Archive for the ‘Garden’ Category

You do not need a large plot of land to have a thriving vegetable garden. There are lots of great veggies that grow just a good in a container. Fill your outdoor patio with fresh veggies and you can limit the amount of trips you take to the store, and be more sustainable.

First Step:

The first step is choosing the plants you want grow and then matching it with a container. Check the label on the plant for specific planting instructions that will help determine which type of pot to use. The size of the container is important. For larger vegetables like tomatoes and eggplants, you should use a five gallon container for each plant. You can grow them in a smaller pot, however they may not produce as much, or get as big as they would in a larger pot. Keep in mind, upright growers (such as tomatoes and eggplant) will need a wide base for balance. Sprawlers (such as squash and cucumbers) will need a pot deep enough to drape over.

Just about anything that can hold soil and can have a few holes in the bottom will work for your container. Don’t limit yourself to the the containers in the store, your garden can grow in all sorts of things! Let your imagination go and get creative, flower pots, pails, buckets, wire baskets, bushel baskets, wooden boxes, nursery flats, window planters, washtubs, strawberry pots, plastic bags, large food cans, or any number of other things.

Second Step:

Choosing the right potting soil for your plants is important. With poor soil, your plants can not flourish. With container gardens, you should not use garden soil. It is best to use a really good potting soil that can both retain moisture and drain well. A moisture controlled or organic potting soil would be preferable. Peat-based mixes, containing peat and vermiculite, are excellent. They are relatively sterile and pH adjusted. (Avoid the soil with fertilizer or other unnatural pesticides mixed in- there are lots of organic things to use for pest control)

Third Step:

Potting your plants is the dirty part, but for me, the most fun! It’s OK to fill the diameter of the container with plants, but make sure there is plenty of room for the roots to move downward into soil. You can start from seed, or from transplant. If you start from seed, be sure to read the planting instructions on the packet. To transplant, dig a whole the size of the pot your plant is currently in, turn it over placing the plant between your fingers (I use my index and middle fingers) and with your other hand squeeze the sides of the pot until you feel the soil start to give way. Once it starts to come out, allow it to slide into your palm (upside down), turn over and place in the hole you dug. Loosly pack the soil in around the plant filling in the hole, and Whala! You have your plant in its new home! Some transplants come in a biodegradable pot, which comes in handy when transplanting. You can just stick the whole thing (pot and all plant) into the hole you dug and your good to go.

Note: Always make sure to leave at least one inch of room at the top of your pot. This will ensure that there is enough area for water to pool.

Care and Maintenance:


Lack of water can quickly kill plants in a container garden. Be sure (especially after transplanting or sewing your seeds) to water your plants regularly, pots and container plants require more watering than those in the ground.  Unlike plants grown in the ground, container plant roots can’t move down deeply in search of subsurface water. Check your containers daily for water needs. Check twice daily in the heat of summer and with smaller containers.

Note: Be sure that you do not water the actual plants themselves, but rather water the soil. This is especially important with vegetable container gardens because vegetables are susceptible to fungal diseases that develop when the plant leaves and stems stay wet for too long.


Here are a few varieties of vegetables that grow great in containers:

  • Cucumbers: Salad Bush Hybrid, Spacemaster, Bush Pickle
  • Eggplant: Bambino, Slim Jim
  • Green Beans: (Pole beans give a higher yield in a small footprint) Blue Lake, Kentucky Wonder, French Dwarf
  • Green Onions: Beltsville Bunching, Crysal Wax, Evergreen Bunching
  • Leaf Lettuce: Buttercrunch, Salad Bowl, Bibb
  • Peppers: Frigitello, Cubanelle, Sweet Banana, Apple (Hot) Red Cherry, Jalapeno, Robustini
  • Radishes: Cherry Belle, Scarlet Globe, (White) Icicle
  • Squash: Ronde de Nice, Gold Rush
  • Tomatoes: Patio, Pixie, Tiny Tim, Saladette, Toy Boy, Spring Giant, Tumbling Tom, Small Fry

Fun ideas:

  • Plant a long container box full of leafy greens- Have your own salad mix any time! Who needs the salad bags from the store when you can clip from your containers?
  • Plant a mini herb garden in one of your containers. Pick a few of your culinary favorites, there is nothing better then fresh herbs when cooking. Also plant some lavender or echinacea for herbal  uses.
  • Paint your pots, whether they are old coffee cans, terracotta pots, or even milk jugs- paint them to accent any part of your home! Also tie ribbons on them for added spruce, or even accent with garden stakes. Hang them from a tree or inside your house (be sure that they have enough space to grow)

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A rain barrel system is a way to collect and reuse the rain from your roof. Composed of a 55 gallon drum, a hose, PVC couplings, a screen grate to keep debris and insects out, and other off-the-shelf items, a rain barrel is relatively simple and inexpensive to construct and can sit conveniently under any residential gutter down spout.

Lawn and garden watering make up nearly 40% of total household water use during the summer. With rain barrels, you can collect the water that would otherwise disperse into the ground from your gutter and use it later when you need it the most! A rain barrel will save most homeowners about 1,300 gallons of water during the peak summer months. Especially if you live in the south or a dry area, rain water collection will be

Ready-made rain barrels can be purchased from numerous companies, but also can be made very easily.

Materials you will need:

  • One 55-gallon drum
  • One 4″ diameter atrium grate
  • One ½” PVC male adapter (will be attached to bottom of rain barrel)
  • One 3″ vinyl gutter elbow
  • Waterproof sealant (i.e. plumbers goop, silicone sealant, or pvc cement)
  • One 3/4″ x ½” PVC male adapter (will be attached to end of hose and readily adapted to fit standard garden hose)
  • Teflon tape

Creating the barrel:

  1. Using a 3/4″ bit (or hole saw), drill a hole through the barrel about an inch from the bottom (as the bottom rim ends and the barrel sides begin to form)
  2. Screw the ½” PVC male adapter into this newly drilled hole. (For a tight seal, unscrew the adapter, wrap with the teflon tape and cover with the waterproof sealant- allow to sit for 24 hours to dry)
  3. Attach 3 1/2 foot vinyl hose to the PVC male adapter. (From here if you wanted to go directly into the garden you could attach a soaker hose that would run along your beds)
  4. Using the atrium grate as a template for size, mark a circle at the center of the top of the drum.  Drill a ½” hole in the inside of the marked circle. Use a router, jig or coping saw to further cut within the marked circle until the hole is large enough to accommodate the atrium grate (the atrium grate is used to filter out large debris). Make sure not to make the hole too big–you want the flange of the atrium grate to fit securely on the top of the barrel without falling in. Placing a scrap piece of fine mesh window screen inside or outside of the grate will provide filtering of finer debris and mosquito control
  5. The rain barrel is designed to take advantage of gravity. Water will flow from the vinyl hose when the hose is below the barrel. Therefore, place the barrel on cinder blocks or a sturdy wooden crate at least 15 inches from the ground.
  6. Modify the down spout with a gutter elbow to divert water into the top of the barrel

NOTES: Step 4 (using atrium gate) can be by-passed if your gutter filters water prior to entering rain barrel. Most gutter systems have screens to trap leaves and other debris. If you choose to do this, make sure that down spout is placed directly over the outlet at the top of the barrel.

If your barrel will be close your foundation, you want to prevent overflow and can install an overflow valve on the barrel.

Using a ½” bit or saw, cut out a notch at the top of the barrel rim (aligned so that it is above the outlet at the bottom of barrel). The notch should be large enough so that the PVC coupler will firmly snap into place. Attach this to some clear plastic tubing that will hang down along side the barrel.

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Inspired with the new growing season and ways to maximize your harvest, I found a lot of ways to use your extra fruits and veggies just for the beauty of it. Summer around the corner, the season for fruits and veggies is here! Treat yourself to a natural skin care spa! Take your pick from many different recipes depending on your skin type. Pick from your garden and whoa-la free skin care!

Cucumber (normal to oily skin):

  • Acts as a very gentle astringent, helping to remove excess oil from the skin.
  • With repeated use covering the eyes, the mild bleaching action of cucumbers can help reduce dark circles around the eyes and help even out a blotchy skin tone
  • Mask: Puree 1/2 peeled cucumber in a blender or food processor and add 1 tablespoon yogurt.
  • Remove after 20 mins

Avocado (normal to dry or very dry skin):

  • It’s also a good source of vitamin E.
  • Use as a mask twice a week in the dry winter months for soft skin
  • Mask: Mix the avocado in a bowl with a fork and apply! Simple as that – As the avocado mask warms up on your skin, it tends to get a little runny. So lie back, relax and let your skin drink up all the natural oils.
  • Or use the inside of an avocado peel,  Rub on your face, lightly massaging skin.
  • Remove after 20  mins

Papaya (oily to normal or slightly dry skin):

  • Remove the seeds and mash in a bowl.
  • Apply to face as a mask (may tingle a bit because of the fruit’s acidity, which also will help rid dead skin.)
  • Remove after 5 mins

Grapes (all skin types):

  • Mash the grapes and mix with honey to make a paste
  • Apply to skin as a mask
  • Remove after 25 mins

Kiwi (all skin types):

  • Mash the kiwi and mix with  2 TBS yogurt (plain) and 1 TBS fresh orange juice
  • Apply to face
  • Remove after 15 minutes

Bananas (all skin types):

  • Mash very a ripe banana in 2-inch chunks
  • Apply to face as a mask (great for a skin soothing facial!)
  • For dry skin, add a half teaspoon of heavy cream.
  • You could also add 1 or 2 TBS of honey and milk to create a moisturizing mask that can also work well as a stress-relieving treatment.
  • Remove after 15 mins

Honey (all skin types):

  • Honey is a humectant, which means it draws moisture from the air to your skin.
  • Pour a teaspoon of raw honey in your palm.
  • With a couple of fingers, dab a very thin coating over your face and neck. You may notice a glow or some color coming to the surface,  the honey really revs up the circulation in your skin.
  • Remove after 15 mins

Lemon (oily to normal or slightly dry skin):

  • Works great as a toner.
  • Mix equal parts of fresh-squeezed juice and distilled water.
  • Apply to skin as needed.
  • Should not be used by people those with sensitive skin or citrus allergies.

Oatmeal (all skin types):

  • Great for soothing irritated or itchy skin
  • Mask 1: Use a coffee grinder or mill to grind into a powder for a silky base for a facial. Combine 4 teaspoons ground oatmeal 5 teaspoons buttermilk in a small bowl and allow the mixture to thicken for a few minutes. Stir to remove any lumps.
  • Mask 2: Combine ¼ cup oatmeal with 6 oz. of plain yogurt and 1 teaspoon of honey to form a paste. Massage onto skin and leave it for at least 30 minutes until washing it off.

Strawberries (all skin types):

  • Oily Skin: Just mush it up and apply on your skin for 15 to 20 minutes. Than rinse with lukewarm water.
  • Dry Skin: add sunflower oil to the mush (1:1). Leave the mask on your face for 15 – 20 minutes. (You can also use olive or corn oil). For flaky skin- mix a few strawberries with one teaspoon of sour cream and one teaspoon honey.
  • Strawberry juice is a great skin lightener. It’s effective for freckles and other spots. Just squeeze the juice out of the berries, then using a cotton ball spread the juice on the face.

Strawberry Leaf Infusion:

  • Infusion: 1/4 cup strawberry leaves 1 1/2 cups boiling water. Pour the water over the leaves in a glass bowl, cover and allow to steep for 2 hours. Strain and pour the water into a clean jar, seal with lid and refrigerate.
  • Use the infusion twice a day by soaking the washcloth in the infused water and heat it then apply to your face.

Great Blackhead Remover:

  • 50/50 Baking Soda & Water.
  • Use as an exfoliator.
  • Rub gently on your skin for 2 to 3 minutes. Rinse with warm water.

Blackhead Skin Peel:

  • Mix 1 TBS Unflavored gelatin, and 1 1/2 TBS Milk together in a microwavable bowl for and heat for 12 seconds.
  • Stir with a wooden spoon
  • Generously apply to the problem areas of the face. (Be careful not to get close to your eyes)
  • Let dry (around 15-30 mins) then carefully peel it off.
  • After removing the peel, wash face in very cold water to close the pores.

Tighten Pores:

  • Mix table salt and buttermilk into a paste.
  • Massage into skin.
  • Rinse off with warm water.
  • Repeat this treatment twice a day (morning and night) until results are satisfactory.

For more kitchen beauty wonders, see our post Simple Kitchen Beauty Tips.

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Lots of things that you would normally toss in the recycling bin can be repurposed for starting your seeds.

Staring seeds in used paper cups works great! (Esp if you drink a lot of coffee, save your cups!)


You can use old milk cartons in two ways, cut the top off or cut one of the sides off for a longer tray.


You can use old egg cartons too! Fill each hole with dirt, or you can even reuse the eggshells:









You can use old egg cartons too! Fill each hole with dirt, or you can even reuse the eggshells:



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Sprouting Seeds

Sprouting is easy and fun. You do not have to have a “green thumb” to get started. It is as simple as water and beans and the rewards are well worth the effort.

Sprouting takes a seed or nut in the dormant state and brings it to life. During the sprouting process new and higher quality proteins and other nutrients are produced. Tests have shown that the nutrients in seeds and nuts are anywhere from 50% to 400% greater after sprouting or soaking. Because sprouts are living, growing food sources, they have a rich supply of enzymes.

Why eat sprouts? There are many reasons. In addition to providing the highest amount of vitamins, minerals, proteins and enzymes of any food per unit of calorie, sprouts deliver them in a form which is easily assimilated and digested. In fact, sprouts improve the efficiency of digestion.

With the current economic crisis, not to mention the fact that so much of our food supply is contaminated with pesticides and pollutants, it’s nice to know you can grow your own sprouts in your home and become more self-sufficient.

Sprouting at home takes only a few moments a day and can produce a good portion of your daily requirements of the nutrients you need from fresh produce. The hassles are minor, the costs are low, and the freshness is wonderful. Growing sprouts is economic. Seeds can multiply 8-15 times their weight. Depending on what you grow, you can get away with spending 25 cents for a pound of fresh sprouted indoor-grown organic greens

Sold! Now, how do I begin?

There are many places you can buy your sprouters and seeds from. The Sprout People have a wide variety of starter kits, sprouters, seeds, videos and all sorts of info to get your started. You can also buy a starter kit at your local garden, or sometimes hardware store. I purchased mine from a True Value. It came with a basic two tier sprouter and three packets of seeds.

You can also make a sprouter  yourself using a Jar or plastic containters-

The Jar Sprouter

Step 1

Wash and dry a glass quart jar thoroughly. If you do not have a glass jar, clear plastic will work. Perfect to re-purpose your big yogurt or butter dishes.

Step 2

Place enough sprouting seeds into the jar to completely cover the bottom.

Step 3

Fill the jar half full with cool, clear water.

Step 4

Cover the top of the jar with a large square of cheesecloth and attach it to the top using a rubber band. If you are sprouting very small seeds, such as alfalfa, use a double layer of cheesecloth so the seeds cannot escape the jar.

Step 5

Set the soaking seeds on the tabletop or countertop for at least 12 hours. Tip the jar over the sink to drain the soaking water from the jar. Refill with fresh water, swirl the seeds around in the fresh water and drain. Repeat this process twice daily until the sprouts are the desired size.

I’ve Sprouted! What can I do with my sprouts?

Ideas for using the sprouted seeds:

  • Steamed vegetables – Add whole alfalfa, chia, clover, corn, garbanzo, lentil, mung, pea, radish, or wheat sprouts during the final 2 min. steaming time.
  • Soups – For flavor or thickening, add chopped or whole sprouts––corn, garbanzo, lentil, mung, pea, radish, or wheat.
  • Rice – Add whole or chopped alfalfa, barley, chia, pea, radish, or watercress, to rice dishes and to steamed rice after cooking—but just before serving.
  • Stir Fry – Add any of these sprouts to your usual stir-fry vegetables – alfalfa, clover, mung, or radish sprouts.
  • Vegetable Juices – Make your own “V8” juice with sprouts. Start with tomato juice, add ground chia, barley, cabbage, clover, lettuce, radish, and/or watercress. Add one sprout at a time so the flavor won’t be too strong until you get the taste you like.
  • Mashed Potatoes – Grind or chop very fine either alfalfa, chia, or clover sprouts to give potatoes a good flavor plus a little color.
  • Baked Beans – Add any sprouted bean with short sprout. Use bean sprouts when it has just barely split open with a short sprout. Try lentil, mung, lima, pinto, or navy bean sprouts.
  • Home-Baked Foods – Enhance the flavor of any baked goods by adding whole or chopped sprouts.
  • Breakfast – Add some clover, alfalfa, or radish sprouts to your omelet or scrambled eggs. Add finely chopped buckwheat sprouts to your pancakes and waffles.
  • Casseroles – Sprouts add a zesty flavor to casseroles, but only add them just before serving. Try cabbage, corn, lentil, mung, spinach, or wheat.
  • Salads – Salads are the most logical place to use sprouts. Use them instead of lettuce or add to your lettuce salad. Use sprouts in coleslaw or substitute sprouts for the cabbage. Adding some radish sprouts will give it some zing!
  • Sandwiches – Add alfalfa sprouts to chicken or tuna salad sandwich. Liven up that grilled cheese by adding alfalfa, clover, lettuce, or watercress sprouts for a more nutrition.

My all time Favorite:

  • Sprouted Eggs– Add alfalfa or broccoli sprouts to your scrambled eggs. Fold them in as they are finishing up on the stove, or add them on top as a garnish. (I like to add a little hot sauce as well)

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Creating other bright, reflective surfaces near your garden will also benefit plants. If you’re growing near a wall, R.J. Ruppenthal, who shares his experiences with his small, Bay Area garden in his book Fresh Food From Small Spaces, recommends painting the wall white or another light color.

“A bright-painted wall that faces the sun for any period of the day, particularly south-facing, will reflect an enormous amount of light and heat,” Ruppenthal says. “This speeds up growth rates quite a bit, and can compensate for some other shade during the day.”

Read more at Mother Earth News

Buy the book, Fresh Food From Small Spaces at Amazon.com

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Cold frames, sun boxes, and hot beds are relatively inexpensive, simple structures providing a favorable environment for growing cool-weather crops in the very early spring, the fall, and even into the winter months.

Cold frames have no outside energy requirements, relying on the sun for their source of heat.

Hot beds are heated by soil-heating cables; steam-carrying pipes; or fresh, strawy manure buried beneath the rooting zones of the plants.

Your plant-growing season can start long before warm weather hits — all it takes is a wooden cold frame box with a transparent roof.
Here’s how to build one of these mini-greenhouses yourself:

Cold Frames

Spring is still weeks away, but you can get a start on a bountiful summer garden by building a cold frame now, in the depths of winter. It’s a simple carpentry project that takes advantage of passive solar heating to effectively turn the calendar ahead.

The ideal location for a cold frame is a southern or southeastern exposure with a slight slope to ensure good drainage and maximum solar absorption.  These can be created easily and quite inexpensively. Cold frames can be built from a variety of materials; wood and cement block are the most common. Wood frames are not difficult to build.

There is no standard-sized cold frame. The dimensions of the frame will depend on amount of available space, desired crops, size of available window sash, and permanency of the structure. Do not make the structure too wide for weeding and harvesting; 3 to 4 feet is about as wide as is convenient to reach across. The sash of the frame should be sloped to the south to allow maximum exposure to the sun’s rays.

Materials for Building a Cold Frame – you don’t have to be a carpenter in order to construct a cold frame.  There’s a good possibility that you might have the materials on hand, or you can easily obtain them from a salvage yard.

The size doesn’t make any difference. Start with an old window sash or aluminum/glass doorframe, then build the box to those dimension’s. For example, if the window sash is 36 inches wide and 6 feet long, that’s the size you want to make the frame. If the sash does not have glass in it, you can replace the glass with fiberglass, polyethylene or a similar material.

It’s best to use sturdy 2 by 6’s, 2 by 8’s, or 2 by 10’s to construct the sides of the cold frame. It’s up to you, you can use new wood or to keep costs down by using what you have on hand or second grade lumber.

We built ours out of scrap wood (may not be the best looking but gets the job done and inexpensively) We then lined our wooden bed with some plastic (for added warmth because our wood slats were not the tight against each other) and punched holes all along the bottom for drainage. We made sure to build it on a slant and to the size of our salvaged window (found on the side of the road). We built ours with legs off the ground so we could add manure under it for additional heat. (You do not have to do this) We faced it south, added our compost and soil, and planted our seeds. With in a week or so later, they emerged!

Be Cautious of the Weather- If using the frames in the winter, insulation may be necessary when a sudden cold snap is expected. A simple method is to throw burlap sacks filled with leaves over the frame at night to protect against freezing, or bales of straw or hay may be stacked against the frame. During the transition from spring to summer, you want to make sure your plants do not get to hot or the plants will die. The most common way to avoid this problem is to simply prop open the lid with a stick a few hours a day.

If using the frames in the summer, extreme heat and intensive sunlight can damage plants. This can be avoided by shading with lath or old bamboo window blinds. Watering should be done early so that plants dry before dark, to help reduce disease problems.

Soil Preperation – prepare the soil to a depth of 12 to 18 inches. Mixing compost, processed manure, peat moss or other forms of organic humus with your existing soil to create a good fertile soil. Or, if your soil is quite poor you may want to start with a premixed commercial planting soil. You probably will find it necessary to renew the soil every year or two.

Go One Step Further– you may convert your cold frame to a Hot Bed. A manure-heated bed is the cheapest and easiest way for heating.

  • 1) dig out to 2 feet deep (deeper to add gravel for increased drainage);
  • 2) add an 18-inch layer of strawy horse manure (cow manure, or even rabbit waste);
  • 3) cover with 6 inches of good soil.

Best Vegetables to Grow in your Cold Frame leaf lettuce is undoubtedly the best crop to grow. It grows rapidly and abundantly in a cold frame. There’s nothing like fresh, nutritious greens, picked from your own garden during cold winter weather. Other crops that grow exceptional well in cold frames or hot beds are any greens, green onions, radishes,  chard, round or little finger carrots, and endive.

In addition to growing vegetables, a cold frame is an excellent place to start new seeds in springtime or to take cuttings in the fall and winter months of your favorite evergreen plants. In fact, the propagation of new plants, including rhododendrons, camellias, azaleas and other broad-leafed and conifer evergreens, can take place in a cold frame. The cuttings can be taken any time from September until early February. You will find the cuttings will root better with bottom heat (hotbed).

If you want to cut costs this winter and grow some of your own produce, now would be an excellent time to build your own cold frame or hot bed.

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