30 April 2014

A Rainy Magnolia (Wordless Wednesday)

© 2013-4 S. Lincecum

Shared at Green Thumb Thursday.

24 April 2014

The Strawberries are Coming!

In late February, I purchased 10 Evie Everbearing Strawberry Bare Root Plants. I received thirteen from Hirt's Gardens, and had them planted by the first of March. (This was my first time buying from the 99-year-old establishment, but I heard they sometimes threw in a few extra.) Though I can tell you they had nice roots, I have no idea the actual age of these plants.

Everything I read said I should pinch off the flowers when they appear to help the plant put all its energy into green growth. I sort of did that. ;-) I'm just too anxious to have strawberries! To taste a strawberry that I grew. Ya know what I mean? You get it, I'm sure.

So those flowers that were too pretty to pinch, and those berries that looked too healthy to just discard in the wind have stayed on my plants. And though I fully expect a tiny crop this year, I can at least say I have real, red, pesticide free (since I've had them), already delicious looking strawberries on my horizon.

I can't wait to taste my first one!

I'm salivating already.  What are you anticipating in YOUR garden this year?

Shared at Green Thumb Thursday.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a very small commission if you click the link and buy something. The price you pay will be no different than if you arrived at the same destination through any other link. My opinions are my own, to be sure. If I link to a product and say I like it -- I truly like it! :-) Thanks for reading and following Stephlin's Mountain.

22 April 2014

My Tomatoes Have a Fungus!

*Sigh* I knew my first-time gardening experience would not be smooth sailing, but a disease already?!

I noticed the black spots a couple of days ago, but I was in the middle of a six-day work stretch that was rather rough. So this morning was the first chance I had to try and figure out if anything was really wrong with my cherry tomatoes. And, yep, there is something really wrong. From what I can gather with Google, my cherry tomatoes have "Target Spot." (I think it's a form of early Blight.) Here's a closeup photo of my tomatoes:

Compare that to an "official" example of Target Spot from Cornell University's Vegetable MD Online, and I think we have a match.

So What Caused It?

My reading has led me to three things often highlighted as causes of this fungus:

1. Watering over the top of the tomatoes, instead of at the base. [Guilty!]
2. Rain causing back splatter of dirt up the stem. [There's been a good bit of rain here lately.]
3. Overcrowding. [Guilty!]

So two out of three point to the likely culprit -- Me. Ouch! That stings a bit.

What is very scary is the possibility of contamination of not only my tomato fruit, but all of my other plants. Ugh. Can that happen?

Removing the Infected and Thinning Out

So What Do I Do About It?

The best defense seems to be to get rid of (completely, that stuff can hang around your garden for years) all the infected plants, but (truth be told) I want to try and salvage some of my tomatoes! *She whines.* I also thought this would be a good time to experiment with a homemade fungicide that might help the tomatoes and act as a preventative measure for my other plants.

Homemade Fungicide Recipe

More Googling suggested mixing 3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar with a gallon of water. Put it in a spray bottle and apply liberally to leaves (including the underside) once a week.

Fingers crossed. I'll let you know how it goes. Wish me luck! :-)

Have you ever dealt with this disease in your garden? Have you tried a homemade fungicide? What were your results?

Shared at the Homestead Barn Hop and Green Thumb Thursday.

12 April 2014

Make Your Own Pure Vanilla Extract Without the Alcohol

I'm almost embarrassed to put this out there, though I'm sure I'm not alone: I've only used pure vanilla extract a handful of times in my life. It's rarely been in my pantry simply due to the high cost. There. I said it.

Since I'm slowly (very slowly it seems, at times) trying to transform my eating habits for the better as well as become more of a make-my-own and do-it-myself kinda girl, I looked into the process of making pure vanilla extract.

Let me back up a bit. Have you ever looked at the ingredients label of a bottle of "pure" vanilla extract in the grocery store? You might be surprised to find water and corn syrup in addition to the expected extracted vanilla and alcohol. Not exactly my idea of pure.

Anyway, back to my story. I quickly was able to note that simply mixing vanilla beans and alcohol (often vodka) would generate pure vanilla extract. But I'm a bit meticulous. Sometimes I over analyze and maybe even over research. I read every comment on every article I read on homemade vanilla extract. All it took was one (literally) person to comment stating they could taste the alcohol to make me think twice.  I'm not a drinker and honestly don't like the taste of most alcoholic beverages.

So I looked for an alternative. And, thankfully, I found it in vegetable glycerin.  After that, making the vanilla was a breeze.  I promise, waiting was the hardest part.

Finally, the "Recipe"

I ordered 10 Madagascar vanilla beans from OliveNation and a 16 oz. bottle of vegetable glycerin from iHerb. Since this was my first time, I used those online retailers simply because they were highly recommended. I was not disappointed and now am paying it forward with my own recommendations for them. (It also helps that first-time buyers at iHerb get a $5.00 discount!)

I cut open the vanilla beans, but did not scrape out the yummy goodness. Then I put them in a quart mason jar with the full bottle of vegetable glycerin. I put it in the back of my pantry and took it out only to give it a shake every few days. That was six weeks ago today. The vanilla extract is definitely ready. I know this because I used it earlier in the week. :-)

Some say to strain it and pour the extract into another, dark colored bottle. I have yet to bother with that. I'm not planning to give it away, nor do I have a problem with vanilla bean bits being in whatever I'm using the extract for.

I've also read that those beans could go at least another round, but haven't dealt with that as of yet.

Cost Breakdown

If you find true pure vanilla extract in a store, you are likely to pay between $1.00 and $2.00 per ounce (at minimum). I now have 16+ ounces for an ingredient cost of about $10. That does include the discount of $5.00 at iHerb since I was a first time buyer. If those beans can go another round, you can conceivably get 32+ ounces for just over $22. And that's paying full price for 10 beans and 2 bottles of vegetable glycerin!

No unnecessary additives and costs less than what you buy in the store. Another win for the make-it-yourself team!

Have you tried making your own pure vanilla extract? Were you happy with the results?

Shared at the Homestead Barn Hop, From the Farm Blog Hop, and Tuesdays with a Twist.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a very small commission if you click the link and buy something. The price you pay will be no different than if you arrived at the same destination through another link. My opinions are my own, to be sure. If I link to a product and say I like it -- I truly like it! :-) Thanks for reading and following Stephlin's Mountain.

03 April 2014

Blueberries Complete the Garden

Even though the calendar just turned to April, I was already lamenting the fact I failed to get a blueberry bush to plant in my container garden this year. I planned to get one (or more), but what I wanted to order online has yet to become available. Then fate took over.

I walked into Aldi's this morning with the intention of buying a single cantaloupe for jam, and some sugar. And maybe some pasta sauce. That's it. Then, lo and behold, they had blueberry plants. And seated right next to those beauties were 20 lb bags of organic soil for $2.99. Yep, just $2.99. Knowing I had a large bucket in the shed at home, I felt it was destiny. I was supposed to buy a blueberry plant.

Here's an overview of the bulk of the garden --

We have chives, dill, garlic, cayenne peppers, cucumber (pickling variety), cherry tomatoes, strawberries, and the latest addition of blueberries.  Not pictured are three more pots of strawberries and a calamondin orange tree.  I also have a few varieties of cactus, including aloe, growing in another corner.  Not bad for a city apartment, eh?

I'm pretty sure the chives are dead, though.  They are in that small red pot in the very back, all the way to the left.  The seeds were planted at the same time as the dill and peppers, which have nice growth.  I don't know what I did wrong.  I didn't start any of my seeds indoors well before Spring, like I should have.  Maybe that's why the chives never sprouted.  I will definitely plan better next year.  I feel a little behind because of that oversight.

Back to the blueberries.  Any tips? I read you should have at least two plants for pollination, and I read these Jersey ones are self-pollinating.  I read the pH of the soil has to be just right, and I read these Jersey ones will grow well in just about any soil.  See where I'm heading? Guess I'll continue to wing it, since that's what I'm already doing with the rest of the garden! :-)

Shared at: The Homestead Barn Hop.
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