Category Archives: The Gardens

A Good Year for Tomatoes

Finally, it’s tomato time. We haven’t had a garden in a few years, but 2020 seems the time to revert to some of our prepper tendencies. The four hens I purchased this spring should start laying soon, and I hear the “pop” of jars sealing on pizza sauce downstairs.

There’s a comfort in a full pantry, one that many in this world do not have. Pizza is my go-to meal when I’m feeling too lazy to cook, and I know from past years, we simply cannot can enough. Every pint jar is enough for three or four pizzas, three or four meals.

Normantown Historical Community Center recently held an online auction as a fundraiser, selling off all the things Gilmer County Schools left behind when they closed Normantown Elementary School. Desks, books, file cabinets, lockers, sinks, shelves, chalkboards, and whiteboards, etc. When I visited the center to make arrangements to pick up the item I won (a set of lockers for 20 bucks), I was offered a tour of the facility.

The Community Center was cruisin’ along when COVID came along. Monthly craft classes, weekly basketball night, exercise classes, and more. A clothing closet, and also, the food pantry. For the most part, everything came to a halt in the spring–and all focus turned to the food pantry.

After seeing the set up for the food pantry, I now understand why people begin lining up at 7 a.m. on the second Friday of every month. I understand why traffic has lined up on Route 33, and why Normantown draws people from at least four counties on pantry days.

The food pantry in Normantown is a tremendous operation. Without restriction, anyone can drive through and be provided enough food–meats, cheeses, pasta, canned fruits and vegetables, pasta, pies, cereals, and more—to last at least a month (depending on the size of your household). I cannot even imagine the volunteer effort required to manage the pantry itself, much less the one day a month the pantry is open.

During my recent tour, I was also told they are considering re-opening the Clothing Closet. While the room that serves as the closet smells a tad musty from being closed so long, the items I saw available were in good shape, even though they may need washing. Though it is 93 degrees today and tomatoes cook down on the stove, winter is coming, and I saw a variety of nice coats available.

I work when the food pantry is open, but I am comforted by the full jars lining up in our pantry, and knowing if I truly need the pantry, it is there. Here, in my community. I am comforted knowing that others in our community have no need to be hungry, no need to be cold. Volunteers in our community are making sure of that.

As is in most places in West Virginia, the volunteer group trying to maintain these services and resources is older, from generations ingrained with the concept of giving back, of service to others. They can use assistance. At Normantown Center, a volunteer mows the yard, while another repairs pantry freezers, another writes grants to get the roofs repaired. Clothing donations for the Clothes Closet need sorting, rooms need the dead ladybugs swept out of the windowsills and up off the floor.

I have to wonder: how many of those who line up for the pantry those second Fridays ever return to give back?

If you need the Food Pantry or the Clothing Closet, I urge you to make use of them. What I witnessed was the set up of quality efforts, with significant choices and options. And whether you make use of them or not, I can see that our Community Center needs more volunteers. Can you push a broom? Run a weed eater? Unload a truck? I started this column to help promote the center, and though COVID has sidetracked some of their plans, it has done nothing to dampen their dedication or their efforts. Their organization meetings are the 2nd Tuesday of every month, and the 2nd Thursday and 2nd Friday—food pantry day and the day before—must be their days of greatest need.

When we look back at how COVID has changed us, and our society, I hope we can look back and say that 2020 was the year we stepped up, the year we recognized the importance of community, of family, of friendships, of time outdoors, of giving. In a year that seems destined to divide us, I hope the opposite is the actual result. I hope this becomes a year we can look back on as a time of fresh beginnings, and as a good year for tomatoes.

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If you would like information on Normantown Historical Community Center, visit or You can subscribe to Lisa’s seasonal email newsletter at

Lying Fallow: June 2017 in Two-Lane Livin’

(This is my 2017 installment of “Two Lane for Life” from the June issue of Two-Lane Livin’ Magazine. You can view the entire issue as a digital flipbook via

As we grow near to Two-Lane Livin’s 10th birthday, I have been looking back through our early archives. And though I am old enough to reflect on nearly five decades of life, only the last ten years have been recorded in a monthly publication I can look back upon.

When we launched the magazine, I was so excited about gardening and canning, learning how to be healthier and more self-reliant. I was thrilled to welcome chickens and bees to our family, was stockpiling seeds and lamp oil and teaching myself to sew and crochet.

Somehow, I thought this “back to the land” mindset was going to simplify my life. I look back at all that now and laugh.

When it comes to farming and gardening, I have found that it is quite easy to over do it. I have learned, truly, moderation is key. But baby chicks can be purchased in bulk, in fact, when ordering, you must purchase at least a dozen.  One more tray of spring plants can produce another thirty or more pounds of tomatoes. One more row or seed packet of beans can double or triple the bushels of beans that need strung in the fall.

A ten year old oregano patch can spread to cover more than eight square feet. Mature perennials need divided. Fences eventually need mending, spades sharpened, hives and pens need maintained.

All the projects I was so excited about ten years ago, I now know, are work. Work, and time. And though I knew back then and was not afraid of the work, I sorely underestimated the amount of time truly required.

Gardens, bees, chickens, fields, these things do not wait. They do not wait until you have time, do not wait until you are ready. Weeds need pulled, beans need picked, hay needs cut. Bees swarm. Eggs, water, and feed need dealt with more than once a day.

There was a time when we had more than 30 chickens, and planted more than 100 tomato plants and six rows of beans.

For two people? Insanity is what that is.

These days, my sewing machine is packed away, as are my crochet needles, my pressure canner. And though June is upon us, we have not planted a garden this year. The pantry is still filled with jars from previous years, and we still get near a dozen eggs a day from our small flock of aging hens. We have four bee hives, but three of them are swarms we caught this spring.

We can certainly take a break from gardening this year, but it feels shameful to not have a garden. I feel shame, and I feel a loss. A loss of a chance to fill more jars, a loss of the mornings pulling weeds and smashing stink bugs. A loss not to wander out again in the evenings sweating in the late day sun and swatting at deer flies. In many ways, gardeners are slaves to their gardens–you weed and water when it’s needed, pick and harvest when it’s ready. But at the same time, a garden is nourishing, not just to the body, but to the soul.

In some ways, I feel like we’re taking the summer off. Like we’re cheating, or being lazy.

Of course, we still have asparagus, garlic, horseradish, mushrooms in the perennial beds, and thyme, oregano, lemon balm, sage, and chives in the herb garden.

Won’t we miss fresh produce? I don’t think so. I have learned that someone will inevitably grow too many cucumbers and squash, and will bring some to the library or the local mom and pop store. Heirloom tomatoes will find their way to the local farmer’s markets.

What will I do with the extra  summer days that for the last ten years have been spent tilling and canning? I hope I don’t waste it on facebook. I hope to work on other things, like moderation and maintenance. My approach to simple living ten years ago wasn’t simple at all. I was so excited about getting started, I didn’t really think about the upkeep. But you have to think about upkeep, or you won’t be able to keep up. Over the past ten years, we have fallen behind.

Where to store empty canning jars, or tomato stakes not in use? Do we really need all those plant trays? I’m going to sharpen my hoe before I ever use it again, and I’m going to spend more time in the back porch swing, watching the grass grow.

So this summer, our garden will be lying fallow, a term used to describe land tilled and plowed but left unseeded. Some farmers do this to raise the fertility in the soil. I wonder what lying fallow will do for us, the humans that tend the garden, what fertility might rise in our lives and souls–if any. Perhaps I will find a way to combine simple living and self-reliance. But it hasn’t happened so far.

Lisa is an Assistant Librarian at Gilmer Public Library & recently received her MFA in Creative Writing.  For details on her workshops and speaking availability, visit

Rubber Boots and Muddy Tulips

As I sit to write this, fewer than 60 days remain until spring. Of course with these winter temperatures, my tulips and lilies began sprouting a week ago, in January.

I dislike West Virginia winters that don’t include a good amount of snow. As every country dweller knows, without cold temperatures and snow–the whole world grows soft with mud.

I refer to the time from February to April as “Mud Season.” It’s that time a year when everything around you goes soggy, when that dry, hard driveway of summer becomes a boggy, sloppy path. The time of year when a walk to the chicken coop is accentuated with “squish, squish, squish” the entire way. With snow, I might tiptoe across the yard in my green garden clogs, but with all the mud, rubber boots are a must.

Santa brought me a new pair of blue rubber boots this Christmas, after my rainbow-daisy-covered pair sprung a leak at the ankle. I stepped into the lake’s edge to grab hold of the canoe, and my right boot filled with water. I might be able to patch them, but I’ll never fully depend on them again.

I bought my first pair of “adult” rubber boots after I experienced the first flood waters here on the farm, when I waded waist-deep up our driveway, watched as a round hay bale floated by me. That pair of boots had pull-on loops at the top of the boot, and more than once I hooked bungee cords from the outside loop on the boot to the belt loops on my pants to keep them from being sucked off my feet by the mud.

A country girl must have rubber boots–and I wear mine most often in February and March.

I have a goal to walk every day–a goal I don’t meet often enough. But when I do, I slip on my blue rubber boots and our beagle, Daisy Dewdrop, and I squish our way around the lake, across the fields, meandering at Daisy’s pace, stopping to sniff at interesting things all along the way. There was a time when she would run ahead of me and I would struggle to keep up in my rubber boots, but we are older now, and the lazy stroll is good enough.

In the words of Wendell Berry, “When despair for the world grows in me… I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water…”

We’re not really walking for the exercise, we are walking for the peace of wild things. We’re walking to shake off too much sitting, to unplug and disconnect. She’s walking to sniff out her world and see what’s been intruding, I’m walking to let go of the intrusive concerns of mankind, to balance myself by returning to a more natural perspective of life.

Our lazy strolls are relaxing (and certainly needed), but I prefer to walk through snow than mud. The world is more hushed, pristine and peaceful.  Snow is so beautiful and relaxing. Mud–is mud. It’s slippery, it stains, it seeps and sloshes.

Daisy too prefers snow over mud. In the snow she is friskier, livelier, and the white of her face seems less obvious on the white background. But in the mud she steps gingerly, dainty and delicate, knowing she’ll wear any major splashes on her belly and backside. When we return home, she spends extra time cleaning her legs and feet after I’ve toweled them off.

On today’s walk, I found an abandoned turtle shell, and Daisy waded into the lake’s edge to slurp big gulps of fresh water.  I noticed my tulips sprouting already, and some of the lilies. A few of our honey bees were buzzing around the outside trash cans. Sights of spring in late January, fresh life that will likely be frozen when the weekend temperatures drop again.

Those with cold frame gardens are surely being blessed currently with kale, carrots, even perhaps hardy lettuces, or even broccoli. Each year I hope to start a winter garden, and each fall I’m so worn out by the summer garden, the winter garden has yet to happen. But, the sight of the tulips and some lily sprouts makes me wonder about the asparagus, if it will also be popping up early. Makes me think about planting peas.

I do hope for more cold and snow before spring arrives. I hope for a winter that feels like winter. A serious dose of pristine white that solidifies mud, turns the squishing to crunching, one that frosts the tips of the tulips.  One more fat, fluffy snowfall that continues for a full day and night. One that lingers for days before melting away.

I hope for a cold snap that kills bugs, a snowfall that forces me to wear my snow boots, soft-lined and snuggly, especially compared to my blue rubber boots. I hope I can go from snow boots to garden clogs, and skip over all this mud.

Surely winter can’t be over yet.


This essay appears as Lisa’s column in the February issue of Two-Lane Livin’ Magazine. To enjoy the entire magazine as a flipbook, visit



It’s Swarming Season

When I decided to get chickens, Frank said, “Just remember, they’re your chickens.” But, he’s the one who gets up to let them out every morning.

When I decided we needed a cat, Frank said, “Remember, it’s an outside cat, and it’s your cat.” But, the cat wakes Frank up every morning to let her out.

When Frank decided to start keeping bees I said, “Okay, but remember, they’re your bees.”  I am sure you can tell where this is headed.


This is our original hive. We have had it four or five years now. We have lost four or five hives since then, either to the bees freezing in an early spring freeze or from colony collapse disorder.

The bottom two boxes on the hive are brood boxes. Inside are vertically hanging frames, with foundations that the bees build on. On top of those two boxes is what I call the queen screen, a screen that allows drones and worker bees into the upper boxes, but keeps the queen from traveling above the two lower boxes. Thus, the upper two boxes are filled with honey, not eggs or brood.


This hive holds the swarm we caught last year. These are all brood boxes. Because we were new at catching swarms, we weren’t ready, and when we caught the swarm, only had enough frames for the bottom box, and placed them and the branch they were on in the second box. Too slow to return to them, they had built their own comb system in the second box before we got the frames in, and so we just put the third box over that with frames and let them do their own thing in the middle.  When we feel this hive is strong enough (this is its second year), we will add a queen screen, and put boxes on top for honey collection.

(If you are wondering about the straps holding the hives down, that’s to keep the wind from blowing off the lids, toppling the hives and the local bears from easily tearing our hives apart.)

Most professional beekeepers will try to keep their hives from swarming, because it interrupts honey production, and disrupts the hive.  We don’t really follow that train of thought, because we have lost hives, and would like to replenish what we have lost. This year, we’ve made progress in doing so.


This is the hive that holds the swarm of bees that Frank’s mom and I captured two weekends ago while Frank was at work. The branch that they swarmed on was placed in the second box up, but within a day they had moved the queen into the lower box, and we were able to remove the branch and add frames to the second box. Both of these boxes will be brood boxes, and when the hive is strong enough the queen screen and another box will be added on top for honey.


This is the section of branch the bees were on in the tree, which we lowered into the second box of the hive. You can see the comb they built on the branch in one day while it was inside the hive.


This is swarm number two, yesterday, in the same tree, but much higher than the first swarm.  Frank climbed the tree, tied off the branch, cut the branch, then lowered the branch to me on the ladder below, which I helped guide to the ground. Frank then sawed the branch off on each side of the swarm while I held the branch, and we placed the branch inside the hive box waiting below.


This is the hive we placed the second swarm in. At this time, there are frames in the first and second box, but their branch is in the third box, and there are frames in the top box. We had planned to remove the branch  and yellow box today, but we had two more swarms to distract us.

The first of today’s swarms, I caught late in the process, and they were already on the move to their new location, which was uphill and through the woods. (They move up to 6 mph when swarming.) We wish them luck in their new home in the wild, where they will still serve as pollinators to our region.

The second swarm was launching when we returned, gathering in the maple tree in our yard. Frank climbed the tree, tied of the branch, cut it and lowered it to me on the ground. While I held the branch on each side of the swarm, he cut the branch ends off and we lowered the branch section and bees into the hive box.


This hive holds the swarm we caught today. The bottom box is filled with frames, and the second is partially filled with frames because we’re getting a little low on stock. The top box, at this time, holds the branch section we found them on.

By the way, that’s a swarm bucket on top of the hive.  At this point, it really has not served much purpose. I don’t know much about it. Frank’s the beekeeper around here.


Food from the Farm

Spring has arrived, and daily checks are now required at the chicken house, the asparagus bed, the shiitake shack. I have spent way too much time indoors this winter (as I do every winter), and feeling the sun on my skin, the wind on my face, is so wonderful.

I also have lettuce planted, tiny sprouts that still need protection.

Our favorite way to fix the mushrooms is to saute’ them in butter, and with the asparagus, a quick saute’ then a drizzle with reduced balsamic vinegar, and we’re good to go.  I found a recipe for mushroom and asparagus quiche’ I will be trying soon.

The forsythia is in bloom, and the tulips will open soon. They were rescues, thrown over a hill after their first year of bloom. I’m happy to report they will bloom again this year, though not in as pristine gardens as they had their first year.

The world around us is coming back to life, and indoor time is over.

ONLY ORGANIC: Making and Using Mulch | Two-Lane Livin’


I will be eternally grateful for the day I read the article below on Mulch, written by Sue Cosgrove for Two-Lane Livin’ in 2010. I haven’t yet gotten to the point she has – I still use a hoe early on in the season – but we have made use of many of the various mulch methods Sue mentioned to save our backs from excessive hoeing and weeding.

ONLY ORGANIC: Making and Using Mulch | Two-Lane Livin’.

ONLY ORGANIC: Echinacea – AKA The Coneflower | Two-Lane Livin’

Echinacea purpurea plant

Purple Coneflower is such a beautiful perennial. I love that it is wonderful to see — and is also so wonderfully useful. I have several plants in my garden, and even so, I still purchase already dried echinacea to make sure I have enough for tea through a five or six day illness – for two.

I knew echinacea was an anti-biotic, but I didn’t know all of its uses and properties until I read the following article Sue Cosgrove wrote for Two-Lane Livin’ in 2011. Everything you need to know:

ONLY ORGANIC: Echinacea – AKA The Coneflower | Two-Lane Livin’.