Oct 192016


The planter box above is made up of fairly small growing plants.  The area gets a fair amount of sun, is about 3 feet off the ground and around 2 feet wide.  Using more petite plants keeps this area from being overwhelmed.  Instead of using one regular sized or larger plant, at least 4 smaller plants are used.  The colors, even though they are all green, vary from light to dark, solid to stripped.  This variety keeps the plants from all blending together into one blob of green-ness.  Small pops of color are added by the flowers, which added just that extra bit of interest.


My attention has been pulled elsewhere these past few weeks.  I have not forgotten about the blog, I promise. Each day my plans to post at night after the kids are in bed are routinely foiled by falling asleep at 8:30 pm or before.  It is a constant, daily struggle to figure out what is the highest priority versus what is my preferred activity at that moment.  Example: What needed accomplished yesterday –  two kids’ doctor’s appointments, a few phone calls, removing a window to have the glass replaced, taking said window in to get fix, wiping down dinning room walls, and clearing off a set of shelves.  What I wanted to do – sit on the porch swing reading a book from the stack by my bed, write two book reviews for the blog, and haul a few buckets of wood chips for my front flower beds.

I am anticipating my large project being finished by the beginning of next week, but only if I do not spend time elsewhere.  That fact alone (the end is near) is what keeps me moving forward instead of curling up in a closet with a book, waiting for things to magically happen themselves.

Have you noticed I mention reading a lot?  Yeah, I like books.  They are great places to escape into, though they do not help the laundry get done. 🙂



Oct 092016


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.

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.

Aug 202015

vegetable vine growing into tree collage

There are some garden issues you just have to chuckle about, while making sure they do not produce larger issues.

If left up to themselves, almost all of our vines would have grown up into trees, like this one has.  The first to try was a pumpkin vine.  I was  not exactly looking forward to having pumpkins growing 20 – 60 feet off the ground, so I kept pulling it off the limbs and redirecting it.  As the trellis it was grown up was located directly under the tree, this was an ongoing issue.  Then the cucumbers decided to try and got away with it for a while, till I noticed and pulled them out too.

What I forgot to pay attention to was the back side of the compost pile.  In previous years our vine producing plants have not grown nearly this vigorously, so it was never an issue.  Seem the pile was just high enough for them to reach up and grab the lowest edge of a branch.  That was all that was needed.  Now we have a pumpkin growing on the vine about 10 feet in the air.  I will let you know how it goes, as I am too curious to pull it out now.

Jun 192015

birds eye view of garden june 2015


A “This Week In The Garden” post has not been done for quite a while.  There just did not seem to be much happening.  Then suddenly I turn around and there is a lot to do and a lot seems to be happening.  While there is still A LOT to do still, here are some of the goings-on.

Actually, my garden is coming along … perfectly imperfect.  🙂

  • The raised bed nearest the garden shed – I thought those were three zucchini plants I planted along the edge, and they were.  However, what came up was 1 zucchini plant and 2 vining plants of some sort.  The seeds in the compost had not decomposed all the way, which I knew.  However, the chances that something were to sprout in the exact spot I planted something else was not very likely.  As small plants you could not tell them much apart.  However, while being gone last week it seems my garden decided to explode! and now you can obviously see a difference.  For one, the vines are … vining.
  • A random seed must have gotten out when I added the compost, because there is also a vine growing between the far left raised bed and the one to its right.  At this point, I figure it is growing toward where grass does not grow, so I will let it go and see what it produces.
  • I still have not found the charger for my weed-eater and it has been raining nicely at least once a week since the beginning of grass growing season.
  • The clematis on the left edge of the pictures, along the deck, also exploded with growth while I was gone.
  • For some reason, 3 rows of singles have come off over the past few years.  Only those rows.  Not sure what is up with that.  For about $400, which is what the contractor doing the major work on our house quoted us to re-shingle the whole shed roof, I can live with 3 missing rows for a while longer.  Anyone know a young adult needing some extra money who knows how to replace shingles.planting peppers collage
  • One bed still needs to be fenced.  However, I planted it with about 18 hot pepper plants.  If the rabbits and squirrels really want them right now, then I will let them have them to their hearts content.  These were plants that I either had to get planted or try to give away.
  • So much for the decision to not plant tomatoes this year; I can get them cheap enough at the produce auction.  And so much for the revised decision to plant ONLY cherry tomatoes this year, so we will have them for our salads.  I am now the proud owner of about 15 various tomato plants, and a few volunteers.  Yeah, they are sort of like cats, they multiplied when I was not looking.radish banana pepper collage
  • The middle bed above is the strawberry bed that I left covered too long.  With the extra space I planted radishes, which have done better than in any other spot I have tried them in.  In the past week I gathered two bunches, which did not last long as I love radishes.  No one else does, but that is okay.  I am allowed to grow things that not everyone in the house likes.flats of flowers salvia dahlia collage
  • Yesterday, between rain showers I planted not only the the peppers above, but also a few flats of flowers.  Most went into the front flower bed, but a few found their way into open spaces among the vegetable plants.  These flowers really should have been planted early last week, but with getting ready to go camping it was not high on the priority list.  Once they got planted, I had to dead-head them so they will grow new flowers soon.  The dahlia, on the right above, will be planted along the new portion of the garage. There is a lot of sun shine, as that is also where we had two trees taken, and currently no landscaping. Well, unless you count the tree saplings that are root sprouts of the trees, and those are weeds, not landscaping.  🙂 small black snake collage
  • Last week, we had an unexpected visitor at our place.  I was mowing the grass when I saw a stick move into the daylillies.  Knowing what it was, but wanting to identify it before the kids came out to play, I (carefully) looked for it.  This little guy was camera shy but I finally got a shot of him.  Turns out he was just a black snake.  No worries and I told the kids to leave him alone, let him do the job he was created to do – eat mice and other small rodents.


Apr 292015

Working in a small space can either be viewed as a challenge, requiring creativity to make the most of what you do have.  Or it can be viewed as a reason to whine about what you do not have.  This is true whether you are talking about your house or your garden.  I choose to view it as a challenge.

Since we live in town and our lot is not a huge one, having a large garden is not something that is possible if I still want to have room for the kids to play.  I have tried to make use of spaces tucked here and there, as well as use raised beds.  The raised bed garden has done okay the past few years, but I knew that it could be doing better.  I was missing something.

With planting season very close at hand, I was looking for some help in taking my garden to the next level.  Enter The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden, grow tons of organic vegetables in tiny spaces and containers.  I have read books on having small gardens, checked out blogs about small spaces, and looked up tips and tricks.  Most have told me things I already knew – go vertical, plant what you like, tuck plants in among your flower beds, etc. Or maybe they mentioned something new, but never in enough detail for me to implement it and work around problems.  The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden takes the concept and layout of gardening in a small space further, giving me details that would help a small garden succeed in growing more in that space.

Growing plants pesticide free was not an intentional decision; it came out of not wanting to spend a lot of money on chemicals and learning just how bad they could be for you.  For a short time, I even worked for a tree care company, applying chemicals to people’s yards.  (I will not being doing that again; it really is not in line with who I am.)  One of the things I learned was that a chemical was not always needed, but of course they would not sell you the service of applying soapy water to get rid of your bugs.

Not applying pesticides to my garden has not always meant there were problems.  I lost parsley one year to caterpillars before I figured out what was going on.  Another time I have had some trouble with squash bugs and lost two of my three zucchini plants.  All together though, it has not been a difficult growing without pesticides.

Along with the decrease and final exclusion of pesticides, came the thought about fertilizers and other things added to the garden.  “Are they really good for the soil?  Should I use them or is there a more natural way to get the same results?”  I began looking into other ways to add nutrients back into the soil, ways to garden that did not require chemicals to be added in large amounts.

I have some favorite websites to look up issues on, but often I am left trying to find someone to ask or searching pictures online to see if I can figure it out myself.  While reading The Postage Stamp Garden I came across a very useful table – The Soil Nutrient Deficiency table.  This will become my quick reference for those times when I am not sure what is going on with the soil.  Rather than applying a general fertilizer or adding more compost in hope the issue will disappear on its own, I will be able to focus on what is lacking.

Another surprise was when I came across multiple garden layout ideas.  Side notes about how you can use the space once certain plants are gone or as they are growing were even included.   What a great way to help those of us who are better visual learners than auditory learners.

The Postage Stamp Garden has several other additions that I really enjoyed:

  • The comparison between various animal manures is something that will be helpful, as I am looking for some right now to add to my garden beds.  It is not all created equal and if I am going to go to the trouble of finding, hauling and applying it, I would like to know that my effort is resulting in what I am actually looking for.
  • When talking about planting, they go beyond cool and warm weather plants and talk about planting with the phases of the moon.  They do not do this to encourage you to use this method, but so that you will have the information if you do choose to use this method.
  • They also talk about planting zones being on a larger scale, not able to represent all the microclimates that exist in that every garden area.  To help compensate, there is a table that gives you clues in nature which you can look for to help pin point even closer when might be a good time to plant.  This will help take some of the guess work out of the date ranges often found in planting dates.
  • A full 93 pages of information on plants to grow!  With each plant there is information included on planting, crop stretching, recommended varieties, typical problems gardeners have with these types of plants, harvesting, storage, and growing tips.  I particularly found the crop stretching and typical problem section useful.  This is information that I feel I have been missing these past few years to make my small garden work even better than it has been.
  • Chapter 8 is titled “Controlling Pests, Diseases, and Critters”.  They even cover the soap-and-water treatment I mentioned earlier.  I have successfully used this to get rid of scale and was glad to see it included in this book.  6.5 pages were used to create a table helping you find the answer to, “What kind of control do you use for what pests?”  No more having to search online in hopes of finding the answer among all the search results.
  • The book ends with a listing of 33 various seed companies ranging from small companies to larger ones.

Karen Newcomb has made the most of the 200+ pages in this book.  Within those pages she has create a great guide to gardening when you do not have a lot of room for trial and error, but want to make the most of what you do have.

I am very glad that I took the time to read through The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden and will be keeping it within easy reach during my gardening this year.  In the next few weeks I hope to get the garden planted.  Keeping this guide on hand will help allow me to make better use of all my spaces and to think outside of what has become ‘normal’ for me.


I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

This post contains affiliate links.

Apr 162015

produce auction collage

This post in part of a series about produce auctions across the USA.  While this is not a comprehensive list, I have tried to include auctions about which I can find information.  If you know of any others, feel free to leave a note in the comments section.

Virginia is home to several different produce auctions, though it was hard to find a lot of information for half of these.  What I was able to find were YouTube videos and some basic information.  Sometimes being able to see things in action helps to know what to expect when you get there.

If you have ever been to one of these auctions, I would love to know more details or personal accounts. Feel free to leave a comment or a link to a post of yours in the comment section.

Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction – Auctions begin in April.  For the first part of the season (April – mid July) there are two auctions a week, on Tuesday and Friday at 9:30 a.m.  Starting July 15 and running through September an additional auction is added on Fridays at 12:30 p.m.  In October they go back to just two auctions a week, dropping the Friday auction.  In November, they reduce it further to just one auction a week, Tuesdays at 9:30 a.m.

The website for the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction contains Market Reports and Directions, as well as links to items for sale and local markets.

Southside Produce Auction near Cullen, Virginia is a relatively new auction, having opened just a few years ago.  They hold auctions on Tuesdays and Fridays at 10 a.m.  According to the comments section from the post Southside Produce Auction – Revisited  by Apricot Farm, it is located at the intersection of Vincent Store Road and Route 47.    Here is another article about the Southside Produce Auction, this time from Country Folks – Virginia’s Southside Produce Auction enters third year.

Virginia Beach Farmers’ Market

3640 Dam Neck Road 
Virginia Beach, VA 23453 
Phone: 757.385.4388
Every Wednesday, June 13-October 31, 2012 
6:30 p.m. Start Time For Bulk Buyers; 7:00 p.m. Start time for Smaller Lots

***The information above was taken from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.  Note the year, 2012.  I called the number to confirm the information, but there was no answering machine and no one answered.  I will try once more to make sure.  Till then, you may want to call and check that the information is correct before heading out to attend.



Southeast Virginia Farmers Market/Courtland Farmers’ Market
 24540 Agripark Drive
Courtland, VA 23837
Phone:  757.653.0728
Thursday nights, June 6-October 24, 6:30 p.m. 

***The information above was taken from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.  I called to confirm the information, but was only given the opportunity to leave a message.  No further information was given except that I had reached the market in Courtland.  I will call one more to double check that the information is correct.  Until then, you may want to call ahead to make sure the above information is accurate before heading out to attend.


Apr 072015

produce auction collage

You can not do it all.

Maybe that is not exactly accurate.  Perhaps it should say that “Usually every gardener can not grow everything all the time”, or even “Most gardeners do not want to grow everything all the time.”  For various reasons, most gardens contain a few key things or a variety of things along a theme.

Growing up, my mom had a fairly large garden.  Even there, she did not grow everything.  Melons did not do well in their soil, so those were never grown.  Berries, while room for them, were not found in the garden or anywhere in our yard.  I am not sure if this is because it was not something we ate a lot of or due to lack of time.  Blackberries could be found wild and were always a nice treat.

One of my first gardens was found in a community garden, about 20 minutes from my work, in the opposite direction from my house, on a large plot that had not been planted for a few years.  (Read, “weeds”.)  To help make use of space on the back half, and to cut down on weeding, I planted watermelons among the corn.  I also tried an heirloom variety of tomato … {gasp} it was not red.  🙂

I learned that this was not only way too large of a plot for me, but also there was a lot of sun and lack of water.  It did not help that the area was entering a drought.  None of my beets or onions grew.  The tomatoes turned out a very low harvest, the cucumbers were eaten by something, and the corn did not produce anything.  I was surprised by some watermelons that were hidden away.  What did abound were weeds, weeds, and more weeds.  At one point I gave up on weeding half the plot and focused on being able to get to the tomato plants.

Then we moved.

After having put so much work into a garden plot that really did not return much for all the effort, I was not ready to do a large garden again.  It was about this time that I first heard of raised beds and was learning more about them.  If this method did not turn out, I was ready to give up on gardening.  Yup.  You read that right.  Not only had the community garden been a trial, but my very first garden had been literally eaten by a dog.  Not kidding.  I was starting to feel like it just was not meant to be.

View of raised garden bed boxes before redo

So, I set out to build a two 4.5 feet square raised garden beds.  I was not going to try and grow everything, mainly the things we loved.  Tomatoes, peppers, onions, lettuce and beets.  While the beets did not turn out, and I would later go on to figure out growing onions, the result was enough to encourage me to keep trying.

Additionally, I began to look for other sources of produce that would not break the bank.  A few things appeared, one of which was a local produce auction.  At first, I was not sure I had understood the person correctly, as I was actually eavesdropping on a conversation.  Was there really such a thing as an auction where they sold produce?  Turns out, there was and I have never looked back, though at times I have questioned my sanity.  🙂

I no longer have to worry about having a large garden to grow all the beets we need for a year.  I can usually get it at a very reasonable price, if I am willing to wait.  The same goes for tomatoes.  Toward the height of tomato season, I can usually find 25 lb boxes for under $5 each. That is $.20 per lb if you were not sure of the math.  At that price it is almost cheaper not to grow them.

A produce auction is exactly what it sounds like – selling of produce (and plants) in the method of an auction, where the price is set by the consumer through a system of bidding.  The set up is usually aimed at wholesalers, but the public is welcome to participate.  Be aware, though, that this means you will end up buying in bulk.  If you are looking for 5 lbs of tomatoes and 2 lbs of green beans, this is NOT your place.  Plan on getting more along the lines of 60-75 lbs of tomatoes, 2-3 bushels of beans/peppers, and 36 pints of berries.  Or you might come home with 5-10 hanging baskets of flowers.

The good thing is that you can go in with a group of others so that you do not have to handle all the produce yourself, unless you need or want that much.  Alternatively, you could buy what you want an ‘gift’ the rest to others as you drive home.  Who wouldn’t love to arrive home to a bag of excess garden produce that contains more than zucchini?

Over time you may also get to know some of the other buyers and may ask if they will add a box to their purchase, then you pay them back for that box.  There have been times where I bought a lot (perhaps a bin of pumpkins or 3-4 boxes of something) for a good price, knowing that I really did not need all of it.  Afterwards others would come up and ask if I would be willing to sell x amount to them.  Usually I am, so it never hurts to ask.  Just know, there are certain buyers who never are willing to sell what they bought.  They really do need all that they bid on.  So, pay attention to those who are there and get a feel for who may be more approachable.  If I am not willing to sell, I try to direct them to someone else who might be.

tomato transplants from auction

Depending on the source you find, there are between 43 and 47 produce auctions across the USA.  According to the “What is a Produce Auction” slide show on the University of Missori’s AGEBB , there are about 45 produce auctions across the United States. Most of the ones I have found are located in the Midwest and a few neighboring states to the East.  These run on various days, usually during harvest season, but not always.  Some charge a fee for the buyer number, while others do not.  Make sure you go a few minutes early, 10-15 at least, your first time so you can ask question.

The majority of items at the auctions are local, meaning grown or from a source within 100 miles.  If they are brought in from further, it is noted either on the tag, the box, or by the auctioneer.

Many of the auction will be starting in the upcoming weeks.  I thought this would be a good time to gather together a list of as many of them as I could find.  If you live near one, you may be interested in checking it out.  A friend of mine even visited one while on vacation in a different state.  You never know what you will find.


Linked up at:


Mar 122015

Craftsy is celebrating National Craft Month with a big course sale 3/12/15 @12pm MT through 3/16/15 @11:59pm MT! 

With 50% off their online course, you will be able to do more of what you love.  It is also a great opportunity to pick up a new hobby, maybe one you have been wanting to learn for a while.

With 24/7 online access, you will be able to take classes at whatever time fits your schedule. Sign into your class on Craftsy’s website, pick back up right where you left off with you HD video lesson, or move directly ahead to the next class if you feel ready.  This has been a great feature lately, as my only ‘free’ time seems to be after 8 p.m. and then I can not leave the house.  I can watch a lesson while the kids sleep, even if my husband is not at home.

Not only will you save BIG with this sale, but their 100% money-back Craftsy Guarantee applies to all the course.  If you are not satisfied, let them know within 30 days of  your purchase.

Here is a sampling of the 25 Home & Gardening classes available:

Vegetable Gardening: Smart Techniques for Plentiful Results


Gorgeous Garden Design

Vegetable Gardening: Innovative Small-Space Solutions


The Extended Harvest


Here are some easy links to search all the classes.  Remember they are 50% off till Monday, so do not wait too long to sign up or you will miss the savings.

Home & Garden Classes on Sale at Craftsy
Classes on Sale at Craftsy
Art & Photography Classes on Sale at Craftsy
Cake Decorating & Cooking Classes on Sale at Craftsy
Paper Crafts & Jewelry Classes on Sale at Craftsy
Sewing, Quilting & Embroidery Classes on Sale at Craftsy
Fiber Arts Classes on Sale at Craftsy

Quilting is something I found that I love to do.  It has been put to the side since kids have been added to our home, but is something I definitely have not given up on doing (just check out my fabric stash that I refuse to get rid of).  Knowing that I will not be investing in any fancy machines in the near future, this particular class really appeals to my creative side:

Creative Quilting with Your Walking Foot

Free Motion Quilting a Sampler

I have tried various patterns and methods on my own, as those I knew who quilted lived hours away from me when I was doing my first several quilts.  Actually having someone with more experience than me be able to give tips and ideas and just all around knowledge on how to do what I have been trying to do, sometimes failing more than succeeding, would have made a huge difference.

Or maybe you are looking for something to prepare for the upcoming season of grilling. Craftsy offers more than just crafts:

Cooking the Perfect Steak

Which class would you choose to take?

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!

Linked up at:

growinghomemakers link-up banner Modest Mom blog button copy

Oak Hill Homestead