Tag Archives: learning to garden

Where are the Veggies? Garden Update

IMG_2843As an effort to save money on fresh vegetables, I am attempting to grow my own veg from home. Together, with my little ones, I have seeded tomatoes, basil, and carrots. While we also seeded sunflower seeds and corn, that job was really left up to my kids. Which means that somewhere in the middle of my lawn, a tiny little sunflower plant is preparing itself for the world above, unaware of the impending lawnmower blade. Alas, what can I do?

I still need to have my husband till that little semi circle in the foreground of the picture above-I may seed more carrots or possibly even watermelon in that spot (if it isn’t too late for watermelon).

Here is my current progress-like anyone new to gardening, I am anxious to document what each new sproutling looks like when it first emerges. I don’t want to make the mistake of pulling a vegetable and keeping a weed like the ragweed I mistanly identified as an herb, and pampered to life in spite of my growing allergies. Hubby got a kick outta that one.


Here are my baby basil! The Basil clump to the left features what I like to call “kissy-lip leaves” (the initial leaves that first emerge). In the upper right hand corner, you will see a single basil plant with its first set of adorably tiny basil leaves. I’m going to have to thin these out pretty soon.

IMG_2853None of my carrot seeds have emerged yet, but I planted them about 9 days ago the day after planting my Arbor Day trees. Mr Cat is in the half circle where my new carrot patch will be (previously they had been planted in the long strip to the left of the patio). He’s quite fond of that half-circle.


I didn’t even know these purple flower topped fellows were chives until an internet search this year. I found them growing wild in the grass last year, and they never flowered. This year I am inspired to plant them in with my flower garden-I had no idea they were so lovely!


Speaking of lettuce, here are my little ones! The boys planted these . . . I want to say three weeks ago? I can’t remember when I need to reseed, but those are totally going into the flower garden-mainly because I no longer have room in the patio containers.


My baby tomatoes initially had only the longer leaves you see there on the sides. Again, I am new to this gardening experience, but I did remember this from last year, and the secondary leaves confirmed that this is, indeed, tomato. That, and apparently most vegetable plans have tiny hairs  on the stem (which these have). Last year I bought two tomato plants, and seeded two tomato plants. This year I am trying them all by seed-not only is it cheaper, but I won’t have to deal with a plant that is stressed out (it was pretty warm this time last year, and my nursery plants all experienced stress).

IMG_2849The peppers are harder to identify. I placed three Cayenne in a pot, and I think that’s what these are? Does anyone know? I don’t want to get halfway through the summer only to find out I have been watering a maple tree (sadly, it wouldn’t be the first time).

Take that back-maple trees are pretty obvious (I should know that by now)! But you hopefully know what I mean.


Last year I was able to seed some thai peppers from a stock of thai peppers my husband bought from the Asian store. They had been in the freezer for three years, and the seeds were (remarkably), still good! I tried this year, and something is coming up . . . well, two somethings. I’m not sure which is the thai pepper (I suspect the darker, pointy leaved specimen).

Since we didn’t have enough cilantro last year, I decided to plant more. My carrot crop was sufficient for our needs (we still have plenty of freezer stock), so I have planted the cilantro where the carrots were last year. When cilantro first comes up, it looks like voluntary grass sprouts, but wait a week or so and you will see the immature cilantro leaves emerge as the second set of leaves (or the first set of true leaves).


Last year’s garden was a semi-success. Nothing really matured well, and I have spent the winter investigating my potential failures. I think I have it down to two things:

First, I never fertilized anything, so my plants were starving for nutrients. I didn’t know at the time that container plants suffered from lack of nutrition.


Second, my containers had 2-3 different kinds of plants in them, packed very tightly with other, larger plants. My tomatoes were neighbors with four onions and four cilantro. In a small 2’x 2′ container. With no extra nutrition. And those cilantro got tall. And very spindly.

IMG_1445I also had onions in with everything else. They gave me a lot of sparse leafy growth, and were great as a substitute for chives. But my onions never “grew up”. Since they wintered well in the ground, I left them there and just rearranged them this year.

To make up for my mistakes, I am only plant one of each kind of plant in the large round and square pots, keeping the onion plants out of the pots altogether. They don’t need to be there.

I also placed fertilizer spikes in everything-the pots and the ground. Next year I won’t be pregnant, so I look forward to tilling in some peat moss, vermiculite, and cow manure to loosen up the clay soil. But for now? This is the best I can do.

IMG_2842Another gifted plant is this Egyptian Walking Onion. I had to look up his name because the previous owner didn’t know it, but it wasn’t hard to do-this unique plant grows another set of onions on its head. The weight eventually pulls the seed pod down, and it drops into the ground, “walking” its way into a slow spread throughout the growing area. Pretty neat, huh? Also, I don’t think these guys are in any way genetically modified.

How is your garden doing? Do you have any tips you’d like to share with me? Trade gardening secrets you’d be willing to pass on? I would love to hear from you!


DIY Landscape Part 4: The Arbor Day Foundation

Continued from Part 3.

Now that I had designed the part of the yard immediately next to the house, I needed to find a design for the yard portion in the front of the yard, leading up to the street. It was all dirt, and erosion was becoming an issue.


Unfortunately, I am intimidated by designing around emptiness. Its one thing to have an existing structure. It provides limitations, which help create inspiration through problem-solving (something I am good at). But what if there is no obvious problem to solve? How can I create something out of nothing? That has never been a strength of mine.

I googled “free landscape plan”, expecting to find a bunch of books or designs available by purchase. Fortunately, I found something better: a free landscape plan (“knot garden”) on the Arbor Day Foundation website. It consisted of an oval with a yoshino cherry on either end, a hydrangea in the middle, and Korean boxwood surrounded the lot in a snug little island. Just needed to replace the cherry trees with something small enough to fit my space, and I would be done!

IMG_2397Having never been to the arbor day foundation website before, I did some exploring. I discovered Arbor day sold smaller, less mature trees for pennies compared to their larger, big box counterparts. Did you know that you can buy trees from them for as little as $10???? And they are a not for profit, so what they receive is given right back to the community to “help keep America green” not that this is a big priority of mine, but Im not against it. I plan on making the Arbor Day Foundation a yearly go-to as I slowly build my landscape.

However, there is a bit of a catch to the trees you receive from arbor day: they are sent “bare-root“. Meaning you don’t get them in a pot of dirt. They don’t even look like trees. You receive them, trunks only, main roots only, bare and leafless. Or, as Tiger boy put it “Mommy, they’re naked!!” They look like dry, “naked”, lifeless sticks. My neighbor across the street thought I was nuts. “You won’t be able to enjoy them until you move out!”  I wonder when he thinks Im moving out?


They look like sticks because they are sent in a dormant stage twice a year, once in the spring, once in the fall, to reduce shock. They must be young to reduce the length of the shock and the cost of shipping. Older stock means longer shock and longer recovery times. The roots are shipped in a hydrating gel so the trees don’t dry and die in transit. Once received, they must be rehydrated in water for a few hours, then immediately placed in the ground. This should give you enough time to dig holes (if you haven’t already done so) for a handful of trees, but if you order more than 6, you may find yourself, as I did, seriously pressed for time.

I had done a lot of reading and research about the benefits of bareroot (see right sidebar in link, past the planting instructions), so I decided that, for less than $40 for 4 trees and 3 bushes, I could handle less than mature merchandise. After all, I was on a budget. I couldn’t afford $90 a tree, $60 a bush. That would have given me 8 ft trees and much larger bushes for about $550. Instant curb appeal, but at a cost I couldn’t afford. Plus, that wouldn’t even cover the cost of additional plants, and busted my $300 yearly landscaping budget.

I ordered 2 prairie fire crab apples, one Ann magnolia tree, and a blue hydrangea. After joining (for a $5 yearly membership), I received discounts along with a free red maple and two free forsythia (I did actually want the additional forsythia). The red maple I didn’t need (I have a small yard), so that was going to go to the neighbor down the street to whom I had given a box of Iris.

I knew the shipping dates for my zone, but was not given a warning about when they would be shipped (that is one of my complaints). So one day, a long, thin, cardboard box just showed up on my doorstep. Knowing I had no time to lose, I planted immediately (I wasn’t ready yet, so this required prep time with the measuring tape, which took me about 30 minutes). Then I waited.

IMG_1034And I waited. And waited. Two weeks later, the “Crabs” finally started to bud. And then tiny pink blooms burst forth. Followed eventually by very slow growth. They were very hard to see, so I grabbed this tacky garden border that came with the property, then filled it with dark mulch to keep in moisture. Eventually I bought enough mulch to create my oval shape, and sodded in the remaining bare spots with grass I was still digging up from my stone path.

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Last fall, I noticed the crabs were about twice their size. This morning I was happy to note they had leafed out beautifully. Im excited to note their progression this year, since I have read they can double in height for several years until they reach their final, mature height, which may well be 2 years from now if they continue at this rate. The trunk width will take a little longer.


The Hydrangea . . . well, its lagging. I’ve read in several places it may or may not do well planted bare root. It’s a fickle plant. But I haven’t given up on it yet. It sent up a six inch leafy stem last year, but did nothing else. This year, so far, I have seen some green, but I think I removed the mulch too soon, because we had another frost come in last week, and the green has turned yellow. I haven’t given up hope, though. There’s still plenty of time for this little baby to catch up.


The Magnolia, on the other hand, didn’t make it.  It took me a month to decide that it was, in fact, dead. The broken twig test confirmed it-no green at the break. The Arbor day Foundation does have a return policy but I didn’t want to pay half the price of shipping + the plant (even though shipping was free with my original order), and wasn’t sure that a young sapling was a good idea with such poor soil (Missouri is notorious for a lot of hard clay soil).


Instead, I decided to go on ahead and order another Magnolia (different kind) through fastgrowingtrees.com. I had a strong feeling the clay soil was the problem, and hoped a more mature tree would be able to tough it out better than a young bare-root. I simply didn’t have the budget to buy new top soil for my entire yard.

Through Arbor day, I had ordered an Ann Magnolia. Through fast-growing-trees, I chose the Jane (I don’t think they had Ann). Jane had purplish flowers, which would contrast well with our house once we painted it a buttery yellow (my husbands choice, not mine). It was my most expensive plant so far-$80. And it ate up a lot of my budget.

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But Jane is making it. She did shed more than half her leaves in the initial transplant shock period, but snapped out of it with regular watering within about a month (older specimen, longer recovery). This spring she had a few purple blooms, and is sending out some nice leaf buds as we speak. I wish I had paid more attention to her growth, because a few of the reviews had mentioned that she didn’t grow very quickly, and I think that may be true. There seems to be little, if any, discernible growth-something I want to track this year.


As for the Forsythia? One of them is being “heeled in” (placed in a random spot until I can move it to its final home), and the other one I accidentally stepped on while mowing the yard. It broke deep in the ground, and never recovered. I called it a loss, but Im getting two more for free with this years order, so with three forsythias to heel in, I think Im good in the forsythia department. If I get two more next year, they may be gifted out.

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These pictures are from last year, and this little guy is already more than twice that tall. However, he only has the two branches and is truly in the awkward teenager stage of forsythia growth. I really hope he branches out more this year. Puberty does not look well on him.

See part 5 for more.

DIY Landscape Part 3: Design

Continued from part 2.

Now that the boxwoods were in, I realized it was time for a landscaping plan. Since it had been raining all week I had no excuse not to fetch some graph paper and get measuring. Luckily for me, I had a pretty good idea what I wanted and my first draft was my final copy. I already knew I wanted to implement nature’s strategy-the use of curved lines.


Have you noticed that there are no straight lines in nature? I wanted a natural looking cottage garden, well tended, well thought out, and full of winding paths. What I didn’t want was a fussy, manicured, high maintenance fiasco.

A stone path was a must. Especially since I had dug up so many stones, already and they were decidedly large enough to serve as borders and pavers. The poorly thought out boxwood placement left me with a large gap between the garage door and the boxwood. I decided a small magnolia would be just perfect that gap. It would create the necessary vertical interest without outgrowing the design. Something no higher or wider than 15 ft.


Unfortunately, the necessary distance between the magnolia and the structure cut significantly into my 9 ft width (measured from the distance between the house and where the fence stopped, and confirmed by a brief talk with my neighbor so I wouldn’t upset him by digging up his yard). To give it the space necessary, my path (at least at the base of the tree), would have to be at the end of my 9 ft allowance. This inspired what became a grand curve that started at the garage door, went around the magnolia, and bent back up, ending in front of the boxwood. Some landscapes design themselves.
I laid out my future intentions with the bricks and stones I had dug up, and a few I had hauled from behind the Forsythia bush (they were under a bunch of rotten firewood, and a lot of other rubbish). A few of the larger pavers were gifted to me since I had quite a few boxy stones, but very few flat ones of the necessary size.

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Here, you can see my children helping me lay out a brick path indicating the border between my yard and my neighbors yard. I tied the string to the fence on one end, and to a stick in the middle of the yard on the other. They enjoyed digging “just inside the guide line.” Naturally I cleaned up their efforts later after they had abandoned their efforts for other forms of play.

I began to notice that my neighbor would “check up” on me at regular intervals. For that matter, so was everyone else. Here I was, digging up my yard by hand, no less, and neighbors would walk by, pause, stare, and move on. A few would slow down in their cars to have a look. And I can imagine what they were thinking, “She’s digging up her yard . . . why not just rent bulldozer? What is she going to do with all that exposed dirt? She’s letting her children have shovels!? They’ll kill each other! What a nutcase!”

All this imaginary thinking did make me realize I had a bit of a problem on my hand-the exposed dirt. Spring rains were causing the soil to erode into my neighbors yard. He never said anything about it, but I got the impression he wasn’t too happy with an extra two inches of mud piling up right at the mutually determined border.

Also, my sons were reveling in the vast and spacious muddy grounds that presented themselves after a downpour. I needed a solution, and I needed one now.

Click here for Part 4.


About Me

My name is Sarah. I love sewing, crafting, gardening, DIY, and enjoying life away from the corporate world. Most of all, I love being a stay-at-home mom.


Not too long ago, I worked in an office environment. My husband, a nurse, was working the floor in a local hospital, and together we raked in a comfortable income. But neither of us was happy, and our hectic schedules with daycare and household duties were putting a lot of strain on our children and our marriage. So we decided to make a change-I quit my job.

Since we could no longer afford our home on just one income, we sold it in exchange for a fixer-upper. We are now paying half the mortgage for nearly twice the space. And though our home has quite a few needs, we are hopeful we can address them little by little as time and money allow.


My goal now is to make sure we can successfully maintain our one income household. It’s a struggle, I admit. I am a lousy cook. We still haven’t completely ditched fast food. Neither of us has a lot of practical working knowledge about cars, plumbing, electrical, or managing a household and really holding to a budget.

But we are willing to learn! And the kids are happier having me at home. My husband is happier having me at home. And I am loving it! I may have lost the best insurance and 401k I will likely ever have, but it’s worth it knowing that my children will grow up in a nurturing, stable environment where they will (hopefully) learn all the things that I was never taught-like how to cook.


So that’s my story. I hope our journey can provide you with information, insight, a chuckle or two, and maybe some refreshment as you face the challenges in your own life. And if you have any tips you’d like to share, I am certainly open to listen. After all, you are reading the dialogues of a woman who still makes soggy rice, finds her shoes in the freezer, and is legitimately distracted when anyone mentions the word “chocolate.” I clearly need some help!