starting your seeds

It’s that time!  Every winter I pull up this post with the hopes of inspiring some new yard gardeners or suburban farmers.  Always glad to collect any other ideas you may have so comment away! ~cameron

Oh, where to begin?!  It’s the time of year when I move the tall metal shelves in front of the French doors in the den and get ready to start the seeds.  My daughter rolls her eyes as apparently, it is not the type of decor that will impress her friends.  The wheelbarrow is set up outside the back door so I can mix the compost and dirt.  I get a little hyper about watering the seeds as many rounds have been lost by not keeping the soil damp enough.  The cats compete with the shelf for the “sweet spot” of sunshine.  Starting seeds represents the beginning of our growing season, and for me, also symbolizes the joy of new life.

seed starts group

So–what have I learned about starting seeds certainly wouldn’t fill a book, but as I look through my journals, there are few lessons I’d like to share.

I will say that in my effort to upcycle, I have tried a variety of containers for raising seeds.  In this quest, I will sadly tell you that egg cartons just didn’t work for me.  I can’t tell you how excited I was last year (2011) as I found the dozen x dozen egg crates at a local restaurant’s recycling/upcycling pile.  PERFECT!  I grabbed as many as I could and came home feeling a little smug with my great find.  Well, in spite of covering them to create a greenhouse effect, what I found was that the carton would soak up too much of the water and the dirt on top would stay too dry.   Even trying to spray them with a fine mist didn’t seem to work as well either.  Then the egg crates started falling apart.  Ugh.  Not pretty.

egg crates

In an effort to reduce plastic waste, I had been saving all the rectangular containers that my organic spinach and mixed greens come in from the store.  I’ve also found that strawberry containers with their holes become nice little greenhouses too.  What worked with those containers–easy to move, self-contained, easy to label, dirt stayed moist, seedlings thrived.  Yep–been saving my containers this year so I have plenty to use.


I have used the kits you can buy at the local hardware store–a tray, 6-pk containers, a lid.  They worked for me too, not a problem.  I am just trying to be a better steward of our earth and upcycle plastic that already exists.

My other system has included Mason jars.  Great idea for seed starts but not so good for growing seedlings as the soil can become too moist and grow some pretty funky stuff.  You can read more about it here and here.

seed starts acorn squash

So what else have I learned?

  • soil is key–I use organic soil with organic mushroom compost, organic sphangum, and my own compost
  • I like to wet my soil before shoveling it into the containers/seed pots
  • a fine spray mister is helpful for keeping the top of the soil and the delicate seedling moist without drowning them
  • I turn my seedlings around regularly so the ones in the back get moved toward the front too
  • while I used to think it was time consuming, I have found a difference in taking sandpaper to larger, harder seeds
  • soaking seeds can be helpful as well

Most importantly, remember your seeds are like young children–the more time, care, and energy you put into them when they’re young, the better they’ll be when they begin to grow and produce.  Starting them with the most healthy soil mix and plenty of water and sun will help them be stronger as they mature.

And my most favorite thing about starting seeds–that incredible rush I feel when the first green shoots pop through the dirt.  Best feeling, bar none!

seed starts kale

lessons learned: simple living

Living simply was something I experienced as a child but lost somewhere on the journey to adulthood.  It included playing in the backyard, gardening with my dad, cooking with mom, and loving on my grandparents.  We climbed trees, visited with the neighbors, picnicked on Saturdays and went to church on Sundays.simple living

As a young girl, I remember the large garden in our backyard.  Dad used post hole diggers to make room for the long poles, then he used natural twine to make his own trellis between the poles.  Beans would climb the up the strands, and in the summer, you could smell the twine baking in the hot sun.

We planted corn on the left side.  The silk tassels tickled my chin as I’d carry arms full up to the back deck.  We’d sit out there and shuck it then Mom would boil it for dinner.

In the summers, we’d pick berries, and with purple fingers, prepare them for freezing or canning.  Canning wasn’t limited to jam but also included spaghetti sauce and pickles, lots and lots of pickles.

Fall brought with it leaf raking and jumping in piles in the front yard.  We talked with neighbors as we played outside on the weekends–that was easy to do because you didn’t have to yell over leaf blowers.

In the winter, we sat in our kitchen window and watched the birds feed on pine cones covered in peanut butter and bird seed.  Before upcycling was fashionable, Mom propped our Christmas tree against the the dogwood outside our kitchen so birds could perch and eat and keep warm.

Simplicity seemed to go her merry way as I entered college to prepare for my professional career.  Upon moving into the real world and learning real life lessons, Simplicity definitely moved beyond my reach.

At 40, I was determined to reconnect with Simplicity–having cancer and midlife occur in the same year will do that to you.  Thankfully, I have found her again, and here is what I’ve learned:

  • Simple living is available to anyone who is willing to make it a priority.
  • Living simply doesn’t mean you give up important things, it means you find out what is truly important to you.
  • Simplicity involves slowing down, appreciating the baby steps, and being patient.
  • “Simple” can be synonymous with “mindful” or “intentional.”
  • Simple living includes reconnecting with traditions and practices that bring you peace.
  • Living simply includes an appreciation for nature/creation and our role in it.

“Simple living” is more than a catch phrase on a magazine cover.  For most adults, it can mean to “just do” a little less and “just be” a little more, to get back to the basics or go “old school.”  Turn off the technology, use tools or equipment that doesn’t require electricity or gas, and clean out the clutter, then be ready–you won’t believe the amazing gifts that will be waiting for you.

thrifty thursday: glass bottles

After a recent event, I watched the hosts toss various colored glass bottles into blue recycling bags.  The “collector” in me wanted to cry, “Wait! I can do something with those!”  And, after doing some research, I realized, yes, yes I can.

Here are some great ideas for recycling glass water or wine bottles.  My suggestion would be to google a site or youtube a video that will teach you how to easily cut the bottle should that be part of the project then practice on a couple of bottles that are not special (like the one that used to sit on your bookshelf in college reminding you of that special night–oh yes, I went there!).

1.  Candle holders–2 ways to use bottles for this idea–either stick thin/tapered candles in the hole in the top or cut wine bottles off to create various sizes and place candles or tea lights inside.

2.  Hurricane lamps–Same idea as candle holders but place the candle on a flat surface then put the bottle over the top of it, remembering of course to leave the top hole open.

3.  Fear of fire?  Use a short string of holiday lights instead and put inside the bottle–colored or white lights depending on your holiday.

4.  Glasses–yes, I’ve seen where you can actually cut the top part off a bottle then sand the edge and have nice sets of glasses.  Warning–it does take a bit of sanding.

5.  Center pieces–using the bottle uncut, remove the label and place assorted objects with different textures inside the bottles–vary height and color of bottles as well as texture of objects and group several bottles together or line up on a runner with something in between.

6.  Vases–again, one that can use the bottle cut or uncut.

7.  Painted/decorated/decoupaged–there are far too many Pinterest ideas around this one for me to even post or suggest here.   From spray paint to tissue paper to macaroni–what CAN’T you put on the outside of a bottle?

8.  Birdfeeders–yes, I know–this idea makes almost every thrifty Thursday list, but I do love them so.  I’ve seen a lot of hummingbird feeders creatively crafted from glass bottles being held by copper tubing.

9.  Organizers–Paint some chalkboard paint on the outside and label it then fill with items such as nails, tacks, rubber bands, etc.

10.  Plant waterer–fill bottle with water and stick upside down in plant.  Yes, it’s that simple.

11.  Planters–cut bottom of bottle off, turn upside down so the neck/mouth become the drainage spout, and fill with


dirt.  Raise seedlings, start root cuttings, or just replant extras.

11.  Chandelier–so many beautiful ideas out there for this one–it’s worth the google.

12.  Shelving–drill holes in wood large enough for the lip/neck of the wine bottle to fit through and the wood will rest on the body of the bottle–for extra sturdiness, you can fill the bottle with something solid.

13.  Jewelry or wind chimes–cut small strips off the body to create bracelets or the neck to create earrings; use different size circles to create the wind chime

14.  And if all else fails, do what we see all around the South, turn them upside down and place on branches of a tree or pieces of rebar in the ground.

thrifty thursdays: mason jars part 2

So, if you don’t already know it, I’m in love with Mason jars.  Well, Mason jars and pallets, but that’s another blog post.  I know we’ve already covered Mason jars once on Thrifty Thursday, (that blog post is here), but ol’ Mason and I have recently rekindled our relationship so I thought I’d share.

Several months ago, I decided to stop using plastic (even BPA free) and start using my extra glass jars for storage purposes.  Surprisingly, these containers have met almost every need I have (with the exception of packing my daughter’s PB&J for lunch).  So, let’s do it–the top ten uses of glass jars in the kitchen.

1.  Tea–anyone who loves tea and is from the South knows that you haven’t had iced tea until you have it out of a Mason jar.   Hot day, condensation dripping down the side, slice of lemon on top.  The way we drink it at Growing Grace Farm is green tea, slice of ginger, a drop of honey, and lots of ice. (16 oz size)

2.  Drinks on the go–no sense in making one glass of tea.  I boil a whole pot of water, make plenty of my favorite blend of the moment, and pour in Mason jars.  Put the top on, store on the 3rd shelf of the fridge, and I’m ready to grab and go as needed.  Also works well for lemonade and “summer water.”   “Summer water”–water with slices of lemon, lime, orange, and cucumber. (16 oz size)summer water

3.  Salad dressings–I love trying new blends of oils, vinegars, spices and herbs.  Mason jars are a nice way of storing my experiments. (4 or 8 oz size)

4.  Leftovers–you got it–if you use plastic, you can use glass.  There are almost as many options in Mason jars as you can find in plastic containers. Great bonuses about glass–you can see everything inside, glass doesn’t hold odors, and you can heat/microwave right in the container. (various sizes)

5.  “On the side” dishes–when my daughter was a baby, we called her “Queen o’ Condiments.”  Given her sensory issues, she’s got a thing about food items touching.  The 4 oz jars are the perfect size for condiments or dips on the side. (4 oz size)

6.  Baked goods in a jar–we’ve all seen ’em:  cookie or brownie recipes with the dry goods layered in the 12 oz jars.  It’s a great way to keep a spare jar of cookies on hand, and there are no unhealthy preservatives!  (16 oz size)

5.  Dry good storage–I got rid of all bags, Ziplocs and plastic containers and put all my dried goods in labeled quart jars.  Not only are they easy to find, but I love seeing the textures too. (Quart size)

6.  Water bottles–my sister and her friend took a grommet set and put metal grommet in the flat metal lids; the hole is the perfect size for a straw.  Love it!  (16 oz size)

7. Shakers–Take the flat top of the metal lid and poke holes in top with an ice pick and hammer.  Perfect to create some rustic shakers for salt and pepper, cinnamon, spices, etc.

8.  Pinch bowls–The 4oz size work nicely for holding those small amounts of baking items like baking soda or salt as well as herbs while your cooking.  Forget investing in those fancy 4 for $16 pinch bowls–4 0z canning jars are perfect.20131224-125720.jpg

9.  Baking–baking? yes, baking!  Did you know you can bake in jar.  Whenever I need single servings, I use a Mason jar and my toaster over.  Perfect!

10.  Window gardens–a great project for kids or just to add some flair to your kitchen windowsill.