Country Moon


Does Your Soil Need a Doctor?

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Photo by Pixabay/Khemanun Rugyooprasert 

Most seasoned gardeners know that the secret to healthy, productive gardens is really no secret at all. It’s in the dirt, literally. Plants need moisture and sunlight to grow and, in the right amounts, they will flourish, but only if you start with good soil.

Like us, plants need food, in their case it is in the form of nutrients. Good soil provides these nutrients and also allows plants to take them up.

However, before knowing if your soil is healthy or not, you need to decide what type of soil you have. There are three main types, sandy, silty and clay. The particles that make up the soil are what are used to categorize each type by size. Sandy soil has the largest particles, clay the smallest and silty fits in the middle.

The combination of these three is what gives soil its texture. Sandy soil is easy to cultivate, drains more easily but requires more water since it doesn’t retain it. Silty soil has good water retention and circulation and is good for growing crops. Clay soil is easily compacted, is difficult to plant or even shovel because it clumps. Although it is hard to work with, it is able to hold roots better and has a more stable environment than the other two.

DIY Soil Testing

There is an easy DIY test to evaluate what type of soil you have. Dig down about six inches where you want to test. Fill a Mason jar about half full of the soil and then fill it to the shoulder with water. Set it aside to let the soil soak up the water.

Next, put the lid on and shake it for about three minutes. Set the jar down and leave for one minute. Then, measure the amount of sediment that has collected in the bottom. This is the amount of sand in the soil. Wait four more minutes and measure again. The difference between the two numbers in the amount of silt. After 24 hours, measure again. The difference between the second and third numbers will be the clay in the soil.

Calculate the different percentages of sand, silt and clay. The three numbers should equal 100 percent. Healthy soil is typically 20 percent clay, 40 percent silt and 40 percent sand. Results of this test will help you determine what to grow since different plants prefer different soil types.  For example, silt and clay are hard to get wet but stay wet longer. Plants that like “wet feet” are happy here.

For the optimal garden, you can either choose plants accordingly or amend the soil type. For sandy soil, add humus, peat moss or aged manure. A warning about manure, it must be aged at least six months otherwise you run the risk of introducing new pathogens into your soil.

For silty soil, add coarse sand (not beach sand), gravel and compost or well-rotted horse manure with fresh straw. Coarse sand is also known as yellow or builder’s sand and is not as fine as beach sand nor does it contain salt like beach sand.

To amend clay soil, add coarse sand, compost or peat moss. This will make it a little easier to work with and the sand will create pockets of oxygen to help plant roots breathe.

When you know what soil type you have, you will next want to determine what the pH level is which, in turn, determines whether the soil is acidic or alkaline. There is also a simple test to determine this. Put two tablespoons of soil in a bowl. Add 1/2 cup vinegar to it, if it fizzes, it is alkaline. By the same token, put two tablespoons of soil in a bowl, moisten with distilled water and add 1/2 cup baking soda. If it fizzes, the soil is acidic. If it doesn’t react to either test, the soil has a neutral pH.

Either a high or low pH may result in plant nutrient deficiency or toxicity. When it is neutral, microbial activity is greatest and plant roots absorb nutrients best.

Once you know what you have, you can adjust the pH of the soil. Acidic or sour soil is adjusted by applying finely ground limestone and alkaline or sweet soil is treated with ground sulfur. Keep in mind, some plants prefer acidic soil or alkaline soil so treat your soil based on what you want to grow.

Professional Testing

If you do a professional soil test, such as from the county extension office, the results will address the three elements of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. This is why fertilizers are blended with different percentages of these three elements, so they can be tailored for your soil type:

  • Nitrogen, characterized by N in a blend, helps plants make leafy growth and gives plants their good green color. It is part of every protein in the plant so it is required for every process. Insufficient nitrogen is characterized by general yellowing of the plant. Ten pounds of blood meal has the same amount of nitrogen as 20 pounds of manure, minus the organic matter.
  • Phosphorous, denoted by a P, is necessary for germination, strong root growth and producing flowers and fruit. It helps plants absorb minerals, grow strong stems and withstand disease. Bone meal is a good source.
  • Potassium, known as K, regulates the water in plant cells and is necessary for flowering, fruiting, good root development and for plant stress tolerance. Weak stems and stunted growth are the results of lack of it. Wood ashes are a good source of potash, which is where the word potassium is derived from.

Potash is really various salts that contain potassium in water-soluble form. Before the industrial era, plant ashes were soaked in water in a pot, thus the name of pot ash. It was the main source of potassium.

One more sign of healthy soil is the presence of earthworms. If you dig up one cubic foot of soil, break it apart and find at least 10 earthworms, then the soil is healthy. They aerate the soil. If you have fewer, you can add organic matter like compost, aged manure and leaf mold. This organic matter slowly releases nutrients to promote microbial activity.

I never realized how widely different soils vary until I started putting a small garden out here at Ron’s. His soil is definitely clay whereas I have sandy soil. Mine is easy to dig and plant in; his not so much. I will never forget the first time I dug potatoes down at his place. At home, we pull up a vine and shake the soil off. I was literally shaking the vine to pieces and it wasn’t coming off. He watched me for a long time before he told me that it was not going to shake off any time soon!

There is not a bad nor a good type of soil, only different types. The secret is knowing how to make whichever kind you have the best it can be for the purpose you have in store for it.

Tips for Saving Seeds

Country Moon

Gardeners have been saving their vegetable and flower seeds ever since they have been planting gardens. After all, this is the only way to ensure that plant varieties will endure for generations. However, many gardeners as of late (myself included) have succumbed to picking up seed packets off supermarket shelves or ordering from seed catalogs.

It has only been since WWII that growers have had the option to buy affordable, high quality commercial seeds. Before that, the only alternative was to save their own or trade with friends and neighbors.

Saving seed from your own garden is a way to duplicate a delectable harvest and also to save money. By carefully selecting plants that flourish in your locale and saving their seed, you can create strains that are well adapted to local growing conditions…and it only takes a little effort. Here are a few guidelines:

Which Plants Are Best for Seed Harvesting

Without saying, it makes sense to choose plants that are the most vigorous, the ones that over-produce and have the best fruits and to choose the prettiest flowers. Besides this fact, take into account that not all plants produce productive seeds. Most of the plants sold in garden stores are hybrids that are created by artificially cross-pollinating cultivars and will not produce plants true to the originals. Do NOT save seeds from hybrids because they will produce seedlings that are different from the parent plant and are of sub-standard quality. If seed packets are printed with “Hybrid” or “F1” stay away from them if you want to save seeds from their plants.

Open-pollinated plants are the best choice for saved seeds. These are non-hybrid cultivars that produce by self-pollination or cross-pollination. Seeds from open-pollinated plants will breed true, providing they do not cross-pollinate with another plant of the same species. All heirloom plants are open-pollinated.

Self-pollinating plants like beans, lettuce, peas and tomatoes have flowers that contain both male and female parts for fertilization. Each flower can be fertilized from itself or a nearby flower of the same plant. Saved seeds from self-pollinated plants almost always produce identical plants.

The majority of vegetables are cross-pollinated. These include broccoli, peppers and squash. They can be fertilized by pollen from other plants of the same family. When saving seed, take care to prevent cross-pollination between similar varieties growing nearby. For example, if you plant two types of radishes, they will cross.

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Saving Seeds Depends on Plant Life Cycle

It gets tricky when saving vegetable, flower and herb seeds from different plant cycles. Annuals, biennials and perennials produce seeds at different intervals.

Annuals such as basil, beans, marigolds, tomatoes, oregano and others are ideal to harvest seed from as they are only grown for one season.

Biennials won’t produce seeds the first season so protect them over the winter and grab the seeds the second year. Beets, caraway, evening primrose, mint and Swiss chard are examples that require a little more patience.

Perennials are generally reproduced from cuttings or division. These are your bulbs and rhizomes.

When to Save Seeds

Be sure and wait until seeds are mature to save them. Plants give clues when their seeds are ready such as faded flowers, pods turn brown and are dried and ripe seeds turn color from white to tan to dark brown. Some seeds such as those from melons are ready when the fruit is ripe for picking while others aren’t prime until after the first frost.

The biggest thing is to make sure they are dry. If you fail to let seeds dry completely, they will mold and you will lose germination. The best way is to let nature do the work for you and leave them in the plant as long as possible. Just don’t wait until every seed is ripe or you risk losing many seeds to birds and wildlife. Make sure you choose at least four or five different plants to save seed from on the off chance that one plant is not viable

How to Save Seeds

The best time to harvest is after the dew has evaporated on a sunny day. That is when there is less moisture. Pluck the seeds and lay them out on newspapers or paper towels to dry. In the case of tomato seeds or squash or pumpkin, scoop out the goop and all and wash thoroughly before laying out to dry.

Tomato seeds take a little more work. Put them in a glass or container, add two teaspoons of water and then cover with plastic wrap. Poke a hole in the plastic and put in the windowsill to keep warm. Each night, remove the plastic and stir. After two to three days the fermentation will kill any diseases and the good seeds will sink to the bottom. Rinse with cold water and dry like you would other seeds.

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Where to Store Seeds

Again, the most important thing is to keep them dry. Put them in jars or other containers, label them and store in a dark, cool place. Varying temperatures, heat and moisture are not kind to seeds and threaten their ability to germinate. Every 10 degree F decrease in storage temperature at temperatures above freezing doubles seeds storage life. Likewise, every 1% decrease in seed moisture content doubles its storage life.

Saving seeds isn’t really that hard and there is satisfaction in knowing that you are preserving a piece of your generation for ones yet to come. Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization founded in 1975 that consists of a network of people committed to collecting, conserving and collecting heirloom seeds and plants.

It is the largest non-governmental seed bank in the United States. Its collection of 25,000 heirloom seeds is housed on an 890-acre farm near Decorah, Iowa, and serves more than 11,000 members and the public at large through its mission to preserve the world’s endangered garden heritage for future generations. If you are looking for a particular seed, you can contact them at 563-382-5990

Thanks to this organization and private seed savers, we have heirloom seeds and plant varieties that will live on for years to come.

Images courtesy of Getty Images

Putting the Garden to Bed

Country MoonThe tomatoes are canned, the corn is frozen, the pantry is full and the garden is a mess, the barren vines and stalks of another productive year in the books. It is tempting at this time to sigh, walk away, shut the gate and forget about the garden until the first seed catalog arrives in January. If you resist this temptation and do a little work now to put your garden to bed properly for the winter, you will be so glad you did come spring.

It doesn’t matter where you live, how big of garden you have or if it is vegetables or flowers, when it is time to plant in spring it seems like it is always a rush to get seed in the ground. The least amount of preparation you have to do then, the better your life will be.

Fall is a great time to be outside on those last warm sunny days and it only takes a little time to prep the garden for spring. Just a few points to consider follow.

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Photo by Alexey Fedorenko/Adobe Stock

Clean Up Old Plants

Old plants…vines left sprawling over the garden, flower stems and plants that have died from frost look untidy. On top of that, they harbor disease, pests and fungus that can become active next season. Even though the insects are gone, the eggs that they have laid on leaves can still be fertile. Removing plant debris prevents them from getting a head start. I had a bad infestation of squash bugs last year. By removing the plants last fall and using pyrethrum this year, I no longer have that problem.

On this same note, now is the time to remove invasive weeds. There are always a few that survive the season. It only takes a couple to produce a whole garden full next year. Be sure and don’t put the renegades in a pile at the edge of the garden or in the compost pile or you will just be moving your problem to a new location.

Prepare the Soil for Spring

I love to till the garden in the fall. In the spring, you only need to go over it one more time to be ready for planting if you do the deep tilling in the fall. Tilling improves drainage and you won’t have to wait until the garden dries out if you have a wet spring.

It is also a great time to work in manure, compost, bone meal, kelp, rock phosphates and other nutrients. Doing this in fall gives them time to start breaking down, enriching the soil and to start to become biologically active.

Plant Cover Crops

Planting cover crops like rye, vetch and clover helps prevent erosion, break up compacted areas, increase levels of organic matter and add nutrients. Planting legumes like clover or field peas will increase the level of nitrogen for vegetables. Generally, cover crops are planted one month before the first killing frost.

Prune Perennials

Perennials can be persnickety; some like to be pruned in spring and some in fall. Be sure and check which each variety prefers. Spent raspberry canes continue to nourish the crown through the winter and blueberries prefer to be cut back in spring too. Blackberries, asparagus, rhubarb and herbs like rosemary, thyme and sage can be pruned in the fall.

Divide and Plant Bulbs

Dig up any plants that appear crowded or straggly. Many of the ornamental grasses just get too large. Now is the time to divide them and get two or more plants from one. Be sure and get them back in the ground as soon as you can so as not to interrupt the roots.

Irises tend to crowd each other out and need separated often. The trick with spring bulbs like irises and tulips is to remember where they are so they can be dug up. Now is the time to plant tulips, daffodils and crocuses. Don’t forget to dig gladiolus, dahlias and other bulbs that cannot withstand the winter cold.

Harvest and Regenerate Compost

Now is not the time to ignore your compost pile. Material that has been composting all summer is finished and ready to go. Spread this batch to make room to start the next one and to jumpstart the soil for spring. The compost will help insulate against the winter chill to keep the microbes working a little longer. Rebuild the compost pile with autumn leaves, straw or sawdust layered with kitchen scraps and other green matter.

Replenish Mulch

Mulch provides some of the same benefits in winter as it does in summer like reducing water loss, protecting the soil from erosion and inhibiting weeds. Winter mulching offers other benefits as well. Freezing and thawing can adversely affect garden plants and roots suffer from churning and heaving. Mulch helps to regulate soil temperature and helps to ease the plants’ transition into winter. A fresh layer around root vegetables can prolong the crop. As mulch breaks down, it puts fresh organic matter back into the soil.

Assess Plants

Now is the time to step back and take a hard look at how the garden performed. If some plants didn’t perform well, check out other varieties that may be more suited to your area. For those that did well, plan to get the same variety, only some with shorter and longer growing seasons to extend the season. Some of your successes and failures are weather related but other factors can be controlled. Soil fertility, moisture levels and plant placement are all things that can be adjusted next year.

As you assess, don’t count on your memory for all these little facts. Make notes so that when that first seed catalog appears in January you will be ready with a plan.

Take Care of Tools

Change the oil in rototillers and mowers. Put additives like Stabil in the gas lines to keep the gas from breaking down in the motors. Wash tools and wax them, sharpen hoes, shovels and pruning shears. Add a light coating of oil to these hand tools to help protect them.

We all know how hectic it gets when winter breaks. Taking just a little care when putting the garden to bed in the fall makes a huge difference in the spring…and who doesn’t like something made easier!

 

 

My Little Black Book

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Photo by Unsplash/Noémi Macavei-Katócz

I have a little black book and I wouldn’t want to get by without it. No, it’s not filled with past suitors or hush-hush phone numbers. It is filled with something much more important than that.

My little black book, which is actually blue instead of black, is filled with tons (literally) of little facts and observations about my garden from past years. You all know that gardening is my happy place and I would not have the success I have had without the info in that book.

Every year I try new plant varieties, new techniques, new planting schemes, etc. Some have been great successes and others, well, not so great. Good or bad, they all go in the book. This is how I improve, raise better crops, increase yield, gain a few strides ahead of the pests and am reminded of my flops.

Sure, during the growing season every little detail that I want to remember is crystal clear and, even though I am sure I will remember, well you know how that goes.

Along about March when the weather begins to break, I have literally been a couch potato for the past two months. I go through the same routine every year. I think maybe this will be the year that I won’t do a garden, it is a lot of work and the idea of getting back into the swing of things is pretty daunting and my muscles will groan all over again. But then, as I pick up the seed catalogs again, the enthusiasm comes back. Of course, it is then that I am hard pressed to remember what crop rotation I used the year before, and the year before that and the year before that and so on.

However, there are a lot more things that find its way between the covers of my little black book. Here are some of the more indispensable ones for me:

  • Even though there are a couple varieties of tomatoes that are staples year after year, I can’t resist trying new species every year. When I stroll through greenhouses each spring, I see new plants and they beckon me to try them. So, I end up with ten or twelve different varieties. It is the same with cabbage, peppers and a host of other vegetables. Naturally, some strains out-perform other kinds so I make notes of which varieties do better for different applications.
  • Pest control evolves from year to year. What works well this year is surpassed by something new next year. Being all organic poses a little more of a challenge because once you know what works, it is not always easy to find the product. Some commercial chemicals like Sevin can be found almost anywhere. Not so for organics, many have to be ordered online so it pays to keep track where I find each product.
  • I keep a chart in the back of the book on what plants are complimentary to other plants. Even though I know some, it can be confusing when trying to remember when planning each year’s crop rotation and it is also helpful when doing succession planting throughout the season. For example, when my first planting of green beans is done, I don’t necessarily put green beans back in the that same place.
  • Keeping notes on individual vegetables is also beneficial. It’s not only growing them, but in preserving them. Since Ron got me a food processor, I can a lot of tomato puree instead of just canning regular tomatoes. It is thicker, more concentrated and lends itself better to use in chili and other recipes. However, it is a multi-step process; core and quarter the tomatoes, stew until soft, then drain excess juice and acid off, put them in the food processor, then bring to a boil, put in jars and finally water bath them. This process is complicated but it eliminates peeling them. I would forget the steps from year to year if not for it being logged in the book.
  • I make notes of how different varieties store through the winter. I used to think that onion sets were onion sets but some actually keep longer than others. So, this year I put white, yellow and red onion sets out and will dry them all the same and see which make it to spring. I will be making notes on this process in the book.
  • Herbs. I love my herbs, they enrich food immensely. Even better when I grow my own. Besides using them fresh, I love drying them for use throughout the winter. However, some do better if dried while some I like better if frozen in ice cubes. Then there are a few that I only prefer to use fresh. I don’t even attempt to remember these facts from year to year; more pages in the book.
  • I am not mechanical. Hard as I try, I can never remember what oil goes in what rototiller and how to winterize them in the fall. No need to when it is written in the book.

For me, my little black…uh, blue book is a lifesaver. It saves me time in not having to research the same things from year to year. Some things just seem natural and others are harder to remember. Now, I have a go-to for when my gardening memory fails me.

It also helps my garden to be better each year than it was the year before. When I follow one path and that ends up leading nowhere, I try another route. My little black book helps me to move forward and keep improving.

So, my little blue book is more valuable than an indiscreet traditional little black book. To me, it is more valuable than any amount of money offered for it. I would recommend that every gardener start his/her own little black book. Who knows, it may even find its way down a couple more generations and help their gardens to be better.

Rockin' Nature

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Nature is truly magical, magnificent, mysterious and so much more all rolled  into one. I love the sunrises, sunsets, fall colors, spring blossoms, summer fireflies, sparkling snowflakes…I love all she has to offer. This said, there is perhaps one part of nature that probably intrigues me more than any other though. I love how things grow, especially the garden.

This year marks a milestone for me. Although I have always been in the garden, the truck patch, the fields, it was five years ago that I took a serious look at our food supply as a whole and how I was contributing with my little piece of earth that God has entrusted me with. It was then that I decided to have a garden that was all natural, from fertilizing to controlling weeds.

I prefer the words “all natural” instead of organic. That word, the big O, has been the subject of a lot of controversy in recent years. There is no middle of the road when it comes to organic. On one side of the fence are those who will always go the extra mile and always search out organic for their food supply. They pay the extra price to try and do better when it comes to what goes into their bodies.

On the other side of the coin are those that think organic is just a bunch of hype. Their argument is that we have survived for hundreds, literally thousands of years, without worrying about how we grew our food. On that note, for hundreds of years we didn’t farm with chemicals that eventually found their way into what we eat. As the demand for higher yields increased, the use of chemicals to provide that yield also increased.

As with discussing any methodology, there are those people who give organic its bad rap because, even though they say they are using all natural products, in reality they are not. Thus, the naysayers contend that folks pay the higher price for something they are not getting. But, as the saying goes, don’t let a few bad apples ruin the whole barrel.

I truly believe that when you get back to nature, with anything, it is just better for you. So, getting back to my natural garden, I think that after five years of experimenting, plowing through failures and rejoicing in successes, I can honestly say that it is not only possible to grow a thriving garden with no chemicals, but it is almost easier and more rewarding.

Let’s start with the plants themselves. Heirloom seeds and plants really have the edge. They have been around for generations and have adapted to their environment, making them stronger and more resilient to insects and diseases. Plus, it is a good feeling knowing that you are keeping varieties that have been around for generations alive.

Next, feeding these babies can be all natural too. Let me say that commercial fertilizer is not all bad, but it is well…commercial. Basically, plants need the big three, nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium to survive and thrive. They can grow and produce on these but if you add micronutrients, it gives them that extra boost.

Most commercial fertilizers don’t contain micronutrients, however natural sources do. Compost, coffee grounds, egg shells, Epsom salts and many other common household items supply all the food plants need to grow. What they don’t have are additives, chemicals and other nasty things. On top of that, the price is right, most of these items are by-products that get tossed anyway. You just have to know what nutrients each one provides.

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I have even conquered the bug problem. So many folks think that the only thing that “knocks them dead” are the products laden with harsh chemicals. It took a little experimenting but I have found natural products that work just as well, sometimes even better.

There are various products, made with natural ingredients, that are an insecticide, miticide and fungicide all in one. I use this religiously, even before any signs of bug infestation. It can be used on all plants, vegetables, fruits and flowers and takes care of most all things that like to chew on plants.

There are a few exceptions, like the inevitable Japanese beetles. Here is where neem oil comes in. Made from natural byproducts of the neem tree, it is both biodegradable and non-toxic, so much so that it is used in many home products such as toothpaste, cosmetics and soaps.

It only targets leaf sucking and chewing insects and kills them at all stages of development including egg, larvae and adult. It is also a great fungicide.

If you want a double whammy, try neem oil with pyrethrin which is found naturally in some chrysanthemum flowers and kills insects on contact with deadly nerve toxins. Although purely organic, pyrethrins are potent and can be somewhat toxic to animals.

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Last year I had an especially bad infestation of squash bugs. Pyrethrin, combined with insecticidal soap, killed them dead.

These are basically all the products that I use in the garden. It’s nice having only a few that will keep insects at bay and help the garden to thrive.

Now, weeds are another story. I have not found any herbicide that will only target weeds and not harm garden plants. Don’t we gardeners wish there were such a product…maybe someday. Until then, there are basically only two ways to control weeds in the garden.

I prefer the old-fashioned way of rototilling between the rows and hand-pulling the ones in the rows. This also serves the need to loosen the soil so plants can “breathe.”

The other way is to smother the weeds. Laying mulch like straw, old newspapers or other material between the rows will prevent weeds from growing. It is just a personal thing, but I like to see the soil, dig my toes into it and be able to stir it for the plants.

My garden is proof that the natural way works. For many, it is just a matter of changing how they think about gardening. Getting back to basics is healthy for plants and people both. For me, the proof positive is when you can snag a tomato, green bean or any other garden offering and eat it right then and there. There is nothing fresher or better and the best part is that you just know there is nothing bad going into your body. That’s what it is all about. Yep, I’m rockin’ nature and nature rocks!

Fusion Quilt Blends Needlecraft And Quilting

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For my grandson’s high school graduation this year I wanted something that would commemorate all the things that we have done together while he was growing up. That said, I wanted something a little more than just a photo collage.

I thought of a quilt with pictures printed on fabric where the fabric is then incorporated into the quilt pattern. My bonus daughter Elaina had done one of these years ago for us and it is unique and special.

This was a perfect idea except for one minor detail…I don't sew. I don't quilt. on top of that, I am pretty sure that learning is not in my future since I simply don’t have the patience for that; fabric does not cooperate with me.

A dear friend, Judy, has already pieced a number of memory quilts for me and I would not ask her to do another one, even when she offered. So, surfing on the Internet one evening provided the perfect solution, a fusion quilt.

Essentially, a fusion quilt combines fabric squares and crocheted squares (much like granny squares) and is set together with crochet instead of being sewn together like a regular quilt would be. Cool! I crochet, I could do this!

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I wanted the finished piece to be smaller than a quilt that you would use on a bed. Instead, I pictured a throw that would be perfect for him to use on chilly evenings while doing homework. The only thing Judy would have to do is to sew the fleece backing on it.

There would be one other little quirk to mine, it would have picture squares too. This would accomplish the idea of commemorating some of the things that we have done together.

So, last November I set to work. I decided the size would be 48 inches by 60 inches. The fusion quilts that I had seen were not for graduation, but rather for baby showers or wedding gifts. I just had to fine-tune the design. Instead of pinks and pastels, I would search for "masculine" fabrics.

The first task was to go through all my photos and choose which ones I would use. The very center of the quilt would be a large six inch by six inch square that would feature his baby picture and above and below it I would embroider his name, birth date and how much he weighed and how long he was. That was the easy part.

I knew I wanted 40 smaller picture squares. That sounds like a lot, but when you consider all the photos that I had taken over the past 19 years, well that was no small task. I really think that deciding on the pictures to use was the hardest part of all. I put everything that I found in one folder and then culled them down from there.

When I finally made my selections, there were a lot of firsts in there and some other memorable moments; the first deer he ever killed, the first time on a horse, the first steer he showed at fair, he and I handcuffed and shackled together for the Halloween that he wanted to be a cop and needed a prisoner, our trip to Pennsylvania and so many more memories.

The other reason that I chose 40 photos was because, printing pictures at 3-1/4 by 3-1/4 inches, I could get four pictures on an 8 1/2 by 11 inch fabric sheet. These sheets are not cheap, so this cut down on waste. This also left enough material so there was a quarter inch border around each photo which helped to set it off. A key note here, is that the pictures have to be positioned exactly right so you have one inch between them, which when cut will leave a half inch around each pic. This will create the border and a quarter inch to fold under.

The next step was choosing fabric. Not being a seamstress, I had not been to Joann Fabrics in quite a while. Holy moly, making the selections was no easy task. I finally ended up with 13 different patterns which included camouflage, fishing, hunting and other prints that I thought he would like. The smallest amount you can purchase is more than enough since I ended up using only four of each pattern.

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The first thing I did was set to work cutting these squares at 4-1/4 by 4-1/4 inches which left one-quarter inch all the way around to fold under to keep it from unraveling. After cutting, I actually folded all the edges under and ironed them. This made it easier to do the blanket stitch around each square. This blanket stitch kept it from unraveling and also provided a “loop” to crochet into.

The finish size of the crochet squares was also 3-1/4 square. I chose various colors of yarn and different patterns for these.

All in all, I ended up with 56 fabric squares, 40 picture squares, 20 crocheted ones and four denim ones which I embroidered sayings on and positioned these around the larger center square. The fabric, denim and pictures squares all needed blanket stitching around them. To finish the crocheted ones, I single-crocheted around each one and then added a row of double crochet just like I did around the other ones.

All in all, I had 120 small squares, perfect for ten squares across the width and ten for the length. I chose black yarn and single crocheted them together. The single crochet provided a raised border around each small square. Judy then sewed the fleece backing on and tacked the center down.

Yes, there are plenty of mistakes and things I wish I had done differently. After all, this was my first attempt. My major mistake was with the picture squares. They were so hard to sew the blanket stitch on and after the quilt was together, it was really stiff. If I had read directions on the fabric sheets, it explicitly stated: “Peel Off the Plastic Backing After Printing.” Judy pointed this out to me when she first saw it. Did I mention, I…Don't…Sew—good reason for it!

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The only other major problem was not starting early enough. Starting in November and having six months to complete the project was plenty of time….not! My initial plan was to have my part finished and to Judy by the end of March. Well, the first week of May found me working till wee hours of the morning to complete it. When you think you have started early, start earlier!

I now have a reprieve of two years before I have to have the next one done. If I am smart, I will do a little bit of it this winter and not rush myself. Perhaps the smartest thing I did was to make notes of all the things that I thought I would surely remember, like how many squares and the measurements, etc. Time has a way of eroding my memory and I don’t need to go through the design process again.

If I had to do it over again, I definitely would. All the pictures that were tucked away have brought back a lot of sweet memories. Hopefully, when he snuggles in it this winter, it will do the same for him. If so, every stitch was worth it!

No Space, No Problem

gardening
Photo by Unsplash/Annie Spratt

The way folks think of gardens is changing. No longer do they have to fit the norm of being large rectangular plots on the side of the house. This is a good thing because it allows people to be able to garden even if they don’t have large spaces.

Victory gardens are a prime example of that and they are making a comeback. They made their debut back in 1943 when food was scarce during WWII. People were urged to grow whatever they could wherever they could. It is estimated that 20 million victory gardens flourished throughout the United States that year, with New York City producing 200 million pounds of tomatoes, beets, carrots, lettuce and other vegetables.

This year, thanks to the pandemic and folks worrying about the food supply chain, the victory garden has been revived, but not necessarily in traditional garden plots. People are being creative and growing lots in relatively small spaces.

Think rooftops and balconies or even sunny windowsills. One or two tomato plants can produce an abundant amount of produce. Windowsills lined with small pots filled with herbs can add lots of flavor in cooking.

Container gardens have become quite popular, and for good reason. They are portable and can be placed anywhere you have a small amount of space. A nook, a cranny or a corner that isn’t used can be exactly right for a pot which can hold lettuce, tomato plants, flowers, herbs or just about any plant. They can be scattered throughout your space or many pots can be grouped together in one location to form a garden with different crops in each pot.

But, don’t stop at just pots. Containers can be anything that will hold soil. Old washtubs, livestock watering troughs, kids’ wagons, even old shoes become plant containers with a little ingenuity. Raised beds are also popular lately and, here again, you don’t need anything fancy. A few old boards laying around can be nailed to form boxes. The important thing to remember with any vessel that you want to use for plants, is you need drainage holes.

If you want to go one step further, hydroponics (gardening with no soil) has taken the spotlight lately too. If you decide to go this route, you can use old buckets, pails and other plastic containers. These lend themselves well to vertical gardens which also save space.

If you aren’t into containers and you want to still stay the tried and true way and want to dig in the soil, you can still do this without a lot of space. Think outside the box. Around the perimeter of your house is always an excellent choice. All you need to do is dig out about a foot from the foundation and you will have enough space to plant one row of most any vegetable you want.

Ron has a chain link fence around two sides of his yard. This year, I dug up a space about a foot wide on either side of the fence. I have tomato and pepper plants in this space. If the tomato plants need staked, the fence will provide the support. I have also planted cucumbers on the other side of the fence from the tomatoes. They will climb up the fence, saving space from them vining out into the yard. A few annual flower seeds like marigolds or zinnias planted with these vegetables, will give color to the fence as well, all within only about a foot of space on either side.

Along his other fence, there are shrubs like lilac, weigela and rose of Sharon. In between these is just space that he usually sprays to keep the weeds at bay. However, this year I cleared the sod and spaded up the ground. I am putting perennials in there like daisies, iris and bee balm. Until that takes hold, I am scattering annual seeds like marigolds and zinnias in there to add color. On top of that, he will save time and money by not having to spray that area.

When planting victory gardens, regardless of whether they are vegetables, herbs or flowers, the first rule of thumb is to find the light. Most garden plants need around six hours of sunlight each day to do well. So, if your spot is too shaded by larger shrubs or plants, or is facing the wrong direction to get the light, this will be a big consideration where you decide to plant.

The next consideration should be how much space you have. Plants that grow upward take considerably less space than those that spread out. Obviously, if you only have three feet of space, you will not want to plant anything that vines out like squash or melons.

Next, decide on what to plant based on what you like to eat. Though tomatoes grow upward and work well in a container garden, don’t plant them if you don’t like them. The idea here is to grow what works in your space and also something that you will eat.

The basics of growing in small spaces is no different than growing large gardens. You need good soil and you will need to fertilize regularly as well as water enough to keep the soil moist. Remember, you reap what you sow.

It is also good to remember that even scaled-down gardening in a small space needs care. It’s great that folks want to be self-sufficient and plant part of their own food supply. However, putting the seed in the ground is only half of the equation. It still needs tender loving care to produce a harvest.

This year with so many newbie gardeners, seeds and plants have been in short supply. Many seed suppliers have already been sold out early in the season. The saddest thing is to see folks (with good intentions) by up all the seed, fertilizer and other products to plant a garden and then let it go when it gets to be more work than they bargained for.

Gardening can be so fulfilling, both physically and emotionally, but it is a commitment and does demand that you put effort into it in order to reap the rewards. Space is not a detriment. Even if you have a small space, you can be a gardener, you only have to have the will and the commitment.







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