May 18, 2012

Guest Blogger: Kenny Mihalik!!

I am SO excited to have a guest blogger today. He is one of our sweet friends, Kenny Mihalik. He is a friend of mine from college, but he goes WAY back with my hubby and their group of friends. Kenny kindly volunteered to write up a post and you guys are in for a treat!

I should have written this back in January. Unfortunately, for many of you, it’s too late this year to start plants from seed for your summer garden. But I hope this will get you thinking and planning on what you’ll need to do for next year (or possibly even that fall garden this year). First off I want to thank Jen for this opportunity to guest blog. I am a BF of her DH. And despite her best efforts, I was in their wedding party. My blogging experience is limited to one previous entry on family preparedness; it’s here if you’re interested

Like anything else if life, there are endless techniques, methods, and opinions on gardening. In no one am I saying these are the best methods, but they are what I’m using (until I find a better way). And some of this advice is geography specific. I live in Zone 5. If you aren’t sure you can enter your zip code in this link to see which zone you live in.
This isn’t a comprehensive gardening guide, but a basic (and hopefully inspirational) guide to starting plants from seed.

I grow my garden from seed for several reasons.

1. It’s fun and easy
2. It’s more economical than buying plants from big box stores
3. I can grow the exact varieties I want, especially non GMO and rare heirlooms

Seed selection

The first rule is to grow things that you and your family like to eat. I don’t grow brussel sprouts because I only eat them when they are drowning in bacon grease. Also, please try to get seeds that are certified non GMO. My personal favorites are really rare and unusual heirlooms. I also strive for 100% organic growing methods.
*Here are some sources that I’ve had great experiences with and highly recommend
Baker Creek, Seeds of Change, Territorial Seeds

Choice of medium
This is easy, you’ll want to start with a commercially available seed starting mix. These can be purchased at any nursery, grocery store, big box store, or home improvement stores. Look for ones that contain vermiculite and or coconut fiber. On my first attempt at starting seeds, I erroneously used mushroom compost. It looked so rich and full of nutrients, I thought it would be perfect. I checked the seed trays every time I walked by and never saw a single sprout. And after 2 weeks, I went online and quickly found that mushroom compost should not be used for seeds on account of its high salinity content.

Starting seedlings
I think the easiest method is using a domed tray. The trays have 72 individual cells with a clear plastic lid that functions as a little greenhouse. These can be found anywhere gardening supplies are sold. They are relatively inexpensive and reusable. If you think 72 plants is too many (or maybe not enough!), your extra starters can be given to friends and neighbors. You can also reuse yogurt containers, dixie cups, etc. Whatever container you decide to use, make sure you make holes in the bottom for drainage. The trays are nice because they utilize the capillary action of water. You just add water to the tray and it wicks up into the cells. If you use something different, you’ll want to make sure you can water it without making a mess. Your soil will need to remain moist, but not soaked.

After you’ve added your seed starting mix, you’ll just want to place the seeds in the containers and gently cover them up. Don’t forget to label them. The bell pepper seedlings look identical to the habanero seedlings. And almost all tomato plants look alike. Popsicle sticks or yogurt containers that have been cut into strips make great markers.

Your seeds will do better if the soil is warm, especially peppers and tomatoes. This can be achieved by placing your seed containers in a window or using a heating mat designed for seed trays. Two advantages of the domed trays are they help regulate moisture and temperature. If you use a tray, you’ll want to offset the lid after germination so your new seedlings don’t get cooked. If you’re not using domed trays, then you can reuse two litre bottles or water bottles to simulate the greenhouse effect. Just cut the bottom off and place it over your container.

Your seedlings should look like this after a few weeks

Your next consideration is lighting. I’ve put together a light box in my basement using a wire shelving unit, light ballasts, fluorescent bulbs, and foil. I’ve had great success with this. Fluorescent bulbs use negligible energy and produce almost no heat. The little heat they do give off is ideal for warming the seed trays without risk of cooking the plants. I wrapped it in foil to capture as much light as possible. I simply place a cardboard box in front of it for easy access. You’d be surprised how little light escapes. I’ve seen similar setups using PVC pipe to make a stand. If this seems overboard, intimidating, or you just don’t have the room, then a window is a great too. You’ll want to have a southern facing window as the plants will need as much light as they can get.

Put on your sunscreen

Hardening off
This is simply a way to introduce your little seedlings to the real world. Initially, you’ll want to expose them to limited direct sunlight, a partially shaded spot by the back door is ideal. Place them out in the morning and bring them in an hour or two later. The next day, place them outside again, but now you can double the amount of time. By the end of the week, the plants should now be able to tolerate the outdoors.


Unless you started your seedlings in larger pots, you’ll likely want to transplant them, or ‘pot them up’. If you used the trays, you’ll notice that the roots have escaped the cells and are now in the tray itself. After germination, the first leaves called cotyledons will form. And these will give way to ‘true leaves’. After the seedlings are a couple of inches tall and have 2 or so sets of true leaves, you can transplant them. You’ll also want to thin out larger plants like tomatoes, peppers, melons, squash, etc. at this point. If more than 1 plant is in the cell, either split them up or remove one. For things like herbs, I transplant them regardless of how many seedlings there are.

Good options are solo cups, reused yogurt cups, peat pots, and recycled newspaper pots. Be sure to drill holes in the bottom of plastic cups to allow for drainage.
I prefer the solo and yogurt cups over the peat and newspaper pots. The plastic cups are reusable year after year. The peat and newspaper break down and cannot be reused. In addition, the plastic containers retain moisture while the natural materials wick moisture away and will need more frequent watering. Don’t forget to label your plants.
Your plants will be in these containers for several months. Your plants will benefit from a diluted fertilizer of phosphorous and nitrogen, fish meal and bone/blood are great organic choices.

Newly potted plants

Almost ready for the garden

Lettuce is very easy to care for. It grows almost as fast as you can eat it.

Finally, into the garden
After the threat of frost, you’re ready to plant in your garden. Raised beds and containers are obvious choices. But don’t forget about growing vertically and doing companion planting. Companion planting is a way to combine certain plants to maximize their growing potential and minimize any diseases and pests.

Why organic matters?

Much of the food supply has been compromised by the introduction of GMO foods. Much of the world has banned these frankenfoods, but not here in the good ‘ol US of A.
Just with bacteria, many insects and weeds are becoming resistant to pesticides and herbicides. This prompts the use for ever stronger poisons. There are so many great resources for growing naturally. Please think twice before using harmful chemicals on the food you eat.

Thanks again Kenny! I love your passion you have for gardening and I am definitely inspired to start a garden in our new house. Maybe I will start with lettuce since I will actually eat that. :)

Please be a fan of lil Mop Top on facebook!! I link up to these parties!


May 15, 2012

and we are on the move!

Tomorrow is the big day! The movers are packing up the trucks and we are headed to...our parent's houses! haha! We don't have a new house yet, but the hunt continues.  I thought I might reminisce a little at how our little house has changed over the last 6 years...

John's room started as a guest room...

We transformed his nursery into a sweet room for our first little baby! We started making it into a big boy room when Matthew was born, but just never completed our project. Oops!

Matthew's room was our boring office...

and we turned it into a cute nautical themed nursery, complete with paneled wall treatments! I love his room!

The backyard had two really small (and empty) flower beds in the corners of the yard. So weird!

So, my parents helped us build a large flower bed that went the width of the backyard. This is when I started my love for lantana! They are so pretty, easy to grow, and smell great!

The front yard had somewhat decent flower beds, although I didn't like the plants.

We added a retaining wall to the front yard and extended the flower beds. I loved what our first garden looked like as it began to grow. The back row of plants are perennials and those are HUGE now!

Look how little John was!!!

We added hardwood floors, a new A/C, a new hot water heater, and a new dishwasher...but who really wants to see pics of those?!

Wish us luck as we bunk with family for an undetermined set of time...

Please be a fan of lil Mop Top on facebook!! I link up to these parties!

May 2, 2012

Sea Action Cards

Did you see this last week on Mess for Less? I was honored to be a guest writer for that super cute blog! If you didn't see it, here it is again...

As you know, I am in the middle of a move. Our house is sold and we move in with family in TWO weeks. Our house hunt is still going strong! So, most of my crafty materials are packed away somewhere, limited what I have been able to do around here with the boys.  Since our family is taking our FIRST family vacation to Sea World in San Antonio next month (SO EXCITED!!!) I decided to try to incorporate something that goes along with the theme of 'oceans' or 'sea' so I could use it with the boys to get them excited for the trip and I could use it during tot school when we get settled into our new house.

I made these action cards (finding clipart through google images) and let the boys play with them after breakfast one morning.
They loved it, which means my pictures are extremely blurry. Sorry about that! Here are a couple of the least blurry ones..

crawling like a crab:

reading the cards:
waddle like a penquin:
chomp like a shark:

body surf like a manatee:
even monkey jumped like a sea horse with us!:
As you can see, this is an easy activity (print and cut!) and your kiddos will love it!