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The Blessed Backyard is Leaving

After February 2017, this site will no longer be available.

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A Place for Bugs, Even the “Bad” Ones

A Place for Bugs

I’ve read over and over in garden books about how the “bad” bugs often eat unhealthy plants. Provide the right amount of water, minerals, and other nutrients, and many of those bugs (or at least heavy infestations of them) will stay away. That made no sense to me. People and the rest of the animal kingdom are attracted to healthy plants, since those are the ones that have the most nutrients for us, so what makes the insect world different?

There are a few answers, but here’s the main one I came across. Unhealthy plants have a build-up of nitrogen and simple sugars, which are attractive to destructive insects. The plant is unable to turn this build-up into proteins and complex sugars like a healthy plant could, but that’s just fine for the insects since some of them can’t digest the complex stuff.

But there’s something deeper going on. Life on Earth isn’t completely about survival of the fittest. It’s about adapting together and helping each other. Plants strive to survive, but they also need to pass along good healthy seed for future generations. An unhealthy plant is hoarding resources without developing the best possible seed. Maybe that’s why some unhealthy plants and trees actually produce chemicals that attract destructive bugs to them. The bugs come along as the clean-up crew. If the unhealthy plant dies from the bug infestation, plant matter is returned to the earth where it can provide help to the next set of plants. It releases stored nutrients as it decomposes, provides food for soil microbes, and acts as mulch. It’s a win for that area.

I don’t like bug infestations that eat my garden plants, but I can acknowledge that they’re just doing their jobs. And it’s usually a sign that I need to do my job and add something extra to the soil. When you stop to observe God’s handiwork, it’s amazing how complex and interwoven the systems are.

When you see a destructive insect in your garden, does knowing that it’s part of a larger system change your opinion at all?

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Why You Can’t Just Cast Your Anxieties Away

For those of us who worry a lot, 1 Peter 5:7 is a well-known verse:

“Cast all your cares upon Him, because He cares for you.”

I’ve had it quoted to me numerous times by well-meaning church goers. I’ve demanded it of myself. I’ve forcefully tried to shove my anxieties heavenward.

But it didn’t work. I remained anxious, feeling like a failure who was separated from God. I tried to give my anxieties to Him, just like the verse says, so why didn’t He take them?

Why You Can't Just Cast Your Anxieties

I didn’t realize I had taken the verse out of context. It should read “Casting all your cares upon Him.” It’s not a complete sentence by itself. It’s the end – the result of the instruction that came before it. Verse 7 can’t happen unless verse 6 is accomplished.

1 Peter 5:6 “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time,”

The opposite of humility is pride. In verse 6, the command is to get rid of the pride.

Pastor Furtick of Elevation Church preached a sermon titled When Anxiety Attacks. In it, he said, “I’ve been trying to cast my anxieties and keep my pride. But the thing about it is…that the pride and the anxiety come in the same package. So if you insist on doing it your way, then expect to feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, because it is…The center of anxiety is pride.” It was a light bulb moment for me; I finally realized what I had been doing wrong.

I’ve wanted to stop worrying – to cast my anxieties on God – while still holding onto control. I wanted to do it MY way, to feel independent and strong. I wanted to be almost superhuman, doing everything and doing it well. I didn’t want to feel dependent, like a child needing to be cared for. But I had thoughts like “I don’t know if I can do it. I don’t know if I can make it.” Do you see all of the I’s? It was all about me. I carried the weight of my world, but I didn’t want the pain (i.e. the worries) that came with it. With my level of pride, it’s no wonder I’ve been anxious.

The command isn’t to cast our cares on Him. The command is to humble ourselves. Then, the result is that our anxieties are cast on Jehovah.

Not all anxieties can be solved by 1 Peter 5:6. There are many types of anxiety, with many different root causes, and this post focuses only on the root of pride. Pride can lead us to take on too much, to hide thoughts or emotions, to refuse help, or to avoid embarrassment at all costs, all of which place the focus on ourselves and cause extra anxieties.

Do you have favorite verses about pride, humility, or anxiety? Have you read or heard anything recently that hit home the way Pastor Furtick’s sermon did for me? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section.

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Thankful for Anxiety

A young man knocked on my door recently, asking to demonstrate a Kirby vacuum cleaner. I clearly stated I wouldn’t be buying one, but it was his first time giving a solo demonstration and he needed the practice. Alright, why not? I could spare a few minutes to help the guy out. 3 hours later, he was finally done.

Thankful for Anxiety

Image from Pixabay

Pre-anxiety, I probably wouldn’t have let him in the door. Why waste my time like that? And if by some chance I had agreed to a demo, I certainly would have cut it short, kicking him out within the hour. It’s funny how anxiety has changed my perspective.

Three hours watching a man stumble through a vacuum demo sounds excruciatingly boring, but it was far from it. He was sociable, funny, and interesting. Overall easy to talk to. I’m glad to have met him. My time spent alone with anxiety has made me thankful for the company — for the connection with a joyful soul – and I was focused more on him than on what he was keeping me from. Dirty dishes could wait a little longer. I had an enjoyable conversation to be a part of.

Pre-anxiety, I lived from one big event to the next. Holidays, celebrations, vacations – they were exciting and something to look forward to. I muddled through the days in between, keeping my eye on what was to come. Now, I see there is something to be excited about every day. The moments without anxiety are nearly euphoric, so I can appreciate what I took for granted. A simple walk across my yard used to be boring – a necessary task to get from one place to the next. Now, I marvel at the complexity of my leg muscles pushing me along. I breathe deeply and notice the scents in the air. I listen to the birds and neighborhood dogs and kids playing across the street. I imagine someday, when anxiety is just a memory, I’ll become a bit less enchanted by the present moment. I’ll probably begin taking some things for granted again. But it won’t be like pre-anxiety. While I would rather not have anxiety at all, I’m thankful that my perspective has been forever changed.

If you have a disorder, mental or physical, have you noticed a reason that you’re thankful for it? I’d love to read about it in the comment section.

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Backyard Blessings and This Phase of Anxiety

I dream of backyard barbecues, making snowmen with neighbors, and having kids play touch-football during family get-togethers. The Blessed Backyard conjures images of spending time with loved ones, but I can’t do those things right now because I have anxiety. Specifically Panic Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder with agoraphobia. I haven’t driven away from home in over a year, and I don’t walk to the edge of our property. I have a “comfort zone” that spreads a few yards away from the house. For months, that comfort zone only included my husband, and I had anxiety attacks at the thought of having anyone else over — even close family.

When I started this blog, it was to be my oasis away from anxiety. Here, I could be who I remember myself to be and not this fearful, overwhelmed person. But it feels wrong. Anxiety isn’t a taboo subject. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), an estimated 40 million adults in America have some form of anxiety. That’s a huge number, and it doesn’t even include kids and teens. It needs to be talked about, and since it is part of every day for me, I need to talk about it. For myself and for any others who are dealing with it. I’ve found some things that help and some things that make it worse, which I think is worth sharing.

Puppies

When it comes to anxiety, this week has been better than last week which was better than the week before. I think this bout of progress started with a backyard blessing – a litter of puppies in my backyard. A stray dog had 9 puppies a few yards outside of my comfort zone. When they were old enough to start wandering, I forced myself down there every day to drop off food and water and get the pups used to a person. Sometimes I stayed for awhile. Other times, I poured the food and ran off because of the pull of anxiety. They were the first to really rely on me in a long time, and they made me smile often. Conclusion: puppies are good for the soul.

Pip

So we kept one. This is Pip, and he continues to push me out of my comfort zone every day. He makes me exercise, he gets me outdoors, and together we walk a little farther. He’s scared of quite a bit, too, so we help each other.

If you have anxiety or depression, animals can help. They can make you feel loved and needed without the pressures of entertaining a person. Pets don’t expect you to be clever or funny, and they don’t care if you haven’t felt like showering today. Once you make that connection of trust, they just want you…and some food, water, and exercise. Ready to adopt? Try your local humane society or PetFinder.com. Not ready for the long-term responsibility? Many places with animals to adopt are also in need of temporary foster pet parents. Or you could pet-sit for the neighbors, walk their animals, or try Borrow My Doggy.

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Berry Pink Yogurt Bowl with a Secret Vegetable

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you click a link and make a purchase, I may receive a small amount of compensation at no extra cost to you. 

Fact: Vegetables are important and nutritious and all that.
Fact: I would much rather have a gooey, sweet cinnamon roll for breakfast than a healthy plate of vegetables.

This is my compromise.

Berry Pink Yogurt Bowl

This yogurt bowl has been my go-to lately when I’m craving something sweet for breakfast and don’t want to heat up the kitchen by baking zucchini muffins. The secret ingredient: beet powder.

Vegetable powders are so easy to add to meals. A sprinkle here, a spoonful there. 2 teaspoons of beet powder is equal to approximately one serving of beets. The powder is packed with similar nutrition as the fresh stuff, but I don’t have to suffer through a bowl of roasted beets. No offense to you beet lovers, but I haven’t yet acquired a desire for their taste and texture. Beets are particularly beneficial for the liver and gall bladder, and they were recommended to me because of heartburn and digestive discomfort. With all of the other changes I made, I can’t say if the beet powder helped those particular problems, but they didn’t hurt. Beets are also high in folate, manganese, and potassium, among other nutrients.

Berry Pink Yogurt Bowl
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/3 cup or more of berries, fresh or frozen (thawed)
1/2 to 1 tsp almond or vanilla extract (I prefer 1 tsp almond, but that can be a strong flavor for some people.)
1 to 2 tbsp add-ins (I like hemp seed and unsweetened shredded coconut.)
1 tsp honey (more or less to taste)
1/2 to 1 tsp beet powder — I use Frontier Organic Beet Powder from Vitacost. (If you have a sensitive palate and don’t like beets, start with 1/2 tsp.)

Stir together the yogurt, vanilla or almond extract, honey, and beet powder. Top with berries and add-ins.
Sit in a peaceful spot and enjoy!

Berry Pink Yogurt Ingredients

Besides the yogurt, I bought the Berry Pink Yogurt ingredients from Vitacost. They often have sales that make them the best prices I’ve found, and you receive free shipping for purchases over $49. Start at Top Cashback, and you’ll receive a percentage of your Vitacost purchase back. As of October 2016, you’ll receive 8% back.

What are your favorite add-ins or flavorings for yogurt?

This post is linked to Wake Up Wednesday at Sew Crafty Angel.

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Purslane – The Summertime Nutritional Powerhouse

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through an affiliate link, I receive a small amount of compensation at no extra cost to you.

When people around the world talk about the healthiest greens to eat, purslane often tops the list. But it’s not talked about much in the US because it’s considered a weed. Wild edible enthusiasts have been trying to tell us about this little gem for awhile, and it’s finally making an appearance in the mainstream. I haven’t seen it in grocery stores yet, but I’ve heard of cutting edge chefs using it and recipes are popping up on Pinterest.

How to Identify Purslane

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) has been found growing all across the US, and it’s an easy wild edible to identify. When found in the wild, it typically grows low across the ground. However, there are cultivated varieties that have a more upright growth habit.

The stems are round and smooth – not hairy. They’re typically reddish brown in color, but some stems may be shades of yellow or green. When you break the stems, there is clear sap. If milky white sap comes out of the stem, it is NOT purslane. The leaves are paddle-shaped. Leaf tips are rounded — there are no pointed tips. The leaves are clustered at stem joints and at the ends of stems. Leaves are semi-succulent, which means they’re crisp and juicy but not as much as succulent plants like cacti.

Purslane Leaves and Stems

Paddle-shaped leaves and reddish stems. Stems may also have tints of green, brown or yellow.

During optimal growing conditions, with warmth and water, flowers may not form until late in the season. The flower buds pictured below were formed early in summer after a period of drought stress.

Purslane Flower Bud

Small, yellow flowers are about 1/4″ and have 5 petals. They bloom for only one day.

Purslane Flower

This upright variety is cultivated purslane. Wild purslane tends to grow across the ground instead of upright like this. Note the differences in stem color between the 3 photos above.

After the flowers close, seeds ripen in the buds. When the seeds are mature, the tops of the buds pop off, revealing  little barrels filled with tiny black seeds.

Purslane seeds

Growing Purslane

Purslane is an annual that readily reseeds itself. The seeds are easy to collect if you find it growing wild, or they’re available online from many seed retailers (like SeedsNow.com). Purslane prefers warm weather and is one of the last to sprout in the spring. In USDA zone 7, I typically see the first purslane sprout in early June. In hotter climates, it’s more of a spring or fall crop but will usually tolerate the summer heat. Purslane makes a good groundcover. It’s low-growing and the vast network of stems can quickly cover an area.

Purslane isn’t picky and will grow in a variety of conditions, including poor soil, drought, and some shade. But it will grow better – with larger leaves and more growth – in decent soil, regular watering, and plenty of sunlight. If growing by seed, 2-3 weeks of stratification in the refrigerator may improve germination rate. Some garden experts say the seeds need light to germinate, so scatter seed on top of the soil. Other people say plant the seed ¼” into the soil. I’ve tried both ways with success. Plant seeds after the last spring frost, when the soil has warmed to at least 75 degrees F.

Purslane

One plant will form a network of criss-crossed stems.

If purslane grows in an area where you don’t want it, eradication has to be timed correctly. The seeds continue to mature after the plant is pulled, so if the flowers have already bloomed, pulling the plant may not stop propagation. Also, stems easily root themselves in damp soil, so taking a tiller through a patch of purslane could result in more plants. If you really want to get rid of the plant, pull it up by the roots before it blooms. But if you want to make more plants to eat, stick a few cuttings in damp soil.

Eating Purslane

Purslane is a nutritional powerhouse, containing more omega-3 than any other plant that’s been studied. It’s also high in vitamin E and containers decent amounts of beta-carotene, vitamin A, calcium, and iron, among other nutrients.

Purslane contains oxalic acid, which is not as scary as it sounds. Oxalic acid is also in spinach, Swiss chard, cocoa, almonds, and cashews, among other foods. The majority if people will have no problem with it. But if you have recurring calcium oxalate kidney stones or a urologist has noted high oxalate levels in your urine, your doctor may recommend a low oxalate diet. For more on oxalates, see this article at the World’s Healthiest Foods.

Some references say the entire above-part of the plant is edible — leaves, stems, flowers, and seeds — but all of the recipes I’ve seen include only the stems and leaves. So while the flowers and seeds and likely edible, I’ve found no one who admits to eating them and no reference to cultures who use them as a food source. (If someone knows of a reference about eating the seeds, please let me know in the comments.) The flavor of the leaves and smaller stems is somewhat sour or salty, and cultivated varieties typically have less flavor than the wild types. The thicker, main stem is usually too tough to chew. Purslane makes a great crisp addition to salads and stir fries, and some people like to pickle the stems. Because of its slight mucilaginous properties, overcooking purslane may cause it to be a little slimy.

Lookalike

Jade plant

Jade plant – NOT purslane

The jade plant (Crassula ovata), pictured above, is sometimes mistaken for purslane, especially when the jade is still young. Jade can grow outdoors in hot climates, but otherwise it’s a common houseplant. Both jade and purslane have glossy green, fleshy leaves, but that’s about where the similarities stop.

What’s your opinion of purslane? Do you have a favorite way to eat it?

Purslane recipe from around the web
Tomato, Cucumber, and Purslane Salad at Simply Recipes
Chickpea Salad with Purslane and Arugula at Kitchenography
Purslane, Lamb, and Lentil Stew at My Halal Kitchen
Portuguese Purslane, Potato, and Sausage Soup at Kahakai Kitchen
Pickled Purslane at Healthy Green Kitchen
Tacos with Purslane, Avocado, and Pico de Gallo at Epicurious
Purslane Fennel Pasta at Ashley Neese

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The Edible Radish Plant – How to Eat More Than the Root

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through a link, I receive compensation at no extra cost to you. 

The weather has gotten hot and dry early over here, and my late-planted radishes have suffered. In 90+ degree weather and no rain for 2 weeks, the roots aren’t developing into something to brag about. But the plants aren’t going to waste, because there are more edible parts than just the root vegetable.

Edible Radish Plant

The entire radish plant is edible and can be eaten raw or cooked. The above-ground parts have a mild, peppery flavor, like a toned-down version of the root vegetable.

The radish leaves can be eaten raw, but they’re prickly, especially as they get older. The prickly texture disappears when the leaves are cooked or put through a blender, like with pesto. My husband doesn’t like basil, so I made radish leaf pesto similar to this recipe from Chocolate and Zucchini. Like other plants, the younger leaves are more tender than older leaves. Cook them as a side dish like you would spinach or in recipes that call for tender greens like spinach.

Radish flowers make a nice last-minute garnish, especially in salads. Refrigerate the leaves and flowers if you’re not using them immediately, as they wilt quickly.

The seed pods are my favorite above-ground portion of radish plants. They’re crunchy, like a peppery version of a sugar snap pea. They’re great in salads or as a snack with vegetable dip. I’ve also chopped and added them to cooked dishes like stir-fries, chicken pot pie, and vegetable soups. Much of the peppery taste disappears with longer cooking times, so they added something green to the chicken pot pie and soups but didn’t really contribute to the flavor. Seed pods will be ready to pick about 2 months after planting. Depending on the size and texture you want, they can be harvested shortly after they appear or you can wait a week or so until the seeds have developed more.

The stems are technically edible, but I’ve never tried them. I imagine they’re rather fibrous and tough, but they could probably be juiced with other vegetables for a homemade V8.

Confession: The title photo is from Pixabay. My radishes are tiny and are still in the ground so that they’ll form seed pods.

Want to know more about edible garden plants? I cover 30 plants in my ebook Corn Silk to Radish Leaves: How to Eat the Uncommon Parts of Plants.

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Adding Salt Sparingly – The Right Kind of Righteousness

For previous posts in this series, see Who is the Salt of the Earth?, Seasoned with Salt – The purpose of being the salt of the earth, Worthless Salt – How people lose their flavor, and Salty, Barren Land – How too much of a good thing is bad.

Salt is my favorite seasoning, but I messed up one day. I made an omelet with dried kale and sprinkled it with salt and pepper. I forgot that the kale was a failed experiment of trying to make dried kale chips and that they already had salt. The salt on the kale plus the extra salt on the eggs made the meal almost inedible. Salt, when used sparingly, is good. Too much salt is a major turn-off.

Paul agreed with me in Colossians 4:5-6 when he wrote, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

Adding Salt Sparingly

Seasoning with salt requires a light hand. Just a dash to add some flavor.

To review, righteous disciples of Christ are the salt of the Earth. Their words and actions are the “salt” that give others a taste of what Christ can do in their lives. So, how can righteous disciples add just a dash of salt instead of overwhelming people with too much and possibly turning them away from God? Simple. Follow what Jesus says in Matthew 6:1 – “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

Jesus goes on to give examples: Don’t brag about how you give. Don’t publicly pray if your intention is to be seen and heard by people. Don’t brag or complain about fasting to other people, hoping that they will notice your “spiritualness.” Don’t do these things in public or talk about them to others in order to make yourself appear good. Boasting about your deeds becomes self-righteousness, which goes against the teachings of the Bible.

The Pharisees bragged about themselves and performed religious acts in public just to be seen. They felt the need to draw attention to themselves and the things they did for God. But they displayed an attitude that they were better than others because of their deeds, and it was a major turn-off. It was a contaminated brand of salt that left a bad taste in people’s mouths.

True righteousness will effortlessly show in your words and actions. When you’re full of God’s love and you live a godly life, people can’t help but notice. And your saltiness will be deliciously spread throughout all you do.

That’s the end of the Salty series. I’ve enjoyed diving into the concept, and I hope you got something out of it, too. I’d love to read your thoughts and opinions in the comments below!

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Salty, Barren Land – How Too Much of a Good Thing is Bad (Salty #4)

For previous posts in this series, see Who Is the Salt of the Earth?, Seasoned with Salt – The purpose of being the salt of the earth, and Worthless Salt – How People Lose Their Flavor.

Multiple verses in the Bible point out the problems of too much salt. Salt water, salt pits, and salty soil are all described as barren and fruitless. Very little can grow there. Jeremiah 17:6 describes such a place – “They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.” But if righteous disciples are the salt of the Earth, how can too much salt be a bad thing?

Salty, Barren Land

Let’s start with a look at agriculture. Most people at the time of the Bible’s writing worked in agriculture or were at least familiar with agriculture, so sowing (planting) and reaping (harvesting) were common symbolic terms. The Bible refers to sowing seeds of generosity, seeds of God’s word, and seeds of righteousness, among others. It talks of reaping what you sow, based on whether your seed was for something good or bad. The point is, for people to grow as Christ followers, a “seed” has to be planted.

In Matthew 28:19, Jesus said “ Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Going out to make disciples requires that the righteous disciples be scattered. They have to mingle with unbelievers, and go where those unbelievers are.

Now, imagine if righteous people stayed in one place, congregating together in a commune instead of going out to the rest of the world. They’re salty, righteous people, but they wouldn’t be doing anything. They wouldn’t be sowing seeds. There would be no one there to bear fruit. The area would be barren and fruitless…just like a salt pit.

To be the salt of the Earth, disciples have to actually spread across the Earth — to offer a “taste” of Christ to others. That doesn’t mean we all have to travel to foreign countries or remote islands. Spreading across the Earth could mean traveling the short distance to your next-door-neighbor or the coworker with a cubicle next to you. Being the salt of the Earth means approaching people who are not righteous disciples of Christ. Because if we’re not careful, the church buildings could become salt pits.

How do you or your church spread the gospel across the Earth?