DIY Inexpensive Vertical Trellis

So, you’ve spent nearly every dollar you have on your favorite seeds, a few bags of compost, and cages for your tomato plants. It’s nothing new this year, but you quickly realize you have bought too much stuff for your designated garden space. And, who can blame you?! Fresh pico, homemade pickles, and zucchini chips  –made from things that you’ve grown.

So, how can you maximize your garden space to fit more of the produce you’d like to grow? Vertical space. I mean, grow up! Not only can you maximize your planting space, but the plants (and you!) also benefit.

Perhaps, you’ve avoided vertical gardening because of the expense. I’m sure you’ve walked into the garden section of your local home improvement store in search of a trellis, only to realize you need to take out a small mortgage to pay for the required supplies. A simple 3 foot by 6 foot garden trellis can cost upwards of $40….sometimes even more. And, this size might accommodate two cucumber plants. 

How would you like to be able to cut that amount in half and triple or quadruple the number of plants you can fit onto the trellis? Would you like it sturdy enough for twenty pound watermelons as well as hundreds of cucumbers? 

If so, read on.

You don’t have to get fancy with your purchasing –with that same $20 you can install a sturdy trellis that can accommodate 4-6 plants, including melons!

Instead of heading to a big box store for your supplies, drive to your local farm store (we have a Tractor Supply just a few miles away). What you are in search of is a cattle panel or a feedlot panel. It doesn’t matter if it is for cattle, pigs, or goats; the only difference in the panels is the size of the opening, and since you’re not containing animals, you are free to pick the one you prefer, the one that is the cheapest, or the one that is the most aesthetically pleasing to you. These soon-to-be trellises are rather large, about 4 feet by 16 feet, but that is what you want.

If you don’t have a truck or trailer, you’re going to need one to get this piece of steel home. We have a pick up truck with a six foot bed and with some ingenuity and a few ratchet straps, we were able to safely transport two panels home. Might I suggest bartering with a friend or neighbor some of your fresh produce for the use of a truck. Bartering is magical!

Before you head to the cash register, ask yourself if you have any metal pipes, old shovel handles, or garden stakes laying around –you’ll need two pieces of a straight sturdy material to secure your DIY trellis. If you don’t have anything that you might be able to use (we used old garden stakes), add two garden stakes or pieces of rebar to your cart.

Once your home, you’ll have a trellis with more than 64 square feet of growing space installed in less than 10 minutes. Inventory what you need so you only have to make one trip into the garden. You’ll need the following:

Materials

1 cattle or feedlot panel

2 pieces of rebar, steel rod, wooden fence/garden stakes

Hammer

gloves

Find a spot in your garden that is approximately 4 feet by 8 feet. This will be the area that you will be creating the arch. It sounds like a lot of space, but because you are going vertical, you will be able to use this space not only for your climbing plants, but also for other garden veggies. 

In order to install the trellis, you’ll be applying some force onto the panel, so an extra set of hands would help. First, bend the cattle panel to the desired arch. The first inclination of this arch is to push outward, so to prevent that from happening, secure each side with rebar, stake, etc. by inserting it through one of the bottom openings and hammering it into the ground. The stake doesn’t have to be perfectly straight, but you want to make sure you have it hammered into the ground at least a foot in anticipation of the weight it will be accommodating. Repeat this process on the other side of the cattle panel. Depending on your configuration, you should have an arch that is 5 to 6 feet tall. 

You can then plant your climbing plants: cucumbers, watermelon, honeydew, pole beans, etc. I recommend 2-3 plants per side, depending on what you are growing.  I overbuy, too, so most of the time I am putting 3 plants per side, for a total of 6 plants. Do what you feel comfortable with. (If you are planting smaller items like beans, you will be able to accommodate more)

Once planted, don’t forget to mulch around your items. Who wants to weed? I don’t! Our preferred mulch is grass clippings for two reasons: 1. It is free and 2. It adds nitrogen back into the soil. If you plan on using grass clippings, just make sure it hasn’t been treated with any pesticides. The added bonus to mulching (besides minimizing weeding), is it conserves water by slowing down evaporation. That means less watering, too!

Pro tip: Allow 6-10 inches of un-mulched space around each plant!

Here is our finished work –you can see we have two cattle panels side by side, and have mulched around the base of the trellis, avoiding direct contact with the plants.

We also were able to plant some bush beans on either side of the trellis to maximize our space. You can see that as the mulch ages, it turns brown –a sign of early decomposition –just what you want to add nitrogen back into your garden.

Once installed and mulched, your trellis area needs very little tending to. If you like your plants to stay somewhat organized, train them on the trellis, placing tendrils in the area where you want them to attach. If you have found vines attaching to an area where you don’t want them to be, don’t be afraid to move them by either unwinding the tendril or plucking it off and relocating it. 

This picture was taken well into the growing season where we live (July 20, Zone 6A) and you can see that most of the vines have grown up and over the trellis. Just above my head is a sangria watermelon and to my left and right are some large slicing cucumbers just hanging out!

Bush beans have filled in the space on either side of the trellis. We prefer large walking spaces in our garden to maneuver wheelbarrows and mowers, but you could also fill in with lettuce or other shade-loving produce.

Printable Canning Inventory

I have to do it. I need to do it. This year is the year!

As I’m sure you know, gardening and canning requires a tremendous amount of effort, so I want to make sure what we do in the garden and in the kitchen is purposeful. I want to make sure that if I canned too many salsas last year, that this year I don’t repeat the same mistake. I mean dicing bell peppers and tomatoes takes hours, right?! To the contrary, I don’t want to run out of our favorite homemade taco sauce in March, either.

For this reason I need to do a better job of tracking because I can’t just rely on my memory anymore. My thought is that a little bit of effort will go a long way. This season I’m going to record what was canned, how many jars were filled, and include some notes so that I have a document to to refer back to each year. Today, I made this handy, straightforward document (with just a little farmhouse flair) so that I can accomplish my goals.

The bonus? I’m sharing it with you! Feel free to print as many sheets as you need to log some of your most prized possessions! Happy organized canning!

canning-inventory_compressed-1

Three Easiest and most Versatile Plants for Beginner Gardeners

It’s the Spring of 2020, and we’re experiencing a whole new way of living –at a mask-donning-distance of at least six feet. School and university buildings are closed, and the teaching professionals are now educating our students through virtual learning.  Family gatherings and celebrations, like birthday parties or even weddings, have come to a screeching halt, only perhaps to be substituted by a video call. And, even the simplest task of weekly grocery shopping has been drastically altered, with many consumers opting to use online services to limit interactions with others.

I’m one of those grocery shoppers, selecting fruits and veggies with the click of a computer button. I don’t get to peruse the produce section for the sweetest smelling cantaloupe or the firmest cabbage head. As a matter of fact, almost 50% of my fruit and veggie items ordered over the past month have been canceled due to lack of inventory. No strawberries. No brussel sprouts. Not even a head of cabbage. For this reason, I am inspecting my garden more than once a day to make sure my loved produce isn’t being shared with unwanted critters, showing signs of stress, or worse: dead. Soon enough we’ll be picking pounds of asparagus, peas, berries and more. For now, though, I’m relying on the frozen and canned items we saved, and the salvaged items I can get from my virtual grocery shopping experience.

You might be experiencing the grocery struggle, too. And, for this reason, you might be thinking about planting a garden more than you ever have before. In my opinion, the key is to start small and become knowledgeable on the basics of gardening. Being overwhelmed right now would be no good, either. So, here are the “Three Easiest and Most Versatile Plants for Beginner Gardeners.” These fruits and veggies will provide the most varied uses in the kitchen, while allowing multiple means of preserving for later use.

  1. Greens (start from seed)

Think spinach, kale, or even swiss chard –and select one of these leafy greens to plant. (If you want to go all out, then you can, but remember, the goal here is to keep it simple!) These greens are some of the first items you can add to the garden, which means they are the first to be harvested, too. The simple root system, small stature, and the fact that you can easily start them from seed, means you could use a pot, an old plastic tote, or even a soil bag as a planting vessel. You could also plant spinach, kale and swiss chard in garden beds if you have them prepped. The greens mentioned are cold tolerant and in little more than a month, will be ready for harvesting, and continue to provide leaves loaded with nutrient-dense calories until the hot summer temps set in. These leaves can be used raw for salads, but better yet can be cooked in soups, pastas, and more, adding color and health benefits to every bite. Have I sold you yet? If not, might I add that you could also freeze or dehydrate any of the aforementioned to use later? While you could plant nearly any variety of lettuce, the versatility (and some of the nutrients) is subpar when compared to spinach, kale, and chard. 

  1. Bush Beans (start from seed)

The key here is to select a bush variety –this means that the plants will not need any type of support, unlike their counterpart, the pole bean which needs a trellis or a fence in which to climb. Not to worry, though: you have lots of green and yellow bean options. (If you want to get fancy, I’ve even seen purple bush beans!) Just make sure the package says “bush” on it and you’ll be good to go. As far as planting, once the danger of frost is gone, you can plant bean seeds in nearly any outdoor location. You’ll likely need a bit more space to grow multiple plants to pick a decent harvest, so I would recommend a larger raised bed or ideally in-ground planting. Most beans can be eaten raw, or cooked and added to any number of dishes. Plus, just like the greens noted above, beans can be frozen for use later. If you want to get crazy, beans are the perfect beginner item for drying, pressure canning or even seed saving. Some added bonuses are that beans are nitrogen fixing, which means they add nitrogen back into your soil and have very few pests.

  1. Tomatoes (start with plants)

Tomatoes are probably the most versatile of the garden items listed here, as they serve many hot and cold culinary purposes. For this reason, pick a variety you enjoy. If you’re unsure of what type to pick, I would suggest a roma tomato since they are a favorite for not only eating raw, but for sauce-making as well. Regardless of your final selection: beefsteak, roma, cherry, or other, wait to plant until after the danger of frost has passed since these tender plants cannot tolerate colder temperatures.  If you’re sticking to container gardening, select a determinate tomato since it has a preset genetic height and will not outgrow it’s container. If you’re planting in the ground, you have more options –determinant or indeterminant and be successful with either one. (Typically, your plant tags will give you this information –if not, Google will know!). Once planted, tomatoes require the most TLC in the garden (for pest control, disease management) and need the most time to produce. Once established, these fruits cannot only be used right away, but can be dehydrated or even water bath canned for later use.

If you’re willing to invest a few dollars on seeds and plants, these three items would be the ones I would suggest for a beginner. If you need additional direction on tools, check out my blog “The 7 Essential Items You Need to Start Gardening” for even more tips and suggestions. Happy planting!

Are You Searching for the Perfect White Bread?

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If you’ve been searching for the perfect white bread recipe, I’ve found it! I’ve tweaked it. I’ve mastered it.

Let’s just say, I’ve been baking. A. Lot. And, one of the items that makes it onto my almost daily rotation of kitchen tasks is baking bread. It took me years, literally, to find a recipe that worked for our homestead’s needs. This one is it. It’s the winner. I can use this recipe to make sandwich bread, hamburger rolls, hot dog rolls and even Italian bread. The bonus…I don’t have to buy a special flour to make it; good ol’ all purpose flour is all that is “kneaded.”

If I were to describe this yeasty treat, I would say it is light and slightly moist, with just a hint of buttery flavor. It holds up well to toasting and to egg dipping for breakfast treats and can be used for sandwiches and burgers alike.

Once you master the basic recipe, the sky’s the limit on options. Top it with sesame seeds, poppy seeds, garlic butter, herbs, sea salt, or even cinnamon sugar. If you free-form it on a large pan and proof it a little less, it makes a delicious Italian dinner bread. Shape it into buns and allow it to proof a little longer for light and fluffy hamburger rolls or hot dog buns.

Some of our favorite toppings include a sprinkling of sesame seeds to our hamburger buns, a dusting of garlic powder and herbs on our free formed Italian loaf , and an addition of sea salt on the top of a plain loaf of bread.

Whatever you choose, it’ll take some practice to perfect the density you like best for any given bread. Over the years, I’ve learned that I prefer to hand knead this dough over using a stand mixer –for one it’s therapeutic. I know that my hands have kneaded and formed the loaves that were baked so lovingly for my family. Second, I find I get better results. And, ultimately, it all about the results, right?!

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5 from 1 vote

The Perfect White Bread

This versatile recipe can be used to create nearly any bread product from sliced bread to hamburger and hot dog rolls.
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time25 mins
Proof Time1 hr
Total Time1 hr 40 mins
Course: Appetizer, Breakfast, Side Dish, Snack
Cuisine: American
Keyword: all-purpose, bread, hamburger rolls, hotdog rolls, rolls, sandwich bread, simple, versatile
Servings: 2 loaves (10 slices each)
Calories: 140kcal
Cost: $2.00

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup whole milk (or plant based milk)
  • 3 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 3 Tbsp butter (or plant based butter)
  • 3 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water (110-115 degrees F)
  • 5-6 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil (for coating the proofing bowl)

Instructions

  • In a microwave safe bowl or measuring cup combine milk, sugar, salt and butter.  Microwave on high for 30 second intervals until butter is melted and the sugar dissolves. Be sure not to heat the liquid ingredients too much or you'll risk killing the yeast. A simple test is to dip a clean finger into the liquid –it should feel slightly warm, just above body temperature.
  • Sprinkle the yeast across the warmed milk mix. Wait until the surface of your liquid gets foamy.
  • In a large bowl, add 5 cups of bread flour. Make a well in the center, then add warm water and the warmed milk mix. 
  • Using a rubber spatula, combine the wet and dry ingredients. Once the dough forms a cohesive blob, pour it onto a floured surface and begin to knead the dough.
  • If the dough is too sticky (sticking to your hands) slowly add 1/4 cup of flour at a time. The dough forms a soft, slightly sticky consistency.
    *You can use a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook to complete the kneading, too. Start on level one, until just starting to combine then gradually increase to level four until completely mixed. 
  •  Using a tablespoon of vegetable oil, coat the sides of a large bowl and place the dough in it. Rotate the the dough ball to ensure that the oil coats all sides.  Cover with a towel and allow to rise to double in size, about 30 mins.
  • Punch down, turn out dough onto a board and cut in half.  Form the dough in to your pan shape and place into oiled or parchment paper lined bread pans. *If you are making rolls, shape them on a sheet pan.
  • Use 1 beaten egg white to brush the top of each loaf.  Using a sharp knife, shallow slice down the middle long ways. Cover and allow to rise until just over the top of the lip of the pan (about an hour)
  • Bake at 375 F for 20 minutes, then turn up the oven to 400 and bake for another 5 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.
  • Immediately remove from pans and allow to cool on a wire rack.
  • Once cool, cut and serve, or place in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

The 7 Essential Items You Need to Start Gardening

Are you struggling to find fresh fruits and veggies for your family?

Do you see your friends posting pictures of their beautiful produce and have “produce envy?” 

Are you sick and tired of paying outrageous prices for organic food at the supermarket?

Do you want to know where the food you are eating came from?

Are you looking for a new hobby that isn’t too expensive?

Do you want to spend more time outdoors?

If you answered yes to one, some, or all of these questions, you might want to think about planting a garden. I promise that taking this step doesn’t have to be expensive (or scary). In addition to having a bit of space, whether it be in your yard or in pots on your patio, only a few basic items are needed.To get started, here are the 7 items you should have on hand.


1. Gardening Gloves.  On the top of my list for gardening is an inexpensive pair of gardening gloves. You can go with a name brand if you’d like, but you’ll save a few bucks going with a store brand. Find a glove that has a rubber coating on the palm-side of the glove and a flexible knit material on the back. The rubber will give you some grip when pulling weeds or holding any number of garden tools. The knit backing will allow the gloves to breathe a bit and give you the range of motion you are really going to need to get down and dirty. You also won’t be cleaning grime from underneath your nails and will likely save a manicure! If you can afford it, I’d recommend buying two, or even three sets of gloves. If you’re anything like me, you’ll end up having gloves in several spots. Plus, if you tear a glove or need to launder your gloves, you’ll always have a back up pair (or two!) 

2. Garden Trowel.  When the gloves won’t cut it to pull a weed or dig a hole, you’re going to want a garden trowel. Try to find one with a metal blade, as it will last you much longer. These miniature shovels complete many tasks: digging out stubborn roots, preparing holes for plants, and even tracing lines for seed placement.  You’ll find that trowels come with metal, wooden or plastic handles. I prefer plastic handles because if I forget to round up my equipment and it gets wet, it won’t warp like a wood handle can. And, I find that metal handles heat up quickly when not in use. If you can swing it, buy yourself a back up –by having two you’ll always be able to find the second one when the first one is misplaced. It’s also great to have a second trowel because it’s a great tool for little (or big helpers) to use when in the garden. Teaching children or grandchildren…or even husbands…to help in the garden can be extremely rewarding.

3. A Hose (or a Watering Can).  Use a hose that is long enough to reach from your spigot to your garden. During the hottest days in the summer, you will be watering your garden daily, and it is no fun trekking from said water source location to the garden (I speak from experience). More often than not, you are watering because it is hot outside, so you, too, will be hot. A hose allows you to work smarter, not harder, and still hopefully enjoy gardening at the end of the season. However, if you have a small enough garden, or a trip to the spigot isn’t too far, a watering can or two will get the job done; it just might take a little longer.

4. Neem Oil.  Oddly enough, I’m putting Neem Oil on my list of Essential Items needed for gardening. It is an organic and versatile insecticide (kills insects), fungicide (kills fungi) and bactericide (kills bacteria). Why does it make this list? I guarantee you that once you start a garden, you will have unwelcome guests like cabbage worms, powdery mildew, and blight. I am no expert on bug identification or fungal diseases, but I’m learning. There is nothing worse than putting in hundreds of hours into a garden, only to have it destroyed in a matter of days by an unknown bug or disease. I prefer to buy the concentrated version of Neem oil to mix up my own batches, but you can also buy it premixed in spray bottles. 

5. Pruning Shears. I admit, I have used scissors when in a pinch, but pruning shears work much better to trim bushes, harvest produce and cut items in the garden. Pruning shears are typically spring loaded, which helps you to be more efficient in the garden. They also allow you to reach into places (like that jungle of a tomato plant) to nip suckers off your plant. You’d be surprised what you’ll be using them for: cutting flowers for vases, trimming the unsightly raspberry bushes, and plucking cucumbers off their vines. Just make sure to sanitize them between tasks/plants so that you are not potentially spreading diseases from plant to plant.

6. A Garden Rake. Let me say, a garden rake is not a yard rake. Yard rakes have flexible plastic tines, while garden rakes have short, metal tines. The sturdy metal tines allow you to move soil, or compost, remove rock and contour your garden. This isn’t necessary for container gardening, but if you’re working in the ground, it will save you loads of time.

7. A Spade Shovel. A spade shovel is a bigger version of a trowel. This larger shovel with a pointed tip will allow you to use leverage and your body weight to pierce the ground. A spade shovel is great for digging large holes for more established plants, bushes, and trees, removing sod to start or expand garden beds, and moving mulch around your plants. The tip is more effective at breaking up grass roots and slicing through the ground in general. Did I mention that you can also use your shovel and a lever to remove pesky rocks that you may have found buried in your planting area?