It's not ME: it's YOU! 2015 Garden Part 7

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

You know that famous break-up line: "It's not YOU, it's ME?" Well, after spending the last week in Alaska and Canada, I have come to the realization that all my gardening struggles are not my fault. Well, most of them anyway.

In case you have never been to the Pacific Northwest - let me explain it to you in 5 words - greenest temperate tropical jungle ever! It was mid-May and their rhubarb plants (taller than me by the way!) were already to seed. Their strawberry plants were bigger than mine ever get. Everything was green and HUGE.

I stopped to talk with a Canadian in his front lawn and he said they start planting in January, it almost never gets below freezing, and they get rain like crazy. He showed me plants that were like living monsters. Unreal.

I was depressed. As I walked along the green and luscious streets, I decided I would be moving to Canada. I had already ruled out Seattle (though green and gorgeous) because of the hills and gray weather and Alaska because of it's rocky/acidic soil and complete isolation. So Canada it was.

A quick google search revealed that the entire area I visited (Seattle, lower Alaska, and British Colombia) stood squarely in zone 8. Oh to live in zone 8!!!! A few more google searches and I found a very similar tax structure in Canada versus the United States and a whole lot less freedom. Damn it!!!'s back to dreaming about the usual zone 8 paradise.....California (still high in taxes but for the moment still blessed with American semi-freedom.)

But back to my garden at home...

I fight with my garden every year. There are no weeds because our soil is hard, dead clay. My plants struggle to grow because it's cold, the ground is hard, and I refuse to use chemicals and methods that harm the soil ecology. I want to improve my soil for the long haul - not just strip mine out a few veggies on my way through.

And to top it off - zone 4 has only about 100 growing days per year. Many of them are wasted due to non-freezing but still cold weather. Grrrr!

So seeing the monstrous shrubs, flowers, and vegetables in the Pacific Northwest, I know that it is not all my fault. My area just doesn't get the same rainfall, enough days above freezing, enough sunny/warm days, or naturally loamy rich soil. So be it. I will have to do my best with what I have and realize that I will never have a "magazine worthy" garden.

So since I left for Alaska during my usual planting time, everything went into the garden early. Everything! It was all in by May 10th.

Returning home, it seems that we had weather between 40-60 while we were gone and almost no rain. Most of my plants survived but did not thrive. Some grew little, some yellowed and look like they might actually die soon.

Here are the highlights:

Swiss Chard and Beets with garden marker rock
 These two photos are of Fordhook Swiss chard and mystery beets. Some of the beets are smaller because they were succession planted after my ill-advised transplant attempt during freezing weather killed the first batch.
Swiss chard and beets

buckwheat growing with asparagus
The buckwheat grew shorter than expected but is full of flowers. Stinky, stinky flowers. The asparagus has begun to fern out in order to improve it's crown strength for next year. The buckwheat seeds will be collected and I will chop and drop the stems over the asparagus to add extra phosphorus.

 This is the bed holding chives, leeks, blueberries, parsnips, peppers, amaranth, cucumbers, corn, strawberries, store bought onions and garlic, and fava beans.
cold damaged cucumbers
 The Fava beans championed through the cold weather, but the cucumbers and amaranth are seriously suffering. Peppers are under the plastic bottle tops, corn is limping along, and the bok choy flowered and was ripped out. The parsnips seem to be doing fine, but growing slowly.
mini greenhouse to grow peppers
I had the worst time germinating bell peppers. In the end, I was able to get 2 little plants. It is still cold for them, so I made little greenhouses from empty water bottles and they have survived down to 37F inside. They have not grown much, but they are still alive.
decimated scarlet runner beans japanese beetles
 My scarlet runner beans have been decimated. The only thing I know that does this so efficiently are Japanese beetles. Already? Really?? They are all damaged and probably won't survive. I am going to plant more.

flowering white stemmed pak choi
 All of my bok choy bolted. I kept the two strongest one and tossed the others on the ground (see below left.) They taste bitter and horrid when they start to flower. Oh well. These were my second bolters (the first were tossed 2 weeks ago), so if I save the seeds I am hopeful I can propagate later bolters in the future. These were supposedly white stemmed pak choi. I might try another variety next time.
Heritage raspberries in spring
The raspberries can always be counted on to grow nice and strong. They are a little yellow. Either from the cold or a need for food?

What is going on with the middle blueberry? I pruned it like mad to encourage it to send up new shoots. Has it done so? No! Is it looking sick? Yes! If it doesn't recover, I will swap it out with the rehab blueberry that "died" a few years ago and has been plugging along in the forest ever since. They can swap locales.  Then again - it just might be reacting to the cold weather....
Here is the tomato and flax bed:
It's divided into haves and have-nots
 The tomatoes on the right have been outside since germination. They are the have-nots.

These tomatoes were all started inside and allowed to stay indoors until they were a little larger. They are "the haves." I am hopeful that the gap between them will lesson as it gets warmer.
 Here are the cantaloupe, watermelons and ground cherries They are surrounded by bricks to help retain some heat. It's not very organized. I am rethinking the strategy as it has not helped the tomatoes (see pictures above.)
 The watermelon did NOT like the cold dry weather. They are excessively yellow and have entered a treatment facility - lol
 The watermelons are now under this salad box to keep them warm and moist. Hopefully it will help! A green bean is popping up nearby... Radishes are using the space between the melons until they start needing more room.
 The peas are looking good - but maybe a little thin stemmed? I am never satisfied...
The dwarf sunspot sunflowers are starting to set heads. They are SHORT. And they appear to be making more than one flower per plant. Yippee. I am going to save seeds from the center plant even though I realize it will be pollinated by one of the shorter guys next door.

Here's a quick glimpse into the forest gardens:
 Forest asparagus and strawberries. I also stuck in a few tomatoes. They are still really small. These strawberries are too old and I really need to move this patch and grow some legumes here for a while. Unfortunately, I am out of space and have no where to move them....

Forest strawberries with a Fava bean and some Egyptian onions mixed in. Why not, right?

 Scarlet Runner beans around a homemade tepee trellis. These guys just might make it, though they are getting shaded fast by the big oak trees.  Here's hoping!

Wild strawberries in a bowl
Wild strawberries transplanted from the forest and put into pots.

grocery store potato boxes
My grocery store potato boxes. There are 3, 4, and 3 potatoes in each box. I am in love with these. I am thinking I should plant these in my front planters next year - just for decoration. If we get potatoes - bonus! I use organic potting soil anyway. Look how much better they look than the casa blanca lillies and pansies I planted up front!
Casa blanca lillies - just getting started. Pay no attention to the milk jug watering system! I know it's ugly, ok!

tin can herb garden
 And last but not least - my tin can herb garden. Most of the herbs are starting to grow. The purslane (technically a weed? *center pot*) is doing the worst. Nothing is invasive in this area except raspberries. Sheesh.

I will update again in June - hopefully with good growth news!

Missing from this update - Dill, Fennel, Rhubarb, Black and red summer raspberries from the forest - Squash (butternut and yellow crookneck), radishes, and bush beans in the garden. And all the bok choy that was either eaten or pulled.

More articles from this year's garden:
19 Tomatoes and counting
Growing Heirloom Tomatoes without electricity
2015 Garden Part 1
2015 Garden Part 2
2015 Garden Part 3
2015 Garden Part 4
2015 Garden Part 5
2015 Garden Part 6
Growing Potatoes from the Grocery store 
Growing Espalier Grapes on a Fence
Can Tomatoes Survive temperatures below 28 Fahrenheit?

Bellemain Stainless Steel Pizza Cutter Review #spon

Monday, May 25, 2015

If you want to master the art of homemade pizza, then I suggest you break out your mixing bowl and get started. There's no better way to learn then to try!

Start out slowly and change one thing at a time. Here are couple of tips to make your pizza making experience better -

  • Roll out your dough on a silicone mat (like a Silpat.) This makes clean up easier and allows you to transfer the dough with less sticking and less flour (too much flour makes for dense/tough crust)
  • Use a baking stone and coat it with a light dusting of corn meal. This keeps the crust from sticking and creates a nice hot surface for evenly browning the crust. If you can preheat the stone - even better (then you might want to invest in a good pizza peel.)
  • Be sparing with the flour or you will have a hard/dry crust. If the dough is unmanageable, let it rest for a few minutes and it might just be workable.
  • Pre-bake your crust before you add ingredients. Just 6 minutes at 400-500F will create a nice solid crust that won't fall apart when ingredients are added.
  • Divide your cheese in half. Apply one half after your sauce but before your "toppings." Then add the second half on top of your toppings. This will keep them from sliding off.
  • Limit your toppings. Too many toppings makes for a wet and soggy pizza - especially with water filled ingredients like mushrooms and peppers. Too many pepperoni will make your pizza greasy.
  • Dress up your crust: once your pizza is done, brush the crust with melted butter and sprinkle with garlic powder, mushroom dust (dried ground mushrooms) and/or Parmesan cheese.
  • Experiment with umami packed ingredients like sun dried tomatoes, mushrooms, roasted garlic, meats, and anchovies.
  • Try to make your own pizza sauce but if you use tomato paste - be sure to boil it for a few minutes to take away the metallic "tang." Experiment until you find a recipe you love. OR - roast fresh tomatoes and garlic in the oven and just mash them up. It's an amazing sauce!
  • Add fresh herbs after the pizza comes out of the oven but before the cheese sets. This is especially true for basil - which will wilt and and turn black (or burn) in the oven.
  • Try making your favorite dishes as a pizza - taco pizza, seafood pizza, scrambled egg breakfast pizza, Caesar salad pizza, or cinnamon roll pizza. Lots of options!
Once you've got a few pizzas under your belt - it's time to start thinking about equipment. I've already mentioned baking stones and pizza peels. 

Mixing and kneading become a lot easier (and also clean up) when you use a Danish dough whisk.  

And you look like a professional when you use a big stainless steel pizza cutter. I had the opportunity to review the Bellmain stainless steel pizza cutter and it was pretty awesome. I use a baking stone, and the cutter did a fantastic job of cutting the pizza.

I also used it to cut a tray of homemade granola bars. It was awesome. I usually have a hard time cutting a whole sheet pan of bars, but this knife took care of it in no time.

It is rather large, so be prepared to find storage space. And although it says it's dishwasher safe, I would never put it in the dishwasher. The top is made of wood and wood always warps in the dishwasher. Instead, just rinse it off right away and wipe it down. As long as you don't wait for food to dry on the blade, clean up should be pretty easy.

I thought it was a great tool and definitely made our kitchen look more professional. I would recommend it to others.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary product for review purposes. All opinions expressed are my own and this article does NOT contain affiliate links. No compensation was received.

Enhanced Creatine Formula Review #spon

I try to keep things as natural as possible. That's especially true with foods. So for years, even though I was an exercise fanatic, I never tried supplements or protein powders. And I had a hard time gaining muscle. A really hard time.

Besides being a woman, I also eat less meat than most people. I eat less meat, not because I think it's unhealthy but because it's expensive and I hate the fact that we have to kill in order to eat. Even if I am not the one doing the killing.... you get the point. So I probably eat a lower protein and/or lower quality protein diet than is ideal.

My opinion on supplements changed when I decided to try an all natural protein powder a few years ago. I had been slaving away in the gym for years and was pretty much where I started (in muscle strength and size - not endurance/speed/agility.)

I was also stuck at 3 measly pull ups. That's good "for a girl," but after all the work I had put in, it should have been better! So I started drinking a protein shake after each workout. I hated it. I wasn't hungry and it tasted like chalk, but I did it anyway. Within a month, I was able to do 13 consecutive pull ups.

Now that's progress! Of course, I then took it too far and started working out every day, and started going backwards in my progression. Eventually, I was just worn out and haggard and I had to quit. I had to quit cold turkey because mentally, I was being irrational and I would not stop exercising. If I just "did a little bit," I ended up lying and doing a lot.

So I went cold turkey and took a very long break. I recently started exercising again - slowly. My goal was to strengthen/tighten my muscles, improve my endurance, balance, and flexibility, and to someday get back into really improving my strength without going crazy and burning myself out again.

Well, as before I found that it was really hard to make strength gains on my low-animal protein diet.

It was about this time that I was offered the chance to review Hyperion's enhanced creatine formula.  I did a lot of research before I said yes. It turns out that creatine is formed in our bodies (naturally) when we eat meat. It is the most studied supplement and is proven to increase muscle mass.

It makes sense. Most people (especially men) probably have enough natural creatine for modest/natural muscle building. Women and/or vegetarians - not so much.

So I decided to give it a try. I was not looking for Herculean results. I just wanted to see progress in the gym. After reading through different studies and recommendations, I decided to take the creatine supplement after each strength workout (3 times per week) and randomly the other 4 days of the week.

I decided against taking the Fenugreek supplement that comes with the formula because I didn't know as much about that product and I just wanted to try the Creatine.

Just as with protein powder, I found the creatine hard to take. Not because it tasted bad - in fact, it didn't taste like anything. It was just dusty and nothing. I tried mixing it with water but found it easier to take in the form of a smoothie (added to the blender like an extra ingredient.)

Even then, I didn't want to take it because I wasn't hungry after my workouts and would "forget" to take it when I was hungry on off days and then would be forced to take it later on.

But I stuck with the program for 2 weeks. I did see strength gains - similar to what I saw before with protein powder supplementation. Of course, I am not pumping out 13 pullups in a row right now because I am much heavier and less fit than I was at that time. My workouts are also a lot lighter.

I'll get back to 13 pullups again, and I think the creatine will help. I'm also hoping to exceed that achievement. I'm just taking it a lot slower so I don't burn myself out or take it too far.

I will update this post over the next few months with progress updates.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary product for review purposes. All opinions expressed are my own and this article does NOT contain affiliate links. No compensation was received.

Universal Periscope Lens for ALL Smartphones Camera Review #spon

If you are a frequent reader of this blog, then you know that I post a lot of positive product reviews.

The reason for this is because:
1. I only review products I am interested in
2. When things go wrong, I let the company know and give them a chance to decide whether or not they want the review to go live.

Unfortunately, I had a very negative experience with the universal periscope lens I was recently sent to review.

The purpose of this device is to take pictures at angles your camera can't usually manage - like side angles or straight down shots without shadows. In concept, this was a great idea. I always fight with shadows and would have loved for this product to work.

Here's why it didn't:

  • The item arrived broken (the glass was broken.)
  • It did not attach (magnetically or otherwise) to my Samsung Galaxy or my husband's iphone 5. 
I contacted the company and they immediately wrote back offering a replacement. The item was damaged in shipping (it is glass after all,) and they were wiling to offer a replacement - no questions asked. This is a very good thing. 

But I didn't take them up on the offer because it was unable to attach to either of our devices and I didn't think getting a second one would solve this problem. 

So, in theory, this would have been a good and very useful product. But that is not at all how it turned out. 

Disclosure: I received a complimentary product for review purposes. All opinions expressed are my own and this article does NOT contain affiliate links. No compensation was received.

Yoga Sweat DVD - Powerful And Fun Yoga Weight Loss Review #spon

Thursday, May 14, 2015

I consider myself "fitness savvy" and I enjoy almost all types of fitness. So when I had the chance to review the Yoga Sweat DVD I thought it was going to be a quick and easy workout.

I found it very mentally challenging and throughout the workout, I kept thinking back through the years and realized that I had never taken an "actual" yoga class. I've taken classes that incorporate yoga moves, or pilates, or tai chi - but never one that focuses on yoga alone.

This DVD is all yoga and nothing but yoga. That's a good thing, but if you're like me, then you might have a hard time staying focused and wanting to continue the workout.

Let me dial it back and explain what I mean, then I'll get into specifics about the DVD. When I workout, it usually hurts. I am constantly thinking about fighting or getting stronger. I usually have the music turned up loud and I am in that gym for a battle.

Yoga is more quiet. It's all about focusing on your body, your breathing, your moves. I have a really hard time with that. While I'm twisted into some pretzel-like shape, I notice the dishes need to be washed or that my kids left something on the floor. I stare at my hobbit feet and think "what the hell!!!"

Then I catch a glimpse of myself and realize that I look like crap, or I focus on how the person in the video can touch her head to the floor and I'm lucky if I can get it to my knees. It's a mental hazing - like junior high inside my mind. And it sucks.

I completed the whole DVD and even though the moves were good (and I learned quite a few new ones!) I couldn't get over my own drama. I don't know if I could do yoga again. Or maybe that means I need to calm down and find away to mindfully work through a full yoga session. I would probably be a better person for it, but I don't know that I can or want to....

Let's assume that you like yoga or want to try it even though I just rambled on about how mentally challenging it is. Here's some details on the actual dvd.

The Actual Workout:
This is the first workout video I have performed where the instructor does not talk and the entire video is done as a voice over. It caught me for a loop, but I think it's a good idea and all videos should adapt this style. Not only does it make doing the video easier (since the instructor is not panting or doing 2 things at once) but it makes watching it a second/third/nth time much more enjoyable.

I have videos with great workouts but I can not stand the instructor's commentary. It only gets worse the 15th time you hear him shout "ooh...squeeze out those cheeseburgers" or some other lame comment.

This video has none of that. The voice just tells you what to do with each move and the model does it along with you.

The moves themselves are a mix of easy and challenging. None of them were too hard for me to do (strengthwise) but quite a few of them challenged my balance and flexibility. Well, most of them challenged my flexibility.

I learned a lot about yoga technique by the voice on the video. She tells you where you should feel the pressure, where your weight should be focused, etc. I found that extremely helpful.

The pace is not fast or slow. If you have experience with yoga or even with a few basic moves, it will be much easier for you. If not, then you should probably watch once first so you know what to expect while you are twisted like an eagle or facing down and unable to see the screen.

Will it actually make you lose weight? I don't think it would burn enough calories to count as cardio or help a lot with "weight loss" but it would increase your strength, flexibility, balance, and focus/concentration. The moves are really good and I think they would be good to rotate into your workouts in order to improve those areas.

I may or may not do the video again. I will use the moves I learned in the video in my future workouts, but I will most likely donate this video to a yoga-friend (only because I can not focus myself for an entire yoga workout.)

Disclosure: I received a complimentary product for review purposes. All opinions expressed are my own and this article does NOT contain affiliate links. No compensation was received.

Mattress Protector By Comfiy - Finest Full Size Review #spon

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

I first discovered mattress protectors when my children were potty training. They were an amazing discovery. If you haven't put a mattress protector on every bed in your home (or at least your children's beds!) I urge you to consider it.

They keep dust mites, dead skin flakes, blood, milk, urine, vomit, bodily fluids, and anything that could be spilled from entering your mattress. That means less mold, less smells, and less germs.

I had the chance to review the full sized Comify Mattress protector and I put it on one of our guest beds. Guests deserve to sleep in a clean bed and if multiple people rotate through that bed, then a mattress protector is essential.

Since I have a bit of experience with mattress protectors, I can safely say the Comify protector is well made and will most likely protect against any spills/bodily fluids. I didn't spill on it on purpose to check, but I can tell by the backing.

It is not as thick as some of the one's I've purchased in the past but in this particular bed, we have a pillow top mattress and are not relying on the protector to provide the "plush" feel.

It's machine washable and fits the mattress well - there was no pulling or sagging.

It was a great protector and I would recommend it to friends and family looking for a way to protect their mattresses. It even comes with a 30 year guarantee.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary product for review purposes. All opinions expressed are my own and this article does NOT contain affiliate links. No compensation was received.

Silicone Wine Glasses/Pouch/Collapsible Bottle Review #spon

When your traveling, how do you take care of your drinking needs? Can you travel with glass? What about space issues?

I recently had the opportunity to review the silicone wine glasses and collapsible bottle set from MoiChef. It's a set of two silicone glasses and one collapsible bottle.

I've seen photos were people fold the cups and put them in their back pockets. I could not get the cups to fit in my pocket - even one at a time. But with large enough pants/pockets, it's probably possible.

The cups do collapse and that makes them ultra portable - plus they can't break. They are fully able to stand on their own and do not roll around or fall onto themselves. They definitely serve the purpose for which they were intended.

The bottle is also useful, but only holds about 3 cups of liquid. I would definitely use it for water but would have liked it to hold more liquid.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary product for review purposes. All opinions expressed are my own and this article does NOT contain affiliate links. No compensation was received.

EatSmart Precision Pro Digital Food Thermometer Review #spon

We eat very little meat in our home (for compassionate reasons) but when we do, I want to cook it right. There is almost nothing more disgusting in the culinary world than wasting food. That's where a food thermometer comes in.

I had the chance to review the EatSmart digital food thermometer. It's so easy to use! And it's pretty much perfect for being able to tell when a meat is cooked to a safe temperature (or the perfect temp for rare, medium, or well done.)

The temperature pops up on the screen very quickly (less than 5 seconds) and is easy to stick right into your food. The probe gradually tapers to 1.5mm to minimize the hole left in your food - maintaining the juices inside and the appearance of your dish.

It comes ready to use right out of the box, since it comes with all necessary batteries and instructions.

This would make a great Father's day gift and at less than $20 - it's something even the kids could buy for him.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary product for review purposes. All opinions expressed are my own and this article does NOT contain affiliate links. No compensation was received.

Kendama Review #spon

I have been battling to get my children away from screens. I am currently losing that battle. As much as I offer them new non-electronic toys, take up hobbies, put them in sports, or drag them outside, they still run back to the screen as soon as they can.

But I'm not giving up the fight! I will continue to do crafts, take them on excursions, bring them outside, put them in sports, and find books and toys for them to engage with.

So when I had the chance to review Kendama, I took it. Kendama is a toy that has long been popular in Japan among children and adults. I first saw this toy a few years ago when the "super organic" moms were buying them for their kids.

They were buying them at a trendy (read: expensive) boutique and their kids played with them for hours at the park.

Hours? Yep. It looks like a simple toy, but it is very difficult to master. And there are many ways to play with it. According to the manufacturer, there are over a 1000 different techniques for playing it.

It helps develop hand-eye coordination, concentration, and perseverance. Plus it doesn't use electricity!!!

My children have enjoyed trying to master the game and have especially enjoyed competing against each other. My son even tried to bring it to school today! School does not allow toys and would confiscate it, so.... it stayed home.

It may not be the only thing they play with or the cure to our screen dilemma, but it's another toy in the arsenal in the battle against the screens and I would recommend it to any parents with children over 3.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary product for review purposes. All opinions expressed are my own and this article does NOT contain affiliate links. No compensation was received.

The Dehydrator Bible Review

Monday, May 11, 2015

If you've never dehydrated food and want to know what it's all about, then The Dehydrator Bible is a great resource to teach you the basics. It's also a useful guide for those of us that have been dehydrating food for years.

Why would you want to dehydrate food in the first place? Well - it's a great way to preserve food and make it shelf stable (no refrigerators necessary!) It's a fantastic way to make use of a bountiful harvest or to save produce you find on sale at the store or farmer's market.

My favorite things to dehydrate are pineapple rings, apples, mushrooms, herbs, fruit leathers, and tomatoes.

I received a copy of The Dehydrator Bible for review purposes, and was very impressed with the contents.

The beginning of the book goes over all of the produce you can dehydrate with all the steps and details you need for each type of food (herbs, vegetables, and fruits.) Which ones need to be blanched, which need to be skinned, etc.

Then the book discusses how to dry grains, beans, dairy, and meats.

The bulk of the book covers recipes. Both dehydrated recipes (like fruit leathers) and meals made from dehydrated goods. This is extremely useful information if you want to pack dry foods to cook while camping or for use in an emergency situation.

This book is a very good reference guide and the information inside is accurate (at least according to my 20+ years of dehydrating experience.)

If I were to make one criticism - I wish the book would have explored the idea of solar dehydration. It does a great job expounding on tips and techniques for electric dryers, but a page or two on how to dry correctly in the sun would have been appreciated.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary product for review purposes. All opinions expressed are my own and this article does NOT contain affiliate links. No compensation was received.
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