The Snap Pea Circus is in Town; Cucumbers in a Cage

Hello, friends! I’m sitting at my kitchen table, seeing how cloudy it is outside and occasionally stepping out to see how warm and humid it is. This past week was pretty brutal. The temps were in the 90’s and very humid. The sun baked all of the soaking wet dirt to a concrete-like hardness. Prior to last week, we’d been having high 70’s to low 80’s temps and rain almost every day or two. The sudden introduction to summer was a real shocker.

My pea plants, which were doing okay because of the nice cool weather were growing quite well. I put several bamboo poles up and strung cheap, brightly colored yarn between the poles, making a double-pass on the rows, so I could pinch the plants between the yarn and hold them upright. Peas are a cool-weather plant. The sudden thrust into summer practically broke their spirits. They were planted rather late, due to the weather and hubby’s work commitments. Then, the first planting of peas just…disappeared. Nothing grew, so we had to re-plant. Anyway, we finally have them growing, and flowering, but now we need to get them out of the direct sun and the heat. Thus, I broke out the brightly-colored party tablecloths I bought at the Dollar Tree. Remember when I used them to protect my fruit trees from that late frost in April? Well, I folded them neatly and stored them, in case they were needed again…and they were.

Pea plants and their trellises

Pea plants and their trellises

Homemade trellis for my pea plants

Homemade trellis for my pea plants

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I simply laid the bright tablecloths over the tops of the bamboo stakes and clothespinned them onto the poles.

 

pea plants with a sun canopy

pea plants with a sun canopy.

Looks like the circus is in town, doesn’t it?

The canopy is open at both ends that the wind is coming from, to allow a cooling breeze to pass under, yet keeps the peas out of the direct sun. I have it all the way to the ground on the western side, yet mostly open on the eastern side, to allow air flow.

Canopies are only partially open on the eastern side, as the sun is directly overhead.

Canopies are only partially open on the eastern side, as the sun is directly overhead.

Canopies are clothespinned on, so if it gets too windy, or a storm blows in, they can be quickly removed.

Canopies are clothespinned on, so if it gets too windy, or a storm blows in, they can be quickly removed.

open on the eastern side of the "tent"

open on the eastern side of the “tent”

Inside is still very well-lighted, but it's a diffused light

Inside is still very well-lighted, but it’s a diffused light

Plants look grateful to be out of the intense 90 degree sun

Plants look grateful to be out of the intense 90 degree sun

The tents allow for air flow, and light, yet not so much light as to burn the plants. I put the tent up over them around 10am, when the sun starts warming up. I let some of the dew that landed the night before, evaporate, prior to putting the canopy over them. The canopy stays up until about 4pm, when the sun is on the other side of the house and the peas are out of the direct light. On cloudy days, I leave the canopy off, of course.

Speaking of circus, my hubby and I planted a bunch of cucumbers. The plants have started to really spread, but I had promised him that if he let me plant cucumbers, I will keep them corralled. I had no idea how I would do it, but I figured I’ll figure something out…and I did.

My husband and I had those simple safety gates…you know the kind you put up in a doorway, then lower a ratchet-type bar in the center and the ends then tighten to block off the door? Well, my son at the age of two learned how to get through them, so we had to get a permanent gate; the type that attach to the wall. Since both of my kiddies have outgrown the gate, I needed something to do with them, as they were taking up space and getting in the way of everything.

Last week, I pulled the gates out of the garage, separated each section and turned the gate sideways. The gate had vertical bars, so I turned it sideways, creating horizontal bars and zip-tied the corners.

Come see the ferocious garden-choking cucumbers in a cage.

Come see the ferocious garden-choking cucumbers in a cage.

I zip-tied three of the corners and left the fourth corner open and used a piece of aluminum wire, which I twisted into an “S-” shape to use as a latch.

My cucumber cage's latch

My cucumber cage’s latch

The latch makes it easier to get in and out of the cage, to help the leaves latch onto the sides of the cage, or to pick the cucumbers, when it is time.

Happy cucumbers.

Happy cucumbers.

Any type of old safety gate can be used, or even if you have an old crib, which is no longer being used, or maybe a wire bed frame. Just make sure it is put up, so it will be stable. If it falls when someone leans on it, then it isn’t safe for the plants or your family. You wouldn’t want a member of your family nearby picking fruits and veggies for dinner and bumping into it, only to have the whole frame collapse on them.

I am already looking for seeds to use for next year. I found a seed company that is dedicated to non-GMO seeds and plants. They specialize in heirloom seeds, certified organic seeds; they sell poultry as well. The shipping, if you order over $20 worth is free; they stand behind their products and it’s a small family-run business. (No, I am not being paid by them to endorse their products. I do, however, strongly encourage you to look at their huge seed catalog, online.) The Sand Hill Preservation Center catalog has over 1600 rare and genetic seeds that you just won’t find at Wal-Mart or Rural King. I personally like the heirloom produce better. The taste of an heirloom tomato is strong and sweet. The taste hasn’t been bred out of them, in order to last longer on the vine, or to be a brighter color. The online website is http://www.sandhillpreservation.com. I’ve had to call a few times and they are always very friendly and answer any question I have about my garden. I strongly encourage you, before buying your seeds from a chain store and getting seeds that may have been genetically modified, you try some of Sand Hill’s seeds. Many of the seeds are cheaper than Burpee’s and you get more seeds. Get a few friends to get in with you. You’ll save on shipping, you can trade seeds and maybe try some seeds you wouldn’t have known existed. Best of all, you are supporting a family-run company.

Have you held a door for someone today? Maybe waved someone through at a four-way stop? Did you wait patiently while an elderly person slowly wheeled their wagon up to the check-out counter, rather than race past them? Have you started to recycle, if you didn’t do so already? Maybe take your neighbor’s trashcan out on trash day, when they forgot? Read a book aloud to your child? Have you sat down outside with your child for a picnic lunch and just watched to clouds roll by? Maybe as a surprise, serve just watermelon and other fruit for a nice summer dinner? Buy a few burgers and a drink from the dollar menu at McDonalds and hand the sack lunch to a homeless person on the street? Make a person smile today, because tomorrow is not guaranteed. Help someone today, for you never know if you may be the one in need in the future.

Until next time, my friends, I wish you all peace and happiness and a happy harvest!

Passive Iced Coffee

Good morning everyone! I hope you all are doing well. I’ve been off the net for the past few weeks as I try to get my garden up and running; sort through old clothes the kiddies have outgrown and get them ready for donation and try to “remodel” my kitchen. I put the “remodel” in parentheses, because it means taking cabinets down and putting them in a different arrangement. We haven’t removed any yet, save two, which I have removed the doors and scrubbing them with some shellac remover. My goal is to paint the cabinets, since we cannot afford to go out and purchase several thousand dollars worth of cabinets. “Work with what you have!” Hopefully by changing the height of some cabinets, adding a shelf or two, it will make a difference.

While doing  all of this, I have a nice glass of iced coffee beside me. This morning’s glass of iced coffee was done the way most of us do…heat up your water, add the coffee, then add ice. I need my coffee each morning. Even my kids tell each other, “Don’t talk to mommy until she has had her second cup of coffee.” Well, sometimes with all of the rushing around in the mornings, I don’t get to make my coffee before the electric is shut off. Then I stumble around, trying to find a can of Pepsi to get me going or I just have the kids lead me around by the hand, because I’m unable to open my eyes beyond half-mast. By 0730, regardless if I have coffee or not, my body will be awake enough to drive my son to school and hold a halfway coherent conversation with his teacher and other moms. You might say, “Well, geez, Jen, just turn the power on and make the coffee!” Sure, I can do that…and what message and I sending to my kids? To myself? I tell my kids the power is being shut off in ten minutes, so they better be in the kitchen ready for breakfast, or else they will have cold cereal, rather than eggs and toast, or oatmeal. When they keep goofing off and arrive twelve minutes later to cold cereal, they realize they missed out. The rules are, the power is shut off at 0630. If you get to the kitchen on time, you get a nice breakfast. There are rules and they need to be followed. What message am I sending, when they cannot have what they want for breakfast, because they were slacking, meanwhile, I turn the power on for myself? I’m teaching them that rules don’t apply to everyone. So, the kids see that if mommy hits the snooze on her cell phone alarm once too many times, mommy doesn’t get coffee. Rules apply to everyone and my kids see that I will play by the rules. They abide by the law, “Get up, dressed, beds made and in the kitchen by 0615, and BOTH kids need to be in the kitchen, not just one, to have a hot breakfast.” This also teaches them self-responsibility and accountability. Life isn’t always about what YOU have accomplished. In school and work, sometimes there will be group projects. Even factory work depends on group work. I can’t get my piecework done, until you are finished processing your part and she can’t finish her work, until I am finished with the piece. In college, sometimes you have group projects. One person doesn’t pull their weight, the whole project can go down the tubes. My son knows he has to get up, wake up his baby sister; (who isn’t exactly a baby, but four years old) get dressed; make his bed; assist his sister in making her bed; tell her if her clothes are on backwards (she will dress herself, however the shirts are often backwards.) and then come into the kitchen for breakfast. He is accountable for her and she is accountable for him. If he starts playing around, swinging from the bunk bed, or running around with a pair of socks on his hands and underwear on his head, she knows it will set them both back and she will remind him that they won’t get breakfast if they are late. Life lessons can be taught in so many ways.

Anyway, if I am arguing with the kids, trying to get them up; trying to find a pair of pants that my son hasn’t torn the knees out of; finding him a pair and having him catch his foot in the hem and looking for another pair; trying to find shoes for him that aren’t muddy, etc. and don’t have time to make my coffee, or my automatic coffee maker wasn’t set, I usually have to go without. I read, recently about Thai iced coffee. It’s basically cold-brewed coffee. The blog was http://noshon.it/blog/2013/08/how-to-make-the-best-cold-brew-iced-coffee/

It explained how to make coffee, without using electricity, for iced coffee. Basically, using a glass jar (do not use plastic or metal; plastic can harbor flavors of foods that were previously housed in that jar and metal will give it a bad taste) like a mason jar or an old mayonnaise jar, put twice as much coffee in, as you would per six ounces of water. So if you normally use two tablespoons per six ounces of water, you would use four. The reason behind this is when you add your ice, it will be diluted. I love the idea of being able to make my coffee without needing electric. The off-the-grid idea was the driving force in attempting this.

My husband does a great deal of traveling for work and often the hotel rooms his work section puts him up in, have those small traveler’s coffee pots. My husband doesn’t drink coffee often (how he survives, is a mystery to me) so he grabs the packets in the room and packs them up for me to use at home. These are the ones I will be using for my passive coffee. I grabbed an old glass jar, added my cold water and the coffee, then let it sit on the table. It takes about twelve to eighteen hours to make, leaving the bitterness behind and bringing forth only the rich flavor of coffee.

Once the coffee is done, you strain it through a coffee filter that you have laid out in a small strainer, or you can use several layers of cheesecloth, add a bit of milk or sweetened condensed milk, some ice and you have a great glass of iced coffee. I will be using my coffee filter for this, so I can toss my used grounds around my blueberry bush and the filter itself can go into the compost heap. This coffee will keep for a week in the refrigerator. I am definitely looking forward to trying this method. I already make sun-brewed tea for my husband, so now I can have my cold-brewed coffee as well.

My favorite thing about this is, to me, it’s another way of staying off the grid. I can still have my coffee and have my electric off at the same time.

Have you helped another person out today? Held the door for someone? Paid the toll for the car behind you? Have you given a smile to someone, or called an old friend? When was the last time you waved at your neighbors on your block, or told your spouse you love them? Not every day is guaranteed. You could be living out your last few hours right now. What would people remember you for, when your name is mentioned? Would your name conjure up smiles and thoughts of a person who was never too busy to lend a hand? Someone who put others first? Would they reminisce about the time you bought a homeless person lunch, or gave a bag of groceries to the food pantry? When people spoke your name, would there be a long line of people wanting to speak about the things you did for them? What do you WANT to be remembered for? What will they ACTUALLY remember?

 

Gardening to save money part 3

Good evening everyone! I hope everyone is doing well and enjoying that springtime has definitely decided to stay. Last Saturday night as I was looking out the window, I saw my first firefly! Yes, spring and warm weather is here!

We have most of our garden in the ground. This means the Roma tomatoes; red cabbage; beets; carrots; radishes; Parris Island Cos lettuce (Parris Island species, because Parris Island is where I was forged into a Marine! Ooh rah!!) and peas. The bush beans, pickling cucumbers and eggplant go in this weekend, as well as my jalapeno and sweet peppers. I just turned over another area, which will be for my pumpkins, the sugar pie kind. In containers, I have rhubarb; red cabbage; red, white and yellow onions (cabbage and onions were grown from stumps or cores) garlic (which I intend to preserve.) I will be sprinkling the seeds for my basil amongst my tomato plants and also marigold seeds. Basil is a companion plant to tomato plants.  Busy, busy, busy!

Potato barrel

Potato barrel

Potato barrel #2

Potato barrel #2

Potato barrel #3

Potato barrel #3

Potato barrel #4

Potato barrel #4

My potato barrels are actually old trashcans

My potato barrels are actually old trashcans

I am not an extremely talented person. My dad isn’t MacGyver and my mom wasn’t the Good Fairy Glenda. I learned all of these gardening things by reading and reading and checking out books, and reading, talking to people (especially ones from other countries, who have methods which aren’t often used here in the States, because it’s easier to do it the usual way.) Some of my methods I am learning as I go and they aren’t working. I adapt. We are on a severely limited income, so many of these ways, besides being fun, re-use items that would usually go into the trash. I love the challenge and to see that my way to get around the problem actually works…well, there is no better feeling. My kids love running to me, “Mommy! Here’s another toilet paper roll! We need it for the garden!” My kids love carrying the outer leaves from the lettuce heads, the carrot tops and cucumber ends from salads we make, in a huge bowl to throw in the compost heap. Old newspapers are laid out over the garden. Grass clippings from when hubby mows the grass, my kids sprinkle over the compost. The stand by and watch as I turn the whole mess over. (I do it the easy way: I use a manure fork and scoopful by scoopful, move it from one spot to another, about three feet away.) Sawdust from all of the wood we are cutting up for firewood is picked up and packed into small buckets for them to run back and forth: fill, run to the compost, sprinkle it, run back to the sawdust pile, re-fill. It’s a task they don’t get tired of.

Last weekend, noticing that my blueberry bush was looking a little reddish, I remembered that reddish leaves show that the soil lacks acid. So, I poured about a half-cup of white vinegar into about a gallon of water, and watered the bush. It looks a bit better now. Still reddish, but the leaves look a bit perkier.

Gardening is a tough job. It’s a labor of love. While everyone is watching television, or playing video games, we are outside pulling weeds; looking up bugs we find in the garden to see if the insect is a “keeper” or a “squasher.” We try to lure beneficial insects to the garden, because I don’t want to use any pesticides. I want to ask YumYum to go out and pick me ten tomatoes, and not worry if he devours two tomatoes, during his mission. I want to pull cherries off of the tree and let my little girl savor the tartness, without saying ” Ooh, no no. We have to wash these first.” I want to enjoy the fruits of our labor and if I have to share some with a few insects, so be it. But my kids are seeing that spraying is not always the answer, especially when insects are becoming more and more immune to the pesticides used, which means we need to develop stronger ones. No, not here. My kids watch me pull apart the tent caterpillar nest and dump the caterpillars into water with a squirt of Dawn dishwashing soap. (I use Dawn for my plants, because it’s environmentally safe.) They see and learn. Our greatest gift we can give our kids is a thirst and desire for learning.

What activity have you done with your child this week? Activity means “active” meaning “interacting” with your child. Play ball? Go for a walk? Pull weeds together? Did you perhaps cook dinner together, with you cooking at the stove while the child sets the table and just talk? How about walk around the house with a garbage bag and collect five items from each room to throw away or donate? They sound like little things, but to a child, they mean the world.

Container gardening

Container gardening

Focus on your blessings

This is a re-post from my Facebook status, replying when someone had commented how much easier it is to just turn up the thermostat when cold, instead of chopping wood for my woodstove; just go buy groceries, rather than wasting time growing my own garden.

Please know, that when I talk about how aching and sore I am from chopping wood, pulling weeds, tilling, planting, dying from the heat while canning, I am not complaining. Well, I am, but not exactly. I am 43 years old. I’m female. I’ve done 10 years in the military, which means I have the joints of a 53-58 year old. But I can look at all of that wood and say, “Gee, if we have another ice storm, like in 2006, where we lost power for over 2 weeks with sub-zero temps, and folks all over our neighborhood had pipes bursting from no heat, we’ll be fine.” My mom, at age 43 could never have chopped wood for over 6 consecutive hours. Four years ago, I was 3 or 4 months pregnant with Beaker, and I carried 10 shingles at a time, up and down my ladder, 72 bundles of architectural shingles…and put my own roof on my house. I did it, without a nail gun. That means, by hand, with a hammer and  using a single nail at a time. Sure, it would have been easier to call someone and pay $8000 for it. But I don’t want my kids to think that they need to call someone for everything. My delicate daughter sees her mommy out, chopping wood, lifting huge logs, using a chainsaw and learns she is not limited because she is a girl. I tell the kids of our military time: 10 mile road marches, with a pack and rifle; show them pictures of mommy wrapping C-4 explosives in the military and they know that they can do this, too. My daughter watches me climb a tree, to get my son’s cat down and learns that mommy doesn’t say, “I can’t. I’m too old. ” My son sits on the floor with me in the kitchen, sweating rivers, while helping me peel tomatoes for canning, that HE handpicked from the garden and learns that cooking is a hot, tedious job and not just for women. He remembered picking the peaches last year, as I opened up a jar of my canned peaches. He learns that even at his age, he is NEEDED. When we used to go camping as kids, up in the Catskills, I’d moan that I was missing Miami Vice. My brother, Adam, would whine that the second part to Airwolf was on and he was missing it. My youngest brother, Christopher, would say, “Knight Rider is on and we aren’t there to see if KITT gets out of that trap.” My dad was born and raised in Brooklyn, like my mom. My dad tried to learn ways to not depend on the city and government for everything; show us how to do without luxuries like TV, electric, and learn about cooking over a fire…but we kids were too citified, ourselves. We missed our beds, electric, TV and White Castles. My kids are learning the different types of woodpeckers; how to make their own suet to feed them. They feel pride from picking the tomatoes we grow. They are learning how to entertain themselves. Yesterday, we were outside the entire day. YumYum showed Beaker what dandelions are, how to plant them (planted them in the abandoned house next door’s yard…not my yard). He showed her a ladybug he’d caught and told her what they eat. He showed her a jonquil he’d picked and explained how bees eat the nectar. He showed her a chunk of bark and the holes, telling her they were made by a woodpecker looking for bugs. No television, no VCR for the kids, the entire weekend. My kids are not limited by electric. My kids know we are very short on money. They learn to not look down on another child who wears patches on their pants or hand-me-downs. They are learning, as all of us military people have, to make-do. To build what you need, by scrounging. I deployed to Bosnia, for two tours. The first tour, in 1995, we had nothing, but built what was needed. The second deployment, in 1997, to Bosnia, the medics we relieved when jumping into that country, left behind MRE bureaus; bookcases made with rocks and boards; exercise equipment made from sandbags, rope, and cans from the chowhall. We were proud, because we had nothing, but we still managed to live for a year, comfortably, in a tent. To many, eating vanilla pudding brings back memories of childhood. It brings to my mind of stealing a giant can from the chowhall, opening it with my John Wayne (P-38) and gorging on it with my two best girlfriends in our tent. We had close to nothing, but we shared everything we did. Anyway, it’s not whining, the talk of aching and stiffness…it’s pride. I have spent the whole weekend with my kids. If I worked all weekend, yeah, we’d sort of have more money…but would we? My pay would be going to childcare, heating bills, electric bills, processed food. My kids are having picnics now, drinking from garden hoses, learning to occupy themselves. As kids, did we watch TV all day, and play video games? Did we eat lots of fast food? No. Our moms chased us outside. We ate home cooked meals as a family. We did without. We walked or biked to the store. Eating at McDonald’s was a treat. We grew up stronger, because of it. My kids are learning their life doesn’t come out of a light socket. They see beauty watching the wrens eat the bread or popcorn on the ground. The notice the deep blue sky, the tiny buds on my trees. They are learning they are not limited by age or gender. No, it’s not kvetching…it’s pride. I’m more active at 43, than my mom at 23. My neighbor said he’s never seen a woman chop wood; never heard of a woman who put on her own roof. My kids see that daddy has a broken chainsaw, so mommy goes to the library to get books on small engine repair to fix it. Sure, I can pay $80 to get it fixed, but my kids are seeing knowledge is power. How many kids can say, “My mommy is fixing a chainsaw?” How many kids feel it’s a treat to watch a movie on the VCR? It’s easier to pay for stuff, but is it better? Isn’t a home- cooked meal by your mom tastier? Don’t you appreciate the sacrifice of her cooking all day, Sunday, for a family meal? My kids see and appreciate the little things. Kvetching? No…I’m bragging. I know it’s wrong to brag, but I’m proud. My family has no fears of being unable to cope, if a storm knocks out power for a few weeks. No money for gas? Well, we’ll walk to the store and bring the wagon. Hungry between meals? No potato chips in the house…go in the garden and pick a tomato. No money for cable? Watch the birds; compare leaves; look for three different types of butterflies and identify them. Sorry if it’s coming across poorly. I grew up with money, but was reminded, “Ladies don’t do that.” I hated being a girl. My kids won’t hate themselves or feel they are limited.

My son is enthralled watching the green beans we planted in a huge pot, growing day by day. The bottom part of a bunch of celery is growing…and he is amazed. The lettuce cores are turning bright green and standing up. To him, this is magic .I tell people that I appreciate it when they give me toys for my kids, but please no movies, no battery-operated stuff. People don’t understand, or maybe they don’t believe me. Maybe they feel my kids are deprived if the push-truck they have doesn’t make “Grrrrrrr” noises. My kids play with the battery-operated toys for a bit and then forget and leave them on. The battery runs out and then they try and use it without the batteries, because I’m not spending $40 month on batteries. Sometimes, the imagination takes over and the item will work. Sometimes, it can’t be hand-pushed and NEEDS a battery. The toy then gets tossed in a corner and eventually my kids put it into a box to be donated to Santa Claus. (I told my kids their toys and clothes go to Santa Claus, who fixes them, paints them and gives them to kids. They love the idea of helping Santa. The Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy and the Birthday Bunny do the same thing…take used toys and refurbishes them  😉

Anyway, I just wanted to get this off of my chest. Don’t focus on what you don’t have; glory in what you do! You don’t have a job? Neither do I. Enjoy the little things, like not having to set an alarm in the mornings, or not needing to wear uncomfortable shoes for work. Live in an apartment? You have a roof over your head. No money to go out for Mother’s
Day or your anniversary? Light a few candles, spread a blanket on the floor and have a picnic. Two “special” dinners I made for my husband to celebrate were with scraps I had on hand. One was a reunion dinner for he and I, when I had first returned from an 11-month deployment. I’d gone shopping and bought the backbone of lamb. I was thinking it would be like ribs, but cheaper. I marinated it for a day, broiled it niceley…but there was no meat on it. My husband felt horrible and tried to crack it in half, saying how delicious the marinade was. I’d stopped by a cornfield near our apartment (we lived in Germany) and plucked about a half-dozen ears of corn. I boiled them up, added butter and sugar…and they were dry and grainy. I didn’t know it wasn’t “people” corn, but corn for animals, as feed. Lastly, the wine I had, wasn’t wine anymore but turning to vinegar. The whole meal was ruined. Don laughed and tried to cheer me up, while I cried. Then we snuggled up and watched a movie on the VCR. He still remembers how hard I’d worked to make everything perfect…and to him, it was. The second holiday was our first New Year’s Eve here in the States, in our own house. I’d expected lots of restaurants to be open around 8PM. Little did I know that here in Southwestern Illinois, on New Year’s Eve and most holidays, the restaurants would all be closed, as would the supermarkets. We returned home and Don asked me what was for dinner. In desperation, I opened our almost empty refigerator and pulled a loaf of Italian bread out of the freezer. It had gone stale, and I’d planned to make it into bread crumbs or feed the geese at the local park. I cut the loaf into thick slices, opened a can of diced tomatoes. I toasted the stale bread, drizzled olive oil on it, spooned the tomatoes and sprinkled some parmesan cheese on top. He loved it! That was our dinner. I could have sat there, angry, or bemoaning what we did not have, but instead I turned it around. My ruined dinner from my redeployment back turned into a cozy night watching a movie, then a long walk at midnight around the city we lived in.

Focus on what you do have. How many folks are looking at he things you take for granted, and wishing they had what you do?

Saving the fruit trees from freezing

Hi everyone and Happy Tax Day! Yeah, I know, no one is happy on tax day except the federal government, but I still want to wish you all a good day. This past weekend, here in Southwestern Illinois was in the 80’s, breezy, sunny and just downright glorious. Monday morning was cold, rainy, windy and just yucky. High was almost 40 degrees. Several times, it sounded like sleet, rather than rain, falling. My fruit trees were budding; my peach tree that I purchased from Wal-Mart last summer, had three pink blooms on it. My struggling cherry tree finally decided to bud out. Then I get an alert on my phone that snow was expected and temps in the mid-20’s, for Monday night. So much for watching the lunar eclipse! So much for my fruit trees! Well, an old friend from boot camp, Katrina, called and reminded me to cover the trees, and if I couldn’t cover them, to make sure I get out there with a hose and spray the trees down before the sun hit the leaves, with the frost on them. She said the sun will burn the leaves, but if I spray them down, before the sun rises, they will be okay. I figured I’d try to cover them and if it was too windy, or the trees were too delicate for a covering, I’d spray them.

Now I know it’s too late for this year, but keep this in mind for next spring:

I ran to my local Dollar Tree and purchased ten cheap vinyl tablecloths. They are the type you use for a kid’s birthday party. I bought the jumbo sized ones; I think they are 54 inches by 108 inches. I only have four trees and three are rather small, but in case one got ripped, or I needed more than two per tree, I wanted extra. I bought the dark-colored ones, so even though it’s cold and cloudy, the dark tablecloths would absorb a little bit of sun and warm the trees. I didn’t want to tape the covers, because I hope to re-use them. So, I clothes-pinned several together to make a larger one and draped it over my peach tree, with a great deal of help from my tall husband. I had read that if the weather is going to be very cold, another thing to help keep your plants from freezing is to cloak them, but ensure the drape goes all the way to the ground. Put a bucket of very hot water under the drape. The hot water will help humidify the air as well as warm it, which will give your plants a little extra help. Another method, my friend, Eve, mentioned is to put Christmas lights over the trees, which give a bit of warmth. We don’t have any light sockets in the back of the house and Don vetoed the idea of a bunch of extension cords stretching from the garage to the trees, because of the wind and rain (I know they have outside extension cords, but the back door to the garage would have to remain open for the cords, which means we could be robbed, or rain could blow into the socket. So, anyway, I went for the cheap tablecloths. Garbage bags work well, also, but I’d have to tape a bunch together, or cut them open and then they aren’t nearly as large as the tablecloths.

My peach tree covered with four large plastic tablecloths.

My peach tree covered with four large plastic tablecloths.

My two apple trees in the front yard, draped with tablecloths

My two apple trees in the front yard, draped with tablecloths

I put my head under the peach one, to see how my blossoms fared, with the wind and stuff. It was nice and toasty warm under the drape. I know it’s supposed to reach mid-40’s today, then below freezing again, so I’m just going to leave the drapes on for the day. As cold and windy as it is, I don’t think there will be a great deal of pollinators buzzing around for the peach blossoms. Tomorrow the temps return to the 60’s, so I can remove them, then.

I realize this isn’t a huge revelation, using tablecloths which are larger than garbage bags, but in case someone hasn’t thought of using them, perhaps it may help them.

This Spring, as you are cleaning, how about going through your cabinets and look for canned goods that are still within the expiration date, that you probably won’t use in the next two or three months and donate them to a food pantry? Got too many seeds to plant this year? How about going to your social media of choice, like Facebook or Twitter and asking if anyone local would like to swap seeds? This is a time of renewal, so how about renewing people’s faith in each other? We are all going through a struggle; some are able to be seen and other struggles are internal. Some people struggle with staying away from the bottle or memories of a lost loved one. Some struggle feeding their families and wonder where next month’s rent is going to come from, while others struggle with being haunted by things they experienced while serving our country. Some of us are going through a divorce or the loss of a child. We can help each other to make it through these things by giving people a shoulder to cry on; an ear for them to bend. When someone posts a rant about something on social media, rather than calling them a troll, think about what crisis did that person experience to make them have a hard heart. Perhaps volunteer, even two or three hours a month on a crisis hotline, or at a soup kitchen or animal shelter. Go through the nice dress clothes you have and will never fit again and donate them to a woman’s shelter in your area. These women have escaped a life of abuse and are trying to get their life together. Nice clothes for an interview would help them get their life back. Perhaps buy a pack of cards at the dollar store and write encouraging notes in them and leave one in the bathroom at Walmart; on a water fountain at the mall; perhaps at a table in the food court. Just write, “I know times are hard, but you can make yourself better. You’ve been through worse things. Stay strong for yourself and the ones who love you.”

I mentioned to a friend, yesterday, how some of my loved ones don’t quite understand my way of living: using a woodstove; canning; growing a garden; hanging up clothes to dry and she said, “You do put these things out in public for everyone to see,” and she’s right…I do. But I don’t do it to be teased or ostracized, but to help others. Perhaps someone is struggling along, thinking how bad they have life. Then, they read my posts and say, “Well, we don’t have it near as bad as her,” and feel better about themselves. Then, I have helped someone and my goal has been accomplished. Maybe someone is newly divorced or widowed and they aren’t sure how to make ends meet.  Maybe my posts help them to see around corners or ways to survive they never even thought of. Again, my posts have helped another. We don’t have to donate a million dollars to a charity to have a legacy. Your legacy can start with one person that you help overcome an obstacle.

What’s YOUR legacy?

 

Gardening to save money Pt 2 (potatoes)

Hello, my friends! I hope you all are well. Hopefully most of us have seen a bit of green in our yard. Yesterday as I was raking, I saw a glimpse of yellow; it was a crocus that had bloomed. I have three that have bloomed, so SPRING IS HERE!! Sure, a winter storm is expected on Sunday, with snow and freezing rain, but I am not concerned. My plants are coming back to life!

First crocus of the year!

First crocus of the year!

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My tulips

My tulips

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I am moving a huge pile of leaves we had in the front yard, to our backyard garden. As I’d mentioned in an earlier posting, we “borrowed” the leaves from several neighbors (with their permission) and had a huge pile in the front for the kids (YumYum, Beaker and my hubby) to play around in. Nothing says “autumn” like a pile of leaves to jump in. Since we had the leaves from three different yards AND ours…well, that’s a lot of leaves. The leaves were crunched up as everyone played in them, then winter and the snow further crunched and composted them, so now I am getting these wet, decaying leaves to cover the garden area with. When we rototill the area, the leaves will be rototilled under the ground. Anyway, I’ve been preparing my list of possible veggies to grow and I’ve been asking hubby if we can grow potatoes. “No, they take up too much room and you can never find all of them. They also eat all of the nutrients.” Fine. No potatoes in the garden. However, what about in a cat food bag?

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cat food bags are woven strips of plastic...very strong.

cat food bags are woven strips of plastic…very strong.

I recently read that potatoes do suck a great deal of nutrients from the ground, and are prone to some diseases, like brown scab. Once you get some types of diseases in the ground, you may as well have salted the area, since you can never grow stuff there again. I would love to grow potatoes, but I am not willing to sacrifice my garden for them. Therefore, I am going to grow them in the plastic bags from my cat food.

I buy the large bags of cat food for my critters. The plastic bags are woven plastic strips…very strong. Now I have read how you can use black trash bags to grow potatoes in, but I think the bags would split open from the weight of the dirt; sticks poking it, etc. I know I have a hard time running to the trashcan outside with a large garbage bag. Also, it seems wasteful to me, to use up plastic garbage bags for this. If you have a pet or a friend who has a pet, ask for their empty plastic food bags. Burlap sacks can be used, feed bags, or any type of sack you have on hand. No sack? If you can get your hands on a few old tires, I have read you can use those. Lay the tire flat on the ground and fill the center with dirt and mulch. Put your seed potatoes in the center and cover. As the potato plant grows, you add another tire on top. Fill it with dirt and more seed potatoes. Keep going until they are four tires high. A word of caution: Numerous online forums state to use your potatoes from the grocery store that have sprouted eyes. I wouldn’t, personally, since those will often be infected with brown scab. Just go get seed potatoes from your store.

How to do it in a cat food bag? Well, first with a sharp pair of scissors, poke numerous holes in the bottom of the bag and about 1/3 of the way up the sides. Not a lot of holes and not huge ones; just to help with drainage. Next, bring the empty bag to the area you plan to grow them at. Do this first, so you don’t fill the bag up, then have to drag it to the area you plan to grow it. Add about six to eight inches of soil and some compost at the bottom of the bag. If using a 22 pound bag, use no more than 3 pieces of seed potato. That’s right…not ten or fifteen as some sites I’ve read stated. Potatoes are greedy little buggers. They will suck the nutrition from other potatoes, to feed themselves. If you get over-ambitious and plant 15 potato pieces in one 30-gallon garbage bag, as I’ve read stated on one particular site, then you will wind up with a handful of potatoes that are the size of a large marble. Just save your large feed bags, and plant two or maybe three PIECES per bag. Roll the bag down, about halfway. Put the dirt and compost in. Lay your seed potato on the six inches of dirt, the side with the most “eyes” or longest “eyes” facing up and gently cover with dirt, for a few inches. Water, but don’t make them soggy. As the plant grows, add more dirt and compost to cover most of the green plant, but leave an inch aboveground. Unroll the bag and continue to fill the bag until you reach about two inches from the top of the bag. Let the plant grow, flower and die off.After the plant itself has died off, dig up the potato, by cutting the sides of the bag and permit the potatoes to dry for a day.

I really want to try this. Several sites have said that potatoes can grow in just straw…no dirt, just straw. Since we have so many dry leaves, I’m going to attempt this with some organic potatoes in my cat food bags. Since beans fix nitrogen in the soil and potatoes drain the soil of nitrogen, I was trying to see if I could plant beans on top of the potato bag, but since the potato has to keep being buried, so it will branch out and create more potatoes, the bean plant would be buried. Bummer.

I will keep you all posted on how this turns out. I am new to much of this gardening, beyond growing tomatoes. On Long Island, where I grew up, many of our dads had a small crop of tomato plants growing in the backyard. Not a lot…maybe three or four plants. Just enough for making sandwiches with or a salad. Here, in Illinois, we are using a garden to offset our grocery bill and summer entertainment for the kids. If I am still unemployed throughout the summer, my kids won’t be attending summer camp, because we cannot afford it, but also, I’ll be home! Why send them away for someone else to watch them? The kids are very psyched up to have such a large garden and are looking rather closely in the grocery stores for vegetables they may like to grow for ourselves. This garden is turning into a learning opportunity for the kids, as well as myself and hubby. This also is bringing us closer, as we all work together, knowing we need each other’s help if we are to get this all done. My son is talking about making sandwiches and selling them with the jams I plan to make with the fruit from our fruit trees and from a local “pick-your-own” farm.

I have enclosed a link for a garden in a bucket, which I found. It looks easy enough and small enough, that even if you just have a fire escape, you can grow veggies for your salad. We have several cat litter buckets, which once the litter is used up, my kids store their blocks or toys in. To discover they can grow their own garden in…well, now that’s pretty nifty. Next week is spring break for my son. We will be gathering our materials then.

Do you have any ideas for small gardens? My family and I don’t spray for bugs, because my son, YumYum and I like to just pick the fruit (or veggie) wipe it off, pick off any bugs and eat it. For slug control (this may sound gross, but the kids loved it) I gave my son a cup. I picked several slugs off my iris plants and placed them into my cup and then poured beer over them to drown them. He and his little sister then carried their cups to me, as they picked the slugs off, and I put them into my cup. We did this each morning before they left for daycare and I went to work. It kept them busy for the last 20 minutes before we left; helped reduce the slug population and they learned about insect control without using dangerous chemicals. I also crushed my eggshells and threw them into the garden. The slugs don’t like to crawl over the eggshells and the birds ate the slugs and eggshells. We did that most of last summer, since the early mornings were so damp, the slugs were really multiplying. Such fun things my kids and I do for cheap entertainment!

Don’t let today pass by without doing something to bring hope to another person’s life. Give a dollar to the donation can at your local gas station; buy a pizza and ask that they deliver it to your local police station or fire station. Buy a dozen doughnuts or bagels and send it to your child’s school office. On a night that you aren’t busy with work, stop by your local library and read aloud a few popular children’s books and record it. Send the recording to your local children’s hospital for children. Buy a bag of dog or cat food and donate it to your local animal shelter. Short on funds? Then volunteer to be a socializer for the animals at the shelter. You get to play with the pets, walk them, feed them, cuddle with them and you don’t have to pay a dime for it. Spend a weekend volunteering at your local food pantry. Donate blood. Donate a smile. Give someone a reason to smile today. Until we meet again, my family and friends, I wish you peace.

Starting seeds cheaply

Good morning friends! I am trying to find a post I made and published accidentally before it was finished; then I finished the post and somehow it was deleted. Not cool, Mr. Computer. Not cool at all!

Oh well. Tuesday here in southern Illinois was gorgeous. Really, really nice. Blue sky, temps in the mid-70’s and my little Beaker at my side. She stayed home from daycare, because she had a fever two days before and wasn’t sleeping well, because she was so congested. So for two days, she was my shadow. I know it’s a bit early to be starting seeds for the garden, but I’m hoping to get everything ready, so at the first hint of warmth, the seeds will have a head start on growing. Since the woodstove will be retired (hopefully) for the season, Beaker and I grabbed a bunch of the toilet paper tubes we had reserved for making DIY starter logs. (If you are curious about that, I put the link here for you: https://mommyjen365.wordpress.com/2014/02/20/diy-starter-logs-for-fireplaces-and-woodstoves/   ) So armed with our seed packets, tubes, roll of toilet paper, cardboard egg cartons and potting soil, we were ready.

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First, poke a hole in the bottom of each egg holder. Use a sharp pencil, or the pointed end of the scissors or a knife. Not a huge hole; just enough to aid water in draining and to help the roots expand easier. Separate the lid of the carton from the bottom. Put a few tablespoons of potting soil into each egg cup and shake it gently to level the dirt.

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For the toilet paper tubes, cut each one in half, so you have two short tubes.

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A large leaf can also be used in the tube. The idea is to make it easy for the growing plant to push through the bottom of the biodegradable tube.

A large leaf can also be used in the tube. The idea is to make it easy for the growing plant to push through the bottom of the biodegradable tube.

Take a single square of toilet paper and poke it into the tube, so it acts like a plug. Don’t wad it up; just lay the single square over the top of the tube opening, and gently use your finger to push it into the tube. You can also use a large leaf or a few pliable smaller leaves. Hold the tube in your palm with the toilet paper plug against your palm on the bottom and gently spoon soil into the tube, leaving approximately a half-inch space from the top.

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Put the tube into a sturdy container, standing up. I used the plastic containers I’ve saved from when I buy chopped meat. I wash it out thoroughly, scrape the clear plastic wrap from the top and use them for my garden. They are sturdy and free. Fill each tube, standing them up, so they support each other in the container. After filling with dirt, be careful when you transfer it to the container, from your hand, so the “plug” doesn’t fall out and your dirt spills out. Don’t pack the dirt in the tube, either. Just spoon it in, give a shake while supporting the bottom, and spoon in more soil.

Dollar store "under the bed" storage container is now a cheap, portable greenhouse.

Dollar store “under the bed” storage container is now a cheap, portable greenhouse.

I needed a greenhouse, but no way can we afford it, so at the dollar store I found a zip-up “under the bed” storage container for storing blankets or other junk. The item is collapsible, the sides and bottom are a cheap fiber, so excess water can drain out. The top is made of clear plastic. It’s perfect to use as a cheap, portable greenhouse. I used a few pots that were tall enough to hold the plastic off of the egg crates, in the corners.

I then put the seeds into the individual egg holders and toilet paper tubes. This year I am attempting to grow Roma tomatoes; Brandywine Pink tomatoes; jalapeno peppers; sweet peppers and mixed peppers. These all need individual containers, so I use the egg carton container bottoms and toilet paper tubes for these. In the lids, I cover it with potting soil (if the openings are large, you can lay a single square of toilet paper over the openings and cover it with dirt. Then scatter the seeds that you can use a flat for, like marigold seeds. Once you have your seeds planted the correct depth, and lightly covered with soil, support the bottom and press out any air pockets. On the end of the carton, make sure you write what the seeds are, date planted and approximate days until maturity. When I cut apart the lid from the bottom of the carton, I leave the tabs on, which are used to secure the carton shut. I write on the tab the information I need.

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Afterwards, use a garden house set to “mist” and give those seeds a good watering. Don’t dump water on it, because those seeds will just float up to the service and float off. Use a good heavy mist and water the containers. Wait a few minutes and mist heavily again. Wait a few minutes, which is giving the soil a chance to drink in the water and mist a third time.

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Once the seeds are nicely watered, zip up the top of the “greenhouse.” It’s handy to slide a board or several sturdy large pieces of cardboard underneath the entire greenhouse, after zipping it closed, to hold it steady as you transport it to the place you want it at. NOTE: If using cardboard, Don’t have the cardboard striations all going in the same direction. This means, alternate the striations. Use two or three pieces and alternate the direction, so they don’t all fold on each other, together. Supporting the bottom, carefully bring the greenhouse to the area you are using. Ensure it gets plenty of sun and is sheltered from wind and cold.

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Water the plants, with the hose set on mist, at least twice a day. Since the greenhouse is made of fiber, water will not collect in the bottom of it, and turn moldy or rot the seeds. The seedlings will emerge from the top, but the edges of the tube will protect the newly emerged seedlings from the top of the greenhouse.

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When the seedlings are ready to be planted in the soil, dig a hole slightly larger than the tube and plant the whole tube into the soil. (Do not plant the plastic container that you had the tubes standing in, of course.) The cardboard will disintegrate. The egg carton cups can be cut or pulled apart, to create a separate biodegradable pot, for each seedling. Again, just dig a hole and plant the entire egg cup. The cardboard will help protect the roots from the colder soil and will add nutrients to the soil. The flats can be planted as is; just dig a shallow trench and place the egg carton lid into the trench. After planting your seedlings, water them thoroughly, and protect them from any extreme temperatures. If a sudden frost should be possible, cut open several large, black garbage bags, place short stakes in the garden so the plastic doesn’t lay directly on the seedlings and break their delicate stems, and lay the garbage bag over the seedlings. Anchor the edges, so a breeze doesn’t blow the plastic back.

Congratulations, you have your garden ready for almost pennies!!!  You are using stuff from around the house that would normally go into the trash or recycling. The Jiffy cardboard pots cost about $4 for a dozen and then you have to pay more if you want the plastic “greenhouse.” For two dozen little pots, with the greenhouse, I’ve seen them selling for over $17. The ones we just made are free. You can buy a huge 20 pound bag of Miracle Gro potting soil for $4. The dollar store greenhouse fits more flower pots and can be hosed down, dried on the clothesline and stored for next year.

I’m looking at the junk mail we get and wondering if I can tear up the paper, soak it in water with added nutrients so it becomes a slimy mess, and then using small terra-cotta pots as a mold, “paper-mache” the pots with the slimy newspaper and let it dry, This way I am re-using newspaper and other paper and turning it into a biodegradable pot for larger plants that will go into the ground. Interesting thought…I will try this when we have a bunch of paper saved up; of course I will let you know if this was a great idea or a failure.

Smile at the bus driver when you get on board the bus. Give your little one an extra hug before they leave the house. Pack a surprise treat for your loved one, in their briefcase. Hold the door for the person behind you. Text or better yet, call a friend and just say hi. Wave to your mailperson; donate an old bedspread or comforter to the animal shelter. We all have problems and times we don’t want to smile or be happy. Try and be positive for the person next to you. We are all a gigantic family on this planet. Be good to one another. Until we meet next time, I wish you peace and happiness. Peace!!