorite activities:

  1. Disc Golfing – I was introduced to disc golfing while I was in college.  I love it because it offers an easy escape outdoors, even if only for an hour or two.  You can play by yourself or in groups.  Best yet… is relatively cheap.  You could play ’til your heart was content for $2 if you buy a used disc.  For $20-30 you would be well on your way.  Compared to my other outdoor activities, this one is by far the cheapest.

    Discgolfing with some of Beth's students.

    Discgolfing with some of Beth's students.

  2. Gardening – Beth and I are on our third year of gardening, and the first in our own backyard.  I just got in from harvesting okra, tomatoes, corn and peppers.  Here is link to post I wrote earlier, and some pictures of the garden from today.
    2009-07-22 Pouty Face 039

    Asparagus, corn, zucchini, okra, peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, onions.

    Tomatoes, basil, okra, corn.

    Tomatoes, basil, okra, corn.

  3. Rock Climbing – My first experience climbing was in high school at an indoor gym.  I ended up buying my own equipment and then getting involved in an outdoors group my Freshman year in college where I got into real rock climbing.  In the four years fighting fire in Idaho I expanded my experience.  Now I only climb a couple times a year, but I treasure each one.  It is not just the activity, but the comradery found sitting around at the bottom of the rocks too.

    Climbing in the Bitterroots, circa 2001

    Climbing in the Bitterroots, circa 2001

  4. Backpacking – I was backpacking before I even knew what it was.  I was lucky enough to have parents that valued the outdoors and introduced them to me early.  In fact, my first camping trip was before I was a month old (at least that is what Dad says… but his memory is not what it used to be.)  I try to have one big trip every couple years, but is has been a few years since I have been out.  Just this week I went back through my pictures from a trip to Colorado.  Backpacking is one of those things that is fun to prepare for, to do, and to talk about later.

    Purifying water while backpacking in Colorado.  (The day before we found an outfitter's stash of beer).

    Purifying water while backpacking in Colorado. (The day before we found an outfitter's stash of beer).

  5. Traveling – I have been very fortunate to be able to travel quite a bit in my life.  I visited over 30 states in 18 months when I was in college and currently have visited all of the lower 48.  I have been to Mexico (kinda), Canada, Costa Rica, Germany, Austria and Italy.  I enjoy traveling not only for the experiance, but also because it often forces me to reassess my own understandings of the world.
  6. Conversing with friends over beverages – I enjoy good conversations in relaxed settings.  Like the activity above, this includes lots of things.  I enjoy talking theology, philosophy, politics, and anything in between.  I enjoy good drinks and people who enjoy good drinks.
  7. Being with my family – One of my favorite activities is simply being with my family.  Not doing anything in particular… just being.  I love a lazy Sunday in a cozy bed, or a evening of talking with my extended family.  I feel very natural with my family and am comfortable just hanging out.


    Family picture at Kentucky Lake.

  8. Working with my hands – Most of my work is cerebral, whether it is grant writing, or studying, or planning.  After 20 years of schooling, and 5 years of jobs mostly made up of life behind a computer, I find great relief in working with my hands.  If I get stressed out, I will work in the garage; if I have spent too much time writing grants, I get respite from mowing the lawn.  I love my current job at Corsair Artisan Distillery because it includes science, craft, mundane tasks and grunt labor.  My time fighting fire was probably my most fulfilling job at the end of the day (but not in terms of long range impact).

    Practice Rappells at Moyer in Idaho, circa 2003.

    Practice Rappells at Moyer in Idaho, circa 2003.

  9. Driving long distances in the car alone – Everyone needs a way to relax and collect their thoughts.  Some people golf, some people go for walks, some people journal.  For me, the most calming time is driving alone in the car.  Often I do this with the windows down and the radio off.  When I was in Seminary, I would often leave at 4:30 in the morning and drive 2.5 hours.  I would have loved my sleep, but seeing the sun come up while I processed my thoughts was the most therapeutic thing I could do.
  10. Researching – In all honesty, this is probably my favorite activity because it includes so much.  I enjoy spending time in the Library combing through old journals and abstracts to find a hidden gem of information for a paper.  I love pouring over a map trying to find the best route.  I love browsing wikipedia to learn about random things like historic natural disasters, or the standard model of particle physics.  I often get into a topic and try to read everything I can about it.  I spend hours trying to understand things like PHP so I can edit a blog.  And, if I am honest, much of the time I waste tinkering around on the internet is linked to this activity.

10 Places

July 18th, 2009 1 comment

With the publishing of this post, Beth and I are half way through our 10 lists of 10.  Today we are listing our 10 favorite places.  I intended this to be more specific, but I realized there were specific types of places where I felt most comfortable at and ease and I have mostly listed those.

  1. Around a campfire – For most families, the TV is the thing which people gather around.  That was not the case for me — we gathered around the fire.  In fact, there was only 1 seat facing the TV at my childhood home, and 4 facing the wood stove.  There is something mesmerizing about flickering flames.  They hold the power to sustain life and the power to take it.  It doesn’t matter if it is a small warming fire on a wilderness hike, or the fire ring in our back yard where we watch movies on the side of the house, I feel at peace with the crackling wood and the dimly illuminated faces of close friends.
  2. 127 Yellowstone Ct – My current address.  I like being at home.  I like curling up on my ratty couch with my dog and surfing the internet.  I love laying in bed with my wife on a lazy morning.  I love walking into the backyard to get something out of the garden.  I love our neighbors, especially the kids who always greet us when we get home.  Our home is not elaborate or large.  We have all used furniture and the house is never all the way picked up, but that doesn’t matter.  I like being here.
  3. Coffee Shop with friends – There is something about sitting around a table with a hot cup of coffee and friends you love.  Some of my most meaningful conversations have happened in these settings.  Right now the place I frequent the most is Spencer’s (especially since it is a half block from the distillery where I work).  Great people, great coffee, and a kick-ass chicken salad sandwich.  I also enjoy Greener Grounds (formerly Bread n Bagel).
  4. University Libraries – I know people who never set foot inside the library while in college.  That was not me.  Not only did I frequent the library, but I had places I considered my own and would get pissed is someone was sitting there.  There is something about being surrounded by such a wealth of knowledge.  Books are calming to me.  When I visit another campus, I always go into the library and browse the stacks.  I find comfort in book stores for the same reason.
  5. Missoula, MT – I haven’t been there in a while, but this is my favorite city in America.  It has a great atmosphere and vibe.  It is a university town nestled in the foothills of the Bitterroot mountains.  Great micro-breweries, great gear shops and a great cultural scene.  It is also the city I most closely associate with my time fighting fire.  My first two years we had to drive an hour into Missoula to get our groceries.
  6. Mountain Lakes -This is more of a western phenomina than an eastern one.  I love sitting in a wilderness area staring off across a crystal clear lake with vast mountains around me.  I have experienced this in Montana, Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and Oregon (Austria as well) and each time I find the setting to epitomize the beauty of creation.  (Give me a campfire and some coffee and things could be perfect).


    Mountain Lake in the Weminuche Wilderness Area

  7. On the road – Some people hate being in the car, but that is not me.  For 4 years I traveled out to Idaho by myself.  It was about 32 hours each way, and believe it or not I looked forward to that time.  Even when I was commuting to Asbury, I loved the time in the car (even when it meant leaving at 4:30 in the morning).  For me, it is a time to think and process ideas and let my mind wander.  I often drive in silence and enjoy taking in the passing scenery.  I also love listening to some NPR while driving.
  8. In the air – Growing up I had several opportunities to fly in single engine planes.  In college I worked on helicopters.  And while it has been a while since I have been off terra-firma, I love the experience of soaring over the world.  I think it is because of the way it alters your perception.  You see the world in a new way from hundreds of feet above it (I also love looking at satellite imagery on google earth, and Microsoft’s new “Birds Eye” view for the same reason).
  9. Gear shops – I don’t consider myself materialist, but if I am ever going to be drawn in to the “things of this world” it will be in a good gear shop.  I love the small local shops where the employees know all the best routes and trips, but at the same time I enjoy purusing all the high end gear at a place like REI.  If I have a weakness… it is gear.  I have piles of climbing gear, backpacking gear, mountain biking gear….
  10. In the garden – This is a (relatively) recent addition to my list of favorite places.  This is our third year of gardening and our first year to do it at our home (see this post about it).  I love growing our own food and being able to eat it fresh.  I love the way gardening forces you to slow down and spend time outdoors.  I love the mix of hard labor (tilling) and monotonous tasks (weeding).

Garden Update

June 23rd, 2009 No comments

Blistered palms, sweaty brows, dirty clothes and oh so little to show for it… yet!  Beth and I are in the heat of the gardening season.

Kickert's Garden Plot

Kickert's Garden Plot

This is the third year we have gardened together.  The first two years we were part of a community effort to maintain a plot, but this year we charted out a course on our own — in our backyard.  We enjoyed our time sharing the workload with other couples the last two years, but this year it made sense to fly solo.  It is great to be able to work side by side with people you care about to bring about a harvest.  It is amazing to share in the sweat equity of friends and celebrate with uber-local meals.  It is a relief to be able to rely on others when you will be out of town, or extra busy one week.

However, with baby Mikayla on the way (currently here of course), and an uncertainly of how easy it would be to get out into the garden, we decided to put a plot in our backyard.  We tilled a 25′ x 25′ tract in the back corner of our property and then put black plastic over it to kill the remaining grass.  2 weeks later we pulled the plastic and tilled again.  Let me just say… each year we have broken new ground, and this by far the most effective method we have used to start things off — 2 months in, the weeds are a fraction of what they were.

We got lucky with our timing.  We put our transplants in the ground on Saturday and Beth went into labor on Monday, then it rained for 2 straight weeks.  If we had missed that planting opportunity, there is a good chance this post would be titled “25 fun things to do with a 25′ x 25′ mud pit in your backyard.

Here is the summary of what went in:

  • Onions
  • Tomatoes (Roma and Better Boys)
  • Peppers (Green, Jalapenos, Chili and Banana)
  • Broccoli
  • Squash
  • Zucchini
  • Okra
  • Basil
  • Sweet corn
  • Asparagus
Basil and tomatoes

Basil and tomatoes

Broccoli and Onions

Broccoli and Onions

Squash, Zucchini, Peppers and Okra

Squash, Zucchini, Peppers and Okra

Asparagus and Corn

Asparagus and Corn

Our onions came from ACE and were planted as bulbs, and the sweet corn came as seeds.  The rest were transplants that we got at either Warren East green house or the Farmer’s Market (See Beth’s post about the Farmer’s Market) at an amazing price of 4-6 for $1.  Most of the transplants were young, but we actually ran into a problem with them being too hearty — we planted extra expecting some to die, but we only lost 1 or 2 plants.  The corn we planted on a staggered schedule so we could have a wider harvest period (we will have to self-pollinate to make up for the lack of density of mature plants) and the asparagus will have to wait a year to produce.

Green Tomatoes

Green Tomatoes

We also did a bucket experiment with a tomato plant and two squash plants.  The tomato plant is looking good, and the squash plant is healthy, but not hearty.  I will keep you posted on how that works out.

Bucket Tomatoe and Squash

Bucket Tomatoe and Squash

As of this week the harvest has begun.  So far we only have basil, okra and green tomatos, but that makes for a heck of an itallian style fried dish!

Beth and I are not experts by any means, but here are some things we have learned:

  • No person ever needs more than 2 squash/zucchini plants.

    Rain Barrel

    Rain Barrel

  • Human hair keeps the rabbits away from fresh transplants
  • Pulling the “suckers” off tomato plants really does make a difference
  • Speaking of tomatoes, spend the money and invest in quality cages – it is worth it to save the hassle
  • It is much easier to weed 15 minutes a couple times a week than to take a week of and try to catch up
  • A quality tiller (rear tine) is worth its weight in gold and worth borrowing
  • Young pumpkins look like hearty watermelons, but taste like crap.
  • Dish soap and water is an effective deterrent for bugs.
  • Corn takes up a lot of space and can be bought super cheap, BUT it requires minimal maintenance.
  • A simple rain barrel saves money and is easy to make in an hour or two for less than $30.
  • Starbucks gives away free coffee grounds which can be used in your garden (plan on stocking up, it will take quite a few bags to cover a plot the size of ours.  I would think 1 per 100 sq feet of garden).
  • Jalapenos from the garden vary significantly in their “heat” — be warned.
  • Be willing to try new things (eggplant), but don’t plant something you never expect to eat (amaranth).
  • Herbs do better in large planters near your house where you can easily access them.
  • Don’t expect to save money the first year – there can be a significant investment early on (not a few big things, but a large amount of small things: hoses, sprinklers, shovels, rakes, hoes, gloves, seeds, tomato cages, etc.)
  • If you value your time at more than $1/hour, don’t ever expect to save.  We have learned you garden because you love, not because it saves money.  It is relaxing, connects you with creation, gives you an appreciation of your resources, is environmentally friendly and teaches your patience.

And… for those of you dedicated to read the end of the post… the best resource I can point you tou is a publication by UK’s Extension Office called Home Vegable Gardening in Kentucky.  Here you will find all the information you ever need plan, plant and maintain a garden in the bluegrass.

Budding Broccoli

Budding Broccoli

Banana Peppers

Banana Peppers

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