Friday, March 9, 2018

Seed Starting With Kids

Generally speaking, I hate seed starting. It's a lot of work to do it well and requires a lot of special equipment, or at least a sun room. If you go through all of that successfully (meaning the seeds sprout) then you have to go through the process of hardening them off. What a pain! However, if you turn seed starting into a fun and educational project I can do with my daughter, then I'll consider it.
This year, I'd love to try "Red Cherry Marigolds" from Baker Creek Seeds in my front window boxes so I started them inside this week. If you too are blessed with special little helpers, then this is for you!

Heads up, this project will be really messy so plan accordingly.

Here is what you'll need:
>One or more cardboard egg carton (not Styrofoam)
>Potting soil
>Baking sheet or tray
>Small watering can

1. Let your helper fill the egg carton half full of soil. (I found it was easier for her if I put the soil into a large bowl first.)
2. Have your helper sprinkle water over the soil to dampen it, then create a small hole in the center for the seeds.

3. Put one or two seeds in each hole. (I let my helper do this but had to fix it when she put a lot of seeds in one hold and said they were having a party. She's three.)
4. Let your helper finish filling the egg carton with soil and water more.
5. Place egg cartons on tray and place in a sunny window.

Like I said, we used marigolds for this but other great seeds for little ones (because of the larger size of seed and ease of germination) include sunflowers, zinnias, bachelor buttons, green beans, peas, and corn. About the beginning of May, you can plant the seedlings outside by just separating the different sections of egg carton with scissors. The card board can be planted and will disintegrate over time.

Have you ever done seed starting with kids? Be sure to post about it in the comments below. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Gardening in Late Winter/Early Spring

As I write this, there are a few inches of snow on the ground but in two days the temps are supposed to hit 70 degrees. Central Pennsylvania in late Winter I suppose. It's on those random, unusually warm days that you really want to get out of the house and do something but it's way too early to be planting a garden. (Here, near Harrisburg, PA, I don't plant anything till St. Patrick's Day, if you want to know.) However, that doesn't mean there's nothing to do outside! Here are some great ways to make use of a warm February afternoon.

1> Pick Up Trash. I know, I know, it's not fun but it needs to be done. Winter winds will blow around trash and it will land in your yard. March can be an ugly time of year, not because of the mud, but because of all the garbage lying around that the melting snow revealed. So go pick it up. In your own yard at least.

2> Turn Your Compost Pile. You can be adding kitchen scraps and other compost to your bin all winter so when the pile thaws out, give it a good mixing to encourage it along. What? You don't have a compost bin? Get one (or build one)! Composting is a no-brainer way to turn garbage into useful garden soil.

3>Clean our your bird houses. It's nice to leave them up during the winter to provide shelter for birds but now is a great time to clean them out to start fresh this Spring. No need to scrub, just empty them out.

4>Rake up any leaves you left from last fall. In fact, if you can, shred them with your mower and then put them on your compost pile, or you can use them as mulch in some of your garden beds. 

5>While your at it, give your lawn mower any annual maintenance it requires so it's ready to go when the grass is long.

6> Start preparing any garden beds for Spring planting. My vegetable garden was well manured and mulched last fall so I'm not worried about it now. However, I have a shipment of plants coming this week so I've been getting the beds ready for them. (Digging up sod, fertilizing, laying down cardboard and mulching over that if you want to know.)

7>Cleaning out your garden shed. Yeah, I'm a hypocrite about this right now as you can barely get in ours but hey, you can organize your garden shed!

8>Hurry up and do any pruning you haven't gotten to yet. It's best to prune most trees and bushes  while they're still dormant. Once you see fresh buds coming out, it's really too late. However, many different shrubs have unique pruning needs so be sure to look up guidelines for your specific plant.

So, there are my suggestions for how to best utilize warm, late winter days. What do you do when the snow melts? Feel free to post in the comments below.

Monday, January 29, 2018

The Basics of Winter Sowing

This topic is rather exciting for me because I think it will be so useful for many of my friends. Most of the people I hang out with don't have a lot of time and energy to put into gardening, enjoy doing projects with their kids, and would like to save a few bucks. Winter sowing, in theory at least, can accomplish all three of these things.

Having somewhat limited space with a baby, a cat, and a toddler (I have a husband too but he would leave my plants alone) makes seed starting an impossibility. Also, the cost of special lights, trays, soil, warming pads and any other equipment makes seed starting way more costly than just buying plants at the nursery in the spring. However, if you can do direct seeding outside then it's much cheaper than buying plants. Winter sowing is a way to put these methods together.

Here are the basic steps.
1. Get a few plastic jugs such as milk cartons and cut three sides of the container so you can "hinge" it open at 3-4 inches from the bottom. You MUST put holes in the bottom for drainage. Otherwise your seeds are toast.

2. Fill the bottom 3 inches or so with soil. I used Miracle Grow Seed Starting Potting Soil because that's what I had on hand. You can use any decent potting soil. (One website I read suggested peeing on dirt to add nitrogen. You can try that and let me know how it goes.)

3. Thoroughly water the soil and let it drain a bit. Then plant 3-6 seeds in the soil and be sure they are covered.

4. Duct tape the container back together and leave the cap off for ventilation.

5. Set the containers outside in the sun. Don't heat them or protect them. Do this soon, after February it will be too late.

6. Forget about them! Let nature take it's course till the plant is big enough in the spring to be transplanted.

Pretty easy huh? Winter sowing is also a great project to do with your kids. If it works well this year, then this will definitely become part of my new gardening routine. Have you tried winter sowing? Please post about it in the comments below!

Monday, January 8, 2018

Maximize Your Vegetable Garden

One of my favorite ways to spend a cold, wintry evening is to look over several plant and seed catalogs and plan out what I'm going to grow in my garden in the coming year. If you're normally the kind of person who buys whatever random things jump out at you at the garden center in May, then you should try a different approach this year! Here are some basic steps you can take to get the most out of your vegetable garden this year. 

First, request a few free catalogs online. For beginners, I'd recommend Gurneys or Burpees. If you want a larger selection, try Johnny's or Territorial. My personal favorite is Baker Creek Seeds as their customer service is great, the prices are good and all of their seeds are open pollinated so you can get into seed saving. (Note, I'm not paid anything by these companies).

Second, keep in mind how much space you have. Sure, growing pumpkins may sound fun but if the plants take over your garden, you won't be getting a lot of edibles for your space. Great plants for small space gardening include lettuce, spinach, bush beans, beets, carrots and onions. You can also use vineing plants if you have a fence or trellis for the vines to climb on. 

Third, prioritize what your family loves to eat. Last year I had a very prolific patch of Swiss chard. Now, I do like Swiss chard but my husband won't touch it and a lot of it went to waste. This year, I'm zeroing in on what we really like to eat. Of course, it never hurts to try out a couple new things either. 

Fourth, look for varieties that are disease resistant and tolerant of weather variations. Sometimes the biggest and most colorful fruits are the ones that are the most susceptible to disease and bugs. Go with the safe bet and you'll have fewer problems in the growing season. 

Finally, write down on your calendar when you need to plant your seeds so time doesn't get away from you. Cold weather plants like spinach can be sown here in central pa as early as St. Patrick's Day. Others, like tomatoes, have to wait till May. 

With these tips in mind, I know you can harvest and enjoy loads of fresh, healthy vegetables from your garden this year. How do you decide what to grow? Feel free to comment below. 

Monday, January 1, 2018

6 Ways To Feed Your Gardening Habit in the Winter

As I'm writing this post, it's pretty darn cold outside for central PA. Now that the holidays are over, I'm ready for spring! If your favorite hobby involves a green thumb, then January and February can be a bit of a downer. Here are a few ways I enjoy gardening in winter.

1. Order some free seed catalogs and check out all the cool varieties you can grow in your garden this year. Some of my favorites are (and I'm not being paid anything from them) Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Territorial Seeds, and Stark Brothers Nursery .

2. Plan your garden and set goals! Once you see what's available, you can draw out a rough sketch of your garden and plan out what you want to grow. You can try out a new variety of vegetable or flower or a new way of cooking or preserving your produce. One of the things I love about gardening is that there are always new things to learn about and try. Which leads me to my next point...

3. Spend some time this winter reading up on an aspect of gardening you're interested in. You can find lots of great articles at or check out this blog post I wrote on some books I recommend.

4. Enjoy a houseplant or two. There are countless varieties available at your local garden center. One of my favorite ideas is to grow an herb plant such as basil or parsley that will also provide a welcome freshness to your winter cooking.

5. If  you get some unusually warm days, as we typically do here in central pa, you can take the opportunity to get some minor hardscaping done. For instance, I know I'd like to create a simple fence around my raspberry canes off the ground so it's easier to mow around this year. As long as the ground isn't frozen, I should be able to get that done when I get time. I also have at least one place where I'd like to take out the grass and add mulch and stone. It's not as much fun as growing stuff, but it will save me time in the Spring.

6. Pruning is a common winter practice. If you have fruit trees and bushes, rose bushes, or brambles, then you'll need to spend some time pruning them this winter. Find more information about how to prune, check out this post.

So, there are my six best ideas to enjoy your winter. How do you enjoy gardening when it's too cold outside?

Friday, December 1, 2017

DIY A Basic Fresh Evergreen Centerpiece

Nothing says traditional Christmas centerpiece like fresh evergreens. The options for crafting a fresh evergreen centerpiece are limitless so this post will focus on the basics. Once you have that down, you can experiment with loads of colors and materials.

What you'll need:
1. Waterproof container
2. Wet floral foam (dry foam is just for silk flowers)
3.  Floral Tape, wire or glue to attach foam to container.
4. At least two types of evergreens, preferably 3. I prefer a short needle spruce or fir, a long needle pine and something fun like cyprus or holly.
5. Ribbon
6. Taper Candles if you want them.
7. Pine cones and real or fake berries
8. Sharp pruners
9. Leaf Shine (optional)

First, attach the foam to the container. It's ok to use a sharp knife to cut the foam down to the size you need. I fi
nd tape is the easiest method to use. Then thoroughly, and I mean thoroughly soak the foam.

Second, and this is important, if you want to use taper candles you must put them in now. Be careful because you really only get one chance to put the candles in strait and even. Large, multiple holes in the foam will cause it to fall apart.

Third, use greens around the bottom to outline the shape of centerpiece you want. Be sure to strip the needles off the stem where it will go into the foam. The needles can rip up the foam. Then fill in completely with evergreens. You should not be able to see any foam when you're done putting in greens.

If you're using leaf shine (available at craft stores) now is the time to use it. It improves the appearance of your greens and can lengthen their shelf life.

Fourth, add your decorations! I made two simple bows to put on each side. I also wired pine cones and artificial berries to add color and texture. You can also add fresh flowers of course but they won't last as long as the greens will.

This can be a hard skill to learn. I've literally created hundreds of them. Be patient, practice and don't demand perfection of yourself. It should be fun! Merry Christmas!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Toddler Proof Christmas Decorating Part 2

Last week I wrote about how to enjoy beautiful Christmas decorating even if you have young children in the house. This week, I want to focus in on the ultimate Christmas decoration - the tree. We've all heard of or experienced a pet or child related Christmas tree disaster. While I can't make any guarantees, I will share what's worked well for us.

First, a smaller tree might help if you have a younger toddler. In our old home, we had a really small living room so we would buy a fresh, four foot tree and tie it to the top of a side table. We then put a small skirt over the stand and the rope and it looked lovely and was, for the most part, out of our daughter's reach.

If you love a full size tree, as I do, then you can tie it to the wall in the back to help prevent the tree from being pulled over. While the tree is up, you can't see it at all. When the tree is done, there is just a very small nail that no one ever notices.

Second, many writers suggest that if you have pets or children, then you should buy a tree with soft needles (assuming you're buying fresh, if you like artificial trees then this won't apply). However, I see things differently. It's a pain to decorate but if you use a fresh tree with very prickly needles - like a spruce tree - will act as a deterrent to the smaller inhabitants of your home. 

Third, everyone knows to put the fragile ornaments at the top of your tree out of the kids reach. Be sure to affix them firmly so if the tree is shaken for any reason the ornaments stay put. Also, be sure to have plenty of unbreakable ornaments around the bottom of the tree to keep your kids distracted from the ones higher up.

Finally, keep a sense of humor and remember that this is your kids home too. Even as perfectionist as I can be, last year I was fine with my daughter pulling ornaments off and playing with them. As long as she left the lights alone, we were fine with her "messing it up".

I know some people put gates or fences around their tree to keep the kids away but I never liked that idea. It takes up too much space, it looks bad and it sends the message to the kids that Christmas is hands off. However, every home is different and you've gotta do what works for you.

Also, I should mention that safety is crucial. Be sure to use relatively new lights that have less or no heat and won't start a fire. Keep all open flames well away from your tree.

How do you keep your Christmas tree beautiful? Be sure to post your tips in the comments below.