Sunday, February 5, 2017

Starting Seed in February

It's just about a week into February, and my garden planning is in full swing. Depending on your plant hardiness zone (which you can find here) it's time to start sowing seeds indoors, or even directly outside under cover! If you're in zone 5-6, this guide should be just about right for you! You'll have to adjust by a week or two according to your exact last frost date. Ours is May 15th just for reference.

Some of the earliest seed you should be starting indoors (or out) is onion. For us, the first two weeks of February is golden. Planting onions later is not only possible, but encouraged, but it's this first planting that you'll leave in the garden all summer long to form large beautiful onion bulbs. Any bulb forming onion variety will work, but I prefer an open pollinated seed for reasons I'll discuss later. Also, ensure the variety you're getting is of the right day-length, which I'll also discuss later, but basically, northern states get long-day and southern states get short-day.

For starting onion indoors, just dampen a 6" pot of rich soul and sprinkle seeds in generously. Don't worry too much about crowding at this point. Onion roots are very thick and tough and will separate well in several weeks for transplanting even when crowded.  Keep the top layer of soil moist until the seeds sprout and then water only as needed until it's time for transplant.

After onions, find yourself a nice cold hardy variety of lettuce. Plant these in mid-February so they're ready for planting outside in April (or March under a cold-frame). Since these will be inside for a little while, I find it's best to plant them directly into 4" pots. Of course you can plant in starters, and then transplant later, but why bother? Just like onions, keep the soil misted with water until the seeds sprout, then water as necessary. Once the seeds are well established, pinch or snip off all but the strongest seedling in each pot; pull them, and you risk pulling them all!

Once my lettuce is well established, I start in on my spinach. It has basically the same care needs as lettuce with one notable exception: spinach does not tolerate transplant all that well, so always use a larger pot to avoid excess root disturbances. Just like lettuces, these seedlings can go outside in mid March under a cold frame, or in April unprotected. Contrary to what you might expect from seemingly delicate greens, they thrive in the cold and have a much sweeter taste and crunchier texture when grown before the heat of summer sets in.

Just remember when starting your seeds, that these are my personal start dates, and are good for those living in zones 5 and 6 with an average last frost date around May 15th. You'll need to adjust accordingly if you're in a significantly warmer or cooler climate.


Tuesday, April 12, 2016


I hope you've got your seeds started!  If not, it's okay - do it now while there's still just a little bit of time.  But this truly is your last chance.

This year, I'm only starting tomatoes and lavender from seeds.  The tomatoes I started a week or 2 ago, and the lavender I started a month ago.  Oh boy, do those lavender seeds take a long time to sprout.  After about 3 weeks, just when I'd assumed I'd killed them and they weren't going to sprout, I saw the first tiny little green bud.  Several days went by and it was still a tiny bud.  After a week, I could finally see a stem and leaf.  And even now, they've been sprouted for well over a week, maybe even 2 weeks, and this is all I've got:

Let me know if you've got any secrets I don't know about to get lavender going!

I justy got in my first onion bulbs and my horseradish has sprouted, but we'll discuss that next time.

Happy sprouting,

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Surviving School Snacks

My middle daughter started Kindergarten this fall, and it was requested that she bring a small snack in each day.  Sounds easy enough, right?  I mean, she had a small afternoon snack at home every day, so sending one in should be no problem. 

Yea...  I found out pretty quickly how easy it is to fall into the trap of sending high calorie, low nutrition snacks based on either carbs and salt, or sugar.  These snacks are so easy, because it's what they sell individually packaged in every grocery store.

Determined to find a better alternative, I've come up with some great options.  For starters, don't ditch those store bought snacks all together - there's a reason they're so popular - because kids love them!  This is especially important for picky eaters.  We want our kids to eat healthy snacks, but what good does it do them to send the most nutritious snack with them if it ends up in the trash?  If your child will only eat applesauce and cheese crackers, make sure you're getting no sugar added applesauce, and try cheese crackers with peanut butter for a bit of protein.

Here's how we've managed to survive school snacks:

1. Invest in a small insulated cooler pack, and reusable ice pack - like the kind used for baby bottles.  Keep it small to reduce the bulk in their backpack.  Having the availability to keep food chilled until snack time means you can pack things like yogurt, cottage cheese, sliced fruit and veggies, or cheese
2. Those prepackaged little portions are so unbelievably expensive, and while buying in bulk and using zip top snack size bags might seem like a perfect solution - we found that most foods you'd want to put in them ended up crushed and undesirable.  We invested in reusable cups with lids (that were like $2 for a 6 pack) and it's allowed me to save money by buying large quantities of foods like crackers, nuts, berries, chips, and even breakfast cereal and divide them up. 

3. Don't be afraid to send veggies.  Baby carrots, celery, cucumber sticks, bell pepper slices, and grape tomatoes all hold up well during transport.  If your child really needs ranch, you can squirt some in the bottom of your Tupperware, then put your veggie sticks in and close it up.  But skip the ranch if you can get away with it.

4. This may seem silly, but talk to your child about snacks. Thanks in part to changing dietary standards in schools, your child will likely spend a little bit of time talking about healthy eating in school.  Use this to your advantage by asking her what healthy snacks are her favorites, what healthy snacks other children are taking, and what unhealthy snacks children are taking and why she shouldn't have them every day.

6. Set up a "snack station" and let your child choose each day.  Have lots of options ready to go so you're not scrambling every morning, and just let your child choose one of the healthy options you've already prepared for them. This might be the single most important key to healthy snacks for us.  My daughter loves dried fruit and nuts and will choose this every time over generic fruit snacks or cheese crackers, but if the chips or crackers are already packaged and the nuts and fruit are not - guess which one I'll put in her bag... If the healthy choices are ready to go, then they DO go!

5. Don't look on Pinterest.  Just don't. 

I think, above all, I learned that I have to pack what I know my child will eat, and how much my child will eat.  I can pack all the gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free, corn-free, oven-baked barley biscuits I want - but it doesn't make me a better mother if my child is just throwing them in the trash and going hungry...


Sunday, February 28, 2016

That Last Bit Of Jam

You ever have some jam or preserves so good you're scraping the sides of the jar just to get that last little bit?  I have.  And I've spent 5 minutes just trying to get that last little nibble, then felt heartbroken when I had to throw it in the trash without scraping it perfectly clean.  If you ever find yourself in this predicament again, let me introduce to you the Sundae in a Jam Jar:

I realize this isn't exactly an earth shattering revelation... But it was awesome.  Just take those last bits of jam, a scoop of ice cream, and a dollop of fresh whipped cream, and you no longer need to feel bad about wasting those last bits of preserves.  Why did it take me until 30 to learn this lesson?  All those years of jam wasted...

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Fragile Little Elf

Like most kids,  mine love their elf in the shelf.  The girls understand they can't touch her or play with her,  but Ronan just doesn't care.  He knows he's not allowed,  but does anyway.  That's why this happened:

Do you think this will get it into his head?  No,  I didn't think so either.  But at least this way I don't have to come up with new creative ways to pose or elf! 

Monday, August 31, 2015

2 Fast and Easy Minecraft Projects

So my daughter chose a Minecraft theme for her 7th birthday party!  It was pretty exciting, except that there's no Minecraft party goods in stores (not that I have found anyway).  So I made a few projects at home.  They were so easy, fast, and inexpensive! Can't beat that.

I started with the Steve head.  I made this the morning of the party, and it took less than 30 minutes!  Unfortunately, I didn't think to get any in progress photo's for you, but really -- I think it's pretty obvious when you look at the finished product.  Then literally 5 minutes before kids were set to arrive, I said to my husband "we don't have any games!  Maybe I should make a 'pin the tail on the pig' game and we could use the Steve head as a blind fold?"  He looked at me like I was crazy.  I knew he was thinking 'you have 5 minutes... it'll never happen.'  But I already had it in my mind how I could very quickly make this pig, and in less than 5 minutes! 

So I did.  And below you'll see a quick and dirty explanation of how I went about making these projects so you can do them too!

Steve Head:
1. Start with any box that is roughly square, I used an old box from baby wipes
2. Use full sheets of brown to cover sides of box.  You can use any adhesive you like. (If you prefer only one face, cover 3 sides)
3. Stack several sheets of black construction paper and cut them into squares that are roughly 1/6 the width of your box.  It's better to err on the side of too large because you can always overlap them;  too small and you'll have gaps between your squares, or you'll need to add an extra and they won't line up.
4. Following the pictures above, use 6 squares of black across the top of the face, then one on each side of the face just below the top row.  Then to create the mouth use 3 squares, centered on the bottom, and a half square above each side of the mouth. 
5. (optional) follow step 4 on opposite side of box to create another face. 
6. Create the eyes using a square of white, with a half square of black placed on top and position on face.
7. Use a small square to make the nose.  I did not have a good color for this, so I simply cut a square of brown packaging tape and stuck it on for the nose.
8. Cover the entire top of the box with the black squares (and back of head if you chose not to create the optional second face)
9. Following the second picture above, apply 2 full rows of black squares along top of box, then continue down center until you reach the bottom of the box (or for one face, continue down 2/3 of box, leaving brown exposed next to face).

Pin The Tail on The Pig:
1. Start with a large sheet of paper, foam board, cardboard, etc.  I didn't have a single large sheet, so I used invisible tape to piece together two sheets of 11x17 printer paper.
2. Place a full sheet of pink construction paper for the pigs body.  It should be slightly to the bottom right of center.  Perfection is NOT necessary! Leave a space un-stuck for the legs to go under.
3. Use 4 rectangles of pink for the pigs legs and place them under the body as pictured above.
4. Cut a square of pink paper about 6"x6" and place as shown for head.
5. Cut a square of red paper about 2"x2" for the nose and place on face.  (Optional: cut a few smaller squares and place on pigs back for freckles)
6. Using black and white paper, create eyes as shown above that are slightly wider than they are tall and place on face.
7. For tail: cut a long strip, about 2" wide of pink.  Cut a long strip about 1/2" wide of red.  Using invisible tape, tape them together as pictured blow.  Then cut along dotted lines (about 1/2" thick) to create tails.
And you're done!  Have each kid write their name on their piggy tail and affix a small piece of tape to it.  Spin 'em around a few times, and see who gets the closets.  Enjoy the laughter the ensues.
Happy Minerafting,

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,