If you are trying to grow tomatoes, you will no doubt encounter a whole host of common garden pests. Creepy critters like cutworms, flea beetles, grasshoppers, spider mites, and root weevils are all too eager to feast on your beautiful, healthy plants. Three of the most common tomato pests you’ll want to guard against are aphids, stink bugs and tomato fruit worms. Each of these bugs do different variations of damage to the plants, so it’s helpful to know How to Control Common Tomato Pests Naturally….
Grow your green thumb and any food you please! Learn smart strategies for veggies, fruit and more that make bringing fresh food to your table a breeze. When you grow your own food, you get delicious flavor and a lower grocery bill! Join horticulture expert Melinda Myers and discover her insider tricks for growing carrots, peppers, raspberries and so much more. …
One of the most important things you need in your backyard if you intend to grow your own food is good soil. Depending on where you live, you might have soil that can handle a lot of different fruits or vegetables, or you may be very limited. There are some natural ways to improve your soil as well….
I admit it, I am not a green thumb. I always wanted to be, but I get so confused by everything. So I’ve been trying for awhile to start growing vegetables and I am so excited this year to finally be doing it. But what are the best vegetables for beginner gardeners? I need something that is fairly easy to tend and something I can plant in pots and not have to worry so much will get eaten by bugs or animals….
Activities for kids are sometimes tough to come up with when they want to be outside but it’s not warm yet. We’ve done lots of gardening crafts in the past that allow them to learn about gardening without actually planting seeds.
Activities for Kids: Gardening Crafts
Bring a little outdoors in with these fun craft ideas.
Collect some rocks from around your yard and decoratively paint them and place them in your garden. My kids really loved doing this and spent hours outside painting rocks!
Hairy Hairy Caterpillar
Make this and read the book The Very Hungry Caterpillar for a fun and super educational experience. This is a caterpillar made out of grass.
- All you have to do is mix some potting soil with grass seed and pour the mixture into a knee-high nylon stocking. Section off the seed mixture-filled nylon with a pony tail holder or thin rope like I did. Make four or five different segments and tie together at the end.
- Then have the kids place the “caterpillar” in water for ten minutes and remove and place in a plastic bag overnight. Take it out of the bag the next day. Add some googly eyes and pipe cleaners for eyes and antennae and allow to sit on a plate in the window.
- Water every other day and before you know it grass will begin to sprout and you’ll have a grass covered caterpillar.
Sun Catcher Spider Web
Create something decorative for your garden like a sun catcher spider web. With bamboo sticks, nylon jewelry wire, and beads you can create an eye-catching web.
- Wrap a piece of wire around the center of a group of about five bamboo sticks. Tie it off and spread out the sticks into an asterisk shape.
- Now you can begin creating the web. Wrap another piece of wire around one of the skewers a few inches from the center. Thread some beads through the wire and move onto the next bamboo stick. Wrap it around the end and thread more beads and continue like this all the way around the circumference of the web.
- End where you began and trim any excess wire from the end. Do this again further out from the center all the way out until you are almost at the ends of the skewers, spacing each layer a few inches from the last.
- You can create a spider out of the wire and some beads or just leave this as it is. Hang it in your garden and watch the light catch the wire and beads.
Preserve Your Garden
As the season draws to a close, this doesn’t mean you have to say goodbye completely to your garden. You can preserve the leaves or petals of your plants and flowers. Then you can use them to stamp on note cards.
- To press the leaves, you can allow them to dry out by pressing them between the pages of a dictionary or phone book.
- Put the material between a sheet of newspaper and allow to sit pressed for a few weeks.
- When you are ready to decorate with your preserved leaves and petals, mix glue and water (half and half). Affix your pressed leaves and petals onto the paper and brush with the glue mixture. Allow to dry.
Backyard Bird Feeder
There are so many different ways to make a bird feeder. Using pine cones, peanut butter, and bird seed is probably the easiest way (see the post here).
Or you could take a 1-liter soda bottle and two wooden spoons and make a bird dispenser. Simply create two holes along the side of the bottle towards the bottom and slide the wooden spoons into the holes. Put a small eye screw in the top of the cap. Fill the bottle with bird seed, place the cap on top, and hang from something.
These are just a few gardening crafts you can do with the kids to make gardening that much more fun and educational. What are your favorite garden crafts?
Meal planning and preparing foods ahead of time makes it possible for you to save money on your grocery bill. You can find fruits and vegetables on sale during the summer and into fall months when they’re in season and cheaper.
Meal Planning to Save Money
It helps to know which are freezer friendly fruits and vegetables so you can successfully do some meal planning and fill your freezer.
Start by choosing fruits and vegetables you plan to freeze at the peak of ripeness. The food should be firm and without bruises to ensure the best taste when they are used in the future. Don’t be afraid to sniff the fruit to see how it smells which may indicate how it tastes.
Fruits can often be frozen without much preparation but the same can’t be said about vegetables.
When freezing fruit you may be concerned that it will darken. This can be avoided by adding ascorbic acid (vitamin C) in simple syrup that is added to the fruit prior to freezing.
Fruits that freeze well include:
- Berries of all kinds
Fruits that don’t freeze well include watermelon and citrus fruit sections. While you may find these fruits frozen, you will notice the texture is totally different when thawed.
Most vegetables can be frozen but the texture may be off when you thaw them. For this reason, it might be good to plan to use some frozen vegetables in soups or casseroles. You want to blanch them for about 5 minutes and then dip them into ice water to stop the cooking process before they can be frozen.
Vegetables which freeze well include:
- Beans – most varieties
- Cabbage (only use for cooking)
- Greens (Kale, mustard and turnip)
- Peas (black-eyed and green)
- Sweet potatoes
- Rutabagas and turnips
- Summer squash
- Tomatoes (stewed, only use for cooking)
Vegetables you don’t want to freeze include lettuce, cabbage, cucumbers, endive, parsley and radishes.
Remember that even though the majority of fruits and vegetables are freezer friendly, they won’t be exactly the same as fresh. The taste should be very similar but the texture could be considerably different. If you have an overabundance of fruits and vegetables, however, freezing them is one way to store them for long-term use.
For some of us it can be hard enough just getting to eat our vegetables but growing them for ourselves is a whole different ball game. Whether it’s a busy schedule that keeps you from being able to devote our full attention to our gardens or simply a curse on every plant you try to grow, it can be hard to get started with growing your own vegetables at home.
Best 5 Veggies for Beginner Gardeners
Here’s a list of the five best vegetables you can start with even if you’re still a newbie gardener:
Being a root vegetable, carrots are safe from the elements so all you have to do is plant the seeds during some cool weather and in a few months (depending on variety) they’re ready to pull up, wash off, and bite right into! If you’re feeling adventurous, try a different kind than your standard orange carrot.
Did you know you can grow carrots in containers? Check out this awesome post at Empress of Dirt for tips on how to do that.
Peas are easy to grow, especially if you have something they can grow on like a trellis or fence, although you can just use a wire support if your yard or garden bed isn’t in an optimal place. Another cool weather veggie, these go great with carrots together in your garden and on your plate in a fresh salad.
Pumpkins are fairly hardy provided you wait for frost season to be over and they’re great for watching grow from tiny flowers into tasty treats. Perfect for planting when you can plan for them to be ready in the fall for October and November for pumpkin pie, you can cook and eat them tons of different ways or just enjoy a healthy, delicious batch of pumpkin seeds!
Herb gardens are easy to put together and can even be grown indoors in windowsill planters if you’ve got limited growing space outdoors. Just pick your favorite herb or spice and you’ll have it ready to pick and put right into your favorite dishes whenever you want to add a dash of fresh flavor to a meal.
For more info on growing herbs indoors head over to the Container Gardening page!
Whether you like them hot or mild, you’re sure to love them colorful and tasty! Peppers grow in close to the same conditions as tomatoes, making them a great choice for new gardeners to sink their teeth into (depending on how hot they are of course!). Nothing says summertime like a cool, refreshing taste of freshly chilled salsa on a hot summer’s day.
Even if you feel like your green thumb is more like the touch of death all you might really need is a little practice with some veggies that are a little easier to grow. You’re sure to find your garden bursting with fresh vegetables of all kinds in no time!
What is your favorite thing to grow in the garden?
A garden is not without its creepy crawlies. When you are gardening with your children you should talk to them about garden friendly bugs they might see. My toddler is super afraid of bugs so it’s necessary to explain to her that they are not all bad!
Garden Friendly Bugs
Many insects can be very beneficial to helping your garden grow – either by eating those who will ruin a crop or helping to pollinate your crops. You will want to make your children aware of the friends and foes of the garden insect world. Here is a short guide of some of the garden friendly bugs you will see.
These are scary looking bugs. They can be hard to see because of how they camouflage themselves against the plants. But if you pay close attention to areas like the petals of flowers or porch lights, you will see the praying mantis.
Mantises have big appetites. When young they will eat various aphids, leaf hoppers, mosquitoes, caterpillars and other soft-bodied insects. Later they will eat larger insects, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, and other pest insects. Praying mantises are large, slow moving insects that catch their prey with their front legs. Mantises will ambush their prey by sitting on a plant or twig, waiting for their prey to come close and then will snatch them up.
These are definitely garden friendly bugs as they eat the bugs which like to eat your garden. You should keep a close eye out for their eggs as you definitely do not want to disturb them. It’s important to teach your children what the eggs look like. Eggs can often be found on leaves of shrubs and twigs. You will want to make sure not to place these eggs on the ground as that makes them easy prey for ants. Find a sheltered location up off the ground for these egg sacs so you can keep plenty of praying mantises in your garden.
Ladybugs are very beneficial in this sense for the garden as they are natural enemies of these sap-sucking insects. So this is a natural pesticide for these unwanted bugs in your garden.
And they are believed to be good luck as well. Not only do ladybugs eat many sap-sucking bugs a day, but they also will eat the larvae of many different bugs which are detrimental to the garden. So these voracious bugs are a must have in any garden.
The Green Lacewing is widely beneficial in attacking destructive garden insects during its larvae stage. But that doesn’t mean they are not still without their use once they become adults. At this point they help to pollinate your garden by feeding on nectar and honeydew. But for 1-3 weeks in the larvae stage they are vigorous predators, going after aphids, mites, insect eggs, thrips, mealybugs, immature whiteflies, and small caterpillars.
The larvae of a lacewing are very small and gray-brown in color. The lacewing larva vigorously attacks its prey, injects a paralyzing venom, and draws out the body fluids of its helpless victim.
The adults can live for about four to six weeks. They will feed on nectar, pollen and honeydew. In order to continue having these voracious predators laying eggs in your garden, you will want to make sure they have plenty of access to nectar, pollen, and honeydew. Without these the green lacewings will move on to find their food somewhere else. You want these insects to remain in your garden, protecting it against its biggest threats.
These three insects are just some of the insects you want to make your children aware of protecting in your garden. The most natural pesticide you can possibly use are the predators of the insects that threaten your garden. So learn what these bugs look like and plant what will help keep them around protecting your garden.
Do you know how to store fresh basil from your herb garden? Whether you are growing herbs indoors or outside, you will want to harvest the herbs and learn how to store fresh herbs to keep the plants healthy.
Herbs are a way to add extra zest to foods without adding fat. If youíve ever had cuisine with fresh herbs then you know the difference it makes. The next best thing is dried herbs. Growing and drying your own is better and cheaper than buying them from the store.
How to Store Fresh Basil and Other Herbs
Here are a few tips that always need to be observed when planning on drying herbs.
- Harvest herbs at their peak
When are herbs at their best tasting and most potent as far as oil is concerned? It occurs when they are getting ready to bloom. You will notice several buds but none will be open yet. Wait until after the morning dew has dried before cutting your leaves.
- Carefully choose your leaves
Look for healthy branches that are free of disease, damage or yellowing. Also remove any insects that might tag along on the plants. This usually isn’t a problem for indoor herb gardens.
- Wash your leaves
Remove any dirt and soil from the leaves. Use cool water and then dry with a paper towel, being careful not to rip or tear the leaves. Wet herbs will mold so make sure they are completely dry.
Methods for Storing Fresh Herbs
This involves hanging your herbs. Remove all leaves from the bottom of about four to eight stems. Bind them together gently with a rubber band or a piece of string. Place them in a paper bag with the stems protruding out. Tie the bag closed around the stems and hang in a warm, dry area. Poke holes in the bottom of the bag for air circulation.
- Tray drying
This is done for the leaves. Remove the stems and the stalks from leaves. Place the leaves in a single layer on a baking sheet or a drying tray. Large leaves can be cut into smaller pieces. Place in a warm area that is dark until drying is complete.
- Drying in an oven
You don’t actually turn the oven on when you do this. Gas ovens seem to work more efficiently with this method. Using a baking sheet again, place leaves in a single layer so they are not touching. Separate more than one layer with a paper towel. Dry overnight.
- Solar drying
This is not a very efficient method but may work for people who live in a very warm area. Place your leaves on a drying tray or an old window pane in the sun. In order for this to work, the temperature needs to be constant with low humidity (below 100 degrees F and 60% humidity). Avoid direct sunlight because leaves will fade.
Store your dried herbs in a dry, dark place in airtight jars for up to one year. Drying fresh herbs can keep your food full of flavor all year round.
I love growing herbs indoors and there’s nothing quite like the taste of fresh herbs in recipes you prepare. Growing herbs indoors is easier for me than gardening and I really enjoy seeing them sprout and grow large enough that I can harvest at the end of the warm summer months.
Luckily many herbs are easy to grow in small areas such as kitchen window sills. They need warmth, sunlight and water. And if your kitchen doesn’t have enough natural sunlight during the day, you can also place them in rooms with better natural sunlight. Remember that it takes about three times as much fresh herb to get the flavor of a dried seasoning, but the taste is much better.
Growing Herbs Indoors in Your Kitchen Window
Look for herbs which will remain relatively small. Those which are too wide or too tall may not fit in the area you’ve chosen to grow them. You’ll also want to consider the type of cooking you do most often and choose herbs which will match that type of cooking. Below are five herbs to grow in your kitchen window or another in your home.
This herb, which tastes like a combination of garlic and onions, can be added to homemade salad dressing, sour cream, soups or burgers. You may want to substitute chives for onions in some recipes to give your food a little different taste. These can be started from seed quite easily. Your recipe will also have a unique taste depending upon whether you use fresh or dried herbs.
Learn more about Herb Garden Plants and Their Uses here.
Basil is used in many ethnic foods such as those from Italy, Mexico or Thailand. If you’re preparing a dish with tomatoes, basil is a natural herb to choose. There are several varieties to choose from and you can either start them from seed or purchase seedlings.
Learn more about growing basil here.
Cilantro or Coriander
This is another herb which can be grown easily from seeds. Depending upon whether you’re using the leaves or allowing the herb to go to seed, you can use cilantro in Mexican or Indian cuisine.
Learn more about 6 Cooking Herbs You Need to Grow here.
Mint is a universal herb which is used in a myriad of cuisines. If you live in the South you know it can be added to iced tea. You can also use it as an ingredient in salads, jellies and desserts. It can be started as seeds or seedlings.
Learn what to do with mint here.
Thyme is often used when cooking meats and other savory dishes. It is best to start these out as seedlings so you can begin using the herb as quickly as possible.
Learn How to Grow and Harvest Fresh Herbs for Cooking here.
Seeds and seedlings for the above herbs can be found at many discount stores as well as farmer’s co-ops. If you choose to grow your herbs from seeds, follow the instructions on the packet to plant them. Before you know it, you’ll have fresh herbs to harvest and enjoy in your home cooked meals.
Make sure to read the other posts about growing herbs indoors!