Nov 072016
 

This post contains affiliate links.


By now, I am pretty sure you all have figured out I am a fan of Swagbucks.  Over the years I have earned hundreds of dollars in gift cards to use for various items – grocery items, gardening supplies, cloth diapers, school supplies, bat houses, and more.  While some months I have earned more than others, Swagbucks is one method of earning to which I keep returning.

Now that the holidays are in full gear, a lot of people are already getting started on decorating their homes for the season. If you’re in that same boat, you can get great deals and cash back for shopping through Swagbucks! Just go here and see all of the great cash back you can get from some of your favorite stores. Here’s how it works:

1. Click here to see the stores offering deals and cash back.
2. Click through to the store(s) of your choice and do some shopping!
3. Get cash back in the form of points (called SB) that you can redeem for free gift cards so you can stretch your holiday (and decorating) budget even further!

As an extra bonus, if you’re not a Swagbucks member and join through my link (or you’ve joined through my link this month), you’ll get an one time 200 SB bonus when you spend $25 or more in any of the Swagbucks Shop stores before December 1st! Swagbucks is a great site where you earn SB points for doing every day things online like shopping, discovering deals, taking surveys, watching videos, searching the web, and more.

Whether you are looking to save on holiday decorations, supplies for a get together, or even if you are dreaming of next year’s garden, Swagbucks can help you save.The more SB you earn, the more gift cards you can get, which are a HUGE help this time of year.

Oct 262016
 

amending-soil

Cleaning out your garden shed is often on gardener’s spring cleaning list.  For this gardener, though, it is an item that gets done at whatever part of the year provides the time and motivation.  As I have been cleaning out items in the house, transitioning that motivation to the garden shed, and counting it as ‘outside time’, was a natural transition.

Part of what needed cleared out was the portable fire pit, specifically the ashes.  As it was sitting directly in front of the shed door, it was one of the first things tackled.  Cold ashes from  our occasional small backyard fires are normally added to the compost pile.

Over the year(s), the soil in these boxes breaks down, compacts, and/or settles.  For whatever reason, usually a combination, adding extra soil, compost, and mulch yearly is a routine part of their upkeep.  Taking a page from Lasagna Gardening, I added it directly to the bed it was intended for, which also happens to grow directly under a row of overhanging everygreens.  At this time, the only plants growing were a row of mature tomatoes at the back.  It was easy to work around these.

As long as I was adding the ashes, why not add sand as well?  The sand in the sandbox needed to be removed and the soil in the boxes needed to have some larger particles added to them to help balance out the compaction I have noted taking place.  Into the garden bed they went.

Once I made my way into the shed, discarding broken pots, discarding pots I thought I would eventually use but found myself 3 year later staring at them, discarding cans of stain left over from the previous owners, discarding broken toys full of triggers for great memories, and made enough noise to send the spiders into hiding, I came to the half-filled bag of peat moss.  Can you guess where it ended up?  That is right, into the garden bed it went.

As I was about to get my hands good and dirty, a distraction came up.  It seems the natural consequence I was waiting for had taken place – one of the boys was hurt in their loudly wild stick swinging chilverously brave sword fighting.  While I tried to reassure them that no blood was flowing and therefore I was not needed.

“See the garden, boys? Mama finally gets to play in the dirt and does not need to do mom things right now.”

They did not agree.

It seemed that only Mom’s knowledgeable hands could fix the horrors of what brother had done.  My question to them was, “do you think it wise to keep swinging sticks at each other?”  I received the appropriate answers, knowing the lesson would stick for all of 5.4 seconds … so I left out the bottle of liquid bandage.

scrached-child-cheek

Back in the garden, knowing the kids had moved on to something as equally smart as rapidly swinging long sticks at each other, I made quick work of mixing together the three ingredients, top dressing the soil and smoothing it all out.  In the spring, these will get mixed into the soil during planting time.

As Autumn begins to wind down, mulched leaves and other items may still be added to the top of this bed.  Doing these activities now will create a bed ready to be planted in come spring.  The soil will have had time to incorporate nutrients, items will have begun to break down, and if all goes well, the soil structure in this particular bed will have improved.

Working in small spaces can sometimes feel over loaded with limitations.  However, it also has a host of benefits, such as being able to tailor actions on a small scale, addressing the needs of a particular bed rather than applying an action to the whole garden.  Lasagna gardening has been a life saver for me on more than one occasion.  The ease it provides, while also encouraging a natural approach to your garden, quickly made it one aspect of gardening I have continued to follow over the years.

soil-amendments-mixed

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Oct 092016
 

kids-garden-containers

Contrast in color, size, and texture can add interest to your garden.  Here I showed you an example of a large area where this was used. Here in a smaller example.

Tucked into a corner of a garden, it would have easy to put in a plant and move on. Instead, a bit more time was spent, turning this corner into a spot that adds to the overall garden.

It also shows what you can do if you only have a small spot. While you may not be able to do everything, you can still do something.

Oct 072016
 

city-garden-open-space-before-planting-spring

When I first saw this garden, in its wintertime bareness, I would imagine all the different ways it could be planted and decorated. Then I began to feel like a failure for not being able to do the same in my garden.

circular-garden-in-summer-bloom-2

Later I visited the same gardens. They were taking shape, colors were starting to appear, and the feeling was less of emptiness.

circular-flower-garden-in-summer-bloom

I also realized several things:

  • There are people who are hired full time to take care of these grounds. This is not solely a hobby.
  • There is more than ONE person taking care of these gardens.
  • The same pattern is used year to year. No need to reinvent the wheel each year.
  • Annuals are used, not perennials or bulbs.
  • There is a greenhouse used to grow all of these annuals. I would have to either build a greenhouse, spending months to grow these, or else pay retail.
  • This particular garden is larger than my yard. I could not replicate it if I tried.

Reminding myself of these things when the gardening doubts begin to creep in has helped me keep a more balanced view, to not judge myself so harshly. I am also able to enjoy the gardens more, appreciating all the effort others put in so I can sit and enjoy them. No weeding required.

Aug 222016
 

ragady flower garden

Even an untrained eye could tell you the photo above is, well, horrid.  For many reasons, which I will not be going into.  What it does capture is the feeling and look of a spare garden box I had in June.  Last year this garden bed held a few flowers and lots of peppers.  This year I had no peppers.  What I did have were flowers that looked very ragady and forelorn.  Most of the other flowers had sold on the road side stand.  Due to lack of watering or other issues, these had not.  Instead of adding them to the compost pile, I filled this garden box with them.  My goal was to keep out weeds.  Instead, this is what I got …

non-ragady flower garden

No added fertilizers, no weeding (though there are a few in there), no watering.  I planted and let them be.  So what happened?  Over the winter I had added at lease one 5-gallon bucket of coffee grounds and filters from a local restaurant.  That was it.  Coffee grounds and filters are a great soil additive, helping with soil structure, retention of moisture, and add roughage for our worms.  While not everyone agrees with adding so many grounds at once, it has worked out for me.  Of course, these were on top of wood chips.  I also have a tendency to empty our ashes from the fire pit into the garden beds.

While we have a compost pile, I find myself semi-lasagna gardening a lot of time.  I think of it as either being lazy or efficient, composting in place and saving time in the spring.

The moral of the story: Getting good results in your garden does not have to be hard and labor intensive.  With the right environment, even the worst looking plants can thrive.

P.S. While taking the last pictures I found a stowaway from last year – a self seeded pepper plant. And to keep it real, I left the weed in the garden bed till after I took the picture.  Your welcome. 😉

self seeded pepper plant

Aug 122016
 

bee in the know

After the recent review of The Bee-Friendly Garden: Design an Abundant, Flower-Filled Yard that Nurtures Bees and Supports Biodiversity byKate Frey and Gretchen LeBuhn, I have been paying more attention to the bees around me.  What I came to realize is, well, there is a whole lot more which I do not know and could learn.  This is a start.

Below is a summary compilation of scholarly papers, book reviews, and letters all concerning our neighbors, the bees.  There were so many papers and sources of information which I could share, but I had to cut it off at some point.  I tried to keep the topics somewhat related to help with narrowing down the results. u6k7v3t5

Relocation risky for bumble bee colonies – this letter in reference to a paper on the relocation of bees addresses some of the possible issues with such moves.

USBombus, a database of contemporary survey data for North American Bumble Bees (Hymenoptera, Apidae, Bombus) distributed in the United States – from the abstract of this research paper, “While a wealth of historic data is now available for many of the North American species found to be in decline in online databases, systematic survey data of stable species is still not publically available. The availability of contemporary survey data is critically important for the future monitoring of wild bumble bee population.  Without such data, the ability to ascertain the conservation status of bumble bees in the United States will remain challenging.”  this paper was authored by Koch, J. et al, representing several universities and the USDA.

Review of the book The Bees of the World 2nd ed. American Entomologist (the review begins on page 3) – As the author of this book review states, “That only seven years have passed since the first edition is testament to the vigorous ongoing research on bees.”  This review happens to have been written 7 years ago with even larger amount of study and focus being given to this insect family.  Some of the references to changes in the classifications have potentially resolved themselves, though even those are under constant review as more knowledge comes to light.

At 900+ pages, this book is not one you lightly add to your library, that is, unless you are a librarian at a large library.

Chemical Signals in Bumble Bee Foraging – though this paper is older, it provides a great look into the world of bumble bees and understanding how they reach the flowers in your garden.

Hive-stored pollen of honey bees: many lines of evidence are consistent with pollen preservation, not nutrient conversion – “Our findings have important implications for the improvement of natural food storage, artificial food supplements, and water balance in the hive especially during overwintering.”  As one who likes to store up one season’s harvest for use in the winter, I have appreciated the research done on nutrient levels and safe storing of these foods.  In a similar fashion bees store pollen, though it has not always been known why this is done nor if there was an unknown benefit for them doing so.  Anderson, K. et al take a look close look at this storage of pollen.

 

Nest architecture and species status of the bumble bee Bombus (Mendacibombus) shaposhnikovi (Hymenoptera: Apidae: Bombini) – “Here, we report behavioural observations of the nesting biology of B. shaposhnikovi and provide new evidence for the conspecific status of B. shaposhnikovi and B. handlirschianus in our discovery of a nest containing both colour forms.”

I had never put much thought into the structure of a nest – where food was located compared to living quarters, how many eggs were placed in each cell, etc.  It is amazing what you can observe once you slow down and look at different parts of nature.  The authors also present their doubts about the species of Bombus, differentiated only by color, being actual separate species.

Speaking of nests and the various ways of building them, here is a paper talking about the nest architecture of a tropical bee – Nest Architecture and Foraging Behavior in Bombus pullatus (Hymenoptera: Apidae), with Comparisons to Other Tropical Bumble Bees.

And the Bombus transversalisNest construction and architecture of the Amazonian bumble bee (Hymenoptera: Apidae)

 

Determining the Impacts of Pesticide and Nutrition-Induced Stress on Honey Bee Colony Growth and Survival – while this research project is still underway, I thought it was interesting enough to mention.  When I am  hungry, I know how my performance suffers.  Could it be the same for bees?  Another reason for all of us to take a look at our gardens and make changes, even small ones, to help out our much needed pollinators.

As a part of the above mentioned research project, several papers have already been published looking at various aspects. Here are a few of them:

Honey bee colonies provided with natural forage have lower pathogen loads and higher overwinter survival than those fed protein supplements

Methods for Comparing Nutrients in Beebread Made by Africanized and European Honey Bees and the Effects on Hemolymph Protein Titers

Apr 032016
 

seeds beginning 2014 garden season

One idea to reduce your grocery bill that I commonly hear, after coupons and shopping sales and eating left overs, is to plant a garden.  While they are correct in a garden can be cheaper than going to the grocery store to buy the same items, it doesn’t mean gardening is always cheap.  It can easily cost a pretty penny, especially if you are just starting out.  Planning ahead and being aware of what you are spending, what you need and having realistic goals can save you quite a bit over a season, or 2 or 5.

Gardening can be done with very little money.  It can. However, it takes time and effort.

Mar 242016
 

I am a big proponent of using what I have, sometimes so much so my husband has to remind me that I can actually spend money.

When it comes to wood pallets, I see so much potential in something most people throw away.  Here are a few of my favorite ideas.

This would be perfect for my narrow, East facing bed. It is under the overhang of my garden anyway.  For that matter, I might even make two for its South facing front. It would look gorgeous filled with flowers.

We have a bare side of our house, the exterior new garage wall. A few of these with cascading flowers would give a bit of height, be easy to mow around and not look so short along a tall wall. Maybe even mixed with some vertical planters above.

Even better, by our side door which is on a small brick pad. Oiy!  So many ideas, so little time!

Or this, with a board added as a bench. I could sit outside and watch the kids play.

Well, I think I have added 3 relatively good projects to my already long list of things to do.  Honestly, though, does your garden/yard list ever get completed? Yeah, mine neither.

Feb 202016
 

Spring_Sparrow

Another week has come and gone.  Spring is one week closer, as are fresh tomatoes for our salads.

As this list is begun, light snow flurries are blowing past the windows.  I was talking with my neighbor-friend last night, both of us realizing it is time to be starting our seeds yet not ready to admit that much time has passed in this new year.

Here are a few links from around the web that I have read this week in relation to gardening or garden themed crafts.

  • Shari, at Faith Filled Food For Moms, wrote a post filled with some unique ideas for kids – 15 Simple and Creative Tips For Teaching Kids To Garden.
  • This looks like a great craft to do while waiting for your actual flowers to appear – Curly Paper Flowers.
  • Fresh strawberries sound really good with breakfast right now.  Though it feels like spring outside, it truely is only the middle of February.  Spring is still a ways off, as are fresh strawberries from the garden.  Last fall, the first cold snap caught me off guard.  I think I was in the middle of finding an doctor for one of my kids, arranging braces, finding a few remaining contractors for the house, etc.  Either way, I did not get the strawberries covered.  Oops.  To make it even worse, last spring I had forgotten to take the straw mulch off soon enough and lost several plants.  They needed thinned anyway, so it was not such a bad thing, though I would have preferred a more organized approach.  To help prepare myself for addressing any issues I find when I go look at them soon, I needed to review the steps on strawberry plant care.  I would like to reach a point where the beds are divided ino 4 sections, each representing a year in the process of keeping the bed in good health.  Any suggestions for markers so I do not lose track of which is in which stage?
  • If you have not yet ordered seeds, it is not too late.  Take a look at our recently updated Garden Catalogs page to get some ideas of where to look.

Links to other things out-doors that I have taken a look at:

  • After seeing a flock of Canadian Geese in a local field with white birds mixed in, we became curious as to the their name.  Turns out they are Snow Geese and we are within the range of their migratory path from winter to summer grounds.
  • After noticing ducks and geese in local field puddles in early February, I wondered if birds were migrating early due to the warmer than normal spells we have been having.  Riddle of Early Bird Migration Cracked by Tim Wall, written in 2013 and found at Discovery.com, suggests it is not necessarily due to the weather changes, but to when the first eggs are hatched.
Feb 132016
 

These ebooks are currently $0.00 on Amazon.  Click on the links below each picture to be taken to the page where you can download a digital version of the book.  Before purchasing the books, please double check the price to make sure it has not changed.  Before I had a Kindle I read these on my computer.  If you are wanting to do the same, go here to download the free application.  These are not affiliate links.

Here are 10 free ebooks found on Amazon which I thought looked interesting and informative.  Several of them I got for myself, to read either now or later.  While I often read at home at night, I also like to have a selection of books for when I am in the car, waiting at an appointment, or for quiet times.

The books are grouped by similar topics to help you find something that may interest you.  I hope you find something to enjoy and learn from.

Gardening

Urban Gardening Guide

Gardening 101: Friendship Gardens

Homesteading

Homesteading The Easy Way Including Prepping And Self Sufficency: 3 Books In 1 Boxed Set

Weekend Homesteader: April

Heirloom Seeds: An Introduction to Organic Heirloom Seeds, Growing Them, and Their Benefits

Foraging: The Complete Beginners Guide – 28 Crucial Steps To Foraging Wild Edible Plants And Herbs The Easy And Safe Way!

Herbs

Herbs, Herbs and more Herbs: A handbook on everything you need to know to use herbs effectively (How to dry herbs at home – How to dry foods 2)

Herb Gardening For Beginners, Planting An Herb Garden Made Easy: How To Grow Herbs And Dry Herbs

Straw Bale Gardening

Straw Bale Gardening: The Complete Straw Bale Gardening Guide How to Grow More Vegetables and Herbs in Straw Bale Garden with Limited Space.

Straw bale gardening for beginners: Ultimate guide to grow fruits, herbs and vegetables in backyard straw bale garden

Straw Bale Gardening: Simple Step by Step Guide to Successful Gardening without Any Digging

Vermiculture (Worms)

Worm Composting: The Ultimate Guide to Worm Composting for Life

Get the Garden of your Dreams with this Composting and Wormery Guide!

Indoor Gardening

Apartment Gardening

Indoor Gardening: The 12 Best Herbs to Grow On Your Kitchen Window. Tips and Techniques to Create Your Own Culinary Herb Garden

Growing House Plants for the Beginner Enthusiast

Urban Organic Gardening Indoors: A Step-By-Step Beginner’s Guide to Growing A Garden Indoors

Cooking

Cook What You Have A Guide to the Lazy Garden and the Lazy Kitchen