Regrettably, it's been awhile since I posted much of substance here. The reasons are many ~ I've been in a funk over homeschooling for the past month or so that I can not seem to shake, I've been ├╝ber busy with the garden - watering, transplanting seedlings, planning, planting, etc., and lastly, I had the [brow lift] surgery for my migraines nearly 2 weeks ago that I'm still trying to recover from. Actually, I think I'm just overwhelmed by life right now.

My surgery went well, but the swelling and bruising is SO awful, I cannot imagine anyone subjecting themself to this for cosmetic reasons, yikes. Perhaps it will eventually be worth while, but right now it's a serious inconvenience, and an embarrassment whenever I have to venture out in public. Also, I've still managed to have some pretty intense headaches in the past week or so. Sigh.

As for my homeschooling woes... It seems that every few weeks of school, I go through a spell where I'm plagued by self-doubt ~ pondering our failures, questioning whether anyone is learning anything, wondering if I'm doing the right thing by homeschooling, etc. Periods like this make it all too easy to get discouraged by the ceaseless grumbling over school work, and lately this negative mood has just been hanging on (and on). It's very hard for me to be enthusiastic about anything right now, so we've been keeping work pretty light, and frankly, not very interesting.

In history, we had a mini-unit on Charlemagne - utilizing lots of primary source material - that dragged on and on. Now we've embarked on a study of feudalism which is slightly more exciting. Our CLAA memory work has not been going well, I'm beginning to accept that perhaps we're not up to a program SO intense. Math has been unremarkable, as usual, and science has been quite spontaneous. Everything else is being tackled in bits and pieces. I'm hoping that I'll feel more like myself next week.

For science, among other things, we've been learning about wildflowers (aka common weeds) in our own backyard. I just received the excellent Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification, and will be trying to put together a more formal, organized plan using this, among other resources. Here's what we've learned about thus far:

Henbit (Lamium aplexicaule)

Henbit in our back field

The first "wildflower" we spotted in bloom this year was Henbit, which began blooming here during the last two weeks of March. Henbit is a member of the mint family, Lamiaceae, and a winter annual or biennial that is native to Eurasia and Africa. In the United States it has become a common, agressive weed most often found in fields, garden plots, pastures, lawns and waste areas, with a preference for disturbed areas.

Young leaves are edible and healthful and can be used as a pot herb or in salads, my children also enjoy sucking the sweet nectar out of the flowers. It is an important nectar and pollen plant for bees and also greatly enjoyed by free-ranging chickens (including ours!).

Henbit is easily confused with Purple Deadnettle (Lamium purpureum) ~ more information on the two can be found here. Some great pictures and additional information can also be found at Discover Life

Shepherd's Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)

Next in bloom, beginning the first week of April, was Shepherd's Purse. Shepherd's Purse is a member of the Brassicaceae (also called Cruciferae) family which includes mustards, cabbages, broccoli, turnips, cresses, and their many relatives. The plant's name comes from its triangular purse-shaped seed pods; the four white petals of its flowers are arranged in the form of a Greek cross, a common characteristic of the Cruciferae family. In Kansas, it blooms from March - June.

Shepherd's Purse begins with a basal rosette of toothed leaves, similar to a dandelion. Young leaves are edible and healthful, mild in taste, and can be used as a pot herb or in salads. A native of Europe, the plant
has become naturalized over much of the United States and can be found in waste areas, lawns, gardens, barnyards, cultivated fields, and roadsides.

More about Shepherd's Purse can be found at Wildman Steve Brill's site; a lesson on Shepherd's Purse is available from Outlines of Lessons in Botany by Jane Newell.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Dandelions also began blooming here during the first week of April. The root, leaves and flowers all have both medicinal and culinary uses. According to this article,

  • Dandelion root can be roasted as a coffee-substitute like chicory, or boiled and stir-fried as a cooked vegetable.
  • Dandelion flower can be made into a wine, or boiled and stir-fried as a cooked vegetable.
  • Dandelion greens (i.e., the leaves) can be boiled, as you would spinach, and used as a cooked vegetable, in sandwiches or as a salad green with some "bite." The leaves are high in vitamins A, C, and Iron. 
Dandelion leaves are best when they've just emerged in early spring; flowers should be harvested early to mid morning. We made Dandelion Cookies (they weren't very popular) and plan to make Dandelion Syrup. More dandelion recipes can be found at Cooking with Dandelions.

More about Dandelions can be found at Wildman Steve Brill's site, also at Dandelions are Super Foods.

Other: Little Dandelion by Helen Bostwick (verse). The Legend of the Dandelion from For the Children's Hour by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey. How West Wind Helped Dandelion from In the Child's World by Emilie Poulsson. 

Heartsease (Viola tricolor)

I was most excited to discover large patches of Heartsease in our back field one morning this past week. In ancient times the plant was frequently used for its potency in love charms, hence perhaps its name of Heartsease. In many old Herbals the plant is called Herba Trinitatis, being dedicated by old writers to the Trinity, because it has in each flower three colours.

Heartsease (aka Johnny-Jump-Up or wild pansy) is a wildflower native to Europe and a member of the Violet (Violaceae) family. Here in Kansas they bloom from March - April. Native Americans used the plant to treat coughs, colds, and headaches.

There's been a lot happening with the garden in the past week or so, though there's still SO much more to do!

All of apple trees have completely leafed out...

A week or so ago, I was thrilled to notice blooms appearing on an older 'Winesap' apple tree that we planted last fall, as well as on the 1-year-old 'Calville Blanc d'Hiver' whip planted at the same time.

Our 'Moonglow' pear has been blooming for the past week:

We also planted a 'Large Russian' Medlar tree out amongst the apple trees in our back field. Frankly, I'm more interested in the tree's history than it's fruit, but the fruit will be interesting to try.

A recent trip to Lowe's revealed that all of their big raspberry plants had received some (mostly cosmetic) frost damage and were marked down from $10.00 to $1.00! We rescued five of the most promising plants and already they've shown lots of new growth. Now we'll have a patch of 'Latham' raspberries (which normally ripen from late June to July) as well as 'Heritage' (which produces a crop in both June and September).

In the front yard, we planted a Scarlet Corkscrew Willow Tree (Salix matsudana 'Scarlet Curls') ~ I adore its contorted branches, but really, I'd wanted a willow for it's usefulness in propagating plants. The branch color becomes more pronounced in cold weather.

We also planted a 'Butterfly' Japanese Maple Tree (Acer palmatum 'Butterfly'), which will be very pretty with its pink and red fall color.

There's A LOT still waiting to be planted, once the danger of frost has passed:

Only in the last few days have several herbs germinated that were planted over a month ago! I'm finally seeing Marshmallow, Weld, and Hyssop ~ all destined for our medieval herb garden.

I planted four different types of lilac bushes (for varying shades of purple blooms). Shown here is a 'Declaration' Lilac:

Also, four varieties of mint: apple, berries 'n cream, chocolate and orange. I have an additional 3-4 mint varieties on the way:

Lastly, we've been busy laying out new beds and weeding ~ I've got 12+ roses due to arrive this week as well as a 3x1 'Fruit Cocktail' Tree, so there's lots of planting to be done!