Category Archives: Gardening

Save your seeds! How to save heirloom tomato seeds

This year I decided to save some seeds from my dad’s heirloom tomatoes. There are a few small varieties I love, and I want to grow them next year… Plus, this way I can share seeds with others.

It’s super easy, though it takes more effort than most people realize. Tomato seeds are best once they’ve been fermented, though the process isn’t absolutely vital. This process helps weed out the bad seeds and makes the seeds less likely to carry diseases. It also helps separate the seeds from the clumpy tomato gel.

I happened to be making some sundried tomatoes, so when I scooped them out for better drying I just put all the seeds from one variety of tomato in a glass.

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Next, I added about an ounce of water, and covered the glass tightly with Saran Wrap. I poked a slit into the plastic wrap with a knife so air can aid in the fermentation process. I set the glass on my kitchen window sill where it’s out of the way, and left it there for about a week. It’s recommended that you leave it for 3-5 days.

The seeds will develop a disgusting moldy film on the top— that’s okay, it’s supposed to happen! It might also stink. Mine sure did.

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As the fermentation happens you’ll notice that the seeds mostly sink to the bottom, though a few will float to the top. This is also a good thing. The good, healthy seeds will sink, and the bad ones will float.

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After a few days, I lifted the plastic wrap off and gently lifted the moldy film off with a fork. Then I also slowly and gently poured off some of the water and the floating seeds (though some of the floating seeds stuck to the mold). Next, I poured the rest of the glass out through a fine strainer and rinsed the seeds with cool water very thoroughly.

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Next I gently blotted the seeds with a paper towel, then poured them into a plate to dry. Do not leave the seeds on a paper towel or paper plate to dry as they’ll stick. Every few hours I tapped the sides of the plate to get the seeds to separate from each other.

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Once they’re completely dry they’re ready to store. I plan to put mine in a small glass jar, although a paper envelope would also work.

Happy seed-saving!

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How to freeze green beans

The beans are ripe for the picking, and starting last week there’s about a xerox box or two full of beans ready to pick.

The green beans we grow are heirloom green beans. My dad and I love to try different heirloom vegetables in the garden (we’ve done about 25-30 heirloom tomato varieties!) and green beans are one we’ve had lots of success with each year. He planted a few varieties at my grandma’s house, and one row he built up to be almost 8 feet high. The vibes grow up and up and up so it’s a real space-saver. The tops of the vines have tons of beans, too.

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In my opinion the green beans are best straight off the vine raw, that’s not really easy for me to do with all of them. Mary and I like to pickle them, we’ve dehydrated them, and I like to cook them in the crockpot, but perhaps the most versatile thing to do with them is to freeze them to use all year long.

While the process for freezing the beans is by no means difficult, it unfortunately isn’t as easy as just throwing them in the freezer. Freezing beans is a 6 step process, and luckily each step takes only a short amount of time.

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You’ll need…
A bunch of green beans. A sauce pot. Salt (kosher is better). A colander or two. A few big bowls for ice baths and temporarily storing the beans. Ice. Freezer bags. A straw.

1. Wash. This is easy. Just rinse the beans in cool water, being careful to rub off any cobwebs or dirt.
2. Pop and Pinch. Pinch of the stems, being mindful to leave as much of the bean intact as possible. You can also pop the bean into 1-2 inch pieces, though some people like to leave their beans whole.
3. Boil. Fill a sauce pot with water and add a generous amount of salt, about 1-2 tablespoons per quart of water. The beans won’t be in the water long enough to absorb too much of the flavor but what is absorbed will aid in preserving the flavor and nutrients. Once the water is boiling add your beans and let them boil for 2 minutes. The beans should turn bright green and should taste cooked but should still be quite firm. Do NOT overlook them.
4. Ice Bath. Drain the beans and immediately dump them into an ice bath, stirring gently with a wooden spoon or your hands to ensure that they cool quickly.
5. Drain and Dry. Once the beans are completely cooled drain the water and pat the beans dry with a paper towel.
6. Bag. Once the beans are dry you can portion them into freezer bags. I usually do a mix of gallon-sized and sandwich-sized bags, and occasionally a few snack-sized bags. Lay the bags flat and sort of shake them so the beans are all flat and spread evenly. Of course you don’t want to fill the bags too full. I zip the bags almost all the way closed then stick a straw in the end and suck the air out. While still sucking, pull the straw out and quickly zip the rest of the bag. This isn’t the best way to get all the air out but it does keep the bags flatter and easier to store.

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Zucchini spaghetti lasagna casserole thingy

We seriously need to go to the grocery store, but Nate and I are both holding out. Luckily we have plenty of produce in the garden ripe for the picking. When Nate took off to take Nick back to his mom’s house I decided to buck up and try to cook something stead of relying on Chef Boyardee or pizza rolls.

While we aren’t overwhelmed with zucchini we do seem to have some that are read for harvesting at perfectly timed intervals. Check out this puppy!

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So tonight I found some frozen ground beef and started browning it. While it was browning I sliced some zucchini in very thing strips using a pampered chef slicer thingy. I layered the zucchini slices on the bottom of the pan, then sprinkled kosher salt and pepper on it and brushed some Italian seasoned oil on it.

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When the meat was done browning I drained it, then dumped it in a bowl and mixed it with chopped onion, some minced garlic, Italian seasoning, an almost full jar of spaghetti sauce, a small can of tomato paste, and… I think that’s it. I spread half the meat mixture, then topped with Parmesan and mozzarella cheese. Also Mexican cheese because I wanted a ton of cheese and that’s all I had. I added another layer of thinly sliced zukes, then the rest of the meat mixture and more cheese. Last I poured a little more Italian oil on the top because it’s so delicious. That didn’t make much sense, though, I know.

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I baked it uncovered at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes, until the cheese was brown and bubbly.

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So good! The only thing I wish I’d had was either less beef and more spaghetti sauce, or ricotta, so it could either be more spaghetti-like or more lasagna-like. I’m not sure whether this is zucchini lasagna or zucchini spaghetti. I guess it’s both!

Two pickle recipes plus canning instructions

I’ve been asked a few times for the pickle recipe Mary and I use. Let me make it clear first that Mary is the Pickle Master, not me. I’m like the jester… Just there for jokes. Just kidding. I’m kind of her sidekick. I just do what she tells me. I’m good at following directions, but not organizing the task and managing time. She okayed me sharing the recipe we typically use. And I’ll also share the ones we tried yesterday, for pickle sticks and fridge pickles.

The first recipe goes into the most detail, in case you’re not too familiar with canning. The first recipe is also the on Mary has been using for a few years and most people love these pickles. We’ve done pickled cucumbers, green beans, peppers… you name it. The other recipes we only tried yesterday and haven’t tasted the pickles after they’ve sat but dang they smelled good and the brine was delicious.

Mary’s Famous Pickles
These pickles are dill flavored and quite garlicky with a tad bit of spice. Not a lot of spice, because even my mom loves them. So will you.

Ingredients:
4 cups water
4 cups white vinegar
1/4 to 1/2 cup pickling salt
2 to 3 garlic cloves pealed (per jar)
3 or 4 onion chunks (per jar)
3 small sprigs of fresh dill -OR- 1 teaspoon dried dill (per jar)
~1/2 teaspoon mustard seed (per jar)
~1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (per jar)
~1/2 teaspoon pickle crisp -OR- 1 grape leaf (per jar)

Wash jars, lids, and rings and then boil or steam 4-6 quart jars I your water bath or steam canner for 10 minutes. While your jars are sanitizing, combine vinegar, water, and pickling salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil.

Once jars are sanitized, put the remaining ingredients in each jar. Note that nearly everything is approximate; if you love garlic or onion, add more. Pack the jars tightly with cucumber spears or chips.

Once the brine has boiled ten minutes, use a funnel in the mouth of the jar and pour the brine into each jar until it’s about 1/2 inch from the top. Use a chopstick or something similar to gently like down into each jar to release air bubbles. Then use a clean, wet cloth to wipe the rim of the jar. Place a clean kid on top, then screw a ring on until it’s what I call finger-tight; not too tight.

Put all the packed and lidded/ringed jars in your steam or water bath canner, and process for 15 minutes. Once they’re finished, lift them out and let them cool on the counter. You’ll know it’s a success when you hear the telltale pops of the kids sealing. Let the jars store at least 2 weeks before you go HAM on them.

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Pickle Sticks
While I haven’t yet tasted the finished, processed pickles from this I did drink 3/4 of a cup of the brine It’s so delicious, and I think these are going to be awesome. The brine tastes kind of nutty and almost cinnamon-y sweet, sort of like bread and butter pickles.

Ingredients:
9 cups sugar
5 1/2 cups white vinegar
4 cups water
8 tablespoons pickling salt
4 tablespoons celery seed
4 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon of turmeric
1 tablespoon mustard seed

Sanitize 8 pint jars. While that’s happening, combine all the ingredients and bring to a boil. Let the mixture boil for about 5 minutes. Pack the jars while your mixture is boiling.

Once the mixture has boiled about 5 minutes, use a funnel to pour the brine over the pickles in the jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Clean the rims, then lid them. Let them process for 10-15 minutes.

We also made fridge pickles and relish yesterday, but I’ll wait to share those until we taste the product. Do you have a favorite pickle recipe? Please share it with me! We always like to try new things.

Zucchini overload = awesome easy lunch

We need to grocery shop, bad… I’m running out of easy stuff to bring for lunch. But while looking over the garden last night I noticed a lone zucchini. Lunch for today was easy peasy… Zucchini pizza!

I brought my small stoneware bar pan from pampered chef, which I use all the time for everything… In fact I may as well buy another. I also brought a snack sized Baggie of shredded cheese, a small cup of spaghetti sauce, and of course a small-medium sized zuke.

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First I preheated the oven at work to 400 degrees. While it heated up I sliced the zucchini in half long-ways. Then, I spread the pizza sauce on and sprinkled on the cheese. Sometimes I add oregano, garlic, sliced tomato, basil, mushrooms, or pepperoni, but I was in a hurry and feeling kinda plain when I got my lunch ready last night.

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I let the zucchini pizzas bake for 20 minutes, until the cheese was bubbly and somewhat burnt on the pan.

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Then my website went down, I received a text from my husband that my child is puking, and our credit card machine stopped working. This is my job and my life. Technology hates me.

Luckily I have awesome coworkers and while I was tethered to my computer my pal Kate brought me my half on a plate, complete with plastic ware and a napkin. So nice. While I would have loved taking an actual lunch break, at least I got to enjoy the deliciousness.

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Pickling day! Plus a little about my Mary

That’s right! Between my own garden, my grandma’s and my parents’ it’s time to start pickling cucumbers. My friend Mary taught me how to pickle a few years ago, probably with the intent of teaching me so I’ll go out on my own.

But I won’t go out on my own. I puppy dog her, and it won’t stop anytime soon. OK, MARY??!

I’ll say all this before the pickling because otherwise she won’t read it and neither will you because it’s not nearly as exciting as the pickling. Well it is to me, but maybe not to you.

Mary and I met at work. She’s a librarian, I’m a librarian. While I was in school for my masters she gave me advice on projects. When we got smooshed together in the information services department and stuck on the desk 10% of our working hours we meshed really well. We didn’t really have a choice… So we realized how alike we are in weird quirky ways (like watching shitty reality tv, eating, reading the quirky stuff, etc.) and we just clicked. Or maybe I [desperately] didn’t give her a chance not to be my friend. My best friend. Is this creepy yet?

Anyway, yesterday we pickled cucumbers and garlic. So good! I have 5 or 6 pickling cucumber plants, and my parents and grandma have a few, too. I harvested a nice sized box of cucumbers and a few onions from our gardens and set out to Mary’s house.

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We started by washing the cucumbers and onions, then we stuck the boys with the slicing job. Both Nate and Steve work in the food industry so they’re always good helpers :-). They cut the cucumbers longways and sometimes in half if they were big, scraping the mushy seedy part out on the bigger spears. They took some of the skinnier cucumbers and sliced them chip-style so we’d be able to make both types of pickles.

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While Nate and Steve chopped Mary and I washed jars, found kids and rings to match, the set the jars in the steam canner to boil. We also started boiling the brine, a mixture of equal parts white vinegar and water.

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Mary also bought a big bag of peeled garlic which we planned to pickle. This stuff is like crack! The guys chopped the woody ends off and we had the cucumber chunks, chips, and garlic in separate bowls, plus a smaller bowl with a little bit of garlic and the onion slivers.

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Once the jars and brine were boiling we got started adding the spices to the jars. We put some dill (fresh is always best, but we only had fried this time), mustard seed, red pepper flakes, and pickling salt, then we add some chopped onion and a few garlic cloves (although we forgot that part on our first batch this time). We’ve added grape leaves in the past to keep the pickles crunchy, but this time I think we used something called pickle crisp along with the seasonings.

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Next we packed the jars with the sliced cucumbers. This part can be surprisingly tricky; it’s like a puzzle. You want to use slices that fit well with each other so that they’re packed tight. When the jars get nearly full we break chunks off and top them off. Next, we poured the brine in to about half an inch from the top of the jar.

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After the jars are packed we wiped the rims with a clean cloth, the. Set the lid on top and put a ring on, just finger tight. We put the jars onto the rack of the steam canner, then put the lid on and let it boil for about 15 minutes.

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Once the steam canner has boiled at least 15 minutes we pop her open and gently lift the jars out, letting them rest, cool, and *pop* on a kitchen towel on the counter.

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And onto the next batch….

This weekend Mary and I did two batches of pickles (spears and chips), and one batch of pickled garlic. Yum! Our results look amazing… And I can’t wait to eat them. But not so fast! They need to sit and get really pickly, at least 4-6 weeks if I remember correctly.

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I always have such a good time and learn so much when I pickle with Mary. When I’m going through it Mary is always there. When I think I’m going through it but really I’m just being sensitive or over analytic Mary shakes me sane. She’s a good no-nonsense friend, but don’t let the no-nonsense fool you, she’s one who actually cares. At work when we have to talk on the phone I often quickly and loudly tell her I love her before she can hang up, for three reasons: (1) because it makes her laugh awkwardly, (2) it makes others around either of us laugh too, and (3) because I mean it.

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A day in my garden with my boys

I almost didn’t take Friday off work as I had planned, but I did… And I’m so glad! It was a great day.

I got to sleep in a decent amount, until 9:30ish, then Atticus and I went downstairs and I did some (very little, to be honest) cleaning, which included finding a 4 oz. jar in the kitchen sink drain that I could not remove on my own…

Atticus and I went out to water the garden while Trent was still asleep. I’m so happy with how it’s growing! It seems like each summer in this house I’ve had some issue that makes the garden just fail. Pregnancy slowed me down two years, drought another, using the wrong weed killer before planting another… But this is our year so far!

I was pretty ambitious this year, but it’s because I’m determined to get some harvest! I planted about 16 heirloom tomato plants, 16 varying pepper plants (sweet, green, hot), corn, celery, cabbage, zucchini, cucumber, and several herbs. I also have potatoes, onions, rhubarb (brand new, so no harvest this year), and a few other things.

I noticed one of the mystery heirloom tomato plants (my dad often has volunteers that are strayed between several different plants, so we just wait and see what they end up being… I love it!) has some baby tomatoes on it! I’m crossing my fingers that this is either rowdy red or the grape-sized orange variety.

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I also noticed the two heirloom paste tomato plants (the only tomatoes I didn’t get from my dad) have something happening!

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I like to go around every few days and pinch the tomato crotches. Well, that’s what I call it. My mom says my granddad called it suckering the tomatoes. I’ve just always done it because my family has always done it, not sure why. If I had to guess I think it probably helps focus the nutrition in the growing plant on the blossoms instead of in worthless extra growth.

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Atticus likes to watch, mostly, but sometimes help.

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As I was looking things over Friday I noticed a giant hiding under some leaves…

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I took it to the hose to rinse off but Atticus didn’t want to wait…

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I’m hoping to have a bunch more by this next weekend for a possible pickle party. But I had to try out this guy both fresh and with some yummy vinegar.

I chopped the cucumber up as well as a small onion from the garden and threw both into a Tupperware container.

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I splashed in 2 parts red wine vinegar (I was out of apple cider vinegar) and 3 parts water, then added a small palm-full (maybe a tablespoon?) of kosher salt, and a few pinches (maybe 1/2-1 teaspoon?) of sugar, plus a shake of garlic powder. I ate some of them later that night and they are amazing!! Tried more today, two days later, and they’re so tart and a little sweet. Delish!

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Late afternoon/early evening both boys had some splash-time. They love hanging in the yard!

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A lot of nothing

I feel bad that I’m not writing as much lately. When I started this blog I feared it would be yet another thing that I get all gung-ho about and then abandon after awhile. I really don’t want that to happen.

Work has been kicking my butt lately. There are technology issues that even our IT support company are having problems solving. It feels like I’m failing in this position. When I don’t know how to fix something and the help can’t help… it comes back to me and my inability to get it done. It’s a real downer.

My house is pretty much a mess lately as well. Actually, it just is a mess. I don’t care to work on cleaning it. We did get lots of yard work done this weekend and that felt really good. We finally got the rest of our garden planted, and boy is it a doozy! I have 13 heirloom tomato plants, 16 pepper plants, a few varying cucumber plants, zucchini, cabbage, celery, dill, cilantro, rosemary, thyme, Greek oregano, 7 basil plants, corn, and I think a few other things. It was satisfying getting everything in the ground, finally. Hopefully things produce before the frost starts killing it all off.

The boys and I hit my parents strawberry patch last week for some of the first crop. I’ve offered Atticus strawberries before and he hadn’t cared to eat them, but he loved eating he ones he picked himself! Yesterday when I went to my parents’ to pick up some tomato starts my mom gave me some strawberries and both boys have been all over them.

Trent was sick last week, feverish, sore throat and and upset stomach and headache. Also a rash. He says he’s been feeling better but he is just being whiny and kind of a jerk. He’s currently in his room because he can’t stand to be around Atticus. It breaks my heart to see him acting this way. He gets so upset but also so happy. He’s such a feeler. I am too… I’m crying right now as a matter of fact. I just want him to be a happy child. I don’t want him to deal with the difficulties of anxiety or depression.

Lately I’ve just been in a funk. I’ve talked about my anxiety and depression before here. I feel like I’m not succeeding in anything I’m doing, and I’m incredibly disappointed in myself. I can’t say why, other than how terrible I am at my job and how I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing as a parent. Oh, and I’m out of shape and I am an awful housekeeper. I just want to feel okay with things and not worry or be sad about it all. I promise I’ve been taking my prescription the right way lately but it just feels like it isn’t helping anymore. I don’t know. Maybe I just need to stop thinking about it. I just have so many feelings and I can’t sort them out. And I don’t want to. I’m too tired to deal with it lately; I just want to sleep all the time.

So, there’s my bloggity blog for today. Sorry it sucks, dear world. I promise I’ll find something positive and fun to read to blog about soon. Maybe I’ll sort out all the things I plan to do with my garden harvest.

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Figuring out what to plant

How do I know what to plant in my garden? It seems like each summer at the end of gardening season I have several thoughts that I swear I’ll remember next season. What did I plant that for? Why didn’t I plant that? Who knew caring for this plant would be so time-consuming? I think back to my first years with my own garden and wonder why I planted some things. Luckily, this trial and error process is a good thing, I’ve come to realize.

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A few questions I try to ask myself when planning my garden:

  1. Will I use the produce? I try to ask myself if we will eat or use the harvest immediately or at all. My stepson asked last year to plant carrots and corn, which I wouldn’t have chosen myself, but I thought of ways I’d use the produce and have decided to grow them again this year. Win!
  2. Will I know what to do with the produce? I typically keep my herbs in pots because in the past my garden space has been more limited. I got a dill plant at the beginning of the season last year but we didn’t use it at all and it outgrew the pot and just died. Now I know a few things: we likely won’t use it early in the season, it doesn’t work well for us in a pot, and it went to seed quickly. Knowing those things will help us this year.
  3. Is it possible to preserve the produce of I don’t use all of it? I experience to more and more with preserving each year. I’ve received a few preserving books as gifts from my awesome mom and so I have new ideas and things to try. Some years some plants produce a bumper crop and it’s hard to figure out what to do with the produce. I try now to think ahead about how I will preserve the produce of each thing I plant of that happens.
  4. Will I use the preserves? After determining if I can preserve extra produce I try to ask myself if I will use preserves in that way. I have long been tempted to make mint or mint jalapeño jelly but I just don’t foresee us using it, so I never have. On the other side of that coin, however, if it’s something I want to try and I have the extra produce, why not? I might find we really like it.
  5. Will it grow in my garden? I was dead set on trying to grow artichokes last year. I craved them at the end of my pregnancy with Atticus as well as after and I still love them now. I know they aren’t easy to grow in Indiana, but I really wanted it to work last year, so I tried. And I failed. Lesson learned. But again, no harm done. Will it work in my garden? Probably not without some serious accommodations made for the plant. Will I try it again? Not any time soon, I don’t think… But you never know.
  6. How easy will it be to take care of? One word: artichoke. I wanted it to work so much, but seriously… I learned that the plant can take up lots of room, is a perennial that would need to be covered and protected in the winter in my plant hardiness zone (which is 6a), and can take a few years to produce. Is it worth it? Oh, God, how I would live to have fresh artichokes… but no, it isn’t worth it at this time.
  7. Is it appealing to me or my family in at least one way? My dad (gardener extraordinaire) often tells me I should just plant flowers in some parts of my garden, and it used to baffle me. Why plant something that doesn’t give me something? But I’m realizing he might be onto something… My parents have lots of different flowers on their property and I get totally jealous. So this year I think we will put some focus into flowers! After all they do give something: they give my parents happiness, and they surely will us, too. My mom often walks me around the yard at different times in the year and tells me about how she plants different things, what they’re called, and what memories they invoke for her. I want that in my life!
  8. Have I tried growing it before, and if so how did it go? Artichoke. Okay, okay… I’ll give another example this time. I do peas sometimes, but they never do much. They take up quite a bit of space in my raised bed, which is what I primarily use with spring plants, and they only produce a handful of pods a few times before they’re done. However, Trent loves to pick and immediately eat the fresh peas, and they’re fairly easy to take care of, especially the varieties that don’t need support to grow. Will I grow them again? Yes. Because Trent loves them it’s worth it to me, but I plant to do them differently this year. Nate has finished putting up the new perimeter garden bed and we just need to get compost and topsoil mix for it. With the extra space the peas will be worthwhile.

I used to get frustrated with my garden all the time. When things don’t work, when I don’t use all the harvest, when I want to do something particular but don’t ever get to it… all of those things frustrate me. However, I’m learning that gardening is about more than just the produce. I have fun working on my garden with my family, and we love watching the plants grow and produce. Nate and I enjoy talking about and planning for the garden. We love figuring out what we will use in different ways, and we love experimenting with different things since I love canning and preserving and he loves cooking. When we fail it’s ok: it teaches us what works and what doesn’t and what to do differently. Plus, working together as a family outside makes it all worthwhile.

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Starting our spring garden

So much going on right now. I have had no energy to write.

Gardening season is upon us! Nate and I took all three boys to Cox’s Plant Farm last Saturday. I wore Atticus on my back in the ergo and he just loved walking around and looking at all the flowers and plants and watching his brothers run around the greenhouse. I love being able to wear him.

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We picked out our spring plants and got some soil to add to our raised bed. Nick and Trent (and Nate and I, if I’m being honest) love playing Plants vs Zombies, and Trent wanted to buy sunflowers and peas. He looked for some of the other plants from the game, but got distracted easily. The boys had a great time.

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One half of our fenced backyard has planting space around the inside perimeter, but the other half doesn’t… yet. Nate got lots of wood on sale for a really good price and build up another layer on the existing perimeter bed, and plans to do the other perimeter bed hopefully this weekend. This will almost double our planting space!

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After our Easter family dinner we took Nick back to his mom’s house and the younger two boys fell asleep. It gave Nate and I time to plant our carrots, radishes, onions, and lettuce in the raised bed. I potted the lemon balm, spearmint, and lavender we bought to keep around the pergola. They all smell wonderful! I also repotted what was once a tiny aloe baby but is now 4 larger aloe plants. The roots were all balled up tightly together, but I’d let the dirt dry up enough that they were easy to separate without damaging. I plan to give one to my friend Courtney and possibly one to my other pal Sara. I’ll keep the other two. I’m actually glad I finally repotted the aloe, because I burned my arm cooking Sunday afternoon and was able to use one renegade piece of aloe that did come off to help treat the burn that still hurt 5 hours later. It helped a ton.

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Hopefully Nate is able to finish the rest of the perimeter bed this weekend, so I can plant a row of peas. Then, in the next month we can list and plan our other plants. I know we will do pickling cucumbers, tomatoes, corn, green and hot peppers, and a variety of herbs. Not sure what else. So glad the season is finally here!