Of Mice and Mountain Men

Hard Won Watering Wisdom

Of Mice and Mountain MenI've been dabbling around with my little mountain-side garden for, oh … five or six years now, and I've learned a few things along the way. It seems like I've learned more about what doesn't work than what does, but that's probably because failure is more evident than success. Unless it's spectacular success. Average success tends to go unnoticed.

One of the first lines of wisdom I gathered was about watering. This wisdom breaks down into three categories: what kind of water, how much water, and when to water.

What Kind of Water

I learned early in that rainwater is magical stuff. I can water and water with the hose and our well water and get only a marginal response from our plant life. But one decent rain and everything greens up and bursts into bloom. What gives with that? We don't even have all that chlorine, fluoride, and who knows what else in our water. There is no mineral taste to it. It's great water!

But our well water is on the hard side. Our fixtures calcium up after a short while and things like shower heads and sink aerators have to be soaked in vinegar regularly to keep them flowing. Can that calcium be affecting the plants? Maybe temporarily messing with the pH of the soil? I don't have a definitive answer to that yet, but it is my working theory.

Harvesting and storing rain water is a good answer, as long as you don't store it too long. Even Unicorn Drool – I mean rain water – will go septic if stored too long. Building a solar still using a sheet of clear plastic is pretty straight forward, uses no fuel or electricity and works mostly unattended while turning out some distilled water for use on plants. You do have to rinse out the evaporator trays every morning, so it takes water to continue making water, but its one way to remove the calcium.

How Much Water

Early on, I figured, “If some water is good, more is better” and I tended to water every day. This is bad. Okay: it's good for seedlings. Seedlings need a SMALL amount of water regularly so their teeny little roots don't dry out and cause the baby plant to wither and die. But even here, too much water at once causes the seedlings to flop over in the mud and rot.

Once the plant is better established, daily watering causes the plant to become lazy. Its root system will grow only to where it finds enough water to survive. By watering it daily, the roots will be under-developed. If you then miss a day or two, the plant suffers. By watering once or twice a week, the roots will reach farther out and down and will be better able to support the plant.

Most plants seem to do well with 1 inch of water (per square inch) per week. This is actually more water than I would have thought, and when I'm watering with a wand, I have to force myself to stay on each raised bed long enough to give it a thorough soaking.

In a 4 x 4 foot raised bed we're talking 2,304 square inches of surface. One inch of water on each is 2,304 cubic inches of water. There are 231 cubic inches in a US Gallon. 2,304 divided by 231 is 10 gallons of water per 4 x 4 box per week. If it takes 3 minutes to fill a 5 gallon bucket with my watering wand, then I have to stay at each box for a full 6 minutes to do the job once a week.

But I find it works better to split it in half and do the job twice a week: the plants suffer less that way. And, of course, if you get rain, you can deduct that from your weekly watering quota.

When to Water

The short answer is “early”.

Just as bright sunshine will cause you to sunburn faster if you come out of the pool and stay wet (without sunscreen) your plants can sunburn if left to stand in the summer sun while wet. Water before the sunshine gets strong.

You also don't want to leave wet leaves standing overnight. Watering in the evening can encourage fungus and blight in the leaves because they stay wet too long.

This, of course assumes you are using a standard watering system: sprayer, wand or sprinkler. If you're using a soaker hose, then this point is moot because the water stays at ground level or below. Turn it on when it's convenient.

Other Nuggets

Watering once or even twice a week can seem like not enough if you have soil with a low water retention factor. Our red clay has properties similar to concrete when it's dry, but when water comes along the crystalline structure of red clay allows water to flow through it surprisingly quickly. This is great when you desire to install a septic system, not so great when trying to keep your plants hydrated. Increase water retention by adding coarse ground vermiculite or organic matter such as compost or peat. Or both. Garden soil made of equal parts composted cow manure, peat, and vermiculite is great stuff.

You can also help keep the sunshine from sucking surface moisture out by using mulch: wood chips, straw, or grass clippings (added in thin layers so they dry out or they'll mold). If you use straw, watch out for slugs.

If you use a sprinkler system, set a rain gauge inside its pattern so you can gauge how much water has been delivered.

You can make a great liquid fertilizer too. Put a couple big handfuls of comfrey leaves or grass clippings in a 5 gallon bucket. Weight them down (a disk cut from hardware cloth and a few rocks does well) and cover with a couple gallons of water. Put a lid on and let it steep for a couple of weeks, then filter out the goop and store the “tea” in a sealed container. It smells awful, but a few tablespoons of this in your watering can (with water) is like Red Bull to your plants. Do this just as your veggies or berries are setting fruit and you'll get bigger, better produce.

Some things: tomatoes and watermelons, for example, need a lot more water when they are producing fruits than other plants. Others, such as radishes, prefer less. Grouping plants with similar water needs together in your garden helps to remember their needs and reduces over-watering things that don't need so much.

That's what I can think of. What watering wisdom do you have to share? Feel free to chime in via a comment.


Photo by Fotolia/naypong

PVC Framed Garden Box Enclosures

Of Mice and Mountain MenFor several years now I have been building fence boxes for my raised-bed garden boxes using PVC tubing and fittings, covering them with poultry mesh to keep out my dogs, the rabbits, in some cases, squirrels, raccoon, and other assorted pests. These can also be covered in plastic to extend the growing season.

PVC Frame Configurations

PVC Hoop House

My first experiment was with mini hoop houses. These are good for medium height plants that need to be fully enclosed; such as Brussels sprouts. Depending on your purpose, they can be covered in poultry mesh, bird mesh, insect netting, or plastic sheeting … or a combination of these.

The shape makes them fairly easy to move on and off the beds yet, if covered in plastic, they shed snow well.

The drawback to this shape is the amount of tension built into the frame. This tends to pull the joints apart around the bottom unless the connectors are glued together. You can assemble the frame, then drill through joints to insert a small sheet metal screw to hold the joints firm, but these screws rust quickly unless you use brass or stainless steel.

Fence Boxes Square

This is the design I use in most of my boxes. They are simple to construct, very easy to move on and off the boxes, and are effective at keeping rabbits and most of my dogs out. I could add a square of 48-inch mesh to the tops to keep everything out, but I don't need this. At least, I haven't needed this yet.

Fence Boxes House

This is a modification of the box frame model to add a house style roof. This is great for taller winter crops like rosemary and Brussels sprouts. Sprouts don't need protection from mild winter weather, but covering these boxes in insect mesh keeps the cabbage worms out of them.

The main drawback is that they are harder to move on and off – at least for a short guy like me. If you're a Jolly Green Giant, that would not be an issue.

Fence Boxes House Corner

The other issue with these is the more complex construction; especially the corners. There may be a better way to do this, but I use a tee in the side and two 90 degree elbows with short pieces (1-1/2 inches) of tubing as connectors. If I don't glue them together, the top easily comes off so the box can be used as a more handy square box in the summer. Just be sure to turn the tees down to keep rain out.

Fence Box Trellis

Some of my veggies require a trellis to grow on. Trying to mount a trellis inside a square box proves problematic because you can't lift the box off to get in and weed. Instead I build a square box with a trellis as one side. I have several heights for different uses. But again, getting in to plant and weed is a problem if the box is all connected together.

Fence Box Trellis Open

So I build a 3-sided box to go with the trellis back. Bungee cords, zip ties, string, or wire can be used to fasten the “arms” to the trellis to add a bit more support if you want.

Fence Box Corner fitting

The secret to most of these designs is this specialty fitting called a 90 degree angle with side-port. I do not know if it is an actual plumbing fitting – I've never encountered one in remodeling any plumbing – but it is very handy for making square corners on a box.

Other Tricks

If you plan to cover the boxes with plastic, windy weather can lift any of these designs out of the garden box and send them rolling around your yard (and the neighbors yard, and the neighborhood). I've tried two methods to fasten the fence boxes to the bed boxes.

First I set the bed up as it was going to be used, marked the level of the top of the bed box on the PVC upright with a Sharpie, then drilled a hole through the bed box and the PVC upright. Slipping a framing nail through this hole locks the fence box to the bed box. Doing this at two diagonally opposing corners is usually sufficient. It has been beneficial to drill the hole in the wood (but not the plastic) with a larger bit because the wood swells and tends to lock the nail in place. Also, don't push the nail all the way in, leave it sticking out a bit so you can get a grip on it. And identify the two corners so you get the cover back on the box the same way each time.

The second way is much easier. Just drive a roofing nail into the middle of two opposing sides of the bed box – leaving them sticking out 1/4 inch. Then using some light cord or heavy string, make a loop in one end. A sheet bend is a great knot for this because it doesn't slip: you want the loop to stay a loop. Put the loop on one nail. Run the cord over the top of the box to the other nail and tie the cord securely to that one. Cut off any excess.

Slip the loop off the nail to remove the box, put it back and the cord holds the box down when it's windy. If you have a lot of really windy days, you might want to use two tie-down cords.

One major thing I've learned that effects ALL configurations is to use zip-ties instead of bailing wire to attach mesh to the frames. Bailing wire rusts quickly making ugly brown stains on the PVC, and the twisted stubs do rotate around and poke out to snag and tear my clothing and skin. Our local dollar store has packages of 100, 7 inch long, white zip ties for just a couple of bucks. These are easy to use and cost effective (compared to buying them at a hardware store).

Another lesson learned is to size things so the galvanized poultry mesh attaches to the top of the bottom rail and is lifted clear of the dirt as much as possible. Wire mesh that sits on moist dirt rusts through very quickly. Also, if covering any shape of fence frame in a combination of wire mesh and plastic, hang the mesh between the PVC members and fasten the plastic to the outside with duct tape. This creates an air gap between mesh and plastic. If the plastic sheeting lays on top of the mesh, the mesh rusts through quickly because of the condensation that collects inside the plastic.

That's a quick update on my PVC framed garden fence box experiment. If you have any suggestions, feel free to add them in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

Some Berry Good Advice

Of Mice and Mountain MenEarly this spring my friend and mentor, Benny LaFleur, gave me a load of berry starts. These are roots and shoots that creep out from around his established rows. To clean up the rows he digs out these ambitious upstarts. Some of these ended up in my garden. In fact all of my berry plants have come from Benny over the past couple of years. Benny's berry patch is much (much) larger than mine: almost a farm. And he has much experience to share. Here is what he's taught me.

Berries on cereal

Growing Berry Plants

Blackberries (Triple Crown Thornless)

These bear fruit once a year and only on the one year old canes. Once the canes have fruited, cut them off at the ground (after harvesting the fruit). The canes tip-root, so bend the new canes over using a trellis and poke the tips into the soil to propagate.

Black Raspberries

Grow like blackberries: they can be propagated through tip-rooting, and bear fruit on second-year canes. You can improve the quality of the fruit by pruning new canes to 3-4 feet high (except those you want to use in tip-rooting of course) in the fall. This will produce fewer fruit, but they will be bigger and juicier. Cut off at ground level all canes that fruited.

Red Raspberries (Caroline)

Each cane fruits twice. New canes fruit in the fall and again late in the following spring. They do not tip-root, grow vertically on a trellis or wires.

To get two harvests: in the late fall or early spring cut the new canes back to 4 feet high. This will increase the berry size and quality for the spring fruiting. Cut these canes off at the ground after the spring fruit has been harvested to make more room for the new canes and the fall fruit. Benny advises against using this method.

Instead, he advises not to prune at all and simply cut each cane that fruited off at the ground after harvesting in the fall. He says the second fruiting does not yield much and is hard to pick because of the new foliage (and thorns) and the added foliage density increases the chance of disease.


These produce fruit on one year old canes, and fruit only once a year. They do tip root, so this can be used to propagate the plants. They tend to be low and bushy so a trellis does not work as well as a pair of guide wires on each side of the row to help support the canes and keep them up off the ground.

Boysenberries are new to me: so I did some research. These are a cross between a blackberry and a raspberry. The fruit is larger than even the blackberries and have a thin skin that breaks down and leaks juice quickly after harvest. Plan to use them immediately. They are often made into jam or jelly.

My Berry Patch

My little berry patch is not nearly as professional as Benny's lay-out, but it suits our needs.

Berry house

A few years ago I built a berry house out of PVC tubing and bird netting to keep the many, many birds that live in this forest out of my grapes, blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries. That worked pretty well: it did keep the birds off. But the 1/2-inch PVC is too light and will not support a load of snow. Who knew that snow would pile up atop bird netting with 1/2-inch squares?! But it does, and the berry house gets squashed down on my blueberry bushes each time we get a heavy snow. Thankfully that's not often here in Tennessee. That structure is aging and the berry patch is expanding so it's time to design an upgraded version.

Getting the Berries Started

I get the cuttings from Benny in late February, so I plant them in pots and keep them indoors until they get going and develop some roots. I could plant them outside: berry plants are hardy in the cold, but I worry about them freezing or drying out without any proper roots. So I pamper them for a month or so.

I plant them out after the danger of a hard freeze (and when I can again hook up my hose to water them). I dig a hole for each plant. I line the hole with a mixture of peat and compost and set the potted cutting (which now has roots and leaves) into the hole. To keep the good soil in place on our slope I put some of the clay I dug out over to the top of the hole. Peat floats.

Berry Bed with cardboard

Once the starts are in I cut pieces of cardboard to cover the row. I cut holes for the berry plants. The cardboard helps to smother out the grass, but will disintegrate and allow the berry shoots to come up through it when the plants start to spread.

Berry bed with woodchips

I cover the cardboard with wood chips as a mulch. These hold the cardboard down, helps to keep out grass and weeds, and will break down to enrich the soil. If I run out of wood chips, I use cinder blocks to weight down the cardboard until I get the chipper out to make another load of chips from the spring tree trimmings.

Blueberry bed

Blueberry bed.

Strawberry bed

Strawberry bed. Last year's wood chips have been scraped out and used as compost — awaiting a fresh layer of wood chips.

Blueberries and strawberries are especially fond of an acidic soil, so I use pine needles as mulch on them. But these are in raised beds that are leveled so run-off doesn't wash them away. That's a big problem for me as a mountain-side gardener.

Grapes and Blackberries

These new starts won't fruit until next year, but the blackberries and black raspberries I've gotten over the past couple of years will. And my grapes are well established on a trellis above the blackberries. The grapes (Swenson Red on one end, Muscadine on the other) do fruit, but so far Japanese Beetles destroy the plants and young fruit before we get anything from them. This year I'm going to try an insect repellent spray made from tobacco. I prefer to avoid chemical poisons. Grapes are Japanese Beetles' favorite food.

The blueberries, strawberries and blackberries have all been producing well and we look forward to more fresh berries this year. We're hoping for a berry good harvest!

Opening the Garden with Potatoes and Onions

Of Mice and Mountain MenThe opening act for this year's garden was to plant onion seed and seed potatoes.

The onion seed was harvested from some onions I allowed to go to seed last year. I did not plant in neat, orderly, well spaced rows this time. I scattered the seed liberally (I have plenty!) and will harvest many of the young plants as green onions to attain proper spacing for the mature onions.

Tater storage box

The seed potatoes were kept from last year's crop as well: those too small to do much else with. I put them in a box of dry wood chips (my surface planer makes small chips ideal for this). I closed up the box and tucked it away in a cool, dark spot for the winter.

Seed potatoes in storage

When I opened it this week and sifted carefully through the chips for the spudlets, I found most of them had just started to sprout: perfect timing!

In the past, I planted potatoes in a deep raised bed in a more or less traditional manner. But to accomplish crop rotation that means moving add-on box sections and shuffling soil around – or (eventually) making all my garden boxes “deep” boxes. This year I decided to jump on board with the current fad in potato growing: wire bins.

Staw cart

There are videos popping up all over the place of people making bins out of wire fencing, lining it with straw and filling it with soil/compost/peat mixture. Taters like peat. Many do this to conserve space in their garden by growing vertically. Main-crop potatoes on the bottom, early varieties on the top. I'm going to use a variation on that theme.

I'm not pinched for space, but I did set up lasagna beds to compost over the winter. The lasagna is not done yet and I need to start planting. My solution is to cover the not-done compost with a layer of corrugated cardboard and build my potato bed on top of that. By the time the taters get going well and start to burrow through the now-broken down cardboard, the compost below should be in good shape.

TB 4 Making soil

I do need to make extra soil, so I bought bags of organic garden top soil, compost, and a bale of peat and mixed the components well in my garden wagon. I use PVC & poultry mesh fence boxes on all my raised beds to keep our dogs, wild rabbits and other pesky things out of the foodstuffs. I'll use one of those as my “bin” and line it with straw to hold the soil in.

Main crops on bottom row

I set my main crop potatoes right down on the cardboard and cover them with 4 inches of soil. Then I lay in my early crop and cover those with another 2 to 3 inches. I space them so the early crop plants are not right above the main crop plants. As the potato plants grow up through the soil, I'll layer in more soil instead of mounding like I would if I were planting in rows.

Watering in the potatoes

I water the whole thing well at each layer: getting water to penetrate soil with peat in it can be tricky. I can soak it down to where I'm sure it must be mud all the way through, but poke a finger in and it's bone dry ½ inch under the surface.

Tater Towers - the form

My buddy, Alabama Mike, went with the fence wire bins, but added a unique twist to the construction. He cut the bottom out of a plastic planter (from a tree sapling), added a rope handle, and used that as a form while building the bin.

Tater tower - straw

Tuck the straw between the form and the fencing, fill the form part way with soil, lay in potatoes around the edges, add soil. Pull the form up a bit and repeat until the bin is planted.

Tater Tower done

That sure saves a lot of wrestling with the straw while you shovel soil into the middle!

My beds are big enough (4 feet x 4 feet) that I can shovel soil into a mound in the middle and press it out to the sides to hold the straw up.

There you have it: two approaches for raising potatoes above ground. And when we're done, the straw will mix into the soil to compost over the winter and be ready for another round of growing next year. What's going on in your garden?

Punching Up the Pizza with Cast Iron

Of Mice and Mountain MenMy wife and I enjoy having a homemade pizza on Saturday nights. This pizza ends up being at least two dinners, sometimes a lunch as well. So it's worth the effort we put into doing it up right.

Earlier this month my wife and I celebrated our birthdays — just 6 days apart. Part of our Birthday Week celebration was a trip to the Lodge Cast Iron factory outlet store in a nearby city where we bought several new pieces of cast iron cookware. One of these is a 16 inch cast iron pizza pan.

Cast Iron Pizza Pan

Around a hundred years ago (or it seems so) I worked my way through the management training program of a popular pizza chain store. On my way to management I learned a lot about making pizza by making and serving many thousands of them. One of the secrets of why a take-out pizza tastes better than most homemade is the oven. Pizza shops use slate bed ovens and cook the pizza on thin screens laying right on that 450 F slab of rock. This cooks the bottom crust evenly and browns it for a nice crunch. It's hard to get that on a steel pan in the oven at home. This cast iron pan has us making pizzas that are a lot like what I served up as a pro.

While making the sauce (using home-canned tomatoes and fresh herbs from our garden) I'm slicing and dicing the meats and veggies. These vary from week to week. When assembly time comes I want everything prepared so I can get it all on the pizza as quickly as possible.

About 40 minutes before I want to serve I rub a thin coat of cooking oil onto the pizza pan by making a small wadding pad out of paper towel (in another previous life I was a furniture maker). Then I put the pizza pan in the oven and preheat them to 425 F. While that's heating I make up the crust and knead it on the floured counter top, but I roll it out on a piece of parchment. NOTE: If you use Fleischmann's Pizza Yeast you mix the yeast right in with the flour, sugar, oil, and water; and the dough does not need to rise. Just mix it up, knead, roll it out. If the dough must rise allow an extra 30-60 minutes.

Pizza Dough w Oregano

Take the pizza pan out of the oven, flip the crust onto the pan, peel off the parchment, and I'm ready to “sauce & cheese the skin”, as we used to say, and add my toppings — quickly, so the pan doesn't cool.

Back in the oven for 20 minutes (less if you don't use as many toppings) and when it comes out the pizza will slide right off the pan onto a cutting board. The crust is evenly browned and the cheese is bubbly and a little browned (especially if you add a little cheddar to your cheese blend as I do).

Cut, serve, and enjoy a pizza cooked to pizza-shop perfection thanks to a cast iron pizza pan.

Breakfast Pizza

For a variation of this theme, try a breakfast pizza made with pepper gravy as sauce and topped with scrambled egg, cooked sausage, red bell pepper slices, and cheese.

Lasagna Garden

Of Mice and Mountain MenI love lasagna, don't you? A flavorful concoction made of noodles, meat, cheese, and tomato sauce, layered in a deep pan and baked so the flavors meld. Yumm! My garden beds this year will be going lasagna.

Over the years I've tried several different techniques for the raised beds in my mountain-side garden. I have to use raised beds because the slope is steep enough that even a light rain washes away top soil that is not firmly pinned down by a thick carpet of grass.

Keeping the soil in these beds rich and productive has been my primary focus. When I established the beds I made my “dirt” using commercial compost, peat, and some native clay soil. I've added home-made compost each year. This involves digging-in the compost and turning the soil.

Lately I've been reading that turning the soil is not the best approach, but is a hold-over from large scale agriculture where the time and effort saved by plowing a field makes sense. In a garden, tiling and digging are less important as time savers when the soil structure is considered.

I started my quest when I began finding white fungus-like strands growing in the soil, especially near the wooden boxes, and asked myself, “What is that? And is it good or bad?” Research showed it is indeed fungus and it is good.

Briefly: good soil is more than just dirt. You know that. Good soil for planting needs a high degree of organic matter and oxygen to promote good plant growth. This fungus promotes this. But if it's ripped to shreds by digging or tilling, you lose that benefit. Thus, no-dig or no-till gardening has been gaining in popularity. Lasagna beds are a part of that school of thought. I started my trial of this method last fall.

 Lasagna Beds 1

We get a lot of fall leaves because we live in a forest, on most of our property I leave them lie. In the dog play-yard (which includes my garden) that is not practical, so I gather up the leaves in the fall and run them through a shredder. The shredded leaves are carted over to a storage bin.

 Lasagna Beds 2

As I take out the last of my summer garden, I strip off leaves and light stems and spread them in a thin layer in a garden box. The heavy stems and root balls of these pepper plants are too tough to break down quickly, so I'll run them through the chipper/shredder after the next batch of leaves. I also use the last of the seasons grass clippings, tree trimmings and, as the winter progresses, I add kitchen scraps and coffee grounds from in the house.

 Lasagne Beds 3

Using the formula recommended for compost: two parts brown (carbon) to one part green (nitrogen) I fetch ground-up dead leaves from my bin to layer over the green layer. Each new green layer gets a new layer of brown. These layers are why it's called lasagna gardening. I also sprinkle the brown layers with well rotted compost to get the process started.

 Lasagne Beds 5

A completed bed will be mounded up above the sides of the box because this will compact as the components react with each other and rot down.

Like any composting system, the beds need to be kept moist but, because the components are added in thin layers, the bed does not need to be rolled like a compost pile. By adding new layers of “lasagna” on top of the old bed each year, you keep the soil enriched and the boxes full, but do not destroy the eco-system that naturally develops in undisturbed organic soil.

In my book, anything that keeps the soil productive and reduces labor spent on turning soil has to be a good thing. Almost as good as a big pan of lasagna fresh from the oven.

The History of Valentine's Day

Of Mice and Mountain MenValentine's Day approaches and many retail outlets have been decked out with candy, cards and gifts since the day after Christmas. What's all the fuss about? This popular festival of love and romance originates in an ancient Roman festival (not created by card companies as some people believe — although they certainly capitalize on it). There are various legends associated with the festival along with the belief that birds began to mate from this day. The Valentine's Day festival stems from the combined effects of all these legends and the wish to glorify the giddy feeling of love.

Feast of Lupercalia

Historians say that in the Rome of ancient times people observed a holiday on February 14th to honor Juno — the Queen of Roman Gods and Goddesses, and the Goddess of Women and Marriage. On February 15th began the fertility festival called 'Feast of Lupercalia.' The festival was celebrated to honor the Gods Lupercus and Faunus — the Roman God of Agriculture.

It was customary during the Feast of Lupercalia to bring together young boys and girls who were otherwise strictly separated. On the eve of the festival names of young Roman girls were written on a slip of paper and placed into jars. Each young man drew out a girl's name and was paired with her for the duration of Lupercalia. Quite often, the couple would fall in love with each other and later marry. The custom lasted until a growing phenomenon called Christianity decided that mates should be chosen by sight, not luck.

Defiance by Saint Valentine

St. Valentine

This pairing of boys and girls did set the mood of the Valentine's Day Festival that we know today. But it was actually due to the efforts and daring of a priest: Valentinus, that the festival got its name and clearer meaning. During the reign of Emperor Claudius II Rome was involved in several bloody (and unpopular) campaigns. Claudius was having a hard time getting replacement soldiers. He felt the reason men did not join his army was they did not wish to leave their wives and sweethearts. So, Claudius cancelled all marriages and engagements in Rome. A romantic at heart, priest of Rome Valentinus defied Claudius's unjustified order and, along with Marius, secretly married couples. When his defiance was discovered, Valentinus was brutally beaten and put to death on February 14, about 270 AD. After his death Valentinus was named Saint Valentine.

Another popular twist of the legend states that while in prison Valentinus fell in love with the jailer's daughter who visited him during confinement. Just before his execution Valentine wrote a farewell letter to his sweetheart and signed it 'From your Valentine.' The expression became popular among the love-struck then and now.

By the Middle Ages, Saint Valentine assumed the image of a heroic and romantic figure among the masses in England and France. Later, when Christianity spread through Rome, the priests moved Lupercalia from February 15 to February 14. Around 498 AD, Pope Gelasius declared February 14 as St. Valentine's Day to honor the martyr Valentinus and to put an end the pagan celebration.

Beginning of Birds Mating

During the Middle Ages, people in England and France held the belief that birds began looking for mates from February 14. This popular notion further linked Valentine's Day: celebrated in the middle of the February, with love and romance. Over time, St. Valentine became the patron saint of lovers and they began to celebrate Valentine's Day as a day of romance by exchanging love notes and simple gifts such as a flower.

Popularity of St. Valentine's Day

The Valentine's Day festival gradually grew in popularity due to the combined effect of all the above. To mark this day, lovers began to exchange love notes called ‘Valentines' with their sweethearts. In the beginning the trend was to send handmade cards but this was changed in the beginning of 19th century when mass-produced greeting cards caught the fancy of the public. In the course of time, Valentine's day came to be regarded as the festival that celebrates all sorts of love, not just romance. Today, Valentine's Day cards are gifted to teachers, parents, co-workers, friends, siblings as well as sweethearts. Popularity of Valentine's Day has spread in countries across the seven continents and is still increasing every year.

From a hand-written note and a flower to over 13 billion dollars spent annually — ain't love grand?

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