Time to Dig in the Dirt!

It’s that time of year again! Last year, I tried to grow my own plants and that didn’t work out so well. So, this year it was straight to the greenhouse.ย  $30.00 is a small price to pay for a full garden! Plus, they were offering FREE chicken BBQ in honor of Mother’s Day. All you had to do was purchase something! By the time I got home, it was pouring! I decided I would plant in the rain anyway. It was messy, but I feel so accomplished!

garden plants

After I planted the garden, we drove to my mom’s and picked up her leftover straw. I used mulch last year, but it seemed to get moldy and didn’t really keep down the weeds anyway. So, I am trying straw this year. Whatever you do, don’t use hay! Hay has so many seeds in it and will make your garden have so many weeds.

I also recruited a few helpers! I just love spending time with my nieces! They helped with the straw and had a blast throwing it in the air. ๐Ÿ™‚ We had such a fun day! It is so neat to hear all of their questions too!

My Little Helpers2

My favorite question of the night was, “Aunt Sondra, why are your strawberries green?” They kept looking for strawberries and also learned that they start as flowers! Loved teaching them about gardening!

strawberries

Overall a very good day! Now, if those temperatures will just stay above freezing! I’m hoping I don’t have to cover them tomorrow night. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Winter “To Do” List

It is unbelievably cold and windy outside today, which has me wishing for sunshine like this!

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The weather also has me thinking about my garden while I wait for Spring. This is only the second winter I am preparing a garden. I do not claim to be an expert. In fact, I am very far from it. I really don’t know what I’m doing at all, but I try anyway. ๐Ÿ™‚

Here in Pennsylvania, there is not much that I want to do outside.ย  There is snow on the ground, chill in the air, and all I really want to do is hibernate ๐Ÿ™‚ Yes, it’s winter but there are still things that can be done.

Here is my ‘novice’ to-do list:

  1. Plan your garden:ย February is a time to reflect on what went wrong in your garden. I planted vegetables in the wrong places last Spring, I planted vegetables that Iย thought I would want, and I didn’t plant enough of others.ย I love using “Grow Veg” for garden planning. The website is amazing and other bloggers love it too.ย The website allows ANYONE to plan a garden, no matter how much space you have or how much you know about gardening.ย  There are videos that teach you how to use the website AND you can get a free 30-day trial. It only costs $25 per year after 30 days. It is worth checking out. I square foot garden and there is even a feature for that!Screen shot 2013-01-19 at 4.41.12 PM
    So I started my plan using the website. I am going to grow more carrots and tomatoes because carrots freeze well and I make my own tomato sauce.ย ย  This year I am also going to attempt an herb garden hanging on the fence, but there is not a feature for a hanging garden on the website.ย  ๐Ÿ™‚
  2. Pull weeds: This is never a fun job, but just two weeks ago, I was out pulling weeds.ย  Unfortunately, weeds do not stop growing in the winter. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ So, by pulling weeds now, you won’t have so many to pull in the Spring.
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  3. Decide if you are going to start your vegetables from seed: I will not start my vegetables from seed this year, although I may do some flowers.ย  I discovered that by the time you buy containers, seeds, soil, and take the time to water and control light, it just isn’t worth it for me. I buy all of my vegetables and fruits from a local Amish greenhouse and you cannot beat their prices. (I don’t remember what the prices were, but I think I paid $35 for all the plants I needed last year). It is worth calling around for prices before you begin starting seeds.
  4. Plan Garden Projects: The more you get done over the winter, the less you will have to do in the Spring, right? For me this probably will not stand true. I always find more and more projects to add to my list when something is finished. Here are a few things on my list:
    • Build raised beds for the blueberries so I can control the soil.
    • Build containers for hanging herb garden on the fence. My husband heard about this project and said I am going to have to learn how to use the circular saw and a drill ๐Ÿ™‚
    • Create a compost pit (or bin??). I am hoping to reduce my trash, while helping my garden.ย  I am not sure what this is going to look like yet. If we can change our trash pick-up to once every other week, it will cut $45 off our bill for 3 months, which is almost $200 a year in savings. This is a win-win situation.
    • Buy new garden tools. I found out that some garden tools are on sale right now. I need a new rake and a something that will till the soil.
    • Create garden crafts- There are quite a few on this list (look for posts later this month)

So, there is plenty that needs to be done in the winter when the weather is cold.ย  Happy planning!

A snapshot of my garden in the winter: The strawberries and blueberries are dormant, but healthy. Who knew Rosemary was so tough? If only I had time to cook! Don’t ask me about the onions. I don’t know what to do with them. They are so little and I don’t want to harvest them.ย  I am just leaving them there until they either, A. Die or B. Get larger.ย  Remember, I am still learning. ๐Ÿ™‚

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The End of Summer

So, I have to admit I have been in a ‘blogging funk’ lately. I was enjoying the last little bit of summer and couldn’t find the time or energy to blog. I usually make it down to the garden, but that’s as far as I get.

I ended my summer with a trip to the Jigger Shop in Mt. Gretna, PA. If you have never been there, they have some of the best nature trails and ice cream.ย  It is also peaceful to walk around town.ย  I just wanted to forget about school starting and enjoy the last weekend. How often do we forget to have fun as adults?!?!ย  Besides, when is the last time you saw a merry-go-round and a seesaw at a playground? We couldn’t resist!ย  I know I haven’t laughed that hard in awhile. I challenge you to do something fun this weekend! Laugh a little!

(Don’t ask me who the kid is on the right of the seesaw; our niece made a friend).

They couldn’t bounce themselves, so Tony jumped on to help.

Tony had a stomach full of ice cream. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ He did not feel well after this.

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This summer, my husband and I have been on a quest to get completely out of debt (aside from our mortgage). We are almost there and then we can start paying down our mortgage. So I have resorted to extreme measures, like making my own laundry detergent. In case you are wondering, it actually works. I tested it on my husband’s garage clothes after a 95 degree day. Gross. Yes, the clothes were soaking wet with sweat and covered in grease, fiberglass dust, and dirt. ย  So it works AND it comes out to 1 penny per load!!ย  Here is the recipe I used.

Let’s not forget about canning. This is also how I intend to save us some money.ย  I am most proud of my grape jelly.

Yes, I actually made it from grapes!

It was actually pretty easy with the right tools. The recipe I used came from : http://pickyourown.org/grapejelly.htm This website has everything from freezing to canning to storing food. I love it!

The best part is I know exactly what is going into my jelly. No HFCS!

Once school started, I lost all of my tomato plants. I am not exactly surprised because I was completely distracted.ย  I had been blanching and freezing tomatoes all summer, so I wasn’t too upset.ย  I still had tomatoes to make my own sauce. I think it turned out great!ย  http://www.pickyourown.org/spaghettisauce.htm

I don’t know how old this equipment is, but I’m glad it takes care of seeds and skins… It saved me a few steps!

Last weekend I had a few hours to actually work in the garden. Thank God for weekends.
I picked peppers… A LOT of peppers.

Peppers and a few herbs

I love not buying vegetables for my lunch salads!! Not only is it organic, but it is CHEAP! Besides gardening, I also love spending time with the dogs. I always try to bring the dogs down to the garden while I’m working. Since school has started, they do not get a lot of attention. Bailey helped me clean up the tomatoes that fell when I pulled out the plants and Tank…well…he followed me around panting.


Hopefully I will find time to work in the garden this weekend. ๐Ÿ™‚

Busy Summertime

I have been extremely busy. There just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to do everything. So, I am far behind on blogging. The garden though, continues to grow even though I am falling behind. It has been extremely hot and it seems to rain just about everyday. My garden is actually growing mushrooms because it is damp and warm. I hate them! I am also struggling to keep everything alive, especially my cucumbers. I am pretty sure I’m going to have to take them out of the garden.

Last month I pulled the potatoes out of the ground.ย  The potatoes were by far one of the easiest vegetables to grow. I am going to grow even more next year and spread out the types a little so I have potatoes all season long.

I think they taste better than store bought potatoes too. If you have never grown potatoes, watch a Youtube video. And it doesn’t take up much space at all!

My tomatoes have also been coming in. I am going to make sauce, but I want to do it all at once, so I am blanching the tomatoes in boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Then I put them in ice water and they peel so easily. I am just freezing them for now and will do sauce all at once.

Bailey also loves tomatoes. Whenever we are in the garden, he jumps in the raised beds, and picks the tomatoes he can reach. I usually never put anything on this counter because it backs to our living room couch and he is worse than a cat jumping up things. ๐Ÿ™‚ He would get these tomatoes for sure if I wasn’t watching.

Earlier this summer, I also blanched peppers and froze them. I am looking forward to having garden fresh peppers all winter long. I read an article that you should buy organic peppers and lettuce because pesticides seep into the skin of peppers and leaves of lettuce and just doesn’t come off.ย  The website actually gives you some valuable insight about organic vs. non-organic. So, I am glad I have my own organic peppers.


I don’t have a vacuum sealer to keep them fresh, so I just suck the air out of the bag with a straw. It works pretty well and I don’t have to spend money.

 

I have had a lot going on and am feeling overwhelmed. Extremely overwhelmed with life and it was nice to spend an hour in the garden after looonnggg week. You know that quote, “Gardening, it’s cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes,” it is so true!!ย  There is something about working in the garden, giving you time alone that is very peaceful. And I got tomatoes today! I also picked a cantaloupe too!

I have never grown cantaloupes, but it was pretty easy and I thanks to Youtube, I knew when to pick it. I plan on taking some of my fresh veggies and fruits to a picnic my mom is having Saturday. Although, I don’t know if I can wait that long to cut the cantaloupe.

 

Caring for Tomatoes

This has been the 3rd year (I think) that I have had tomatoes. I have ruined them year after year because I simply did not do my research. So here is what works for me…

Watering:
1. Only water the roots: I only water the roots. I do not water the whole plant. Previously, I thought, “Well, when it rains, the leaves get wet.” Yes, although that is true, I have discovered that it does not normally rain everyday and you are watering everyday. So, I only water the roots.

2. Water them a little everyday: You don’t want to over water your tomato plants, but it is important that the soil is moist. Where my garden is, in the raised beds, I have plenty of drainage. I actually check on them in the morning and at night. I just dig a little to see if the soil is moist. It should really never be dry.

3. Always mulch: I think it’s important to add some kind of mulch, leaves, something to retain the moisture. In past years, I did not do this and my tomato plants did not produce and the leaves were yellow. This is a sure sign you need to adjust watering.

4. Don’t over water! After some research, I learned that that is why my tomatoes would split. I wouldn’t water them for a few days and then I would try to compensate by adding a ton of water. Which brings me to my next point. It is important to have a watering schedule.

Care:

1. Prune the suckers?? I know this sounds strange, but when a tomato grows it grows in a ‘Y’ shape. Then right between the ‘Y’ grows a little piece.

You can see that I am pointing to this in the picture above. Simple tear it off with your fingers, or you can cut it with scissors.

I prefer to use scissors because I really don’t like the smell of the tomato plants and it leaves a little bit of a cleaner cut.

 

2. Trim the bottom of the tomato plants: There is simply no reason to keep your tomato plants growing low to the ground. Not only do the leaves toward the ground not produce fruit, but they also take important nutrients from the tomatoes. So, I simply cut them off too!

The bottom of my tomato plants have nothing on them, I cut them all off. You can also see how I trimmed the suckers off from the ‘Y’.

After all that trimming, my tomato plants are doing quite well. It doesn’t seem to matter where I cut, the plant heals itself. In the picture below, you can see two places where I cut that are okay.

 

Just don’t forget the importance of watering the plants correctly. You can cut (it seems) anywhere you want and the tomato plants won’t die. I am proud that I actually have nice tomato plants this year. FINALLY! And the tomatoes taste great too! I don’t even like tomatoes, but I think because I grew them, I actually want to eat them. ๐Ÿ™‚


You can even see some good tomatoes in this picture! I can’t wait until they are ready!

Another Day in the Garden

Tony and I began the morning with a 2.5 mile run and boy was it hot! We couldn’t do anymore than that because of the humidity. Going to church on Saturday nights have left our Sundays free. So today Tony promised to help me build the other window cucumber trellis and help me contain my tomato plants a little more. As I mentioned before, my tomatoes are going crazy! He was busy this morning taking the glass out of the window, which he said, “Is a complete pain!”

As you can see, the cucumbers seem to be growing up them well.It also hides the bright purple/pink paint that I chose and it looks nice.

I also worked on planting the numerous flowers I bought from the Mud Sale yesterday. I saw on Pinterest to use burlap in planters instead of the expensive moss you can buy at garden or craft stores. So, since my husband bought burlap at a sale in April we had some on hand.ย  I was annoyed because I had no idea what we were going to use it for, but now I am glad he bought it. ๐Ÿ™‚ That is usually what happens when I leave him unattended at an auction. Below is what I put the burlap in and the flowers I planted.

Here is the finished product! I really like the look of the burlap! In fact, I think I love it more than those moss (expensive) liners.ย  I had an empty space in my flowerbed behind my potting table because my asparagus and rhubarb didn’t grow. I think the seeds (or roots) I got from SKH were old. So I turned this corner into something pretty.

Side flowerbed finished… I had to take the picture through the trellis, but you can also see my beans and eggplant to the right.

Here is a different angle, but in this picture you can see the antique post digger that my husband bought for $5 yesterday.

Progress in the Garden

Although I have not been posting, the garden has continued to grow. I am proud to say that I have many vegetables that are just about ready to be harvested. My tomato plants are slightly out of control, but I have just been ripping pieces off that have no evidence of flowering. I don’t think it will hurt the plant.


I have even enjoyed a cherry tomato.

I have a few other vegetables growing quite nicely. I was afraid that my banana peppers wouldn’t grow because they were over-shadowed by my huge tomato plants, but they seem to be growing just fine! Almost ready to be picked!

 

Below is my latest project (again with the help of my husband). For my cucumbers, I have made a trellis out of old windows and wire, hopefully not to interfere with my lettuce and carrots on the other side. I painted the frame, took out the glass and replaced it with wire so the cucumbers have something to grab. Total cost: FREE! The paint was even free at an ACE weekend promotion. ๐Ÿ™‚

This is the other side of it, where my lettuce and a few carrots located. I think it is going to work out nicely. It is not nearly as pretty as the other side, but still functional.

 

Peas! I am very excited about the various vegetables popping up in my garden. It will allow me to eat healthier and it is now FREE (with a little hard work).

I will be out in the garden again tomorrow! Hopefully more pictures to post. ๐Ÿ™‚