Thursday, December 20, 2012

Pointsettia: The Christmas Star

The pointsettia is probably the most recognizable Christmas flower around.  It comes in reds, pinks, and whites.  I remember as a kid having that flower in our home.  In my first apartment, my landlord left one on my doorstep with "Merry Christmas" attached to it.  As a single female, starting out in a new city, that small gesture from my landlord brought Christmas cheer in the shape of a flower. 

Somewhere along the way, the poinsettia got a bad rap of being poisonous if eaten.  However, people all over still take their chances in homes with pets and kids.  What is it about this flower?  Sure, the amaryllis and paperwhites bulbs are all over the shelves as well, but the pointsettia is holding it's own in this flower market.

Taken from the Teleflora website, I love this description of the meaning of the flower:
"Also known as the Christmas Star and Christmas Flower, it’s said that this winter flower’s association with Christmas comes from a Mexican legend. The story goes that a child, with no means for a grander gift, gathered humble weeds from the side of the road to place at the church alter on Christmas Eve. As the congregation witnessed a Christmas miracle, the weeds turned into brilliant red and green flowers."

First, we all love a miracle, who doesn't?  Second, what gardener could resist the miracle of turning weeds into flowers?!  That's even better than water into wine for those of us who prefer to get our hands dirty.  So bloom on beautiful pointsettias spreading Christmas cheer!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Winter Break

The garden is winding down and the holidays are fast approaching.  I've noticed that the Lessons from the Garden are not as frequent as during the growing season.  I hope to check back in from time to time since a garden is never finished.  However, as the days get colder, I find myself indoors more working on my other hobbies.  For a glimpse into those projects, wander over to my other blog, Second Chances in Pa (click here).  You'll find diy projects, furniture makeovers, tips and anything else that has been given a second chance. 

Keep growing those cold weather veggies!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Lessons from Squanto: Gardening with fish

From This is America, Charlie Brown, The Mayflower Voyagers
This past Thanksgiving, my family watched the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving show, This is America, Charlie Brown, The Mayflower Voyagers.  I was very familiar with the other Charlie Brown Thanksgiving show where Snoopy serves up toast and jelly beans after fighting with the lounge chair.  It's still funny!  However, this Mayflower episode was new to me.  I had never seen it and was surprised to learn so much about the hardships of the Pilgrims and the amazing life of Squanto.  Of course, the gardener in me had another "take-away" from this episode.  Fish!

At the point where Squanto was teaching the pilgrims to garden (the Peanuts gang), he taught them to put a fish in the ground with the corn seeds, and then dirt.  Say what?!  How have I never heard of this and don't the cats want to dig up the fields to find the fish heads?  Then a few nights later, I'm skimming through old magazines and find an article in Whole Living magazine about how to reduce food waste.  And there it is in black and white to use our leftover fish heads by putting them in the garden!  Now in our house, I'm ashamed to say, that the only fish we eat comes out of a tuna can.  Therefore, I might have to send the kids out for some recreational fishing this coming Spring to try this theory.  From what I've read, it looks like tomatoes are especially fond of fish under their roots.  You can also put them in the garden through the winter so you have soil ready for planting come Spring.  Just make sure to bury it deep enough so the critters don't come looking for fish-head dinner!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Growing Roses: Pleasant Outcome in Pennsylvania!

When my husband and I were first married, we rented a 1940s house with two beautiful rose bushes growing on the side of the house.  They were the red long-stemmed kind that any woman would kill to have at her disposal any time she felt like a rose! Although I didn't know anything about roses at the time, I was happy to cut the flowers and bring them in to vases.  Unlike the recommended full sun, these were in mostly shade.  Those rose bushes that defied the odds made me think I could use any condition to grow roses in our new home. 

So when we bought our first home, I tried over and over to grow long-stemmed type roses in our full sun backyard.  That's what the books recommended.  Over and over the roses bushes would die.  Even the existent rose bushes that came with the house all died off within a few years (the ones in the full sun) and the ones in the shady front yard continued to grow.  What gives, I thought?  To this day, I can't explain the success of the ones in the front yard.  However, I just finally had success.  Now, it's only been a few months (and I tend to kill them after the first year), however the growth of this bush gives me hope!
Here's the rose bush only 2 months in the ground, already growing!
If you remember my deck makeover, I had added a cheapy rose bush.  I mean cheap!  I bought it at Produce Junction on a whim for $12.  Then I just plopped it in the ground where the daylilly used to sit.  I wish I could say I prepared the soil with compost or that I really cleaned up all the daylilly roots.  Nope.  I was rushed for time and just added some cheap fill dirt.  I really didn't expect it to live.  Apparently, this hands off approach has worked!  Just 4 months later and the bush has more than doubled in size and the roses are already long enough to cut for a vase!  I'm so psyched.  I wish I could tell you what kind of a rose bush this is, but at the discount store where I bought it, they were just labeled "Roses, $12", nothing more.  Looking back, it not only has full sun for almost 8 hours a day, but being in the surrounding deck bed, it is like a mini-raised bed.  And with all of our Pennsylvania rain, maybe the drainage was the biggest issue in past growing seasons.  Time to get the rose clippers and fill the vase again!
October 2012, already almost as tall as the deck rail!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Frost Watch/Warning: tips for the garden

Frost Watch/Warning!  It strikes fear in the heart of gardeners with young plants in the Spring, or those trying to extend their growing season in the Fall.  Those are the words now popping up on our forcast for Friday night into Saturday.  My initial reaction was the usual "oh no!" until I realized that my garden is now filled with cold weather crops.  They'll enjoy this drop in temps.  However, my zucchini, which does not realize that it is October 11th, might need a little help tomorrow night.  Yes, I will not give up on it as long as it's still producing!  If you're in need of some garden protection, here's a few ideas with links.  Bundle up those plants, it's going to be cold outside!  And if you remember my Spring blog on how I tried to call Mother Nature's bluff, I won't be doing that again. 

1.  Build a frame that can be used for a tarp, plastic sheeting, or mesh.   This is useful for protection from heat, cold, or insects.
PVC pipe for frame (click for more info)

2.  Place some sticks in between the rows to hold up a tarp.

Community Garden at our local elementary school "tucked in" for a night of frost last year

3.  Build/Buy a larger-scale cloche.
These garden "tents" look cozy!  Click here for more info.
No matter how you cover your gardens, remember to heed the frost warnings.  Your plants will thank you in the morning!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Accepting Fall

I love autumn, it's a beautiful time of year.  It's the season of my wedding annivesary.  It's the time when my firstborn was born!  The only downfall, is that it means leaving behind summer, which I love so much more.  So in my garden, I try to keep those summer crops going as long as possible.  Today, with acceptance, I went out and pulled the tomatoes.  Normally, they would last until the first frost.  However, many nights in the 40s, combined with endless stink bug bites, and my tomatoes are done.  Correction:  they are beyond done and begging me to put them out of their misery.  They are moldy done.  You get the picture.  So with my Fiscars pop-up gardening bag to catch the debris, and my clippers in hand, I proceeded to pull them out.  And with that one small act of cleaning the garden, I had to accept that Summer was officially over.  Never mind the low 80 degree temperatures we're hitting today or the summer-like humidity, autumn has arrived.  Sunday's forcast shows that today's temps are just a fluke.  Even my cold weather veggies are emerging in the garden (carrots, radishes, spinach, romaine, broccoli).  So bring on the pumpkins, and hayrides, and Halloween decorating.  Wait a zucchini plants across the yard think it's still summer.  Hooray, they're still cranking out huge zucchini.  I can live out my summer ending at least a little longer.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Sweet Potato finale

That's it?  Only 12 potatoes for 5 plants?!
I wish every blog could be words of wisdom or some great reveal of a harvest.  However, sometimes the lessons from the garden are the kind that make you learn and move on.  In this case, I learned that for our family, growing sweet potatoes were not worth the effort.  When considering the amount of garden space they consumed, the length of time they consumed it, and the tiny harvest as a result, we won't be repeating the process next year.  In the words of my son, they were "an epic fail!". 

Underground pests sampled our potatoes
Ok, so maybe it wasn't that bad.  Afterall, if we learn something in the process, then it's never a fail.  That's a lesson for all aspects of life!  Now don't think that I'd give up on growing a veggie just because it didn't take the first time.  Not at all.  But when you consider that my husband is the only one in the family who likes sweet potatoes (and not so much this gardener) then I'd much rather buy him his sweet potatoes and save the precious gardening space for other much more loved family vegetables.  So until the kids are ready to give up their swingset for me to have another raised bed, then we won't be growing sweet potatoes anytime soon.  That said, there are a few other things I learned like how to harvest them.  For those of you still waiting to harvest, here's a quick and easy description.

1.  Pull up the vines.  Yes, some sweet potatoes might come up with them.  Bonus!  I've read that you can eat the vines. I'll leave that to you to google the recipes.  I tossed mine out.

2.  Use a garden tool to dig them up.  Start about 12" away from the center of the plant so you don't bruise any.

3.  Lay them out to dry but not too long in the sun.  You can eat them right away, or cure them for storage.  Enjoy!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Planting Fall Vegetables

Don't hang up those gardening tools just yet!  There's a whole other season of planting just beginning.  If you're a summer gardener only, try your hand at the cold weather vegetables.  Much like the Spring veggies I planted around St. Patty's Day, the Fall ones also thrive in the cold temperatures and aren't scared away by frost.  They prefer cooler temps!  So clear out the garden, or fill in the bare spots among your Summer veggies still growing (in my case, tomatoes, zucchini and sweet potatoes) and start planting. 

Need to know what to plant, try these great vegetables for the Fall.

1.  Broccoli and cauliflower:  plant small plants at this point in the year if you can find them at a garden center or nursery.  If the broccoli doesn't become full grown before winter, no worries, it will over-winter and come back in the Spring. 

2.  Lettuces and such:  In this category I would place romaine, spinach, kale, swiss chard, loose leaf lettuce, iceberg, etc.  If it's a lettuce, it likes cooler weather.  A bonus with many of the lettuces is that some of them can reproduce for you more than once.  See my cheat sheet for growing lettuce to see which one is best for you.  The spinach and loose leaf lettuces can still be planted from seed.

3.  Radishes:  These are another great veggie to plant from seed.  They take only 28 days from seed to harvest.  That's gardening for those with a short-attention span (think kids!).  Need a reminder of why you should plant radishes?  Click here.

4.  Carrots:  It's not too late to plant these from seed either.  Hopefully you saved your seeds from the Spring plantings.  If not, ask around.  They'll be hard to find in stores.  If you're local, I have plenty to share!

Friday, September 7, 2012

100 days of Patience in the Garden

On the 100th day of school, my kids usually have a party and there's a lot of hoopla leading up to it.  I'm having my own sort of party this week as I realize that it's almost 100 days since the planting of my sweet potatoes.  That seems to be the magical number for harvesting.  Afterall, the potatoes are underground.  I can't look at them to see if they're ready.  It's like setting the timer on the oven with the recommended amount of time for cooking.  If you've planted sweet potatoes this summer, you're probably like me and anxiously awaiting the timer to ding to dig them up.  Patience in the garden is so hard sometimes. This is my first summer so I have no idea if they really grew underground or if I just have a lot of pretty vines.  I have noticed in the past week slight bulging in the soil which I hope means I have some grand prize winners growing underground.  "Patience is a virtue", and "curiousity killed the cat".  So I'm hoping to fall somewhere in between. Maybe next week I'll dig up one plant to check the status.  My own "toothpick" test.  Stay tuned.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Summer Tomatoes, better than New Jersey!

All 12 tomatoes lined up in a row
Nothing in the food world tastes more like Summer than a juicy tomato (except maybe corn right from the farmer)!  Growing up in Pennsylvania, I always thought New Jersey had us beat on growing the best tomatoes.  Each trip to the Shore meant a chance to sample the Jersey Tomato.   It was so full of flesh/meat and less with juice and seeds.  When you bit into a Jersey Tomato, "Mmmmmm!" came out involuntarily.  That was, until this year.  Sorry NJ!  I don't know if it was the lack of rain, or my own garden, but I was rather unexcited with my Jersey tomatoes I purchased this year.  In the meantime, my own tomatoes think they're from the Jersey Shore!  They have that Jersey taste.  I wish I knew how I did it.  Maybe it was the extra hot sun or the watering.  Perhaps it was the special tomato growing formula I purchased this year.  Whatever the reason, my plants are producing not only an abundance of tomatoes, but they're yummy!  When I slice one open, it is thick red tomato inside with very little "run-off" as I call the excessive seeds and juice from store-bought tomatoes. 

The only challenge this year was the ground hog that would eat them just as they ripened.  So I had to pick them a day or two early.  This past week, I noticed the stink bugs starting to come back.  They too love tomatoes.  However, we love them more than any groundhog or stink bug so I plan to win the battle.  Meanwhile, anyone local want to swap tomatoes for something you're growing?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Curling Cucumbers: the unplanned Shirly Temple Variety

I've begun to nickname my cucumbers "Curly-Q's" because as the summer goes on, they're becoming more and more curled up.  Sometimes just the end stays curled, and sometimes the whole cucumber is curled around itself like a frightened caterpillar!  Being that this is my first year growing cucumbers vertically along a trellis, I naturally thought that might be the problem.  However, after some research, the problem seems to be the bees.....or lack of them!  Curling cucumbers are caused by incomplete or uneven pollination.  This is important to the shape of the cucumber.  If all the seeds are not pollinated then the cucumber will continue to grow, but be misshapen. 

This makes sense to me.  In the beginning of the growing season, I would see bees all over my cucumber flowers.  Then as the zucchini grew on the other side of the yard, apparently their much larger orange flowers were more appealing to the bees.  In the morning, the zucchini flowers are over-crowded with bees and other insects while the cucumber plant looks like a castoff.  If this was a popularity contest in the vegetable world, my zuchini's were definitely winning! 

If your cucumbers are curling because of an obstacle in the garden, that's an easy fix.  Just clear a path for the cucumber.  If it is a lack of bees, then plan next year to add some flowers nearer, or in, the garden.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Zucchini Pizza Casserole: Kid favorite!

I've written before about kids in the garden and the zucchini invasion I had a few weeks ago.  Well, for my first year of growing zucchini, I continue to be amazed at the great yield for such little effort in the garden.  Except for the vine borers, which I was victorious against, the remaining zucchini plants continue to produce more than our family needs.  I was scanning the internet for more recipes when my Mom handed me one from Taste of Home's website:  Zucchini Pizza Casserole.  It had the necessary ingredient for my kids to at least try it--cheese!  Not only did they like it, but my youngest who does not like zucchini or ground meat, gobbled it up!  So for all of you with picky eaters, or too many zucchini in your garden, here's the recipe.   The only adjustments I made were to leave out the green pepper, and to lengthen the time in step one from 10 minutes to 15-20 minutes.

From Taste of Home

Zucchini Pizza Casserole [Taste of Home]

4 cups shredded unpeeled zucchini
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese, divided
1 pound ground beef
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 can (15 ounces) Italian tomato sauce
1 medium green pepper, chopped

  1. Place zucchini in strainer; sprinkle with salt. Let stand for 10 minutes. Squeeze out moisture.
  2. Combine zucchini with the eggs, Parmesan and half of the mozzarella and cheddar cheeses. Press into greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking dish.
  3. Bake, uncovered, at 400° for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, cook beef and onion over medium heat until meat is no longer pink; drain. Add tomato sauce; spoon over zucchini mixture.
  4. Sprinkle with remaining cheeses; add green pepper. Bake 20 minutes longer or until heated through.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sunday In His Garden: the harvest

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. [Galatians 6:9-10]

As our family enjoys the benefits of living in a part of our country that has not been so hard hit by drought, we harvest almost every day now.  There are plenty of cucumbers, tomatoes and zucchini to make it worth the effort to go out and check each morning.  As we do this today, I'm reminded that my youngest son may have planted the zucchini seed, I watered it through the summer and tamed back the weeds, while my oldest might be the one to cut if for harvest.  And so it is in the kingdom of God.  Sometimes we're fortunate enough to be a part of all three steps and sometimes just one.  Either way, do not grow weary in doing your part.  Tell others about him.  Encourage and love others along the way.  And be bold when God asks you to stand up for Him.  I'm not saying that's easy.  Certainly, I've struggled with boldness for years.  Most importantly, as we read in the verses above, it simply tells us to do good.  That seems easy enough.

However, in our society of distractions and false teachings, the weeds are also threatening.  God needs more workers in the field.  Ask God how you can be used in His garden today.  Get out and do some good.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

No Patience for Homemade Marinara Sauce

I've long been a skeptic of homemade "accessory" foods.  I'm talking about homemade sauces, frostings, condiments, and even homemade cool whip. Yes, I still remember my sister-in-law (I was newly married at the time) saying that she was making Cool Whip from scratch. I remember asking my husband why she was making it? I just assumed that she had run out and didn't want to go to the store.  I was then educated in how much better it tastes and the advantages of making your own.  I must admit, it was delicious!  But still, the time it takes, and the room for error (on my part) did not make me stop buying my Cool Whip from the store.

This whole process of making your own (fill in the blank) often seems more expensive and more time consuming more times than not.  So why do people do it?  I'm intrigued.  Yes, it's almost always healthier.  And sometimes saves you money.  But it really must be because you enjoy it.  I will say that the exception is strawberry jam.  I have an annual ritual now of making as much strawberry jam as I can to make it last thru the next Spring. It's become a challenge to guess the right amount of jars and how many I can still be giving away as gifts.  The jam is delicious!

Jam aside, I had to try my hand at a recipe I saw on Pinerest.  It was for homemade marinara sauce in the crockpot.  Now someone finally had my attention!  My kitchen had a bunch of homegrown tomatoes and the thought of throwing them in a crockpot and going about my day sounded great.  Well, let's just say, I won't publish the recipe, AND I'll continue to buy my sauce at the store where it's a whole lot cheaper and tastier! 

Here's what happened.  The original recipe called for canned tomatoes but many comments under the recipe said you could use fresh tomatoes.  Simple enough.  Nope!
To use fresh tomatoes, I first had to blanch them in boiling water and peel the skin.  Not only a yucky feeling (imagine slimy eyeballs), but 20 minutes longer than just opening two cans and dumping them in. Plus, I ended up with half the amount of tomatoes I needed so now the rest of the recipe was cut in half.

Next, throw all the ingredients in the crockpot together.  I like that step. Easy!  Especially since I already had onion pre-diced in my freezer!

After the alloted cooking time, voila!  Well, not quite.  I thought it just tasted like stewed tomatoes.   While I was ready to throw it all out, and chalk it up to a lesson learned to just keeping buying my pasta sauce, my husband disagreed.

My sweet husband said to save it and we'll put it on pasta or something.  "Afterall, you took the time to make it!"  He's a keeper.  Maybe I can add spicy sausage to it and no one will notice. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Growth Spurt

We're back from vacation and by the looks of my garden, I learned two things: 
1.  It obviously rained while we were gone.
2.  Things grow a lot faster when you're not watching!

Seriously, either I've forgotten how the plants looked before I left, or they grow better when I'm not watching.  I concluded that it's a lot like trying to watch a pot of water come to a boil.  Some people say it takes longer if you're watching it.  That can't possibly be true.  However, it certainly does seem to boil quicker if you look away.  And so it is with the garden.  Go away for a week, and you come home to some monster plants!  The dahlias tripled, the zuchini plants doubled and the tomatoes are thriving!  All the rest kept pace too.  I enlisted a neighbor to "help yourself" to the veggies while I was gone so her picking cucumbers, tomatoes and zucchini certainly helped.  It's nice te be home to hover over my gardens once again, but it's also a relief to know that they certainly don't need me as much as I thought.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Zucchini Plant Pests: Vine Borers

This year was my first year with enough room to grow zucchini.  I was excited to be able to plant 7 plants.  However, thanks to a pest unknown to me at the time, I'm now down to 4 plants with one in the Garden Emergency Room as well.  Thanks to the quick and extensive reach of google search, I was able to diagnose my zucchini problems as a pest called Vine Borers.  They hatch and eat the plant, and later become a type of moth.  Here's the Garden Doctor's findings:

zucchini leaves suddenly yellow or the plant suddenly dies....CHECK
upon inspection, the base of the plant has been chewed away....CHECK
you can see the nasty little white borers right there in your plant stem or eggs under the leaves.....CHECK

Several Bug insecticides are available in powder or liquid spray.  Look for one that lists vine borers on the label.  Apply every 7-10 days for two or three treatments.  You can also bury the stem under soil after killing the borer and the plant may be saved.

Recovery & Prognosis:
Caught soon enough, it's possible to save the plants.

Next year I'll be on the lookout for these little buggers much sooner!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Dust Bowl: Slow, Simple and With Love

This morning I caught the end of a story on the Weather Channel.  They had been interviewing an older gentleman about his childhood during the Dust Bowl.  It sounded rough and my heart goes out to our Midwest farmers in the midst of a modern day drought.  He explained the economic hardships for his parents and vividly described the landscape of their farm at the time.  However, he ended  with the most “take-away” part of the story.  He said, “However, life was slow, simple, and we had a lot of love.”  Wow.  Then the weather correspondent ended with a comment that had a wishful tone to it and how he longed for those days. 
How sad that we feel those days are out of reach.  Yes, we live in a fast society where I can type, hit a button, and instantly anyone around the world can read my words on this blog.  It’s quite amazing when you think about it.  And I wouldn’t trade that rapid-fire communication for the days of Pony Express.  However, we also have the power to make our family life slower and simpler.  And it’s certainly in our power to add MUCH more love. 
Summer is half over and I’m glad that we have had a slow, simple summer in our family.  Each kid got one week of VBS camp, we’ll have a family vacation to the beach, and the rest is unplanned days.  Sure, we have day trips, but they’re usually planned the night before.  And yes, there’s lots of time at the pool.  But if tomorrow my kids wake up and say, “let’s go to the rope swing” we can do just that.  We’ll take a lazy stroll down the path that leads to the creek and find other school buddies already jumping off the swing into a muddy creek.  Those are the slow, simple days we create and they’re always filled with love.  At least that’s what I hope my kids remember about their childhood.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Zucchini Invasion

So if you were ambitious, like me, in planting several zucchini plants, then you're now realizing that you may have more zucchini than you can eat!  Thanks to the fox tramping around our backyard, two out of the 6 zucchini plants have been snapped at the base and died.  However, the remaining plants are cranking out zucchini faster than we can eat them.  Truth be told, we're not a family big on cooked veggies.  My husband is the cooked veggie type, but the rest of us prefer ours raw.  So other than the zucchini patties I made last week--which were DELICIOUS dipped in maranara sauce--I've been trying to bake my zucchini into muffins, breads, etc.  However, with the heat wave(s), I am not the least bit interested in standing near a hot oven and our a/c would not appreciate the oven either.  So what to do with all the zucchini?  Freeze them!  I'm shredding and bagging zucchini as I pick them for a later/cooler date.  Maybe even much later.  Imagine having zucchini muffins in the middle of the winter.  Mmmm!  So for now they're tucked in freezer bags (1 shredded zucchini per bag) in the freezer right next to the homemade strawberry jam and frozen carrot slices I froze after the carrot harvest.  Nothing like having homegrown veggies on hand long after they're gone from the stores.

So don't despair at the abundance of zucchini you may have.  The plants are great at producing.  That's why we grow them.  Just harvest and freeze.  Or better yet, give some away!

The zucchini cakes with maranara sauce can be found at Life's Ambrosia.  Of course, I didn't have nutmeg so I skipped that.  And I didn't have Panko crumbs so I used regular Italian bread crumbs.  And in the interest of time, I skipped the fresh garlic and just used garlic powder from the spice rack.  Dip it in maranara sauce while still warm for a yummy side dish!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Let the rains come down

"He covers the sky with clouds; He supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills."
Psalm 147:8

This morning I woke to a sound that was unfamiliar in recent weeks.  I heard the pitter patter of rain on the window!  Normally, it would signal the start to a day stuck indoors with the kids.  But instead, in my sleepy state, I was thrilled to know that God was using his giant watering can to bring down rains on our withering gardens and browning grass.  Then my mind quickly turned to the Midwest and wondered if they were so lucky.  This past week with the kids, we prayed for rain for the farmers out there.  I explained how it was up to God to bring them rain since their fields are so large that they can't just pull out a hose and water their crops.  Yes, there's talk of prices at the grocery stores going up because of the drought in the center of our country.  However, beyond our own wallets, there are farmers trying to feed their own families, who count on these crops as their salary, and who need the rain so much more than my tiny garden in my backyard.  God, bring rain to our midwest farmers as well.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Minecraft Gardening: Where computer kids come to garden

Just one of the many creative gardens on Google
My oldest son has never been much for getting his hands in the dirt.  He's also the last to come join me in my garden.  Recently, though I noticed he had a new interest in the gardens and even wanted to harvest some of the vegetables.  Occasionally, he'll even stroll with me to see what's growing.  I was excited that I had somehow influenced him to come grow until I realized the real source of his gardening education:  Minecraft!

For any parent with a child into computer gaming, Minecraft is most likely a source of struggle for limiting screen time.  The computer game is one where the player creates his whole world and all that's in it.  For my son, he created me a garden of roses.  It even had a sign that read "Mom's Garden".  What Mom wouldn't be touched that while her son was mindlessly playing too long on the computer, that he thought to build me a garden?  Oh, maybe that was his butter me up so he could play longer!  

However, this past week he showed me two other Minecraft gardens (one even enclosed in glass!) where he was growing watermelons, wheat, and cantaloupes.  I was surprised to find that not only did he have a nice garden, but the thing actually grew!  He needed to provide water, light, and lots of patience while the plants grew.  And then he had to come back to harvest it all.  It might be virtual, but my son was finally getting a gardening bug.  When I asked why he was growing the wheat, he said he only needed a few more stalks and then he could make a cake.  Ah, it's all about the sweets.  Back in the real world, he did eat quite a bit of the chocolate zucchini bread I made this week.  So virtual or real, garden on!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Deck Appeal: makeover a deck bed for under $100

As important as it is for your house to have curb appeal, the reality is that "deck appeal" is really the area that is for your pleasure.  The curb is for those passing by your house.  The deck is for your own eyes (unless you have a deck in the front yard.)  So don't neglect your deck beds and deck appeal.  

That said, our deck bed is finished and I love the new brick edging!  No heat wave (think heat index at 100) was going to stop this gardener from cranking out the new flower bed edge.  Gone are the 1980s-style wooden beams with huge railroad ties.  The rectangular shape has been removed for a more flattering rounded corner and shape.  Best yet, I did it all for just under $100.  Yes, we still need to have the deck stained so we don't have the zebra effect between the old and new boards.  That is coming soon, hopefully!

Here's the breakdown:
red brick edging:  $2.15 x 28 bricks = $60.20
Fill dirt for the rounded corners:  $1.25 x 2 bags = $2.50
Mulch:  $3.33 x 3 bags = $9.99
Rose bush (discount plant store):  $12.00
Balloon flowers:  $4 x 2 plants = $8
TOTAL = $92.69 + $5.56 tax = $98.25
Another angle
I love how it highlights the daylillies!

Mixing vegetables into a regular flower bed: Zucchini plants

When I first placed the newly painted children's chair into my flower bed, it was early spring and not much was green or growing up around it.  I envisioned some pretty summer flowers eventually surrounding it.  However, I soon found that I could maximize my vegetable growing by adding some plants among the bushes.  Zucchini plants are just the right plant!  Among the holly bushes and burning bush, I have 4 zucchini plants growing.  They blend right in and add a nice filler of green.  Plus, I already have 3 small zucchini's growing!  Who says you need a raised bed or official garden.  Plant where you have space!

June 2012

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Cucumber Trellis: the results are in!

Front side of the trellis
The results are in for the cucumber trellis, and I love it!  Back in an earlier blog, I mentioned how I wanted one of these for Mother's Day.  The catalog showed a sketch of a beautiful cucumber plant climbing up the trellis.  In those cold days of March, I could dream of my own plant climbing.  Luckily, the kids got me one for Mother's day and I was quick to start planting.  As of today, June 27, my two (only two!) cucumber plants have already reached the top and are spilling over.  I've had to wind the vines along the top and encourage them to either go back down, or hang off the side.

The best part is that my cucumbers are now immune to whoever/whatever was nibbling at them last year.  When they sat along the ground, a slug/snailish type of critter would nibble little holes and then move on to the next cucumber.  It didn't ruin the cucumbers but made them rather unattractive.  This year, they're out of reach!  Just look at all those cucumbers already long and filling out!
Several cucumbers hanging off the trellis
Growing underneath the trellis are my sweet potatoes.  All that extra space is great!  The only downside to the trellis is that it looks like it needs to be taller.  In case you missed it the first time, you can get one at Gardener's Supply Company (

Saturday, June 23, 2012

First Dahlia of the Summer

And there it is, the first dahlia of the Summer season!  Just as my heart gets excited at the first daffodils of Spring, a dahlia has that same effect.  It signals the official change from one season to the next.  Sure, by June there are lots of Summer flowers that have been blooming, however nothing compares with a dahlia.  It's like the beautiful distant cousin of a sunflower.  What else has the ability to draw us in, actually pull out a ruler and stand in awe at the 7" expanse of the flowerhead?  The stalks alone are a wonder when you figure a small bulb is all that it takes to produce this giant plant with huge flowers.  It announces that Summer is here.  Prepare the way for the sunflowers and floxgloves and hollyhocks and other mammoth flowers.  It's their turn to rule the gardens and inspire children to appreciate the gardens.  Welcome Summer!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Garden Humor: Life with Boys

With the heat wave fully upon us and the carrots mostly finished, I took my two boys out to pull out the rest of the carrots.  They said they wanted to come.  After about 3 minutes, they were wilting and whining from the heat and ran back indoors to the A/C.  Left to my own gardening, I harvested another 1/3 of the carrots (about 25) from the garden. 

Now any Mom of boys knows that they have a one-track mind from the age of 3 or 4 to teen years (and maybe beyond!).  That topic is potty humor.  If you have boys you know the uphill battle of trying to hush the constant laughter associated with anything to do with butts or flatulence.  If you're unfamiliar, just think Beavis & Butthead ("she said 'butt', hehehehe").  So it should not have come as a surprise when I showed the kids this misshapen carrot, which I thought looked like a pair of legs.  They of course, saw a butt!  I don't think anyone will be eating that carrot now. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Healthy Carrot Muffins

Last week I harvested half of the "sweet treat" carrots.  Since the biggest carrot fan in the house is our gerbil, I grow them for fun and baking.  So when I wanted to bake something other than carrot cake, muffins were the next best thing.  I found the perfect recipe online and fully intended to post the recipe with giving credit to the original recipe owner.  However, when I discovered that many of my ingredients were missing from my pantry and fridge, I had to improvise.  Understand that improvising in cooking is not uncommon for me, but improvising in baking goes against my middle school teaching.  I still remember in "Home Ec" the teacher saying to NEVER improvise in baking.  Stick to the recipe.  So finally, at age 43, I broke free from that rigidness out of necessity.  And the final muffin that emerged was gobbled up.  Of course, a little cream cheese frosting on top for the kids made it more irresistable.

So what happened?  Where I lacked 1 1/3 cups of dark brown sugar, I used the 1/2 cup of brown sugar I had left, plus 1/2 cup and 1/3 cup of light brown sugar.  When I realized there were only 2 eggs left in the carton and I needed four, I used the 2 eggs plus 1/2 cup applesauce (making it healthier).  When I wanted to make it even more healthy, I added flaxseed and some water.  I was suprised it turned out!  So here's the final recipe.  You can use all dark brown sugar if you want or follow the version I did below.

Healthier Carrot Muffins (makes 2 dozen)
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup white flour
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
4 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
dash of salt
1/4 cup ground flaxseed
2 eggs
1/2 cup applesauce
4 TBSP water
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 cups grated carrots (about 8 carrots)

Preheat oven to 350
Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Whisk oil, eggs, applesauce, water, and vanilla together in a medium bowl, then add to dry mixture.  Stir until just combined, then add carrots and stir until mixed.  Divide batter evenly into 24 muffin cups and bake at 350 for 28-30 minutes.
[Optional:  Top with cream cheese frosting]

Friday, June 15, 2012

Building a Box Step for the deck

Decks and construction--you're wondering how exactly this falls into the category of gardening.  Well, it does and it doesn't.  You see, for years, we've had a deck surrounded by a flower bed.  It has always been pretty.  In the spring, we have tulips.  In the summer, daylillies and black-eyed susans, and in the fall, shasta daisies.  However, over the years, the flower bed has become overgrown and the built-in deck benches were ripped out.  This left a wide open space, and a much too large step down from the deck.  This past weekend, we solved the problem with building a deck step.  Let me rephrase that, my wonderful/handy husband built a box step and I helped. 

When we set out to build this simple, free-standing step, I could not find any direction online.  All google searches for "deck box step" led me to "build a deck step-by-step".  So therefore, being that a box step can be an entrance to a garden (as in our case), in a flower bed, or even used in a bed on a hill, I thought it appropriate to document this simple, but internet-elusive step.  And many lessons were learned in our garden that weekend.

First we began by digging out the existing black-eyed susans and listing them for free.  Notice, the new deck boards and railing already in place thanks to an earlier project.

After the many necessary trips to Home Depot,
Kyle was ready to begin the frame for the box step using 2x6 boards

Along with the frame, center supports were added using 3" deck screws.  The top board being added is a 1 1/4" x 6" board and 2 1/4" deck screws were used to attach the top boards. 
These were the same boards used on the deck to keep the look consistent.

While Kyle was busy building, I was hard at work digging out the remainder of the flowers, moving bulbs and digging up weeds.  The daylilly on the end will stay as an "anchor".

The completed step.  Now on to digging the 4" trough and filling with paver base gravel.

One of the lessons we learned that weekend was to never underestimate the time it takes for tree roots to die.  Barely 2" under the ground were roots from our old maple tree, too many to count!  Many were as large as logs.  We took turns with a hatchet, a saw and digging.  We finally won!

After laying the base gravel, tamping it down, and making the step level it was in place.  To make sure the step doesn't shift under the excitement of kids running up and down, we placed long metal spikes in the front and back to keep it in place. 

In the next few weeks, the deck will be powerwashed and stained to complete the project.   The old wooden beams will also be removed and we'll reconfigure the deck bed.  The new edge will be rounded on the corners and come in much closer to the step.  Look for a followup blog when the flower bed is finished!