Garden Chit-Chat

Spring is getting closer and as I mentioned on the Coupon Geek Facebook Page yesterday, I’m itching for the weather to get warmer here in Illinois so I can start getting to work on this year’s garden. Last year was my first year attempting to try my hand, or should I say green thumb, at a bigger garden. I figured I’d be outside with the kids quite a bit so we may as well have a little project to do while we are soaking up some of those summer rays.

I went back and forth whether I wanted to try a normal garden or take a chance at Square Foot Gardening. Since our yard is mostly clay soil, I figured I’d go with SFG. And I don’t regret it one bit–nor did I miss any of those crazy weeds. Oh, a few would blow in now and again but for the most part, my garden was free of them. (But it wasn’t free of a little critter that hopped right on my foot when I went to reach for a tomato. Thankfully, that was just a cute little bunny or I’d probably still be shaking from the surprise.)

While we tried to get a jump-start using some seeds, I have to say, I failed miserably at growing seeds indoors. They sprouted. We all got excited. And then somehow, I killed them all before I could get them planted. But, I’m going to give it a shot again this year. I think I might have left them too close to the window during a strange late coldspell that we had. Not sure. But I was so excited when little by little, each seed that we sowed outside grew.

Prior to that year, I had only planted a couple tomato/pepper plants that I bought as starters. Or I had a couple container tomato plants. So imagine my excitement when in our first year, we were growing strawberries (picture above is some from our garden!), beans, lettuce, carrots, kohlrabi, a few pepper varieties, tomatoes, potatoes, radishes, and some spices. And one plant that became my favorite, completely by mistake!

I wanted to plant some rhubarb so I could make a strawberry rhubarb pie. I bought some seeds but when I went to plant them, it clicked—it wasn’t rhubarb but Swiss Chard Rhubarb. Completely different! Swiss Chard is more like a spinach and you actually eat the leaves where, from what I gather, Rhubarb leaves are actually toxic and you just eat the stems. But it turned out OK as I fell in love with cooking up Swiss Chard in garlic and olive oil for a side dish for us. It became one of my favorite things to grow—probably just because it prospered so much!

My goal this year is try to get as many Coupon Geek readers that haven’t gardened–to try their hand at it this year. Even if it’s simply just a few container plants or some spices you grow in your kitchen window. It’s completely amazing at how fresh your food will taste and how much fun you’ll have with the kids. You might just get them to eat more veggies if they grow their own–as I found that to be true here.

More Chit-Chat to come….

Gardening Fun: My Latest Garden Pics

It’s been awhile since I posted a garden update. I wanted to wait until I had my Square Foot Garden all assembled and some plants in before I posted a new one. I’ve been reading and following the All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space! book over the last six weeks or so. I had a really hard time finding the certified asbestos-free vermiculite for “Mel’s Mix” so I had to proceed without it. (I’m in no way recommending this, though, as I don’t know how it will turn out.) I have some really rich Organic Soil, Organic Compost and Peat Moss for Organic Gardening, so I’m hoping I’ll be OK. Things are growing really well so far as you can see from the picture below: (The strawberry patch isn’t pictured in this one, as it’s in a separate area.)

My hubby was busy putting together our large swing-set for the kids so he bought me a two-tiered raised bed from Gardener’s Supply Company for Mother’s Day. I really loved the green color that blends in with the yard and I like how one side is 6″ inches deep, while the other is 12″ deep so I can place deeper-growing plants in there without any worries. Since I like how the square-foot gardening is going, I’ll have him build me two more 4×4 boxes next year. So I’ll keep my eye out for some lumber sales before then. (Who knows, maybe I’ll convince him to build me a set this year!) :)  So far, the wood lath that we used for the grid is working really well.

I planted mostly Organic Seeds but for the Tomatoes and Peppers, I purchased Organic Transplants, since I was a little late in getting started. (They were actually 50% Off when I went to buy them, so I got really lucky there!)  I’m quite amazed at how fast everything is growing! Below is a picture from a few weeks back of our lettuce:

What I like about the square foot gardening is that it really reduces weeds. I’ve had a couple that seemed to have blown in or something. What’s nice is, since the seeds are in their grid spots (like in sets of 16 or 9), I can tell where a weed is really easily and not have to worry if I’m pulling out a growing plant.

The kids are having a fun time watering the garden and picking a few of the foods that were ready, such as strawberries and radishes. (Those are both great plants to grow with kids, if you are looking for something fairly easy.) We were all sad when the strawberry growing season ended for us.

I’m amazed at how many plants were listed for fall. I was always thinking that if I didn’t get anything going by summer, that I was done for the year since it’s so cold here. But I can still get in some things this fall in some of my square foot spots that open up.

I’m hoping that you are all having great luck with your gardens, as well! Make sure you check out Teresa’s Gardening Pictures from this week, too!

UPDATE: Some of you asked to see the swing-set. It’s pictured below:

The box said 20-40 hrs of assembly with two people and my hubby assembled the entire thing himself, with only help from a neighbor to hold the roof and slide top while he drilled them in. It took a long, long time to build! So you can see why he didn’t want to build a garden bed during it! What you are looking at is my 2010 Vacation. :)

When we found the deal, we decided to buy it rather than taking a family vacation (that the kids would be too young to remember) and get this for them instead.  It was on some crazy one-day deal. We were lucky enough to get the last one they had. It’s made for a lot of great family memories every day so I’m glad we invested in it. We don’t seem to mind missing out on that vacation!

Gardening Freebies and Deals

I won’t be putting up a Gardening Fun posting this week. I’m about 50% done with my garden bed and I want to wait until it’s finished before I show you what I’ve done. I actually changed my mind and did go with a raised garden bed. :) You can check out Teresa’s latest gardening updates.

Burpee is offering a Free Vegetable Garden Guide right now. Hope you are able to snag one! Thanks to The Thrifty Mama for that!

Crystal also has a deal on how you can get Natural Pesticide at Ace Hardware for $.99 after Rebate.

I’ve come to like an online company called Gardener’s Supply Company. I had my hubby get my Mother’s Day gifts through them. I’ll show you one next week but I had to share that I  love their Nitrile Gloves. I’ve tried several gardening gloves and they are the best I’ve found. I actually forgot I had them on! They are almost like a second skin yet they didn’t get my hands all sweaty. I thought they had a good grip for pulling weeds, too. They are offering 10% off your Gardener’s Supply Company order of $50 or more through 5/20/10. No code needed. You just have to go through this link.

Definitely check out their Free Kitchen Garden Planner. I played with that for awhile last weekend planning out my garden and then printing my “map.” It’s going to make it a lot easier for me when I go and plant my garden this weekend. They even have garden plans pre-planned for Salsa Bar, Chef’s Choice, Salsa Garden, etc.

Hope you are all enjoying your gardening time! Feel free to share what you are planting or what’s popping up in your gardens right now. I love to hear from you!

Gardening Fun: A Few More Blooms

We are still working on getting my gardening area dug up and ready to get all the plants in. I’m hoping it will be nice over the Mother’s Day weekend here soon to get it all finished and ready to go.

So this week, I thought I’d share a few of my other plants in case you were looking for any landscaping ideas.

This is a Japanese Red Maple Tree. It’s so gorgeous, especially when the sun shines down on it and brings out the red in the leaves. I’ve had several people walking and driving by that have stopped to ask us what kind of tree it is so they can buy one, too.

These little purple flowers are called creeping phlox. They actually come in different colors. They tend to be used more for a ground cover as they have a tendency to spread and fill in your landscaping. This little guy is a fighter. We transferred all of the phlox, or so I thought, and yet this spring, it popped out of no where.

These are the irises that I promised I’d share the bloom pictures with you. I have a several different colored varieties of these. These vibrant purple ones really pop out in the landscaping.

And here’s my favorite thing to share this week….my first strawberry bloom! The kids were so excited when I showed it to them. It will be fun to watch it transform into a nice little red one.

So my goals for this week are to add more mulch to my flower bed area to replace what was carried away last year. I’ve decided not to go with the square boxes so I’m also going to meet with a gardening center to get everything we’ll need to turn my clay soil into a fabulous vegetable garden.

I’d love to learn how to can and preserve so I might see if our local college has one of those short classes on that subject. Though, I think I may have a source of someone that can teach me directly. We’ll see what happens.

I’m hoping you are enjoying the great outdoors and getting in a little gardening, too! Don’t forget to check out Teresa’s posting this week. She also shares a little on how she composts.

Gardening Fun: What’s Currently Blooming

Not much was going on in our garden area last week.  But a few things are popping up in our flower garden area and I thought I’d take a quick moment to share some pics.

This is a forsythia bush. It is actually one of the first things that blooms in our landscaping–even before the tulips. When we first bought our house, I saw these blooming in other yards and I just had to get a couple. They take some maintenance to keep trimmed if you have a smaller area but they are really pretty when in full bloom.

This is the very first lilac bud that I’ve had. It bloomed Thursday and my son picked it and brought it in to me. It was the best surprise! I’ll take lilacs over flowers any day.–they are my faves!

And I finally had one tulip that graced us with its beauty. I love how they open and close depending on the weather.

I’m trying to decide what to do about our front landscaping. I love the look of mulch as it seems a little more natural but it keeps blowing away causing me to buy more each spring. Overall, investing in rock might save us money but I’m not sure I want to go with that look. For those of you with mulched landscaping, do you have to replace yours often, as well?

Don’t forget to check out Money Saving Maine-iac’s gardening posting, too. She has a picture of her composting and things that are in her garden right now.

Gardening Fun: Successes and Failures

When Teresa and I were chatting about what we were going to share for our postings this week, I told her that mine would probably just be a sad picture of my mostly-dead seedling babies:

I was heartbroken this week when all but about 6 of seedlings died. I was so sad on the ones that didn’t survive that I almost let myself forget just how much fun my son and I had planting those! You can see three of the six survivors pictured. I’m not quite sure what went wrong. There could have been not enough sunlight in the window where they were. Or maybe I took the greenhouse lid off too soon. Or it could have been that one cold night that might have drafted in too much cold air for them. I just don’t have the answer. But here’s what I do know, gardening is a series of successes and failures. We can’t let the failures take away the fun of gardening or we’ll never get to experience the joy of all those successes.

What was very ironic is that same day Teresa and I were chatting…I found something completely uplifting outside. It was a nice warm day so the kids and I were playing outdoors. I was picking away some dead plants from last year’s garden and then I saw them…..strawberry plants:

I had completely forgotten that I had planted them late last year. I am hoping that they will bloom here in June but we’ll see what happens. I also found all my plant markers from last year:

It made me remember that I had successfully planted tomatoes, green peppers and jalapeno plants last year. So you see, gardening is not about a 100% success rate (though that would be nice!) but it’s about just enjoying the times when you are successful and just remembering the fun that comes with gardening.

I hope that you are keeping your spirits high on your gardening endeavors, too! Make sure you check out Teresa’s gardening successes and failures. I’m tempted to grow some alfalfa sprouts now!

Gardening Fun: Using What’s in Season to Save Money

While having a garden can be a nice little hobby and some savings in the long-run, what do you do when all of a sudden you have an over-abundant crop of an item? Aside from sharing with every family member, friend and neighbor you know, how about taking another approach—planning ahead and finding some new recipes. (and of course, still share your abundant crops of food, too!)

The first step is to know what’s in season when. And since you are all from various locations, I thought that a map would be the best place to send you for a resource. After doing a Google search, I found a nice one on Epicurious. You just select your state and then whatever month you want at the top, and it will tell you what fruits/veggies are in season. Once you know what fruits/veggies to expect to ripen soon, you can plan some new recipes around them. This also works for those of you that don’t have gardens, too, in that typically what’s in season will also be at a discount in the grocery stores.

Some resources for recipes?

I’ve mentioned before a book that I found called Simply in Season (World Community Cookbook). They have a lot of nice recipes that are color coded by season and such.

Last year, I enjoyed following Tammy’s Recipes for her “In-Season Recipe Swap.” I’m not sure if she’s going to continue or not but you can always go back to her older postings for ideas. Just don’t visit her site on an empty stomach or you might want to eat your computer monitor. She has fabulous pictures of food! I can’t get the grilled asparagus out of my head and I’m sure I’ll be buying some soon now to get rid of the craving!

Keeping current on what’s coming up in-season is a great way to save money if you plan your meals around some of those items. I’m getting anxious for the warmer weather so my garden can start growing and we can start picking those veggies!

Be sure to check out Teresa’s posting from this last week. She has some more pictures from her garden and a little bit about square foot gardening.