Plastic Container Greenhouses

From time to time I end up with those plastic containers that once housed strawberries or spinach. According to my curbside recycling guide they are not recyclable (differs by refuse company). So, I like to reuse them when I have them. Besides using them to organize my pantry or the kids markers, we make them into little seed starting greenhouses. You can buy a fancy seed starter system, but I find these work just as well and are easy to transplant.

Simply fill the bottom with soil and sprinkle in the seeds planting to required depth, water, close the lid and wait. I have successfully started onions, herbs, gourds, chard, and numerous other plants this way.

024

Happy Little Sprouts

Happy Little Sprouts

Once seedlings have reached a level of growth where they will tolerate transplant, usually when they have developed roots and true leaves, I use a chopstick or spoon to separate out these tiny plants which then go into either 4 inch pots, or in the case of onions and squashes right into the garden.

Plastic containers need to be thoroughly cleaned in between plantings to discourage disease.

What other uses have you come up with for plastic containers? Happy planting!

Woodland Terrariums

005

Are you looking for a Free fun nature activity for the kids that can be done with a few items from around the house?  Or are you looking for an artistic centerpiece for your table?  Or are you dying to plant your garden but the last frost hasn’t come yet?  Try a terrarium!

I live in the Pacific Northwest which is a green and verdant place. It is the sort that vegetation will reclaim quickly if man neglects their taming of it. It is called the Evergreen State for our beautiful conifers, but the greens of the rich things that grow here would rival emerald Ireland when the clouds part and the blue skies shine. There is nothing like a NW sky when it clears on those first spring days for the rain can seem ceaseless in the wintertime. It rains here enough that nearby we have our very own Hoh Rainforest. The rainforest is a soft dripping place with mosses a plenty, and alluring scents of dank rich earth. The rainforest has led me to a strange moss obsession. I gather these things up in terrariums and foster them and create tiny rain forests in my living room.

When I can’t be out of doors… I keep it nearby in a terrarium.  This is  a fun and free form of indoor art and it has the added bonus of helping to keep your indoor air filtered naturally, and when you tire of it you can return it to the forest from whence it came.  I make my terrariums with things dug up around the property like mosses, lichen encrusted limbs, licorice ferns, and perennial sedums and ground covers from my garden.  I try to only dig up mosses where they are plentiful and won’t be missed or if they are growing in what should be a moss free zone (like the roof).  I like to use outdoor plants that I can keep indoors for a season but will be just as happy out in a shaded patio.

Shop pics 008

All you really need for this project is Sand (I use old sand from the sandbox), potting soil, a glass vase, bowl, or jar and a variety of mossy covered things found in the woods.  You may use small figurines or toys, pretty rocks or shells to add to the effect of a little world.

First, put a little sand at the bottom for drainage, but also for visual interest.  Sometimes I will just put the sand on one side of a vase and soil on the other to create a little beach. If you have activated charcoal it is also beneficial in a terrarium to retain moisture while keeping the roots from rotting, but a terrarium can be happy without it.  After soil is added, place a plant of interest like a little fern or sedum or a small mossy branch.  Then cover the remaining soil with mosses.  It is fun to find more than one kind of moss.  Add your figurines or rocks if desired.  Then give it a thorough watering.  Mist your terrarium with water as needed to keep the moss happy.

 059

If you have grown tired of your terrarium or it is looking unhappy, just take it out in the woods and set the native plants free.    Warning, if you do add little branches or rotten wood to your terrarium it may sprout mushrooms, which may be poisonous.  Unless you are an expert in mushrooms it is not advisable to handle them.  If you are doing this project with small children who could be tempted by mushrooms you may want to steer clear of old branches in your project, and to be safe check your terrarium routinely and discard it’s inhabitants if mushrooms should appear.

058

Marinara Mash-up Recipe

Tonight dinner was fresh baked bread, broccoli, and chicken smothered in home-made marinara with cheese.  My family always asks about the sauce.  What kind of sauce is this?  Did you make it?  In other words… is it store bought?  I think the reason they have such a hard time nailing down my signature marinara sauce taste is because it is different every time I make it.

Here was tonight’s recipe:

1 jar whole tomatoes

2 cloves elephant garlic

3 small sweet peppers

8 leaves spinach

A couple pinches of my home dried herbs (oregano, savory, thyme and rosemary)

A dash of salt, sugar and olive oil

All whirled through the food processor and then simmered for half an hour.

010

My frugal ingredients from the garden

The tomatoes, garlic, and herbs are really all this sauce needs (all of which are items I had laid up for the winter) but I like to use up fresh ingredients from the fridge in this recipe, or excess produce in the summertime.  Marinara can be a true waste not, want not adventure.  Here are some of my other favorite marinara add-ins:  carrots, peppers, basil, greens like spinach or chard, summer squashes, onions and all garlic varieties, capers, olives and wine (substitute wine for sugar), and of course… meat.  You may grate or food-process any of these items to add flavor and nutrients (your kids will have no idea) to your dinner.  You may cook your ingredients anywhere from ten minutes (I do min. 10 minutes on home canned tomatoes…. just in case) at a brisk simmer for a fresh tasting distinct sauce to a slow-cook of several hours for a rich and densely melded marinara sauce.

014

Quick Cook Marinara

No Recipe?  Now, we’re Cooking.

 

Making do

My mother is a gardener.  I don’t mean this lightly.  Most days if you try and call the house and ask for Mom they’ll say she’s outside.  I call during a cold day with a heavy mist, she is out in the garden and maybe if it’s a torrential downpour she’ll instead be in the greenhouse.  But just as often she’ll  be in the garden fully rain-geared because the more weeds you pull in winter the easier the summer will be.  In the summer she goes out after dinner and is only driven indoors in the late NW daylight by the relentless mosquitoes.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that a little bit of “homesteading” comes natural to me.  At the very least I watched my mother work hard on the land and enjoy it.  She instilled in me a work ethic and showed me that things like gardening don’t necessarily stop for any season.  And though it’s taken me a while, I enjoy gardening now too.

I grew up in the country building fires in the fireplace, riding and keeping horses, and growing our own food but I never thought I would need these sorts of skills to survive.  Life does take unexpected twists.  It might be that the skills I learned when I was young, and have built on over the years may now become completely necessary.

I wanted to be a writer when I grew up.  Instead, after college, I went into the family furniture business and then fairly quickly I had a family of my own and discovered that I didn’t have the gumption to leave the family business; not with the stability it gave me and mine.  Fast forward to the Great Recession and our stores took on a steady decline.  Furniture stores and factories folded under the initial pressure but we held on for dear life until 2013 when the end became inevitable.  I’m still not sure how it happened, and I’m still in shock because we had worked so hard for so long.  It was like a death.  And to make matters worse, my parents, brother, sister and brother-in-law, all made their livings there.  I was the first to go… and I try not to take that personal, but I was the first.  My job, mostly in communications and media, was taken over by a third party.  So as of September I was unemployed for the first time in nearly 22 years.  And my entire safety net, my extended family were soon at loose ends too.

At first I was scared and thrilled.  I could choose a new career now, one that I had always wanted without letting anybody down.  I even thought I might enjoy being out of work a little.  I would spring clean the house and do some writing and work in the yard.  In the beginning I dedicated myself to looking at jobs and dreaming of new careers, dragging out my rusty resume skills, and working the garden with renewed necessity.  My income was instantly cut in half so I needed to immediately adjust by cutting bills like slimming down the phone service, grooming the cocker spaniel myself, cutting the kids hair, growing more food and canning it, making all our meals from scratch, splitting wood to cut our winter bills and analyzing every expense until nothing extraneous existed.  That was month number one.

There’s a strange madness that goes along with drawing unemployment for me.  First of all, I hate it.  Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate the help (which I did earn) and I know not everybody qualifies and I should be grateful.  But confession, I’m not.  I don’t like the way being of officially unemployed makes me feel.  First, you feel the pressure to get back to work quickly.  At my first scouring of want ads here, there, and everywhere I quickly learned that there are not many openings in communications or writing in my area.  Many writing jobs wouldn’t qualify as a true job search entry anyway.  So, I’m left applying for jobs in which I’m not that interested, and that I’m not at all qualified to do.  I might have had overinflated self esteem but I honesty thought I was a desirable employee who can do just about anything and I was really confused that the local fishery sent me a rejection letter.  And the rejection letters are the worst.  I get a least one a week and they keep coming.  Now the unemployment people want me to be spending more time on searching for a job, and I’ll try, but honestly I need the occasional mental break from rejection and to do things that are life affirming, creative and productive.  I want out of official unemployment and am considering how to get out, even if I’m never hired.

So to keep from going crazy I started making things, studying old time country skills, writing, traveling, and even dabbling in community building.  These are the sorts of things I want to tell you about.  I don’t have much going for me in the traditional career sense, but I’m making do, and discovering what calls to me in the making of it.

006