6 Ways Gardeners Can Enjoy Rainy Days

1. Use these days to relax in bed.
Use this time to relax and take a load off! Seriously, gardening is hard work and sometimes your body just needs to rest a bit. Don't feel guilty for taking an afternoon off, climbing up into your bed with your favorite quilt or comforter and just vegging. I've found this makes for a great opportunity to turn on Netflix & watch a documentary like Food Inc., Food Matters, or Hungry For Change. You-tube is also a great place to find new gardening mentors or learn about new gardening techniques. One of my personal favorites? Rob Bob, from Bits Out The Back.  
2. Listen to the rain.
Open up a nearby window and grab a cup of your favorite hot tea or wassail.  Sit back at admire your gardens soaking up the rain.  

3. Be thankful you don't have to water today.
Just think! You won't have to water your plants today, maybe even tomorrow or the next day depending on the length and severity of the rain you're being blessed with.  How cool is that?
4. Cook or bake something new.
Most gardeners are also great chefs or bakers.  Use rainy days to experiment in the kitchen with your favorite homegrown ingredients. Kale cookies anyone? 
5. Get caught up on your garden planning. 
There's always planning that can be done. No matter what month you're in, you can research and plan out what seeds you'll need to start next month.  Want to try your hand at a fall/winter garden? Start planning that too! 
If you're like me and live in Florida, here's a handy planting calendar for you. 

6. Start some seeds indoors.
Starting seeds indoors is fun and easy to do. All you need is a bright window or a warm area of the house with several full-spectrum grow lights.  Get a jump on the next gardening season by starting your seeds indoors several weeks ahead of time! 

8 of the Easiest Vegetables to Grow for Beginners

Gardening has it's challenges, for everyone who tries. For some, it can seem like a lot at first, even overwhelming...and for those who are really lucky it may come quite easily.  Regardless of where you are on this scale...one thing is certain. I believe that some crops are just naturally easier to grow than others. Some require more in terms of maintenance, and some crops basically will take care of themselves. There are even crops that will thrive with very little attention, besides regular watering.

Here are just 8 of some of the easiest vegetables/herbs to grow for beginners or for those who want to grow their own food but not spend a ton of time in the garden.

Green Beans
Some joke that beans are the "un-killable" crop, and for good reason. They require very little besides regular watering.  They usually don't fall victim to many diseases or pests and they are easy to grow from seed.  If you want to grow in containers, give growing bush beans a try. These will require no staking or trellising.  Grow all of your beans in full sun for a successful harvest.

If you want to grow a lot of food in a small amount of space, then lettuce is a great crop for you. It's very easy to grow as long as you understand that it usually doesn't like exposure to the hot sun on warm days. Plant your lettuce in a container at first so that you can move it to a shadier location if you feel like it's getting too hot.  I usually sow my lettuce seeds in an area that gets wonderful morning sun and is shaded in the afternoon.  Another tip? Place your container of planted lettuce nearby a door to your home so harvesting a salad every day is easy. Learn how to grow a Salad Bar Garden, here. 

Peas are a great low maintenance crop and usually only need a few things.  Regular watering, harvesting and good support will make for plentiful harvests.  They love the sun, but do not care for too much wind. Just avoid planting them with onions, garlic, chives or shallots. These will compete for nutrients in the soil and stunt their growth. Harvest mature peas from the vines regularly and your plant will continue to bear more fruit.

Hardly anyone can imagine a summer garden without cucumbers, and for good reason. Besides a steady supply of water, these little veggies require very little when it comes to maintenance. You can grow them anywhere in full sun, including in a container if you're growing on a deck or patio. Just place a trellis nearby for them to climb if you wish for them to grow vertically which will save you space. These things love to spread out!

People love growing spinach because it will produce quite a few leaves, and do so very quickly. It's a very satisfying crop to grow during the cooler months, but will thrive in summer gardens when planted in the shade. Harvest leaves as needed to keep the plant producing for you, and eat them when tender and young for better flavor. The larger the leaves the more bitter they will become.

Peppers are one of the most versatile crops. As long as you plant them in warm soil, and water only when the soil has dried up a bit in between waterings, your pepper plants should thrive. Keep in mind that when you are starting them from seed they need high temps to germinate, and sometimes can take a while to germinate.  The soil should be at least 80 degrees F. during the day and no less than around 70-75 degrees F at night. If your daytime temps are regularly above 90 degrees F. this can damage the plants, so opt to use a shade cloth.

Summer Squash
Everyone knows that one or two zucchini plants will feed MORE than one family.  Gardeners are famous for gifting zucchini squash to neighbors and friends once harvest time arrives because most plants are so prolific that it's hard to keep up! Regularly inspecting your squash plants is good practice because sometimes they squash will hide from you and when you do find them, they end up being the size of a baseball bat! (perfect for stuffing and baking, however at this size!)

Basil is a wonderful, and fast growing herb to grow.  It can be grown just about anywhere and does very well in containers or even indoors in a windowsill.  Harvest leaves as needed to keep the plant producing.

6 Common Mistakes Beginning Gardeners Make

New to gardening? We've all been there. All of us started out as beginner gardeners with little to zero knowledge of what we were doing.  I remember researching endlessly for all of the information I would need about planting dates, and varieties that would grow well in my zone. I started searching the internet for gardeners who could mentor me through their blogs or YouTube channels. I was on a mission to grow my own food, and grow it well. 

Even though in my earlier years I would have considered myself to have had a black thumb, I was determined that I could do this. I was sure that if I just put my mind to working hard that I could grow the most delicious fruits, vegetables and herbs.   It's been about 6 years since we started really gardening and trying to grow our own food.  In those 6 years we've also learned A LOT. Every year we become a little bit wiser and always set new goals for the year ahead on how we'll work SMARTER not HARDER. 

So how do you do that? How to do avoid some of the mistakes that most beginning gardeners make? I've compiled a list of some of the most common mistakes that us newbie gardeners have made and hopefully by me sharing these with you, you'll save yourself a lot of time, effort and trouble.  

Growing your own food should be enjoyable, and rewarding. If you're finding it stressful or burdensome, you're probably way over thinking things which can quickly take the joy and pleasure out of gardening.  

Planting too many varieties:
When you first embark on your home gardening journey you'll want to grow EVERYTHING! Flipping through your seed catalogs or browsing online will become dangerous and your list of wants will probably out number something you'll be able to reasonably maintain.  Try to keep this under control. Start small, especially when trying new varieties. If you're growing 100+ different crops you might quickly become overwhelmed when trying to learn how to grow all of those plants correctly, at once.  Plant things that you know you love to eat, and maybe try a few "new to you" crops. You can grow every fruit, vegetable and herb in the world but if your family won't eat it...you're wasting a lot of time. 

Inconsistent watering:
Depending on where you live, watering can be a real challenge.  If you are prone to long spouts of hot or rainy weather trying to consistently keep your plants moist can be hard.  Invest in a watering system. It doesn't need to be super expensive or the best one on the market but you'll be amazed at how much time, worry and effort a drip irrigation line kit and a timer will save you. 

Practicing poor companion planting:
Learn all you can about companion planting.  Learn what vegetables and herbs will benefit each other and keep them close.  Want to learn more? Here's a great companion planting chart that I've created to help you figure out where to plant what.

Using incorrect spacing between plants:
An important practice you will learn over time is how much room certain plants will require in your garden. If you're unsure of the mature size of what you're planting, take the time and do your research.  Space your plants according to the suggestions given to you by your seed supplier or do your own research to determine how much space your plants will need to thrive.

Giving up during fall/winter:
Think that just because summer is over that you'll need to give up on gardening for the rest of the year? You're wrong! Some of the most delicious and easy crops you can grow should be started in fall and winter.  Learn what to plant in fall/winter, here. Oh!...and don't forget to drop your garlic in the fall/winter! Come springtime, you won't regret it.

Being afraid to prune:
This is something we really struggled with, especially when we started growing our first round of fruit trees and container plants.  You can't be afraid to prune your plants/tree/bushes.  If you're unsure of the method you should be using try contacting your local nursery. Most of them hold classes that teach you the correct way to prune for a more bountiful harvest the following season.

How to Attract Ladybugs Into Your Garden

Every gardener should welcome these pretty little insects into their gardens, and for good reason. Although cute, they are sometimes referred to as the T-Rex's of the garden simply for their predator-like instincts.  That's right! I bet you didn't know that one ladybug can eat 5,000 aphids in their lifetime. That's a lot of eating! 

Besides aphids, they also can kill other garden pests such as chinch bugs, asparagus beetle larve, grape root worms, alfalfa weevils, bean thrips, spider mites, whiteflies, and mealy bugs just to name a few.  Their addition to any garden is beneficial and very economical. They are in-expensive and safer than pesticides. 

**Just make sure you've got the Harmonia axyridis and Hippodamia convergens species, and not the sub-family Epilachninae. These ladybugs eat plants and most likely won't be welcomed in your garden.**

There are a few ways you can attract ladybugs.  Keep in mind that they love feeding on pollen from flowers.  Some of their favorite plants to land on are: 

Plants that host other insects that ladybugs love to prey on are: Cabbage, Marigolds, and Radish. They also really love aphids that hang around nasturtium flowers. 

How many ladybugs do you need in your garden? Well that obviously depends on the size of your garden but a rough estimate is anywhere from 2,000 - 20,000. I know, that seems like a lot right? Trust me you won't regret investing in a few ladybugs to release into your garden this spring.

If you choose to purchase and release some ladybugs into your home garden there are a few things you can do to ensure that they stay put and make your garden their new home.

Give them a chill.
When they first arrive, place them in the refrigerator (not the freezer!) for around 6 hours.  This will slow down their metabolism just enough and will keep them from flying away as soon as you release them.

Wait until twilight. 
Release them sometime right after dusk, or right before dawn.

Feed/water them. 
Release them into an area that has water for them to drink and bugs to eat.  You can mist the leaves of a plant nearby so it has water that's available for them.

Uncle Sandy's Macaw Bird Park

Part of our weekends always include going on a mini-adventure or day trip with the family.  We woke up Sunday and headed towards the Macaw Bird Park in Pensacola for an afternoon of fun, learning and adventure.
I gotta say, it was probably the best $10 we've spent in a long time and Noahh was just beyond ecstatic about visiting the "jungle".   When we arrived, and got out of the car, we instantly could hear the birds and it was really something. We could tell there were quite a few birds in the park just from the amount of noise coming from inside the gates.

We paid our entrance fee and they gave us two small buckets full of peanuts for us to feed the birds.   Although the park is small and family-run, there were plenty of birds to catch your attention.  Noahh loved cracking the peanuts and feeding each of them.

We saw not only tropical and exotic birds, but they had turkeys, chickens, and emu's.

These guys were a crack up. The way they'd follow you waiting for a cracked peanut was hysterical. The way they would so gently bob their heads back and forth with their big "bead-y" eyes... oh man.  One almost took out my camera lens on a couple of occasions. 

Can you tell she's having a good time? Because the park was smaller, we were able to just let her roam around and we followed behind.  She loved walking the paths and enjoyed the adventure of it all for sure.
Watch out. These guys bite. Just ask Erick. 

Next time, she said she wants to bring her big sister with us. She's already making plans for the next visit we all take to the bird park.
They had two peacocks roaming freely around the park. This one, and an all white one. They'd come up and eat peanuts out of your hand too, if you held real still.  

They have a large area that you can walk in and be with the birds, but I wasn't about to venture into the park experience that deep. I couldn't persuade Erick, either.  I still have anxiety over one time when I visited the San Diego Zoo and was pooped on by a giant bird. Yeah, not about to re-live that anytime soon.  Erick promised next time we go he'll do it. We'll see...

Here's the all white peacock I mentioned earlier. So pretty!

We really loved watching Noahh have a great time walking through the bird park.  She admired the tropical foliage like the banana plants and visited with each bird she passed.  We circled the park numerous times and really got our money's worth on this one.  By the time we were out of peanuts, she was exhausted from playing and ready to say goodbye to one of the last birds on our way out the door.
We returned our empty buckets and Noahh was able to pet this bird for a few minutes. It first spoke by saying "Hello pretty girl", and as we were leaving and just walking out the door we heard it say "What's your problem?" Seriously, what a crack up. We laughed the whole way to the car. 

The Difference Between Hybrid and Heirloom Seeds

It's time to start ordering your seeds for spring if you haven't already.  While doing so there's something to keep in mind when you are purchasing your seeds for your next vegetable garden and that's whether or not you will be growing hybrid or heirloom varieties. So what's the difference you ask?

Hybrid Seeds:
Simply put, hybrid seeds are basically "bred" plants that come from two different varieties that have been intentionally cross-pollinated.  Usually a breeder will take two plants that have good characteristics and then cross-pollinate them to make a plant that has optimal traits.   This process of successfully creating a hybrid variety can take years and is carefully controlled.  They usually offer quality traits like: early maturity, better sized, disease resistant, higher yields and they tend to look like vegetables you'd see in your local grocery store. These are not "farmer's market" type crops.

Heirloom Seeds:
I'm a traditionalist, so I only grow heirloom vegetables and here's a few reasons why.  These varieties of vegetables and herbs have been handed down generation after generation.  They are usually picked and sought after by gardeners who are looking for region-specific crops that will do well in their area. They are tested and true and usually remain very stable from year to year. These are excellent for seed saving if you're interest in that.   Most gardeners also believe that the flavor of heirloom crops will be better than hybrids, especially when we're talking about things like tomatoes.  Heirloom crops are sometimes "less than perfect" looking, and unique in shape, size, color etc.  It's kind of like growing out of a "grab bag". You never know exactly what the fruit will look like.  Heirlooms are delicious and beautiful in nature and the flavor cannot be beat.

How to Grow a Salsa Garden

If you're anything like us, we love our salsa. All kinds of salsa. Sweet, hot, sometimes even with pineapple or mango's thrown into the mix.  Yes, we are spicy-loving, salsa people.  This year, we're growing what we like to call a "Salsa Garden". Basically that means we'll be growing all of the basic components of what we'll need to make ridiculously delicious salsa. We always make sure we grow enough so that we'll have plenty of ingredients to whip up a huge pot of it, and can it. That way, we can enjoy it out of our food storage all year long.  The number of plants provided below will supply you with enough crop to make plenty of salsa that should last through an entire year, maybe even more! So break out your favorite salsa recipes, plenty of mason jars and your canner.

Seeds you'll need for a Salsa Garden!

Grow 3-6 plants per person in your family.  Space your tomato plants 42 inches apart, in rows 40-50 inches apart.  Varieties we recommend; Roma, Ponderosa Red Beefsteak, and Homestead

Grow 2-3 plants per person in your family. Space your pepper plants 18 inches apart, in rows 28-36 inches apart.  Varieties we recommend; Jalapeño, Anaheim, Fresno, and Serrano

Grow 5 plants per person in your family. Space your garlic cloves 3-6 inches apart, in rows 15 inches apart.  Varieties we recommend; Nootka Rose, Silver Rose
Grow 3 plants per person in your family.  Space your cilantro plants 6-8 inches apart, in rows 12 inches apart.  Varieties we recommend; Slow-Bolt Cilantro

Grow 10 onions per person in your family. Space your onions 6 inches apart in rows 12 inches apart. Varieties we recommend; White Sweet Spanish

Once you have picked out the varieties you'll want to use as ingredients, pick a sunny spot in your garden. Plant the seeds in whatever creative manner you wish, in a circle or in neat and tidy rows. Water as needed, harvest, and then eat some salsa!  Salsa is great because of how versatile it is. Nothing is more enjoyable on a summer's day than harvesting all of your fresh ingredients, roughly chopping them, mixing them together and enjoying it all with some homemade, warm tortilla chips. Garden on, friends!

Gardening Resolutions for the New Year

As gardeners we're all the same. When the winter months arrive we begin analyzing the past seaons over and over again in our head. We contemplate the challenges we had in the garden and celebrate our successes we had.  We want more. Every year, the urge to grow more, grow better, I think it's something that is instilled in all of us as gardeners.

This year, my gardening resolutions are much different from years past.  Our lifestyle, goals, it's all changed quite a bit from even just last year. 2016 is going to be great. We're going to work really hard, build up this new home and property to "make it our own", and I'm on a mission to have the most colorful and lush gardens I can create in just 12 months.  I realize the gardens I see in my dreams will take years to complete but I also enjoy the journey that gardening takes me on. Every season, throughout the years is a little bit different. We plant, things grow, flourish, die, it's really a remarkable thing, to be a gardener.

In 2016:

I will plant everything I bring home.  I'm usually pretty good about this one, and not had many problems with this in the past. However, I have noticed that since the move sometimes my projects get put off a little longer than I had originally planned. This is mostly because if the weather's nice we run to the water as quickly as we can and before we know it, the day is over. This year I will not buy anything without making sure it gets planted right away.  No procrastination, even in paradise.

My containers and pots will be beautiful, year-round. Since we have a lot of containers on our front porch and in our front-yard area, I will make sure they are blooming with color all year long. Nothing looks worse than empty containers lacking color and personality. Nothing screams ugly to me more than an empty container meant to hold and grow beauty.

I will build a new hydroponic system.  Because we are switching over to growing all of our vegetables to hydroponic beds this year instead of fighting with the sandy soil, we're in need of at least one more system that will support our growing needs.  This system will be different from the last, but just as effective and produce all of my tomatoes for this year and many to follow.

I will plant more bulbs.  I discovered last year that I am in love with bulbs. I love the effortless color and charm they bless us with in the spring and summer and even though we have already planted hundreds of bulbs since moving here last September, I want more! This next fall, we will go on a bulb planting frenzy around fences, tree trunks, containers and more.

My garden will become my sanctuary.  I'm interested in creating special areas in our new gardens that I can call my own.  Places that I can go to feel comfortable and relaxed and enjoy the surroundings we've created.  I plan on doing this by incorporating a beautiful fire-pit area in the back-yard, and maybe a picnic table and porch swing in the front yard.

I won't plant more than I can handle. I want to feel peaceful when we garden, and not overwhelmed. I won't plant more than I'm capable of keeping up with or that time allows.  For example, this summer all we are growing is tomatoes and peppers.  That's it. In years past we would grow everything imaginable, but this year we are trying something new. Picking just a few crops that we can really focus on.  Although we ordered 73 different varieties of tomatoes and peppers, harvesting and caring for all of these plants should be fairly easy because they will require mostly the same care.  I also plan on doing this in seasons to come. Each year, focusing on just a few crops that I can use to fill my food-storage and pantry with.

We will plant more citrus and fruit trees.  This is pretty self explanatory but I just really want as many fruit and citrus trees as we can physically fit onto the property.  I love how much food they provide us with, and I think they are beautiful and seeing a tree loaded with organic fruit makes me smile every time I see one.

Happy 2016 friends, and we look forward to sharing another year of our lives with you. Thanks for being here and we hope you are blessed with abundant gardens, health and happy families this year.
-Erick, Sariann, Becca and Noahh

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