Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tips for Planting Perennials and Tour Around the Backyard Farm

I thought I would give you a new tour around the backyard today and give you few tips about strategic planting that I use. 

When I buy plants, I think ahead... how tall will they get? That is very important when it comes to placement of the plants. For example look at this picture below... I started on the left with ground cover that doesn't grow too tall, followed by taller and then taller plants (The dark leafed plant in the back will still get taller - it's a late bloomer). Tall grass is placed in he back.

And look at this same setting from a different angle. It still works, doesn't it?

I took this picture of the same plant just recently, when all the plants got even taller. Also did you notice that I like to incorporate rocks into my garden? I love how they add that sharp edgy look to it.

The beautiful greenery is in great contrast with the grey rocks. 

And how about all the different shapes you can play with? I just love the contrast the rocks create. We didn't have to purchase the rocks, I got them from people who were getting rid of them - bonus!

Besides different sizes, I also love combining different shapes, textures, and colors. You can see an example on the picture below - how the thin grass breaks up the space in the front of the bee balm. And then the lavender plant (first year for this one so it's still tiny, but again, I am thinking ahead) and pointy leaves of iris.

...or over here by our pond I placed an ever green bush with hostas and cat tails in the background...

Think outside the box when it comes to designing your garden. I like placing garden decorations into our garden beds, they add an extra touch to the whole picture.

I am in love with these terra-cotta glazed garden balls.

Don't throw out that old barrel planter. The rustic look adds a little vintage to your design.

Every year we somehow change something in the backyard. Either things begin to over grow or we just have a better idea ;-)

I spoke earlier about the different textures and shapes. I have another example below, where my husband added this drift wood into the equation. And as a ground cover, to make everything look neat we choose either gravel or free mulch that town offers for us to come pick up.

Don't forget you are not limited if you only have an option to use planters... In the next post I will give you some tips for container planting ;-)

I hope you enjoyed this year's tour! Enjoy the end of summer in your garden :-)

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Tip for Healthier Tomato Plants

Just a quick tip how to keep your tomato plants healthy and have more tomatoes!

Remove those suckers!

They are called suckers because they suck the precious energy the plant needs to put into the actual tomatoes fruit. You need to pinch or cut them off as soon as you see one.

What are they? Look at the picture below - do you see the extra small branch that is starting to develop between the stem and the original branch? That's the sucker.

Sometimes I catch them very tiny and that is a bonus - the sooner you get rid of them, the better for your plant. It can focus on the important job. Also if you leave them, your plant becomes an uncontrollable bush and you have difficult time getting to your crop.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Feeding Eggshells to Your Chickens

Feeding eggshells to the chicken has been around what seems like forever. If you are like us, you don't like to waste any leftovers and you like to use as much as possible. Of course, you can compost the eggshells but if you feed them to your girls, they will provide some extra calcium in their diet, which they so badly need. Every egg contains a large amount of calcium and if the hen is lacking it in her diet, the rest of her body will suffer. 

Benefits of feeding the eggshells to the chickens

1. No wasting leftovers
2. Providing some extra calcium to the chickens' diet

How to prepare the eggshells

You have to dry the eggshells before you can feed them to the chickens. The reason for that is (as I heard it from our grandmother) that the chickens don't eat any of the actual wet part because that might promote egg eating in you coop. I have double oven and I mainly use the top part. I have a big cookie sheet ready in the bottom oven and every time I have some eggshells I place them on the cookie sheet. You can find any spot in the kitchen... I heard people keeping them under the sink, in an empty cupboard, or in their pantry. Just make sure they are in a place, where they can dry.

After you dry the eggshells, you would want to break them up into tiny pieces. Hens don't really have the brain capacity to realize that you are feeding them the eggshells from the eggs that they lay but they could visualize the round objects and connect it (like when people place golf balls into the nesting boxes to promote egg laying there... golf balls are very similar to the egg shape). Hens sometimes start eating the eggs they lay because they lack the calcium in their diet or they are simply bored. I have never have it happen but I sure heard a lot about it. You can avoid this problem by drying the eggshells and breaking them into tiny pieces - see bottom picture.

Now you are ready to bring them to your coop. I mix them with their regular feed and they gobble it up no problem.

Friday, August 01, 2014

How Plants Travel To Find Light

Try this fun experiment with your kids this summer! 

All you need is:

shoe box
small plastic cup
2 bean seeds
(and a little patience)

Cut the shoe box lid into 2 rectangular pieces so the width equals the width of the shoe box and it reaches just right into the middle of the box after you bend it. Tape it to the box the way you see it on the picture below. Cut a hole on top of the box.

Fill cup with soil and place 2 bean seeds on top, covering them little bit with the soil. Now place the cup into the box and place the box by a window so the cup receives direct sunlight. Water it and keep moist throughout the whole experiment. When your plants reach 2 inches, leave the box at the same spot but turn it away from the sun. We turned and tilted ours to have the hole face the sun. 

Over the next couple weeks, watch the plant travel to the light. It's quite amazing how this works!

Talk with the kids how important light is for plants. They will turn, bend over, and bend over backwards to go find it and this is the proof!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Start Your Own Herb Garden

Starting an herb garden has been on my mind for years.. But I was going to school, then we had children... so it wasn't until 2 years ago when I finally found couple spots and started planning. By now, I am glad I did and I am here to share with you some pictures as well as small advice about starting your own!

My first herb plant came from my husband's grandma and it was peppermint. I started with a tinny bunch that you see above and look what 2 years did to it ;-) This brings me to the first important point for starting your herb garden - Plan out your space carefully! Read the labels on your plants or ask the person who is giving it to you - how large does the plant get? Plants in the mint family can spread really wide. I suggest you maintain them in the Fall and Spring. I love to share mine with friends or dry them for the winter months.

I love fresh oregano in my potato dishes! Here is a small bunch in my garden - Oregano doesn't spread fast but it becomes very bushy. I found that one plant was enough for our family to use as a fresh ingredient during the summer and also have plenty to dry for the winter!

Who doesn't love thyme in a chicken dish? Thyme has tiny leaves and doesn't become very large. I like it right on the front edge of my herb garden! I will be adding few more plants this year. Did you know that thyme is great herb to use when you have cough? We love making tea or just simply dipping fresh stem into our water bottle!

Don't just assume that you need ground space for your herbs! I am sure you heard about potted herb garden... If you live in a palace that only has a porch, a patio, or a balcony, this would be a perfect fit for you! Even though I have a backyard, I still like to break up the space using potted herbs. Like in this picture, I use bright red color pot for all green background. The herb that needs to be in the pot if you want to enjoy it yearly is rosemary. It doesn't like tough midwestern winters so I take it inside for the cold months. But right now it plays a great role in my herb garden bed by the pond. 

Originally I also placed a mint plant into the pot because I knew it was going to spread widely and I had no space for it. I will be replanting it this year into my side garden herb bed.

Take a look at my side house herb garden... As you might notice, my intention here is not only to have useful plants in my yard but also to have a pleasant and unexpected eye catcher ;-) Which brings me to the next advice - Choose your plants carefully. You want to plant herbs that you enjoy using in your dishes or your drinks and you want to combine them so they all compliment each other esthetically. Look out for height, width, and color of your plant. I also like to combine different sizes and shapes of leaves. And why not add a regular plant into your mix, such as decorative grass or a rock to break up the space. One year after you plant your herbs, you might realize that you positioned them wrong and the taller one is in front of the shorter one - no worries, just replant... this is all a case of trial and error and by the second year, all will be good.

And finally choose the right location based on how much sun light your plants require. Most herbs love sun, so make sure they receive at least 5-6 hours of sun light per day. Those that love full sun exposure are: lavender, oregano, thyme, basil, and rosemary (also known as the Mediterranean Herbs) Parsley, lemon balm, and mint plants will be happy in shade.

 Benefits of growing an herb garden in your home

1. Touching soil is good for the soul - that is my number one benefit of having any kind of garden. So dig as much as you can...

2. Fresh herbs are always at hand - and they are priceless for any dish you are creating.

3. It looks beautiful - people love herbs! And people love look at nicely grown bunch of plants!

4. It smells beautiful - When you pass by it truly smells wonderful!

5. You save money - Have you seen the prices of fresh herbs in the grocery store? How about dry spices? That is my point exactly!

6. You get to share it with friends - Last but not least, you get to share your green treasures with your friends!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Apricot Coconut Lemon Balm Popsicles

Even though we have had only few days of intense heat this summer, kids asked for this refreshing  yummy and healthy treat almost everyday! I also love having these on hand almost daily because our house is usually full of neighborhood kids and this is an unexpected and inexpensive treat to share with everyone!

 One of the ingredients is an herb called Lemon Balm... Have you ever heard of the benefits of this plant? According to a Natural News article, lemon balm is a great antioxidant, as well as calming herb, that helps reduce anxiety, promotes sleep, and improves indigestion. (I love the calming part - great for kids when they come home all hyped up from playing outside ;-)

You will need:
3 Apricots (or any kind of tropical fruit such as pineapple, mango, or peach)
1 Banana peeled
1/4 cup of unsweetened coconut flakes
5 tablespoons of Vanilla Yogurt
2 cups of coconut milk
1 teaspoon of honey (or 100% maple syrup)
Leaves from 1 long lemon balm stem

Combine all ingredients in a blender.

When all is nicely blended, pour the mixture into popsicle molds.

Place your tops on and place them carefully into the freezers. 

These will be ready in about 2-3 hours and will last for few weeks... but that is not a really important information because as soon as the kids realize they are in there, they will not last a day! ;-)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Growing Your Own Back Yard Organic Berry Garden

Happy Monday Everyone! Today I have the honor to introduce to you my lovely friend Jenny from My Happy Homestead! She will be sharing her advice on how to start your very own berry garden in your backyard. Enjoy and get inspired!

photo taken by Jenny Irvine

After years of growing flower gardens in our tiny suburban backyard we eventually decided to covert them into berry gardens. As our family has grown over the years so has my desire to provide organic homegrown food for our family of six. 

Not really knowing what we were doing at first and fumbling through along the way after 7+ years I think, we finally have things down pat. 

Yielding nearly 4-5 freezer gallon size ziplock bags full every summer- I think we have successfully converted our once flower oasis into a mini piece of heaven that provides nutritious food for our family all year long and still looks beautiful. 

From homemade jams to berry crisps the sweet aroma of homegrown fruit is never far away at our homestead. 

Sharing some of my thoughts, experiences, and suggestions today to help get you get started- 

Growing Your Own Back Yard Organic Berry Garden

photo taken by Jenny Irvine

- the most plentiful of all. We started with 5 small plants and now we have an entire fence line covered in them. 

The best time to plant a strawberry garden is actually in the fall. When plants are put in the ground in spring they will require de-budding of any new flowers and pinching back of all runners to gain a strong root system and to assure plenty of growth. 

Planting during the fall months eliminates these additional steps - plants will automatically develop strong root systems and achieve rigorous growth throughout the autumn months. 

When choosing a strawberry variety choose June-bearing oppose to 'everbearing' - the yield is virtually the same. 

Strawberries love ground that is rich with organic matter- compost and leaf mold work great. In the fall we add some of our gathered fall leaves and work them into the soil at the beginning of spring. 

Carefully weed to eliminate any weed invasion and pinch off runners from the mother plant as often as necessary. Too many runners will affect your yield. 

In the summer months we cover our berries with a thin netting similar to chicken wire to help keep pests away. The robins love our berries- and although we love our little bird friends - we don't want them eating our food. 

During the winter months we cover them with a thin layer of pine straw to help keep the temperature a bit warmer. 

photo taken by Jenny Irvine

Backyard raspberries 

- come in many colors. - Red, black, purple, and yellow. We only grow the red as their tangy mouth watering taste is truly unbeatable. 

Much like strawberries it is best to plant your rootstock in the fall months. Plant them in a well cultivated area- rich in organic matter. 

You will often see a number of new canes "suckers" coming up from the base of your plant as time goes on. A certain number of these are necessary for plant growth (6-8) per plant. 

In the fall months prune all canes back an inch from the soil. 


- are the newest addition to our homestead. Most varieties do best when they are 'companion planted' meaning they are planted next to others of their kind. 

Blueberries also require a high level of acidity (4-5ph). If the soil at your homestead is neutral you might consider adding a layer of pine straw and dumping your morning coffee grounds in the garden bed to help maintain a higher level of acidity. 

The upper most 'twig' like portion of the plants should be pruned to help develop root growth and as time progresses maintain its 'bush like' appearance. 

If your still not convinced that replacing your beautiful flowers with the opportunity to harvest your own bounty- then, here are 5 berry facts that might just convince you otherwise. 

5 Benefits of Berries 

photo taken by Jenny Irvine

Berries are high in antioxidants- compounds that may aid in the slowing of cancer development- the darker the berry the higher the level of phytochemicals. 

This goes without saying but that does not mean eating them guarantees warding off all risks of cancer- it simply means they have been found to aid in prevention. 

Blueberries have been shown to improve insulin levels and lower blood pressure levels in pre-diabetic men and women without raising their blood sugar levels. 

Berries have anti-inflammatory properties and high levels of fiber which aid digestive issues. 

Berries are high in vitamin C and K. Strawberries also contain a good amount of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium.

Berries especially blueberries have been found to positively affect brain function and prevent memory loss. 

What is your favorite kind of berry? Do you currently have them growing in your backyard-if not what's stopping you? 

Jenny Irvine is a homeschool mom raising nearly a handful of food sensitive gluten free kids.
It was out of her frustration-searching for the perfect meal planning system that best could meet her family's dietary needs that she created the Simple Savvy Meal Planning Kit- 20 printable meal planning pages with the average consumer in mind but leaving plenty of room for the allergy sensitive to make the necessary alterations.
With a degree in behavioral science and psychology, a passion for family, and a long standing love hate relationship with food it is out of her love of helping others that she blogs at myhappyhomestead.
It is here, that Jenny shares recipes, diy projects, the ups and downs of raising a healthy, happy, food intolerant, homeschool family. Life can be crazy raising four kids 8 and under but some how she makes it all work. 

For more from Jenny you can go to her Twitter account, her Facebook page, Instagram, and her website My Happy Homestead