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Last Week's Frugal Accomplishments

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I planted seeds in my garden several days this week. Some of them have sprouted already. I put empty glass canning jars (the small jelly jars) over the seedlings that sprouted. I have found that by doing this (the last two years) that I have prevented my seedlings from being eaten by bugs and birds. The jars also act as mini greenhouses. In my experiments the last few years, the difference between covered seedlings next to uncovered seedlings has been tremendous. The covered seedlings have tripled in size compared to the uncovered seedlings, due to a warmer climate. In addition, the jars keep the seedlings warm, should cold weather return. When the seedlings are large enough to reach the top of the jar, I take the jar off permanently, wash it, and return it to the pantry.

I turned off the heat on Monday afternoon. It was warm enough to open the windows.

I watched a few shows on Hulu for free.

I watched two episodes of Downton Abbey on pbs.org.

I used lemons from the garden to make 2 lemon tarts.

I harvested arugula, sage, and Swiss chard from the garden.

I dug up some larkspur from the garden that was growing right next to the edge of the circle in my garden and transplanted it to another place in the garden.

I reorganized the pantry.

I made some new bookmarks for my son for his birthday. My daughter made several large paper origami cranes and a birthday banner for him using items we had on hand.

What did you do last week to save money?
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My Garden Plans for 2013

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I ordered quite a lot of seeds this year. I usually have lots of seeds leftover from previous years that are still viable, but this year I ordered several new ones. I do still have some seeds left that I am also using, including some flower seeds that I ordered last fall, but most everything is right here.

I decided to order through only two companies for my vegetable seeds this year. I usually rotate through three different companies, but I only order from two each year to keep the shipping costs down.

I primarily ordered heirloom/open-pollinated seeds this year. I hope to get better at collecting seeds (especially those tiny lettuce seeds!) so that I can really cut down on ordering seeds. I have also found that open-pollinated/heirloom varieties grow the best for me.

I chose several things because of their heat tolerance. Come April, my lettuce is bolting. I'll harvest bolting, bitter lettuce into May, but then I won't plant it again until October. I plant lettuce in January and February. Looseleaf varities of lettuce are best here (rather than head lettuces) because of the heat. I just harvest the outer leaves and the lettuce continues to grow.

For a complete look at what I plant when, check out my garden calendar.

Swiss chard grows all-year-long here. It slows in winter considerably. It will grow for about 10 months before it bolts, sometimes around April/May. I harvest the outer leaves from it until then. It even grows in the hot summer months here, which is wonderful. (It's the only leafy green I can grow in the summer). I am planting lots more this year in several places in the garden so that I can harvest it much more often (hopefully at least once a week in large quantities).

I grew zinnias last year. They did so well. I ordered them in 4 colors this year: white, pink, red, and yellow. Last year I just grew pink ones. They were blooming in late summer through our first frost in December. I plan to plant earlier this year so that I can hopefully have blooms for a longer period of time. I ordered these from a different place. They are from Wildseed Farms. Do you see those huge packets of seeds on the right in the photo of seed packets? Those are the zinnia seeds. I get all of those for the same price as a packet of around 20-50 from anyone else, and I can pick just the colors I want (rather than a mixed batch). I have been really happy with seeds from this company and I love the giant quantity that comes when you order. Not only that, but they are wildflower seeds, so they often reflower if you plant in a place that is undisturbed. I am still growing and collecting rocket larkspur seeds from the seeds I ordered there many years ago. You can see those around my armillary here.

Last fall I ordered more johnny jump-up seeds (mine reseeded themselves for several years, but they did not last year for some reason) and more red corn poppy and mixed corn poppy seeds.

I will also be replanting chamomile and borage this year. Both of these usually reseed themselves for me each year, but I am disturbing their growing area this year with some digging, so I have ordered seeds for these again. I grow borage to attract bees, and the blue flowers are very nice to use on desserts, in salads, and to float in water or in a homemade punch for a party.

I am changing the sunflowers I am growing this year. I am growing one type so that I can harvest seeds, and another so that I can have multi-flowering sunflowers that can be cut and brought indoors. I have a goal to have lots more flowers to bring in this year for our table, and hopefully to put throughout the house as well.

I love the ever-changing garden plans. It's always ironic to me how I planned the garden one way, even before I saw this house (we looked up the property online and I drew up plans days before we even looked at the house!), and how it continuously evolves--as a living thing should.

One of the questions that I am asked at every single garden tour is what varieties I am grow. Here are the seeds I ordered this year:

Territorial Seed:


Continuity (Open-Pollinated)
New Red Fire (Open-Pollinated)
Optima (Open-Pollinated)
Valmaine (Open-Pollinated)
Mascara (Open-Pollinated)


Galilee (Open-Pollinated)


German Chamomile
Italian Flat-leaf Parsley (Open-Pollinated)



Other seeds:

Imperial Star Artichoke (Open-Pollinated)
Red Noodle Bean (Open-Pollinated)

I also ordered 2 passion fruit vines. I hope these grow well and are productive here. These won't ship until April.



Black-Seeded Simpson (Heirloom)
Oak Leaf (Heirloom)
Four Seasons

Salad Greens:

Selvatica Arugula
D'Etampes Corn Salad (aka mache) (Heirloom)

Summer Squash:

Fordhook Zucchini

Winter Squash:

Burpee's Butterbush

Root Vegetables:

Chioggia Beet (Heirloom)
Tokyo Cross Turnip
Fire N Ice French Breakfast Radishes

Other seeds:

Fordhook Giant Swiss Chard
Mammoth Melting Sugar Pea (Heirloom)
Blue Boy Cornflower

I ordered a Portobello Mushroom Kit, which has arrived and is hopefully starting to grow.
I also ordered Italian Loiacono Garlic (Heirloom) , which won't ship until April.

What I already have on hand:

Armenian cucumbers
Johnny-jump-ups (originally called Johnny jump and Kiss Me)
Red corn poppy
Mixed corn poppies
More shirley poppies
A few different lettuce seeds

Experiments I'm planning from pantry ingredients:

Yellow Mustard
Bread Poppies

I purchase tomato plants from the nursery in February. Our last frost date is February 15th. I also purchase potted herbs if need be then, though most of my herbs overwinter just fine. This year I am planning to buy Genovese basil from the nursery. Though I have had success growing lots of it from seed in the past, for the last two years I have not, so I have planned to buy plants this year, rather than buying seeds that don't germinate, and then needing to buy plants later.

The tomato plants I grow are Early Girl and Yellow Pear. I also like Lemon Boy, but I'm not always able to find this one at the nursery.

I usually get the 6-pack tomato plants for a lot less, but I know people who buy the larger plants and because of it, they have tomatoes setting fruit much earlier and more prolifically. The cost is a big difference, but I am considering buying part of my plants in the larger forms this year to see if it makes enough of a difference. For the 6-packs this year, I am going to try warming them with large glass jars over the tops this year (something I don't usually do for my tomatoes) to see if I can get the small ones to grow faster during the cooler weather.

If you'd like to know the rest of what I grow in my garden (which is quite a bit), check the sidebar on any of my garden pages.

I planted several things in the garden this week (my cool season vegetables) and I have a few more to plant today and tomorrow. A few of the seeds that I planted on Monday are already coming up! I'm looking forward to eating lots of salads soon!

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My garden in February 2012
A garden is an ever-changing thing. This year, I am going to make some big changes in the garden. Here is my to-do list:

My raised bed planter on the side of the house in February 2011.
Move the raised bed planter. This requires moving asparagus, which I don't like to do, but we have decided to move the planter down, so the asparagus has to be replanted. We have several reasons for moving the planter, and I am glad we are doing it. It will be moved south to where the box is in the above photo (touching the other planter area). Some of it will stay put, but most of it will be moved.

Take out the dead Stella cherry tree and replace it with a new one (it died from a water leak from our valve box last summer). This is a horrible loss and we are quite sad over it. I already moved the calla lily starts that were growing under it; I hope they make it in their new location under the fig tree. They are small and young and have never flowered yet; these were a share from someone's garden in town.

Take out the Liberty apple tree. As much as it pains me to remove not just a living tree, but one that shares the same name as one of my children, this tree has never given us any apples. I will replace the tree with another Early Elberta peach. The Early Elberta peach tree has been the best fruit tree in my garden, yielding me enough to can a few quarts each year. A second tree would be wonderful.

Take out the pomegranate. Relocate it and/or plant another pomegranate tree in a different location that isn't overshadowed by other trees, including the neighbor's trees.

Relocate 3 grape vines. I hope they make it; grape vines have lots of roots and they grow deep. They need more sun. I only know where one of them will go (into the raised bed planter), so I will have to figure out what to do with the other two.

Take out the tangerine tree that has never done well.

Take out the lemon that froze last year. It has started to regrow, but it will take quite some time, as it lost all of its branches. I may move this tree if I can find a place for it.

Add more manure and compost to the garden. In several places, the dirt has settled greatly in the last 5 years, and it 6 inches lower than where it started.

Borage and Chamomile in the garden. Both reseeded themselves.

Add at least one more blackberry plant to the garden, and several more if funds permit.

Add at least 2 more blueberry bushes to the garden, and more if funds permit.

Reseed the bare spots in the lawn.

I am going to focus on planting more of what I know works, and less experimental seeds of varieties that sound intriguing, but that may or may not work. Just because a variety of lettuce says, "heat tolerant" or "bolt resistant" doesn't mean it won't bolt in April when it's 90º! (It will!) I am planning to stick with more tried and true varieties this year. I hope this means more success this year.

I also will be planting more flowers this year. I want to be able to bring flowers in from the garden even more than I did last year.

Are you planting any new fruit trees, bushes, or vines this year?

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The Garden In September

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That is my green bean harvest.

It's a normal year for green beans here.

You see, green beans are like tomatoes--and zucchini, squash, pumpkins, peppers and cucumbers.

When it's above 90º, they don't like to set fruit. They don't even flower much. They just try to stay alive.

We have over 5 months of above 90º temperatures. Summers are around 116º, cooling to 104-113º at night.

This means that I struggle to get any of those items to grow in my garden. This year I've harvested 1 yellow squash, 1 zucchini (that was so hard we had to peel it and it was still almost impossible to eat), 14 cucumbers, 2 handfuls of green beans, and no squash, pumpkins, or peppers, though I planted them.

Heat stops production. We get 2" of rain a year here. The ground is so hard that you have to jackhammer holes to plant trees. In fact, I had to soak the ground for 4 days before it was soft enough to be moved with a backhoe. The backhoe could not dig it before that. We replaced dirt 2 feet down in our garden, but the old dirt has a way of working itself back up, rocks and all. The dirt has a ph between 8-9, so it is very alkaline. The water is full of salts; it leaves salt deposits on the top of the dirt.

Did I mention that it's hot?

In fact it was 107º in the shade yesterday.

Given these temperatures, I do not grow most of my family's food. I would love to! And if I lived in a more mild climate, I could grow a lot more in the same space--a whole lot more, in fact.

But with 20 tomato plants, there are still not enough plants to can tomatoes--or even enough plants for us to get our fill of fresh tomatoes.

I struggle to grow zucchini. I have 3 plants still alive (others have died, thanks to bugs), and they rarely flower, becuase it's too hot. There is one flower on one of the plants right now, and it's a male flower. This means no zucchini for me! On a good year I get 5 zucchini. From 5 plants.

I don't give up. I keep trying, working with different planting schedules, hoping my plants survive the heat long enough to produce again in the fall. I plant Swiss chard, because it is awesome and it grows here. Rosemary and green onions do well here too. For everything else, well, I have to wait until it cools down.

Garden Harvest:

September is when I mainly harvest herbs, squash, and cucumbers. Our butternut squash didn't produce this year, and the zucchini have left me empty-handed. I'm hopeful to get something when it cools down and my plants decide to make some female flowers again. In the meantime, we're enjoying the herbs and the 14 cucumbers. I'm also picking grape leaves for making stuffed grape leaves.

Garden Chores for September:

Fertilize fruit trees. This fall fertilizing will help ensure that you have fruit next year. I use this mix for fertilizing my trees in fall:

3 cups Cottonseed meal (this is your nitrogen; it makes branches and leaves)
1 cup Soil Sulfur (to lower ph; we have a super high ph here of 8-9!)
1 cup bone meal (this helps the roots in winter and also helps fruit production in spring)
1/2 cup iron
1/3 cup Epsom Salt (this provids magnesium to the tree)

I mix together the ingredients in a bucket and scratch the following amounts into the soil around the tree:

For Trees planted one full year: 1/2 cup per tree.
For Trees planted two years: 1 cup per tree.
For Trees planted 3 years or more: 1/2 cup for each inch of trunk diameter per tree.

I use a smaller amount for fertilizing fruit bushes and grape vines. I don't measure it; I just sprinkle a small amount under them and scratch it in.

Fertilize grass If you want green grass in fall and winter, fertilize it again a few times before it freezes.

Reseed grass. We'll be reseeding this month when it cools down at the end of the month.

Weed. I've been indoors most of the summer. The weeds have grown out of control while I've been avoiding the heat and have been sewing. I'll be doing lots of weeding soon, in between sewing birthday gifts and clothes.

Fertilize and prune roses. It's been too hot for the roses to flower. They've gotten tall. I'll cut them back for a fall flowering. I look forward to having flowers in the garden again.

Plant a fall garden.

In most Northern hemisphere climates, you can direct-sow Swiss chard (silverbeet) from seed now. Swiss chard grows to 15º F (approx. 10ºC) so you can harvest it for a long time. It can often survive below a heavy snow layer for much colder temperatures than that (a friend of mine has found it that way below her heavy lake-effect snow in upstate New York).

A fall garden is often overlooked. It's a chance to plant some cool weather vegetables again. In warmer climates like mine, it's the best time to get started with cool weather crops. Here is my garden calender for the year. Make sure to check out what I'll be planting over the next several months.

I usually add sterile, bagged manure to my fall garden before planting. You can also add new soil to your garden, as well as fertilizer.

Some of you are probably thinking, that's great, Brandy, but I live in a zone 4. It snows in the winter and the ground actually freezes here. I can't garden in the winter.

I know you're thinking that because so many of you have said it! "Oh, if I lived where I could grow produce year-round, then it would be different."

Guess what? You already do.

And in fact, you are at an advantage to me, because you live in a cooler climate. You are able to grow multitudes of berries that only grow in zones 7 and below (it's too hot here for raspberries, gooseberries, currents, etc.) You can grow enough tomatoes to can, and to dry. You can grow so much zucchini that you sneakily give it away.

Ladies, my garden harvest is small, because the heat stops production.

If you live where it's cold, you have a great advantage, and you can grow so much more than I can.

Have you ever heard of Elliott Coleman? He's the man from Maine who wrote the book Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long. He harvests fresh Brussels Sprouts for his Christmas dinner from his garden--in Maine. More recently he wrote The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses.

If you don't know how to grow cool season crops in the winter, you'll need a little equipment. Cold frames, hoophouse and greenhouses are your friend. A raised bed will avoid the ground freezing problem. You can harvest your own lettuce, Swiss chard, radishes, turnips, parsnips, green onions, leeks, and more, all winter long.

Since I've always lived in the desert, though, don't take my word for it. Take Yolanda's word for it. She lives in a zone 5 in Indiana, and her garden in February was bigger than mine.

Here was my rasied bed in February:

The dark and light spots in the dirt are caused by the salts in the water here.

Here's hers.

(You can click on her photos to make them bigger.) Make sure to check out that November garden and March garden photo too.

Do you see that she has more in about the same amount of space? Not only that, but she doesn't have to water it in the winter.

Yolanda's garden is awesome. She gets much more than I do, even though she lives in a colder climate. Yolanda's pretty awesome, too. She is the mother of 6 grown children, whom she also homeschooled. One of those is her lovely daughter April. I've met all of her daughters, but April's my favorite :) April and I are different in fashion choices, family size, education choices, and more--but we are still friends. I know some of you who read this blog are a lot more like April than like me. I love that we can still be friends and learn from one another! April actually introduced me to her mom because her mom and I have a lot in common. Besides gardening, cooking and homeschooling, Yolanda also sews. She blogs at Simply Homemaking.

I will be waiting to plant my fall garden until the end of September, when it's cool enough for seeds to germinate. If you live somewhere cooler, you can plant yours now.

And if you live somewhere cooler, you can grow a lot more food that I can. In the same amount of space or smaller, in fact.

Try it!

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