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Dealing with Aphids Naturally

There are some very simple and natural methods that can be used to get aphid infestations under control. When I consider how to deal with the attacks on my plants, I assess the amount of aphids first, and I look for beneficial insects nearby.

Milkweed is a nice addition to garden landscapes because it’s a beautiful perennial, and more importantly, it supports the monarch population that has been in danger. Milkweed plants are very easy to grow but oleander aphids (milkweed aphids) are a common problem. If the infestations are large enough they will gradually suck the life out of the plants. Plus, it’s possible that monarchs will avoid laying eggs on majorly infested milkweed leaves.

There are some very simple and natural methods that can be used to get aphid infestations under control. When I consider how to deal with the attacks on my plants, I assess the amount of aphids first, and I look for beneficial insects nearby.

There are some very simple and natural methods that can be used to get aphid infestations under control. When I consider how to deal with the attacks on my plants, I assess the amount of aphids first, and I look for beneficial insects nearby. Ladybugs and lacewings are among the many aphid predators that can help remove them. If there are not hundreds of thousands of aphids covering the milkweed, I figure it’s best to leave them there. They are a food source for the natural controlling predators which also help the other plants in my garden.

There are some very simple and natural methods that can be used to get aphid infestations under control. When I consider how to deal with the attacks on my plants, I assess the amount of aphids first, and I look for beneficial insects nearby.

When I see the oleander aphids multiply and completely cover the milkweed in my garden, that’s when I know I need to do something or the plants will die.

Before using any of the following natural methods, it’s important to look for monarch eggs or caterpillars on the plants first. If there are eggs on the leaves, carefully work around them. If there are caterpillars, you can temporarily move them to another milkweed plant until you’re done removing the aphids.

Removing Aphids by Hand: This is perhaps the most obvious method of removing aphids, but I’ve found it to be the most tedious. You simply rub the aphids off of the stems and leaves of the plant using your fingers. Wear gloves if you don’t want squished aphids all over your hands!

Removal by Hose: I have tried this method on large infestations of aphids and it’s perhaps my least favorite method. Using the jet setting on your hose sprayer, you attempt to spray the aphids off of the plant. I’m always afraid of damaging the plants by hitting them with a strong stream of water, and the aphids seem to hang on for dear life every time.

Wash with Soap: Based on my experience, this method has been most effective in reducing large aphid infestations. The soap eats away at the waxy coating on the aphids’ bodies and they dry up.

  1. Add a tablespoon of liquid castile soap to 32 ounces of distilled water in a large bowl and mix well.
  2. Pour into a spray bottle.
  3. Spray the aphids on the stems and leaves of the plant, including the undersides of the leaves.
  4. After the aphids die, gently spray the plant with water to wash the soapy mixture away.
  • It’s very important to note that only pure liquid castile soap without synthetic chemical additives should be used.
  • To make sure the plant won’t be harmed by the spray, test it on a small area before spraying the entire thing.
  • Spray during the early morning hours to prevent the leaves from burning in the hot sun.
  • I feel better rinsing the plant with water afterwards so a soapy residue doesn’t form.
  • It is best to use distilled water as opposed to tap water because the soap can react with components of tap water and form a residue that is tough to remove.

While removing aphids from my milkweed plants, I’m not overly obsessed about taking out each and every one. I don’t want to destroy the natural habitat of beneficial insects who love to feast on them!

Book Review: 37th Edition of the Ball Blue Book

The Ball Blue Book is a staple in the kitchen for anyone who cans; newbies and experienced home canners alike.

Wow, it is hard to believe that the last new blog post I published on Daily Pea was last Halloween. Time sure does fly by when you have two little ones, a household, work, a garden and a yard to take care of! Life has been busy but I have missed blogging. I have had many things resting in the back of my brain that I can’t wait to write about. Here is my first post to get things rolling again.

I was happy when I was asked to review the 37th edition Ball Blue Book, since we are harvesting lots of organic goodies from the garden as we speak! The first edition of this book was called The Correct Method of Preserving Fruit and was published in 1909. The first edition called the Ball Blue Book was published in 1915. Over the years it has evolved into a beautiful, full-color, must-have canning guide and recipe book. The 2015 edition is 200 pages long and includes more than 500 recipes (75 brand new ones!)

The Ball Blue Book is a staple in the kitchen for anyone who cans; newbies and experienced home canners alike.

The Ball Blue Book is a staple in the kitchen for anyone who cans; newbies and experienced home canners alike. It’s a reference book in which you can quickly find scientific facts, tips, easy-to-follow instructions and recipe inspiration. From freezing to the boiling-water method to the pressure canner method, this valuable resource has you covered.

The Ball Blue Book is a staple in the kitchen for anyone who cans; newbies and experienced home canners alike.

The recipes in the Ball Blue Book are organized by style (whole fruit, jams, jellies, pickles, etc.) If you are ever wondering about new ways to use your preserved garden harvest, open these pages for inspiration! There are delicious meal recipes as well. I recently harvested lots of basil from my garden and used the pesto recipe from page 152.

The recipes in the Ball Blue Book are organized by style (whole fruit, jams, jellies, pickles, etc.) If you are ever wondering about new ways to use your preserved garden harvest, open these pages for inspiration!

Between my mother and I, we own a few editions of the Ball Blue Book. It’s especially meaningful for me because my grandmother canned for years and used the Ball Blue Book in her kitchen. Last summer I posted her recipe for Old Fashioned Bread & Butter Pickles.

If you don’t yet have the 37th edition of the Ball Blue Book, I would highly recommend picking it up ASAP! In my opinion, it is a canning essential.

If you don’t yet have the 37th edition Ball Blue Book, I would highly recommend picking it up ASAP! In my opinion, it is a canning essential.

Disclosure: Jarden Home Brands (parent company of Ball Canning) sent me a copy of the Ball Blue Book to review. All opinions expressed are entirely my own. 

Storing Garlic

Garlic harvested from the garden is a beautiful thing! The question is, how can it be properly stored so that it will last for months and be planted in the garden for next year? Here's how I do it!

Garlic harvested from the garden is a beautiful thing! The question is, how can it be properly stored so that it will last for months and be planted in the garden for next year? If I keep a few garlic bulbs in the dark pantry or cupboard in our kitchen, they usually last a month or two before they start to sprout or rot. I go through garlic fairly quickly as I cook with it often. I also mince it and add it to herbed butters and oils, then freeze to be used later in sautéed veggies, sauces, and soups. That’s one way to preserve it but it’s really nice to have a stockpile of bulbs available so we don’t ever need to buy garlic. Here’s how I do it!

After curing the garlic I took it down and trimmed the leaves and roots, leaving about an inch at the top and a quarter inch of roots. I removed only the dirtiest outer papery wrapping because the rest of the layers protect the garlic cloves and keep them fresh.

Here is my post on how to grow and harvest garlic. I cured our garlic by tying it in bunches and hanging it in a dry, dark, moderately cool (about 75 degrees) closet for 6 weeks. It cured beautifully. After curing I took it down and trimmed the leaves and roots, leaving about an inch at the top and a quarter inch of roots. I removed only the dirtiest outer papery wrapping because the rest of the layers protect the garlic cloves and keep them fresh.

Damaged garlic bulbs shouldn’t be stored because they spoil more quickly. They should be used right away and if there are brown spots, just trim them off and the rest of the clove will be fine to eat.

 I put the cleaned garlic bulbs in mesh cotton bags, then hung them from the ceiling in our crawl space. The ideal conditions are a temperature of around 65 degrees F, with moderate humidity and some ventilation.

I put the cleaned garlic bulbs in mesh cotton bags, then hung them from the ceiling in our crawl space. It has vents so the air circulation will be fine for storing garlic. If you’re super lucky to have a basement, that would be a great place to store it as long as it’s not too damp or too dry. A closet would be okay as long as it’s dark and there’s ventilation along with a stable temperature. The ideal conditions are a temperature of around 65 degrees F, with moderate humidity and some ventilation.

I sorted my garlic bulbs and set aside the biggest ones with the healthiest wrappers for planting this fall. If you plant your biggest seed garlic cloves every year, your harvest will keep getting better and better!

Under ideal storage conditions garlic can last for up to 8 months. Of course, storage time will vary based on the variety of garlic and the conditions. I sorted my garlic bulbs and set aside the biggest ones with the healthiest wrappers for planting this fall. If you plant your biggest seed garlic cloves every year, your harvest will keep getting better and better!

DIY Hot Pepper Spray for Squash Bug and Squash Beetle Control

Here's a DIY hot pepper spray which is 100% safe and natural, that I spray directly on my cucumber and pumpkin vines to get rid of squash bugs and beetles.

Squash bugs and squash beetles are attacking my fall pumpkin and cucumber plants! I don’t understand it since my summertime cucumber bed made it without a single pest. There were aphids, but ladybugs took care of them. That’s what I first thought the squash beetles were on my pumpkin vines. Unfortunately, it turns out that they’re definitely not helpful ladybugs.

Squash beetles (different from squash bugs) are hungry little devils that can destroy a squash, cucumber or melon plant in a day's time. Even though the bugs and beetles are two different pests, they affect the plants similarly.

Squash Beetle

Squash beetles (different from squash bugs) are hungry little devils that can destroy a squash, cucumber or melon plant in a day's time. Even though the bugs and beetles are two different pests, they affect the plants similarly.

Squash Bugs

Squash beetles (different from squash bugs) are hungry little devils that can destroy a squash, cucumber or melon plant in a day’s time. Even though the bugs and beetles are two different pests, they affect the plants similarly. They can even spread bacterial wilt, which causes the vines to rapidly wilt and die.

Squash beetles (different from squash bugs) are hungry little devils that can destroy a squash, cucumber or melon plant in a day's time. Even though the bugs and beetles are two different pests, they affect the plants similarly.

Squash beetles (different from squash bugs) are hungry little devils that can destroy a squash, cucumber or melon plant in a day's time. Even though the bugs and beetles are two different pests, they affect the plants similarly.

The most effective way to get rid of squash bugs and beetles is to go out during the day when you can easily see them on the plants and pick them off by hand. I’ve done this and it’s really time consuming. The squash beetle larvae are downright creepy so picking them off isn’t my favorite thing to do. They’re yellow, spiky, mean looking little pests. Trust me, you’ll know one when you see one.

Here’s a DIY hot pepper spray which is 100% safe and natural, that I spray directly on my cucumber and pumpkin vines to get rid of squash bugs and beetles. A local farmer told us about it at the farmer’s market. The key is to apply it either at night or first thing in the morning, before the insects are really active and before the sun can burn the leaves. The goal is to force the existing pests off of the plants, prevent them from laying eggs on the plants, and to prevent new bugs from being attracted to the plants in the first place. It may not be 100% effective, but it sure does reduce the amount of squash bugs and beetles, saving you the time it takes to pick all of them off by hand.

I spray this solution on my plants every other day or so, or more often if it rains.

DIY Hot Pepper Spray for Squash Bug and Squash Beetle Control

DIY Hot Pepper Spray for Squash Bug and Squash Beetle Control

Ingredients

  • 2 hot peppers
  • 1 tablespoon organic canola oil
  • Water

Instructions

  1. Chop up the hot peppers and add them to a jar. Crush them really well to release their juices.
  2. Add 1 1/2 cups of water to the jar of peppers, then allow to sit overnight.
  3. Strain the pepper pieces from the pepper water, reserving only the water.
  4. Pour the pepper water into a 32 oz. spray bottle.
  5. Add the canola oil plus 4 cups of water.
  6. Shake the solution well before each use.
http://www.dailypea.com/hot-pepper-spray-squash-bug-beetle-control

Do you have an effective method to get rid of squash bugs and beetles? Please share!

How to Plant a Fall Veggie Garden

The close of summer is a great time to direct-seed fast growing varieties of vegetables in the garden. Lettuce, bok choy, spinach, radishes, arugula, turnips, peas, beets and carrots are just a few of the crops that grow well when days are shorter and temperatures are cooler. Here are some tips to help you enjoy fresh food past the summer season!

The close of summer is a great time to direct-seed fast growing varieties of vegetables in the garden. Lettuce, bok choy, spinach, radishes, arugula, turnips, peas, beets and carrots are just a few of the crops that grow well when days are shorter and temperatures are cooler. Here are some tips to help you enjoy fresh food past the summer season!

Timing

Knowing your first average freeze date and the amount of days until harvest (listed on seed packets) for each crop will help you determine the best time to plant your fall garden, within reason. I say within reason because sometimes the weather could be extremely hot and dry, as it has been recently here in South Carolina. I delayed sowing seeds a couple of weeks until the heatwave let up a bit. It seems like weather conditions are never textbook!

Choosing Crops

The close of summer is a great time to direct-seed fast growing varieties of vegetables in the garden. Lettuce, bok choy, spinach, radishes, arugula, turnips, peas, beets and carrots are just a few of the crops that grow well when days are shorter and temperatures are cooler. Here are some tips to help you enjoy fresh food past the summer season!

Here’s a list of what we planted in our garden (zone 7b.) If you’re in a northern area, some good choices are lettuces, spinach, peas and perhaps turnips. I may be cutting it close as far as timing goes with a couple of my choices, but I always think it’s worth a try. I’ve worried about planting too late or early before, and I ended up with a great yield regardless. Hooray!

  • Beets: Soil temp 50-85 degrees F, maturity 52-60 days
  • Bok choy: Soil temp 65-80 degrees F, maturity 35-45 days
  • Broccoli: Soil temp 75-85 degrees F, maturity 60-90 days
  • Cucumbers: Soil temp 70-95 degrees F, maturity 59-65 days
  • Lettuce mix: Soil temp 40-65 degrees F, maturity 24-28 days
  • Rainbow carrots: Soil temp 45-85 degrees F, maturity 58-65 days
  • Scallions: Soil temp 65-85 degrees F, maturity 60-120 days

The soil temperature listed is what is ideal for germination, and maturity is the amount of days until harvest. We’ll have to wait to plant lettuce here because it’s just too hot even with our soil cooling efforts.

Adding Compost

Vermicompost is one of the most nutritious and sustainable fertilizers you can use in your garden. Here are some tips on how to harvest it and use it to feed your plants.

I added vermicompost to the raised beds after I removed the spent spring and summer plants and before I planted new seeds. Please check out my series on vermicompost here. I think it’s one of the best ways to feed the garden! It helps improve soil texture, helps retain moisture, and it’s one of the most nutritious fertilizers you can use.

Cooling the Soil

The close of summer is a great time to direct-seed fast growing varieties of vegetables in the garden. Lettuce, bok choy, spinach, radishes, arugula, turnips, peas, beets and carrots are just a few of the crops that grow well when days are shorter and temperatures are cooler. Here are some tips to help you enjoy fresh food past the summer season!

Even though I delayed direct-seeding my fall veggies until after the heatwave subsided a bit, the soil in my raised beds was a bit too hot at 90 degrees F. Check the ideal soil temperature ranges for germination on your seed packets. A simple soil thermometer does the trick to check the temperature of the soil 2 to 3 inches down before sowing seeds.

One way to cool the soil down is to water thoroughly so the moisture reaches a depth of 6 to 8 inches. Adding a layer of mulch to the surface of the soil helps retain moisture which helps keep temperatures down. The addition of compost to the soil also helps retain moisture.

Adding Row Covers

The close of summer is a great time to direct-seed fast growing varieties of vegetables in the garden. Lettuce, bok choy, spinach, radishes, arugula, turnips, peas, beets and carrots are just a few of the crops that grow well when days are shorter and temperatures are cooler. Here are some tips to help you enjoy fresh food past the summer season!

I added row covers to my raised beds to help keep the soil cooler and to protect delicate seedlings from scorching sun. In addition to protection from late summer heat, row covers can also play a big part in extending the cool weather growing season. Depending on the weight of the fabric used for the row covers and also the climate, the growing season can be extended as much as 2 months or even more. Some fabric can protect to temperatures as low as 25 degrees F.

I used wire hoops to support the row cover fabric, and attached the fabric to the wire using clothespins. The fabric I use is permeable polypropylene and it allows 70% light transmittance and also lets rainwater in. It will provide up to 6 degrees frost protection. Since there are different weights of row cover fabric available, you’ll need to determine how much protection you’ll need based on your climate.

It’s not too late to get out there and plant a few fall veggies! With these tips in mind, primarily the row covers, you’ll have the opportunity to stretch out your growing season.

Which fall crops are your favorites?

How to Oven Dry Fresh Herbs

I was a little overwhelmed the other week when I noticed that my little herb bed was overflowing and in need of a major haircut. I'll show you how I oven-dried 3 types of herbs in one day's time!

If your herb garden is giving you the gift of too many fresh herbs at once, drying them is such a wonderful option because you can enjoy them for months as you cook with them. I was a little overwhelmed the other week when I noticed that my little herb bed was overflowing and in need of a major haircut. I’ve been cooking with these tasty fresh herbs like crazy and making pesto like there’s no tomorrow, but I still couldn’t keep up and I didn’t want to let a single stem go to waste! I’ll show you how I dried 3 types of herbs in one day’s time. I used the oven drying method for my basil, oregano and parsley, which I thought worked very well. The herbs are so much more flavorful and fragrant than even the best quality store-bought organic dried herbs!

I was a little overwhelmed the other week when I noticed that my little herb bed was overflowing and in need of a major haircut. I'll show you how I oven-dried 3 types of herbs in one day's time!

I set aside a Sunday with my little girls to dry our herbs. Here’s how it went:

  • We cut our herbs from the garden and brought them inside right away. The best time to cut herbs is in the morning before the plants have been stressed by hot sun.
  • We rinsed them, carefully shook as much water off into the sink as possible, very gently patted them dry with clean towels, then laid them flat on the towels until they were completely dry. Note: it’s important to not bruise the leaves while rinsing and drying, because bruising releases the oils (flavors) of the plant.
  • We removed the leaves from the stems. This is such a perfect job for little hands! My girls loved helping, and their hands are the perfect size for removing tiny leaves.
  • We placed the leaves in single layers on baking sheets. (I use these silicone mats on my baking sheets.)
  • Each tray of herbs went into the oven (middle rack,) heated to 175 degrees F. I put 2 trays in the oven at a time.
  • The key is to vent the oven door (I placed a dish towel in the door to prop it open slightly.) If the herbs truly bake, their essential oils are destroyed and the flavor deteriorates.
  • The parsley and oregano trays were in the oven for 1 hour until they were dried. Basil took a bit longer, at 1 hour and 20 minutes. You’ll want to keep a very close eye on the herbs while they’re drying.
  • You’ll know your herbs are completely dry when you can crumble them between your fingers.

I was a little overwhelmed the other week when I noticed that my little herb bed was overflowing and in need of a major haircut. I'll show you how I oven-dried 3 types of herbs in one day's time!

To store dried herbs, put them in air-tight jars and keep them in a cool, dark place. They’ll last for up to a year, however, I’ve noticed that flavor starts to deteriorate after around 6 months.

Another other herb drying method I would recommend is hanging. Carefully wash and pat dry the stems of herbs, then tie them into small bundles with a maximum of 10 stems per bundle. They need to be hung in a dark, dry and warm area with good air circulation for around 3 weeks.

Are you preserving herbs from your garden this season?

Ball Brand Products Review and Giveaway #CanItForward

In honor of International Can-It-Forward Day, enter to win 2 cases of Ball® Brand Limited Edition Green Heritage Collection Jars, a Fresh Herb Keeper, Dry Herb Jars, Frozen Herb Starters, 5-Blade Herb Scissors, and the Ball® Blue Book Guide to Preserving!

With our garden and farmer’s market overflowing with the delicious tastes of summertime this month, we’re in the midst of a canning frenzy to preserve the bounty before it’s gone! If you’ve ever canned your own harvest or received precious jars of goodness from a loved one, you know that it’s such a gift to enjoy the summertime flavors in the middle of the winter. Spreading some homemade blueberry jam on your pancakes or making chili with diced tomatoes from the garden is comforting when summer seems so far away. Okay, enough daydreaming, time to get to work on canning these organic goodies from the garden!

I was ecstatic when this big box of Ball® Brand products arrived on my doorstep, and I knew it would make preserving our veggies and herbs much more convenient and fun! In honor of International Can-It-Forward Day, I’m happy for the opportunity to review each one of these products, and to give you a chance to win a box of Ball® Brand canning items just like this one.

The New Limited Edition Spring Green Heritage Collection Jars

I absolutely LOVE these gorgeous limited edition green tinted jars that commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the Ball brothers’ “Perfection” Jar. They make our preserved pickles, tomatoes and jams look even more beautiful, and won't these goodies make wonderful gifts this Christmas?

Let’s get started with jars. We have tomatoes and cucumbers coming out of our ears, and we’ve been busy making bread and butter pickles, pickle relish, tomato sauce and diced tomatoes like there’s no tomorrow. We also have pounds and pounds of frozen blueberries and peaches to make delectable jams from. I absolutely LOVE these gorgeous limited edition green tinted jars that commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the Ball brothers’ “Perfection” Jar. They make our preserved pickles, tomatoes and jams look even more beautiful, and won’t these goodies make wonderful gifts this Christmas? They come in both pint and quart sizes. The giveaway includes a case of each size!

Fresh Herb Keeper

Next is this super convenient way to keep garden-fresh herbs. Sometimes it’s tough for me to run down to the garden every time I want to cut some fresh herbs, because it’s quite a hike and I have two very young children. Or sometimes, the herbs need to be cut before their flavor turns bad, and I’m not ready to use them all at once. This Ball® Fresh Herb keeper helps cut herbs stay fresh for up to 2 weeks! Stems and roots stay fresh in water to retain flavor and texture. I love that I have easy access to my fresh herbs in my kitchen, and I don’t have to worry about them going bad nearly as quickly.

Dry Herb Jars

These Ball® Dry Herb Jars came to my rescue. They stack so nicely for neat storage of dried herbs in drawers and cupboards, and they're great for keeping spice blends and rubs, too.

During the winter when my supply of fresh herbs is much less, I love using my garden herbs that I dried. Sometimes, though, my dried herb stash becomes difficult to use since I have very little storage space in my kitchen. Imagine that; I blog about food and my spice cupboard is a mess! These Ball® Dry Herb Jars came to my rescue. They stack so nicely for neat storage of dried herbs in drawers and cupboards, and they’re great for keeping spice blends and rubs, too. I also love the convenient shaker caps. The holes are bigger than the ones on other shaker caps that I’ve used, which is nice for the coarsely chopped herbs.

Frozen Herb Starters

No matter how many different types of fresh herbs you’re growing, and whether you just have a small amount or a large garden bounty, you’ll love preserving them by freezing them into cubes. You can freeze them in butter, oil or even water or broth, and the uses for them are countless! I’ve used the cubes for sautéed veggies, pesto, soups, dips, marinades and even beverages. I’m happy to have my new Ball® Brand Frozen Herb Starters because I love that they have lids to help prevent freezer burn and they also come with a labeling template, making them more convenient than other trays I’ve used. I have peace of mind that they’re made of non-toxic silicone and they’re BPA-free.

5 Blade Herb Scissors

If you often cook with fresh herbs at home, these Ball® Brand 5 Blade Herb Scissors will be your best friend in the kitchen. They conveniently and evenly cut herbs like parsley, basil and cilantro. No more putting your fingertips in danger with a knife while trying to quickly chop herbs!

If you often cook with fresh herbs at home, these Ball® Brand 5 Blade Herb Scissors will be your best friend in the kitchen. They conveniently and evenly cut herbs like parsley, basil and cilantro. No more putting your fingertips in danger with a knife while trying to quickly chop herbs! The other major bonus of these scissors is that they clean up in a snap. The slotted end cover makes cleaning and storing simple and easy.

Ball Blue Book

The Ball® Blue Book Guide to Preserving is  a 125-page book that will tell you pretty much everything you need to know about getting started with preserving. It includes equipment info, step-by-step instructions and tons of recipes.

Last but not least, the Ball® Blue Book Guide to Preserving. It’s a 125-page book that will tell you pretty much everything you need to know about getting started with preserving. It includes equipment info, step-by-step instructions and tons of recipes. It’s a good book to keep in your kitchen whether you’re new to canning, or a seasoned pro. It’s a book that will be passed down to your grandchildren someday! I use my grandmother’s recipes which she adapted from her Ball® Brand book, and I like having this book for updated info and recipes.

Enter the giveaway in the widget at the very bottom of this post, and you could win all 6 of the Ball® Brand products mentioned above!

In honor of International Can-It-Forward Day, enter to win 2 cases of Ball® Brand Limited Edition Green Heritage Collection Jars, a Fresh Herb Keeper, Dry Herb Jars, Frozen Herb Starters, 5-Blade Herb Scissors, and the Ball® Blue Book Guide to Preserving!

International Can-It-Forward Day

Stay tuned for International Can-It-Forward Day, hosted by Bravo's Top Chef judge, Hugh Acheson! August 16th will be a day to celebrate home canning, where foodies can connect via online and in-person activities.

Before I conclude, I want to mention to stay tuned for International Can-It-Forward Day, hosted by Jarden Home Brands Bravo’s Top Chef judge, Hugh Acheson! August 16th will be a day to celebrate home canning, where foodies will be able to connect via online and in-person activities. The event will take place in New York, at Brooklyn Borough Hall Farmers Market, but there will also be special events taking place in Canada, Australia and South Africa. You’ll be able to view the webcast right here on my blog, so come back on the 16th to take a look! There will be canning demos highlighting the most popular home canning recipes, and Chef Acheson will be answering viewer questions in real-time. There will also be 25 farmers markets across the country hosting Can-It-Forward Day celebrations!

I think it’s so great that home canning has made a huge comeback. It’s a lot of work, but it’s so rewarding, healthy and satisfying. I love that my little girls and I are canning with my mom, like my mom used to do with my grandma. The Ball® Brand has helped families create memories for years, and I thank them for keeping canning traditions alive!

For more inspiration, follow Ball® Canning on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest!

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DIY Upcycled Glass Bottle Garden Markers

Here are my DIY upcycled glass bottle garden markers, and here's how quick and easy they are to make!

Before you toss your glass bottles into the recycling bin, check out how pretty and functional they are in the garden! I’ve been looking for the perfect garden markers for a while. I have a set of beautiful metal markers, but they are expensive if I want to buy enough for my large garden. Painted stones are a wonderful idea for garden markers, but my little girls love to play with stones at the moment…they don’t leave them in the garden for long! I’ve been scrolling through Pinterest and nothing has really caught my eye that would stand up to the weather elements that we have here. The perfect solution has been sitting there in our recycling bin. Here are my DIY upcycled glass bottle garden markers, and here’s how quick and easy they are to make!

Here are my DIY upcycled glass bottle garden markers, and here's how quick and easy they are to make!

Here are my DIY upcycled glass bottle garden markers, and here's how quick and easy they are to make!

Here are my DIY upcycled glass bottle garden markers, and here's how quick and easy they are to make!

  • The mini glass bottles (such as half-sized wine bottles or beer bottles) work well because they don’t take up as much room in the garden as full-sized wine bottles do. They also work great in pots.
  • I like the chalkboard paint label look, so I chose black and white. I used this kind of non-toxic glass paint. I used “Beetle Black” and “Wedding Cake White.”
  • Using small craft brushes, paint the labels onto the clean glass, first painting the black label and letting it dry, then painting the white details.

Here are my DIY upcycled glass bottle garden markers, and here's how quick and easy they are to make!

  • Bake the paint on by placing the bottles in a non-preheated oven, then setting the temperature to 350 degrees F. Bake them for 30 minutes at 350 and leave them in the oven to completely cool to room temperature.
  • Place corks in the ends of the bottles to prevent soil and moisture from getting in.
  • Tuck the bottles neck-down tightly into the soil. They’re easy to take out when they need to be moved around the garden.

I love it when DIY projects turn out well and trash truly becomes treasure. My painting isn’t perfect, but imperfection is beautiful in a rustic garden scene!

What are your favorite ideas for labeling your garden?

When to Harvest Potatoes in the Garden

When is the perfect time to harvest potatoes in the garden? The answer is in the visual changes that the plants go through during the growing process.

After you plant your seed potatoes, hill the plants and continuously care for them, of course you start wondering what’s going on beneath the surface of the soil! When can you start enjoying your much anticipated harvest? It’s tough to resist sticking your hands into the dirt to make sure there are actually potatoes growing. In my experience, there’s no reason to resist carefully checking on them. I’ve done that quite often for the past few months! It’s just a relief to see tiny potatoes growing from the roots. I felt anywhere from grape-sized potatoes up to fist-sized ones. The question is, though, when is the perfect time to harvest potatoes in the garden? The answer is in the visual changes that the plants go through during the growing process.

When is the perfect time to harvest potatoes in the garden? The answer is in the visual changes that the plants go through during the growing process.

When the potato plants are still lush and green, keep watering and weeding to ensure the plants stay healthy and dedicate their energy to tuber production. Keep caring for them the same way while they’re flowering.

A few weeks after the flowers on the plants start to die off, you can gently loosen the surrounding soil with your hands and feel for small, thin-skinned potatoes. These new potatoes can be harvested without damaging the other potatoes that are still growing from the same plant. A new potato is very tender and has a sweet flavor. They’re delicious as a side dish!

When is the perfect time to harvest potatoes in the garden? The answer is in the visual changes that the plants go through during the growing process.

Potato plants gradually start to die when the potatoes are done growing. When you see the plants starting to die back, it’s a good time to harvest a few potatoes at a time. There’s nothing like having them for dinner that same day! The easiest way to harvest a few potatoes at a time is to use your hands and dig right in. You’ll notice that they are all located at around the same depth in the ground. Gently pull the potato out of the ground, and it will easily separate from the root.

When is the perfect time to harvest potatoes in the garden? The answer is in the visual changes that the plants go through during the growing process.

You will know that it’s time to harvest all of the potatoes from one single plant when it is completely dead. This means the plant is no longer giving the tubers energy to grow. In my garden, this has not simultaneously happened to all of my potato plants. While we speak, some are completely dead while others are still lush and flowering. It’s okay to leave the potatoes in the ground after the plant has died back. The skin actually toughens while the potatoes are in the ground, preparing them for storage. The potatoes should all be removed from the ground before the first frost, however, or they may be damaged.

When is the perfect time to harvest potatoes in the garden? The answer is in the visual changes that the plants go through during the growing process.

An entire potato crop can be harvested at once for storage. The best time to harvest is after it hasn’t rained for a few days. A pitch fork is probably the quickest and easiest way to harvest a large amount of potatoes. Just carefully loosen the soil around the plant and lift the hill up with the pitch fork. The plant can be easily lifted right out of the soil.

Once the potatoes are harvested, they can be left outside for a few hours to dry, out of direct sunlight. Don’t use water to remove the dirt because it would be difficult to dry them again. After the short drying period, the potatoes should be moved to a dark place to cure for a couple of weeks. The optimum environment for curing is around 60 degrees Fahrenheit with high humidity. After the potatoes are cured, they can be stored for months in a cool, dark place with good air circulation. The optimum storing environment is around 40 degrees Fahrenheit with moderate humidity. Potatoes can be stored in wooden crates, mesh bags or cardboard boxes, as long as there are openings for ventilation.

We had a lot of fun growing potatoes in our garden beds this year, and look forward to planting more seed potatoes this fall! We had a nice harvest after planting during late fall and overwintering. Next time, we just have to remember to plant the potatoes in different beds so that they’ll only be planted in the same beds one year out of every three years. Crop rotation is actually important for all vegetable varieties to make the plants stronger and more disease and pest resistant.

Did you plant potatoes this year? How is your harvest looking?

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How to Use Vermicompost

Vermicompost is one of the most nutritious and sustainable fertilizers you can use in your garden. Here are some tips on how to harvest it and use it to feed your plants.

Congratulations on feeding your plants with vermicompost! It’s one of the most nutritious and sustainable fertilizers you can use in your garden. I’ve been so excited about how easy and fun vermicomposting is, and how much it has helped my garden grow, that I’ve been wanting to spread the word to everyone!

If you’re interested in starting a vermicomposting system, please see my full post on How to Compost with Worms. If you have a working worm bin and you’re thinking about how to use the vermicompost you’ll soon have, check out my tips below!

When to Harvest Worm Castings

You will know when vermicompost is ready to be harvested in a multi-compartment worm bin after the worms have been eating in one full compartment and you have filled up the next compartment with scraps and bedding. It normally takes the worms as long to eat one whole compartment of scraps as it does for you to fill up the compartment next to it. When they run out of food, they’ll move on to the one with the fresh scraps.

How to Harvest Worm Castings

Let the light shine into the bin that you’re ready to harvest for at least 15 minutes. This will help coax any stray worms down to the bottom of the bin. Next, gently scrape back a few inches of vermicompost with a garden trowel or claw. Let it sit for another 15 minutes, just to make sure to give the worms enough time to burrow down.

Take a large bucket and scoop the vermicompost into it. If you’re going to store your vermicompost for a period of time, 5 gallon buckets with lids or sand bags work great. Keep on scooping until the worm bin is empty. If there are any scraps that didn’t decompose, or if you come across any worms while you’re harvesting, just toss them into the compartment full of scraps. There may be a concentration of worms along the sides and bottom of the bin. That’s no problem, because once you put them into the other compartment, they’ll be happy to have a fresh food supply and will burrow right in.

Vermicompost is one of the most nutritious and sustainable fertilizers you can use in your garden. Here are some tips on how to harvest it and use it to feed your plants.

When you’re finished harvesting and the compartment is empty, begin adding food scraps and bedding to that one, while the worms work away in the full compartment. They’ll move back over when they run out of food, and you can harvest more vermicompost! It’s a fine-tuned system that works well as long as you consistently add scraps to the bin.

Vermicompost is one of the most nutritious and sustainable fertilizers you can use in your garden. Here are some tips on how to harvest it and use it to feed your plants.

How to Use Vermicompost

The beauty of vermicompost is that you can’t overfeed your plants with it. It simply won’t burn plants like other types of fertilizer. It really is a foolproof method.

  • A general rule of thumb to follow is to use 3 pounds of vermicompost per 100 square feet of garden space. Another way to approach it is feeding each plant with about 1/2 cup of vermicompost every 2 months during the growing season.
  • Outside in the garden, place 1 to 4 inches of vermicompost on the surface level of the soil and work it in.

Vermicompost is one of the most nutritious and sustainable fertilizers you can use in your garden. Here are some tips on how to harvest it and use it to feed your plants.

  • Vermicompost can be added to the surface of the soil surrounding established plants and watered right in.

Vermicompost is one of the most nutritious and sustainable fertilizers you can use in your garden. Here are some tips on how to harvest it and use it to feed your plants.

  • A handful of vermicompost can be placed into the bottom of each planting hole when planting seedlings, and into furrows when planting seeds.
  • If you’re starting seeds indoors, incorporate vermicompost into your starting mix! Use 1 part vermicompost to 3 parts soil mix.
  • Make worm casting tea! Mix a couple of tablespoons of castings with 1 gallon of water and let it sit overnight. Next, strain the solution and dilute it if you wish. The tea can be used to water plants indoors our out, even spraying it onto leaves as a gentle but powerful fertilizer.

I love vermicomposting. It’s fascinating to see the worms working away in the bin, and it’s satisfying to see the end result, which is my garden thriving! Even my little girls love it. When they’re done eating a banana, they hand me the peel and say “let’s feed it to the worms, mama!” They like to peek into the worm bin every once in a while to see what’s going on. My 4 year old knows that the worm poop helps her garden grow. It really does! I just fed my pepper plants the other day and it’s amazing how much they’ve grown after just a few days.

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Have you ever fertilized with vermicompost? What were the results?