Home & Garden Feed

The Joe Lunchpail Garden

By Mike Thayer

RadishesIf you're the typical weekend gardener, then this is for you.

This is an article designed and catered for the not-so-serious but wants a decent garden kind of person.  This guide of sorts is not fancy, it lacks pages upon pages of beautiful garden pictures, but it does provide content, content, content.

Got Dirt?

Plan your successful garden at the kitchen table.  Sketch out your thoughts on a piece of paper while sipping on your favorite beverage.

Even if you've had an established garden for years, mapping out your garden and deciding on plant varieties can save you time and perhaps money come spring. I like to plan my garden out during the late winter months, when cabin fever takes hold and I'm suffering from football withdrawals.  I also like to check out the garden sites on the internet and the mail order seed catalogs around this time, getting ideas and buying a few things.  Buying in late winter helps ensure you'll receive your order in time for when that spring urge to start putting plants in the ground hits  you.

The first step if you don't already have an established garden is to select an acceptable site.  No weekend gardener/typically average Joe Lunchpail backyard is absolutely perfect, but you'll have a harvest you can be proud of if you locate your garden where it will get six to eight hours of sunlight daily.  The site should drain well, be "reachable" by garden hose, but not too close to the dog house, unless extra fertilizer is desired.

If you don't have a flat backyard, don't worry about it.  Slight slopes can be good thing for drainage, but steep slopes will require terracing and that means the weekend gardening thing just became a "take-a- vacation-in-order-to-make-a-garden-spot" major project.....    Unless you decide that's what you want to do, you may want to consider container or patio gardening.

Don't have room for a big garden?

Patio GardenHow about a couple small ones instead?  Have a little plot for your tomatoes, have another little spot somewhere for your onions, carrots and radishes.  Sow some lettuce seeds in a flower pot instead of those petunias and you've got yourself a nice salad garden, fresh from your backyard.  There are a number of tricks and things  you can do that will save you time and space.  Space limits may mean you can't have everything you want in your garden, you may have to pick and choose.  Too much in a garden or not having enough room to operate can lead to problems and a disappointing harvest.

Don't have a yard?  No problem, then a container garden can be created.  An apartment patio or balcony can host quite a few containers, adding a nice look to your space to boot!TIP:  Flower pots aren't just for flowers anymore.  If you've got a window ledge that just collects dust, put a little flower pot on it sown with parsley.  Down the road, you've got fresh parsley to top a dinner entree.  And don't think you'll be sacrificing beauty by swapping out flowers for vegetables.  A healthy bunch of parsley looks great and bonus - it's edible!

Zoning Your Garden - Picking the right plants, plotting your garden and prepping your soil

It's important to know what kind of plants are appropriate for the area.  You can find a "planting zone" or hardiness level on the back of most seed packets and on those little plastic tags stuck in the soil of starter plants.  Knowing what's "in the zone" will help you determine what kind of plant varieties you want for your garden.  Most stores that sell plants and seed packets are pretty good about selling what's appropriate for the area they serve, but sometimes a few varieties slip in that aren't appropriate or hardy.  As a weekend gardener, make sure you're buying something that is suitable for the zone where you live.

In much of the Midwest for example, you'll want to start planting what's considered "cool weather" veggies about a month before the last frost - plant around mid-April.  The "cool weather" veggies can handle a little frost, seed varieties like spinach, lettuce, peas and radishes. Other veggie varieties can be planted around mid-May where the Mother's Day rule applies.  DO NOT plant the following veggie seeds or starter plants in your backyard garden before Mother's Day:  Beans, corn, tomatoes, eggplant, squashes, cucumbers, peppers, melons.  Pretty much anything can be safely planted after Mother's Day, but don't wait much past early June though if you're planting seeds, as some plants won't have enough time to give you a full harvest before the first fall freeze comes around.

There's room to grow

No matter what size garden you decide on, there's more room to it than you might think.

Let's say you decide on a backyard garden plot of 18' x 7'.  It's a typical backyard Joe Lunchpail garden size but by doing what's called "Companion Planting" you can turn your garden into a better than average producer.  How do you do that?  It's simple really, don't plant everything in single rows.  Plant quick growing plants like radishes with slow growing carrots.  Inter-plant onion sets with broccoli.  Don't plant lettuce in a single row, sow your seeds in a six-inch wide row instead and mix up the varieties, it will make for a better salad.    Peas can be done in a similar fashion, plant a row that has edible pods and just six inches from it, plant a row that does not have edible pods or has a longer maturity date.  Don't EVER single row the onions, it's a waste of garden space, they can go just about anywhere there's some extra space, a couple inches will do, around broccoli, around tomatoes, around anything that takes awhile to mature.  You'll enjoy picking a few as table fare as you wait for the broccoli or whatever to mature later in the season.  Be creative, try to match up fast growing veggies with slow to mature varieties.  A fun one is planting pole beans with corn.  The pole bean climbs the corn stalk, it's a race to the top.

In general, try to plant your vegetable rows in an east-west direction.  North-south planted rows, start off OK, but as plants get taller, they can eventually shade each other out of needed sunlight as the sun moves across the sky.

Consider planting some flowers in your garden.  Marigolds planted around your border for instance helps to keep certain pests away from your soon to be delicious produce.  Certain flowers can also help attract the good insects that will help to pollinate your garden and make those veggies.  Frills and function!

Now Let's Talk Dirty!

Let's face it - fertile soil - that's loose and full of nutrients does not exist in every Joe Lunchpail backyard.  We've all seen those garden shows where the gardening "star" can be seen using a garden tool in the dirt as if it's a hot knife through butter.  Keep in mind that those show gardens have had years of compost, amendments and pampering put into them, so don't get discouraged.  Most soils while not perfect, will grow veggies and flowers and if not, the soil can at least be doctored up and done so inexpensively.

Having good soil is key.  A garden in clay will not be a very productive one for you.  Mixing in some sand and compost will go a long way towards improving matters, although means getting your hands a little dirty.......  but isn't that what gardening is all about anyway?

Amending the soil vs. Tilling

I'm not a huge proponent of tilling, unless you're breaking ground for a new garden or are adding amendments to a heavy clay soil.  For a new garden tilling is almost a must, it's a HUGE time saver and it's easier to amend the soil in getting that garden started.  Be sure to remove that layer of grass though, tilling it up with the soil will result in that grass trying to grow back in your garden among the veggies and flowers you planted. The reason I don't like tilling in an established garden is, 1.  You don't want to accidentally tear up any bulb or perennial areas and 2.  An established garden flat out doesn't need tilling.  Nature works great, a garden that's been properly cared for has all the air and nutrients necessary to start spring planting.  Any amendments to the soil can be sprinkled on, let Mother nature and water do their thing.

TIP: Renting a tiller can be more than a one person job.  Loading/unloading, picking up and returning - you might tag the spouse, son, daughter or a friend to help you out with that.  Also, keep in mind that when renting, a front tine tiller is arguably harder to handle than a rear tine tiller.  Things you can do before you 'til:  Have a pick-up truck or a friend that will let you use theirs for a couple hours? 

If you have a medium to large garden, a load or two of black dirt will do wonders for your soil.  You can find some quality garden grade soil at a local gravel/landscaping materials business.  A truckload of good top soil beats the heck out of buying a bunch of 40 pound bags of dirt at the local garden shop.  Buy plants there by all means, but the dirt, not so much....  Other items to consider adding as a top dressing before tilling that first season garden or heavy clay/packed garden: 

    • Epsom salts:  Plants love magnesium, they get greener, bushier and that's what the epsom salts give you.   Healthy plants fight off pests and disease better.
    • Sand:  If you've got a lot of clay in your garden, this will help break things up and improve drainage.  You can get sand at the same place you get that truck load of black dirt.
    • Pete Moss:  This is a natural, all purpose soil conditioner.  If you've got clay soil, it helps loosen it up.  If you've got sandy soil, Pete moss helps firm it up.  It also hangs on to those nutrients, helping plant roots to feed.

More gardening ideas and tips coming soon.....  

$pend Wisely My Friends.....


Party Prepping on the cheap

By Mike Thayer

Party Prep
A picnic basket is a festive, space saving way to put plates and plasticware out for a grilling themed party! Thanks Diane!

Throwing a party can be stressful and no, I'm not talking about the impromptu kind of party where you have some buddies over to watch the big game and all you have to do is have cold beer in the fridge and a few bags of chips on hand.  I'm talking about a planned out party, to include a food menu, a drink menu, a variety of guests, perhaps some party favors and a bit of decoration.

The first thought when planning your party should be about the aftermath......  Who wants to wash dishes?  NOBODY.  For a casual party keep it simple!  Buy some inexpensive plastic or paper plates and cups.  You can pick up something a bit more festive than plain 'ol white paper plates at Dollar Tree, various packages of 8-12 plates for just $1 a package.  Check out their party isle!  They've got just about any party need and decor covered, plates, napkins, tablecloths, plasticware, cups, shot glasses, serving trays, serving spoons, you name it.

20190712_100204-1The second thought is the menu.  Jot down menu ideas whether it's simply on a piece of paper or on a white board in the kitchen.  Everything else for the party hinges on what YOU plan to serve.  When inviting guests, ask them to bring a side dish or a dessert and BYOB for drinks.  This cuts down on your meal prep, adds to the food menu and cuts down on your booze expense.  You supply the main dish, the meat for example, let's say, burgers and brats for that casual party.  Guests will provide a wealth of chips, salads (lettuce, pasta, potato), hot potato dishes, bean dishes and more to compliment the main dish.  Most party guests will let you know what they're bringing.  There will be desserts to enjoy as well, and desserts go with everything!  When it comes to drinks, have 20190712_071443some water and a couple of 2 liter bottles of soda handy.  I typically purchase a case of bottled water, some Sprite and Coke.  Many guests will bring a bottle of wine to open up and share which is always fun and conversational.  If you have a bar, open it up to your guests, having beer, wine and spirits on hand for any special requests.   This can be quite fun too, having guests try an adult beverage they've never tried before.  People will respond to, "Come here, I want to give you a shot of something....."  A tip jar on the side to cover bar expenses is optional.

Take the lay out of your buffet line seriously.  It can't be hap hazard, burgers on one end and buns way over on the other....  Lay it out in an organized fashion, imagining how you would fill your plate as you set it up.....  Pick up the plate, napkin, plastic ware, then condiments, meats, sides and so on, consider the possible warming trays, platters, bowls and even a crock pot or two guests might bring (Can you say, "Baked Beans with huge chunks of bacon?"  It's another dose of YUM!).  Provide a power cord or outlet option.  Make it so a line of people have room and won't be bumping into each other, cutting through, excuse me, sorry, pardon me.....

20190712_095454-1(1)Provide an appetizer for guests to snack on until the bulk of the guests arrive or in case your main entree isn't coming along as timely as you had planned.  Keep it simple.  A few small bowls of Pub Mix (Costco $6), pretzels, nuts, etc., dispersed in key places in the party area will go a long way towards keeping folks satisfied - especially those early arrivals - until the buffet line is open.

When it comes to entertainment, it depends on the crowd and if there's a theme to the party.  It could be playing cards or board games on the coffee table; work friends just chilling out to binge watching the latest trendy program or a run of sitcoms; or good old fashioned soft music and conversation.  For a little fun I always like to post a trivia question somewhere and the first person to answer the question correctly gets $1.  At my latest party, I put a bag of ice in an ice chest for drinks (don't forget ice for the party!), and on top of the ice chest was an impromptu sign that read: 

Cold As.....

ICE

Name the rock band for this late 70's era hit and win $1

Play it up, use your imagination, maybe the prize will be different for your party.  And themes for parties are always fun.  Themes can be in the food, Asian cuisine, Mexican cuisine, Mediterranean....  Or themes can be in the entertainment.  Think like as for having a watch party for a big game on TV.  Guys and gals (whether bona fide fans or gals just supporting their guys) typically wear sports jerseys and some even 'sport' face makeup in their favorite team's colors (see what I did there with, 'sport'.....) to watch that big game.  If watching a movie, let's say something Marvel, why not 'sport' Marvel apparel?  Somebody might just show up in an Iron Man mask.....  

As the host of the party, you'll want to have an assortment of aluminum pans and disposable plastic storage containers on hand.  The aluminum pans are for serving up the meats or whatever main dish you planned, possibly using those pans to transport the meats/main dish if grilling.  These are fantastic because there is no clean up involved, throw them away when done and they're cheap.  Get a package of two or four (depending on size) for just $1 at Dollar Tree.  And for when guests would like to take some tasty leftover treats from the party home with them, a small stack of Ziplock or other brand of plastic storage containers/bowls, a.k.a. Tupperware comes in rather handy.  I love it when guests take some food home with them, that means the food was good and party guests are leaving with a party 'favor' of sorts and a smile.  Party success!  If any food remains after that, bonus for the host.

A few little things that sometimes get overlooked when putting together a party are having enough serving spoons ($1 at Dollar Tree), condiments, toothpicks, seating and a trash can on hand.  When guests bring those fantastic side dishes to the party, sometimes they forget the spoon to serve it up with.  That's where you as host, come to the rescue with a serving spoon or a set of tongs (89¢ at Walmart).  When it comes to condiments, this depends on what's being served, but I like to buy small bottles of ketchup, mustard, pickles, mayo, whatever for the party.  They're fresh, smaller bottles that take up less space which is important because you'll want to keep them in a small tray of ice on the buffet table for the duration of the party.  An assortment of toothpicks and appetizer/cocktail picks come in handy as well for grabbing those pickles, olives, etc., and perhaps serving up a mixed drink requiring an olive to two.  Seating can sometimes be an afterthought.  Sure, you've got the couch, loveseat, maybe a Lazyboy (your chair...) and maybe some folding chairs.  But what if your party grows to 15 - 20 people?  Dining table chairs will suffice if they're not in use for playing cards, but don't be afraid to say, "Bring a chair."  Just about everybody these days has some kind of sporting/folding chair.  For parties growing in number beyond that, then it becomes a standing around, rubbing elbows party.  And then perhaps the most overlooked need for a party, is a strategically placed trash can.  While putting it in the middle of the room would be the easiest to find, the "Hey, here I am so don't just leave your frick'n dirty plate on the coffee table!".....  It would be a bit unsightly.   Find a spot that's out-of-the-traffic-path, yet easy to find, like say, on the way to or next to the bar.

Here's my checklist for getting started on putting a party together:

List of supplies for a casual party

  • Table cloth(s)
  • Plastic or paper plates
  • Napkins
  • Cups
  • Plasticware
  • Water
  • Complimentary soda
  • Ice, don't forget the bag of ice
  • Condiments and a tray of ice to hold them in
  • Power cord/extension cord, or outlet access for a crock pot or two
  • Aluminum pans
  • Serving spoons & tongs
  • Toothpicks, appetizer/cocktail picks (for picking up small appetizers, mixed drink use or after meal use)
  • Tupperware for guests (the 'party bag', taking home tasty treats!)  TipRepurposed Deli Meat containers work great for this.
  • Seating (do you have enough?)
  • Trash can access
  • Charcoal (if grilling)

You can have a great party without having to spend a lot to make it so.  Besides, it's the people that make the party!   Most of the above list that you don't already have on hand can be purchased at Dollar Tree and/or Walmart for a sum total of about $30 tops.  The bulk of your party cost is going to be in creating the main course and then there's the optional alcohol if you decide to do that.  I recently bought brats, ground meats for burgers, a pork shoulder for pulled pork and the buns and cheeses to go with it all for around $65, so my total expenditure for a casual grilling themed party was less than $100, the cost of some adult beverages not included.....  "Come here, I've got a shot of something for you....."

$pend Wisely My Friends.....


A home remedy for garden pests - insecticidal soap

By Mike Thayer

20190628_142020-1I'm one of those playing-in-the-dirt loving people. Gardening is a simple pleasure for me, from creating veggie or flower beds, to planting, to weeding, to the harvest, from start to finish it's all good. And it doesn't get any fresher than going out to the backyard, patio or balcony and picking fresh produce for dinner.

But it doesn't matter how well maintained your garden is, at some point, you'll have to deal with pests. 

This is the third year for my patio garden and this season is the best it's ever performed, but today in harvesting a few green onions, I came across a couple of bugs I didn't care to see.  I've been invaded by stink bugs.

Stink bugs are sap suckers, they have a voracious appetite and will feed on just about any kind of plant.  They prefer fruit over foliage, but they're NOT picky.  They'll eat just about anything in the garden.

After squashing the two that I saw - and yes, they do stink when squashing hence the name - I began looking at the underside of leaves, focusing on cucumber plants (a garden pest favorite) and sure enough, MORE stink bugs!  Sigh, these things do like to hang out in groups....

AAAARRRGGGGHHHHH!

Time to break out the insecticidal soap.  You can purchase insecticidal soap at Lowe's, Ace Hardware, Walmart, etc., but you'll be paying way too much for it, even at Walmart.  Many insecticidal soap brands also contain unwanted chemicals which if you're into organic, is a no-no and some of those commercial soaps can affect your harvest time too, pushing it back.  Here's a home made recipe, it's cheap and NOT toxic.  Most importantly, it performs just as well as the commercial stuff.  It messes with those pests, but NOT your garden! 

  • 1 Tablespoon of Dawn dish soap
  • 1 Tablespoon of Hydrogen Peroxide (optional)
  • 1 quart of water
  • Spray bottle

Stink BugIf you don't have Dawn dish soap, just make sure to use a pure soap, to mean, not dish washing detergent or any soap with bleach or perfumes in it.  Such things are harmful to the plants you'll be spraying.  The optional Hydrogen Peroxide in the recipe kind of acts like a booster and serves a dual purpose.  If there are any pest bug larvae lurking in the roots of your plants, they won't like this concoction hitting them.

This stuff works because while stink bugs have a harder shell-like back, they have a soft underside and that's where the soap does its job.  The soap penetrates that soft underside, ultimately suffocating and drying out the pest. 

When spraying, be sure to turn the leaves of your plants, hitting the underside.  You should have seen all the stink bugs coming out of hiding when I started spraying!  And with that, here's the key to insecticidal soap, it only works when coming in direct contact with the pest.   Hit those bugs with the spray!

Don't buy the commercial stuff, make your own.

$pend Wisely My Friends.....

 


Adding a bit of whimsy to the garden

By Mike Thayer

Chair Planter
Repurposing a chair

Have an old, wobbly, doesn't-fit-in-with-the-decor, or otherwise unwanted chair in the house?

Put it in the garden.

An easy project, I took a little wobbly chair, removed the seat cushion, bought a plastic pot to match the black frame, purchased some plants that pair well together and voila, a whimsy display for the patio garden!

This chair planter project took all of 20 minutes to do.  After removing the seat, I put the pot in place, drilled a few holes in the bottom for drainage, dropped in some weed cloth to keep the dirt in, poured in some planting mix (which I already had on hand), and transplanted those plants.  I actually spent more time shopping for the right pot and plants!  My total cost to 'create' the planter was $23, the bulk of that spent on the plants, which were on clearance at Walmart.  It's getting to be the end of garden center shopping season, so get what flowers and veggies you still need while supplies last, selections up to 50% off.

$pend Wisely My Friends.....

20190621_121414(1)

 


Building Planter Containers on the Cheap

By Mike Thayer

Asphalt Garden
 
 
 
 
The pallet look

So I live in an apartment, I like to garden and I do have a patio where I do some container gardening, but it's ground level and it's asphalt.  That means it gets REALLY hot....  When it's 90 degrees out in the summer, add another 10 degrees to that temp because that dark asphalt absorbs all that sun and radiates.

Hot temps + hot asphalt = unhappy plant roots.  The first year in my apartment, I just did pots directly on the asphalt patio....  Oooopppsss!  No matter how often I watered, conditions just weren't good for most of my plants.  My plants were always too hot and too dry.  In the second season of patio container gardening, I went with pallets, lining my fenceline with them, separating my pots from the asphalt.  While that was a very practical and economical solution to the heat problem that my patio garden plants appreciated, it was a bit unsightly.  The cheap plastic containers I typically buy are easily faded by the sun in one season and pallets just aren't sexy at all, so this year, I gave my patio garden a makeover.

Enter, corrugated metal and cedar planter containers

Asphalt Garden
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Under Construction

After looking for planter ideas online, in seed catalogs and gardening magazines, I really got to liking the corrugated metal and cedar look.  What I decided on are raised bed planters designed to put garden soil directly in the planter, but given my patio setting, that's not an option.  What I could do, I thought to myself, was build the raised beds, and prop my containers up on the pallets inside.  A "window dressing" if you will, there would be a lot of downsizing and custom cutting of those pallets involved, but the raised garden planter look would really dress the patio up and I could do such a project far cheaper than buying a bunch of big, ornate, clay pots.

Cedar wood can be expensive, but a top finish board isn't needed for a garden setting, a rustic look and rough cut boards is perfect for this project.  I went with cedar fence pickets, they're cheap - less that $2 a picket - easy to cut, drill and secure in place with wood screws.  The corrugated metal is also cheap, with 2' x 8 ' panels costing about $15 each.  Measuring about 6 feet long by 24 inches deep and about 25 inches tall, these planters cost me about $40 per planter to build.  The pallets, which I already had on hand, cost me nothing.  

This project was fun and fairly easy to do.  The only tools needed really was a saw, tape measure, some tin snips for the corrugated metal and a drill to secure everything in place with screws.

If you're looking to upgrade your container garden, don't think new, expensive pots, think corrugated metal and cedar wood to dress up what you already have.

Container Gardening
A container garden makeover

$pend Wisely My Friends.....

 


Getting ready for spring planting 2019

By Mike Thayer

Lincoln peasTomorrow, March 20th, marks the beginning of spring.  For many folks, that means it's time to play outside in the dirt!

I'm one of those playing-in-the-dirt loving people.  Gardening is a simple pleasure for me, from creating veggie or flower beds, to planting, to weeding, to the harvest, from start to finish it's all good. And it doesn't get any fresher than going out to the backyard, patio or balcony and picking fresh produce for dinner.

It's a little early though to go crazy planting all kinds of things outside, frost is a danger through late April in my neck of the woods but a few things can be planted outside now such as peas and onions.  Those plants are cold tolerant and the germination times for pea seeds and onion sets helps in reducing the frost risk.

Living in an apartment with a patio, I have to container garden, which also means pairing plants together.  Onions won't take up a lot of container space, especially if you're just going for green onion eating, they can be planted at the front of containers for easy picking.  The pea variety I'm planting is the 'Lincoln' variety, which is a fairly compact variety, not needing a trellis and does better than most peas in warmer weather.  I'll be placing the peas in the middle of my veggie containers.  They won't be invasive overtaking the onions in the front and that middle of the container placement will also leave room at the back of the container which is up against a trellised fence for climbing veggies like cucumber and pole beans.  I'll be planting those varieties when the danger of the last front has passed.

Tip: Growing plants from seed rather than buying starter plants is less expensive and will allow you to plant more variety in your garden.

Related:  Spring Planting Time

$pend Wisely My Friends.....

 

 


Spring Fever in January

By Mike Thayer

So I went through the seed catalogs and my seed stash yesterday, it's only January but boy am I ready for spring and getting my hands dirty playing in the dirt!

Starting seeds in eggshellsAfter thumbing through Burpee's, Gurney's, a couple of other catalogs and ordering some seeds I don't have and a few new ones I'd like to try, I took stock of the seeds on hand and getting some packets organized for pre-planting.   Last year I set up an indoor planting station in my apartment, shelving, lights, planting trays, the whole bit.  I've always got something growing at the station year round, but now it's time to really load it up for spring planting. 

Having the planting station means far less time spent starter plant buying at the big box store and more time in the garden come spring time!  Starting plants from seed rather than waiting until spring to buy those over-priced starter plants at Lowe's, Walmart or the local greenhouse also means saving myself a pocket full of cash.  

Here's a neat trick if you've never tried it before.....  It's something I tried a few seasons back with some success, starting some seeds in egg shells, an idea I found online.   As you can see from the pic, dirt is packed in a carefully cracked and rinsed out egg shell.  One thing you do want to do before packing in the dirt and seeds though is to provide some drainage on the bottom of that shell.  You can either drill a small hole, or slightly tap the bottom to create an ever-so-slight crack without causing the whole shell to collapse.   When the plants are ready for the great outdoors, you can transfer the plant, shell and all right into the garden or planter.  Just crack that shell a little more when transplanting, to let those roots get all happy in their new home!  I'm a huge user of putting crushed egg shells in the garden, as they add calcium and rid the garden of and prevent slug/snail infestation. 

A variety of veggies, herbs and flowers were ordered from the catalogs, to include some peppers I've never tried.  It seems I grow a hotter variety or two every year.   I don't know if it's me growing a greater appreciation for hotter foods or if my taste buds are just flat wearing out and my tolerance for heat is higher.  I do love a pepper challenge though!  But I digress.... 

I love to garden, it's a simple pleasure for me, from creating veggie or flower beds, to planting, to weeding, to the harvest, from start to finish it's all good.  And it doesn't get any fresher than going out to the backyard, patio or balcony and picking fresh produce for dinner. 

$pend Wisely My Friends.....

 


The window to plant those spring flowers is closing

By Mike Thayer

Spring flowersIf you're into the fantastic array of colors spring flowers provide, now is the time to get those bulbs in the ground.

According to the experts, when night time temperatures are consistently in the 40 - 50 degree mark that's the perfect time to put bulbs to "bed."  Yes, pun intended.  This temperature window is the optimum for those bulbs, allowing them to root and establish themselves.  You can actually plant right up until the ground freezes, but the success rate for those bulbs to root, establish and ultimately sprout in the spring really drops and besides, who wants to be digging in the dirt when it gets below freezing outside?

Also known as "Fall" bulbs, these spring flower beauties include favorites such as crocus, daffodils, hyacinth and tulips.  You can find them readily at Walmart, Lowes, Home Depot, your favorite hardware store and at reasonable prices.  A lot of folks like to order them online or through catalogs, but that takes time and often comes with shipping costs.  I say if you're out running errands, pick up a bag or two, or three at some place local.

You can plant your favorite bulbs just about anywhere in your yard or garden where the soil drains well.  Avoid areas where water collects, because bulbs don't like to sit in "wetness."  Spring bulbs love the sun and that's why they look so great at the base of trees, that splash of spring color you see before the tree leaves start to pop out.

Follow the package instructions to plant your bulbs, but as a general rule of thumb, bigger bulbs like tulips and daffodils should be planted about 8" deep and small bulbs like crocus about 5" deep.  Loosely backfill your planting area with soil - don't pack it - and water those bulbs in to stimulate root growth.  These bulbs are low maintenance and I why I like them so much, in addition to the great colors they provide.  You shouldn't have to worry about watering them again until spring, unless you live in a very low precipitation area.

Enjoy those colors!

$pend Wisely My Friends.....


Save money by buying seeds instead of starter plants

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

The seed purchases I made through catalog and online orders back in December are starting to arrive in my mailbox.  Why such a delay?  Most seed companies don't ship until it gets close to planting time and they take starting seed indoors into consideration.

Starting plants from seed is a great way to not only save money vs. buying over-priced starter plants in the spring, but you get to customize what will be in your garden.  You get to choose what goes in your garden rather than having to settle for what a garden shop has in stock.

Every spring, you see all those pop-up garden centers being put up in parking lots, whether at the local grocery store or Walmart.  I still frequent those, but they are limited in plant variety and even bonafide garden centers might not have a particular plant variety you're looking for.  And again, you'll pay a premium for starter plants, it's spring time after all....

20180211_074647Enter seed packets.....

I received an order from Park Seed the other day.  My order included:

  1. Italian Flat Leaf Parsley
  2. Italian Large Leaf Basil
  3. Salad Bowl Mix Organic Greens
  4. Peppermint
  5. Radish Park Beauty Blend
  6. Dill
  7. Greek Oregano
  8. Chives
  9. Organic Arugula
  10. Organic Roma Tomato
  11. Cilantro Calypso

That total for that order cost me just $15.94 and that includes shipping costs.  I would have spent at least five times that amount for starter plants and I wouldn't have found all those varieties in just one garden center location, pop-up or otherwise.  In the past I've done the garden center hop thing...  Pick up a few plants at Walmart, go to Lowe's looking for what I couldn't find at Walmart, check out the plants at the pop-up garden center at the local grocery store, travel to the local garden center for a look/see....  The end result is always spending more than desired and still not finding everything I want to put in my garden.

20180211_083033Now, armed with a bag of dirt, some egg cartons, a few containers I've got on hand and some lighting, I can get a great head start on an herb and salad garden.

"But Mike," you say.....  "Won't you spend just as much on dirt and lights that you would on starter plants?"

That first time purchase that an avid-gardener-in-the-making makes, perhaps.  But lighting is really pretty cheap if starting plants is all you're doing, you don't need fancy plant lights.  A southern exposure window (east exposure if you don't have one) and a little fluorescent lamp will go far in starting seed.  And I would contend you can still spend less on starting seed in that first year than you would in the equivalent in starter plants and spending FAR LESS in years thereafter.

"How much space do I need?" You ask....

Not much, not much at all.  Have a window sill big enough to hold an egg carton?  Start some seed.  Have some space on your desk by that desk lamp?  Start some seed.  Heck, I've been known to pull some small appliances off my kitchen counter to make room for starting seed.  Being an avid gardener though, I've since bought some shelving dedicated for such a purpose.

After planting and caring for those seeds per the instructions that come with your seed order, you will have all the starter plants and then some you'll need for a custom garden in about six to eight weeks, perfect timing for spring planting!

Spend wisely my friends.....


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Reviewing Seed Catalogs

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

With some very chilly weather hitting the area and winter finally settling in, now is a good time to check out plant/seed catalogs and online websites.  Here are some choices that may be of interest to you.

Jung Seeds & Plants:  I've had a pretty good experience with Jung's over the years, their shipping is timely (some outfits will ship starter plants/stock way too early for northern states) and their product is sound.  You can't go wrong with their veggie lineup.

Burpee:  Another standby, and their seed packets can be seen in many stores come late winter/early spring.  Menards, Lowes, Home Depot, Ace Hardware, True Value and major grocery stores come to mind.  The Burpee website has a product review section which is kind of nice in making purchasing decisions.

Park Seed Co.:  This is another company with quite a bit of history, 143 years in fact.  Reasonably priced, their catalog has good content and their sale items are attractive, as opposed to lower quality offerings on other, less popular sites. 

Burgess:  Another popular company, also a brand you'll find in the stores come spring.  Some of their bulb collection is hit or miss.  In my experience the rate of a bad bulb is higher than other companies.

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Mike's Indoor Garden Update:  I'll be harvesting green beans soon!

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