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Thursday, March 31, 2011

More on Expensive Corn

As mentioned in my recent blog post 5 Priority Planting Tips To Maximize Your Grocery Bill Savings, the price of corn is rising.  In a span of six months (from July 2010 to January 2011) the price of corn has nearly doubled, and the price of corn is expected to continue to rise.  

Here are some more interesting facts: 
  • "The U.S. is the world's largest producer of field corn, at 13 billion bushels a year [but] sweet corn, the kind we eat on the cob, is less than 1% of total corn grown."  USA Today.   
  • "24% of the U.S. corn crop is now mandated to go to ethanol."  USA Today.
To learn about the factors that are contributing to the rising cost of corn, read this USA Today article

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Recycled Paper Baskets

Photo: Recycled Paper Basket.  Normally $39.95, but on Sale for $29.99!

I saw these beautiful handmade paper baskets at Plow & Hearth.  These handmade recycled paper baskets are made by skilled paper weavers in the Philippines, providing needed income to families while reducing the impact on the earth.  This tote is sturdy enough for a full load of magazines or newspapers.  This particular tote measures 12"L x 6"D x 13"H, but there are other shapes and sizes.  The regular price of the baskets cost about $35 to $40, but the recycled paper basket featured above is on sale for $29.99.  You can also save an additional 15% off your purchase of $75 or more at Plow & Hearth by using coupon code LNKPH15

Photo: Recycled Waste Bin.  

Photo: Round Recycled Paper Basket

I lack the skills to make the totes featured above, but I liked the idea of recycling or upcycling old magazines and newspapers into beautiful, eco-friendly new products.  I found this neat YouTube video on how to make a recycled magazine holder out of a shoe box and coiled magazines.  The instructions look simple enough.  I may attempt to make one in the future.        

Update 12/28/2011:

[YouTube Video was removed by Owner  :(  ]

I did end up creating a makeup brush holder out of a tin can and sheets of magazines rolled into tubes.  Click here to see how I did it.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Self-Watering Conversion Kits for Planters

Photo: Self-Watering Conversion Kits

Before taking your next vacation, consider upgrading your containers with self-watering conversion kits.    These kits convert ordinary pots into self-watering planters.  These kits will reduce your time spent on watering your plants.  All you have to do is pour water into the fill tube.  The water in the reservoir will evaporate and moisten the soil.  Pour more water into the fill tube when the water level indicator indicates the reservoir is low.  You can also fertilize your plants by pouring in liquid or water-soluble fertilizer.

These kits come in two sizes:
Self-Watering Conversion Kit, 1 Quart ($14.95): Holds 1 quart and fits pots up to 10" to 14" in diameter at the rim.
Self-Watering Conversion Kit, 1 Gallon($17.95): Holds 4 quarts and fits pots between 16" and 20" in diameter at the rim.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

5 Priority Planting Tips To Maximize Your Grocery Bill Savings

Photo: 4 ears of corn cost $5.99 at our local Safeway

The price of food is rising.  You may have already noticed or at least heard about the rising cost of corn, soybeans and wheat.  Just the other day, I noticed that four ears of corn cost $5.99 at our local grocery store.  To mitigate the rising cost of food, I encourage you to try and grow some of your own fruits, vegetables and herbs.  To maximize your savings on your grocery bill this year, I suggest you follow the 5 tips listed below.  These tips are especially important for apartment gardeners or other gardeners that have only a small area to work with.
  1. Give Expensive Produce Priority Planting.  Think about the foods you love or frequently use, then walk down the produce aisle, and get an idea of what these items cost.  Take in account that out-of-season produce will generally cost more than it would be in-season.  Then give the pricey items priority planting.  For example, I love corn.  Our local Safeway is selling four ears of sweet corn for $5.99.  I also know that the price of corn has increased dramatically, and will continue to rise so I will be planting sweet corn in my garden this year.  Sweet corn will have priority over vegetables like broccoli because broccoli is only $0.79 per pound and it has a long shelf-life.      
  2. Plant Food You Frequently Consume.  I alluded to this in the previous point, but make sure you give priority planting to foods you actually consume frequently, and not just foods you love but rarely eat.  For example, I frequently use tomatoes and bell peppers so I allotted a good chunk of my garden to tomatoes and bell peppers.  For this reason, I will probably not plant eggplant this year although one of my favorite dishes is Thai green curry chicken.  I do not eat eggplant often enough, and that space would be better utilized by planting vegetables I frequently consume.  
  3. Plant Rare or Hard-To-Find Varieties.  Heirloom vegetables are delicious, pricey and hard to find so why not try planting heirloom plants this year?  Seed Savers ExchangeFedco Garden Seeds, and Seeds of Change are some sources of heirloom seeds and/or plants. 
  4. Plant Easily Perishable Produce.  Plant foods that are easily perishable.  For example, I love asparagus, but it has a short shelf-life.  So this year, I purchased 3 different types of asparagus crowns.  I planted them in the garden weeks ago and I already see thin asparagus shoots emerging from the soil.  Because asparagus is a perennial (meaning it will live for years without needing to be replanted) this small initial investment will provide me years of future enjoyment.  I will have the freshest possible asparagus spears only steps away from the kitchen.  If you want to grow asparagus for consumption, skip the seeds and purchase the crowns.  Normally asparagus is not harvested before its third year so planting crowns will give you a head start.   
  5. Don't Forget The Herbs.  Many herbs are easy to grow, and generally do not require a lot of space.  They provide great flavor with a negligible amount of calories, and they are packed with vitamins and minerals that give our bodies many health benefits.  Fresh herbs can also be pricey, they have a short shelf-life, and they are not always available at the grocery store.  So invest a little time, money and space to an herb garden.  Trust me, the next time you have a recipe that calls for a couple of tablespoons of four different herbs, your pocket book will thank you.

    Saturday, March 26, 2011

    Free Online Square Foot Gardening Tool

    Gardener's Supply Company has a free online garden planning tool on their website.  It allows you to create and customize garden plans.   You can set the dimensions of your garden bed, drag and drop herbs, vegetables and fruits into each square foot.  The program even recommends how many of each herb, vegetable or fruit to plant in a square foot.  Planting care instructions for each plant you select are displayed below your garden layout.  You can name your garden plan, save it, print it or even email it.  You can also create several garden layouts, and then load them to the site map tool to arrange the garden beds in your overall space.  For those of you who do not want to design your own garden layouts, their website also offers a section of free pre-planned garden layouts.  This is a neat tool and worth checking out!

    Gardener's Supply Company

    Friday, March 25, 2011

    Bell Pepper Plants from Scraps

    Some people find it difficult to start bell pepper plants from seeds, but I find it really easy to start new bell pepper plants from kitchen scraps.  All you have to do is cut your bell pepper in half lengthwise.  Then scrape the seeds on to a paper towel or newspaper with your fingers or a spoon.  If you want to store the seeds, allow the seeds to dry out in a cool, dry place before storing them in a cool, dry area.  Otherwise, plant the seeds in soil.  

    I planted my red bell pepper seeds in my new Burpee 72-Cell Greenhouse Kit on March 15, and 10 days later red bell pepper seedlings are beginning to emerge from the soil!  I planted one to two seeds about 1/4" deep in each cell.    

    I am really impressed with the Burpee 72-Cell Greenhouse Kit.  It is easy to use, re-useable, mess-free, and really eliminates the guesswork in creating just the right environment for seeds to germinate.  I only had to do the initial watering of the Burpee seed cubes, and the cells are still moist 10 days later.  Just make sure all of the seed starting cubes are standing upright before pouring the hot water so they expand correctly.     

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011

    Square Foot Gardening

    Square Foot Gardening: A New Way to Garden in Less Space with Less Work

    This year I am using Mel Bartholomew's square foot gardening method he describes in his book, Square Foot Gardening: A New Way to Garden in Less Space with Less Work, to make the most of my available garden space.  I find his planting diagrams under the "Crop-by-Crop Guide" chapter most helpful.  Now I know I can fit four swiss chards in one square foot!

    To give you an idea of what topics this book covers, the table of contents is set forth below:

    1: A Better Way of Gardening
    2: Understanding Square Foot Gardening
    3: Choosing the Right Size and Layout
    4: Simple Tools for Square Foot Gardens
    5: Getting Started: Site and Soil Choices
    6: Planting Procedures From Simple to Advanced
    7: Spacing and Planting Methods
    8: Vertical Growing
    9: Cages, Boxed and Vertical Supports
    10: Seed-Starting Techniques and Tips
    11: Planting Seedlings and Transplants
    12: Watering Guidelines
    13: Preventing Problems: Weeds, Pests, and Diseases
    14: Enjoying the Harvest
    15: Extending the Growing Season
    16: End-of-Season Activities
    17: Special Gardens
    18: A Crop-by-Crop Guide
    Average Dates of Last Spring Frost
    Average Dates of First Fall Frost

    Monday, March 21, 2011

    Succulent Wreaths

    Photo: Succulent Wreath at Home Depot

    Home Depot is selling succulent wreaths!  If you would like to create your own, Better Homes and Gardens (BHG) has a great slideshow with pictures and instructions here.    

    Sunday, March 20, 2011

    Spring is Officially Here!

    Vernal Equinox will occur today around 11:21 p.m. Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) today or 4:21 p.m. were I live, which marks the first day of Spring!  So happy planting everyone!

    Super Cheap Succulent Cuttings

    36 Mixed Succulent Spring Collection
    Photo: JIIMZ's 36 Mixed Succulent Spring Collection

    If you cannot take free cuttings from people you know, you can still get affordable cuttings shipped directly to you.  JIIMZ are selling 36 mixed succulents for $28.95!  With shipping, it breaks down to $1.18 per succulent.

    This seller has a 4.9/5.0 rating for the past 12 months, and a lifetime rating of 95% positive; 5% neutral; and 0% negative.

    JIIMZ's other collections:
    9 Misc Sempervivum Hens N Chicks 2" Pots

    36 Cactus Misc 2inch Potted Cactus Collection


    Hanging Succulent Baskets

    I saw these moss covered hanging baskets filled with an assortment of succulents at Home Depot.  I love that you can hang these planters on the walls.  You can bring plant life to your apartment or home without using up any precious outdoor floor space.

    Our local Home Depot are selling them for $29.98 each.  This price is hard to beat if you had to purchase each component separately (i.e., individual plants, soil, moss, twine, and basket).  You could create a similar piece by filling a coco fiber lined wall basket planter or hanging basket planter with artfully arranged assortment of succulents. 


    Prior to filling the basket, attach the moss to the basket exterior with twine or omit it all together if you prefer the look of coco fiber.

    If you choose a deep basket, consider filling the bottom half of the basket with clay balls, ping pong balls or some other light, airy material.  Most succulents have shallow root systems, and this will prevent the basket from becoming to heavy.

    Whether you are hanging your basket on the wall or from the ceiling, make sure that it is secured to the stud(s) instead of drywall.  

    Saturday, March 19, 2011

    Supermoon 2011

    Tonight's full moon will be a supermoon.  A supermoon is a new or full moon that happens to be closest to Earth in its orbit.  It will be the biggest full moon in 18 years!  The supermoon is supposed to arrive at its closest point to Earth in 2011 on Saturday, March 19 at 3 PM Eastern Time.  Full Article

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011

    EcoSphere Pods

    Photo: A couple of my live shrimp resting on coral

    I recently received a really unique and wonderful gift and I had to share it with you.  This clear glass container holds a self-sustaining, mini-ecosystem with live miniature shrimp.  Only light is needed to keep their world in a perfect plant-and-animal balance: algae and bacteria are eaten by the shrimp whose waste supports their regeneration.  It is the perfect addition to my desk and a nice stress reliever!

    Photo: Round EcoSphere (left); Pod EcoSphere (right)

    If you would like an EcoSphere Pod, you can find them on Amazon or at Wind and Weather.  They have them available in different shapes and sizes with prices that range from $59.95 to $149.95.  Wind and Weather's site says to allow 1-2 weeks for delivery, and that a delivery signature is required.

    Check Out This Week's Wind & Weather Deal of the Week