Gardening Update for August

Disclaimer: I’m participating in Hey, Let’s Grow!, a home gardening program sponsored by Monsanto, which provided me with a seed starter kit, Seminis Home Garden seeds, and a gift card for additional gardening supplies. All opinions, along with gardening skills or lack thereof, are my own.

Hey, you guys, I planted my garden this year only using SEEDS, and my garden is beautiful! I’m so excited about this because I’ve never grown a garden from seeds before. I just came in from picking tomatoes, cucumbers, and custard beans, and I don’t think I’ve ever had this much fresh produce from my own garden!

Sun Sugar Tomatoes

My photos don’t do my garden justice; the picture above looks like it has a 1970’s glow, doesn’t it? I think it was really sunny when I took it. Sun Sugar tomatoes are like cherry tomatoes, small, orange, and sweet! My two plants have been producing tomatoes like crazy, and they are still producing lots of flowers and green tomatoes. They are great in salads, of course. I also cut them in half and tossed them in a chicken stir fry I made today, waiting until the last minute so they would be just warm but not cook down at all. They added a great flavor!

Custard Beans

One custard bean plant produces enough beans for a dinner side dish for my family of four. I cooked them just like green beans, and the kids ate them up! (I did add some butter, so that may have helped, too.) I have three bean plants, and I actually planted them at different times, which turned out to be unintentionally smart! The first bean plant is finished already, and I just picked at least 20 beans off of my second bean plant. I have a third plant that is slowly maturing because it was in the shade, but I transplanted it in more out in the open so hopefully I will get a third bean harvest this summer.

Custard bean plants, and my cucumber trellis

This spring, we had spinach and lettuce growing in one of our raised beds. After they were done, I planted cucumber seeds. I wanted a trellis for my cucumbers, so Ed raided the garage and found a couple of wooden supports that were in our snow blower box. I lashed them together on one end, placed the open ends in the garden and voila! A cucumber trellis! Ed said I’m lucky he never throws anything away. 😉

Jumbo Cucumbers

We are going to have oodles of cucumbers! I already ate three, gave two away, and have two more sitting on my counter. Fortunately, I love them. I tried this sour cream cucumber salad this weekend, and it was delicious.

Sour Cream Cucumbers and Onions

I’ve had such great success with my garden this year that I’m already thinking about what I should plant next year. I’m thinking zucchini–what else should I try? How has your garden grown this year?

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Where We Begin Our Summer Adventures

Summer! It’s so hard to believe that summer is almost over and the school year will begin soon. We have been traveling all over the country in our minivan, with lots of road trips adding miles to the odometer. Our first trip was out west, to visit my family in Des Moines, Iowa during Memorial Day weekend.

We have visited my family so often in Iowa that I thought we had done nearly everything near the Des Moines area. We’ve looked for bison at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Preserve, biked the High Trestle Trail, and walked along the Des Moines River in downtown Des Moines. Lily has fed the giraffes at Blank Park Zoo and we even took a paddle boat onto Gray’s Lake. And yet, when my dad mentioned visiting Ledges State Park, this was the first time I had even heard about it!

Our plan had been to go on Saturday, but unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate with our plans and it rained almost all day. Sunday was a beautiful day and perfect hiking weather; unfortunately my dad had to preach that Sunday and my stepmom had to play the organ at church. (Let’s just say I’m looking forward to my 75 year old dad retiring soon!)  Since Ed, the girls and I had attended church Saturday evening, we headed up to Ledges on Sunday morning.

Part of the road leading to the park had been washed away by a storm, so along with other visitors to the park, we needed to park in the parking lot at the entrance and then hike down the road into the canyon. There is also a parking lot on the other side of the park for visitors who would rather not hike down into the canyon. The road down, however, was a short and easy hike, and while the road wasn’t safe for cars, it was very safe for walkers. When we reached the bottom of the canyon and saw the water from Pea’s Creek flowing intentionally over the path, the girls were ecstatic! They love wading in the water!

The creek curved around throughout the park, crossing the path several times. There were also a couple of nice bridges going over the creek and steps going up to trails on the top of the bluffs. With only 4 miles of hiking trails, the park is relatively small and easy to explore, especially with kids. I’ve been looking at the trail map while writing this post, however, and I see we missed a trail down to the Lost Lake. The trail head is is a different spot from the main trails, so perhaps that’s why it’s called “Lost Lake.” We certainly didn’t find it!

This arched stone bridge was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s.

After we hiked up and down the bluffs, we saw people wading up the creek and decided to do the same! We weren’t prepared for this part, however, and took off our shoes and socks. The creek had some sandy spots but was also rocky, so next time we’ll bring our water sandals! Hiking in the creek was really fun and showed us more of the bluffs from down below. Since this park is often flooded by the Des Moines River, however, it may not always be possible. The water was only up to our ankles when we were there in May.

Hiking up and down the bluffs was great practice for our next road trip to Acadia National Park in Maine. And it also made us hungry! We knew of a barbecue place in Ames that my stepmom had taken us to, but here was the challenge. We didn’t remember the name of the restaurant, and we didn’t know what street it was on. (And we don’t use our smart phones when we’re roaming!) But we figured, what’s the worst that could happen? So we drove to Ames and wandered around for a little while…and just as we were heading back to the highway, we found it! Hickory Park has great barbecue, and even more exciting to the girl, a candy counter! The candy ranges in price from a nickel to a quarter, so the girls had fun picking and choosing some candy for the road trip home.

Just a few weeks later, we got in our minivan again and headed East…to Maine!

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How to Make a Bee House

Disclaimer: I’m participating in Hey, Let’s Grow!, a home gardening program sponsored by Monsanto. As part of this program, I was sent a free bee house kit. All opinions are my own.

I can tell you exactly how many times I have been stung by bees, as I’m sure you can if you’ve ever been stung. Bee stings hurt!

Usually when we think of bees, we think of the very social honeybees. They live in hives and will aggressively defend their hives. These bees, however, are not native to the United States. Settlers brought them over from Europe to help pollinate their crops, and they are indeed extremely useful to our agriculture even today.

Our native bees are mostly solitary bees and are much less aggressive. (Unless you actually step on one in the grass, and then the bee will sting! I’m speaking from experience.) I have watched bees buzzing around my garden many times and have never been stung. My mom used to tell me to leave the bees alone and they will leave you alone. She loved working in her flower garden and saw many bees buzzing around as well.

Bee in my pollinator garden

Bees and other pollinators are very important for our gardens and our natural world. It is very easy to make a bee house to encourage native bees to live by your garden! We made our house by using a bee house kit, but it is very easy to make one using supplies you may already have.

To make the house waterproof, we used a half-gallon milk carton. We cut off the top of our milk carton. We then made little tubes for our individual bees to lay eggs and care for their larvae.

My daughters and our neighbor work on making tubes from construction paper. We also used pre-made tubes.

The bright colors from the construction paper and the outside of the milk carton will hopefully attract bees, just as flowers attract bees with their bright colors. To make your own tubes, cut an 8″ x 11″ piece of construction paper in half. Roll it around a pencil, and tape securely, removing the pencil. Place your tubes into the milk carton. Make sure you have enough tubes for them to stay securely in the milk carton.

Tubes for individual bees
Bee house

We chose to left the outside of our house undecorated, since I didn’t have any contact paper to help with waterproofing the decorations. This was a good call; after an unusually dry June, the day after we hung up our bee house we had several thunderstorms and lots of rain! We hung our house in a lilac bush by my vegetable garden, and chose the branch carefully so that rain water would not be able to get into the bee tubes. I checked on our house after the rain and the tubes stayed dry! We haven’t had any bees move in yet, but I will keep checking!

For more information on how to make your own bee house, watch this video:

Build Your Own Bee House from Monsanto STEM Education Outreach on Vimeo.

Curious about one of my bee sting stories? Visit this blog post:

The Bumblebee Story

This document has some great information about our native bees!
https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5306468.pdf

Have fun making your own bee house!
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Gardening on Earth Day

Disclaimer: I’m participating in Hey, Let’s Grow!, a home gardening program sponsored by Monsanto, which provided me with a seed starter kit, Seminis Home Garden seeds, and a gift card for additional gardening supplies. All opinions, along with gardening skills or lack thereof, are my own.

Today, Earth Day, was the perfect day to get outside and work in my garden! A few weeks ago I was very eager to plant my seeds, and they grew quite well. So well, in fact, that they are ready to plant outside now even though we still have a chance of frost in our area. So the tomatoes  and peppers will have to stay inside for just a little longer, but I planted the frost-hardy spinach and lettuce today.

These little guys are growing and need to get outside!

I planted both seedlings and seeds in my raised garden bed. The seedlings were growing right by my patio door, which I have been opening every day to let the fresh air in. I hope that was enough to “harden” the plants and make them accustomed to the cool spring weather!

Green Beret spinach

I’m also risking the chance of frost and planted two bean plants and a cucumber plant. They are already flowering! Along with frost, I worry about the two little rabbits I’ve seen running around my yard, so Ed found some garden netting for me to use to protect my baby plants. If all grows well, we–not the rabbits–will be eating fresh lettuce and spinach pretty soon!

Can you see the netting by my cucumber plant?

I’m planning on planting my other plants outside by Mother’s Day. Read my first #HeyLetsGrow post here: Winter Outside, Spring Inside. Happy Earth Day!

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Problems with Garage Doors

Sometimes problems are pretty obvious. Like when there’s water all over the laundry room floor, I can figure out pretty easily that our sump pump hose has frozen and I need to thaw it out and reattach the hose to the sump pump. That happened twice to me this winter!

However, when our electric garage door wouldn’t close and both Ed and I cleared all the debris that could be blocking the way, such as the leftover leaves and cobwebs from last fall and the little red snow shovels the girls use in the winter, and the door STILL wouldn’t close, the problem wasn’t so obvious.

As I was standing outside, staring at the garage door sensors and wondering why the door wouldn’t close, I noticed that the setting sun was reflecting off of the sensor lens. I moved so that I was blocking the sun from shining on the sensor and yelled at Ed to try closing the garage door again.

And guess what? THE DOOR CLOSED!

That solution was so easy, and yet so unexpected. Ed and I didn’t expect it to work, and yet it did.

April showers!

Strangely enough, this past Sunday we were up at my father-in-law’s place, trying to get it ready to sell. His garage door has always been a little wonky, and this time…we couldn’t get it to close after numerous tries. The light was blinking furiously and the door kept going up and down like it was possessed. I cleaned the lens for the door sensors and Ed tried to make sure they were lined up. There was no sunshine at all! In fact, we were getting rained on as all of this was happening. Finally, we had to detach the garage door from the electric opener and close it manually. Fortunately, I suppose, no one is living there at the moment so it’s not a big hassle. But now we have to get it fixed. *sigh*

Rainy Day

Garage door problems. I guess it could be worse! What problems have you been solving lately?

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