How to grow seedlings in the winter in Northern climates

Saturday, October 11, 2014

I recently read a fascinating book about growing world record tomatoes. The growing results were amazing and I plan to incorporate some of Mr. Wilber's tricks in my garden....but living in zone 4 means we will never have outrageously productive and/or large plants. They only have 2-4 warm months to grow, and most of that time may include sub optimal temperatures and/or heavy rains/snow.

Even still, I have a plan to start growing my garden earlier this year and improve overall yields. I have four plans.

1. Winter Sowing: This is most likely dangerous in zone 4, but I plan on winter sowing a few Siberian heirloom tomatoes, leeks, marigolds, rhubarb, ground cherries, and possibly a few others. I am only going to use a few seeds in case it is a dismal failure.

2. Mini Greenhouses within the garden: I plan to direct sow peas, swiss chard, scarlet pole beans, radishes, beets, butternut squash, buttercup squash, and sugar loaf delicata earlier than normal. I will plant them mid/late April and cover the squash with the top half of a milk carton (cap removed for ventilation.)

I always plant peas, swiss chard, beets, and radishes around Easter, so this isn't a huge change for them. My garden is a south facing raised bed so it generally warms up and is workable well before Easter, so I *think* there might be a fighting chance that mini greenhouses can allow me to extend the squash season.

Even still, I will be planting seedlings in the greenhouse just in case.

3. Planting more perennials: This year I planted some seeds and bulbs in the ground in the fall. I planted ramps, walking egyptian onions, strawberries, and asparagus. I grow some of these already, so it shouldn't be that big of a change. The change is mostly in making a bigger chunk of my plantings recurring perennials. I will be further propagating my black cap raspberries and red raspberries (with the help of a nearby willow tree) to increase their span. I am also adding rhubarb (by seed, so wish me luck!) and possibly currants and/or saskatoon berries.

4. Using a Mini Greenhouse: Many people use greenhouses and have success growing seedlings and even whole plants. Those people don't usually live in really frigid temperatures (unless they have a gigantic, fully heated greenhouse.)

I plan to grow my seedlings outdoors in early spring (March is the target.) I plan to do this without any use of electricity. No heaters. No grow lights.

Here is the actual greenhouse I plan to use:
I bought this from someone on Craigslist for $20. It's basically a metal shelving unit covered in a thick clear plastic that zips closed. Admittedly, I am a bit scared to put this out on a snowy winter day and expect it to protect my plants.

But I do have a plan....

Right now, the greenhouse is storing my gardening supplies. My son calls it the "recycling center" because I have milk carton parts, toilet paper rolls, egg cartons and various other recycled objects littering the shelves. Each of these items is being saved for use in growing my seedlings...but it's a mess for now.

This is my "written plan:"

The main goal with the greenhouse is to provide protection from wind/snow and to trap solar energy using thermal mass. There are 4 shelves in this greenhouse. The bottom shelf will contain 4-12 gallon sized milk cartons filled almost full with water (leaving space for expansion) sitting on top of bricks.

The other 3 shelves will contain plants arranged as seen on the right side of my drawing (paper drawing above.) Each shelf holds one black plastic tray (technically a boot tray.) The shelf holds the tray, 2 bricks, and 2 gallon milk cartons almost exactly. The bricks are thermal mass (heat sinks) and the water filled milk cartons will also trap and release thermal energy.

Each black tray holds 4 milk carton bottoms (the tops were cut off to be used as mini greenhouses in the garden) and 2 black meat trays. The four milk carton bottoms hold plants and the two black meat trays hold pebbles.

There will be a lot of thermal mass in this greenhouse. The bricks, the pebbles, and the water will all hold the heat from the sun and release that heat in the evening. The black trays and containers should absorb the sun's heat during the day. They will most likely give up their heat quickly when the sun goes down for the evening.

I will have to pay attention during the day to ensure the plants don't get too hot or steamy. Maybe it will work, maybe it won't. But I'm going to give it a try.

I also had plans to compost a bunch of horse manure, incorporate more leaves and compost, and the usual crop/legume rotation. I did incorporate more leaves, then spent a long time killing slugs, then incorporated more leaves/compost. Considering my last foray into horse manure use....I changed my mind and am thinking about new ways to organically improve my garden soil.

I chopped up all the bean and squash foliage and turned it into the soil. It was completely gone in less than a month.  I double dug my beds this fall and covered them all with a leaf cover to keep the soil from drying out (I do have clay, after all.  Intense, hard and sticky clay.)

I also experimented with "in garden" composting. When one of my beds was done growing for the season, I turned it into a living compost bin. I added kitchen scraps, leaves, and dead plant parts. Then I covered it with sheets from the inside of an unwanted phone book (seriously! Why do they keep sending these? We have the internet! Plus, I call every year to get taken off "the list,") and cardboard, wetted it all down, then covered it in heavier dead plant parts and bricks.

This "compost bed" lasted about a month and a half before I took of the bricks and looked inside. The composted materials were all gone, including the phone books and cardboard. The soil inside was gorgeous and scary at the same time.

It was moist, crumbly and deep black. It was also full of LIFE. Centipedes scurried everywhere (they eat worms and slugs.) I saw green worms for the first time in my life, huge fast racing night crawlers, and of course the regular worms. And slugs and frogs. I let everyone live except for the slugs. I have no respect for them.

Actually, I feel bad about killing them so I strategically relocate them knowing with almost complete certainty that their new home (the road!) means imminent death. If only I had a duck or chicken to feed them to. They are so meaty and juicy looking; it's a shame no one is able to eat them - though the turkeys have been coming around more lately...

The ultimate goal is to have a self sustaining and productive garden with minimal external inputs. This is the goal set for 2015 - let's hope it works out!

Key West Retinol Cream Review

I made a mistake when I took a break from using retinol creams. About a year ago, I decided to use only all natural products and stop buying creams at the drugstore. I noticed some quality changes to my skin, but one horrible side effect erupted. Acne.

Retinols had kept my acne at bay for years and stopping them was a big mistake. But honestly, in order to get an semi-decent percentage of retinol in the products I bought I had to pay exorbitant prices and the products were filled with "other" ingredients.

In my battle to repair the ravages of acne, I came across Key West Retinol cream. This night cream is an advanced formula with 97% natural and 71% organic ingredients, at a strength of 2.5% (2 1/2 times the amount of retinol as the standard 1% strength found in most retinol creams and is the strongest percentage available without a prescription.)

A higher percentage means I can use less of the product and the 1.7oz size means it will stretch a lot further. Since I am just getting used to retinol again, I am glad it's almost winter! The sun and retinol are a dangerous mix.

So far, I am quite happy with the Key West retinol cream. If you try it and are ever unhappy, the company offers a 100% money back satisfaction guarantee!
I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

USDA Certified Organic Raw Shea Butter Review

Shea butter comes from the nut of the African shea tree. It's a common ingredient in moisturizers and cosmetics. But it's a great, pure moisturizer on its own.

We recently reviewed USDA Certified Organic Raw Shea Butter. We used it mostly for body skin. It is an amazing emollient and it smells great! Your skin just drinks it in and you can tell it's a high quality product.

It is a little difficult to use in our northern climate because unless you have a super warm house, it will be in it's solid form. If I'm using it on myself, I will use it solid. But for my kids, I warm it up so it is quicker to use.

This particular jar of shea butter is 14 oz or almost an entire pound. If you want to use pure organic products or even if you mix your own organic products, this is a great product to use.

I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

Stark Safe Cut Gloves Review

I cut my hands often while cooking. It's a scary and unfortunate situation. When I saw the Stark Safe Cut Gloves, I knew I had to try them. Stark Safe Cut Gloves are 4x stronger than leather and offers an EN388 Level 5 cut resistance.

Still, I couldn't bring myself to purposely cut my hands to see if they "worked." Instead, I wore them during cutting and did not cut myself. Maybe it was because the gloves made me more aware of my hands, but I did not even come close to cutting myself.  But given how thick they are, I am fairly certain it would stop the nicks I commonly suffer.

I found it kind of awkward to wear gloves while cooking/cutting. They fit really well and did not interfere with dexterity, but my hands are normally naked during cooking and being gloved is going to take some getting used to.

My other concern was cleanliness. Personally, I have decided to wear these only for fruits/vegetables. My main accidents happen with rolling vegetables and I just don't want any issues with blood and bacteria. These are machine washable but meat is always a tricky situation, so I find it better to just take them off when it's time to cut meat.

Overall, these are a great solution to a common problem. I like them and am glad to have found them.


I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

Hyperbiotics Pro-Kids Review

Are your kids getting sick every time they go back to school? Mine used to - then we started taking probiotics. The are many choices out there, but I always try to choose a natural product that's easy for kids to take.

My kids will take the medicine they are given but they generally complain about the taste or difficulty in taking large pills. They hate the taste of our current probiotics.

Then I had the chance to review Hyperbiotics Pro-Kids. These are all natural, sugar free probiotics designed for kids. It's a super small pearl shaped pill. It was easy for my kids to swallow.

The bottle says it has a tangy citrus flavor. I tried them, chewed them, and thought they tasted horrible. Horrible! And they stuck in my molars making the taste last until I could get it out. However: my kids thought they tasted fine and even preferred the taste over the other brand of "not sugar free" probiotics they were taking. That surprised me, but if they like them that's all that matters. I would swallow them whole if I were taking them.

If you'd like to try them, you can find them on amazon and combine them with another order to get free shipping.
I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

Gurin Professional Rechargeable Water Flosser Review

When a good friend bought her son a water flosser to go along with his new set of braces, it was the first time I had ever heard of such a product. Maybe it's a "braces thing." I never thought about it again until the Gurin Professional Rechargeable Water Flosser arrived on my doorstep.

Since I have tight teeth and floss often breaks in my mouth, I thought it might be good for me to try this water flosser. 

I immediately hated it. I turned it on and water sprayed everywhere. All over the mirror, all over me, all over!! I couldn't control it and I started typing an email to the company to let them know I had to write a negative review.

Then I told my husband about it and he looked at me like I was an alien. Did you close your mouth, he asked? Of course not. I wanted to see where I was "flossing." 

I guess that was a big deal because when I tried it with my mouth closed, there was no water disaster. Then it worked like it should, I guess. I was still really gun shy and I'm not sure I could really get used to spraying my mouth in order to floss but I can see how it would be really useful for people or can't or won't floss with actual floss. 

On actual performance, I have a few comments. One - I found the battery life to be adequate and long-enough lasting. Two - I wish it held more water. 

If you want to try a water flosser, this seems to be a good choice, but you will want to search the right way to use them so you have a good result the firs time you try it.
I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Since we live in the north, I stock up on Vitamin D for the winter. I have both the chewable and swallowing varieties, and I always buy the D3 versions - D3 is the type produced in our bodies from the sun.

So when I had the chance to try DSpeed™, a self dissolving peach-flavored tablet, I was happy to give them a try.

I was very happy to see that the vitamin is in the D3 form and the serving size is 1 tablet (and at an appropriate dosage.) The tablet melts in your mouth so it can be used by adults and children. I broke the tablets in half for my children so they had a more size-appropriate dosage.

They are super easy to use, give me the type of Vitamin D I want, and taste great. I would definitely buy these again. Since they contain no sugar, I greatly prefer them to the children's chewable vitamins. These will most likely be my primary Vitamin D supplements from here on out.

I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

Spare Fuel Review

Preparing your vehicle for an emergency situation is something that every driver needs to consider. You will want drinking water, a shovel, blankets, emergency food, medical supplies and.... Something I just added to my trunk is Spare Fuel. 

Spare Fuel is a patented emergency fuel for any gas powered engine that is designed to be safe for storage. Gasoline is dangerous to store. Spare Fuel solves that problem.  You could use it for your boat, generator, or vehicle.  I am keeping it in my car for emergency situations, and am very excited that a product like these exists. I have drove hours to rescue my husband when he's run out of gas and in a winter storm, you never know when you might be stranded and need the fuel in your car to stay warm or when you might be stuck in traffic and run out of gas on the highway.

This product does have specific rules for use and you will want to read them carefully before use. It's small and will fit in any size trunk. Consider this as a holiday gift for the person that has everything or someone that needs to improve their emergency preparedness.
I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

Optimal Omega 3 Review

My mind works better when I have an adequate dietary intake of Omega 3 fatty acids, but I rarely eat fish (habit) and hate taking big foul tasting omega 3 tablets. So when I heard that Optimal Omega 3 fish oil supplements are enteric coated to avoid fishy burps and aftertaste, I was happy to try them.

They are on the large size, but the serving size is one tablet so swallowing them is doable. Plus they are coated on the outside so you don't accidentally taste fish when taking them. Each tablet contains 600mg of DHA and 800mg of EPA. 

Each bottle contains 180 Softgels,  up to 3 months supply. Since I haven't taken Omega 3 supplements for quite some time, I noticed the effects within the first day. Because the difference was so stark and they were pleasant to take, I was motivated to remember to take them each day. I have been very happy with this brand of Omega 3 and would buy it again in the future.
I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

ReCAP Mason jar pour cap review

Mason jars are pretty awesome. If you like to use them to store things, cook, make gifts and preserve food, then you are going to love them even more when you see ReCAP Mason Jar pour caps.

I had the opportunity to review one of these caps and it was as great as you would expect. I use mason jars to store my sugar and salt. They are so much better (and bug/water resistant) than storing in the sugar bag. Mason jars are great when you want to scoop out a teaspoon or two, but are kind of a pain when you need to use cups.

The reCAP mason jar cap makes pouring out of the jar a breeze. It's just plain awesome. I only wish I had more of them!!

The caps come in wide mouth or regular. They also come in the three colors you see in the photo. It looks like they will be coming out with additional caps soon and I am looking forward to it.

I frequently store foods in mason jars (sealed and unsealed) and would prefer to use a different cap for my unsealed items.

I am putting more of these on my Christmas list. You might want to too.

I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.