Winter/Spring Seed Starting without Electricity - Part 1

Saturday, February 28, 2015

This year I will be growing all of my own seedlings - outside - without electricity or heat. I live right in the middle of growing zone 4. I keep hoping we might edge into zone 5, but it's not likely.

The plan is to use this mini greenhouse:
Most gardeners who successfully grow during the winter months in Northern climates without a "real greenhouse" or added heat/electricity use a double cloche system - fabric covered by some sort of cold frame or cloche.

So I am attempting to mimic both that system and some of the aspects of a solar greenhouse.

Inside the plastic shelled "greenhouse," my plants will be started either inside a recycled milk carton or inside a large plastic box. The plastic box contains 32 toilet paper rolls that are fashioned into tiny seed containers.

The greenhouse plastic will act as my "cold frame" and the plastic box or milk cartons will act as the second layer - sort of a greenhouse within a greenhouse.

Each set of milk cartons sit on top of a black tray inside of a box (for easy carrying) and that box is filled with small pebbles (thermal mass.) Behind the box of milk cartons are bricks.

The bottom layer of the greenhouse (bottom tray) will house clear recycled bottles filled with water and an additional layer of bricks. These are thermal mass and will act as heat sinks.

They will absorb the heat from the sun during the day and keep the greenhouse warmer as they give off that radiated heat by night. Or at least that's the plan.

The top of the greenhouse has a pocket where I conveniently inserted my oven thermometer. This oven thermometer works great for a solar oven (or a conventional oven) but is also able to detect the ambient temperature (as long as it is above 35F). It is currently below 0 outside and below 35 in the greenhouse, so I am getting an error reading at this time. I have checked in various scenarios and know it to be accurate. As soon as I can register at least a 40 degree temperature inside, then I am going to begin some of the plantings.

I am structuring the planting in 2 tranches -

First set will go in mid-March and will include rhubarb, bokchoy, leeks, sunflowers, chives, and chard.

By mid-April, all of those plants will be out of the greenhouse and into the garden. Their places will be taken by tomatoes, ground cherries, watermelon, canteloupe, green peppers, butternut squash, cheese squash, cornflowers, cucumbers, basil, and yellow crookneck squash.

Then these plants will move out and into the garden in mid-late May.

As things progress, I will put that information in a post.

I also have an exciting to plan for an outdoor herb garden using recycled materials that I will share once it's warm enough to complete the paint job on my planters.

Blupure ecofriendly 13 stage countertop water filter Review

Friday, February 27, 2015

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

Almost 15 years ago, a very wise and spry 80+ pediatrician told me to to never buying anything that wasn't on sale, to keep active and get outside everyday, to only eat good quality bread, and to always filter my water. 

The conversation was the most frank, honest, and altruistic I had ever had with another human being and it sticks with me because he was so right. He's pushing 100 now and I just checked to see that he is alive an well, still practicing medicine. Wow! 

His advice was right on the money and I have tried to follow all of his principles. Except that I have had hit or miss success with filtering water. Most filters are so limited in what they actually remove. They can be expensive and they often clog with other contaminants. 

I had all but given up hope on water filters that could actually perform until I had the chance to review the Blupure Water filter.

What I like about the Blupure is the fact that it actually removes flouride and radiation from water! Almost no filters remove flouride! Plus it's a countertop unit and is relatively inexpensive. 

Here is the list of items it removes: chlorine,lead,mercury,fluoride,chloramine,bacteria,sulfide,and radiation

I have been using it and my water takes great (it also tasted good before) but I feel better knowing the contaminants are being removed. Since it can remove ions and bacteria, I am hopeful it can also remove the myriad of pharmaceuticals the average American defecates into our water supply.

The only beef I have with the unit is the fact that it can only be used with a standard faucet. All but one of my faucets are the pull out spray type and they can not be used with this unit. So unfortunately, I have to install it into my laundry room and go there for filtered water. Not exactly convenient. If there is a fix or an alteration that would allow this to work with more faucets, than I would be thrilled.

Francois et Mimi 50oz Glass French Press Review

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

French Press is an amazingly useful appliance! It can of course make coffee, but it can also make whipped cream, tea, and herb infused oils.  It can even strain nut milks (including coconut milk) and possible assist in sprouting seeds. All without electricity!

I received the 50 oz French Press from Francois et Mimi for review. It's a beautiful press made of glass with a chrome finish. It's also really large! This could be used to make enough coffee or tea for the whole family and is the perfect size to strain a full batch of nut milk.

The best thing about it is the glass exterior. Finally you can see what is going on inside the french press and it's amazing.

I would highly recommend this press.

Original Buddha Board Review

Thursday, February 26, 2015

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

I am always on the lookout for items to help my children "get out of the screens" and reconnect with the world. My children love to create and I thought the Buddha Board would get their attention.

And it did. In fact, they loved it. My daughter drew on it for hours and didn't even realize she was missing her "screen time." I was thrilled.

The Buddha Board is a painting board and easel inspired by the Zen idea of living int he moment and letting go. It's really easy to use. Just place a little water in the tray and paint away. As the water evaporates from the page, your design evolves and you are able to write/draw/paint something new.

It is chemical free, leaves no mess (leaves no trace) and is pure, simple, creative, fun.

This would be a great gift for those that "have everything", for teachers and high stress professionals, and of course for families, parents, and children.

MIRA Stainless Steel French Press, Coffee Plunger 12 oz

Disclosure: I received complimentary product for review purposes. All opinions expressed are my own and this article does NOT contain affiliate links. No compensation was received.
I have never made a cup of coffee. In fact, I don't drink coffee. But I feel bad whenever people stay with us and want a cup. So I was thrilled when I had the chance to review this French Press.

It is the perfect coffee maker for visitors because you can make a small amount at a time, and I will use it for coffee when we have people staying with us. But I found out it is the absolute bomb for making tea!! I have struggled with various tea kettles and strainers over the years.

Today I used the french press and had my first cup of tea without "bits" in it!!! I use a loose leaf tea and even with my best strainer, bits always floated around in the cup. Not with the french press!

It was awesome. Plus: it's such a cute, petite little kettle! It holds about 1 1/2 cups but you want to use less because pressing the plunger does displace some of the water.

Since this is stainless steel, it will not only last forever, but it can be used for many things without keeping a scent. So I can use this for coffee, tea, straining nut milks, frothing milk, beating whipped cream, and infusing herbs into oil - all without infusing different flavors or scents into the container. 

This is truly a multi-use product and it takes a very small footprint in the cabinet. Did I mention that it also keeps ALL bits from floating in tea!??

Lemon & Peppermint Essential Oils Review

Disclosure: I received complimentary product for review purposes. All opinions expressed are my own and this article does NOT contain affiliate links. No compensation was received.
This year I have finally discovered essential oils. What are they good for? Wow...endless things. They are great as scents for homemade cosmetics, lotions, soaps and room fresheners. They can be used as medical remedies and even as insect repellents. Some of them are antimicrobial and do a bang up job of cleaning your home (lemon....) Those are just the areas I've explored and there's a whole world of information on how to use essential oils.

My favorite uses are in lotion bars, cleaning stainless steel and as a room diffuser.

I recently had the opportunity to review 2 essential oils from Insta Natural. I reviewed their Lemon and Peppermint essential oils. I've used these products before (from other companies) and they are definitely must-haves in an essential oil repertoire. 

The thing that sets Inst Natural's products are apart are the size of the bottles (HUGE!!) and the quality. I've often had lemon oils that are bitter smelling. This oil smells like pure sweet lemon. So much that you might be tempted to taste it!!

The peppermint oil is also fantastic. It's strong and does a really great job of lifting your spirits as a diffuser oil. 

I use lemon oil primarily for cleaning (and once for soaps) but since this one smells so good, I am planning to add it to my next soap batch and also my next set of lotion bars. 

If you are looking to get into essential oils, you will most likely be happy with these.

MashPro Review

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.

In my quest for kitchen excellence, I am always willing to try new tools and upgrade old ones when necessary. The newest tool in my arsenal is the MashPro masher.

Take a look at the comparison to my old masher:
My old masher is rusty and old, but it does a great job at mashing things, especially potatoes. Still...the rustiness and paint chips bother me.

So I set out to try the MashPro immediately. For anyone who doesn't know  - the #1 most important trick to making mashed potatoes is to mash the potatoes right away - as soon as you drain them. Do not wait and let them sit while you stir something else. Getting to them when they are piping hot makes all the difference between creamy smooth potatoes and lumpy chalky ones.

You use the MashPro just like any other masher. The biggest difference are the double layer of mash surface and the fact that it springs up and down.

I love the fact that the MashPro is stainless steel. There will be no rust or paint chips while using it. It also comes with a satisfaction guarantee. Unfortunately, I found it much more difficult to use than my old one. Maybe it's because the holes are smaller and it takes more pushing or the double layer? It was also harder to clean when all was said and done.

In the end, it did make good mashed potatoes. It did the job well and mashed out all potential lumps. I would use it again. In fact, I will also use it on berries this fall (for jam making) and will update my opinion then.

One of the more frustrating aspects of enjoying some time outdoors is the insects. Mosquitoes and ticks can ruin a good time quicker than an army of ants at a picnic, but fortunately there is a simple and efficient solution to dealing with these nuisance insects and take back the outdoors. Mosquito misting systems offer the great combination of convenience, durability, and repelling ability that bring people back to patios, decks, and other outdoor entertainment areas. The equipment covers a designated area with a mixture of repelling chemicals to keep bugs out.
By releasing a short thirty second burst of repellant two to four times daily, these automatic delivery systems take all the work out of pest control. Plus, remote control options are available if an area is in need of an additional dose. Some companies, like Mosquito Squad, even go the extra step by offering quality installation, refilling, and winterizing services, which means the homeowners have zero effort in maintaining a mosquito and tick free environment.
Since the spray nozzles are made from corrosion resistant metals, the units hold up year after years to provide a clog-free gentle misting experience that will not harm plants or other foliage. The tubing used to deliver the repellant is nylon, which means it is impervious to the elements of nature and can be easily concealed by exiting plants or other natural barriers. In short, the systems are designed to last.
Repelling Ability
Instantly repelling mosquitoes and or ticks from an area can mean a lot of serious work. Netting, screens, and even other harsh chemicals can take a lot of the natural view away or even create and unpleasant aroma. With automatic misting systems programmed to engage when people are not yet in the areas, the bugs and pests are kept away from the area in a virtually unnoticeable manner.
In the end, the mix of convenience, durability, and repelling ability make automatic misting systems one of the best investments for homeowners that want to enjoy an outdoor area but find themselves besieged by flying pests. Systems can be installed quickly and easily, which means fast instant relief for just about any deck, porch, patio, or other location. The simple yet rugged design of these systems allow for a worry-free operation that really can bring outdoor enjoyment back to the favorite activity list. Best of all, the systems are hidden from view, which means no netting to spoil the view or dangerous candles to risk knocking over.

Astor Canvas Log Carrier Review

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

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

It's not everyday that I find myself needing to transport logs, but when I do I'll be happy to have the Log Carrier from Astor. It's surprisingly roomy and very sturdy. If you are camping and need to transport firewood, this bag would keep your car from getting messy and make carrying the wood so much easier.

Beyond the firepit though, you could even use this bag to haul things around the house - heavy stuff like canned goods, tools, even landscaping rocks. I think it makes a handy gardening tote to keep my gloves, shovels, pruners and other miscellaneous gear all in one easy to carry location.

The bag itself is made of tough, leak-proof canvas. It opens up super wide and allows you to carry more than you would think by looking at the photos. When you are not using it, it folds down flat for easy storage.

Movo Wave Review

Disclosure: I received a complimentary Movo for review purposes. None of the links in this article are affiliate links and all opinions expressed are my own. No compensation was received.

This year, I am rededicating my self to healthy living. I'm making better food choices and pursuing more activity. What better way to keep myself accountable than with a wearable device, right?

I recently had the opportunity to try out the Movo Wave. It's a slick little armband that tracks your steps. You then connect it to your apple or android device and it uploads your activity. 

Here are my thoughts on the device:

How does it look? - The armband is small and discrete. It's black so it pretty much matches with everything and you can change the color band that holds the device closed if you are looking for more color.

How hard is it to use? It's super easy. You just put it on and go. You can sleep in it if you want. It just needs to be taken off if you are going to be in water (swimming, bathing, etc.) Once you install the app, all you need to do is plug it into your tablet/phone - everything else is automated. 

Does it work? Yes, it keeps track of your steps. You can input your own personal data so it can approximate calories. I have the android app, and it appears there are functions missing - to be added later, so my app only kept track of movement. You can get the app here:  iOS and Android

If you are looking for a wearable step tracker that will upload and save your data to a mobile device, you may want to look into the Movo. It's only $29.99 and the associated apps are free.