Growing with Eggshells

spring 002 Growing your own vegetables is not just about having fresh produce all summer. These days, it’s also about saving money any way you can. So, if you could use what’s on hand—and, um, free—why on earth would you venture out to your local nursery and spend gobs of money on starter pots?

This year,  I am rehashing an old primary school science project and starting my tomatoes in eggshells. My hope is that the eggshells will provide the young plants with much-needed nutrients and serve as a deterrent against slugs and other pests once the plants are transplanted and they begin to mature.

If you’d like to try this little “eggs-periment” at home or with your kids, it’s really quite easy.

Directions

You’ll need:

  • eggshells and carton
  • seed starter mix
  • seeds
  • needle or small nail
  • water

Next:

  1. Gather eggshells that are cracked fairly evenly around and more than halfway up. Rinse them thoroughly to eliminate any potential odors.
  2. Using a pin, needle or small nail, poke a hole in the bottom of the shell for drainage. It’s easier if you just place them in the egg carton to do this.
  3. Fill the empty shells with your starter mix and soak thoroughly, checking to see the eggshell drains properly.
  4. Plant seeds according to directions on packet.
  5. Set in a sunny window and cover with plastic to help keep the soil moist and warm for germination.
  6. Once the plants emerge and the danger of frost has passed, harden off the seedlings and then plant, placing the entire shell into each planting hole.
  7. Wait and see what hatches!

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Valentine’s Day Flower Advice From Brattle Square Florist

valentine's day

You’d be right if you guessed that the red rose, the ubiquitous symbol of true romantic love, is the best selling flower on Valentine’s Day .  But while many on Valentine’s Day are indeed feeling the magic of the red, red rose, many others are not quite there yet.

So, what exactly do they give?

Randy Ricker, owner of Brattle Square Florist in Cambridge, Massachusetts has a few ideas.  Ricker’s shop, located in the heart of Harvard Square, sells well more than 20,000 stemmed roses and other flowers during the average Valentine’s Day holiday.  ”It’s incalculable,” he says, so busy he’s barely able to catch his breath to chat for a few minutes on the phone.

As a fun little exercise, we asked Ricker to recommend flowers for some of the other nuances of love. So, without adieu:

I’ve Got a Crush on You, Sweetie Pie

For the newly smitten, Ricker recommends giving daisies or blush pink tulips. They represent innocence, new love or a carefree spirit.

I’ll Always Love You

The long stem red rose is the symbol of true love, so give them to the object of your devotion and “as many as possible,” says Ricker.

Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day
Still Crazy After All These Years

Just because you and your love have been together for eons, doesn’t mean you should forgo the gesture of a Valentine’s bouquet. For those in it for the long haul, Ricker recommends red roses or anemones, a daisy like plant symbolizing undying love. It also can mean luck or protection against evil.

Why Can’t We Be Friends? 

When you want to give flowers to someone who is not a love interest, but rather someone you care about or like very much, red roses are just not appropriate. In this situation, says Ricker, go with Gerbera daisies in any color or yellow roses, which symbolize friendship.

Come on Baby Light My Fire

When there’s only one thing on your mind, give pincushion protea, says Ricker.  An unusual and exotic flower that is among the oldest on earth, protea make a statement that is bold, adventurous and passionate. Bada-bing.

We Are Never, Ever, Ever Getting Back Together

You go your way, I go mine. Sometimes,  things just don’t work out. And sometimes, the other person just doesn’t get the message. If you want to send a clear signal, Ricker jokes, send “anything dead.” Dead flowers, that is.

Have you ever received flowers that were appropriate, or in appropriate on Valentine’s Day?

Stories, please.
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Shop Visit: The Village Florist in Yarmouth

When the little round brick building on Main Street in village florist 108-001 Yarmouth became vacant a couple of years ago, Melissa NcNaboe seized the opportunity. She’d grown up in Yarmouth and run a successful flower shop in Portland called Botanico, but wanted to be closer to home with her husband and four children.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Built in 1906, the building was once a station for the now defunct Grand Trunk Railway, the predecessor to the Canadian Railway System, which originally ran from Montreal to Portland.  The little depot was sold to  the Yarmouth Village Improvement Society in 1968 and it is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

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As far as McNaboe knows, the brick station has only ever housed a flower shop, and it’s easy to see out why. With three small rooms, including a back room once used as a ticket counter, it’s the perfect venue.

The building also seems to be the perfect home for McNaboe’s own aesthetic, which is a beautiful blend of floral art, garden antiques and natural elements like stone, dried leaves and shells.

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The Village Florist is a full service florist serving Yarmouth and the Portland area. McNaboe makes floral creations for weddings, funerals and everyday occasions. There’s also a steady supply of fresh cut flowers, sold by the stem, for do-it-yourself-ers. McNaboe strives for the freshest, highest quality flowers possible, using local sources as much as the short growing season will allow.
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The Village Florist also carries antique trinkets and new vessels that capture the eye and the imagination. village florist 090 village florist 076

What’s ahead for The Village Florist in Yarmouth? Certainly not train tickets any time soon. But McNaboe plans to make better use of the outdoor space around the Trunk Railway Station, as well as offer an online service via her website, hopefully sometime later this year.

In the meantime, you can visit her shop on Main Street anytime you’re in the area to order flowers or pick some fresh.

If You Go:


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African Violets: Sweet Old Fashioned Goodness

violet 2 My grandmother kept a tray of African violets next to the window in the dining room where, every morning of the summer, we’d gather for a big hearty breakfast. The warm aroma of eggs and sausage and fresh brewed coffee would lure us down, one by one, from all parts of the big house, as my grandfather, an ex navy man with a salty sense of humor,  sat at the helm.  My grandparents believed children were supposed to be seen and not heard, just like the African violets sitting by the window. Not a peep, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t be strong and beautiful and vibrant under a grandmother’s care.

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violet 1

Saintpaulias were discovered in Tanzania in the early 20th century and eventually made their way to the United States in the 1930s.  According to the African Violet Society of America, still the foremost authority on the plants, the African violet is part of the Gesneriaceae family of some 133 genera distributed throughout the temperate  and tropical climates of the world. They’re distinguished by their thick fuzzy leaves and clusters of red, white, lavender or purple flowers that spring up from the center forming a sort of posie-in-a-pot. They can be minuscule or gigantic. In fact, in their natural habitat, according to the AVSA, some have been known to grow as tall as 300 feet.

African violets enjoyed enormous popularity among the housewives of the mid-century—my grandmother included—who would share plants and growing information in garden clubs and sewing circles. The African violet was known as “America’s Favorite Houseplant.” It was a very popular hobby.

violet 4 violet 093 But that popularity waned. Skirts rose, women went to work outside the home and African violets disappeared from the windowsills, along with those big breakfasts that stuck to our ribs all day.  No one has time anymore for big breakfasts or hobbies or African violets. Not really.

African violets do have a reputation for being fussy and for attracting mites and other pests and it is probably well deserved.  You have to monitor their light and water carefully, making sure their soil stays moist but not soggy and they get lots of light but not direct light. Soil must be loose and well drained. They like it humid, not dry. They like a clean, sterile environment.

All that aside, though, what African violets like most is time. Your time. After all, it takes time to familiarize yourself with any plant, get to know them, what they like and don’t, what makes them thrive and bloom profusely or, contrarily, what makes them fade and die. It’s called nurturing, my friends, something some of us tend to forget or hardly practice, while others never even learned. Our grandmothers knew about it, were experts at it even, and I’m not just talking about the violets either.

Maybe we all could learn some lessons from this sweet, old-fashioned flower.

For more information on African violets and their care, visit:

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DIY Spa: Make Your Own Lemon Salt Scrub

lemon salt scrub
One sure way to beat the winter blahs is with a do-it-yourself lemon and salt body scrub.  It’s easy to make, with just three simple ingredients you may already have in your own kitchen: sea salt, oil and lemons. The salt buffs and exfoliates. The oil moisturizes. And the lemons clean, refresh and whiten the skin.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups sea salt (Use the finer grain type because it is not so abrasive.)
  • 1 cup grape seed oil (You can also vegetable oil, sesame oil, light olive oil or any other type of oil you have on hand. I’ve used grape seed because it is light and odor-free.)
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • Lemon zest

lemon salt scrub

Directions:

Combine all ingredients. Mix gently and spoon into mason jar or other container with lid. Cover until ready to use. Best used within a month or two.

To use, apply to skin while in shower or tub using a circular massaging motion. Rinse with water. Salt will dissolve.

lemon salt scrub lemon salt body scrub

The salt and oil are the basic ingredients of this simple skin recipe, but you may want to experiment with different herbs and essences to make your own special blend. Some suggestions include lavender, rosemary, ginger, lime and orange.

Have you ever tried your own at-home spa treatments using on-hand kitchen ingredients? I’d love to hear about it!
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You’ve Got Mail! Why I Love Garden Catalogs

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When I lived outside Boston, I loved reading the latest garden catalog on my way to work. For the half hour I spent traveling the Red Line from Alewife to Downtown Crossing every weekday morning and night, I’d absorb every new flower in the White Flower Farm catalog and contemplate new carrot seeds from the pages of The Cook’s Garden.  It sure beat wondering why the man sitting across from me on the T was drunk at eight in the morning, or how I might avoid sneeze spray from the college kid who’s hovering over me like a big gorilla. The garden catalogs even let me imagine away the smells and sounds of the subway; stale beer gave way to the sweet perfume of English roses and crying babies became little birdies chirping in their nests. I was in my own little garden cocoon that nothing could penetrate.

Beyond blissful escapism, the other aspect of garden catalogs that has always pleased me very much is the idea of coming home and finding one in the mailbox. There among all the bills and bad news it sits, all shiny and new and full of hope. Like the old Penney’s or Sears catalogs when I was growing up, this is a publication filled with things I want and things I am destined to desperately want, given time.

Catalogs were once one of the main ways nurseries, seed companies, bulb growers and the like would market their new products to customers. But that seems to be on the decline now in favor of  flashy websites and smartphone apps.  Even White Flower Farm, which I once considered the catalog of catalogs, seems to be a little less glossy and leaner than it once was, and less apt to continue if you don’t purchase something after receiving just one issue.

I hope we do not see the demise of garden catalogs anytime soon. In the meantime, I will make sure I’m on the lists to receive my favorites at the beginning of the new year. Among them:

(Note: Clicking on links will take you to the company’ catalog request page.)

Johnny's Seeds Garden Catalog Johnny’s Selected Seeds A Maine company, Johnny’s has a great reputation for high yield seeds and heirloom varieties, plus seeds that adapt well to cold weather and seeds with a short season, such as lettuce and microgreens. You can order through their website or from the print catalog.

 

White Flower Farm 2014 White Flower Farm This catalog has always been a favorite, and I hope they never cease physical publication in deference to a website. It is full of ideas on companion planting, and the company even offers special garden packages to get you started.

 

The Cook's Garden The Cook’s Garden Based in Pennsylvania, The Cook’s Garden offers seeds and plants “for cooks who love to garden and gardeners who love to cook.” Good photography and descriptions make for entertaining reading.  Especially good for heirloom tomatoes and peppers.

Baker Creek Heirloom Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds At more than 200 pages, this catalog is certainly one of the largest, offering heirloom vegetable and flower seeds from the company’s Mansfield, Missouri headquarters.  Baker Creek also publishes their own garden magazine,  The Heirloom Life Gardener, quarterly.

jackson-perkins-seed-catalogs Jackson & Perkins  Established in 1872, this company is known for its roses, but also offers a variety of perennials and flowering shrubs.

 

Burpee Catalog Burpee  Of course, no list of garden catalogs would be complete without Burpee. This is one of the most popular seed and garden catalogs around. Has been for years. The 2014 cover features a perfect and completely irresistible giant beefsteak tomato.

This list is by no means all inclusive. I would love to hear what garden catalogs you can’t live without, especially some of the smaller, rarer publications with unique offerings. Feel free to post your own favorites in the comment section below, and be sure to include a link.
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Five for Friday: Can You Say Cowichan?

The Cowichan sweater is back. Or did it ever go out of style? Whether you’re a city or country person, you can appreciate the practicality of these easy to wear cardigans.

Cowichan sweaters originated before 1900 on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, where they were hand knit by members of the Cowichan tribe. Authentic Cowichan sweaters are made of heavy natural wool – no dyes – and feature a shawl collar, front zip and nature themed designs such as wolves and snowflakes. Over the years, however, both color and kitch have taken over the designs, while the basic zip up style prevails.

For Five for Friday this week, I give you five Cowichan sweaters, perfect for throwing on before heading out for a brisk walk or trip to the woodpile.

Cowichan Sweater

Left: Vintage 50s/60s Cowichan Sweater with Skier Pattern from clotheswhorse

Right Top: Vintage 60s Duck Hunt Sweater from FoxandSeagull

Right 2: Vintage Wool Cowichan Cardigan Sweater from Violets Attic Vintage

Right 3: Vintage 50s Cowichan Wolf Sweater from Fox and Bear Vintage

Right 4: Vintage Cowichan Sweater with Deer and Pine from slentis
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November morning Alice Popkorn

The Color of November

I have a confession. I am one of those people who does not favor this time of year. In fact, part of me just dreads the idea of dark mornings, gray skies and a lifeless landscape. There is a sense of foreboding as the days shorten and shorten and the last few leaves shrivel and disintegrate into a gust of cold wind. The tourists have long gone, the sailors have dry-docked their boats and the kids have pulled out their heavy coats. Everything is grinding to a halt, and a deafening silence is taking over, as we all await the onslaught of winter.

Dear November, I am trying real hard to appreciate you.

November morning Alice Popkorn

Alice Popkorn photo

November House by Bill Lapp (1)

Bill Lapp photo

November by Bill Lapp

Bill Lapp photo

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Collecting Canning Jars

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BonnBonn on Etsy

Canning jars are useful in so many different ways, and not just for preserving foods or making jams. They are great for storing herbs or rice in the kitchen or cotton balls or Q-tips in the bathroom. They make wonderful impromptu vases when you’ve come back with a bouquet of foraged wildflowers and need something pretty to put them in. They’re also a great thing to collect.

It All Started with Napoleon

French military leader Napoleon Bonaparte is credited with the development of the first canning jars. During the Napoleonic wars he offered 12 thousand francs to anyone who could come up with a way to preserve food for soldiers during winter.

In 1810, Nicholas Appert answered the call. He used a glass container with wire and wax to heat-seal the food inside, preserving it. But the system proved messy, eventually leading to the invention of the mason jar by John Landis Mason of New York. Mason created a machine that could make threads in glass, which made screw on lids possible.

A friend in the kitchen; or, What to cook and how to cook it .. (1899) Mason’s jars, patented in 1858, also used a rubber seal and were used heavily during the Civil War and up through the turn of the century. Atlantic Glassworks of Crowleytown, New Jersey manufactured the first mason jars, which were stamped with, “Mason’s Patent Nov. 30th 1858.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, a number of companies produced canning jars, each with their own take. In 1882, Henry William Putnum of Vermont invented the “Lightning” jar that used a glass lid and wire clamp. In 1884, the Ball Brothers of Buffalo, New York started producing their “Ball” fruit jars and devised a way to make jar production uniform, thus expanding the manufacturing of food preservation jars exponentially. Other jar makers emerged, including Kerr, which produced a wide mouth jar, and Atlas, which made the “E-Z,” which was like Putnum’s metal clamped Lightning Jar only with a raised lip.

Canning and food preservation remained very popular until after World War II, when packaged and instant food came into vogue. Canning food comes and goes in popularity, but it has never seen the popularity it did from the late 1800s through the Great Depression and World Wars. Collecting canning jars, however, remains very popular today.

Canning Jars USDA photo

USDA photo

Mason Jars NewMexico from National Archives

National Archives photo

A Word on Value

As with so many other collectibles, value of canning jars depends on such things as age, scarcity, color and condition. An early Lightning Jar in a light amethyst color with a missing lid and small chip in the rim recently sold for more than $450 on eBay, while a light amber early Mason jar went for $1,400. Generally speaking, older jars that are amber, cobalt, green or milk glass fetch higher prices.

Dating old canning jars can be a bit of a trick. Some informational websites, such as Glass Bottle Marks, are very helpful on some brands. Also, online sales sites such as eBay or Etsy, can help you establish a baseline for value.
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Five for Friday: Cozy Up to a Throw

NaturalWoolKnits on Etsy

When it gets cold at our house in Maine, we try to resist the temptation to boost the thermostat and reach instead for a small blanket or throw to warm up. Throws are typically a bit smaller than your average blanket, making it easy to wrap them over shoulders or cover legs in the car if needed. We usually have at least one to a room, and though that may seem like plenty, the boys always manage to fight over just one—the warmest, softest, snuggliest one in the house.

For Five for Friday this week, here are five throws you could fight over at your own house this winter.

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Top: Big Chunky Handknit from NaturalWoolKnits

Top Left: Grey with Yellow Stripes from Swans Island

Top Right: Nantucket  from Loopy Mango

Bottom Left: Fern Green Tattersall Checked Wool  from Gretna Green

Bottom Right: Eco Alhambra Reversible by in2green
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