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Windy Meadows Farm

Creating a Herbal Tea Garden

Windy Meadows Farm

A cup of herbal tea, on blustery days like this, warms me from head to toe. After I've been outside clearing a 6-inch snow from the path taking me to the chicken coop, then another path leading to the goats, coming back in the farmhouse to a warming cup of tea makes it all worthwhile.

Lately I've been thinking, why buy herbal tea when I can easily grow the herbs I need myself? I'll know exactly what is in my tea and know that it's absolutely organic.

tea ball photo
Photo by Unsplash.

To begin with, I'll keep the garden outside my kitchen door...the herbs will receive full sun and be close at hand come harvest time.  Next, I'll choose as many fuss-free varieties as possible, brushing up on how to best care for each herb, and making sure I harvest them at their absolute best flavor.

What will I plant? Old favorites such as chamomile, apple mint, lemon verbena, pineapple mint, lemon balm, and peppermint. And then, just to add some new flavors, I'm going to plant lavender, cinnamon basil, sage, and ginger.

Now that I've chosen my plants, what's the best way to grow them? Herbs need to be in full sun, in soil that drains well. My garden will be against a wall, so I'll plant taller herbs in the back, then stagger shorter varieties toward the front. If you want to plant herbs in your yard, create a clever circular design by planting tall herbs in the middle surrounded by smaller varieties. (And herbs grow perfectly well in containers, too if space is limited.) Keep an eye on them to be sure they're getting plenty of water in the long, hot days of summer, and be ready to snip them at their peak.

While you can certainly dry herbs to use year round, you can also enjoy them fresh! Snip them early in the morning, rinse under cold water, pat dry, then store them in a mason jar of cool water and use within a few hours. 

It's also easy to dry herbs...simply tie them into small bunches and hang them upside down to dry for several weeks. They could also be dried in a food dehydrator if you have on handy. Once they're dry, store them in an air-tight container.

tea cup photo
Photo by Unsplash.

You can also find fill-your-own teabags for sale...fill them with your own herb blends to share with friends. Tuck several bags into a vintage teacup...a gift they'll absolutely love.

Recently, at a local shop filled with all kinds of wonderful vintage finds,  I spied a pretty retro teapot that was cleverly turned into a wind chime...I think it will be just right hanging in my tea garden. 

When the snow is gone, and the ground is warm enough for planting, I'll share the progress of my tea garden from the first plantings to harvest, and even share some of my favorite herb blends. Dreaming of warmer days...planning a garden is ideal on this blustery afternoon.

Garden Tips for Perfect Tomatoes

Windy Meadows Farm

Some country pleasures never seem to change. With the windows open, the sweet scent of freshly-cut grass drifts in, a woodpecker can be heard in the big maples surrounding our front yard, and a cherry-red cardinal is perched on a windowsill. And this spring, for the first time ever, we have seen the orange Baltimore Orioles at our birdbath…so exciting for a birdwatcher like myself!

A continuous string of warm days here in the Midwest means we’re enjoying sun-dried sheets as well. It’s a simple pleasure to hang sheets and quilts on the clothesline and then watch t hem snapping smartly in the breeze. By early afternoon, t hey’ll be dry and brought in doors, t hen tonight, our family will sink into  sheets that smell faintly of sunshine and clover…sure to bring pleasant dreams.

Our last frost date has officially passed, so soon we’ll be planting tomatoes, potatoes, beans, zucchini, peppers, and other family favorites. A visit to the local nursery found us choosing fragrant herbs…cinnamon basil, German thyme, spearmint, and apple mint will be growing in our little kitchen garden.

Because, at least in our humble opinions, there’s almost nothing like the taste of sun-warmed tomatoes fresh from the garden, I wanted to share a few of our tips for what we think makes for perfect tomatoes.

headshot of me 

1. Prepare the garden soil

Tomatoes need anywhere from 6 to 10 hours of sun a day, and rich, well-drained soil is a must. Add generous amounts of compost or manure to your garden patch. I like to start with about 2 inches of compost and then work it into the top 6 inches of the garden.

2. Planting tomato seedlings

The best time of the day for tucking seedlings into your garden is morning or late evening, on a cloudy day. This lets them settle into their new spot without the shock of a scorching sun or extreme mid-day heat. I space my tomatoes about 3 to 4 feet apart; this allows plenty of room between the plants and rows for tomato cages and also allows me to easily hoe and till between them as they grow and spread.  I add mulch around each plant as well. We always have compost or spent hay from our goats (always with a little manure included!)  but you could use pine needles or wood chips to keep the weeds down and keep the tomato roots cool and moist.

3. Watering…a must!

Tomatoes need continuous and even watering. Too much water will rot the roots, while too little will keep them from growing. I’ve learned that letting the soil dry out too much, then rushing to water heavily doesn’t make up for the dry soil. I’m sure to end up with tomatoes that have cracked along with blossoms that drop or rot.

The key is to water early in the day, water the ground, and water deeply.

4. Fertilizing

I always use a fertilizer that’s just for tomatoes, and I’m sure to follow the label instructions…which means I have to curb my desire to overfeed thinking I’ll have even larger tomatoes! Too much fertilizer will lead to lovely vines, but not many tomatoes.

With these few steps to get you started, I hope you find time to add a tomatoes to your summertime plans. And whether you have a full-size garden, sunny patio, or breezy’ll be so glad you did. Imagine the wonderful flavor of your own salsa, tomato sauce, or fresh tomato bruschetta! 

Mary is a Midwest farmgirl who enjoys the simple pleasures of living in the country. "For us, living where there is plenty of room for gardens, animals, and for kids to roam and explore is the best kind of life." You can visit Windy Meadows Farm here

Sweet September...

Windy Meadows Farm In our part of the Midwest, it’s easy to see the change of seasons has begun. The soybean fields have turned golden and we can see the corn will follow shortly. Thick patches of goldenrod, buzzing with honeybees, line the gravel roads, potatoes from our garden have been harvested, and the last of the sweet summertime tomatoes have been picked…waiting to become savory tomato sauce as well as to be enjoyed on a delicious BLT sandwich (or a BLAT as my daughter says…just add slices of avocado!)


These early days of fall give us a chance to wrap up summer activities: harvesting the last of the garden bounty, stacking firewood, ordering hay, making sure barns and sheds are ready for the frosty days ahead, and finally putting the garden to bed. 

Because we just harvested our potatoes, I thought I’d share some old-time gardening advice that’s been handed down over the years to me.  It’s advice I like to call tried-and-true because I’ve seen the amazing gardens that came from following such advice. 

I’ve always been told that now is the ideal time for digging root crops, such as beets, carrots, potatoes, and turnips. If time gets busy, they can stay in the ground a little longer, but if temperatures stay high into fall and there is constant rainfall, they need to be harvested as quickly as possible. 

The potatoes we harvest are placed on screens in a shady area for about 10 days. I then put them in flat, wooden boxes for storage and put them in our cellar.  

I’ve been told, by those same wonderful old-time gardeners, that sweet potatoes need to be handled with care when digging them. Just like white or yellow potatoes, they’re best set aside to cure for about a two weeks, and then stored in flat boxes in a cellar. 

I dread the thought of having to buy store-bought tomatoes, but truly, the best BLT tomatoes are gone now, but there are still tomatoes, maybe a bit imperfect, that will be wonderful tomato sauce, and this recipe couldn’t be easier!


End-of-Season Tomato Sauce

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

2. Quarter as many tomatoes as will fit in a 13- x 9-inch pan…no need to core or peel, just slice the stem end off.

3. Add pressed garlic to taste, drizzle with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Stir to coat the tomatoes, and then pop the baking pan into the oven for 45 minutes.

4. After the tomatoes have roasted, spoon them into a blender and puree.

5. Add 3 tablespoons of Italian seasoning and any additional salt and pepper to taste; blend to combine.

6. Add a quartered onion and blend once again.

7. Pour the sauce into freezer containers and it’s done!

That’s it…oh-so easy! You can change the recipe to match your taste by using fresh herbs instead of dry seasoning and I always add a pinch of sugar…just because that’s what my mom does (yep, tried-and-true). Then, when the winter winds blow, you’ll be able to savor a taste of summer.

While the rest of our garden is quite ready for a rest, the peppers are producing non-stop…what to do with them? I always think they’re great sliced and sautéed with onions and then stored in freezer containers for serving on Italian sausages. And with tailgate season at hand, I’ve been filling the smaller peppers and serving them as a cold appetizer. Just mix softened cream cheese, shredded cheddar cheese, diced green onion, and crispy, crumbled bacon. No recipe needed, just add as much as you like of each ingredient, then spoon into halved peppers. That’s it, and they’re yummy!


While we see the signs of fall around us, somehow the days urge us to get busy…to be outside. We can sense a change is coming and it’s time to prepare ourselves for the cold days ahead. Tomorrow morning we’ll stack firewood and soon I’ll be making grape jam. As the Tony Bennett song goes, “the days grow short when you reach September.”

Mary is a Midwest farm girl who enjoys the simple pleasures of living in the country. "For us, living where there is plenty of room for gardens, animals, and for kids to play and explore is the best kind of life." You can visit Windy Meadows Farm here, Windy Meadows Farm.

Knee Deep in Summer!

Windy Meadows FarmWe are knee deep in summer, as the old saying goes.

Gone are the gentle spring afternoons where the temperatures were low and the cool breezes were welcomed through each open window and screen door. In our part of the Midwest we enjoyed a long and cool spring…perfect for the start of garden chores, spring cleaning, and outdoor get-togethers. Our last gathering with friends was around a bonfire, and as the evening wore on, I found myself gathering cozy quilts for each of us…unheard of in June! The weather was almost autumn-like as we woke up to brisk mornings and ended each day with a chilly evening.

However; today, the sun is high and the thermometer reads 93 degrees.  Heat like this means chores are done early before the sun and humidity can take their toll.  The hens were out early stretching their wings…later they’ll enjoy watermelon to help cool them off. I spent a couple of days painting and sprucing up their coop…inspired by others I’d seen, why not make it a little fun?



Signs from our local feed store, colorful tea towels stitched into curtains, a little stenciling, and other little things I had tucked away were dusted off and added.


I found an old screen door in the back of our barn. I wish I knew how old it is…it’s heavy, the wood is thick, and the “screen” is metal. There was a little rectangular cut out in the middle…it made me wonder if that’s where mail was slipped through once upon a time. If only it could tell it’s story.


Soon the sprinklers were going, goats were given extra water and a quick stall cleaning, and apples were picked for making applesauce.

While heat like this will definitely find me indoors (there’s always something that needs tending in an old farmhouse!), I also know that it’s the perfect time to hang quilts and sheets on the clothesline. For me, there are few things more wonderful than air-dried sheets. On a day like this, they dry quickly, and as I pull them down, there’s a brief tug-of-war wrangling them off the line and into the basket. It’s worth the effort though…there’s nothing like falling asleep on sheets that seem to smell faintly of clover and sunshine.


Have you tried making your own laundry soap?  There are so many “recipes” to be found and each is just a little different. Why did I wait so long to make my own? I know exactly what’s in it, only 4 ingredients, and it smells so fresh.

Homemade Laundry Soap

• 1, 4-lb. box of super washing soda
• 1, 4-lb. box of baking soda
• 1 4-lb. box of borax
• 3 bars of Fels Naptha soap, grated

1. Stir all ingredients together until thoroughly combined; store in a lidded container. Use 1/4 cup or a little less for each load.

Simple country pleasures are everywhere to be found, even in the heat of summer. Tomorrow I’ll pick enough mulberries to make syrup…a treat on a stack of fluffy pancakes or waffles.  Spinach and lettuce are ready for picking, along with raspberries, and sugar snap peas.

Even though the days are hot, as the sun goes down, it can be lovely time to sit outdoors. The sunsets are beautiful, the doves are singing, fireflies are flickering, and the calm of evening has arrived.

It’s a time to enjoy the simple things…watch and listen. Tomorrow another hot summer day will come; maybe I’ll make some homemade ice cream. The grass needs mowed and the garden tilled…I have a feeling that coming indoors on a scorching day to a bowl of homemade ice cream may just be what we need.


These days are ours for the taking…enjoy every minute.

Mary is a Midwest farm girl who will tell you, “I love simple, old-fashioned ways. For me, it’s the country pleasures that mean the most ... tying on an apron for Sunday dinner, barn sales & auctions, farmers' markets, county fairs, porch swings, and slow train rides. Add to these the laughter of children, and I couldn't be happier!” You can visit Windy Meadows Farm here, Windy Meadows Farm.

Saving Water: Tips We've Learned Along the Way

Windy Meadows FarmSlowly, but certainly, we’re beginning to see the gentle green of spring…buds on the lilac, chives sprouting in the garden, and the sun shining brilliantly. Yes, there’s a lingering chill in the air, and even a bit of snow fell last night, but we can feel that a change is coming. The predicted warmth of this week will encourage daffodils and azaleas, and it looks like the last of the puddles are finally drying. I quickly dodge the few remaining puddles as I set out for daily chores, only to land in a spot of mud more often that not. The folks around us call this "Bootscrape Weather" and they couldn’t be more right. Funny enough, the farm wives will tell you mud on the floor is as much a sign of spring as the first flower!  An old quote from the Hoosier Farmer comes to mind…

“Love is the thing that enables a woman to sing while she mops up the floor after her husband has walked across it in his barn boots.”

A basket sits by a comfy sofa, and soon I steal a few minutes to look through the latest arrival of seed catalogs and favorite magazines. My to-do list is getting longer… I want to make an arbor from some dusty old doors I found tucked away in the back of  our barn, while a vintage screen door seems just the right thing to add a little whimsy to a flower garden. And oh yes… those broken dishes. (Who knew the bottom of that box was so flimsy?) When I lifted it up, out they came with a crash… a rainbow of colorful bits that now wait to become mosaic stepping stones around the chicken coop.

Then in the middle of all my planning and dreaming it comes to me, as it does every year, why (on what was once a cattle farm 70 years ago then in later years a horse farm) are there no working water pumps near the barns and gardens?  Each year this means hauling water from the one lonely spigot near the house to make sure our goats and chickens, barn cats and trusty guard dog have all the water they need. And when the garden is planted, several sections of hose work will wind their way over the grass, gravel, and then more grass until they meet their destination. Years ago we had someone search for water lines… there must be some, but after watching them dig up most of the yard and finding none, we gave up. (Someday I’d love to have a water pumping windmill… add one more thing to do to-do list!)

large tomato on scale

Like so many, we look forward to that first tomato, warm from the garden... is there anything better? We've also started setting up a little roadside stand to share our extra vegetables. So over the years we’ve tried to come up with clever ways to provide water for the garden by saving rainwater and using the water we do have as efficiently as possible. And so, if you should you find yourself living in a 155-year old farmhouse with only one outdoor spigot, we’re happy to share some of the ideas that have worked for us.

 1 — Underground cisterns are a good way to collect rainwater, and if you live in an old farmhouse, you may already have one. Ours is located where all the rainwater is directed off of the roof, and adding a new pump was easy. Companies such as Lehman’s Hardware have several types of pumps to choose from. Practical and pretty… what’s not to like?

 2 — Adding mulch to garden rows will help plants hold onto moisture, as well as slow down evaporation and weed growth. Last summer we tried a new method that worked very well… a thick 6-inch layer combination of straw, compost, and shredded leaves. It could also be manure, pine shavings, or winter’s bedding from the chicken coop. Anything that will hold water and break down over time.

 3 — Watering early in the morning before the heat of the sun can begin to evaporate the water is always best for us. On days that are very hot or during a long dry spell, we will water twice, again at sunset. While there’s no evaporation, watering late in the day can attract slugs, so it’s something we don’t do often.

 4 — Soaker hoses are great to make sure the water gets right to the plant roots, and it also helps cut down on evaporation.

 5 — Setting up a rain barrel is something new for us, and we can’t wait to see how it works. We had the ideal spot to add a downspout that will feed rainwater directly into a rain barrel. I feel that harvesting the rain just might make all the difference during the hot days of July and August. And while we’re not worried about a higher water bill, we do want to make sure we don’t waste the groundwater from our well.

 6 — Simply go organic! Organic planting methods will help retain moisture in the garden. Healthy soil filled compost, leaf and grass clippings, and manure will act as a sponge to keep plants strong and growing, even when the heat and dry weather arrive.

farm stand by road

Walking to our garden spot this morning, I reconsider its future size. Hmmm, maybe I’ll add a section for a salsa garden, and the kids would like a pizza garden. While I’m pondering, in the distance I can hear a garden tractor sputter and then roar to life… Someone else is thinking it’s time to garden, too. The earth is waking up… in its proper time.

Mary is a Midwest farm girl who will tell you, “I love simple, old-fashioned ways. For me, it’s the country pleasures that mean the most ... tying on an apron for Sunday dinner, barn sales & auctions, farmers' markets, county fairs, porch swings, and slow train rides. Add to these the laughter of children, and I couldn't be happier!” You can visit Windy Meadows Farm here, Windy Meadows Farm.

the basics of choosing firewood...


We've entered day 4 of the snow and ice storm that has hit the Midwest, and as the temperatures plummeted (-11  yesterday morning), each day opening the door we're greeted with a bone-chilling blast of air. It's so cold that even heated water buckets have a film of ice on them that needs breaking so goats, chickens, and barn cats can be assured of plenty of water.  

wheel in snow

In preparing for the storm, extra wood was stacked on the back porch, and after tossing another log on the fire, I'm glad to be inside. Morning chores are done, and I've left the gusty winds outside, for now. Warming up by the fire makes me glad for the wood we have on hand. This crackling fire in the kitchen will take the chill out of a home built in 1864, a home that certainly seems lacking insulation in some rooms!

As I talked with a friend, she asked about the best types of wood for burning. A look through our local paper will have advertisements for a variety of woods. Which is best? The prices range per cord; does a lower price mean an inferior wood?

While I'm certainly no expert, I'll share what she and I talked about...a list of what has worked best for us over the years, and what we've found for sale in our area. 

Good Firewood Choices

  • Ash
  • Cherry
  • Maple
  • Walnut

In our experience, these woods give off a good amount of heat, have a long burn time, and produce little smoke.  While ash and walnut are difficult to split, it can certainly be done.  I admit, we buy ours split and ready to stack.

Poor Firewood Choices

  • Elm
  • Pine
  • Poplar

We've found that these woods don't give off much heat and can have a short burn time. That means I'm tossing more logs on the fire to get warm and finding that it's burning just too quickly. I'm going through that woodpile much faster than I'd like to.

Again, this is only our personal experience with these types of wood. No matter which wood is used, it's important that its been set aside to dry at least 6 months before burning, and it's been kept dry while it's stored.

In early fall when we double-check our wood supply, it also a reminder to schedule a chimney sweep. A chimney that was used all winter will definitely need a good cleaning to loosen and remove any soot that's built up inside. A chimney sweep can also check for any damage, loose bricks or mortar, and even add a cap to the chimney; this will keep debris and rain out.  

On days like today, when a bitter wind is whistling and it's 8 degrees outside, a crackling fire in the fireplace is a warm and welcoming country pleasure. seems like cats love the warmth of a fire, too!

will it work this time?

 Photos courtesy of Mary Murray


Dreams Do Come True...

Windy Meadows FarmEarlier in the spring, I found myself wandering through one of my favorite shops...a great small-town store that has become a "must" anytime I'm nearby. Filled to the brim with everything vintage, primitive, antique, and retro, it's nothing short of fabulous!  

On one of the walls was this sign: 



Something about it caught my eye...the lovely shade of turquoise-blue, the talent behind the hand-lettering, the message. true, NEVER stop making wishes! 

As much as it called to me, it really didn't "fit" into our style. Built in 1864, I've tried to fill our home with things that have a sense of history...old trunks, cupboards with wavy glass, sponge-ware dishes alongside yellow-ware bowls, spinning wheels, handmade get the idea. As cute as this sign was, it just wouldn't work. 

After wandering through the store, I finally told myself, "It NEEDS a home."  You see where this is going...yep, it did come home with me. I wrapped it in paper and tucked it away. Not sure what to do with it, but knowing it just had to be a little gift to me, from me.

Which leads me to matter what, NEVER stop making wishes. What do you wish for? Dreams delayed come true every day! Just because you're living in an apartment now, doesn't mean you won't be gathering eggs from your own happy hens in the country some day. Making business deals across the conference room table, doesn't mean that you won't be making lunches for kids, and yes, climbing the corporate ladder, can be exchanged for chasing fireflies. Here's a little story of my "dream delayed."

An earlier post of mine was titled Dream A Little Dream and all about the search for a vintage camper--a search my teenage daughter began--and I was determined to help her. There's the story of the cutest little 10' Shasta compact camper that was the $100 find of the century!  Not my find, of course, but one lucky gal had her wish come true. It was so...Tiny. Yellow. Adorable.

Then there was another Shasta I drove by for several days just pondering over. Maybe? Maybe not. Okay, definitely! Peeked leaks, had potential, yes! Bring the Hubby to look over it/climb under it...let's make plans! 

Lesson not ponder too long. By the time I decided to show it to Hubby, it was gone. On it's way to Michigan with a young family. You know, for months I found myself still looking at the spot where it if I could turn back time and it would still be there.  

I kept looking in the paper and reading online auctions. Nothing was right, or nearby, or simply nothing existed at all. Vintage campers have taken off like wildfire and I could find nothing. And so the search continued...for years.

One day I sat down to catch up on a friend's blog, I'd followed the progress on her 1963 Yellowstone camper for about 5 years. Freshly painted, with cheery fabric stitched into curtains and comfy seating, it was fun to look at the before and after snapshots. 

While reading her blog I blinked...what? "I have decided to let our little trailer find a new home." No pondering this time...I immediately commented, and then, just in case she didn't have time to check her blog, I sent an email. I knew that the camper was well-cared for and only about 15 minutes away. In no time Hubby and I looked it over, then brought along a friend who knows all the ins and outs of vintage campers. He suggested roof repairs and a quick fix on the water line.

And you know what? That sweet little 13 foot 1963 Yellowstone Cab-over camper is sitting at our farm. The first thing I did was unwrap and hang the picture telling me to "Never Stop Making Wishes." While the turquoise blue wasn't right for our home, it was perfect for a camper now named Maizy! I'm dressing her up with turquoise, cherry red and a bit of lightning-bug yellow...I'm having fun putting my own retro spin on her. And you know, for someone who loves antiques and primitives, who knew I had a surprising amount of vintage goodies tucked away just waiting for someday?



 I'll share some more photos of her interior transformation...what fun it's been for my daughter and I to camp out in Maizy...even if we never left the back yard.

So as we shortly enter 2019...remember this:

Never Stop Making Wishes!

Images Courtesy of Mary Murray

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