Archive for April, 2011

I have really enjoyed hearing about your garden progress!  Most of you are ahead of us, but we finally did get our seeds planted, and I’ve posted pictures of Hubby’s grow-light rig in the Flickr group so you can check it out. 

This week is all about building raised garden boxes.  We get more questions about this part of our garden than anything else.  I love this system.  It works well, keeps the weeds down, and provides the structure we need to keep out the deer. 

The main concept came from the book Square Foot Gardening.  In the book, the author suggests making the boxes 4 x 4.  The master gardeners in our family (Hubby’s parents) use boxes of this size to grow almost all of their veggies.  Ours are 6 x 6.  It’s a little awkward for weeding (I can never get them out of the middle once the deer netting is on!) but space-wise it is a good size for us and we can grow quite a lot of veggies in our 4 boxes. 

Our boxes are made of 2×8 boards, screwed together (with decking screws) at the ends into a square shape.

 A block of wood is then screwed into each corner to keep the boards from shifting.  This piece is important otherwise the boards will shift apart over time.  Trust us.  We know. 

Too simple an explanation for you?   There are very detailed building instructions on the Pioneer Woman’s website if you want some step-by-step directions

Once the box is built we put down black landscaping fabric to keep out the weeds, lay the box on top, and fill it with dirt.  It’s that simple.

One of our “boxes” is really more of a boxed garden.  Originally built for growing pumpkins, it now hosts the bulk of our veggie garden, and when surrounded by deer netting keeps the graceful pests out of the veggies. 

Most of our boxes are surrounded by gravel walkways and I prefer this to  the one that sits in the grass because it is a pain to mow around.  Of course, if you don’t have deer netting to get tangled into your lawn mower it may not be so bad!   

How do you grow your gardens?

Please share in the comments how your gardening is coming along, and feel free to link to any of your own gardening blog posts, or other resources that you know of.  Happy growing!

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Simple Beauty

Hubby and I have discovered a new place to walk.  It’s a bit unconventional for this girl, but it’s quiet (except for the odd woodpecker and rooster) and it has some beautiful scenery.

Sometimes it pays to walk off the beaten track.  This “trail” starts a 5 minute jaunt from our house and we’ve walked the bridge over it more times than I can count.  And then one day we decided to walk beside it.  It’s amazing the beauty you can find when you aren’t necessarily looking for it. 

Where is there beauty around you today?

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I am moving on to the next week in the Extreme Makeover: Fabric Edition challenge!  Thanks so much to all of you who voted! 

Here is what I made:  (did you guess correctly?)

The pants are from Ottobre Spring/Summer 2009.  It might have been a bit ambitious for me to use an Ottobre pattern when I am unfamiliar with making pants with a waistband and zipper.  (Ottobre instructions are minimal)  But, as I keep finding over and over again, the fit is so much better with Ottobre patterns, and worth the extra work of tracing patterns, adding seam allowances and figuring out what the instructions are trying to tell you.  I’ll definitely be making another pair of these again soon. 

You might have recognized the top from here.  The pattern is “Irene” from Ottobre Autumn/Winter 2010.  I absolutely love this top pattern.  It’s as fun to make as it is to wear.  This time I made it a little bit shorter. 

The knit top underneath is made from A BurdaStyle pattern.  The same one I used here.  The more I sew with knits, the easier it gets.  This one is definitely one of my best yet. 

This cute little bag is from Meg McElwee’s book Sew Liberated.  In the interest of using more fabric I made my own bias tape and then turned it into piping.  There was a bit of a panic when I realized I didn’t have any cord for the piping, but managed to make do with a couple of old shoelaces.  (Recycling at it’s best!)  I also added a pocket inside as I can’t imagine having a bag with only one pocket.   The flowers are simple yo-yos with button centers and wool felt stems. 

Not bad for one week of sewing, right?   Nothing like a little competition for motivation!  🙂

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If you haven’t seen yesterday’s post, would you take a minute to vote in the sewing challenge?  Thanks so much! 🙂

Happy Easter and welcome to week 2!  Did you get your seeds started?  Don’t worry if you haven’t, we haven’t done ours yet (although they WILL be started this week-end!)

This week, I thought I’d dish the dirt on dirt.  Because if you don’t have dirt, you don’t have a garden, right?  (well…unless you’re growing hydroponically of course, but I’m not going to get into that today….)

Soil is the most important part of the gardening equation.  If you’ve got good soil, you’ll have strong and healthy plants.  If you’re going to spend your gardening money anywhere, spend it on your soil.  When your garden is growing strong and healthy and producing beautiful flowers and plentiful fruit and veggies, you’ll be glad you did. 

So…how do you get good soil? 

Well, there is a lot of information out there on soil.  You can have it tested, you can till it, dig it, double dig it, you can create your own special soil from soil recipes, or buy it pre-mixed in bags from the store.  About the only thing you can’t do is clear a patch of land in your backyard and plunk your plants in, hoping for the best.  The best is not what you will get.

We keep things simple around here.  Our backyard is made up of hard, rocky, clay – great for growing weeds and not much else.  So we brought in soil for all of our gardens.  When we were building our gardens, we purchased a truckload of soil mixed with mushroom compost to fill them in.  When that ran out we bought bags of pre-mixed soil from the gardening centre.  In the spring, we dig and turn our soil, working in compost or manure as we go, and topping up the garden beds with pre-mix soil as needed.  The shiny things you see in our garden beds are bits of shell from the marine compost we like to use in addition to our kitchen compost.    I also like to mix bone-meal into my perennial gardens, because that’s what my grandmother always did and her gardens were gorgeous!

That’s it!  Simple and effective.  Maybe too simple for other gung-ho gardeners, but it works for us.

If you want to get more into the nitty-gritty of dirt, you will find some great information on soil including recipes to create your own soil mix in the book “Square Foot Gardening”  (which is also a great resource if you want to grow your veggies in raised boxes like ours, although I’ll cover that in another post.)  There are also lots of online gardening resources, but this great Mother Earth News Article touches on most of the things that Hubby and I have read about good soil (although we aren’t applying all of it yet!)

Don’t forget to share your gardening tips and links to your blog posts in the comments.  And don’t forget about the Flickr group, ready and waiting for your garden photos!

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Sewing Challenge!

I am one of 8 contestants on the “Extreme Makeover: Fabric Addition” hosted by this blog and this one.  For the first week we were asked to sew items on the theme “Wildflowers and Whimsy” using as much fabric from our stash as possible.  I had a tonne of fun and can’t wait to show you what I got accomplished in a week (but I have to wait because I’m not allowed to share until voting is done.)

Please take a minute to hop on over and vote for this week’s entries.    Voting is open until Sunday night.  (I’ll be curious to know if you could guess which entry is mine.  Although of course you should vote for whichever you think is best!)     Thanks so much!

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You might remember from last year that once a year my students get to choose their own topic of study for a month.  This year the winner was something they called “Ooshy, Gooshy, Take Home Science.”   So this month I have been up to my elbows in goo each day as we explore the messiest science experiments I can find, and at the end of the day there is always something ooshy or gooshy for them to take home with them. 

On one of our theme days I decided to teach the students about kitchen chemistry.  We had already learned about suspensions in a previous science experiment (a solution where solid molecules are suspended in a liquid) so making our own butter seemed like a good extension of this.

It was a hit!   (With the students and the grown-ups in the room.)  It was fun to make, and delicious spread on our home-made pizza dough  (we studied how leavening agents work) with a little garlic and cheese as homemade garlic fingers. 

You can make your own butter, too.  Here’s how:

Start with whipping cream and a clean glass jar with a tight-fitting lid.  (The bigger the jar, the harder work this is going to be so start small.)

Fill the jar 1/3 full of cream.

Now shake!

This takes a lot of shaking, and if there are kids doing it, a lot of “is it done yet?  Can we look at it?  If you stop to look, you will see that it is getting thicker, but it’s not butter yet.

Put some good shaking music on to renew the motivation to keep shaking!  In my classroom we enjoyed shaking around to “Philadelphia Chickens” from the Sandra Boynton CD of the same title.

Eventually it is going to get so thick that you feel like you can’t shake anymore.  Trust me, it can be done. 

On the outside the jar is all white.  On the inside you will find you’ve made whipping cream.  Yummy, but not the goal for the day.  Put the lid back on and shake some more. 

You will know your shaking is paying off when you start to see little bits of clear glass again.  Keep shaking.

As the cream turns into butter and buttermilk the sides of the jar will become clear again and you will be able to see the butter starting to gather.  Keep shaking until you have a nice clump of butter and some milky white liquid (the buttermilk)

Open the jar and pour off the buttermilk (you can save it for baking if you like.)  Rinse your butter with cold water and transfer to a serving dish.

You have just made your very own butter!  (and enjoyed a good arm workout, too!)  Enjoy!

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  Welcome to the first Installment of How Does Your Garden Grow!    I am super excited that several of you are joining in, and remember to spread the word, the more the merrier! 

Before I get into the topic of the day, I really want to be sure you understand that I am not a gardening expert.  Yes, Hubby and I have had great success with our gardens so far, and yes, our gardens are fairly extensive.  But this is only our fourth year as gardeners.  Our secret?  Hubby’s knowledgeable parents who have happily passed on their wisdom and resources.    I will gladly share with you all that we do to grow our gardens, what we have learned from our resident gardening experts, and I will be happy that you can all benefit from the wisdom of our mistakes.    But there are many ways to grow a garden and we are all continuing to learn.  So please share your thoughts and ideas of what has worked for you in the comments, and we can all grow together!  (he he…yes that pun was totally intentional…)

The topic of the day is:  Seed Starting Indoors

Although the snow is quickly melting away, it will be another few weeks before we start considering planting seeds in the ground.  But for us, this is THE weekend for starting our seeds indoors.  This will give some of our plants (namely tomatoes) a six week start on our planting date of the last week-end in May.  If you haven’t chosen your seeds yet, you might want to start with my post on planning your garden.  Otherwise, let’s get planting! 

Why start seeds indoors?  We start seeds indoors because our weather leaves us with a relatively short growing season.  There just isn’t enough time for certain seeds to germinate and grow into fruit-producing plants (or flower-producing if you are growing a flower garden) before frost hits again without giving them a head start. 

Which seeds do I start?  Usually, if you need to start the plants inside, this will be stated on the seed package itself.  For us this year, this means tomatoes.  In past years we have also started leeks, pumpkins, melons, peppers, and a wide variety of herbs.   Many annual flowers call for being planted indoors as well.

How do I plant them?  Plant your seeds in small pots (you can buy all kinds of seed starting kits, trays, and pots at your local gardening store) in potting soil and then keep them moist.  Once sprouting has begun keep the trays under a grow lamp.  In our house in past years, this has been a flourescent grow-light from the hardware store suspended from the ceiling over the plants and adjusted in height as the plants grow.  (Unless you have an unfinished basement with exposed beams, or are otherwise willing to put eye-hooks in your ceiling, this probably isn’t going to work for you).  This year hubby is planning on building a kind of growing rig out of pvc pipe (pictures to come when it is finished) that looks a little like this.   The most popular option seems to be turning a set of shelves into a growing station like this one.   Whatever you do, don’t plunk your seeds in front of a “sunny window” and hope that they will grow.  Unless you happen to have the perfect south-facing windows, your seedlings just won’t get enough light for optimal growth.

How do I take care of them?  Keep the plants watered, but not drowning.  Make sure the light is an appropriate distance from the top of the plants (check the box of your light but it’s usually less than 12 inches).  If you plant more than one seed in each pot, thin the seedlings out as they grow (this is the part we always find tough, but learn from our mistakes here, your plants will grow better when they are not crowded.)  Gardening wisdom tells us to fertilize our seedlings every 2 weeks.   To be honest, I don’t think we have ever fertilized ours before we have planted them outdoors (I know, shame on us!  We will have to start this year!) 

Don’t Panic!  If some of your seeds don’t come up, simply plant new ones.  If you are “late” starting your plants (as in, the package says to plant them 8 weeks before they go outside but that will be the middle of June) don’t stress about it.  We had one year where all of our plants didn’t make it into the garden until the middle of June and we still ended up with a bumper crop of veggies.  Relax.  Remember, gardening is supposed to be fun!

What if I don’t want to start seeds indoors?  You can always purchase your plants at a garden centre at planting time.  It will cost you more, but the work is already done for you, and most good gardening centres guarantee healthy plants. 

That’s it!  Now it’s time to get planting!  I love this time of year! 

Let’s really make this a community of gardeners.  Please share in the comments your seed-starting adventures, tips, links to other resources, or links to gardening posts on your own blog.  If you’re planting, or live somewhere where you already have plants in the ground, (lucky you!) be sure to take pictures and share them in our Flickr pool!

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A good book should leave you… slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it. ~William Styron, interview, Writers at Work, 1958

As my life seems to be getting busier and busier I am finding it even more important than usual to carve time out of my day to read.  Living vicariously through the lives of others gives me a wee break from my own thoughts and worries and tops up my tired brain with new insights and ideas.  Here are a few I have been pondering over the last month or so.

Better Off  byEric Brende.  I loved this book.  Probably because sometime in my early twenties I decided that I was born in the wrong century and really wished I could spend my life on the ‘ol homestead.  At its core, that is not really what this book is about, but it is what got me hooked.  The author takes his brand new wife on an 18-month adventure  living in a rural community without electricity or electrically controlled mechanics of any kind.  He explores what it really means to be “self-sufficient” and how “work” can become something that doesn’t feel like “work” at all.  He tries to answer the question “Is there such a thing as too much technology?” and what he discovers resonated with me.  (But I still love my computer.)

Thunder and Lightening by Natalie Goldberg.  Having devoured Natalie’s earlier books Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind several years ago, this one came as a bit of a shock.  There is a hardness, a sadness, to Natalie’s voice that certainly did not appear in her earlier works.  But there is a deepness there too.  In some way I believe (at least in my mind) that she has moved from encouraging teacher to wise writing mentor, and although I miss the upbeat positivity I remember from her earlier works, there is the truth of “Real Life” that resonates through this book that I can’t ignore.  In its serious and sincerity, I am reminded that there is a lot of work I still need to do. 

29 Gifts in 29 Days by Cami Walker.   I am not sure how this book came to be on my reading list.  I think it was one of those Amazon “If you liked this book, you might enjoy this one” (which I always take to mean…if you liked this book, see if the library has that one…)  or perhaps it was a suggestion I read on someone’s blog post?    Regardless, it got moved way up on my reading list for the sole reason that the library, indeed, had a copy and it was available right away. 

In this autobiographical work, the author shares how she moved past her struggles with MS by cultivating a giving attitude in giving 29 gifts in 29 days.  The spirituality in this book is definitely not my own, and the foul language that appears in parts of this book grates on me,  yet there is something compelling about this story.   I think there is truth to her words in how focusing on giving to others changes who we are and what we believe about ourselves and our lives.  I love that most of the gifts are not monetary, but gifts of time, compassion, a listening ear.   Her idea obviously resonates with many as it has grown into a worldwide movement of giving documented at 29gifts.org.

What about you?  What books have you read recently?

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I wanted to try something different today, so for this blog post I bring you….

My first video!

On which I share with you one of my favourite kitchen tools (I can just see you jumping up and down with excitement right now!!  Andi’s talking about kitchen tools – woohoo!)

Seriously, though, I do love my mortar and pestle, and for a relatively small investment it can dramatically change the flavour of your cooking. 

Check it out:

Not bad for my first video, right?  (Humour me, ok?) 

As well as spices you can also use a mortar and pestle to make pastes from fresh herbs (like pesto) without turning the leaves brown, pounding garlic, or breaking up nuts into small pieces.  I’ve also found that I’m not alone in my love of the stone over ceramic,  many chefs agree that the weight and roughness of the stone makes for the best pounding and grinding action. 

And this tool has certainly stood the test of time.  There are apparently references to its use in Egypt in 1550 B.C.  I wonder if the food processor will make it that long…..

What’s your favourite cooking tool?

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You asked for it, so here it is.  A brand new series on how we grow our garden.  From soil to seed to plant to preserving this will be a weekly weekend feature from now until frost hits. 

In this series I will give you a play by play of how we grow our own garden, as well as directing you to some great articles and information in the web.  The comments will be open so we can share ideas and successes,  I’ll open a Flickr group for sharing photos and maybe even a Linky Tool so you can link up your own gardening blog posts.  Sound like fun?

Although I will be detailing the process of growing our vegetable and herb garden within the confines of our May – October growing season, anyone who grows a garden of any sort, anywhere,  is welcome to participate (even if it’s only pots on your balcony!) 

Please spread the word, the more the merrier!  And feel free to grab the button above for your own blog.

I can’t wait to get gardening together!  Will you be joining in?

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