Archive | May 2012

The Garden Grows!

I’ve been meaning to take some photos of the garden for at least a week as I have watched it explode with new growth.  I continue to be in awe of the miracle of life and the splendor of God’s glory as I witness the seeds I’ve planted, some as tiny as pin heads, burst to life shooting forth up out of the earth.  Every morning I anticipate my morning walk through the garden, cup of coffee in hand, to see what the new day will bring.  Every day I am rewarded; new seedlings have emerged, blossoms appear seemingly out of nowhere, tiny tomatoes or berries appear with a promise of soon gracing our plates with their sweet goodness.  As evening falls I stroll through the garden once again to assess its progress.  Then the little one and I settle in on the deck swing and admire it some more as the sun dips down in the sky.  Here is a sampling of the snapshots I took tonight.

The strawberry patch only weeks after planting the bare roots.  We’re already being rewarded with a tiny handful of berries each day.

Here’s one of the tomato beds.  The plants were looking very yellow and sickly when I first put them in the ground, but they are looking so much healthier since I added the Tomato Tone and blood meal to the soil.  Whew!

Though I grew most of the tomato plants from seeds, the ones I purchased from the garden center are already bearing fruit.

Knee-high by the Fourth of July?

At the rate this corn is growing I think it’s a safe bet that these plants will be well past knee-high when the fireworks start flying!

This bed is ultimately destined to be exclusively for asparagus, but the nurseries were sold out by the time I realized I didn’t buy enough crowns.  For now the asparagus is sharing its space with some chard, eggplant and cosmos.

This bed has a little room to spare, but right now it’s home to some cucumber plants that we will grow vertically, some peppers, lemon grass,  nasturtium, some more cosmos, and tomatillos, though I may have started the seeds too late for them to bear fruit.

Ahhh.  Sweet basil!  Just one of the many varieties of my very favorite herb I planted.  The basil seemed to struggle a bit when I first planted it, but like the tomatoes it’s beginning to show promise.

Looks like we’ll be enjoying some crunchy cucumbers before too long.

The garden looks so full compared to this same shot taken only just a couple of weeks ago.

Though there are still a number of vacancies in the beds,  it will all soon be full as I plan to do some successive planting with a number of veggies.  For now my heart is full of joy as I watch in wonder as my garden grows!

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Bottling Chardonnay

It’s doggon hot outside today, much too hot to work in the garden especially since I have a summer cold. Blah.  The A/C feels great and it’s a good day to tackle some jobs nagging at me from the wine closet: bottle the Chardonnay kit I started in March and rack the Skeeter Pee.

I purchased the Chardonnay kit from Amazon.  This is the second kit I’ve purchased from Amazon and both were Vino Italiano brand 4-week kits.  The price is excellent and the kits both seem pretty fool-proof.  The Merlot isn’t quite ready for drinking though I expect it will be in a month or two.  The reviews for both kits are very good even though they are so darn cheap.  This kit works out to be under $2 per bottle!  Add to that the dollar each I paid for the bottles and it’s still super stinkin’ cheap.  I only put labels and topper on a few of the bottles so they will be ready for gift giving or taking to events where presentation is a bit more important than simply serving the family.  This will save me from having to scrape labels before recycling for the next batch.

The bottles have all been sanitized and, using the bottling wand and my new auto siphon, bottling is a breeze!

Allowing the tip of the bottling wand to rest on the bottom of the bottle allows the wine to flow.  Once it’s filled to the bottom of the neck of the bottle it’s time to lift the wand and the flow stops.

Since corking takes both hands and my feet simultaneously, I wasn’t able to get a shot of that.  My little one even got in on the action by feeding the corks into the corker for me! He says he’s going to make wine too when he grows up.  I think he just wanted to get his hands on the cool corker gadget.  🙂

This batch made 25 bottles of wine.  Not too shabby considering I only paid $41 for the kit.  And by golly, this stuff is good!  I will probably give it a week before sampling a bottle.  Sounds like the perfect excuse to get the girls together for another wine tasting!

Propagating Wandering Jew

Bouyed by my recent success propagating African Violets and growing a avocado plant from an avocado pit, I decided to try propagating a Wandering Jew plant.  I wanted to find an easy to grow house plant for my sitting room that would tolerate low light and my slightly ADD ways.  I’m not really known for having a green thumb and feel pangs of guilt when I kill a perfectly innocent house plant due to my outright neglect.  Lately, I’ve been trying to turn over a new leaf.  🙂

My research led me to the Wandering Jew plant and it was love at first sight!  The beautiful purple and green tailing foliage drew me in.  I picked up this beauty today while on a quest for some Thai Basil for my garden.  (I am craving some Thai Basil Jelly cookies and my jelly stash has been depleted since last summer.)

The list of supplies for this project is short: the plant (of course), a pair of scissors, some potting soil, a container to put the cuttings in, and rooting hormone though this is optional.

Just take some cuttings from the mamma and strip off the bottom leaves.

Wet the stem with a bit of water and dip it into the rooting hormone.

If you don’t have any rooting hormone, no worries.  Just skip this step and it should work just fine.

Next just poke a hole in the soil and insert the stem.

Repeat the process with all of your cutting, give ’em a good drink, and call it done!

I put the cuttings in my sun room and will keep the soil most.  Easy peasy!  Hopefully in just a few weeks I’ll have enough roots to transplant these into some pots for gifts and maybe even replace a few of those dusty old silk plants!

Wandering Jew Propagation Update June 6:

Remarkable!  It’s just 9 days after I took the cuttings from my Wandering Jew plant and already they have enough roots to be transplanted!  I’ve tried propagating several plants, but this was by far the easiest and fastest plant I’ve ever worked with.  The plants were so perky and even growing new leaves when I checked on them today!


I decided to go ahead and pot them up.  These little guys were putting out roots so fast I was afraid they would soon get tangled in their close living quarters.

I love giving homemade gifts for holidays, birthdays and such.  This little experiment turned out so well that I’ll be adding it to my gift giving repertoire.  Now if I could only get my Rosemary to propagate as easily…

Homemade Greek Yogurt

Last summer I discovered just how easy it is to make yogurt and I’ve been making it almost every week since then.  Though vanilla was the first flavor I made and we absolutely loved it, I find plain yogurt is much more versatile so that’s all I make now.  We can enjoy it plain (my personal preference) or jazz it up with some preserves, honey, vanilla, granola, fresh fruit, or even use it in cooking.

I adore the rich, creamy texture of Greek yogurt so once I learned how to make yogurt I discovered that making Greek yogurt only requires one additional step, a step I find well worth the effort.  Greek yogurt is just yogurt that has been strained of additional whey.  Since straining the yogurt really reduces the volume, I always make a gallon at a time, though this method will work with a smaller batch too.

The first step is to heat the milk to 160-180 degrees.  I usually use 2% milk, but any kind will work.

I use a medium to medium high heat, stirring frequently to prevent scorching.

Once the temperature reaches 160 degrees, I remove the milk from the heat and set a timer for about an hour and ten minutes.  The temperature of the milk needs to be down to about 110 degrees before adding the starter.  If the temperature is too high when you add the starter you can kiss your culture goodbye, too cold and the culture can’t do its work.  Either way, your batch fails and you don’t want that!  You can purchase yogurt starter or use plain yogurt as the starter for your batch.  I usually use a few tablespoons from a previous batch as my starter.

Once the temperature drops to 110 degrees I use a measuring cup to scoop out a bit of the warm milk and add a few tablespoons of yogurt.  I use a spoon or whisk to mix this together until it’s a smooth consistency.

Once it’s blended I add the yogurt/milk mixture into the big pot of milk and gently stir it again to disperse the culture throughout the milk.

Now it’s time to allow those cultures to turn the milk into yogurt!  The milk needs to be kept at right about 110 degrees in order for the cultures to do their thing.  Before I purchased my Excalibur dehydrator I used my oven’s bread proof setting and it worked like a charm.  There are lots of other ways to incubate the milk without having any fancy equipment.   Now I just pop a lid on the pot and put the whole thing in my dehydrator and set the temperature to 110 degrees.

I usually keep the pot in the dehydrator for about 5 hours, but no peeking and no jostling as this can disrupt the process and lead to a failed batch, which is always a bummer.  Once the five or so hours have elapsed, I check to make sure the yogurt has set and if so I put the whole covered pot inside my refrigerator to chill out overnight.  If not, I add a little more yogurt and let it work for another hour or two.

Putting the yogurt in the refrigerator allows it to firm up so that it will be ready for the next step.  The next morning the yogurt looks like this.

The yogurt is technically done at this point and can be eaten as is, but as I prefer Greek yogurt I take it to the next level by straining the excess whey.  When I first started making Greek yogurt I used a cheesecloth lined colander to strain the whey.  I found that process to be extremely messy and rather a royal pain in the neck.  After a couple of times doing it that way I began looking for an easier alternative.  I found this handy cheese and yogurt making bag and it makes the process SO much easier!

I simply fill the bag with the yogurt and hang it over a large bowl so the whey can drip out.  I leave this hanging here for an hour or two until the yogurt is just the right consistency.

It’s been dripping for a couple of hours and I am hungry!  See all of the whey that has pooled in the bowl?  That means we have Greek yogurt!

Time to scoop it out and put it in the yogurt jar.  The cool chalkboard label is from my Etsy shop.  I have lots of different styles and can even customize a design for you.  If you like them and would like to place an order for some, I will give you a 15% discount if you mention seeing this on my blog.  Just send me a convo (note) via my Etsy shop and I will create a custom listing for you with the discount applied.

This first bowl with the dollop of homemade peach preserves is for my little one.   He takes great pleasure in mixing it all by himself so I am not allowed to stir it up for him.  🙂

Yum!

I only scooped out about half of the yogurt.  The rest is going to stay in the cheese bag and into the fridge for another day to allow more of the whey to be drained off.  Tomorrow morning I should have some delicious, tangy yogurt cheese!  More on that in a future post, but here’s a snapshot of how I string up the bag so it stays out of the way, oops I mean whey.  My Pampered Chef bowl is perfect for the job!  By the way, don’t throw away your whey!  It has tons of awesome uses!  I am collecting some to make a big batch of ricotta cheese.

Making yogurt is easy, fun and is super healthy.  Plus, making it at home is so much cheaper than buying it and the taste of homemade yogurt is far superior to store-bought.  If you love yogurt like we do, give it a try!  You may never go back to buying it ever again!  Feel free to leave questions or comments below.

Until next time…

Watchin’ My Corn Pop Up In Rows!

Been busy in the garden these last couple of weeks planting new plants and sowing a variety of seeds.  My efforts have already been rewarded with the emergence of lots of tiny seedlings!  I am perhaps most excited to see my corn making its debut!  I’ve been bopping all over the house and garden singing Tim McGraw’s song “Where The Green Grass Grows”.   My little one just giggles at my off-key rendition and chimes in to sing along with me.

Discovering a few spindly stalks of asparagus was also enough to make my day!  I had only just planted some roots and, having no experience with asparagus, really had no idea what to expect.

I missed the photo opp of the very first tiny asparagus and it was only a matter of days when all these plants appeared.

Cucumber, watermelon, and cantaloupe seedlings all emerged.  Were’ going to grow these vertically along one of the 4’x12′ beds.  Here’s a shot of the cucumber seedlings in the foreground with the watermelon and cantaloupe in the background along the left edge of the bed.

I am not seeing any impressive growth yet with the pepper transplants.  They might even be a touch too yellow.

But my poor tomato transplants really are looking jaundiced.  Can you use that term with plants? I don’t really know, but it’s the only way I know to describe it.

I decided to sprinkle a little Tomato Tone around the tomato beds to see if this would perk them up.  But my kale and spinach was also dropping the older leaves after turning yellow, and the peppers and cucumbers all seem too yellow to me.  So after some research I decided this could be a nitrogen deficiency.  Because I skimped and only used one type of compost when making the beds, I am assuming that my soil isn’t nutritionally balanced.   So I added a little blood meal to all of the beds to try to boost the nitrogen levels.  I was careful to add the blood meal sparingly  having read that too much nitrogen can cause the plants to be very lush and green, but may decrease fruit production, .

My lettuce seems to be doing pretty well, but the spinach just doesn’t look very healthy.  I hope the addition of the blood meal with help with production and keep the older leaves from turning yellow.

Here are a couple photos of the flowers in my hanging basket.

Gardening just increases my awe of my wonderful of my Maker!  Every time one of the seeds I’ve planted makes its appearance above the surface of the soil I am caught by surprise.  I imagine this sense of wonder will diminish the longer I am a gardener, but I truly hope it doesn’t as I am addicted to the feeling of elation mixed with a sense of accomplishment.

“I’m gonna live where the green grass grows
Watch my corn pop up in rows
Every night be tucked in close to you
Raise our kids where the good Lord’s blessed
Point our rocking chairs towards the West
And plant our dreams where the peaceful river flows
Where the green grass grows”

The Making Of My Square Foot Garden

The first time I heard about square foot gardening I knew I had to give it a try!  I found everything about it to be utterly appealing and completely fascinating.  What could be better than growing more fruits and vegetables in less space with WAY less work than traditional gardening methods?  I had to know more.

I immediately began scouring the Internet to learn all that I could about the SFG method.  Soon I had my first raised bed in place.  Because DH’s job requires him to travel each week, we purchased raised bed kits from the local box store vs. building them ourselves. It was just easier to pull them out of the box, snap them together and get gardening!   My first raised bed was a double decker 4’x12′ that I filled with tomatoes.

The next year I expanded with two 4’x4′ beds and decided the double-decker bed was overkill.   A second, identical bed would be much more useful.  So I pulled it apart and made another 4’x12′ bed.  Sadly, this is the only picture I could find of the second year configuration though, thankfully I’ve become much more dutiful about snapping photos as you will soon see.  There’s a bit of lettuce growing in the square on the left and we’re just getting reading to fill the font bed when the photo was taken.

My research did me little good these first two years because I didn’t bother to follow Mel’s method, but rather mixed up my own soil using just dirt the first year and purchased compost, peat moss, and the earth from under the bed the second.  At this point I hadn’t purchased Mel Bartholomew’s book and didn’t  fully grasp the concept of the benefits of using Mel’s Mix.  I found composted cow manure and peat moss at the local box store, no problem.  But one look at the cost of vermiculite and bags of other composted material and I knew these were out of the question.  After all, my previous gardening experience was to simply plunk the plant in the dirt, give it a drink every now and again and my plants grew just fine.  I had to be miles ahead of the game with the composted cow manure and peat moss, right?

Not so.  My plants did not thrive the way I thought they should, and in fact were very sad and scraggly looking.  I don’t have any photos of the garden growing last year, perhaps partly due to the fact I didn’t want a record of how pitiful my “prized” garden looked.  The tomatoes plants were downright ugly and the quality of the fruit was mediocre at best.  Fortunately, I was rewarded with a fairly bountiful harvest.  But it was certainly not the lush, beautiful garden I had expected.  I have been told by other gardeners that last year was a terrible year for gardens in our area and not to base anything off of that experience.

Even though the experience was not all I hoped it would be, I absolutely fell in love with gardening and became even more determined to get it right.  So, this year I actually purchased the book and I am attempting to implement more of Mel’s method into my garden.  Thinking a large part of the problem with last year’s garden was skipping the addition of vermiculite, this year I was determined to try to find a cheaper source for the stuff.  After letting my fingers do the walking and lots of Googling I finally found a garden center not too far away that carries 20 pound bags for $20!  Perfect!

My plan for this year’s garden was to double the size by duplicating the configuration from last year.  However, I immediately ran into a problem when the box store informed me they stopped carrying the raised beds I had previously purchased.  Oh no! Not good!  I really wanted the whole thing to be cohesive and using the same material was crucial to my design plan.

Now, lest I go down a rabbit trail and lose you completely, I will skip all the travel log about how I searched and searched until finally finding what I was looking for.  So on to the punch line, so to speak.  My box store customer service rep discovered that another store location happened to have twelve packages left in stock!  This was more than the eight packages I was looking for, but when she informed me they were selling them for half off I decided to take them all!  I was just plain giddy over my find.

So now, you’re just about caught up with my whole square foot gardening adventure to date.  Let’s pick up with the garden as of this spring.  With 12 new 4’x4′ box kits ready to be assembled and filled I redesigned my original garden plan and began filling the beds.

The first new addition was for our long awaited 4’x12′ strawberry patch!  I added this bed and filled it with bare root strawberry plants on March 22.

Here’s the garden configuration as seen from the deck that same day.  Pretty boring so far.

But on March 29th a little excitement came our way as we discovered this guy growing in one of the beds.  It must have been a stray seed from last year.  Very cool!

On April 3, I added another long bed and a small square.

Here’s a photo of the progress the strawberry plants are making as of the 3rd.  I was so tickled that the bare root plants were growing so fast.

Some onion plants…

And some arugula transplants I started from seed indoors.  (Weed wacker conked out so we had to wait for DH to come home to fix it.)

On April 13 I added another long bed and another square.  Bit by bit I am getting my garden where I want it to be.

Here’s the shot from the deck.

I couldn’t resist snapping a photo of some shallots growing in the herb garden.  They didn’t grow for me last year and I am so excited that I have lots of them growing this year.  I adore shallots!

By May 11 I had all of the beds filled and lots of stuff already growing.  I decided to start putting my transplants in the ground even though we aren’t officially past the last frost date.  The 10 day weather forecast was looking good so I decided to take my chances.

Here’s what it looks like from the deck after everything went in the ground that day.

And this takes me to yesterday when my step-son built the trellises for our squash, watermelon, pumpkins, cukes and the like.  It should be interesting to see how we fare with vertical growing this year.   I’ve ordered the netting from Amazon and expect them to arrive today.  DH added the tomato cages over the weekend.

My engineer husband will be so proud of his son.  He actually used a level to get the trellises just right!

The highlight of the day was discovering this little gem, our first red strawberry, hiding in the strawberry patch. If the bunnies or birds haven’t snatched it away, I’ve promised it to my littlest one.

Time to wrap up this post and head out the the garden for more planting and another big adventure: composting!  Yep, I finally broke down and bought a composter so we can make our own black gold!  More about that coming soon…

Photoshop Digital Greeting Card Success!

It’s garage sale day in our neighborhood and, as I’ve been so busy pulling that together all week I’ve not had much time to think about Mother’s Day this coming Sunday.  This morning, bright and early I opened the garage door, tagged a few miscellaneous treasures, and waited for the throngs of people to arrive.

Sadly, there have been no throngs.  Though the weather is beautiful, albeit a tiny bit on the chilly side, it’s been slow going with the sale.  Time to start thinking about Mother’s Day and, in particular, Mother’s Day cards.  Fortunately, I did spend a little time earlier in the week shopping online for mom’s gift and it’s already been shipped.  But the card, well that was going to take a bit more planning.

You see,  as a former Stampin’ Up! demonstrator and self-professed creative freak I feel great pangs of guilt if I purchase a greeting card vs. making one myself.  And ever since I started digital scrapbooking I’ve thought of making my own cards digitally as well.  In little snippets of time I have done a little digging around to see how to make cards in Photoshop.  I downloaded some templates and even made a couple of card fronts.  But I just haven’t taken the time to figure out how to print off the whole thing, outside and in, from Photoshop and my printer.

With nothing to do today but watch and wait, wait and watch for people to come and buy my wares, I opened up Photoshop and began designing.   Once the outside and inside of the card were complete it was time to fire up the printer and give it a go.

My first attempt was a flop.  I printed the outside of the card first, put the card stock back into the printer and printed the inside.  The greeting was upside down and on the wrong end of the paper.  So, I gave it another go.  This time I flipped my Photoshop document 180 degrees before printing the inside and, voila. Perfection!  I felt like dancing a jig!

All in all, it just wasn’t the monster of a project I made it out to be.  But isn’t that the way it goes?  We procrastinate and procrastinate when it comes to trying something new and when we finally do tackle it, it turns out not to be such a big deal after all.

Here’s the front and back of the card:

And the inside:

You can find card templates for Photoshop here.  The digital content is all from Stampin’ Up! and I found the poem here.

Unfortunately, my mom won’t be receiving her card on time this year (no surprise to her, I am sure).  But, Mom, if you’re reading this I LOVE YOU!  Happy Mother’s Day!