Thursday, June 11, 2015

Planting and Maintaining Tomatoes

The absolute minimum you need to do when planting using biodegradable cups is to remove the bottom.  Even though these cups are designed to biodegrade quickly, it still takes months, and will prevent the roots of your plants from expanding into the surrounding soil.  Just gently tear off the bottom, and loosen the roots.

Though many say it is not necessary to remove the remainder of the biodegradable material, I always peel as much off as comes off easily.  Sometimes the roots have begun to penetrate this layer and only small portions come off, but sometimes (as shown above) the entire casing will fall away when gently pulled on.  Again, just lightly loosen the outside roots. Then, simply plant in hole even with surrounding soil.
 
A few weeks after transplanting you'll need to start to sucker (or prune) your tomatoes.  You  may think that the more vines your plants grow the better, but this isn't the case.  Most tomato plants will continue to grow their vines through the entire summer.  All those vines take a lot of water and energy to maintain, and that's water and energy that won't be put into producing fruit!!

When 'suckers' form, so named because they suck production away from the fruit, begin plucking them off.  You can use small scissors, or just pinch them with your fingernails.  You'll know the suckers because they'll be small vine sprouts that form in the 'armpit' of the main stalk and auxiliary stems.

Be very careful though, because early blossoms and often look like these suckers and if you remove those as well you'll end up with a bare tomato plant!

As you can see highlighted in purple above, the suckers come directly out of the 'armpit' and have leaves exactly like the rest of the plant.  The tomato buds highlighted in orange, while close, do not come out of the armpit, and have small teardrop shaped buds. 
 
While it's best to remove the suckers early, do so ONLY if you're confident you can discern the difference between the suckers and the buds.  Otherwise, play it safe, and wait a week or two and the difference will be more noticeable.
 
Happy Gardening,
Nicole

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Laundry Detergent

I've been using homemade laundry detergent for over a year now.  AND I LOVE IT!  It cleans just as well as the fancy brands, and it's only fractions of the cost. 

The ingredient list:
1 Bar Fels Naptha Laundry Soap
1 Cup Borax
1 Cup Washing Soda
5 gallon bucket

How To:
 
 
 
Grate the Fels Naptha with a cheese grater into a saucepan and add water until the soap is just covered.  Bring to a low simmer and allow to simmer, stirring frequently, until soap is completely dissolved; about 15 minutes.



Meanwhile, fill a 5 gallon bucket about 1/4 - 1/3 with hot tap water and add 1 Cup Borax and 1 Cup Washing Soda and stir for a few minutes. 



When soap is completely dissolved, add to bucket and stir vigorously until mixture is smooth.  (Tip:  If you have the option, you can use a power drill and paint/cement mixer to make quick work of this part).  After the mixture is smooth, fill the bucket with hot tap water and mix again until smooth; it will go much faster this time. 

Allow the bucket to sit overnight to cool.  Mix one final time and divide into jugs if desired.  The mixture will need mixed periodically to prevent it from congealing.  (Tip:  I use my old laundry soap jugs and only fill about 3/4 full so there's room to shake it up before each load of laundry).

The Cost:
Fels Naptha..........................................$1.50
Borax
   $4/9Cups...........................................$0.44
Washing Soda
   $3.25/6Cups......................................$0.54_
                                               Total:    $2.48/5gallons

Talk about saving some serious money!  A 5 gallon bucket lasts my family of 5 for about 3 months.  In that same 3 month period I could easily spend $30-50 on laundry soap (or more) depending on the brand.  I love this stuff, and I hope you do to.

Nicole
 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Starting Tomato Seeds

Tomatoes like to be started indoors 6-8 weeks before being transplanted outside.  Here in northern Ohio, we can begin plating in our gardens sometime between May 1st and May 15th, depending on expected frost for the season.  That means I usually sow my seeds in mid-March.  It's tricky, because if you plant your seeds too early, your plants will grow too large before you can transplant and you cannot provide enough sunlight for them to thrive, but plant too late, and your harvest season is significantly cut short if there happens to be early frost.  For that reason, I usually do 2 plantings, about 2 weeks apart, and choose those that are largest and heartiest at planting time.

You can start your seeds many ways but there are two preferences for me.  Above, I've started them directly into disposable plastic cups.  Start by filling them about half full with potting soil then sprinkle in 2-4 seeds and cover lightly with more soil.  Keep the soil moist, but not soggy.  When they first sprout they'll grow two long smooth leaves, just as the second set of leaves sprout (after about 2 weeks, as shown above) add more soil until it's just below the first set of leaves.  Your tomatoes will then stay in these cups for several more weeks until ready for transplant!

These seeds I started using my alternate method.  I first planted them in just a tiny bit of soil in an egg carton.  Just as the previous method, once they started sprouting their second set of leaves, they were ready for more soil, so I transplanted them into biodegradable cups.  Fill the cup half full, then simply use a spoon to scoop out your tiny seedling from the egg carton (soil and all) and place them in your biodegradable cups.  Add more soil until it's almost to the bottom of the first set of leaves.  Another couple weeks and they'll look like the plants pictured above.  Notice how the first set of smooth leaves are starting to turn yellow/brown and fall off?  That's normal!

Whichever method you chose to start your seeds, once they're about 6-10 inches tall, they're ready to be planted outside!  As you can see above, your plants will have formed several sets of large leaves, and they will range in color from deep almost purplish green, to a bright lively green.  If you've only planted mass market seeds, you're likely to see only the bright green leaves, but I have found the heirloom seeds I've been saving over the years come in a much greater variety of color. 
 
Check back soon for some tips for hardening and transplanting your tomatoes outdoors.  And also, some helpful advice for getting your plants to produce the highest yield possible, since that's what all this works been for after all!
 
Happy growing,
Nicole
 
 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Freezing Asparagus

When I was able to score 15 pounds of asparagus for $14, you know I was thrilled! 
 
This is the time of year when asparagus is harvested, so it's fresh and delicious.  It's only harvestable for a few weeks though, and outside of this short period, its extremely expensive.  So, I buy up a years supply, and freeze it at home!
 

First, trim your asparagus.  Some people prefer to bend and snap it, but I feel like that wastes more than necessary, so I just trim it past the dry, woody part.  Usually an inch or two, but it depends on the age of the asparagus stalk when harvested.

Then you need to partially cook the asparagus.  You can blanch it in boiling water a few minutes, but in my opinion it really leeches all the flavor and nutrition from the asparagus.  Instead, I place mine in a glass baking pan and cover with plastic then microwave for about 3 minutes for a medium to thick stalk. You'll notice they get very vividly green after just a couple minutes in the microwave.

After that, simply let them dry and cool on a dry dish towel, or paper towel if you prefer.

Last, place them in your preferred storage container and freeze quickly (avoid stacking them until fully frozen or it could take as much as several days for them to fully freeze).  Of course, a vacuum sealer would be ideal, but I have not made that commitment yet, so I use Ziploc style freezer bags.  If your stalks are shorter, they'll likely fit in a Quart size bag.  Mine were just a touch too long, so I froze 2 pounds in a gallon size bag, and left a small gap between each pound so I can easily remove one pound while keeping the other frozen for future use.  This comes in VERY handy for many frozen items.
 
Oh, and make sure to label and date your bags before filling!
 
Happy freezing,
Nicole
 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Free Printable Recipe Cards

With the holidays on their way, I've been getting out those old family recipes.  I love seeing my mothers and grandmothers handwritten cards - but they're in very bad shape.  So, it's time for an update.  Here's a set of 10 vintage recipe cards, in 4x6 format.  (click each card to view large, right click large image to save)






Use these cards to store your own family recipes, or attach them to home cooked goodies as gift tags so your friends and family will be able to recreate your delicious treats.  

And, as an added bonus: Two of my favorite recipes!



Always a hit with my family.

Thanks,
Nicole





Sunday, September 7, 2014

maximizing swagbucks

It's pretty easy to earn a little bit through swagbucks without altering your on-line activity in any way.  If you're not already on swagbucks, it's about time you join.  Or you can read more about my experiences with it here.  What I'm going to talk about here is how I've found ways to maximize my swagbucks.

For starters, buy the $5 Amazon.com gift cards!  You can get anything you need from amazon and the $5 gift cards are a bargain at only 450 swagbucks each, versus 500 for any other denomination or brand gift card.  If you average around 2200 swagbucks a month, that's a difference of 6 gift cards - or $30 every year!

encrave
One of the most beneficial things I do is to try and always have something earning SB's. Many people find it helpful to run the video app on their phone, but I seem to have more luck with the encrave activities (located under the 'discover' tab on the homepage).  I just pull up one of the auto plays (the ones with the little circular arrow icon) and let it play for a while as I browse the internet, check my email, or play a game. 

SBTV
I do the same with the SBTV.  Click the 'watch' tab on the homepage and there's thousands of videos to choose from.  These don't auto play, but if you're going to be online for a while anyway, it's no trouble to click the next one every now and then.  And - you don't need to watch the video in it's entirety either, just watch until the progress meter at the top goes to the next level, then click the next video.

to do list
the 'to do list' on the left column of your homepage should be your best friend.  You won't earn much here, but it's a few SB's you'll get every day.  And, as for the NOSO (no obligation special offers), there's no need to sign up for anything.  Just click 'next' and scroll through them quickly to get your 2 SB's.

Read
the reading section here is pretty new so I'm not sure how well this will work for continued earning opportunities, but so far, it's been great.  The 'read' activity is located under the 'discover' tab on the homepage.  Every so often some new books are listed there and there's a pretty good reward for completing these activities.  Some ask you to sign up for a newsletter, others to view a short video or read an excerpt.  Just hover over each book to see what is required to earn your points!

Swagcodes
Do take advantage of swagcodes.  There are sites out there, like swagcode spoiler that will compile these codes for you and let you know when they're available.  You can sign up for text, twitter, or email alerts so you'll always know when a new code comes out.

Swagbucks is always changing too, so keep up to date on the newest ways to earn and decide for yourself if they're beneficial (many aren't).  If you have another trick to earning, share it with us so we can all earn!

Happy Swagging,
Nicole

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Now that it's no longer Mother's Day...

People tell me how great of a mother I am surprisingly often, given the fact that I'm not really as great a mother as everyone seems to think.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not neglecting my children.  They don't go without meals, clean clothes, or proper medical care.  But one thing's for certain: they do go without a lot of things, because of me.

I see children at the playground, going on walks, or riding their bikes with their parents and I often think about how much I would love to do those things.  But just the thought of what it would take to get all 3 kids presentable, somewhat behaved, and on bicycles is exhausting.  It's so much easier to let them get their outside time in the backyard, where they're fenced in and I don't have to worry about one escaping while I'm chasing another; and if they throw a tantrum - there's nobody there to judge me for it.

My oldest comes home every few weeks with a flier about the activities they're going to be having at school in the upcoming weeks, but we've never once gone.  She excitedly tells me about art shows, music groups, and book fairs that I know we aren't going to attend.  Again, it's not that I don't want to, really.  I'd love to pack her up and go.  But dragging along a 2 year old and a 3 1/2 year old?  where there will be children's precious artwork, instruments, or books? 

None of my children are involved in any kind of organized activities, despite them asking.  I struggle to commit to a single event, let alone a steady stream of commitments.  I tell myself that when the kids are older we'll get involved, but how much will they have missed already? 

I know a lot of this has to do with our schedules.  With my husband working nights on a bi-weekly schedule, it's difficult to do anything during the day.  And even those activities that are evenings, are either scheduled just as he's needing to leave for work, or tend to be weekly commitments, and our schedule simply doesn't allow for that.

One of the saddest phrases my oldest daughter has taken to saying is "I don't mind."  She uses these three words to preface every question she has about an activity she'd like to join in, or a special treat she's like to have.  She's grown so accustomed to my explanations of why we can't do things that she prefaces every question with "I don't mind" so I know she won't be too disappointed when I tell her no. 

Despite the fact that my children seem very happy with their lives, I am painfully aware of all my shortcomings as their mother.  I hope they know that I will always give them my best, even if it's not always enough.  And I hope some day they can forgive me for all the things they went without because of me.

~Nicole