Creative Ideas, DIY, Garden/ Food, Uncategorized

DIY- Make and Grow Your Own Vertical Garden

DIY grow vertical gardenSo, we have a beautiful little piece of property with mature trees and a good bit of shade. This makes for a lousy potential space for a garden without sacrificing several trees. However, there is a little square plot of land we have right next to our front porch that gets uninterrupted sunlight all day long. This got me thinking…how can I use this little piece of land to grown a garden. And then I had the idea of “growing up” instead of spreading it out. A vertical garden can be a great way to get a lot of garden veggies with a little bit of space. So whether you’re in the same boat we are (not much sunny space) or you live in a high rise with very little green space at all, this could be the answer to growing your own salad!

Get your stuff together

It was much harder than I thought it would be to find pallets! With all the Pinterest ideas floating around out there, you’d think it would be easy but there’s such a huge market for bulk buy-back that larger companies will not give these things away, nor would they sell them. Fortunately, we found some at our local wholesale garden center (of all places!) for $2 each. They even gave us rope to tie them to the roof of our Jeep! (Yeah, we didn’t bring rope…)

So, supplies:

  • 2 pallets
  • Thick landscaping fabric
  • Staple gun and long, heavy duty staples 
  • Potting soil
  • Plants (or seeds…your call on how long you want to wait
  • Plastic painters tarp (the clear plastic cheap kind works fine)
  • 4 2×4 boards
  • 4 hinges with screws

Put your stuff together

Lay the pallets face down (I consider the face to be the vertical boards and the back to be the basic cross boards that attach it all together). Take the landscaping fabric and cover the back entirely. Go nuts stapling the fabric to the pallet. Seriously…you can’t have too many staples here. 

Next, attach the 2×4 boards to the back of the pallets as seen below, using the hinges. You want the hinge to attach to the underside of the board and to the pallet so that the board will act as legs. 

Stand up your garden

Take your now-empty pallets and position them in their new space. Be sure the space is level. Once your satisfied with the position, adjust the legs to give the pallets a bit of a lean. Not too much and not too little. You don’t want all the dirt to slip out the rungs of the pallet but at the same time, you don’t want all the weight of the dirt pushing directly back on the landscaping fabric.

Fill her up!

Slowly fill up the rungs of the pallets with the potting soil. This process is a bit tedious as you’ll find more success hand-filling it rather than pouring the soil from the top (you’ll lose less dirt in the process). You’ll want to gently but firmly pack the dirt so that it doesn’t move freely and can better support the plants. 

Next, start adding your plants. It’s ok to plant them at an angle or completely sideways…the Sun will pull them upward very quickly! 

Sorry, I didn’t get a picture of the plastic covering we used to keep the baby garden safe during a heavy downpour but what we basically did is use thumbtacks to attach the plastic cover to the tops of the pallets. We kept the coverings behind the garden unless we needed them. Then it was easy to just pull the covers over the garden and make a tight, slanted cover that gently rolled the rain down the covers and safely onto the ground.

Pretty it up!

Once you get everything planted, gently water your garden. Use mist if you can and gently pack the dirt a little more to reiterate the strength of the plantings. Your plants may look a little wilty and sad, but they will perk up in no time at all! We also added wood chips so that we weren’t standing in a muddy puddle when we tended the garden during the season.

We used marigolds between the veggie plants to help keep our friendly, rude deer from stealing our salad!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soon enough our garden took off and we had the beginnings of a wonderful salad!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our garden about a month later!

Some harvest!

  

Kind of an accident, but having the squash at the top, we could direct the vines downward so they were off the ground but free to creep around. The veggies had less insect damage this way!

 

Children, Garden/ Food

Kid-Approved Recipes

Ok, so these recipes may not win on Top Chef and they certainly aren’t complicated. But you know what? They budget-friendly, time-friendly, kid-friendly and dear God that means they are awesome!

I can’t stand a long drive home to only have starving family waiting to see what I’m gonna fix for dinner when some of them have the patience of a fruit fly (ahem, baby girl:”why is this taking forever, I’m starving!!) Wait, I take that back…you know what’s worse? To go through hours and hours of traffic (I wish I was kidding), come home and spend time making a meal only to have the littlest critics turn their noses up to what I’ve served.

Pardon me for messing with your delicate palette, sweet young ones!

So…these recipes have been tested in The Best for our Family kitchen and have passed muster with our kids.

Check back often because we will keep adding on to the list! Click the link below:

Kid-Approved Recipes

Children, Garden/ Food

Garden fairies

FullSizeRender-5Our kids love to play in the yard! They even help out nature on occasion, placing flower stickers on up and coming gladiolus! In fact, they love playing in the yard so much so that when Grandma was watching them this past weekend and she asked if they wanted a milkshake, they declined the offer three times in favor of playing outside in the yard. Who are these children?!

They love to catch little flying yard bugs, pick up roly polys, get caterpillars to climb onto a stick, or chase butterflies and make no mistake- each captured critter gets his own name and back story that led him to his imminent fate. Often times, there’s a whole family tree with the capture of multiple bugs of the same species. It sure does spark imagination!

We have a few garden beds with flowers that have started to bloom in the spring sunshine and there is the guarantee that these flowers will be picked by at least one of the kids, if not all of them. They like to make flower beds for fairies or special floral arrangements for Mommy.

They also like to “replant” picked flowers in their own gardens (a grassless place in the yard in which they’ve added the sandy mixture that lies in the edges of the street). By the time we head inside, those flowers are looking wilty and sad. Nothing a giant glass of water and all the delicacy a six year old has in water-pouring ability can’t fix!

Our kids also help out with dandelions by picking every one they can see and blowing the seeds all over the yard, thereby ensuring future generations of little yellow flowers, followed by fluffy dandelions. Thank you, dear children.

I used to fight the kids’ “helping hands” in the garden…insisting that they leave the flowers alone and stay out of the garden beds. Now, outside of them stepping on young plants, I don’t mind. The flowers won’t be there forever anyway and if those flowers bring them fun and joy then those flowers are theirs to enjoy.

Little garden fairies playing in the garden.

 

Fruit Chicken Salad
Children, Garden/ Food, Kid Approved Recipes

Fruit & Chicken Salad

Here’s a great salad that my kids literally go nuts over. The kids love fruit anyway so for it to be the main dinner ingredient, they really enjoy dinner when this is served. And the best part is that this dinner works great for all seasons of the year!

Ingredients: (feel free to include any berries you like!)
Cooked chicken cutlets, cut into thin slices
Strawberries
Cantaloupe
Blackberries
Raspberries
Romaine lettuce
Raspberry Vinaigrette

Directions:
Cook the chicken cutlets over medium heat on the stove until thoroughly cooked. Remove from heat and cut into thin slices. Clean all of the fruit and slice the strawberries and cantaloupe into small, manageable pieces.

FullSizeRender-1Arrange the romaine lettuce on a dinner plate. Add several pieces of each fruit on top of the lettuce. Add several pieces of the cooked chicken slices and then drizzle all with the raspberry vinaigrette to taste.

There is usually not a morsel left on the kids’ plates unless they are just truly full. It’s surprising how filling this meal is and it surely is satisfying for the tastebuds!

Chat with me!!, Garden/ Food

Chat with me!!

Hi friends!

chat with me!!This post is a little different and I hope to do this weekly so we can help each other out. Along the way in our lives we find shortcuts and helps that make our lives easier. I love finding a better way to do things or an easier way to get stuff done. I have a feeling you guys have some awesome ideas out there you are just dying to share!

So let’s do it. For this week’s “Chat with me” installment..please, please share with us a great slow cooker or crock pot recipe that your family absolutely loves! Not just likes, but really loves!!

Sometimes I come across recipes that say they are sure to put a smile on your family’s face and when I make them they just fall flat. Every now and then I find one that knocks it out of the park. So here’s one every one in our family absolutely, positively loves!!!

Crock pot (or slow cooker) Italian Chicken Bake
Ingredients:
4 chicken breasts
Cream of chicken soup
Italian dressing dry mix (1 package) mixed with 1/4 C water
Cream cheese, softened (I use reduced fat to make myself feel better)
Spaghetti

Put the chicken in the crock pot, then add the Italian dressing mix. Cook on high for 3 hours.
Mix cream of chicken with the softened cream cheese. Pour mixture over chicken and cook for another 45 minutes.
About 10 minutes prior to serving, prepare spaghetti.
Serve chicken over spaghetti and ladle creamy mixture over everything.

Enjoy!

Now please don’t be shy…send back a yummy recipe!

Children, Family, Garden/ Food

Let a kid crack an egg

Did you know you are a control freak? You say you aren’t? I say you are. Try baking with young children. You know what will happen, right? At least one of them will want to crack an egg. That’s right…

CRACK. AN. EGG.Let a kid crack an egg

OK- I’m not going to be that Mom that won’t let my kids try things on their own. What’s the worst that could happen? It’ll be fine. It’ll be fine, right? I’m sure it’ll be fine.

There’s several aspects to consider here in a child-operated egg cracking situation: salmonella, general mess on the table (or floor if the aim is off), egg shell infestation in the batter (the smaller the pieces the better, right?) and keeping the child’s confidence intact.

Salmonella..stupid salmonella. Try explaining salmonella to a kid, especially when they want to lick the raw batter. So not only are you worried about raw eggs, but if raw egg touched the hand of your child, you now need to make sure they don’t pick their nose or rub their finger on anything or touch their siblings until they wash hands. And not just run their hands under the water, but use soap and scrub. And don’t lick the batter!

General mess on the table. Cracking an egg is a pretty standard and uneventful process for an adult. A younger child? Totally different story. There’s finesse in cracking…can’t smack the egg on the bowl or table too much but not too light, either. How does a child know the right amount? They start out light and repeatedly tap a little harder each time until they make a noticeable dent on the egg shell. Then they start to push on the compromised part of the egg with their thumbs and it’s only a matter of time before the egg succumbs to the pressure and completely squishes, with the gooey insides streaming down the child’s hands. Which leads me to the next issue…

Egg shell infestation. This is my favorite part of damage control when baking with children. There’s nothing more fun than trying to pinch small pieces of egg shell out of the yolk goo or batter after they crack an egg.

Confidence. So in the (frequent) event that an egg crack doesn’t go quite as planned, there is the pep talk for the child. “You did fine! This takes practice! It’s not too bad, look…I can just pick out the shell parts and then it’ll be all better. See?”

Crap…now I have raw egg goo on my hands and a possible salmonella outbreak here.

Don’t lick the batter!

 

Garden/ Food

Culinary Success!!

While we are still navigating the new world of plant-based, whole food eating, I am always on the hunt for really good recipes and meals. We have given up a lot of traditional comfort foods and I am still determined to replace them with equally good healthy ingredient options.  So…

Peanut Butter cookies…mmmm!

I found a cookie recipe that almost worked… but it tasted funny. Drawing on my baking skills from my past life (pre-healthy eating) I figured out what was missing and stumbled upon what my family thinks are really, really good cookies. I have a 4 year old and a 3 year old who aren’t shy about telling me when something tastes horrible. They are really good sports about trying new things but quick to tell me when something is “stinky” or “gross” or “broken” so when they were begging to have these cookies for breakfast, I knew I had discovered a good thing.

These cookies are so easy to make and the batch yields about 3 dozen cookies, depending on how big you want them.  For those die hard health nuts, I know there’s one bad ingredient here but it’s a relatively small amount and it’s for a good cause so deal with it! The rest of you, I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do.  It makes for a good comfort food when you get that craving, so you’ve been warned.

Preheat oven to 400F

1 ½ C bread flour

1 C peanut butter (we use the no preservatives, real deal peanut butter from Whole Foods…the kind you have to refrigerate after opening…it’s heavenly)

¼ C oil (see, I told you there was a bad ingredient!)

½ C sugar

½ C applesauce (unsweetened)

1 tsp Salt

1 tsp vanilla

Mix all ingredients together and spoon onto ungreased cookie sheet.

Smoosh down with a fork (like you normally do for peanut butter cookies).

Bake for 10-13 minutes.

Remove from cookie sheet and cool on wire rack.

Repeat process because your kids will eat them all up…

Garden/ Food

Kissing Meat Goodbye!

We have begun our transition to whole food, plant-based eating. We’re not becoming vegetarian or vegan; we are becoming conscious of what we are putting into our bodies and into the bodies of our children. Plant-based eating is so beneficial to health that it’s really hard to argue such a transition when you are truly ready to tackle your health head-on.  I say truly ready because it is a complicated transition moving from the foods you’ve grown up on to a totally new way of cooking, baking and simply enjoying food. Plus, there’s the tricky part of convincing a two-year old and a four-year old to come along for the ride!

So, the mission has been to find truly good dinner ideas. Not just kind of good or “I can talk myself into this” good but good enough to pass the kid test. I have researched, I have read books, I have tried to adjust meat-friendly recipes…it’s exhausting and overwhelming to learn a whole new way to operate in the kitchen. But, I am slowly gaining a list of recipes and dinner options that taste good and that our kids have taken to, believe it or not.

What we decided to do is to make these recipes and offer them to the kids without any mention of the alternative meal we had ready to make in case the kids flat-out refused the official dinner of the day. Surprisingly, there has only been one meal the kids completely refused and I can’t even remember what that meal was. So far we have had things like Ramen Noodles with veggies, Rainbow Pasta (a cold pasta salad with fresh vegetables of all colors tossed in a lite Italian dressing) and “crab” cakes actually made from zucchini! I make the best Minestrone soup you will ever have and our bread machine is cranking out fresh wheat bread all the time. Tonight we even convinced the kids to try Stir Fry with water chestnuts!

A while back, we transitioned the kids from cow milk to rice milk with the approval and support of their Pediatrician. They still use dairy cheese but we are currently transitioning them from that to rice cheese (slices) and vegan shredded cheeses and they don’t seem to mind- or really, notice- the difference. My biggest concern was the idea of giving up cheese. It’s a huge part of my current cooking repertoire that I feared going without. Thank goodness for the vegan shredded cheese! It’s not an exact replica but it’s a satisfying substitute. We can have grilled cheese sandwiches, pizza, mac and cheese, garlic cheesy bread…all the comfort foods I was struggling to part with and was feeling bad about depriving the children of.

Oh, and another plus side of this new way of eating…weight loss. You feel satisfied without stuffing yourself. You don’t take in too many calories, fat or carbohydrates and your body uses the food properly and more efficiently. We’ve seen dramatic weight loss and significant reduction of cholesterol totals just by eating whole and plant-based foods. That’s a good side-effect I can live with!

Garden/ Food

It’s a Baby Garden!!

The Garden

We have started a garden! As the kids say, “It’s a baby garden!”

About a month ago, we bought a seed starter kit and let the kids pick out vegetables they’d like to plant so we could eat them once they grew. We ended up with pole beans, sweet peas, carrots, tomatoes and sweet bell peppers. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen seeds for carrots, tomatoes or peppers but they are tiny! Couple that with the fine motor skills of our 4 year-old and 2 year-old and it made for an interesting seed-planting event. But the kids were so happy to garden! And now this plant nursery is sitting on our kitchen table in front of the bay window. The kids were elated when the first green nub popped up over the soil and now their plants are so tall they are beginning to lean on each other without stake support.

So, now we must prepare the yard for our baby plants. Spring is finally here for good it seems, so the danger of frost has passed. We have 36 plants and our garden bed is about 8×10- big enough to have a nice crop but not so big that the garden can “get away” from us! We wanted this garden to serve two purposes. Obviously, we wanted food from it but more importantly, we want this garden to be the kids’ garden. We want them to have pride in what they grow, we want them to respect the land, we want them to have sustained interest in eating and enjoying vegetables and we want them to see the beautiful growth cycle that God created.

The nice thing about eager little ones is that they want to help…really want to help. The kids want to dig in the dirt so bad it’s killing them. And they had a field day when they saw the tools Mommy brought out to prepare the garden space. A rake?!? a…shovel?!?! and some rolly, pointy thing that pokes holes in the dirt. They were going nuts wanting to help…so they did. And it turns out, they are good helpers. We scalped the grass off the space, leaving beautiful, dark, worm-filled dirt that’s just begging for vegetable plants. All the grass (and weeds) were piled to the edges of the garden and our two little helpers, gloves on their hands, began picking up the piles of debris and tossing it into the wheel-barrow. They even helped pick the straggling grass and weeds so we are now left with the footprint of our garden. Soon, we will add dirt to replace the bit that we removed with the grass and then it will be time to give our baby garden it’s new home.

With any luck, the vegetables from our little garden will be on our plates each dinner throughout the summer!