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!

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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!!

Gardening to save money

Good morning, my friends! I hope all is well with you. I am looking out the front window at the snow and wondering if spring will ever arrive. I keep looking for a glimpse of the crocuses we have planted, but as of yet…still nothing.

The front of our house faces due west. In the winter, it means the winds and cold hit dead on and in the summer the killer sun beats down on the front brick facade and heats the bedroom and living room to unbearable temperatures, since we had no trees in the front yard. We had a sweet gum tree that produces these pompom balls which give nothing but sprained ankles from walking on them; bruises, when the lawnmower shoots one out at high speed and it nails you and roots that get into the foundation of your home, the sewer system etc. Basically, beyond shade, it doesn’t do much. After it clogged up and collapsed part of our sewer line and cost us a great deal of money, we cut down the tree, ground up the roots and put in a tulip and lily garden, in the front yard. The first summer after the tree was cut down was horrible. The living room, which has two ceiling to floor windows, was turned into an oven. The thermostat would be set for 70 degrees and the living room temp would remain at 90 deg or above, even with lined curtains drawn, until sunset. After two summers, we found native wild cherry tree saplings that a friend was digging up. We took these tiny saplings, which were about two feet tall and planted them in front of the windows. In three years, they grew taller than the front windows and shaded the windows. They are native to Illinois, so the extreme heat of summer, drought and cold winters don’t seem to faze the trees much. In six years, they have reached their full height, of about eighteen feet high. In the summer, the front windows are completely shaded.

Front windows facing due west. In the summer, the sun would turn the living room into an oven.
Front windows facing due west. In the summer, the sun would turn the living room into an oven.
Native cherry trees are on the left side of the picture. They completely shade the porch and front windows.
Native cherry trees are on the left side of the picture. They completely shade the porch and front windows.

So that leaves the bedroom and playroom window exposed. I’ve been trying to think of how to block the sun, yet not have the neighbors whine that it looks trashy. I also want to take advantage of the long hours of sunshine. Therefore, I am putting up some trellises and planting sugar snap peas on them. The trellis will support the bean vines, which will in turn block the sun; look pretty so the code enforcement guy doesn’t get a call, as well as provide food for my family. The sugar snap peas have a very shallow root system, so they won’t interfere with any plants I already have in the area.

I’ve been looking for vegetables that I buy often (either fresh, frozen or canned) which I can grow in my garden. I go through a lot of tomatoes, for sauce, salads, salsa and soup, so that will be a necessity. In the summer, purchasing tomatoes may be cheap at the grocery store, but in the winter, they can be expensive. Peppers of all types are another vegetable we go through a lot of. Those are two plants that I purchase the small one-inch pots of and plant them. Some plants, rather than purchase seeds or the PLANT, I buy the vegetable itself and grow my garden from that. Last year, I grew Romaine lettuce (from the bottom part of the stalk) cabbage (again, from the core) beets (from the tops of the beet plant.) Unfortunately, the intense heat of the summer killed the lettuce and cabbage worms got the cabbage. The beets were doing well, and then disappeared. There are several vegetables that you can grow from the scraps of the ones you already have purchased, just by planting the tops or the cores: lettuce, cabbage, beets, celery, leeks, scallions, bok choy, lemon grass and onions are just some of the vegetables. Many are container-friendly, so you can grow them in the garden as well as a container for winter use.

Pineapple plant growing from the top of a pineapple I ate last summer.
Pineapple plant growing from the top of a pineapple I ate last summer.
Another pineapple top from one we ate last summer.
Another pineapple top from one we ate last summer.

Pineapple are not an item that can be grown outside (unless you live in a tropical area, like Hawai’i) nor do they grow and produce with a year. Most vegetables grown from scraps will produce within that year. Pineapple, though are a labor of love. I won’t see any fruit for another two years, if ever…but they are a pretty plant, even if they don’t produce.

Celery can be grown from the root. Simply take the entire stalk and cut off about the bottom inch. Place the bottom part, root-side down in a shallow dish of water. Use just enough water to cover the roots of the plant and place in a sunny, warm window. Keep enough water in the dish to keep the roots covered and within a few days, roots will form and a few leaf shoots on top. Plant in the soil, leaving the new shoots exposed. Keep the soil moist, but not saturated. In a short time, it will re-generate itself. Cut off the outer stalks as you need them, but leave the plant intact. You can have fresh celery all summer long.

Onions can be grown the same way. Cut off the root end and put it, root-side down, into moist soil. Keep the soil moist, but not saturated and in a warm, sunny window. The onion will grow into a new bulb. Do not let the plant flower, so this way the leaves will put all of it’s energy into giving you a nice, fat bulb. Pull up the onion, cut off the bottom and re-plant. Garlic is also done this way. Plant a clove, root side down. Keep the soil moist; keep a flower from forming and in a month or so, by cutting back the shoots, you will have a nice, juicy bulb of garlic. During the summer, I will plant my garden outside, but in the winter months, when I long for growing plants and fresh veggies, I look no further than the front window.

Once the ground thaws…IF it ever thaws, the trellises with the beans and sugar snap peas will help to block the sun, which in turn will cut down on my air conditioning bill AND cut down on my grocery bill. I am looking at sunflowers, which I understand, can also be used as a trellis for beans, as long as the sunflowers are the mammoth type. By growing our own sunflower seeds, it will cut down on our birdseed bill as well. We already grow a patch of Rudbeckia which feed the goldfinch in the autumn. Every little bit helps, right?

Until next time, my friends, I hope someone has made you smile today. If not, then bring an extra smile to work or school, so you can share it: shake a veteran’s hand; bring a neighbor’s trash cans in, before they blow into the street; stop for the crazy squirrel who attempts to cross the street as you are coming; hold the door for the person behind you; grab a wagon you see moving in the parking lot, before it hits someone’s car; throw your bread crusts out for the birds or squirrels. We all need to help one another on this planet, whether we are tall or small; two legs, four legs or no legs…we live together on this planet, so let’s love one another like a family should.

DIY starter logs for fireplaces and woodstoves

Good morning, friends! I hope you all are doing well. I am loving this weather, today. My old Marine room-mate Eve called it, “a postcard from Spring.” (Don’t you LOVE that? She’s a professional writer, so she has an awesome way with words.) The temps today are high of 52 deg. Tomorrow has a 90% chance of thunderstorms and high of 61 deg. (My cousin, Joey, laughs because in all my Facebook posts, at least once a day, I do a full weather report. Maybe in a former life, I was a meteorologist. 🙂 ) Anyway, this weekend the temps are supposed to drop to below freezing again with snow and freezing rain. Bummer. That means the wood stove has to be fired up again.

My hubby, is amazing when it comes to starting a fire in the wood stove. I swear, the man can start a roaring fire with one match and a bunch of wet logs. On the other hand, I can have several dry branches, 15 newspapers, a flamethrower and I’ll still wind up yelling up the stairs and asking Don for help. In fact, when he knows I’m going to attempt to light a fire, he starts hanging chicken and hunks of beef around the room and calling friends saying, “Hey, anyone want a smoked chicken? Smoked beef? Jen’s lighting a fire, so everything should be fully smoked in about 30 minutes.” He also calls our local fire department and informs them the huge amount of black smoke coming from our house ISN’T a fire, but “just my wife attempting to build one,” then he issues gas masks to the kids as they sit back and laugh, while I keep wadding up newspapers and attempting to start the fire. Many times, as I sit there, choking and gasping I remember a story my English teacher had us read in ninth grade by Jack London, “To Build a Fire.” That story haunts me at odd times, not just when I’m struggling to light the fireplace. It’s about a man who is alone on the Yukon and how in -75 degree weather, he struggles to build a fire to save his life. Like all of Jack London’s stories, it’s excellent.

Anyway, I was telling a friend last year, about how I needed to find a store that was selling the Duraflame starter logs, since most of the local stores were sold out, due to the nasty weather. He replied, “Why? Just make them yourself. I do, every year. It’s easy.” Then he explained how to do it. This is a project that you can do a bit of, as you go along, throughout the year, or you can make them on a rainy day with the kids helping.

DIY Starter Logs

empty toilet paper rolls, or empty paper towel rolls

the ends of candle wax (after the wick has burned down, there is always about a tablespoon or so of wax at the bottom of the container)

lint from your dryer (FINALLY, a use for lint. Preferably lint from only natural materials, like cotton. I don’t use the dryer much, so we don’t have a lot of lint. The reason i say to use only natural materials like cotton is, nylon and polyester, although do not give off much lint, when burned can create carcinogens.) or newspaper ripped into pieces. I have also used dirty tissues, junk mail, cardboard boxes from food items, old schoolwork from the kids. You don’t even need this, you can just fold up the toilet paper rolls and stuff them inside one another.

starter log 2Here is my tub of toilet paper tubes and other items that are originally rolled around a cardboard tube (like waxed paper; aluminum foil, etc.) I have an empty tissue box that I keep scraps of candles in, chunks of wax from crayons that have been broken so far down and I haven’t the patience to make new crayons from them (yep, I’ll tell you more about that in another post) wax from cheese (like the Bonnie Bell and Baby Bell cheese) etc.

starter log 1If you don’t have any lint, or really shredded dishcloths (yes, even my shredded dishcloths are used for something) will work, used tissues, junk mail, scraps of paper, newspaper that you shredded into easier, smaller pieces (about 12 inches across, is good). If you lack all of that, you can roll up another tube as I did here and stuff it inside another tube.

I usually save all my tubes throughout the year and stuff them all inside one another, as they are collected. It helps save space, since I may save up close to a hundred over the course of spring through autumn. Then, when it starts to get chilly out and we will be lighting the stove soon, I pull the rolls out from one another and start packing them with stuff.

starter log 5If you tear up a newspaper, or junk mail, etc, wad it up gently, and stuff it into the center of the cardboard roll. The wax that is left over from candles I will scrape up or if it was a pillar candle, break it into hunks and put a good chunk inside the cardboard roll. Continue to stuff newspaper, or raggedy dishcloths into it. Once it is full, let a small piece stick out, like a tail.

starter log 1Keep adding paper, or dryer lint or raggedy material into the rolls and adding a chunk of wax with each one, until they are all full.

starter log 6starter log 3If I have to melt the wax to get it out of the glass container it was in, I will usually dunk the end of the roll into the melted wax, after it is stuffed. The melted wax dries and hardens and kind of locks the material inside the tube. Make sure if you melt the wax, DO NOT put the glass container into the microwave. Many times the candles have tiny metal prongs at the bottom to hold the wick. NOT a good idea to microwave metal. Using a spoon, scrape the wax out of the original container, so you can have a good look, then using the double boiler method, melt the wax.

Once you have your tubes ready, just prepare the logs as you would, normally. But put one of these amongst the logs. Then, light the tail that is sticking out. You may need two or three of these to assist in starting a fire. Those starter logs that cost almost $10 for about 20 of them are just sawdust and warm wax, that is compressed into a shape. The ones we are making are literally free. Each of the items you are putting into this project is actually an item you would throw away (or recycle.) The cardboard lights easily. The wax melts and helps to hold the flame so it burns longer and thus will ignite the branches and logs easier.

Like several of my posts, this is an item you need to save up for…but not money-wise. Like the suet, which is grease which you would be normally throwing away, stale peanuts, eggshells…all items you normally would throw away, now becomes a winter treat for birds, these starter logs can help you start a fire on those cold nights. Tomorrow, I will show another way for starting a fire, but you’ll have to finish your morning coffee and scrambled eggs, first. (hint, hint.)

Remember to follow me as we journey together in our quest for finding ways to live off the grid, live frugal, turn leftovers into new-overs, organize our lives and our homes.

What have you done to help another person out, today? Perhaps put a quarter into someone’s dryer, at the laundromat, when you see it has stopped turning. Give the paid-for wagon at Aldi to another person, and not ask for a quarter in return. Take a walk at lunchtime and smell the fresh air and notice the clouds. Buy a soda for a co-worker and leave it on their desk in the morning, before they come to work. Bring in a canister of coffee for the coffee pool. Give an extra two or three dollars tip to a waitress. Tell a veteran, “Thank you for serving.” Pull over and give right of way for a funeral procession, or an ambulance, taking a moment of silence for the victim. Buy a few cans of cat or dog food at the supermarket and drop it off at your local animal shelter. Stop by for an hour at a nursing home. Even if you don’t know anyone there, some of them would be so grateful for a visitor, since their own families rarely visit. Better yet, bring your child. Some of the elderly miss their own grandchildren and they can pretend your child is their grandchild. It would make them so happy. Make a simple, easy to heat meal and pack it in freezer-safe containers and bring it to a new mom. These little things can mean so much to another. Have you made another person smile? What was the reason YOU woke up this morning? Until we meet again, my friends, remember we are all living and breathing under the same sun, moon and stars. Be kind to each other, big and small, great and tall. Peace!

DIY Eternal Dryer Balls

Hello friends! I hope you are all starting to thaw out a bit. Yesterday, temperatures in some states went all the way up to 35 degrees! Whoo hoo!! In Minnesota, that’s swimming weather! It hit almost 60 degrees here in Southwestern Illinois. My hubby suggested blowing warm air onto my phone, so the weather app would show 60 degrees. I told him I was too smart for that, thank you. (I have a history of doing goofy things, so he tries to zing me when he can. Several years ago, the news reports were saying how the price of stamps was going up three cents. So, I bought about a hundred stamps at the old price, thinking, “Yeah, buddy. Going to get over on the Postal Service.” I showed my husband a few days later, the huge roll of stamps I had, thinking, I saved him money. He smacked his forehead and tried explaining to me that now I needed to buy 3 cent stamps. I didn’t believe him. I insisted the Postal System HAS to honor the stamps at the old price. It wasn’t until I questioned the mailman that I discovered I wasn’t saving anything. HOWEVER…I have spoken to a few folks, since then and they laughed…then mumbled they or their spouse is guilty of doing the same thing.) Anyway, my hubby isn’t sure just how far my knuckleheadedness runs, so he tries different ways, to zap me.

Anyway, since yesterday was such a nice day, I did a few loads of laundry and hung them outside on the clothesline to dry. I usually dry everything except my husband’s dark shirts or pants on the clothesline, and socks. Socks, after washing, I toss into the dryer, but do not turn it on. I will hang up the clothes outside; hubby’s dark clothes go into the dryer (still leaving it off) and after the stuff outside is dry, I toss the outside dried items into the dryer with the damp clothes for 15 minutes or so. I do this to kill any wasps that may be hiding in the clothes (about 15 years ago, I asked my husband for a dryer. We had just moved to this house from living in Germany, so I was used to having one. Don bought me a clothesline and put it up instead. I hung up clothes all summer and autumn with no problem, always shaking the clothes thoroughly after taking them down, before they went into the basket. Then one day, after several weeks of near freezing temperatures, the temperature was close to 60 degrees. I hung Don’s dungarees and other stuff outside to dry. When I brought them in, Don grabbed a pair of pants and put them on. He started yelling and smacking his leg, trying to get the pants back off. He finally got disentangled and out fell a wasp that was about an inch and a half long. He had three or four stings on his leg. That night, we went to Home Depot and bought a dryer.) and fluff the clothes up a bit. The socks and pants dry relatively quickly. The dress shirts I hang up while still slightly damp on a pole in the laundry room, until they are ironed out. Little things like this help us to save money. A few nickels here and there may not sound like much, but in the end, it DOES add up. Hanging up clothes slightly damp, so they can air dry also means less wear and tear on the clothing itself; if you iron it while still damp, it irons much easier, as well. I wash my curtains on gentle and hang them up damp. It saves them from being eaten up in the dryer and also often, ironing for them is not needed. The creases from the washing machine are eased out, as it dries.

So, after washing the clothes, I hung them outside to dry. Since they didn’t finish drying completely, I tossed them into the dryer. I don’t use dryer sheets, anymore. Actually, I stopped using them when my kids were infants. Dryer sheets and fabric softener should NEVER be used on infants’ or children’s’ clothing. Their clothing has a flame retardant chemical already on them, which if Heaven forbid, your child is near a fire, their clothes won’t go up in flames. Even if you choose to not use my method, PLEASE, don’t use fabric softener on your child’s clothing.

I hang my clothes up to dry whenever I can. But some of my readers may live in an area with HOA restrictions against clotheslines, or severe weather prevents them from owning a clothesline. Perhaps you live in an apartment, or just don’t have the time needed to use a clothesline; whatever the reason, you are looking at your clothes dryer and wondering how can you dry your clothes quickly, so they will be soft, without using dryer sheets. You may think, “But the times I have forgotten to use the dryer sheet, I pulled my clothes out of the dryer in a huge lump. Socks were sticking to shirts; an old dryer sheet was peeking out from under my skirt.” The solution is easy.

Tennis anyone?

Yes, tennis balls. They can be purchased new from any discount store, three of them for under $3. They last FOREVER, too. A new box of Bounce dryer sheets runs you about $3 for maybe 50 loads. If you ask at your local high school, they may have a bunch they can give you for free; or you can scour the local tennis courts or rec hall. They do not have to be any special brand. They don’t even need to be new…just clean. If they are a bit smudged, just toss them into the washing machine with your next load of clothes, to wash them. Then, put your clothes into the dryer, throw two or three tennis balls into the dryer. Shut the door and turn it on. You may hear a bit of muted thumping, but it’s nowhere near as loud as when your teenaged son throws his wet and muddy sneakers into the dryer.

This cuts down on the time your clothes need to be in the dryer, as well as helps to fluff the clothing, but does it control static cling? No, but I have a solution for that as well.

Foil balls. Just regular aluminum foil, wadded up into a ball. So now you have your tennis balls in one hand and that’s good. You have your foil balls in the other hand and that’s good, as well. Sort of like you have milk chocolate in one hand and that’s nice. You have peanut butter in the other hand, and that’s good. Put them together and you have a delicious new combination! (Yes, I am addicted to Reece’s peanut butter cups.) So, by both of these items combined, you get rid of both static AND have fluffy clothes.

dryer ball step 1 Step 1: take a sheet of aluminum foil around 18 inches long, and lay the clean tennis ball on the foil. Wrap the foil around the tennis ball, as though you are wrapping a gift.

dryer ball step 2Step 2: Squeeze the tennis ball, so the foil is wrapped tightly around it, molded to the tennis ball. If you like, you can wrap the tennis ball in a second layer of foil, but I haven’t had any problem with using one layer. Put the clean, wet clothes into the dryer and toss the tennis balls on top. I generally use two or three tennis balls for a full load of laundry.

dryer ball step 3 Step 3: After a load of laundry, the foil in compressed onto the tennis ball from bumping around in the dryer. Your clothes are static-free and fluffy. These will last practically forever.

As a rule, make sure you always check pockets and close the zippers on pants, shirts and jackets. The one time you don’t check the pockets, will be the one time someone forgets a Chapstick in their pocket, or has a piece of bubble gum and then you have headaches, galore. (But, if you DO forget and find a Chapstick melted all over your clothes, check out my blog for a DIY degreaser.) Open zippers in the washing machine and dryer can wreak havoc by tearing up your clothes as they bounce around. If the foil gets torn on these, just re-wrap them in foil and you are good to go!

Have you done a nice thing for another person today? Held the door open for the person behind you? Gave a quarter to the person in the checkout line ahead of you, so they don’t have to break a dollar? Told a cashier to put the pennies in the “Take one, leave one” dish? Maybe go through your old sneakers that are still in decent shape and donated them to a local school in an underprivileged area? Many teens would love to run track, but they lack the proper footwear and don’t have the money to spend $100 on a decent pair of running shoes. An organization I support is called Shoe4Africa.org. This organization takes your old running shoes (they need to be in decent condition, please, not torn up and falling apart) and sends them to Africa where people can use them. The next time you go grocery shopping, toss a few cans of soup or canned vegetables in your wagon and donate them to your local food pantry. Help an elderly person whom you see struggling to get out of their car. When you see someone trying to reach an item on the top shelf and you can reach it, assist them. Tell a worker about a puddle you see in the aisle at the store. Park your car a few spaces further and let another get the spot closer to your building. Shake a veteran’s hand. Take your neighbor’s trash cans in from the driveway, after the trash company has been by. Buy the person behind you at the coffee counter a coffee. Don’t let this day go past, without making a total stranger smile.

Until we meet again, dear friends, I wish you a wonderful day. Peace!

Remember to follow me as I share some of my favorite ways to cut costs. Please leave a comment if you have a favorite way to dry clothes naturally or share your results with the tennis balls.