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.

Oct 022014

this week in the garden october 2 2014

What a week this has been.  Today has been the first morning that was relatively “free” to do with as I please (read: canning, finally!)  Then a call came, “You haven’t dropped off the plans yet this week.  I can come pick them up or were you coming here?”  So, again, plans change and the canning gets delayed.

This may be a blessing in disguise.  As I was reviewing how I made blackberry syrup last time, I came across a note where I said I would not do it again unless I had a jelly bag or the right amount of cheese cloth.  Perfect.  I plan on stopping by Walmart for a few things, so I will add a jelly bag to the list.

The blackberries I am going to use are actually from last year.  I have 2-3 gallons in the freezer that I have been wanting to use up.  1 gallon will remain there to use for glazes this winter.  Last year I was able to pick berries from bushes belonging to a friend of a friend.  The bushes were huge and more than that family needed.  My friend has also already picked there and had more than she needed.  At the end of last summer, the family decided to mow down the bushes and let them regrow this year.  They really were huge and made quite the bramble.

I am glad now that I froze the extras to use as needed later.  By using these up now, turning them into something we are short of, I am also freeing up space in the freezer for  other things we may be needing.

frozen blackberries

The garden has slowed down.  It has not stopped, but is not growing as quickly.  I was able to pick a few strawberries yesterday, something I have been unable to do with the unexpected warmer weather these past few weeks.  First it got cooler, than a spell that was warmer than it has been all summer.  So goes the life of a gardener.

There are still some okra to pick, as well as cherry tomatoes.  I am going to leave the larger tomatoes to see if they will turn red.  If not, I will pick them green, puree them, and freeze the results for green tomato bread in the upcoming months.

salsa in unwiped jars

Yesterday I was able to process 21 jars of salsa.  The picture above shows the results.  If you notice how messy the tops looks, well that is due to our water.  I added vinegar to the water bath canner, though I think it could have used more.  I will remove the bands, wipe the lids and label them before storing them away.

At the end of the evening I was looking back on the day and trying to figure out why it took me all day to get the salsa completed.  That is when I realized I was viewing the day wrong.  It was not solely a “canning day”.

  • I dropped my car off in the morning to have work done
  • Met with yet another contractor to talk about the house
  • Made several calls (to the utility company, to the city building office)
  • Did some laundry
  • Had Olaf come in the afternoon
  • Walked the mile or so with Olaf to pick the car back up
  • Picked up the kids from school then proceeded to deal with the frenzied excitement when they found out that Olaf was having a ‘slumber party’ with us
  • Handled everything from after-school through bedtime all by myself as my husband has class last night.  I even was able to get all 3 kids to sleep by 8 p.m.!
  • Finished unraveling the first sleeve of the first wool sweater, resulting in 9 cores for wool dryer balls.
  • And to top it all off, all the dishes were clean when I was done … well, except the coffee cup I used after finishing the kitchen to reward myself with a homemade cappuccino.

Canning 21 pints of salsa while doing the rest was actually a great accomplishment for me.

Apr 012014


“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is more along the lines of “You can’t judge a tomato by its skin” when it comes to gardening.  Depending on what you are wanting out of your tomato, some kinds may be better than others.

When I first started canning I didn’t quite understand this concept.  I was mainly doing jams, as tomatoes scared me a bit … and I did not have a pressure canner, which is needed for most tomato products.  After a few years I took the plunge and canned up my first tomatoes.

Here are a few things I learned:

  1. Preserving tomatoes as crushed tomatoes, you may want to pay attention unless you like a lot of juice in your jars.  However, it will not matter a whole lot if you get or grow the wrong kind.  It is more of an annoyance later if you have to cook your dish a bit longer or strain your tomatoes first.
  2. When it come to doing something like sauce, however, the type of tomato makes a large difference.  Being the one for learning the hard way, I learned this the hard way.

The first year I decided to make sauce was also the first year I got a food mill.  Around midnight of putting the first batch through I was ready to give up canning altogether.  “How do people think this is the way to do it?  This doesn’t save money, it just wastes your time.  I would be better off doing internet surveys right now and going to buy sauce with the money I make.” Grumble. Grumble. Grumble. Almost throw the food mill out the window.

food mill pizza sauce tomato 2

Sauce Tomatoes

food mill tomato result 3

Slicing (juicy) Tomatoes

What was the problem?  My tomatoes were the wrong kind.  There was too much liquid in them and they were not being pushed through the food mill.  However, I did not figure this out till I got a batch of sauce tomatoes and realized how easy and nice it was to use the food mill.  It also saves a lot of time cooking them down. (I have another tip for this, but that is a different post.)

The picture below shows several different kinds of tomatoes sliced so you can compare the insides.  I took this picture last fall to demonstrate the differences.  This happened to be the selection of tomatoes I had that night to process.

DSCN8512The two tomatoes at the bottom of the photo, the yellow one and the red one to its right, have more ‘meat’ to them and less area for seeds and juice.  These tomatoes would have been better for sauce than, say, the one in the middle on the left.  That one has more seeds and juice than ‘meat’, making it a good slicing tomato for  your hamburger but not so great to make sauce.

“But this isn’t canning season.  Why are we talking about this now?”

Glad you asked.  While it may not be canning season, it is the start of gardening season.  The decisions you make now will affect you later on down the line, such as when you are ready to can or freezer up your produce.  Are you looking to make sauce?  Grill out burgers? Make tomato jam? Have crushed/whole/stewed tomatoes?  You need to make sure you have the right tomato for the job.

Do not select a juicy, seed filled tomato if you are looking to make a thick sauce – unless you want more work, including cooking for hours, later on.  While the shape may not matter, you will want to look for something that has few seeds and more ‘meat’ to it.  Many heirlooms are a great choice.

If you are interested in using them on a sandwich, either type of tomato will do.  Your selection may be based more on shape, size, and flavor.

If you are looking for a tomato to use on salads, you may prefer a cherry tomato over a grape tomato.  My husband likes a salad tomato that will fit in his mouth without being cut.  If I am not able to get those, then I like to use a roma tomato, as it is a smaller size and I am not left with half a tomato to use before it goes bad.  One year I grew a very small tomato, it was about the size of my pinkie fingernail.  While these were great in salads, it took forever to pick them and get any real quantity.  I had gotten them by accident, but did enjoy growing something out of the norm for me.

While this post has been about tomatoes, it really goes for any plant you plan on putting in your garden.  Take the time now to think through what it is you are looking to get from your garden.  Only put in the plants you are looking to use, and selection the varieties that will give you the end results you are hoping to achieve.  The gardening experience will be much more rewarding and enjoyable.

Happy gardening!

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Oak Hill Homestead
Jul 222013

2013 Garden Update

Last week I never got around to posting my weekly gardening goals because I was too busy doing them.  Last week’s activities involved

  • clean the gutters
  • trimmed tree limbs along roof line
  • weed-eat around the garden
  • move extra produce stand plants off my porch and to extra space in the garden (move, not plant)
  • plant pepper plants in extra spaces in the garden
  • clear off the porch
  • clear items away from the base of the house

These were all completed, as well as:

  • trim the bushes along the garage
  • relocated hanging cucumber plants
  • pulled up the grass growing in gaps in the driveway

All these garden chores were done with a particular goal in mind – get ready for the house to be painted.  To say I’m happy to have these done and the painting on the house started would be an understatement.  This has been something we have been planning since the beginning of the year.  I’ve never picked out colors for a house before so I was also a bit apprehensive.  I think it will turn out okay, and something we like.  Here is a small preview, after some loose paint had been scraped off:



As you can see, the change will definitely be noticeable. Traffic along the street is already starting to slow down while curious people look.  (I joked that we should paint part of the front a neon green to give everyone something to talk about.) My vote was for a non-neutral color – blue, red, etc.  I was outvoted.  Or rather, I chose not to make a huge issue out of it.  Instead, I chose neutral colors I liked and put them up for a vote.  My future plans are for flower beds along the foundation of the house to add a variety of colors.

So what does this week hold?

  • trimming bushes along front walk
  • edge grass along sidewalk
  • take brush to yard waste recycling site
  • move extra produce stand plants to a shadier spot (the sun is wilting them)
  • plant (very late) sweet potato slips
  • spread out dirt piles (from replacement of water line)
  • trim trees along edge of porch (so it can be painted)

I was able to get a handful of items from the garden last week.  We had another rain last night, so I’m hoping all the squash blossoms will result in an onslaught of produce this week.  There are also a lot of green tomatoes that I’m looking forward to having turn.  Maybe the rain will finally do the trick.

I have decided to freeze the jalapeno peppers, whole and seedless, as they mature.  We don’t use them a lot them, but enough to make it worth while.  I also hope to try jalapeno poppers later on if I get enough of them.  Anyone know if I will be able to make poppers with previously frozen jalapeno peppers?



Jun 302013

Weekly Goals collage May 2013

 This past week found me harvesting all my green onions (which still need processed), planting a few extra pepper plants, trimming bushes and rethinking my roadside stand layout.

So what does this week hold?

  1. Weed and mulch around roses
  2. Plant garlic near roses
  3. Find out more about planting sweet potatoes and find a spot to do so
  4. Trim bushes along front walk
  5. Weed flower bed around tree in front yard

I feel as if this week holds a lot of maintenance items.  That is one part of gardening that I often forget about and do not associate with ‘gardening’.

What does you week look like?

Jun 032013

Weekly Goals collage May 2013


The camping trip last week has left me anxious to finish getting the garden in and mulch down.  Maybe it is realizing that it is already June and there are still a few tomato plants on my kitchen counter.  It has been so cool this Spring that I have not felt a rush to get these in.  That is a good and bad thing.  At least I have been given time to replant seeds a few times … though I’m not sure why they are not coming up.  Maybe they would have earlier if it had been warmer.

This past weekend held a local strawberry festival.  I visited on Friday and saw they  had strawberry plants for $1 per 4″ pot.  As I wasn’t sure what the stores around me were selling them for I decided to wait.  Wrong choice.  After looking around today I realize what a great deal that was.  The local hardware store has them for $2.99 per pot.  The grocery story didn’t have any.  The last place I stopped was a smaller department store that usually has very high prices.  I’m glad to decided to “stop and take a look” as I was able to find strawberry plants for a much better price.  The label said, “CLEARANCE $8.98 per 6 pack”.  I figured it was the best I would get for a while and picked up a six pack of strawberry plants.  When I went to check out they rang up at $6.95.  Even better.  This was cheaper than if I had driven back to the festival before coming home from camping, taking into account gas and such.

While out I also picked up some potting mix for a container on my deck and my topsy turvy planters from cucumbers.  I should be pretty set to finish planting.

This Week’s Goals:

  1. Plant regular heirloom tomatoes.
  2. Plant white heirloom tomatoes.
  3. Add soil to planter and sow flower seeds.
  4. Plant sugar snap peas.
  5. “Plant” cucumbers – add soil to containers and hang
  6. Plant zucchini seeds (again)
  7. Hang laundry line.
  8. Lay newspapers down for mulch.
  9. Look for more (free) mulch.
  10. Plant iris bulbs.

You never know when the rain might quit coming.  Even though the temperatures are on the cool side I want to get everything in the ground.  Maybe then I can focus on getting the garage in order and continue removing weeds that have appeared because of all the rain.

What are your goals for this week?

May 262013

Weekly Goals collage May 2013

This is going to be a week of few goals.  With cool, damp weather lately there hasn’t been much happening in the garden.

  • If the weather is nice enough on Sunday afternoon and Monday morning I am going to plant more tomato plants.
  • Buy sand for deck container (it goes in the bottom to weigh it down) and potting mix.
  • Bring remaining seedlings up from the basement and place in a sunny location inside.
  • Take in paper and glass recycling.

See nothing too hard, but that is what life calls for sometimes.

What are your goals this week?

May 062013

pen and notepad

These are a bit late, but that is what happens when you are gone for the weekend at the end of a long week.  Not all things get done before leaving, such as writing up goals for the upcoming week.

My weekly goals this week are a mix of garden and decluttering, though I’m only going to post the gardening ones here.  Beyond that it will suffice to say that I hope to get rid clutter and items we don’t use or need, as it is making me feel as if all the stuff is closing in on me.  Just as I feel the house is overtaking me, I feel as if the time to plant is quickly passing.  It isn’t necessarily, and all the rain we have been getting hasn’t really been conducive to getting a garden in.  The feeling, though, is still there.  I’m thinking it has to do with the fact that we are coming off of almost two years of drought.  During that time I’ve come to realize just how important Spring rains are to the rest of the season.  It is a time when plants can get a healthy start on growing, one that will affect the harvest months down the road.

zucchini seedlings

One of the two zucchinis I planted at the end of last week was damaged in the rain over the weekend.  Thankfully I have extra transplants that I can replace it with.  Even if I didn’t, it is early enough to have put out seed.

My tomato plants really need to get in the ground, though I think the temperatures are still a bit cold.  They are getting too big to be in the little cells they are currently.  The result?  They are easily wilting due to the heat from the heat pad and the light from above.  So for now I am going to repot them into larger containers.

Last Week’s Gardening Goals

  1. I have finished edging, laying landscape fabric and mulching the front beds.
  2. I have gathered more mulch for the flower beds in the back. – I haven’t done this, though I saw a source for it and plan to go back and check it out this week if I have some free time.
  3. I set up the planting container for the deck. – I still need to add sand to the base and soil to the top (at which point I can plant).  However, the container itself is put together and that was my goal.
  4. I have added fencing for all the raised beds.
  5. I have added fencing for the small garden area under the kitchen window. – We are planning to have the house painted in the next few weeks.  I decided to wait on this garden bed till after that happens, as it is again the house.  I do have fencing and posts to use, though, so I’m ready to go once it gets painted in this section.
  6. I have put up the trellises for tomatoes and beans.
  7. I have planted zucchini, pole beans, cilantro and lettuce.
  8. I have bought basil and thyme seeds. – turns out I already have basil seeds.  I’m going to wait on buying thyme as I may be able to get transplants relatively cheap soon.
  9. I have started herb plants.
  10. I have finished reading: Bell Peppers: Growing Practices and Nutritional Value by Roby Jose Ciju

This Week’s Gardening Goals

  1. Plant basil seeds
  2. Plant parsley seeds
  3. Plant chive seeds
  4. Plant lettuce
  5. Plant spinach
  6. Trim bushes along front walkway
  7. Add mulch, as available, to beds around blackberry bushes
  8. Transplant tomato starts into larger containers


What are your goals for this week?

Apr 302013

landscape edging and mulch

Again, my apologies for the unfinished post that was posted earlier today.  Want to know why?  Check out the status on our Facebook page, it all goes together.

Last week one of my goals was to add edging and mulch to the bushes on either side of my front walkway and in front of my porch.  One side of the walkway was completed.  I had begun putting edging along the bed up against the porch and down the other side of the walkway but was interrupted by it being supper time (silly people actually wanted to eat before going to bed) and rain.  Sunday I was determined not to let the rain stop me completely – I wanted to finish the edging.  (It finally was finished today, at the expense of some other items that need to be done around/in the house.  Isn’t that what rainy days are for?)

Pictures from last week:


Laying down a line to follow.


Gardener-in-Training had fun ‘helping’ move the shovel back and forth.


New roll of edging wasn’t cooperating very much.

helper hammering in landscape edging

 G.I.T. wanted to help again.  I started the stakes and let G.I.T. take some tries.  It didn’t take too long before the hammer was offered back.


View of edging in place.

landscape edging and mulchEdging and mulch are in place.  I was ready for a cup of ice tea and a break on the porch swing … I got to make supper.

 Once that was done, grass and weeds along the edges were removed.  The grass was relocated to a bare part of the yard.  The weeds were left in the sun to die and then thrown away.

landscape edging second side

Landscaping fabric was added and mulch was placed on top to keep it from blowing in the breeze …

putting down landscape fabric with mulch

putting down landscape fabric under bushes

putting down landscape fabric and mulch under bushes

… hostas from another bed were divided and planted ….

hostas divided

divided hostas replanted


…. then mulch was added to it all.

wet steps under mulch

bush with landscape fabric mulch finished

bushes with landscape fabric mulch finished 2

More mulch will have to be applied as time goes.  I’m fine with how it looks for now.

bushes with landscape fabric and mulch finished

The mulch was actually not bought at a store or anywhere else.  It was hauled, in pots, from our local yard waste disposal site.  I had been there looking for bags of leaves when I saw this pile on the other side of the work area.  After hauling leaves, to add to raised beds, I decided to check it out and see if it really was what I thought.  Sure enough, a small pile of sawdust and wood chips.  They still looked new as the color was still a bright yellow/gold.  A few trips back and forth later and there was a pile of mulch on my front porch steps.  (At least my  husband couldn’t complain about me killing the grass.)

I had debated whether to add landscaping fabric or not.  Then I came across a roll in my basement and decided to compromise.  At the end of my bushes, where flowers are planted, I laid down several layers of newspapers, after removing the weeds and grass, then topped them with mulch.  Under the bushes I used the landscaping fabric then mulch.  By the porch I added the wood chips on top of the leaves I piled there this past fall, a natural mulch.   There are a few weeds that had to be removed, but not a lot grows there due to the amount of shade.  I do have to keep on top of honeysuckle bush sprouts and violets, but think adding the edging and mulch will help.  The edging will allow me to make the mulch (wood chips and leaves) I place there a bit deeper.  The leaves will help choke out plants and the wood chips should help make the ground softer when I go to pull the plants.

When ever I make a trip out to the yard waste disposal site in the future I will be checking the area where they cut wood (anyone can come cut free firewood).  I also have called a tree company and put my name on their list for wood chips if they trim trees in our area.  These two sources should result in free chips and me not having to pay for them.  One more way I have been able to save on my garden costs.

Mar 162013

Perfectionism has tried to work its way in while doing this list of projects.  I’m so glad I have not given in to it a lot so far.  For example, yesterday, the plan was to spend time in the morning putting up painters’ tape in the second room and applying a second coat of paint to the first room.  That didn’t happen.  Instead, I picked up around the house, returned something to the hardware store, picked up a few items while there (for #4 and #6 below), picked up a few items from the grocery store, sorted laundry and started a load.  The afternoon found me making supper (see #21 below), mopping the kitchen floor, then taking advantage of the nice weather outside. (see #12 below, I wish I could show you pictures.  I forgot to take them last night and right now it is 4:55 am, dark and rainy.  Not exactly really good setting to take photos outside.)  I also added another meeting to the calendar for next week.  These things do seem to come in groups.  I sort of prefer it that way, as I would rather have one week busy than two weeks just messed up.  (Yes, I have been having a lot of meetings lately, but we also have a lot going on here at home. Such is life sometimes.)

Today is going to see me gone all day, so I’m honestly not sure what today is going to hold.  I feel okay taking a day off from working on projects, as I worked on two yesterday.

Lists of my 21 Projects:

  1. Spackle stairway walls
  2. Prime spots to be painted (from previous replacement of door and window frames)
  3. Paint spots around door and window frames – work in progress.  First coat done on spots in first room.
  4. Repaint Horse post by street
  5. Strip vent covers in bathroom and kitchen
  6. Repaint bathroom and kitchen vent covers
  7. Seal pots and paint with chalkboard paint (to be used with herb plants on the deck)
  8. Add outlet cover for washer/dryer
  9. Add outlet cover for outlet on front porch
  10. Check credit report
  11. Replace light fixture in stairway
  12. Remove weeping cherry (to create a place for blackberry bushes) – work in progress.  All limbs are cut off.
  13. Put out a bird bath
  14. Buy new kitchen trash can – work in progress
  15. Organize and label kitchen pantry
  16. Move clothing totes to back of crawl space (instead of right in front), add shoe rack and rod to hang winter coats
  17. Divide out future clothing sized into clear totes, label
  18. Put camping stuff in tote(s), label
  19. Clean bathroom grout
  20. Seal bathroom grout
  21. Make and freeze 4 different soups, 3 months worth each – work in progress.  3 soups made.
I love seeing progress being made on the list of projects.  Even better is to see several things marked off.  The 30 days is almost half way over.  So far 6 of my projects have been completed, with 3 more in some stage of completion.  By Day 15 I want to have 10 or more of the projects completed.
How is your list coming?  Do you think you will be halfway through in two more days?  Does knowing that “half way through” is in two more days make you feel behind or motivated?  What can you do today to work towards completing one of your projects?