Garden Party in the Pantry!

Store bought celery will sprout new stalks when set in shallow waterGrow Your Own – Everybody’s Doing It!

Grow Your Own – Everybody’s Doing it!

There really is no excuse to not grow at least some of your family’s own food. One of the best things about growing food is how little space it actually takes. If you have some containers and some empty space, you too can enjoy some home grown deliciousness! Not convinced? Here are some places I, personally, have successfully grown delicious food

  • In a bright sunny window
  • in a garage, without windows
  • in a garage with windows
  • in a cheap plastic covered “greenhouse” bought at Raley’s
  • In an unheated shed attached to the garage, with windows
  • In a shallow bowl from store bought cut produce (like the celery in the picture above)
  • in my pantry!

I am going to talk specifically about my pantry greenhouse today, because if I can grow food, in my pantry, then you can grow something where you live too! Be that an apartment, in the suburbs, in a sky-rise, it doesn’t matter! Get the idea of needing a ton of space and time and resources, etc. etc. to grow your own salad successfully out of your head. It’s just not true. I am currently growing;

  • Easter Egg radishes,
  • 4 varieties of lettuce
  • 4 varieties of carrots
  • 2 different herbs
  • and sprouting 5 different varieties of pepper seeds

All on a few shelves in my pantry!

STOP. Listening to what “everyone” says and START experimenting with what you have to work with. I think you will be surprised how much you can do in small unexpected places when you use all available space efficiently and creatively.

Let’s Get Started

Here’s the short list of what you need to get basic food items (lettuces, carrots, radishes, herbs) growing;

  • shop lights and hoods (about $12 at Lowes)
  • Thin chain
  • Small “S” hooks that will hook inside the chain
  • extension cord IF your spot is not close to an outlet
  • Hooks that you screw into a ceiling (make sure the chain is large enough to fit over the hook)

Not Required but might make your job easier

  • Drill for pre-drilling small holes to screw your hooks into

All of the above should cost less than $20 for one light set up. Of course, if you end up doing multiple lights, like I have, it will cost a bit more up front, but this is not an expensive set up! I do not use expensive grow lights for this get up. Shop. Lights. Don’t be wooed by the fancy plants and veggies on the grow light boxes, I have never found them to be necessary or worth the cost!

**I would like to add, however, that when I was planting less hardy crops, in a very cold garage space, I also used a basic heat light to make sure my veggies stayed warm on freezing cold night. But that’s not what this post is about so i will not be going into detail about heat lamps here

Putting it All Together

Let’s put everything together and get growing!

  1. There are small holes on either end of your shop light hood. Measure the distance between the two holes and that is roughly the distance you want to drill the holes for your hanging hooks to be screwed into the top of whatever shelf or space you will be using to grow.
  2. Pre-drill a hole smaller than the screw tip of your hanging hook. Then go ahead and just screw the hook in by hand, it should go pretty easily.
  3. Once your hooks are in place, slip one end of your small “S” hook into each hole on both sides of your light hood. Hook your chain through the other side and hang your light up on the hanging hooks you prepared
  4. Plug your lights in and turn them on…
  5. YOU’RE DONE!

Let’s Get Planting!

Now the fun part!! Pick some lettuce varieties that will not be overly tall (so skip the romaine for this one), unless you have a very tall space. I love May Queen, Tom Thumb, Red Sails, or any of the loose leaf lettuce varieties! There are thousands of seed catalogs and varieties out there! Of course, in a pinch, I’m sure your local garden center also has a few fun varieties that will work. I am a big believer in supporting the local businesses that I don’t want to close up shop, so I intentionally make purchases at my local garden center whenever I can. Of course, it would be impossible for them to carry every variety, so seed catalogs get a fair share of my business. There are thousands of seed companies out there! Just make sure the seeds you buy are Heirloom, organic, non gmo, etc. Here are a few of my fav’s (not necessarily in order, but pretty close!).

  1. MI Gardener (this will actually be my first year using these seeds, but I have followed his YouTube channel for years and trust they will be excellent…and they are ONLY ONE DOLLAR each!)
  2. Bakers Creek (have used their seeds for years and LOVE them!)
  3. Territorial Seed Company
  4. High Mowing Seeds
  5. West Coast Seeds

As far as planting medium goes, do not use dirt from your backyard, unless you have a proven, weed free, pest free compost pile. I always use organic bagged potting soil, from my local garden center, for my seedlings and have yet to regret it. You will be using only a small amount of soil and, remember, this will be food you and your family will be eating, so it’s worth the few bucks to buy a good organic potting soil.

Now, for the actual container to plant in. Basically anything that holds dirt and water will work. I never put holes in the bottom of my planting containers in the greenhouse. It just means I have to water them more often, and I tend to be lazy when it comes to water. Here are a few container ideas;

  • plastic cups
  • Milk Jugs cut in half
  • Empty Yogurt Containers
  • Cardboard Soup Boxes cut in half
  • Water Catchment Trays

For my pantry I moved to large indoor plant catchment basins (basically the plastic disc you put under your indoor houseplants to catch water). They are 4 inches tall and have a 12 inch diameter, so they are a decent depth and enough width to fit several plants in one container. For my full size carrots, I am using 14 inch cheap plastic pots. I definitely recommend using plastic for plants you plan on having in the container for a long period of time, in this case, all Winter. I will be experimenting with “Soil Blocks” this Spring to hopefully move away from starts in plastic cups and containers.

Get This Party Started

Now that you have your lights set up, your organic potting soil ready, and seeds purchased,  let’s get dirty!

Fill all of your containers with your soil, leaving about 1/2 inch of space around the rim. Wet the soil and mix it all up to make sure it is evenly damp, but not sopping wet.

Either follow the planting/spacing instructions for your seeds or start your seeds sprouting for transplanting later. You can read more about pre-sprouting your seeds here.

I direct seeded my lettuces with excellent germination success. It is extremely important that your soil stay moist while the seeds are germinating. This is one reason I like my soil nice and moist before I plant.

Here is a list of seeds I pre-sprouted to improve germination rates and how many days it took for them to sprout:

  • Carrots – 3-5 days
  • Radishes – 2-3 days
  • Herbs – 1-5 days (depending on the herb and variety)
  • Peppers – 5-10 days

As the seeds germinate, they are placed into their pots at the suggested spacing for that particular plant. I only put a very light dusting of soil on top of my seeds and then water them into the soil well. Remember, there are no holes in the bottom of your containers (unless you bought container with pre-made holes, like my larger carrot buckets) so don’t do crazy with the water. Just enough to keep the soil damp.

Check daily for new sprouts! Some of mine were up the  next day! Some didn’t come out for 3 days, it was equally exciting for me to see each new seed and variety pop up! Some things never get old.

Now that everything is planted and lights are set up…all you have to do is wait. And wait a little more….and waiting is my least favorite thing. Ha! But it’s always worth it. Below are a few things that are growing in my pantry, right now, in the beginning of January in zone 5. These would never be an option outside or in my unheated greenhouse!

I would love to hear if you used any of these ideas to grow something new in your own space…the more creative the better! Please share in the comments below – pictures are a bonus 🙂

Happy Growing!

 

 

 

 

 

Improve and Guarantee Your Seeds Germination!

The Rub

We’ve all been there. You painstakingly prepare your garden beds, add enough fertilizers, order the perfect seeds, and lovingly tuck them into the soil. Then you wait. And you watch. And you water.

And nothing ever happens.

 

Talk about a major let down! It’s enough to make you want to give up gardening all together. What went wrong? Well, the problem is that as soon as those seeds slip into the soil, it’s essentially impossible to know what happens to them. The most likely culprit is the seed never germinated to begin with.

So what is a gardener to do?

The Solution

The answer? Pre-germination! If you only put germinated seeds into the ground, you are much more likely to have a successful sprouted seed, which will grow into the beautiful plant you always knew it could be. Right? Yes.

Luckily for all of us, there is a simple method that all of us, no doubt, have done at some point in an Elementary Science class. Seeds actually need very little to germinate. The main element necessary is moisture. I live in the desert…guess how fast the top 1/4 inch of soil dries out here on a warm Spring day? I’ve never timed it, but I’m guessing less than an hour after I water my seedlings, that soil is on it’s way to drier than dry! Which means, dried out seeds, no germination, and no food for me. Fortunately, pre-sprouting your seeds saves a great number of disappointments in the gardening department of life.

Tools for the Pre-Sprouting Method

  • Paper Towels (I try to use recycled and non chemical paper towels)
  • Ziplock Plastic Baggie
  • Masking Tape
  • Sharpie
  • Seeds

Ready? This is going to be so easy and quick you’ll wonder why you haven’t been doing it your whole dag gone life.

  1. Soak paper towel and slightly ring out, so it’s not dripping everywhere but very wet
  2. Tap desired quantity of seeds onto wet paper towel
  3. Fold paper towel up into a square and tuck it inside of a ziplock bag
  4. Label the bag with the masking tape and sharpie
  5. Put the baggie in a warm place until germination
  6. REJOICE!

Make sure you check your sprouts every day. I like to open the towel up every few days to make sure none of the seeds are molding, which is rare but can happen.

Once you have sprouted seeds (congrats!) you can carefully unfold the wet paper towel and plant each sprouted seedling according to the packets direction (or just roughly 1 inch apart, if you don’t have a packet with directions).

Some seeds are very tiny and need to be handled more gently. For seeds like carrots and basil, you can either arrange the seeds at the spacing you want on the paper towel, and then plant the whole paper towel along with the seeds.

Or, you can use something like a pencil or scalpel to place each individual seed into it’s place. For example, the basil in the pictures below were so tiny I couldn’t grab them with my fingers, so I used a knife and pencil to place each one where I wanted it. A bit tedious, but again, a for sure germinated seedling!

And that’s a wrap! I hope you enjoyed this handy gardening tip and use it to your advantage in all your garden adventures!

Happy Growing!

 

Winter Prep in the Greenhouse

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Over the course of the last four days, I’ve been busy getting my entire greenhouse planted with enough varieties of greens and herbs to feed my family for the Fall, Winter, and Early Spring. Wait….I jumped in a bit prematurely, which is typical of me. Sigh.

First things first. I just want to briefly point out that what I actually have here on the Meyerstead is not a greenhouse in the technical sense. A true greenhouse can be heated and cooled as necessary depending on the outside temperatures. What I have is, in fact, a cold frame, which is just another term for an unheated greenhouse. Just so that no one gets the wrong idea about what we are working with here. A true greenhouse would be quite an undertaking and quite an expense. Also quite unnecessary in my humble opinion. Now, let’s get back to the fun part of this post…

I planted ninety two 16 oz plastic cups, one plant per cup, with the following cold hardy greens:

  1. Tatsoi – 10 cups
  2. Brunswick Cabbage – 9 cups
  3. Minowase Daikon Radish – 4 cups
  4. Verde of Taglio Chard – 9 cups
  5. Russian Red Kale – 9 cups
  6. Vates Kale – 5 cups
  7. Wild Garden Kale – 8 cups
  8. Arugula – 9 cups
  9. Corn Dutch Salad – 8 cups
  10. Parsley – 5 cups

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I have my Clayotonia, also known as Miner Lettuce, planted in two 8″ plastic water catchment trays. You know, those plastic trays you put under your potted plants to catch water? Well, I was out of containers and didn’t want to stop so that’s what they ended up in. They’re one of my favorite salad greens, so hopefully they give a decent show this Fall and Winter.

I found these two extra large pans that are roughly 18″ by 24″ and planted them both with Austrian Winter Peas. These are extra delicious in the dead of Winter and I know they do well. I had a ton of them planted under plastic at my previous house and they went all the way through Spring. Most people use them as a cover crop to fix nitrogen in the soil (great cover crop to plant where you have grown corn, for example) but the shoots taste just like fresh garden peas…which is a surprising treat in a mid winter, home grown salad. I feel they are not done justice planted as a mere cover crop, I prefer them as a food. No surprise there.

20170901_144122.jpgI had some dollar store cat pans lying around from the fodder experiment I had done when we first moved in. I decided to use one for planting my Mustard Greens and a dish pan to plant all of my Spinach. These will mostly be harvested as baby greens, so I planted them pretty dense, as they will not need a lot of room to grow to full size. I will thin as they grow, and as needed, when I harvest them out.

Spinach & Mustard TraysSpinach SproutsMustard green Sprouts

Finally I planted herbs in terracotta pots. Because I love herbs in terracotta pots, and that’s reason enough…amiright? Sometimes it’s awesome being a grown up. I do what I want. (aha…ha…ha. ahem. rarely true). I have it on good authority that rosemary, cilantro, and parsley are proved to survive and thrive in an unheated greenhouse throughout our zone 5 winters. The rest of these herbs will be experimental to see if they will go all winter. Can you imagine harvesting fresh tarragon in January? Eeep!

  1. Oregano – planted in an 8″ pot
  2. Rosemary – planted in a 12″ pot
  3. Thyme – planted in a 6″ pot
  4. French Tarragon – planted in a 6″ pot
  5. Parsley – planted in a 6″ pot
  6. Cilantro – planted in a 6″ pot

Though this entire first year of everything here is somewhat of an experiment, I am trying something out that I have no idea how it will preform this Winter. I planted Autumn King carrots in four 5 gallon buckets. I also planted Blue Scotch Kale in one of the buckets. The buckets will remain on the ground, in between the barrels, for the winter. I have a plan/idea for next Fall/Winter if these two particular plants do well in this spot.

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I also have a rain barrel in the greenhouse that I will be filling and using to water, to avoid dragging a hose around in the freezing cold of Winter. This will also add extra thermal mass to my greenhouse, a win win! I love winning.

The plants will likely have to be watered every day in the greenhouse, maybe every other day. The point is, a lot. So there needs to be some kind of convenient way to do so, otherwise I will hate my greenhouse, and I don’t want to hate. I’m all about love. Especially when it’s growing food to feed my family. If you decide to go with this handy watering solution…make sure it has a spicket!

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It’s been a great start here for Fall and Winter planting. The soil is warm, the weather has remained warm, and there is plenty of time for seedlings to germinate and get some growth on before the cold of early Winter hits and growth slows. I am already drooling over fresh, homegrown, hearty Winter Salads!

First Summer Garden

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I love a good veggie and herb garden. Flowers are nice…as long as they are interspersed amongst herbs and veggies! And edible. I like to eat, could you tell? Marigolds andflowers that resist pests, or attract them away from my food = also acceptable. It’s tough being a flower in my veggie garden, obviously. I find much more beauty in a lush green garden growing food for my family than a bunch of pretty flowers that will soon die and fade away.

Once I decided a garden was happening this year, I had some obvious obstacles to overcome. Specifically the abundance of herbivores roaming through the area; mule deer, cotton tail rabbits, jack rabbits, quail, etc. I put up a quick and temporary double fence using t-posts and deer netting (aka: horrible overpriced nonsense) that has worked fine for a temporary solution.

Next step, since I wouldn’t be using raised beds, like I had at my previous house, I had to decide what type of garden to do; double dug beds, hugelkulture beds, lasagna mulch beds, traditional tilled beds, no till beds, waffle garden, back to eden, swales, and on and on the options go! I initially decided to combine several different methods and was going to experiment with 2 hugelkulture beds, 1 double dug bed, and one back to eden style bed with swales dug around the entire garden area as well as each individual bed.

But then…it took me 3 days to dig the trench around the entire garden area (maybe 20’x25′), dig out one hugelkulture bed (4×20), and one additional swale. The ground is more like a solid brick than any dirt I’ve ever seen! I vowed that I would not put one more shovel into that horrid ground. So I ditched the idea of a double dug bed (duuuh) and moved on with my one dug out hugelkulture bed, another hugelkulture bed that I started from the top of the ground, instead of digging down, and a back to eden bed.

Here’s a quick overview of these different methods (and I mean very quick);

Swale: A fancy word for a trench to catch and retain water in the soil instead of it all running off the property, also helping with erosion issues. I live in the desert so, of course, my primary purpose for them will be water retention.

Hugelkulture: The idea of putting large logs, sticks and wood in a big rectangular pile, or bed, then covering that with leaves, small sticks, and finally soil which you then plant your seeds and plants into. The idea here is that as the logs and sticks take on water they do 2 important things; 1. Soak up water when it rains and release that moisture back into the soil when it gets hot and they “sweat”, thereby reducing or eliminating the need to water your plants and 2. They break down over time and add organic matter and nutrients back into your soil, feeding your plants so you don’t have to continually add organic matter. Here’s a great picture of what a hugelkulture garden bed looks like over time, though mine are not nearly this large.

hugelkulture graphic

Back to Eden: Basically a deep mulch method that emphasizes using a “covering” over the soil to retain moisture and build rich soil. This is a no till permiculture method that I cannot say enough about. There are so many reasons why tilling is harmful in the garden (or basically anywhere). A few of these reasons, that matter the most to me when I’m trying to build soil for a successful garden, are the weed seeds tilling brings to the surface and allows a chance to reach light and grow, and the soil organisms and structure it disrupts. The back to eden, or deep mulch, method of layering on top of the ground is simply copying Gods way of adding organic materials and feeding/nurturing the ground. Paul Gautschi is the man who has coined the “Back to Eden Garden” term and has an amazing documentary film about his own inspirational garden. It’s free to watch here, which I highly recommend! You can use any kind of mulch you have that’s free or cheap, hay, straw, rocks…Paul uses wood chips and that’s also what I am using here on the Meyerstead. They are typically easy to find, just contact a local arborist and tell them they can unload the chips from their tree work at your location. They should be more than happy to do so!

This fall, I will put chicken manure, straw with goat poop, and rabbit poop on top of the wood chips I have laid down to fertilize. Resist the urge to till it in or disturb the ground!!! Below is a basic layering outline for setting up this type of garden area.

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Now that I had my methods decided, I got to work getting the beds and swales dug out. This was a long miserable process…in fact I’m having some PTSD just looking at the pictures here…

Dug out hugelkulture bedTrench surrounding entire garden

I used brown contractor paper from Lowes, instead of newspaper, to lay down in order to kill current and prevent future weeds. It’s not free, but it is very affordable ($10 a roll).

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Once the paper was down, I filled the dug out bed with lots of small logs and sticks. Next, I put a mixture of compost, top soil, and aged horse manure on top, roughly 4 inches deep. On top of that goes the wood chips. The compost/soil layer is only necessary if you’re going to use your garden right away. If you have a few seasons to wait, just put the wood chips on top of the paper and let them do their thing. You will have beautiful soil to plant your seeds and plants into when you move the chips back after several months of sitting. Obviously, I am not that patient so I had to “fake it” this first year.

Hugelkulture filled with sticksSticks covered with paper and compost mixSoil topped off with a thick layer of wood chip mulch

Here are both hugelkulture beds completed. I stacked wooden sticks and logs around the edges to help hold in the soil and wood chips. It is also a fun way to identify these as hugelkulture beds in the future.

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Finally my back to eden bed to round out my experimental first year garden! Nice thick compost mix on top of brown paper and ready to be topped of with a rich wood chip mulch covering.

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I got everything covered and moved wood chips aside where I planned to plant, exposing the soil underneath. Side note: you have to move the chips aside when planting. As soon as the plants are up and established, you can side dress with the wood chips. I planted bush beans, watermelon, cantaloupe, squash, pumpkins, peppers, beets, and turnips!

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Here is how everything looks at present (Late August) after roughly 10 weeks of growth. The bare open spaces are where I’ve planted for Fall/Winter. The red posts are where we are putting up our permanent fence! I’ll be doing a separate post on that once we’re done! I’m pretty excited about it 🙂

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For a garden that initially wasn’t to be, and then one I was sure would be nibbled to non existence, I am pretty thrilled with how well it’s doing! Especially considering I did not get one seed in the ground until almost July! And I am also notoriously easy to please 😉 Hoping to harvest at least 3 watermelons, 2 cantaloupe’s, at least 2-3 quarts of bush beans, several large zucchini, we’ve been eating beet and turnip greens all Summer and will harvest full beats and turnips in the Spring, after eating them all Winter. We have already had a decent pepper harvest and looks like another one is on the horizon with the number of new flowers on our plants. There are a few squash and pumpkins growing, but not sure they will have enough time to mature before our first frost hits. So far, looks like we will be riding this heat wave well into September, so I am still hopeful there will be time! Is Thanksgiving pumpkin pie made from fresh home grown pumpkin, sitting next to our home grown turkey, so much to ask?

Well that’s a wrap for our first years Summer garden! Not too shabby, eh? Looking forward to my 2017/2018 Winter garden already!!

Greenhouse at Last!

Another bucket list item to check off the list! I have always wanted a lovely little greenhouse, made of glass and brick, sitting in the middle of a vast garden in a big open field! Well, I didn’t exactly get the one I’ve dreamed of, but I am SO HAPPY that I have one large enough to grow everything I need for Winter salads and Spring starts!

The funny story behind this greenhouse is that I literally did not even think about it as an option for the first few months we were here. It was dirty, dingy, full of garbage and scraps from the previous owner, and NOT the pretty picture I had envisioned for my dreamy greenhouse space. When the light finally came on, and I put a bit of work and elbow grease into spiffing it up a bit, I found an incredible diamond in the rough!

The first thing I did, after giving it a thorough clean out and scrub down, was fill the 5 white rain barrels my dad had hauled to the property with water for thermal mass. Haven’t heard of it? It’s a very effective (arguably the most effective) system for heating and cooling an “unheated” greenhouse. Here’s a coolio page full of great info about using water for thermal mass in a greenhouse, if you’re interested in looking more into that as an option: http://greenhousegarden.com/thermal-massheat-storage

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Once those were in place, and they will never be moving again, I got to work on the “prettying” up part and bringing bits and pieces of my “ideal” and fitting them into my “practical” and “currently available” greenhouse. Here’s the steps in a nutshell;

Paint EVERYTHING white to reflect as much sun as possible during the Winter months. Another “non-ideal” part of this greenhouse is that it is NOT South facing, it faces West. So I need to make sure I use every beam of light to my complete advantage. White reflects light and the light will bounce off all of the white surfaces until it finds something dark (ahem….plants) to absorb into.

Remove old, nasty, yellowed, disgusting…you get the point…roofing. I replaced the old roofing with a slanted, corrugated, clear glazed greenhouse roofing. Immediate win.

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Put up a shade cloth so the sun doesn’t scorch all life inside the greenhouse…ask me how I know that life doesn’t exist in a scorching hot West facing Summer greenhouse…sacrificed some beautiful seedlings to the greenhouse sun god 🙁  I didn’t get around to actually putting the shade cloth up until about 2 weeks ago, when I planted all of my Fall seedlings and realized they would be smoked the instant their tiny little green heads poked out of the soil. Make sure it’s white, so the UV rays can still get through though! I just nailed mine up and into the roof beams. Ahh….it feels cooler in here already!

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I have always wanted a brick floor greenhouse. Like, always. The space of this greenhouse is narrow and long, not idea for what I wanted to do, which was actually brick flooring and in ground beds. No room for in ground beds with the shelving that was already present and the 5 huge rain barrels, so I settled for as big a brick pathway as space would allow for. I worked through several patterns and narrowed it down to these two options:

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I asked everyone on my facebook and instagram pages which they liked better and the left option was overwhelmingly more popular. So, of course….I went with the one on the right! Muwahahahaha! To be fair….I did love them both but the one on the right was SO much easier and actually did look better and offer a bit more style in the small space I had to work in. I decided to just go with sand as a base, no cement, and got to work. And work it was! Geez! I was thankful for a small space after leveling and laying every single brick by hand! But I LOVE how it turned out!! The antique brick gives it such a sweet rustic touch, doesn’t it?

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PLANT ALL THE THINGS!!! But make sure you have that shade cloth up if temps are still getting up there in the high 70’s even. I have my greenhouse winter greens planted and growing scorch free!! YAY!