Spring Clean Your Life in Three (Mildly Sarcastic) Steps

If you are anything like me the thought of Spring Cleaning is something that finds its way into your mind and then exits promptly.  Honestly, when God was passing out talents I got lost on the way to the Loves To Clean line, you’re either one of those people or you are not.  I am NOT.  When faced with certain tasks I usually find other things to prioritize and then maybe six months later will tackle something that usually wasn’t that painful to begin with and would have been a lot easier to address had I done so in a timely fashion… The time is now.  So they say anyways…

Step One to Spring Cleaning Your Life: Organize Your Home

I love to hold on to things. No it’s not an episode of Hoarder’s up in here.  Not yet anyways.  But it’s a possibility that a cartoon girl is under a pile somewhere screaming “Let it Go” and I’m not listening, or maybe there is a sock in her mouth. Who’s to say?  Actually it’s not the cartoon at all. I was told yesterday that I should take advantage of the upcoming church yard sale to make some extra money and I immediately said. “I don’t have a thing to sell”.  Really? I don’t have a thing to sell… Really??  Someone needs to get a grip on what is really worth holding onto and what can be a part of the purge.

I think the key is to pick small task areas and not try to sort the whole house out at once.  Once overwhelmed distraction and procrastination can slip in and derail me, and I think we’ve all been there before.

Me thinks a list would suit this situation!

  1. Donate (You don’t need 8000 books now do you)
  2. Clean out the Expired: Pantry, Freezer, Fridge (that 2010 cream of chicken needs to GO!)
  3. Yard Sale it and Make Some $$
  4. Windex It (All of IT) Even if the dogs stick their faces on it 37 seconds later… DO IT!
  5. Vacuum all those places you never vacuum
  6. Put on the HAZMAT Suit and Defunk the shower. (You know your mother raised you better!)
  7. Make a plan for your yard/garden. (What do you plan on planting this year, are you going to change up any yard décor, add additional seating, or finish that fire pit area you’ve been planning for 3 years?)
  8. Pull weeds, pick up sticks, and mow the grass already…
  9. Assign Bigger Chores Deadlines (Power Washing, Deck Sealing, Mulching, etc.)
  10. Do a Post Winter Walk Around (nail down loose boards; fix the siding that’s blown off, etc.)

Realize that Spring Cleaning your home is more than just about the physicality of something being clean or orderly.  Having projects that stack up can lead to stress and anxiety.  So even if you baby step your way through whatever list you set for yourself try to check off a few when you can.  In the long run coming home to a less chaotic/cluttered environment can be good for your mental health as well.

Step Two to Spring Cleaning Your Life: Dust Off Your Body

For me there is more to Spring Cleaning than just doing windows.  I have taken this season of rest we call winter and exploited it.  I have hibernated like a big ol bear watching cheesy holiday movies and have become a sedentary lump.   But now the lump is excited that the weather is getting a little warmer and that spring is almost here so now it’s time to shake off the dust.

Where to Begin?  My problem seems to be that in my mind I’m an adventurous outdoorsy girl when in reality I’m more of a couch potato.  Couch Potatoes of the World UNITE!  Rise Up and Get Busy- there is a whole beautiful world out there ready for the taking, the key is to take it in a way that is appropriate for YOU!

See last year when I got the New Year’s idea to get busy getting healthy I joined a new exercise class.  I knew going into it this class was going to be doing a lot of activities that were over my skill level.  It was a phenomenal class full of wonderful people who were all about lifting each other up and sharing their faith, all the while getting one heck of a work out.  The instructor preached every class don’t do anything that you don’t feel comfortable with, make all of the adaptations that you need to etc.  At some point I guess I got over confident in my abilities and decided to undertake a 30 day Burpee Challenge.  I don’t know if you know what a Burpee is, but essentially it’s a demonic ritual that has you jumping to the sky then back to the floor in a hand plank pose over and over again.  It’s a pure NIGHTMARE.  Well long story short I didn’t survive the 30 day challenge, and really did a number on my body.  It wasn’t appropriate for my skill level- I knew it, but I wanted to push myself.  What I ended up with was an orthopedic doctor looking at me going you did what? All the while applauding my efforts, but basically telling me what I already knew. Make appropriate choices for your body in the shape it’s in now, so you can continue to work on getting it into the shape you want it to be in the future.

So moral of that story if you want to be active and STAY active don’t derail your efforts by putting your body into situations you are not ready for.  So now that I’m finally ready to get the train back on the tracks I know I have to go about things differently this time.

Coach Potato’s UNITE, Spring Get It Done Right This Time List:

  1. Just Say No To Burpee’s (unless that’s something you feel comfortable doing)
  2. Walk, even if it’s just to the mailbox DO IT! (Unless your mailbox is 50 feet away, in that case walk to the neighbor’s mailbox.)
  3. Make small obtainable goals.
  4. Don’t be afraid to try new things – just be smart about it.
  5. Find friends to be active with.
  6. Get outside and explore
  7. Find the challenge that is right for you- if you want to do a 30 day yoga challenge and it takes you 90 days to do it because you need days off, then that’s okay, 90 days of something is better than 90 days of nothing!
  8. Find what’s economical for you.  Gym life became something I cut out of my budget years ago.  There are lots of free opportunities in your community, you just have to look, and if you don’t have DVD’s for indoor days check out YouTube.  There are tons of videos posted that can work you out on any skill level.

God wants us to be present in our lives, to make use of the bodies he’s blessed us with.  To be able to do for others we must make taking care of ourselves a priority.  I should probably remind myself of this more often.

Step Three To Spring Cleaning Your Life: Feed Your Soul

Of Course Spring Cleaning isn’t complete if we don’t address the inside as well as the outside.  To face any season we have to be well with our souls.

Sometimes the gray gloominess of winter and all the roller coasters that come with the holidays can give us a run for our money, but the best thing about spring is new life.  New life that springs from the Earth and new life that comes from a Risen Saviour.

The Season of Lent is upon us and for me The Easter Season is the most important time of the year.  The purposeful reflection practiced during Lent helps me to be grounded and to reprioritize.  Unlike a New Year’s resolution which I may make it to a week of success, there is something about a Lenten promise that I hold fast too.  The daily sacrifice of small things keeps constant in my mind the monumental gift of Jesus’ grace.

Making a priority the upkeep of my soul has been a lifelong transitional process and on-going struggle.  The road map that I constantly pray for is often too blurry to read but when I go in search of something God has a way of making the path known.  We must acknowledge that to have spring time growth we must foster the seed.  The seed of our faith has taken root but waits for us to build up a foundation with Christ before it can begin to grow or even dream of one day blossoming.

There is purpose in this season.  40 Days we reflect, we don’t get from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday without going through the process.  We must use this time as an opportunity each day to find a new way to Spring Clean our lives.

I feel another list coming on… aww heck maybe even two!

Prepare Yourself for Holy Week By:

  1. Communing with your fellow Christian.
  2. Spending Time reading a Lenten Devotional
  3. Deciding if you will be fasting or committing to other things to give up as a part of your time of sacrifice and reflection.
  4. Deciding if you are going to add something to your life such as a daily purpose goal.
  5. Committing to Sunday and Holy Week service attendance
  6. Reflecting on the Stations of the Cross.
  7. Spending time in prayer

Feed Your Souls Throughout the Spring and the Rest of The Year By:

  1. Setting some seasonal goals.  Is there anything you want to accomplish during the spring or summer that you need to plan for?
  2. Making time for rest and relaxation: are there any travel destinations that you have in mind?  Do you have a happy place that gives you peace? Find a way to get there!
  3. Make time for Serving Others.  Service can be one of the most enjoyable and rewarding things we can do in our lives.  I’m a firm believer that Faith without works is dead.  Don’t miss an opportunity to share the blessings God has given you!
  4. Surround yourself with the people you love, be those friends, family, or even your favorite animals.
  5. Just do something that makes you happy, smile, or laugh.

Go now in peace knowing that each season God gives us more blessings than we can ever imagine.  I hope they fill you up each and every day!

Green Choices That Save Money

I’ve been settling into my new home and have been working on more ways that I can spend less and save more. As I have always considered myself to be a fairly green person I have tried to start adapting this home into that system so that I can feel more comfortable with the resources that this home is consuming.

There are many green ideas that I have been using for years that save money. I don’t own a dryer, to be honest I don’t even own a hair dryer. Why…because things dry by themselves, one of the first projects I completed when I moved was to install 2 new clothes lines. I dry outside when the weather is nice, these lines are actually across my front porch so I can use them all the time, things just take longer if its damp out. I also use clothes drying racks inside for items I don’t want flapping in the breeze or if its really wet and the moisture wont allow things to dry outside.

I try to use as few paper disposables as possible. Paper towels and napkins are great, I will admit I still buy them, but I try and use dish towels as often as possible for cleaning and wiping my hands.

Reusing items is a great way to get multiple uses out of something you are supposed to throw away. I will admit that I used to make fun of my mom for doing this, but I now reuse a zip top bag until it has holes in it or until its just too disgusting for me to keep cleaning and reusing. I also avoid using zip top bags as much as possible by packing my lunch in reusable containers such as lock n lock or Tupperware. For free versions of these I also reuse store containers such as butter and whipped topping tubs. These make great storage for leftovers, and as I mentioned they are free! Glass jars get repurposed as vases or storage containers in my craft area, and the rest go in the recycling bin.

I have also been working on not buying as many disposable waters and drinks, instead refilling a water bottle out of a filter pitcher or even your sink saves tons of money in the long run and I make a gallon of powdered low calorie drink mix and put it in a reusable water bottles as well.

Cleaning products have all sorts of nasty things in them. I’ve recently started looking into making a few of my own. Its way cheaper and has a lot less effects on the environment.

A great multi purpose cleaner is Dawn dishwashing liquid and vinegar. It cleans pretty great and is super cheap. Also there are tons of ideas out there to make your own dishwasher detergent, clothes washing detergent, hand soap, etc. etc. My cousin and I have been talking about these recipes for weeks, her family loves the new clothes detergent she has made, and the recipe made TEN gallons for about the cost of what one normal store bought jug would cost. As I work on making some of these I will share my specific instructions and costs with you.

I replaced my propane heating system with a new energy efficient heat pump. I felt that my budget just couldn’t sustain filling up a receptacle bimonthly for hundreds and hundreds of dollars. Even with the heat pump I still try and be as thrifty as possible. I turn my thermostat back during the day when I am gone, and even when I am home, I keep it as low as possible. I will throw on a long sleeve shirt and will cover up with a blanket if I am sitting and watching television or whatever. Its not uncomfortable just economical. In warmer months I utilize the ceiling fans as much as possible to help with lower A/C costs. Having your home insulated well and having energy efficient windows are both things that help with heating and cooling costs as well. Change your filters every month! Proper air flow to your heat pump and A/C is crucial for efficiency! Filters are not expensive and will save you money in the long run.

Some people also choose to put there hot water heaters on a timer so that it only runs when they are home or close vents in rooms or areas that aren’t commonly used. As well as unplug fans, lamps, small appliances in the kitchen, spare room televisions etc. in rooms that aren’t being used.

Fix dripping faucets and toilets that run. Your not only wasting a valuable resource your wasting money. If your unable to fix that drip immediately collect that water to use on your plants or to water your dog. Outdoor water collection systems can be used to water gardens as well. I plan on making a rain barrel soon.

I could go on for days, but I hope these few tips can offer a common sense approach to saving money by being greener.

Making a List and Checking It 117 Times

As I work towards figuring out my new monthly budget I realize that more so now than ever it is very important to be “accountable” for where all my money goes each month. So I make a lot of lists and notes. I’ve always done this, I think it’s a genetic trait because my sister has notebooks full of lists and budgets. My friends make fun of me when I go on vacation, because I have a tendency to write down what I spend at the end of every day just to help me budget through the trip. Yes it sounds ridiculous, but it helps.

Anyways some advice I was given by my notebook writing sister on setting up a budget was to follow the 70/20/10 plan, which basically says 70% of your income goes to bills, 20% to savings that’s broken down into (10% for retirement, 5% emergencies, 5% specific goals) and the last 10% for debt.  I’m awful at percentages so check out this website it offers a more thorough explanation as well as great resources on how to save money in all types of categories.

I’ve always found it helpful to make a list of my monthly bills and list which pay period I pay them from. I also have a list of what is due annually/quarterly and the months I can expect those bills to show up. This helps me break down my monthly take home pay into what must go where and when I need to save up for things like car insurance which I pay quarterly. The rest I try to put in savings, and as wage increases have been available I have worked on increasing the amount that I put towards my retirement.

Lists can be useful in more areas than you think. I’ve realized by packing my kitchen contents for my move, that I just stock up on too much stuff. I’ve decided to really try and be diligent with sticking with a grocery list, and with not putting things on the list until I actually run out of what I have. Another tip that I’ve heard from others is to make a weekly menu and then shop only for what is on the menu. I know I am the world’s worst for buying fruits and vegetables with no specific purpose for them and then they go to waste. So hopefully sticking to the lists will help save me money and avoid the inexcusable amount of food that currently ends up in the compost bin.

Also for grocery budgets I found a great site that budgets the costs of meals served per serving. It lists all types of recipes and I really want to try to make a few of them, especially the bread. I’m excited about baking in my new kitchen, its nice to know that I could make tortillas for .04 cents a serving.

Seeing meals broken down by ingredients costs makes me think wow, I can make a lot of the things I currently buy a lot cheaper! Eating at home more is definitely one of ways I can save money as well as packing leftovers for lunch instead of the current frozen meals that I buy. I guess those suggestions are rather obvious but we have become such a society of convenience lovers that we are willing to spend so much more on pre-made, prepackaged unhealthy stuff. If we prepared more food from scratch or even semi-homemade we would not only see the money saving benefits but the health benefits as well. I have been fortunate to be able to supply the majority of my vegetable needs the last few summers, I really enjoy the process and who doesn’t love a good home grown tomato. Gardening has initial costs each year, but overall it saves a lot of money throughout the season, and if your fortunate enough to be able to preserve some of your harvest you can enjoy those savings all year round.

Shopping Around for New Services

Many unexpected blessings have come my way through a few major life changes during the past year. One of those being the recent opportunity to buy my own home. A side effect of this recent blessing was the major wake up call that I needed to be in better control of my monthly spending and financial situation. As a renter with lower monthly payments I haven’t led the strictest lifestyle when it comes to monthly budgeting, and even though I work hard at saving money. I could definitely have done a better job. So with my new payment schedule in mind I have been trying to figure out different ways to make changes in my spending to ensure that I can meet my obligations, continue to save, and hopefully have a little left over to enjoy.

Personally I am not a person who enjoys change, I have the bad habit of sticking with a situation that is familiar because of loyalty, laziness, or just because its familiar. When I began to look at what I was spending I realized there were easy places to make cuts I would just have to step out of my comfort zone and accept that change isn’t always a bad thing. Trying out new service providers is an easy way to get better deals on things that you pay for every month.

For example I have used the same phone/internet/cable company for the past 13 years, and as they have gone from a local company to a national company their prices have steadily increased. I called my old reliable company to say I was moving, and they said great thank you for your 13 years of loyal patronage, however because you are moving you are no longer grandfathered in on your current rates. Gee thanks. My new rates would increase my bill another $10-15 bucks a month, and that is the first year only, after 12 months it would go up again. So I decided okay its time to shop around. I did and wow… I signed on with a new company which will save me around $60.00 a month.

I’ve also driven a little farther to a gym that I liked, which was costing me $42.00 a month. I’m switching to a place right by my office which will not only save gas money, but the first year is only $200.00. Wow a $304.00 a year savings. I realize I’m sacrificing a pool, but I think it is definitely worth it!

Cutting out unnecessary extras can also help put money back in the budget. I had a monthly subscription to a premium movie channel, I maybe watched it once a month. Gone. Saved about $13.00 bucks a month, also had a by mail movie service. DVDs would usually sit unwatched two or three weeks before I would get around to it. Cancelled – that’s another $8.00 bucks a month saved. Yes those may be small things, but just think a year’s worth of that movie channel cost me $156.00 and that I can definitely spend elsewhere.

Zucchini Noodle Lasagna

So you finally get to take a vacation and when you return your garden is loaded with veggies. Some, like your zucchini, have grown out of control. So what do you do with giant zucchini? I like to make zucchini noodles. I have a nifty mandolin that I can use to make wide noodles for lasagna or sometimes I make fettuccine noodles, but this is a how-to on the lasagna, so we will start with those.

Wash zucchini and cut off the ends. Be very careful using the mandolin slicer because it is generally very sharp. As I am very accident prone I have had very bad luck with this particular appliance in the past. Slide the zucchini length wise until you have used the whole zucchini. I flip the zucchini over about half way through and slice from the other side. One large zucchini makes enough noodles for a whole pan.

I have various recipes that I use for lasagna but this particular one includes:
Zucchini Noodles
1lb Ground Turkey
Pesto / Tomato Sauce
2 Small Cans Mushrooms or 1 carton fresh
Medium Diced Onion
Shredded Cheese
Minced Garlic
Salt, Pepper, Adobo Seasoning, Garlic Powder, Onion Powder, Oregano

Brown turkey with diced onion and garlic. Season with all of the seasonings listed above or seasonings of your choice. After meat is brown add mushrooms and 2-3 cups of the Pesto/Tomato sauce and mix well. Sauté until the mushrooms are cooked through.

Cover the bottom of a baking dish with the zucchini noodles. Just layer this lasagna the way you would any traditional noodle lasagna. Zucchini layer, meat & pesto layer, ricotta layer. I only do one layer of ricotta and I sprinkle pepper and adobo seasoning on the ricotta. Then start with another layer of zucchini and meat & pesto sauce. You can put shredded cheese on each layer if you like, but I just put it on the top.

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes at 350 degrees. Enjoy!

Presto! …It’s Pesto

I love basil and homemade pesto is the best. However I usually don’t keep things like pine nuts in my pantry so through the years I have gotten sort of inventive with my pesto recipe.

This one includes:
3-4 cups Basil leaves
¾ to 1 cup Parmesan cheese
15-20 green olives with 2-3 teaspoons juice from the olive jar
Extra Virgin Olive Oil 1/3 to ½ cup (enough to reach the consistency that you like)
2-3 teaspoons minced garlic
1 can diced Italian tomatoes

Wash the basil, you want enough leaves to loosely fill the food processor bowl. Mince the basil.

Add olives/juice, garlic, parmesan cheese and mince again.

Stream olive oil in as you mince until the sauce is the consistency that you like. Add a can of Italian tomatoes with the juice. Mince again. You can season to taste but usually the olives make it salty enough without adding extra salt.

This sauce can be used on pasta, chicken, shrimp, or in meat sauce. It also freezes well if you happen to have any left over.

Bring on the Broccoli

The thing I love the most about gardening is the whole growing process. I love to see how something comes from such a small plant or seed and what it can turn into. Unfortunately, when you plant everything at the same time you end up with an abundance of the same types of vegetable all at once. Obviously the scale at which I currently garden isn’t ever going to be conducive to producing all of my own food, but it is nice to be able to grow as much as I can.

This week my first vegetable other than lettuce was ready for harvesting. I planted four broccoli plants and they were all ready to harvest this week. I decided to use half now and safe the other two for later. As I have mentioned before I am going to try different types of food preservation this year. Broccoli isn’t something that is canned so this was another easy one that can be frozen.

Harvesting the broccoli is very simple, cut the head of florets with a few inches of stalk from the plant with a sharp knife. If your broccoli is a variety that produces off shoots and possibly additional heads of broccoli don’t cut away the part of the stalk that contains the new shoots.

To prepare broccoli for freezing you must first cut it into uniform or bite size pieces.

Put leaves and any unhealthy pieces of the plant in your compost bucket, and make sure you’ve removed any bugs or caterpillars. Wash the pieces of broccoli well and then put them into a pot of boiling water to blanch.

Blanching helps preserve the food longer by delaying the enzyme deterioration process within the vegetable.* Boil the broccoli pieces no longer than 3 minutes. Once you drain the boiling water put the broccoli immediately into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process.

Once they have cooled put the broccoli in freezer zip top bags and remove as much air as possible or use a food sealer if you have one. Don’t forget to label the bag with the contents and the date and your extra broccoli should be ready for the freezer.

*Blanching info from “How to Store Your Garden Produce” by Piers Warren

Berry Patch Fun | Strawberry Freezer Jam

How to Make No-Cook Strawberry Freezer Jam

Recently we enjoyed a family trip to the strawberry farm for a nice afternoon of berry picking. I was happy to go along for some time with my nephews who enjoyed eating as many as they picked. I came home with a gallon of berries and decided to learn how to make some freezer jam. This year I want to try and learn several methods of preserving foods that I grow, or buy fresh, and I thought freezer jam would be an easy one to start with, because no real cooking is involved.

I purchased several packs of Ball 8oz freezer jars, and lucky for me the recipe for strawberry no cook freezer jam was right on the back of the label. If you use glass canning jars they should be boiled to sterilize them before using, but I was apprehensive about boiling the plastic freezer jars, so I just washed them very well in very hot water.

This recipe is so easy, you only need three ingredients: strawberries, sugar, and Instant Pectin. Instant Pectin is designed specifically for no cook freezer jam, so be sure you purchase the correct one.

4 cups crushed berries
1 ½ cups sugar (or no calorie sweetener)
5 Tbsp Ball Real Fruit Instant Pectin

Clean and Hull enough berries so that you have enough to end up with 4 Cups of Crushed Berries (for me that was roughly a half gallon of berries)

Use a potato smasher to crush the berries and then measure out four cups and put in another bowl.

In a smaller bowl mix 1 ½ cups sugar with the 5Tbsp Instant Pectin.

Pour the sugar and pectin mix into the bowl of crushed strawberries . Stir the mixture for at least 3 minutes.

Ladle the mixture into the jars up to the fill line, be mindful to leave a ½ inch of headspace at the top of the jar to allow for the expansion of the food during the freezing process. If your using glass jars and you don’t leave enough headspace the jars could break. Using a wide mouth canning funnel makes this process much easier.

Secure the lids on your jars, and label with the date and contents.

Let the jam stand on the counter for at least 30 minutes so that it will have time to firm up. This jam can be kept in the freezer for 1 year but should be eaten within 3 weeks if kept in the refrigerator. I’m sure it will be long gone before the year is up.

I made a second batch and ended up with 12 jars.  So far mine has been quite tasty, it didn’t jell up quite like a store bought jelly, but instead has a wonderful strawberry sauce consistency which has been great in strawberry shortcake!

Raised Bed Gardening: Hardiness Zones, Cool Weather Crops, & Gardening Plans

After preparing your soil and raised bed you have to decide what to plant, and when to plant it. To know when it is acceptable to plant in your area you should determine what hardiness zone you live in. This basically tells you what types of plants will survive in your area. Adjust that knowledge to how the weather is at the current time. Seed packages and plant tags will also give instructions for when it is appropriate to plant. For cool weather plants instructions may say: plant in early spring as soon as the ground can be worked, or for warm weather plants, sow after all danger of frost has passed. Some instructions include maps with a range of months that it is appropriate to plant in.

Here is a link for the USDA plant hardiness zone map. Zone maps are usually more beneficial for perennials than vegetable gardens, but it’s interesting information nonetheless.

In the Piedmont of North Carolina, the winter of 2011-2012 was very mild, and most people have had their cool weather plants in the ground for a few weeks if not longer. I planted mine in early April. Cool weather plants are plants that are more tolerant to cool nights and most are somewhat frost resistant.
Common cool weather plants are cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, peas, lettuce, onions, carrots, radishes, garlic, spinach, turnips, beets, and many others.
After deciding what I wanted to plant I had to plan a space layout for my vegetables. With a limited amount of space in a raised bed things can overcrowd very easily and the smaller plants will get shut out from the sun and either die off or have a less productive yield. Last year I made the mistake of planting peppers beside of zucchini, so the peppers were quickly hidden, and didn’t start their growing season until after the zucchini had finished its season.
It is important to pay attention to the plant label as far as how tall the plant is going to be. Shorter plants should be planted on the sunnier side or end of the bed so that they are not shaded out by taller plants.

Larger plants such as broccoli, cabbage, or Brussels sprouts need to be placed one per grid square.

Where as smaller plants such as head lettuce can fit four plants per grid square.

Plants such as onions or leaf lettuce can fit from 8 to 16 plants per square, it’s important to research what you’re planting to make sure you don’t overcrowd your plants.

I am a somewhat of a visual learner so I like to draw a plan with a grid so I can decide where I want to plant everything. It’s also a good idea to take advantage of online resources that allow you to plan your own virtual garden. Some of these websites also have the benefits of telling you how much of each item to plant in the grid space and give planting instructions.

My favorite online resource is a retail site that offers a free gardening planner.

I keep a yearly garden journal that includes a diagram of what I planted to include each plants complete name and variety, where I put each plant, and the dates I planted. I will look back at the varieties that I liked and locations that worked the best when I plan the garden next year.
I will admit the warmer weather this Spring convinced me to go ahead and plant some warm weather plants such as peppers, herbs, potatoes, and beans, and now we are experiencing another cold snap. Be prepared to cover your plants when frost warnings occur, and expect some plant loss for varieties that are not frost hardy. Try to cover your plants with pots, old jugs, or sheets. If you use plastic make sure the plastic is not touching the plant because it will kill or damage the plant. I used plastic, but I kept it raised off of the plants by putting empty pots underneath the plastic. The most important thing to know about gardening, is that no two years are ever the same and each season you will learn something new. Sometimes you learn what not to do….

Raised Bed Gardening: Weed Barriers, Soil Selection, and Marking The Grid

Ok, so you’ve built your raised bed. Now what? It’s important to make sure that you place your bed in a sunny level spot, with a few feet of space around each side so that you can easily plant and harvest your crops.

I purchased a roll of weed barrier and cut two strips to fit the length of each bed. The weed barrier was placed on the interior of the box; one strip was not wide enough for my boxes so I slightly overlapped the two strips in the middle. I lifted the wood and tucked it under the edges pulling it out a few inches on all sides. Weed barrier is not mandatory, but it will decrease the likelihood of having to weed your garden throughout the growing season.

Because I have started with two new beds, the small amount of compost I have been able to make myself isn’t enough to fill both beds so I purchased a load of soil from a local supplier. It is a mix of soil and composted yard waste. Types of soils that are acceptable for raised beds are: top soil, potting soil, compost, or a mix of any of those. You do not want a compact or dense soil, so it is best to use a soil that has a mix of compost, vermiculite, or sand in it. Any of those will help to improve drainage.

I filled my beds full within about two inches from the top of the board. I sprinkled in a pellet fertilizer when about half of the soil was in, raked the fertilizer in, and then sprinkled more on top and raked again. That’s just how I like to do it; it isn’t a proven method or anything…

If you’re trying to go an all organic route, there are many types of organic fertilizers on the market. When I worked in organic greenhouses, we had aquaculture projects that gave us the availability of fish emulsion which we added to our watering process every few weeks, unfortunately I don’t currently have that available. So the fertilizer I use now is just your standard non organic Miracle Gro continuous release 3 month pellet. I encourage you to shop around and see what you like best. Composted manure or mushroom compost are both good options as well. However, you would never want to use fresh manure because the nitrogen content in fresh manure is too high and your plants would burn.

So now that I have my soil fertilized and in place I marked my beds so that I can keep my growing areas organized. I use a 12 inch square as my planting guide. My raised bed is four feet wide by eight feet long. The four foot board is the interior board so it is a true 48 inches long. The eight foot board is the exterior board so the length of actual interior space is 94 inches long, not 96 inches.

I measured a piece of twine long enough to staple it on the top of each end of the board, for each length and then just used that piece as a template to cut the rest of the string. I needed three long pieces and seven short pieces to make 32 squares.

Take a staple gun and staple a piece of twine on each 12 inch mark on the four foot board, going across to the matching 12 inch mark and staple on the opposite board. When measuring to mark the eight foot board I started at 11 inches instead of 12, and then went up 12 inches for each string after. This will make your first block and your last block both 11 inch blocks.

If you’re gardening in a larger area plants are traditionally placed more than 12 inches apart but in a raised bed, plants are generally placed a little closer.

Next time we will discuss hardiness zones, planting cool weather crops, and how to plan the space layout for your plants.