Gardening History lessons from an old house Homesteading

Industrious Stories

Problems abound when one chooses to live in a structure that was built over two centuries ago. Rotted foundations. Falling walls held up by a turnbuckle. The list goes on. Even so, I have many reasons I’d choose to live nowhere else.

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I’m a person of stories. I take them in. I chew on them. And I retell them. All the time.

Sometimes one daughter enlightens me about the latest livestock fact she learned on a homesteading website while we turn over a new garden bed. Sometimes another daughter describes detailed plays from last night’s softball game while we rake, side-by-side. Grandparents, painted rocks, country songs, varieties of tomatoes, and life cycles of snapping turtles–they’re all topics of different discussions that we amble through, or synopses of different stories that we weave together, while we work side by side. They’re moments of investment into a lifelong relationship with my children.

There’s always plenty of work to do, and the stories my daughters tell while we work makes the effort a little effortless. But something else also makes our work worthwhile: Our labor around our 217-year old homestead often uncovers intriguing signs of others who have worked this land long before us. They are indeed the number one reason I an thankful to live in a 217-year-old farmhouse: Rusted, bent, and broken treasures, ripe with history lessons. For me, the most thrilling part of the find–after wondering about its story–is figuring out a way to use or display my newly found treasure.

It’s an easy choice if the treasure is an old brown bottle. A battery of amber jars enlivens my kitchen ledge by the back door, and I’m always happy to add one more to the ranks.


After we discovered an old abandoned dump on our property last fall, we always have a place to go if we feel like pretending we’re archeologists. And old jars are always in plenty.


Every bottle has a story. One of my favorite was the bottle that still had its original lid, screwed on tight, but a beautiful green plant was growing inside. The clear glass had leaf-shaped indents embossed on its sides and capital letters, that bent like vines, spelling out “WILDROOT.” That jar sat in my window ledge about six months–all winter–as a pretty terrarium. (The plant has since dried up but still enchants me. I’ll admit it, I’m weird like that–dusty, old, dried up things are usually to my liking.) As I researched the bottle’s markings, I felt that I was introduced to the gentleman who lived in this little cape up on the hill, where the lake empties into the river, almost a century ago. A reserved man who was a little embarrassed about his premature hair loss. Turns out “WildRoot” was a popular solution to that age-old dilemma in the 1920s. How fitting that the bottle went on to house a true Wild Root.


But I need a purpose for all of the buckets full of bottles my resident archeologists drag home on rainy days (when there’s nothing better to do, of course, than to go digging in treasure-ladden mud).

I also needed a less-labor-intensive way to keep my potted plants watered, on the not-so-rainy days, so the solution was obvious. I pulled out the jars with the longer, narrower necks and filled them each with water.


Then I turned them upside down (quickly) into a hole I pre-dug in each potted plant.



One day this summer I hope to tint all of my bottles fun colors, so they all look pretty in the potted plants. Until then, they’re industrious workers just as they are, and around here that counts for a lot. If a good story gets thrown in once in a while, well we’re all the better for it.

So a few times a month I collect my bottles, fill them, and set them back in their respective pots (I do keep the same bottles with the same plants, so the holes in the dirt are always the perfect size), where they do weeks worth of watering for me.

Every time I fill my bottles, my curious hens come pecking around me. They’re always quick to trot to my corner of the fields when they spy me, thinking surely the reason I’m around is because I want to feed them. I do spoil my hens, in fact I adore my hens. They know I save any grubs or worms I see in the gardens and call them to partake of the treats. So if they see me, they tend to stay close by. I’ll admit it, I’m weird like that–I’m a goofy chicken lady. I can’t help it; no other pets have ever given me delicious, magical treasures every morning. (UPDATE–> We now are enthralled with another amazing treasure every day: glorious, fresh, delicious milk thanks to our sweet Holstein. And my favorite repurposed item to-date is my treasured door I found in the attic.)


While my feathered ladies enjoy a worm or two, and my old bottles keep my plants quenched, I revel in the stories that fill my days. The ones the chickens gabble and their rooster prattles. The silent stories the bottles whisper about the past as they do their job today.


And then there are the yet-untold stories of our family as we work on this land for the time we are here. The same land where others have grown old before us, and dealt with hair loss, aging bones, and achy muscles. But as I grow old here, I will always be telling stories, and all of them will circle back to God’s goodness in placing us here and guiding the scripts of the chronicles being written on this little plot of land.

My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds, of your saving acts all day long—though I know not how to relate them all… Since my youth, God, you have taught me, and TO THIS DAY I DECLARE YOUR MARVELOUS DEEDS. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I DECLARE YOUR POWER TO THE NEXT GENERATION… Your righteousness, God, reaches to the heavens… Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once more… MY TONGUE WILL TELL OF YOUR RIGHTEOUS ACTS ALL DAY LONG. Psalm 71:15-24

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  1. We found an old dump on our property in Hudson. I found lots of wonderful old bottles too. Plus pieces of pottery and the odd piece of silverware. My favorite was always the milk bottles. Many of them became vases for me. Love the idea of using them to water your containers.

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