6 Common Seed Starting Mistakes

Starting seeds is one of my favorite times during the year. It means winter is finally coming to an end and the start of my favorite season – gardening season – is upon us. However, seed starting can be tricky for newbies. It can be tricky for me at times as well!

I’ve had many people tell me that they tried to start their seeds at home, but they always failed. There are several mistakes that people make all the time that can lead to failure. To increase your success rate, take a look at these common seed starting mistakes and avoid them!

6 Common Seed Starting Mistakes

  1. Starting Them at the Wrong Time: Every gardener needs to know their USDA Hardiness Zone and your average last frost date. Then, you need to know the best time to start each plant before that date. Every plant is different! Some need to start 10 to 12 weeks BEFORE your final frost date! The plants need to be old enough to transfer to their outdoor garden location.

If you start your seeds too early, they will too large for their pots or they might become root bound. Their growth could be stunted. Timing is crucial.

  1. Using the Incorrect Dirt: You can’t go outside and scoop out dirt from your garden. Seeds need special type of dirt because they are more prone to diseases and infections.

One of the most important factors is using a sterile soil. Otherwise, you risk passing a disease to your delicate seedlings. You also could bring insects in from outside. Who wants bugs in their home?

Don’t waste your time. Start your seeds in good potting soil! Your seeds need nutrients to start. You can buy high quality seed starting soil. For extra nutrients, add worm castings or compost.

  1. Failing to Keep The Correct Moisture Level: Dry soil won’t lead to healthy, sprouted seedlings. As your seeds are sprouting, you have to keep the soil moist at all times. If the soil dries out, you need to add moisture quickly.

At the same time, you don’t want to add too much water once your seeds are sprouted and under the grow light.

When you are germinating your seedlings, it is best to cover your pots with plastic. Doing so keeps the moisture and humidity levels higher, giving you a better chance of a high germination rate.

TIP: Don’t pour water over your seedlings. Instead, use a spray bottle to mist your plants. Doing so mimics natural rain and creates even moisture. You can also pour water directly onto the water around the seedlings rather than over top.

  1. Not Providing Enough Light: No matter what you think, you don’t have enough natural light in your house to correctly. Seedlings require a lot of light! You can purchase an artificial grow light or use a higher strength light bulb. Your lights should be kept close to your seedlings, ideally 2 to 3 inches, and gradually raised as your plants grow taller. You need to keep the lights on for 12 to 16 hours per day!
  2. Planting Too Deeply: Seeds are particular in how they want to be planted. Seed packets typically can give you all of the information you need, including how deep to plant in the soil. If the packet doesn’t tell you, you should be cautious and plant no deeper than two or three times as deep as the seeds are wide.
  3. Forgetting to Label: This mistake seems so simple, but most seedlings look very similar. Once you have raised seedlings for a few years, you might be able to tell them apart once they sprout. However, you won’t be able to tell the different pepper varieties apart. Labeling your seeds is important! One of the best methods is popsicle sticks. They are simple and readily available.

Everyone commits at least one of these mistakes when they first start seedlings. You might be making more than one! Fix your mistakes before you even start your seedlings this year.

Why You Should Plant Heirloom Seeds

Seed buying and gardening planning time are upon us. The two popular choices for seeds are either heirloom or hybrid. I prefer heirloom seeds, for several reasons. Many home gardeners aren’t sure what to pick.

Hybrid and GMO seeds work for many people. I know dozens of people who use these varieties for their small gardens at home. However, if your goal is to create a natural garden, heirloom seeds are the way to go. Several benefits make them superior to any other choice. Let’s take a look!

Handed Down from Generations

Many heirloom seeds carry a story with them. Some families save the same seeds for decades. Kids plant the seeds from the plants of their parents, and it continues down the line. Most heirloom seeds are at least 50 years old and have never been crossbred or altered in any manner. GMO seeds are altered.

Heirloom seeds are a way to preserve history. The plants our ancestors once grew are slowly disappearing. Using heirloom seeds, especially those with a rich past, allow you to embrace and remember our past.

Heirloom Seeds are Renewable

If you want to save money and homestead on a budget, heirloom seeds are a necessity. You might spend more in the beginning purchasing seeds, but heirloom seeds come with the ability to preserve and save the seeds from the crops you liked the most that year.

A renewable source of seeds allows you to become self-reliant for your crops. You don’t have to depend on any store for more seeds, even though I always purchase more every year. We love Baker’s Creek Seeds, and I always want to try new varieties. That isn’t a necessity though!

The Flavor is Better

Some might argue this point, but it is obvious to our family. Heirloom vegetables and herbs have a better, unique taste when compared the hybrid plants and seeds available in stores. Many of the plants have distinct flavors that are impossible to find in other plants.

The tomatoes in the store taste nothing like the tomatoes I grow in my garden. The tomatoes at a farmer’s market explode with flavor, while the ones at your local grocer tend to be less than amazing.

The Plants are More Reliable

So, you head to your local store and grab a few packs of seeds. These particular seeds originated in Spain, but you aren’t aware of that at the time. You are located in Kentucky! Now, you go home and plant rows and rows of green beans. Unfortunately, those seeds don’t produce the way you hoped because of an attack from local pests.

When you save your heirloom seeds year after year, they slowly adapt to your region. They can survive attacks by pests and diseases easier. At the end of the season, you pick seeds from the most successful plants in your garden. In the end, you get a better, locally adapted strain of veggies for your garden.


Our family has amazing success every year using all heirloom seeds. Do you use heirloom seeds? Let me know about your experience – good and bad!

10 Seeds to Start Directly in Your Garden

Seed starting is typically one of the right tasks a gardener begins with in the year, aside from order those seeds. I love starting seeds; it means that full gardening season isn’t very far off. I look forward to the time when I can prepare the trays and lights for my seedlings. At the same time, I am so glad that there are so many direct sow vegetables.

What is a direct sowing vegetable? It is simply a plant that you plant the seed directly into the ground outside rather than starting inside. That means you get to skip the first 8 weeks of pampering inside. It is a true win-win!

Technically, you can direct sow any seed, but it will delay your harvest and growth. If you direct sow tomato seeds in May rather than using a seedling plant, your harvest may not happen until September rather than August.

Luckily, there are several direct sow vegetables that I start each year. Here are my favorites!

Leaf Lettuce

Growing lettuce is simple, and there is no reason to start it in a pot inside. All you need to do is make shallow trenches and sprinkle the seeds in a row. As the seeds start to sprout, you’ll want to thin them out, allowing the plants plenty of space to grow.

Lettuce is a great choice for succession gardening. You can plant a row every two weeks, giving yourself a fresh supply of salads almost all season.


Spinach is full of vital nutrients and antioxidants for your body. You can eat it raw in salads (with your fresh grown lettuce), or you can cook it in dishes. We love spinach cooked with tomatoes and bacon in our pasta. Yum!

Spinach needs full sun or part shade. You want to make sure that you water your spinach plants consistently. It tends to want to bolt during the summer, so try to pick heat-tolerant varieties. You can also plant it behind your trellis, ensuring the plant does get some shade each day.


Corn is an easy-to-grow plant that everyone loves, especially kids. It is best to plant corn in blocks or rows. Corn is a warm-season crop, which means you must wait until the final frost date has passed for your zone. Ideally, the soil temperatures should be around 60 degrees F. You may have to wait a few weeks after the final frost date to plant to ensure good germination rates.


I love green beans! They are one of my favorite veggies all year round. You get to pick between bush and pole beans. Pole beans grow from long vines and need a support system.  They are great if you are short on space.

Bush beans tend to produce their crop quicker, giving you the chance to get several harvesting if you use the succession planting method.

When you plant your beans, it is wise to soak them in a bowl of water a few hours beforehand. Doing so allows them to germinate quickly. Sow the first round in early spring, as soon as the dangers of frost is past.


I will be honest; I’m not the biggest fan of beets personally. However, they sell well at farmer’s markets and some of my family members enjoy them. So, I plant a small section each year. Beets are a cool weather crop, and it is important not to forget that. You should plant them early, as soon as the ground is workable.

Beets can be sown every three weeks for a continuous harvest. Just like beans, you can soak beets for a few hours in water before planting to encourage faster germination.


Carrots can be tricky because they need fluffy, obstruction-free soil to grow larger, straight carrots. The seeds are small and difficult to space because of their size. However, they are worth the time investment. Who doesn’t want homegrown carrots in their fresh chicken soup?

Carrots are a cool-season crop, planted a few weeks before the final frost date. Make sure to water well after you plant. It is important to thin your seedlings as soon as they are two inches tall. Typically, you need to try to thin to three inches per carrot.


Another plant you must include is cucumbers! Cucumbers scream summertime. They’re perfect with some tomatoes and olive oil for a tasty salad.

Cucumbers are warm temperature plants, so you do have to wait until the threat of frost passes. Cucumbers can grow in mounds or grow up a trellis. I always pick to grow mine up a support system to save space.


Some people like to start zucchini inside, but in my experience, they do better when directly sown in the garden. Zucchini plants don’t like to have their roots disrupted, and it can slow their growth when you transfer a seedling into the garden.

Zucchini typically grow in mounds, and they need at least three feet per mound. These plants are overproducers, so you might have zucchini coming out of your ears. Just like cucumbers, zucchini are warm-season plants, so wait until the final frost date passes before planting.


My kids love peas right off the vine, and so do I. They are such an easy crop to plant if you have little kids. Their little fingers are perfect for pushing pea seeds into the ground. Peas typically require a support system and produce tall vines.

Peas are a cool weather crop, so you want to plant them a few weeks before your final frost date. They also make a great fall crop because of their tolerance of cool weather. Peas should be planted about an inch deep. These are great for beginning gardeners!


Radishes are such an underrated vegetable. People don’t know to use them, so they don’t grow them. Radishes are great, easy addition to your salads. You can also roast them with other veggies.

The best thing about radishes is that they grow super fast. Some varieties take less than three weeks to grow from seed to harvest! That is impressive. Kids get a kick out radishes, and it gives them the chance to see their hard work actually pay off.

Radishes are cool weather crops, and they need planted in the ground a few weeks before the final frost date. They also are great for a fall crop.


The list is far from exhaustive. There are other choices you can plant in the ground, such as different squashes and greens. However, if you are trying to minimize how many seeds you have to start inside, include all of these on your list for your garden!

7 Veggies Beginning Gardeners Should Grow

When you first start gardening, you might wonder what vegetables are the easiest to grow. My first year, I assumed everything was easy. Soon, I realized that I was wrong. Many plants have different requirements that I wasn’t ready or prepared to give to them. In fact, I had no idea plants could require anything other than sun and water.

There are seven veggies that I recommend for all beginning gardeners. These plants are easy! Most of the time, they grow abundantly and will help you feel more confident to expand your choices during your second year of gardening.

Here are my top picks for Veggies Beginners Must Grow!


I love growing peas. They made the cut my first year gardening, and I’ve been growing them every year since. Peas tend to be hard to mess up, at least in my experience.

Peas are a cooler-weather crop, so you will plant them two to three weeks before your final frost date. They can handle the cooler temperatures. Peas also make a great choice for a fall garden! Kids can learn how to plant peas as well. I line the peas up for my kids in the area I want, then watch as they push them into the ground with their fingers and cover back up with soil. Weeks later, I find my kids picking the peas off the vine and eating them fresh!


Do you love salads? If so, don’t skip the opportunity to grow your own lettuce. Lettuce is an ideal choice if you want to learn how to use succession planting, which will give you a fresh, continuous harvest throughout the growing season.

Most lettuce and greens grow very easily. The hardest part is thinning out the seedling – those seeds are small! Also, lettuce prefers cooler temperatures, so they can go to bolt during hot weather. The ground has to stay moist.

Lettuce is another plant that you will plant prior to the final frost. Plant a new row or two every two weeks to give yourself a continuous supply of fresh greens!


Radishes tend to be an underrated choice for gardeners. Many people don’t like them unfortunately. Radishes are delicious baked or shredded into a salad with that fresh batch of lettuce.

Depending on the variety you pick, radishes can be ready to harvest in less than three weeks. That’s impressive! They make an awesome choice for kids who are impatient to see a harvest.

Just like peas and lettuce, radishes are a cooler-weather crop that you can start before the final frost.

Green Beans

Finally, a warm weather crop! I love green beans. My kids don’t love when I have pots of fresh green beans that need the ends snapped off. Little hands help lighten my load for sure.

When growing green beans, you can select between pole and bush beans. Pole beans are fantastic for those who need to save space. However, in my experience, bush beans produce a better harvest. I dedicate an entire garden bed just to green beans.

As soon as the final frost date has passed, you can plant your green bean seeds. There is no reason to start the seeds ahead of time; just plant them right into your garden. Read the packet to ensure you are spacing them appropriately. Some people plant a row week to stagger the harvest, allowing them to better preserve the green beans.


I’ve never had a bad zucchini harvest. In fact, it seems as if I always end up with too much zucchini on my hands.  I end up having to give away zucchini to everyone who will take some off of my hands. There is only so much zucchini bread, chips, and boats I can create! Plus, I can only freeze so much shredded zucchini before my husband tells me to stop.

Some people like to start to their zucchini seeds inside. You can do so if you want a seedling ready for planting by the final frost date. Start them two weeks before that time. You don’t want to start them any earlier because zucchini become root-bound easily. I prefer to start the seeds right in the ground!


Do you love pickles? Cucumbers are your go-to choice them! Cucumbers should be planted right into the ground once the danger of a frost passes. I love vining cucumber plants. All you need is a trellis or a make-shift fence that allows your cucumbers to grow upwards. Cucumbers grow very well vertically!


My last pick for beginning gardeners is tomatoes! Yes, tomatoes can be a bit finicky at times. They don’t like standing water. They don’t like too much water. They don’t like cooler temperatures. However, if you have a hot summer with normal amounts of rain, you should have a successful tomato harvest.

Tomatoes, to me, can be a bit tricky starting from seeds, so I typically tell my friends to first try started seedlings from a trusted nursery. After that, you can dive into starting them from seeds. If you have a successful tomato harvest, you will have tomatoes coming out of your ears! Tomato sauce, salsa and diced tomatoes are in your future.

If you are beginning gardener, what do you plan to plant this year? Experienced gardeners, what do you recommend for newbies? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Homestead Tasks Month-by-Month

The new year has arrived, and it is time to start preparing! I know I am ready for 2018; 2017 brought a lot of pain for us. We ended our year with a small house fire that displaced us for almost a month. We are ready for the new year.

Part of the new year involves making plans for our small homestead. Each year, we try to find ways to expand and grow. Something that keeps me sane is creating a month-by-month plan with the tasks I know need completed then or rather soon. Your task list will look different than mine, based on the animals or things on your homestead.

Right now, we have large garden, a small fruit patch, herb gardens, maple trees to tap and chicken flock. If you have other animals, your list will look different.

So, let’s take a look at the tasks you may want to complete each month if your small homestead looks like mine!


January is a month of renewal for us. We are in the dead of winter right now with temperatures reaching into the negatives. This month is a time of relaxation after the crazy holidays.

  • Look at seed catalogs and make selections
  • Make sowing and succession calendar
  • Create a transplanting schedule
  • Try your hand at indoor sprouts
  • Turn your deep litter method
  • Continue upkeep of compost
  • Work on your crafts
  • Pick up a new skill such as cheese making or baking bread!


February brings us closer to gardening season, which makes me happy! The tasks list will start to grow soon and I know it.

  • Make sure you ordered your seeds!
  • Depending on your gardening zone, you might start some seedlings.
  • Prepare your greenhouse
  • Try some indoor herbs!
  • Keep working on your crafts while you have extra time!
  • Pick another skill to develop this month.
  • Purchase baby chicks or make plans
  • Prepare brooder
  • Prepare to tap maple trees


March begins the mad dash to start the garden in our zone! March is also when we are going to have a new baby this year, so it should be a fun year!

  • Sow in greenhouses or under heavy-duty hoops
  • Start a majority of your seeds inside
  • Build your new garden beds
  • Get more baby chicks because you never can have too many!
  • Might be able to clean chicken coop if weather if warm.
  • work in compost to soil if workable!
  • Tap maple trees and boil down sap.
  • Plant fruit trees!


For people in zone 5, April really starts gardening season. Finally, things can be planted outside, and it feels amazing. Here are some tasks.

  • Sow spring crops such as lettuce, peas, carrots, and more.
  • Plant potatoes
  • Continue taking care of your chicks and introduce to existing flock
  • Start any seeds left based on your calendar you made in January!
  • Dandelions and violets tend to pop up. Time to make dandelion infused oil, dandelion jelly and violet jelly!
  • Clean out your old compost and start new.
  • Consider what organic mulch you want to use.
  • Harden seedlings that will be planted in May.


May is when most of your warmer weather crops can go into the ground. I love May! You can typically ditch your hoodie and catch some nice sun rays.

  • Start squash, pumpkin, and melon seeds.
  • Sow more greens based on your succession planting plans!
  • Make sure you get most of your seedlings into the ground including warm weather crops like tomatoes, peppers, corn and more!
  • Integrate chicks if you’ve yet to do so.
  • Develop a watering schedule.
  • Create a weeding schedule that works for you.


June typically brings the first harvests of your work. Nothing is better than the first time you can bring crops inside from what you planted. I love that feeling!

  • Harvest crops that come up such as carrots, peas, beets, and lettuce.
  • Preserve the harvest!
  • Preserve strawberries – time to make some strawberry jam!
  • Continue succession planting certain crops.
  • Start fall garden seedlings inside.


July is such a fun month. Our son’s birthday falls on the 4th of July, and there are several birthdays this month, including mine!

  • Raspberries, blueberries and blackberries may be ripening. Time to make jam!
  • Give zucchini to everyone you know, because it overproduces every single year!
  • Continue to harvest as often as you can, especially green beans!
  • Harvest some of your herbs and dry.
  • Remove your pea vines. Plant lettuce, spinach or another fall crop there.
  • Put your fall brassica crops outside. It may be too hot, so consider hoops for shade. Keep the ground moist.
  • Preserve as much of the harvest as possible!
  • Sow fall root crops


August is the final month of summer, in my eyes, even though we know it doesn’t technically end until September. That might be because of all the years I dreaded returning to school in August.

  • Transplant all of your fall crops into the garden beds.
  • Continue to harvest and preserve like a crazy person!
  • Stop watering those dry beans so they actually dry up.
  • Tomatoes will eat up your time this month.
  • Harvest, dry and preserve herbs.


September is when things slowly, and I said slowly, start to slow down. School is in full swing around our house and we can enjoy some cooler evenings.

  • Create herbal teas and tinctures with the dried herbs you’ve harvested.
  • You can direct sow some fast growing crops, like lettuce or radishes.
  • Build some cold frames to keep growing lettuce longer.
  • Plant your cover crops.
  • Cure and store your harvested pumpkins. Get ready for Halloween!


October brings the first frost for many areas of the United States. That means a lot of your crops are going to be done and things start to slow down. You might be singing hallelujah and that’s ok!

  • Use row covers as needed for crops still growing.
  • Sow in your cold frames.
  • Now is the time to make homemade vanilla extract!
  • Prepare and plant your garlic. Mulch the beds.
  • Prepare your beds for the upcoming winter. Lay leaves or other mulch that will decompose over time.
  • Prepare the deep litter method for your chickens while it is still warm.


By November, all of your plants will be out of the ground, unless you have lettuce growing in those awesome cold frames.

  • Time to relax. You’ve been at it for awhile. Enjoy those jars of canned goods!
  • Reflect on your gardening season.
  • Make sure everything is harvested including kale and brussel sprouts.
  • Manage your chickens. Remember to watch temperatures and freezing water.
  • Start crafts and projects for Christmas.


We made it! The end of the year. December is a beloved month for us. Advent is close to our hearts.

  • Make crafts with the family.
  • Create your own Christmas ornaments and gifts.
  • Pick veggies from cold frames.
  • Start your garden plans for the following year. It’s never too soon to plan!

6 Reasons Your Tomatoes Aren’t Ripening

Tomatoes are my arch nemesis. I work hard each year to plant enough tomato plants to provide the right amount of tomatoes I need for canning. Without fail, something goes wrong. Sometimes, my tomatoes don’t turn red. One day, blight infected my tomatoes. It’s always something.

For me, I like to find the answer to my questions. Why is something happening, or not happening in this case? In the case of tomatoes not turning red, there are some definite reasons.

Why Tomatoes Turn Red

There is a whole, scientific reason why tomatoes turn red, but let’s sum it up to make it easier to understand.

Lycopene is a chemical naturally found inside of fruits and vegetables that cause them to develop their color. Lycopene isn’t just found in tomatoes; it is in watermelons, apricots and more. Almost 80% of the lycopene you need in your diet is found in tomato products.

Believe it or not, your body processes lycopene better when it is heated. Sources such as ketchup and tomato sauce are perfect for getting lycopene into your diet!

Why do you need lycopene? It is valuable in the fight against heart disease, as well as some cancers (colon, pancreas, bladder, ovaries, and breast to name a few).

6 Reasons Why Your Tomatoes Aren’t Turning Red

One: Longer Time to Maturity

On each seed packet, you will find an average time for maturity for every vegetable you plant. You might be tempted to overlook this date, but I encourage you to pay attention! Certain varieties take less time to mature.

If you have a shorter growing season, you will want to select varieties with a shorter maturity time. It is a good idea also to plug in some longer growing varieties. You can rest assured knowing the shorter varieties will at least yield some fruits for you.

Two: Temperatures aren’t Hot Enough

Tomatoes love warm temperatures, which is why you can’t plant them until well after your final frost date for the season.

Unfortunately, our weather in Ohio has been rather unpredictable, and chilly summers are becoming an issue. As I write this, it is the beginning of August and the high for the day barely touched 80 degrees. That is insane!

Sometimes, you will notice your tomatoes turning pink but never reaching the redness needed to indicate ripeness. They lack in flavor, but they will typically ripen if you leave them on your countertops.

Three: Temperatures are TOO Hot

On the flip side, your tomatoes can be too hot for your tomatoes to ripen. High temperatures happened a few years ago, leaving my harvest in ruins. Yes, they love the heat, but they don’t want to roast on the vine.

The ideal temperatures for ripening are 70 to 75 degrees F. Once the temperatures go higher than 85 to 90 degrees F, the plant is unable to produce the correct amount of lycopene to create the right pigments. The green ones on your vine will stay green for a long time.

Four: You Picked Tomatoes That Aren’t Red

If you grow heirloom plants, there are a lot of varieties that aren’t red. You can buy tomatoes that ripen to pink, yellow, white, orange, purple, and green! They make great additions to the dinner table and farmer’s market stand.

It is easy to forget what varieties you plant. You need to mark each variety, so you know what to look for in ripeness. For example, we always grow Brandywine tomatoes. Brandywine ripens to a beautiful pink, but they never turn red. If I forgot, I would let the entire harvest go to waste waiting for red tomatoes to arrive.

Five: Blossom End Rot

Do your tomatoes have black lesions on them, small or big? If so, you have blossom end rot. It is a disease caused by low calcium in your soil. It is highly suggested that you add natural sources of calcium to your soil during the growing season.

Blossom end rot also forms from uneven watering. If you have frequent downpours of rain, blossom end rot can result.

Six: Plants Don’t Receive Enough Sunlight

Another possibility is that you selected a bad location for your tomato plants. Tomatoes love heat and sunlight. The plants need at least seven hours of direct sunlight per day.

You might have picked a great location, but planted them too close together. Tomato plants need at least 18 inches to two feet apart, depending on the variety. Large plants, like the Brandywine, need two feet apart to receive adequate sunlight.


If all else fails, you can take some of your green tomatoes and put them in a cardboard box with a few ripened tomatoes. It should encourage the tomatoes to turn red! I know how it feels to have dozens of plants full of green tomatoes and end up with a pitiful harvest.

How to Harvest a Cabbage Head in 30 Seconds

Cabbage isn’t a vegetable I always loved. When my parents made cabbage rolls, I gagged, internally and externally. Throughout most of my childhood, I turned my nose up to every cabbage dish that graced our kitchen table. As I grew older, cabbage didn’t seem so bad as it was when I was younger. Now, I love stuffed cabbage rolls or corned beef and cabbage.

                Our cabbage always reaches the scale of gigantic. Sometimes, the heads are larger than my kids’ heads. It is comical to watch them carry the heads into the house after harvesting.

                Most cabbage plants take 80 to 180 days to mature. If you planted them in March, you could expect to harvest between June and August, depending on the variety you selected. One year, I planted Early Jersey Wakefield cabbage, which was ready around 65 days after planting!

How to Harvest a Cabbage Head

1.       Watch the tightness of the cabbage. When you are out in your garden, gently squeeze the heads. You’ll notice that they will gradually get firmer. A tight cabbage head is a sign that it is ready for harvest. It is important that you check your cabbage head frequently for readiness. Excessive rain or overwatering could cause mature heads to split; then you lost a harvest.

2.       Look at the size of the cabbage head. It is harder to use the size as an indicator of readiness. Some varieties are naturally smaller than others. It should be at least the size of a softball before you consider harvesting. The base should be at least four to ten inches wide.

·         Elongated Chinese, or Napa, cabbage should be harvest when the head is nine to 12 inches tall.

·         Leafy cabbage is better to harvest leaf-by-leaf because they will not form a tight head.

·         Leave two to four of the wrapper leaves around the head to prevent the cabbage head from drying out.


3.       Time to harvest. Once you think the cabbage head is ready, bring your knife out to the garden. Find the base of the cabbage head. Using your knife, cut through the stem. You should leave the stem and leaves underneath the head in place because there is a chance a second head will grow! However, if you planted cabbage in the fall, you’ll only get one head. Cabbage planted for a spring or summer harvest can grow two, three or even four heads!

4.       Store the cabbage. You can use it immediately; cabbage rolls anyone? You could make sauerkraut, freeze the cabbage head or store them in the refrigerator. Make sure the heads stay in a cool, moist location for longevity. If you do so, cabbage stores for three to four months.

Harvesting cabbage is extremely easy. All you need is 30 seconds, and you’re done! If you plant cabbage for the fall, there is plenty of ways to store it long term. Who doesn’t want fresh cabbage for the New Years? Tomorrow, we will talk about how to freeze fresh cabbage. It is one of the ways I preserve it for the long term!

What is your favorite way to eat cabbage? Let me know in the comments!

Hand Pollinating Male and Female Zucchini Flowers

As your zucchini plant grows, you’ll notice lovely orange and yellow flowers. These flowers are essential to produce the fruits you desire. For years, I had NO idea that each flower has a specific gender! Zucchini flowers are either male or female.

Hand pollating male and female zucchini plants

You might think this information is useless, but you’d be wrong. Pollination is ESSENTIAL for the formation of zucchini fruits. This story is the tame version of the birds and the bees.

Bees and other insects take the pollen from the male stamen and move it to the female stigma, pollinating the plant. Pollen sticks to the bees legs and, as he lands on the female flower, the pollen arrives. After pollination, the fruit starts to grow.

Aside from pollination purposes, the male serves little purpose. You can flour them up and deep fry for a delicious snack!

Distinguishing Male and Female Zucchini Flowers

The male flower has a single, long stamen in the middle of their blossom. It is covered with pollen. If you sneak up, you might find bees there. I found a bunch this morning on my zucchini plant!

The female flower is a bit different. Inside, she has multiple stigmas. The base of the blossom is wide, called the ovary. This area produces the zucchini after pollination.

The base of the male flower blossom is a long, slender stem. The long stem allows them to stand out on the plant more, attracting the bees faster.

Female zucchini flowers tend to stay closer to the base of the stem. Remember, they are going to produce the fruits soon. If they were high up in the area, the weight of the zucchini would cause the stem to break.

How to Hand Pollinate Zucchini Plants

Why does all of this information matter? It matters because you may notice that there is no fruit on your plant. If that happens, you may have a pollination issue. With the right information, you can hand pollinate zucchini flowers. Here are the simple steps.

1.       Identify the male flower. You need first to find a wide open male flower. I always check in the early or mid-morning.

2.      Identify the female flowers. Female flowers open for one day, so it is important for you to check daily! Once you find an open female flower, the fun needs to begin.

3.      Use a Q-Tip. Your first choice is to take a q-tip or cotton swab and rub it along the stamen. Doing so will collect the pollen. Then, go over to the female blossom and gently rub the swab inside of the stigmas at the inside base of the flower.

4.      Remove the Male Flower. Another choice is to cut one of the male flowers from your plant. Then, rub the male flower stamen inside of the female flower.  You can see an easy video here.

Now you successfully hand pollinated a zucchini flower. For years, I had no idea that there was a gender of flowers! It wasn’t until I watched an episode of Alaska: The Last Frontier did I realize that there was something I missed. Eve, one of the main people on the show, had to hand pollinate her zucchini plants. Now, I know what to do if my plants aren’t producing the fruit needed!

Have you ever hand pollinated a zucchini plant?


Step-by-Step Guide: Freezing Fresh Green Beans

It’s July, and my green beans plants are exploding. We left for three days to spend time at a cabin near our favorite lake. In that short period, my plants blossomed. I came home to an entire harvest ready for picking. I love this time of year!

How to freeze green beans

Green beans are one of our favorite vegetables. We prepare them in a variety of ways, but my favorite is how my husband makes them. He simply cooks them with fingerling potatoes, butter, and pieces of bacon. It is divine, so flavorful. Green beans soak up all of the delicious flavors of the bacon. If you’ve yet to try it, you must!

While I do can some of my green beans, I prefer to freeze them. Frozen beans seem to do better for our frequent method of cooking. Let’s take a look at how to freeze fresh green beans, with plenty of pictures!

Steps to Freeze Fresh Green Beans

1.       Pick them off of the vine. This step is pretty self-explanatory! You need them off of the bush or vines before you can freeze them.

2.      Snap off the ends. If you have little kids at home, now is the time to get them involved. I gather my little kids and have them help snap all of the beans. While you are snapping the ends, check for any imperfections or parts that may need to be removed. You want only the good ones ending up in your freezer!

3.      Wash the beans. Put them under water and move the water around to remove the dirt. I also sometimes spray them inside of a colander to allow the water to drain away. At the same time, I get a pot of water boil in preparation.

4.      Soon, your pot of water will come to a rolling boil. Before you put your green beans in the pot, prepare a pot of cold water with ice. You want the water to be as cold as possible. You are going to blanch the beans. Blanching is the process of abruptly stopping the cooking process by submerging the vegetables in an ice bath.

5.      Put your green beans into the boiling water. As soon as you do, the boiling will stop. In about three minutes, the boiling will start again. Once it starts, take the beans out of the water and immediately plunge them into ice water.

6.      After the beans are cool, I lay them out on a towel and pat them dry. You could opt for two choices here. You can pat them dry, put them directly into the storage bags and then into the freezer. Done. Or, you can lay them on a baking sheet and flash freeze them before you put them into a storage bag. The reason you might want that step is because it makes it easier to store in larger bags and just scoop out what you want to use that night.

7.      I opted, this time, to just put them right into bags because I was short on time. Make sure you label the date so you can eat them in order of harvest.


Freezing fresh green beans is so easy! With a summer and fall planting, I will have plenty of harvests ahead of me. While I could can all of them, freezing is another variation of preservation I like to use throughout our small homestead.

How do you store your fresh green beans? Let me know in the comments!


6 Medicinal Herbs to Grow in Your Backyard

Our family relies on medicinal herbs to heal a variety of ailments and illnesses. I believe that modern medicine has its place in this world; it has done some miraculous things! I also believe that we can heal many things without turning to modern medicine.

If I feel a cold coming on, I prefer not to turn to over-the-counter medicine. Instead, I pick out one of my several dried herbs I keep in our home. Along with dried herbs, we keep infused oils, herbal teas and herbal bath satchels prepared and ready to go.

You could dedicate a huge space in your garden to medicinal herbs. We grow around ten, but some double as medicinal and herbal, such as basil. I can use rosemary for medicinal and culinary purposes.

I want to pick six of my favorite medicinal herbs and tell you how we use them! You might decide you want to give a few of these a try.

6 Medicinal Herbs for Your Backyard Garden

  1. Chamomile
    Everyone has heard of chamomile. It is a famed herb, known for helping adults and children get a peaceful night’s sleep. The reputation is true; chamomile is perfect as a sleep aid. There are other medicinal purposes such as:
  • Fever reducer
  • Treating colds
  • Stomach illnesses and morning sickness
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Antibacterial and antifungal
  • Relieve teething problems
  • Reduce colic
  • Stress reliever

There are several ways to use chamomile! Most of all, I use chamomile as an herbal tea, but you can create salves, vapors and as a wash or compress. You could also add dried chamomile to your bath water. That is an easy way to use the benefits for children.

  1. Calendula

Calendula produces a beautiful orange flower that will brighten up your flower garden. I grow calendula right amongst my flowers; it blends in perfectly. The petals are edible; toss some in your salads!


For centuries, people used calendula for a variety of purposes. You can use it to treat:

  • minor wounds
  • cuts and scrapes
  • bruises
  • heal burn
  • bee stings,
  • Soothe rashes or skin irritation

If you want to have a medicinal herb around to use for your kids, calendula is perfect. Trust me; you will find ways to use it! Calendula is versatile, and you can use it in several methods.

My favorite way is to make homemade diaper rash creams, but you can use calendula in your bath water, as a cream or salve, compresses or washes, ointments, massage oils, teas, tinctures and more! Best of all, calendula is so gentle, perfect for children.

  1. Echinacea

If there is one herb you want to have in your garden for flu, it has to be Echinacea. Native Americans first discovered the medicinal benefits of Echinacea. It is a coneflower that is native to many areas in the continental United States. There are several ailments that Echinacea will treat, such as:

  • Heals wounds
  • Kills off infections
  • Treatment for the flu
  • Reduces upper respiratory infections
  • Kills the common cold

Echinacea is a powerful, immune-boosting herb that you need to grow. Don’t be afraid of its strength; Echinacea is truly easy to grow. The plant grows to 36 inches tall and is often an ornamental flower in gardens, attracting bees and butterflies. Try planting Echinacea near other plants that require pollination.

You can use Echinacea in several ways. Infusions, decoctions, herbal teas and capsules are a few of the common ways. If you go into the herbal supplement section in any supermarket, you will find Echinacea pills. Why buy it if you can grow in yourself?

  1. Feverfew

If you are lucky, Feverfew might grow wild near to your home. Originally from the Balkan Peninsula, Feverfew now grows wild and in flower gardens around the world. The plant produces dozens of small, daisy-like flowers with white petals and yellow centers. You might confuse it with chamomile.


Historically, Feverfew treats several ailments. While the most obvious might be reducing fevers (due to the name), you can use Feverfew to treat:

  • Most noteworthy – treat headaches
  • Relieve toothaches
  • Helps with menstruation and labor during childbirth
  • Treats digestive problems
  • Heals insect bites
  • Treats arthritis pain

You can use Feverfew in a variety of ways. Our favorite method is to make an herbal bath. We fill a satchel with dried flowers and leaves. Then, I place it directly into their bath water. It is a fantastic way to help reduce a child’s fever (when necessary; fevers aren’t always evil).

  1. Lemon Balm

A member of the mint family, lemon balm is a famed essential oil and medicinal herb. While it is not native to North America, you can find lemon balm in most nurseries and backyard gardens. Herbalists rely on lemon balm to treat a variety of illnesses and ailments, such as:

  • Reduce fevers
  • Treat colds
  • Reduce stomach aches
  • Cure headaches
  • Calm anxiety

Growing lemon balm is easy! You can start the plants with seeds indoors, or you can sow seeds late in the fall for a spring sprouting. The plant can spread out, reaching almost two feet tall. However, it doesn’t prefer full sun so keep it in an area that reduces shade, especially during the summer.

How can you use lemon balm? There are so many ways! One of my favorite ways is to make an herbal tea by pouring boiling water on top of fresh leaves. You can use dried lemon balm, but it does lose its scent faster. Just like other herbs, you can make herbal baths, tinctures and more!

  1. Rosemary

Finally, my last favorite medicinal herb is rosemary, a sweet-scented shrub with pretty, pale blue flowers. The leaves look like little pine needles. Rosemary is a culinary and medicinal herb. We love to cook lemon and rosemary chicken or rosemary garlic bread! Delicious!


There are plenty of medicinal properties to rosemary as well. Here are the most noted.

  • Aids indigestion
  • Helps digest starchy food
  • Relieves mental fatigue and forgetfulness
  • Cures colds and chills
  • Relieves flatulence
  • Heart stimulant
  • Reduces dandruff
  • Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties

I typically drink rosemary tea if I notice I have indigestion. Most of all, rosemary shampoo is wonderful for your scalp health! If you feel as if you are in a daze and need more clarity, rosemary is for you

These are just six of my favorite medicinal herbs. There are so much more that you can grow and dozens of ways to use them. I would love to know what is your favorite medicinal herb to grow in your backyard. Let me know in the comments!