Sweet Things

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Just a couple things I can’t get enough of: peach tree blossoms and sweet kids.
Happy Tuesday Friends!

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Seed Starting Inspiration

This post is meant more as an inspiration than a how-to. It is unlikely that you would have the exact same spare materials lying around, but I would encourage you to look at what you do have, and get growing!

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I converted a 10 gal fish tank and light hood to be my seed starting chamber. I lined the outside of the tank with aluminum foil and in the light housing also. Aluminum foil is not a mirror and not perfectly reflective. But I does reflect some and some is better than none, so I put it on. It also blocks out light to allow the seeds to germinate in a dark environment which some seeds require.

I covered it with a cut ziplock bag (because I was out of plastic cling wrap) to create a humid environment and conserve moisture and to keep out bugs. In the bottom of the tank is about half an inch of water to help with the humidity too.

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I put a shoe box size plastic storage box in the bottom to raise the seedlings closer to the light source to (hopefully) prevent leggy growth. To create a larger surface for growing, on top of the box I put the 1/2″ hardware cloth that had been a divider in my worm bin. On the hardware cloth went my homemade “soil blocks” which are supposed to be the greatest thing to happen to seed starting since seed starting mix. I like trying out different ways of doing things so I’m giving them a try with my own homemade soil blocker.

This soil mix is about 60% Jiffy Organic seed starting mix and 40% peat moss with a healthy dose of Jobe’s slow release 4-4-4 organic fertilizer mixed in (it smells like hot death; it’s the junk.) I’ve been dithering on what to plant in my garden box because the RKNs have gotten so out of hand that I can’t have a non resistant plant there for two months before the plant’s roots are completely covered in galls. In spite of that, my Ancho Poblano peppers are flourishing and have given me at least a dozen A-mazing peppers. I had planned on ordering more peppers and RKN resistant seed varieties but I recently came into a windfall of pepper seeds of many varieties.

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My husband’s Aunt brought me her school’s student garden leftovers from 2011, and I was quite happy to receive them. The are seeds from the company “Renee’s Garden” who I have heard of but haven’t used before. So far I’m very impressed with their products. The seed packets have detailed starting, cultivating and harvesting info as well as an additional flap on the packet about the specific variety.

And, yes, the seeds are unusual because they are dyed with food dye to indicate different colors or varieties within the packet which is something home gardeners will find very useful. Most of the pepper seed packets had more than one color or variety in the packet, something that could save you from having to buy multiple packets to get different varieties. I wrote out a list of what is planted where so I don’t forget.

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Since the seeds were from 2011, I planted three seeds per pot instead of my usual one; seed viability usually decreases over time from the initial 98% viability at the time of purchase.

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I’m keeping the peppers in my utility closet which stays quite warm and has proven effective at sprouting peppers before. Fingers crossed I’ll be planting out a bunch of pepper plants in the next month!

Contoured Changing Pad Cover

While shopping for necessities for our new little boy Wyatt, I discovered that target only offered one style of contoured changing pad cover. The colors were limited to blue or green and it was made of fleece. I had my heart set on something in terrycloth because it is so much more absorbent and easier to keep clean. Not only was I disappointed, at not getting what I wanted, the fleece cover cost around $10. With all the other necessities, this was more than I wanted to spend. So, I decided to make one instead.

And here’s the result!!!

Not too bad! It was a naptime length project, and very easy.

Here’s How I made it:
I started out with a remnant of tan and green checked homespun* fabric (about 50 cent) and a pre-washed white towel ($2.50 from walmart). I also used 60″ of 1/4″ or 1/2″ elastic to keep the cover in place (use whatever you have on hand).

For the Terry Cloth top:
To use the dimensions of your own changing pad, measure the length of the top of the changing pad, and the width folowing the contours of the top. Add a 1″ to each measurement to allow for the seams. My measurements came out to 18″ x 32″ including the seam allowance. Cut a rectangle with those measurements out of the center of your towel. This will be your terry cloth top.

For the Fabric Sides:
You will need 2 long sides and 2 contoured sides.
For the Long sides use the length measurement from the terry cloth pad (including seam allowance) and measure the height of the changing pad. (Measurements were 4″ x 32″) To the height measurement, add 4″ so that the sides wrap under the changing pad and you have enough room to make a casing for the elastic (see 3rd picture). So, I cut two 8″ x 32″ of my cotton fabric.
For the Contoured sides: I grabbed a roll of wrapping paper (my preferred pattern making paper), stood the changing pad up on one of its contoured ends and traced the outline onto the wrapping paper. I then sketched 1/2″ seam allowance around the height sides and contoured sides and added 4″ to the bottom side as I did for the long side above. Cut out the pattern, and use it to cut out two of the contoured sides from your fabric.
Now you’re ready for Assembly!

There are a couple of ways to do this, so I’ll tell you what I did, but go with what seams easiest for you.
With a long straight stitch and the 1/2″ seam allowance, sew the long fabric sides (right sides facing each other) to the long sides of the terry cloth top.
Next (in the same way), take the contoured sides and sew them to the terry cloth. You can either free hand this adjusting and following the contoured edge as you go, or you can pin the terry cloth to the contoured edge, being careful to follow the curve of the fabric edge. I prefer to free hand it.
All four sides should now be attached to edges of your terry cloth top.

Now, make it square by sewing the fabric height edges together. I started from the terry cloth corner and sewed down. Use your 1/2″ seam allowance and a straight stitch. Do this for all four corners.

You should now have everything sewn together and just need to finish your edges.and make the casing for the elastic.
Set your sewing machine to a zig zag stitch and sew along all your unfinished edges (including the bottom edge where the elastic will go. Overcast the edges of the fabric a bit to make a finished edge or you can use a serger.
To make the casing, fold the bottom edge under (wrong sides together) a 1/2″ if you’re using 1/4″ elastic, or fold it under 3/4″ if you’re using 1/2″ elastic. Using a long straight stitch, sew close to your unfinished edge all the way around the bottom. Do not overlap your stitches when you get to back to your starting spot, but leave a 1″ to 2″ opening to insert your elastic. Insert the elastic through the whole casing then overlap the edges and sew together. Sew the 1″ casing opening closed.

And you’re all done!

Vermicomposting, Ch4: The Lazy Harvest

It’s been almost a year since I’ve posted about my Vermicomposting experience, so I think it’s time for an update. My little bin has been chugging along nicely and doing quite well. It’s simple, and has been almost fool proof. Over the last year, I’ve made several small harvests and two large harvests of vermicompost from my kitchen bin. The small harvests were because I needed to make some compost tea to fertilize plants, and the large ones were because the worms had converted 90% of their bedding and food into castings. The most recent harvest I made didn’t go as well because I had less fresh bedding available than I realized when I began harvesting. You see, when I set up the bin about a year and a half ago, I had been saving shredded paper for months knowing I’d be setting up a worm bin. I was also able to collect a bag full of crunchy fall leaves and had a starter supply of food ready to go. All that took up about two thirds of the bin and was for only about 10 worms and some cocoons.

When I made the first big harvest six months later, I had a bucket of dried grass clippings and more shredded paper and such ready to go and mixed that with their old unfinished bedding/compost. The worm population had really grown from just those ten worms and I had about two handfuls of worms in the bin.

Well I have learned that few good things on the planet breed like worms. My population of worms is now huge. It’s now so big that the last small harvests I’ve made, I didn’t give too much care to separate all the worms from the finished compost and just mixed them right on in with the peat moss and soil I was adding the compost to for new plantings. Unfortunately, I didn’t have near the amount of bedding my colony now requires. My little bin was only about a quarter full with the new bedding of mostly shredded paper and cardboard mixed in. I soon learned this was a mistake.

You see over the next month, the worms began a massive exodus from their bin in search of a better home. I thought at first they were fleeing from something in the new bedding, but then I realized that the bedding was jam packed full of worms and some of the largest worms were simply looking for more space.

It galled me to think of buying bedding for them, but, eventually, that’s what I ended up doing. Lucky for them, I needed a bale of peat moss for my blueberry bushes and to amend my garden, so I came up with a plan to move worms from old bedding to new with the least amount of effort. I used a small garden hand rake to quickly sort the unfinished bedding from the finished, but didn’t give too much concern at separating the worms from the bedding. Most ran down into the finished castings and away from the light as I sorted and that was good enough for me. I then scooched all the finished compost to one side of the bin and folded a piece of 1/2″ hardware cloth around that part of the bin to keep the castings separate from the new bedding. I mixed up the new peat moss with old water from my fish tank till it was a nice consistency for the worms and put it and some favorite foods (namely banana peels) in the other side of the bin along with a small gob of worms that I’d sorted off from the unfinished old bedding.

New peat moss bedding

Then I put the lid on and waited for the worms to migrate from their finished side of the bin to the new side of the bin. I put a light on over the bin for a couple days to encourage them to stay in their home and not go galavanting. I’ve read worms can become a tad disoriented from a big overhaul like this one and their aversion to light can be used to contain them until they acclimate.

The divided bin

It’s been two weeks at least since I did all that. I’ve been monitoring the water content of the peat moss which is very dry stuff and I did have to add more water to several times to get it to optimal level. I’ve also been poking around both sides of the bin to see where the majority of the worms seem to be.

Ready to harvest

Today I had the easy pleasure of harvesting the rest of the finished vermicompost. All I did was scoop the finished stuff out with my shovel and hand picked a dozen stragglers out of it. Easy as pie. I then pulled out the hardware cloth and filled up the bin the rest of the way with more wetted peat moss.

Finished vermicompost

Letting the worms do the traveling from one side of the bin to the other was by far the easiest way to harvest vermicompost. In the future, all I will do is scooch the fished stuff worms and all to one side, insert hardware cloth, add new bedding, harvest two weeks later. It’s fast and easy and saves the worms and owner from the irritation of dumping and sorting.

 

 

Garden Update: January and February 2016

We are having an El Niño winter this year. For us that means warm weather in the low 80’s, lots of rain, a cold snap in the 50’s to 60’s lasting a few days then more warm weather. This has confused our plants greatly and made it difficult to commit to cool or warm weather crops.

Thankfully, some plants like my poblano ancho pepper and these carrots haven’t minded a bit. The pepper has given us over a dozen nice delicious long peppers so far. Diced up, they are one of our favorite salad toppings, and sautéed in a bit of bacon grease they are sweet and savory and exploding with flavor. And I still love the deep green foliage and shiny peppers. The peppers are a bit tricky to spot though. How many do you see?

My two Celebrity tomato plants are fruiting heavily and finally turning red. See what I see?

Unfortunately the texture leaves something to be desired. Because of the fluctuations in the weather, they have a bit of a mealy texture and are cracking badly across the top. If I pull them when they are just blushing and let them turn on the windowsill the cracks aren’t as bad. Thankfully, I’ve had 10 big half pound tomatoes that are perfectly fine if you just slice the top cracked part off. I’ve used two in salads and these were turned into a chunky purée that went in the freezer for soups or chili.

I am beginning to dedicate a large percentage of my gardening space to perennial fruit crops like these blueberries. They are the Sunshine Blue variety and are supposed to have good yields on compact, self fertile plants and require few chill hours. Two were bought in flower and one was a sick little clearance plant and hasn’t flowered yet. We’ll see how they do. I planted a row of Cosmos flowers seed behind them and a row of magenta lettuce seed in front to capitalize on the space. I am also rooting this little Black Krim tomato cutting in front, and it is flourishing. I planted a couple hybrid salad cucumber seeds on either side of the blueberries and if they take off, I plan on trellising them on either side of the bed somehow. And my daffodil bulbs that were my flowers last Mother’s Day are beginning to pop up. These are the first flower bulbs I’ve grown.

We haven’t had many chill hours yet this year. The last time I looked, not long ago, I’m pretty sure we were still below 100 hours. This caused me some concern for the possibility of getting fruit from my peach tree this year, thankfully, it also relies on day length to go dormant then set flower. And setting flowers it is! Spring is coming!

And the kids are loving the perfect weather the last couple days. Bear is learning to go down the slide by himself. And the older boys love the swing!

 

 

Book Review: Create your own Florida Food Forest by David the Good

David the Good generously offered a free copy of the Audible version of his book read by him in exchange for an honest review of his work and I’m happy to share my review.

 

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Create your own Florida Food Forest by David the Good

Book review by Erin Cross in Central Florida zone 9b

David the Good’s guide to creating a Florida food forest is an optimistic and energetic approach to gardening in an area that most gardeners find daunting. His conversation style writing and reading of the book make the information easily understood and applied. After listening to just a few chapters I was ready to head outside with a shovel and start planting my own food forest, and you will be too. I was encouraged by the good news that in spite of the sand, sun, nematodes and hoards of bugs ready to feast on your prized traditional gardens, there are plants that will not only thrive, but outcompete the bugs and woes of traditional veggie gardens (and with much less input from the gardener too!)

Even if you aren’t ready to kiss your lawn goodbye and let your intentional food forest take over, you will still find good gardening advice and principles to plant by. This is also true if you live in a deed restricted neighborhood and aren’t allowed to have a wild looking landscape. I don’t have a food forest in my backyard, but I did learn how to apply food forest principles to densely and diversely plant my 10th of an acre lot with a variety of plants that grow with minimal care.

Florida is a wild state that would gladly revert back to a natural forests without the constant interference of man. David the Good teaches how to use this tendency to our advantage rather than trying to fight it.

I have read Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening and I recommend buying a print copy of that book to go along with the audio version of Create Your Own Florida Food Forest because it will give you much of the information contained in the appendices of this book (which you will want to reference) in addition to even more practical tips of gardening in Florida. If you also want to garden as organically as possible, Food Forest will teach you how to rely on other plants to do the work of insect control, fertilizing and conserving water. This is an excellent book and I strongly recommend it!

I have applied his principle of dense and diversely planting this 10ft x 2ft area of my garden with two Ischia Figs (on either end), four Dwarf Black Everbearing Mulberries (center), some Sweet Alyssum as ground cover (left), a yellow Mum as some smaller bush and insect plant (right), and Passionflower Vine aka Maypop (barely visible center front) that I collected from the empty lot next to Lowes where they were selling it inside (Ha!) that will become the vining layer along my picket fence (not yet built) that separates the garden from the yard.

If I had listened the Ag Extension office or Lowes, I would only plant one of the figs in this entire 8ft x 10ft mulched area you see. But I have a little yard and big plans, so I’m going with David the Good’s approach and planting food forest style. I also waited until the plants were the twigs you see from being dormant before buying them. I got them for 1/3 the original price. I’m starting papaya from seed in the background and the the Passionflower Vine was free, I just had to suffer the gawking stares from passersby as my 8mo pregnant self parked the minivan in and walked around the vacant lot to collect my plants. It was good fun.

 

A Joyful Christmas Quilt

I bought the Christmas fabric I used for this quilt probably five years ago. I didn’t want to get rid of it, but I had always planned on something daring like wonky blocks or a disappearing nine patch, something like that. Truth be told, I no longer felt the same love for these fabrics and I’ve grown in my knowledge of selecting fabrics, at least enough to know that two of these were directional prints that wouldn’t look as good in block form. So after a bit of Pinterest inspiration and seeing simple holiday type words added in a strip pieced quilt, I knew what I wanted to do.

I laid out the backing and batting I had to determine what my finished size quilt should be to help figure with cutting my strips. Then I folded, stacked and sliced imperfect 8″ strips of the three fabrics in one fell swoop. I didn’t iron anything on this quilt (except the word) until I had it completely pieced and then I only did a quick pass over the seams.

I freehand drew the letters to the size I wanted and used a piece of muslin and wonder under to attach the green letters to the muslin. I embroidered around the letters to hold them permanently in place with black thread and a tight zig zag stitch. Then I added the muslin piece into one of my strips. I bound the quilt in a green cotton from my stash and used a zig zag stitch for finishing the binding.

It’s a simple cozy Christmasy throw size quilt, and my boys are fans of it. I’m going to make some slip covers for my sofa pillows with the left over fabric to match.