Kohlrabi Ham Bake!

This year has started off with a whole mess load of stress. We have had to gratefully step through doors (so that we could close them) while trying to remain open to new adventures. It’s been rough, but gratitude is an incredibly stabilizing force during loss and chaos. The one thing that has stayed constant is: my garden. Although most of the country is in a deep freeze, down here in Texas my garden is chugging along. This is a preview for the rest of the country’s spring. I advise everyone to take the plunge and try growing kohlrabi this year!

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Crazy looking kohlrabi. It’s the best kept garden secret out there!

Trying to grow cool weather crops this far south means planting in fall and harvesting mid winter. I recently pulled some Kohlrabi, turnips and carrots.

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I jump for joy when the kohlrabi is ready. It’s my very favorite vegetable (and it’s my mom’s favorite, too!) Kohlrabi may look funny but it is a tasty brassica. Brassicas are a big family and include: broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, mustard, turnips, kohlrabi, kale, rutabaga, horseradish and many more. You will often hear them grouped together as cruciferous vegetables or cole crops. In the below recipe you can substitute rutabaga or turnips or use a mix. Use whatever you can find at the grocer or what you have growing, although I think the kohlrabi is the tastiest in this.

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That’s right. This weird looking fellow is what I am telling you to grow. You HAVE to try this! It comes in purple like the one in the photo or a light green. You peel the outside anyway so the exterior color doesn’t matter much. It looks pretty goofy and alien but it tastes divine!!!

 

Brassicas have great health benefits including antimicrobial effects, anticancer compounds and they may help your liver clean up toxins. They have a couple of unusual drawbacks to consider. If you have thyroid problems, do not eat these veggies raw. They can cause goiter in people who have iodine deficient thyroid issues. They may also cause colic in breastfed babies. Once they are cooked they lose most of their thyroid disrupting potential. If you are breastfeeding a colicky baby: try removing brassicas from your diet to see if it makes a difference.

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If you have thyroid disease: cooking these vegetables will greatly reduce goitrogens and nitriles, making them safe to eat in moderation. Don’t worry about these veggies if you don’t fall into the above two categories. For most people these vegetables are powerful, healthy additions to your diet.

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This is rutabaga. When I am outside of my kohlrabi growing window I often sub rutabaga or turnips in this. Those are root veggies and they are sweeter and less woody the smaller the root size. Look for turnips that are the size of baseballs (or smaller) and rutabaga that are the size of softballs (or smaller.)

Kohlrabi looks like a root vegetable but is actually a swollen piece of the stem. Do not plant them too close together as this will make them long and leggy and they will become woody. Also, do not try and grow these in the heat of summer: there is no removing the bitterness a brassica will develop in the heat. Cool weather will produce a sweet, round, root like vegetable with a taste somewhere between broccoli stems and rutabagas (rutabagas are a wonderful root vegetable. I find them at the grocer occasionally. They are also easy to grow. Once cooked: rutabagas remind me of a potato but with better flavor.)

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Like root vegetables in this family: you need to remove a band of fibrous tissue that surrounds the edible part of the kohlrabi. You can see the part that needs to be removed in this photo, it’s the white ring and everything outside of it. The easiest way to remove this area is to use a knife. You can use a vegetable peeler but: it will take a long time, and several passes, because of the amount that needs to be removed.

A lot of people enjoy kohlrabi raw. They have a slight bite when raw, like a very (very) mild radish or a turnip. I am one of the people that can’t eat raw brassicas because of thyroid disease, so I am very lucky that kohlrabi (like most cole crops) tastes delicious cooked with ham or bacon. I think kohlrabi was born for the recipe below and the result is a truly enjoyable comfort food!

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The entire plant is edible. The stems taste a little earthy (like beets) to me. The leaves are very thick and can be cooked like kale or collard greens. Save the leaves and stems for another recipe. The real hero of this plant is the swollen stem. Once they are cooked they become slightly sweet and wonderfully savory. They are incredibly delicious and once you’ve tried them you will, forever after, be sure to add plenty of space for them in the spring/fall garden.

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This is a young kohlrabi plant before the stem begins to swell.

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This gets to be a good sized plant. Give it room (a foot or more per plant) and it will reward you with a softball sized swollen stem.

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Almost time! This kohlrabi is swelling and just about ready to pick. I let mine get to be the size of a softball but you can pull them and use them when they’re smaller (although, why would you short yourself with a smaller plant?!) This is when patience pays off.

People in the know impatiently wait for their kohlrabi to mature and do a special kohlrabi “happy dance” when they are ready to pick! Trust me. I’m not the only one head over heals in love with this vegetable: it’s really that good!

Kohlrabi Ham Bake:

Ingredients:

3 Tbs Butter or Bacon Grease

4 Kohlrabi, Peeled and Diced (Or any mix of: turnip, rutabaga and/or kohlrabi)

8 oz. Ham Steak, Diced

Fist Sized Amount of Fresh Chopped Parsley

4 Egg Yolks

1 Cup Heavy Cream, Table Cream or 1/2 and 1/2

3 Tbs All Purpose Flour

1 tsp Mace (No, this isn’t the stuff you spray on attackers! You’ll find it in the spice isle.)

1/8 tsp (+/- To Your Liking) Each Of Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper

Directions:

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. In a large skillet, melt the butter or bacon grease on medium heat. Add the diced kohlrabi and gently cook for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. Beat the egg yolks and whisk in the heavy cream, flour, mace, salt and pepper until well combined.

3. Place half of the cooked kohlrabi in a greased, large oven-proof casserole dish. Layer the ham and parsley and top with the rest of the kohlrabi. Pour sauce over the mixture. The thicker you layer this: the longer it is going to take to bake. I keep mine fairly thin and wait until the center is bubbling to call it done. If you make this really thick the outside will be done long before the inside so try to keep it thin. If yours is starting to set on the outside and the center is not done, go ahead and stir it. It won’t taste any different than if you have neat layers and you will get a better end product if it is all finished cooking at the same time.

4. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until the center is bubbling and no longer runny. Serve immediately. You can add grated cheese to the top if you like, but I prefer the recipe as is.

Serves 4.

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Once you try this, you will be a convert to this weird looking vegetable. It’s truly a shame that more people don’t have access to this veggie. The seeds are easy to sprout and will come up in your spring garden with the beets and peas…but once you’ve had kohlrabi: those other spring vegetables won’t matter. Spring and fall will start to mean “Kohlrabi season”. On top of your personal enjoyment: you can surprise and convert your friends into kohlrabi lovers when you serve this underused garden star. Then show them the crazy looking raw stem: It’s guaranteed to “wow” the uninitiated!

 

Stained Glass Cookies!

20141219_220815I always have these great ideas about making everyone gifts. Then it gets down to the last minute and I end up having picked ideas that are way too complex to complete in the time I have left. These can be done in one day. I just finished them and they are beautiful! The cookies were so much fun to make and I gave them individually to bus drivers, teachers and I even have some for our neighbors.

If you feel like you are backed against the wall and don’t cook frequently or don’t have a lot of experience baking. Stop now! Don’t ruin your own Christmas trying to make everyone on your list happy. If you really aren’t looking forward to trying these ideas or you already are behind with other things: go pick up some cute ornaments and put them in some festive bags and call it done! You deserve a great Christmas season, too! If you think you can do these without going crazy: I guarantee these are fun, simple and they will be well received.

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Stained Glass Cookies

You need:

A sugar cookie dough base (From scratch: or pick up a bag of cookie mix from the grocer.)

Translucent hard candy (I used a bag of Jolly Ranchers)

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F or follow the directions in your recipe or on your bag of cookie mix.

I saw these in my Family Fun magazine and knew I had to try them. They made their cookies from scratch. Yeah. I’m too busy right now and I can find bagged cookie mix in the grocery store. These can definitely be done from scratch but you are adding more time and work to this that you don’t have to. If you buy a bag of sugar cookie mix: look for the directions on the back for cut out cookies and follow that recipe. You will either be adding a lot less butter or adding flour to the mix. I also don’t mind scraping cookies from cookie mixes into the trash if they don’t work out. The first batch I lost three out of twelve cookies. Part of it is my oven but the other part is you are combining two very different main ingredients: dough and hard candy. Getting them to come out perfect takes some work and practice.

However, those not so perfect cookies make great treats for my kids (and for me). We don’t care what they look like! The best thing about these cookies is they are impressive enough to give a single cookie as a gift. That means you have way less to do to have finished presents for people like your mailman or kid’s bus driver.

Make your cookie dough according to the directions for the cut out cookie recipe on the bag (or if you’re making a bunch of cookies and want to make yours from scratch: you can use your own recipe.)

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Roll out your cookie dough on a floured surface. Keep adding flour to your rolling pin, cookie cutters and the surface of your dough as you go so the cookie dough behaves itself. You want these thin (otherwise they will puff up and you will loose your design.) Aim for 1/4 inch thickness. Don’t worry, they will hold together with their rigid candy center.

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I used a drinking glass to use as my original cut out for the cookies.

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If you don’t get a clean outline with a glass: when you transfer the cookie to the baking sheet tap the side of the cookie with the flat side of a butter knife until you have a sharp edge on the cookie.

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After you get your cookies cut out (and before you cut the second interior shape out): put them on a room temperature cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. (Yes. you definitely want to use the parchment paper and not just a non stick cookie sheet.)

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I only bake 6 cookies a sheet with this method (These are large showy cookies. Don’t waste your time making little ones!) and the parchment paper keeps everything clean and reusing the sheets is easy.

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Get out your interior cookie cutter. Pick something simple. My first batch had a snowflake design and it ended up being a mess with all of the points the candy had to melt into. I now am using a heart shape and they turn out exactly like I want them too. Dip the cutter in flour between each cut out. If the dough doesn’t come up with the cutter use a butter knife to lift the interior out.

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If you end up with a bunch of flour in the cut out: gently blow it out.

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Refrigerate your tray! You need to do this to keep your cookie shape crisp. Put them in for 10-15 minutes. If you are stacking them in the fridge over what is already in your refrigerator: you can do it by arranging what is in there so they fit flatly.

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When your trays are ready: take them out of the refrigerator and quickly add your hard candy to the center. From experience I have found that I need more than one candy per cookie. I suggest you bake a single cookie to test what you need to do, rather than end up with a mess and having a whole tray (or two) that didn’t work.

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I recommend if you are going to add a second candy to the cookie, that you wait until half way through baking. I time my cookies for 3 minutes and then remove the trays from the oven, add the extra candy and put the trays back in (while switching the racks that the trays were on). After you put them back in the oven: Do not take your eyes off of them! They will go from unfinished to overdone very quickly. The main problem you will have with the candy is when it gets hot enough it will start bubbling and it will boil up and out of the cookie. Adding the second candy in the middle of the bake time lowers the temperature of the candy that is already baking.

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Hopefully, this will keep the candy from boiling up and ruining the look of the cookie. Keep an eye on your cookies after you put them back in. Watch for bubbling: which can ruin the cookie if you let it get out of the center of the cookie. You want the outside of your cookie to just start to brown. Take them out and let them cool a minute or so before you slide the sheet of parchment with the cookies off on the counter to finish cooling.

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They should separate from the paper without the candy bending as you slide them off of your tray. (If you move them before the center has started to solidify you will break the cookies.) Be very careful of the candy while it is hot. This could potentially cause a very bad burn if it gets on your skin!

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If you get the very outside of the cookie a little too brown you can take a knife and gently remove that portion while the cookies are still warm.

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Make sure you wrap them in something clear because they are really pretty!

20141217_215035Cling wrap will make the cookie look even prettier if you fold the edges over the back. It creates a crinkling effect. If you are sending these to school or somewhere where you need more than one for a teacher and teacher’s aide(s): gently wrap when in a parchment paper envelope and stack them in a plastic container.

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Tip the container gently to see if the cookies are in there solidly. I was able to send three cookies for teachers in a bento box with my youngest (and he didn’t destroy them in his backpack on the bus.) Make sure you let whoever you are giving these to know that they are to eat. They look like ornaments and I had a few people question what they were. They are truly beautiful and I was happy to give them out.

As you can see from the different colors these would be great ideas for a variety of holidays and celebrations. Choose the colors to match: Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas, your wedding or batchelorette party colors or birthday. You could find orange and black candy for Halloween. The applications are endless!

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My last few tips are these:

1. Most recipes you find for these are for small cookies and some require you break the hard candy into pieces so they fit in those small cookies. Don’t bother with those. It is nearly impossible to break hard candy without having pieces shoot across the room and stick to everything. Also, they won’t be impressive enough to give as single gifts if they are small.

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2. After you take the cookies out (to put the second candy in): squat down and watch these through your oven window  If you see the candy flatten out and start to bubble they are probably done. They will brown a little more as they start to cool.  So, it’s better to have them just done than a little brown.

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3. Get to know your oven! It you have a gas oven (like I do), move the racks as far away from the heat source as you can. If you are lucky enough to have a convection oven: turn it on! If you notice that the cookies are starting to brown differently in the oven: take advantage of the fact that you remove these 1/2 way through cooking, and rearrange the trays so that they all have a turn in the hot spot.

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4. Store the cookies between the parchment you used to cook them on. I just cut the used parchment in half and continually fold it over and add more parchment strips as I add cookies.

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5. If you are giving more than one to someone: pick a plain white or silver paper plate. The cookies are incredibly beautiful and patterns behind them will just distract from their beauty. If you are giving just one and the recipients are not formal ones (like your kids bus driver or teacher instead of your boss or someone else you’d like to really impress) you can just drop them in a ziplock bag folded over and stapled with a piece of wrapping paper used for a tag. You could get fancy with glassine envelopes (or just make your own out of more parchment paper) add ribbon and tags. Whatever you do (and no matter how you choose to present them): the cookies will impress!

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If you post your finished product, remember where you got your instructions and please link back to my page! Thanks and Merry Christmas!!!

Last Minute Christmas Gift

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Want to know what I made at the last minute this year? Fun winter themed footprints from my kids! If you are searching for something you can complete quickly: the shirts/sweatshirts need time to dry in between layers but it won’t take too long if you follow my  directions.

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I chose a winter theme (rather than Christmas) because if you gift these to grandma and grandpa: they can wear these outside of the Christmas season! Also, if these arrive late: who cares!? Grandma and grandpa will still love them and be able to wear them until it gets warm out. If your Christmas season is during the warm months (those of you South of the equator) you can give these during the colder months of your year.

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You need:

Sweatshirt/s Or T-shirt/s (in the correct size/s for the recipient and pre-launder them so you remove the chemicals that come on new clothing.)

Plain Old Acrylic Craft Paint (you do not need special fabric or additives and those would have longer drying times. Let your recipients know that they should wash these on delicate to keep the paint it’s freshest looking. Although, these should stand up to regular washing.) I used: brown, green, red, black and white

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Craft Paint Brushes (You really only need: one large brush to fill areas and one small brush for edges and details)

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Chalk (I used my kids sidewalk chalk, but thinner chalk or chalk made for marking fabric would work better.)

A Pencil Or Washable Marker

A Plate For Paint (with some cling wrap to keep the paint fresh between layers)

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Paper Towels: for clean up on mistakes, chalk removal and to moisten the fabric before you paint details. (The only paint I had trouble with on damp shirts was red because it bled. I would recommend wetting the shirt/sweatshirts for all other colors)

Cardboard: to keep foot prints off the floor and to test your first prints

A Way To Clean Up! A bathtub full of warm water for older kids or warm water on paper towels to clean paint off of a baby’s foot.

Time To Do This (Mine took two days to complete with the drying times included.)

 

Instructions:

Get out your supplies. Put on the shirt or sweatshirt (if these are too small for you to wear hold them up against your shoulders so they drape like you are wearing them.) Go in front of a mirror and use the chalk to make a large square where you would like the footprints to be. Make sure your bottom line is straight and that you have left room for whatever labels and names you want to add below the feet.

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Grab your kids and go in the bathroom! This is really messy while your kids are involved! Choose the foot you want to use (or if you are using both of one child’s feet start with one foot first.) Paint your kiddo’s foot with black craft paint and test stamp it on the cardboard. Once you’ve figured out how much paint you need for a good stamp CAREFULLY stamp your kids foot on the shirt with their toes at the bottom line. (If you are dealing with a baby put some cardboard inside the shirt so you can stamp sideways while the baby lays on it’s back. Wait until they are sleeping heavily to do this or they will wiggle their toes. You may only have one shot at this per nap.) Make sure you have room to either hang these out of the way immediately or have a place you are able to put them flat to dry!

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Once you get a stamp: quickly wash your kids foot off or they will put black paint everywhere! It doesn’t have to be perfect because you will be filling it in with more paint in a moment. Get all of prints that you want to use. (For a large family this could take some patience!) If you really mess this up and need to start over: carefully wipe off as much paint as you can and scrub, then wash the shirt well.

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Once you and your kids are cleaned up take the shirt in on a clean hard surface and fill the footprints in until they are solid. It is easier to push the paint towards a line than pull it across the fabric. A moist surface accepts paint better than a dry one will.

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Let the foot prints dry completely.

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Draw in your details on the foot print with a pencil or chalk.

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Draw in your labels or names with a washable marker or chalk (pencil doesn’t work well directly on fabric.)

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Paint your large white front on the penguins, add wings in black, paint in the names and paint the background colors on any details you want to add.

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Let dry.

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Finish painting details. Let dry. Use your wet paper towels to remove the chalk markings and any mistakes you make as you are going (the paint is really hard to completely remove so try not to make any big changes.)

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Get ready to impress your gift recipient! We mailed ours to the grandparents but if you are going to see them this Christmas: you still have time to finish these!

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Have fun, try not to completely stress out and if you post your work online please remember where you got your instructions and link back to this page! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

 

Decadent Herbal Cold Remedy: Turmeric Milk

I’m sick. This has been a bad year for colds in our home. My youngest boy started school and he loves to germ up while he’s there and then come home and share! I love my little walking petri dishes, but I am tired of the viral circus that they star in!

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About a decade ago I decided I was going to go all herbal with my remedies. I had good intentions, but eventually there were some things I found Western medicine necessary for. Cold viruses were not one of them. These little nasties are not treated here in the US by doctors. Your every day US citizen doesn’t have a cold treatment repertoire much outside of half-hearted attempts to use echinacea or zinc.

I have a wonderful friend from South India who grew up near Hyderabad. She was my roommate for a quite a while and I learned a lot about Indian culture through our friendship. As our friendship grew: I started a journey into trying to understand the Hindu religion, the caste system she was expected to marry into (which is quite a departure from my decidedly Western viewpoint) and her view of Ghandi (which was not what I expected, but that I respect). I grew to appreciate her views, as I attempted to glimpse the world through my friend’s perspective on reality, by asking lots of questions and visiting her temple (the service always seemed like a huge party and everyone is fed at the end). During this time I also fell in love with South Indian cuisine. Turmeric has a vital role in those curried dishes.

While I attempted to understand an entire country through my friend’s individual experience: I began to marvel at a culture with a long, rich and interesting history. One of the key pieces of India’s puzzle (at least for me) is Ayurveda. I will not pretend to be fluent in the medical practice of Ayurveda, never the less: I find it fascinating. The diagnosis of illness and treatment in Ayurveda relies on examining your dominant dosha. Doshas are believed to be one of three life forces (or energies) in your body. They are said to be a combination of the 5 basic elements in the Universe. “People may be of a predominant dosha prakruti (constitution), but all doshas have the basic elements within them.” -Wikipedia (Learn more about doshas here: LINK)

You can take a fun test here and see what your dominant dosha is: http://doshaquiz.chopra.com/

The above dosha quiz is on a site written by Deepak Chopra. I have been interested in his views for quite a while. I saw him speak at a lecture once about 15 years ago…I recommend reading his books, instead. It was quite a snoozefest (although, maybe he was just having a bad day.)

I also own a fantastic hybrid style herbal remedy book by Andrew Chevallier. It is hands down the most complete, reliable and useful book in my library. I have relied on it to assemble my daily teas that I make from plants in my garden. I use this book a lot!

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So, with my fixation on herbal remedies and interest in Ayurvedic medicine I stumbled across Turmeric milk (also known as golden milk, yellow milk and originally: haldi ka doodh) as a traditional cold remedy. I have been playing around with my recipe for this for several years. I am now at the point where I would choose (and do choose!) this drink over hot cocoa: I think it’s that good!

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If you are unfamiliar with turmeric and it’s active compound curcumin (Read up on curcumin here: LINK) it is touted as a “super herb” used to treat things as varied as: “arthritis, heartburn (dyspepsia), stomach pain, diarrhea, intestinal gas, stomach bloating, loss of appetite, jaundice, liver problems and gallbladder disorders. It is also used for headaches, bronchitis, colds, lung infections, fibromyalgia, leprosy, fever, menstrual problems, and cancer. Other uses include depression, Alzheimer’s disease, water retention, worms, and kidney problems.” (Source: Webmd )

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I can attest to its effectiveness against depression and I knock out colds with it regularly. I can’t take the herbal supplement pills because I get gastrointestinal problems. They’re just too strong. I still want the effect of turmeric, but I have to watch how I ingest it. That is where this recipe comes in.

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I also add cinnamon (which is frequently cassia: a cheaper relative of cinnamon and interchangeable in labeling in the United States. Learn more here: LINK) Cinnamon is a folk remedy for regulating diabetes: “In addition to diabetes, Cassia cinnamon is used for gas (flatulence), muscle and stomach spasms, preventing nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, infections, the common cold, and loss of appetite.” (Source: Webmd ) I add it to my turmeric milk for flavor and because it is a “warming” spice that is supposed to help fight colds. Learn more here: LINK

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I add the vanilla for flavor (I don’t use artificial vanillin, but you can. Artificial vanillin is a synthetic flavoring) but it is reputed to help with digestion and fever: “People take vanilla to treat intestinal gas and fever.” (Source Webmd: LINK)

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These herb’s health benefit claims are not scientifically proven but at the very least: they don’t hurt. Personally, I have found them helpful and you may, too. Either way, learning more about your dominant dosha is a fun way to try to wrap your head around your health and your body. A warm cup of turmeric milk is also a soothing way to treat yourself. You may also be improving your health by drinking it.

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I advise that you make sure whatever you use as the liquid base has fat in it, if you are prone to an upset stomach. I use cow’s milk but almond milk or coconut milk (etc) would work well, too. The fat seems to keep the spice from upsetting my stomach…and with this recipe: turmeric milk becomes a decadent wonder! You can definitely spend more time making this, but I’m more practical than purist, so this is how I do it:

Ingredients:

Milk (or milk substitute)

Approximately 1/4-1/2 tsp Turmeric (You may also make a paste with butter or ghee and heat it with the turmeric before adding to the milk, although I now skip that step.)

Approximately 1/8-1/4 tsp Cinnamon

Two or three drops of Vanilla

Sweetener of your choice: to taste

Marshmallows (If you really want a treat!)

Directions:

Find a mug you’d like to drink this out of and fill it with hot milk or a milk substitute. If your milk gets hot enough that it forms a skin, skim that off or it will bind your spices together and they will sink to the bottom of your cup unmixed. (This is why most traditional recipes combine butter or ghee with the spices and heat them first. Going that direction will give you a more consistent mixture but it is extra time and extra calories that I choose not to use with this, especially since what I’ve usually got on hand is whole milk.)

Sprinkle the turmeric and cinnamon into the milk (You can decide to increase or decrease the amount of the spices to suite your taste and tolerance.)

Add vanilla and a sweetener of your choice (I use Truvia, which is a no calorie sugar free stevia product) and stir until well mixed.

If you like: you can add marshmallows at this point (I totally recommend it!)

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That is my cold/depression fighting, warm fuzzy, yummy, decadent way to get your daily dose of turmeric, vanilla and cinnamon (and everyone deserves marshmallows when they feel yucky!) These should help you get well soon!

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I also use the above supplements to help with a viral illness. I have found them to be very useful and I use them in conjunction with the turmeric milk. I use oil of oregano, garlic pills (You lose some effectiveness going with an odorless variety like I have in this picture.) and zinc. All of these together: usually keep me out of bed and I also deal with minimal symptoms. I recommend them, although you should be careful adding anything new to an herbal regimen. Make sure read the instructions on the bottle and ask your doctor if any of these are appropriate for you or if they will interfere with any other medications you are taking.

On a side note: while I was fighting my cold I decided to make marmalade with the kumquats I grew this year. It was a great success but definitely not something you just “throw together and can”! I’ll post my recipe on here soon. In the mean time here are some pictures of my beautiful kumquat marmalade:

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Yummy!

A love letter to my boys

During the holiday season I reflect on the things I am grateful for. At the top of the list is my family, and more specifically: my two young sons. The following article is my love letter to my boys. From the beginning through the end of every day, they are always in my thoughts. I am very clear as to what my role is with my kids. So, here is my heart boys. Here is my love. This is to you.

I am not your friend, I am your parent. I am not here to watch you raise yourself, I am here to guide you. I am not here to fight you, take away your fun, or make your life harder: I am here to watch you grow, show you right from wrong and create the boundaries I think will help you the most on your own journey.

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I love you. It is a love that is insurmountable, unbreakable, total. No matter what you do, who you become or what you achieve I will love you…to the very fiber of my being. I am your mother. You are my child. Always.

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I want to teach you what I know. It is something that I realize you won’t appreciate until you are in my shoes, and that’s OK. You don’t have to earn my love. It is there for you forever. You don’t need to see me as wise or even see me at all. I am still here. Waiting. Loving you.

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When you are young, your life is uncomplicated. It is like an arrow shot from a bow. It is swift and focused, you will move long distances with every shot. That will change. One day your life will spread out. Instead of an arrow you will become more like a net. Your spread will be wider…your distance traveled shorter, but the effect is much broader. It will become a well studied choice to be the most effective with each cast. Instead of  flailing about in far flung, random directions: you will become aware of your position, become well rooted in your accumulated life perspective and you will be able to use that knowledge and wisdom to it’s fullest potential. As you make this transition, as you become more experienced: you will begin to see why your father and I are so different from you right now. You will begin to fill our shoes. You will see a very different world than the one you are focused on today.

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When I was young: I boldly stepped out on my life’s stage. I played every part, I knew every role. I thought I was wise.

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When I had you and your brother: it was like I went from a high-school play in a high school auditorium to Broadway. It was that different: going from the center of my own universe to being your parent. As I did this: I went from an uncertain fledgling to a powerful eagle. Suddenly what I thought I knew was irrelevant, even silly, as I began to stretch my wings and truly soar.

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When you were little, all you could see was me and all I could see was you. Now that you are older, you are looking away. Choosing your steps, creating your path. I watch you walk away from me, sometimes I can even see you run. I will forever be in this position: behind you, reaching out to steady you if you stumble.

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It is a long, beautiful goodbye and there is a part of me that wishes every day was a few hours longer. There is a part of me that is so scared that I might forget a moment. The years go by so fast. I’m afraid I will wake up, in what seems like tomorrow, and your days with me will have sped by: that you will be grown and gone. I am afraid of the day that my house is no longer filled with shrill screams, thundering feet and fits of laughter. The future silence of the empty nest is always present in the back of my mind. From that perspective: I already miss you.

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When you have your children, you will see that although it is bittersweet to watch your children grow and move away from you, it is a place of extreme pride to see your kids begin to mature into their destiny. To watch them become sure footed on their own path. To see my position as parent mean less and less to you. It is as it should be. You are becoming you.

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Stepping out of the center of my own world has been the most awesome, incredible experience. It just keeps getting bigger, it keeps getting better.

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When I see you, I see your potential. I see what you can be. That you can be better than I am. That you can be wiser than I am. That you can be your fullest potential. I see that. I try to show you, too. I pray that I succeed.

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But even if your life is different. If you end up feeling like a failure. If you end up broken by the decisions that you make in your life…guess what? That’s how I got here, too.

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There’s no mistake you cannot overcome. No choice in life that you cannot learn a lesson from, and no path you can explore that is a mistake. You go where you go for a reason. You learn what you learn because you need the lesson. You will ultimately be successful if you attempt to do all of this from a position of love.

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Open your heart and meet every person with love.

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The one thing I’m sure of is: that everyone deserves your love. But it’s important to realize that love and trust are two different things. Not everyone will earn your trust, but that feeling of love should always be there.

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One day you may betray my trust, as I betrayed my parent’s trust. It helped me realize that there are choices in this life that can’t be taken back. But love? No. I will always have room in my heart for you.

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I hope your life is easier than mine has been, but I respect your journey enough to realize that I can’t dictate your path. So, every day I will show you that you are loved. Every day I will set limits so that you have boundaries. And every moment I will become the most that I can muster to show you what I believe is possible in this life.

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I believe you can do even more than I can (and I have been working on being the best me I can be for a very long time.) I am so excited to see the magic that you can create. The reality that you shape. The moments that we share.

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My door is always open, my ears are always ready to hear…and I love you. Always.

Winter: Garden Planning

Winter is a wonderful time to read up on gardening literature. When your garden is fast asleep, it is the perfect time to make preparations for next year. Whether you are new to gardening or an old hand: this is the yearly time for reflection. What has worked for you? What have you struggled with? What are you sure of? What would you like to learn about?

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Follow along and learn how to create a long lasting, low maintenance gardening experience. There’s a lot of practical knowledge in here that I would love to share with you! Below is a list of articles by category. You can quickly find solutions to past problems or plan your garden design to avoid those problems altogether.

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My instructions are heavy on preparation, but they create gardening solutions that will last for decades.

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Does it seem like you are spending $20 for each tomato you grow? If you are struggling to get anything from your garden the problem could be your soil. Raised beds are a great way to create the perfect conditions for vegetables. Unfortunately, a lot of instructions out there look nice: but they are ideas from novice gardeners. Frequently the beds are too shallow, too expensive or built from materials that will quickly rot. Building raised beds is a lot of work and I don’t want to have to redo everything in a couple of years. I doubt you want to start over every couple of years, either. Here is my solution involving a sheet mulch, hugelkulter and keyhole bed combination with cinder block walls. This is the cheapest, most fertile, longest lasting solution I could come up with and it works beautifully: Mother’s Day Raised Hugelkultur Bed and a second article here: Hugelkultur, Keyhole Gardens: Bridging Ideas

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If you need help choosing products to either amend soil or to build raised beds: these are my picks for choosing bagged soil and soil additives and also my choices and suggestions for building your own soil with cheap sheet mulching supply ideas. Making sense of old sayings

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Once you’ve created good planting conditions your next step is efficient watering. This will help you whether you are in an arid area or just need to save on your watering bill: Efficient Summer Watering In A Raised Bed

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Are you struggling with pollinators? If you aren’t getting abundant squash, melons, cucumbers and other veggies in the cucurbit family you may just need more bees. While you are waiting for your newly planted flowers to attract pollinators this year, here is what you can do: Be The Bee! How And When Hand Pollinating Makes Sense This also explains how to help plants that are wind and self-pollinators.

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If you are brand new to gardening or if you are really struggling overall: this is my “all in one stop” to learn your way around common mistakes. You must know the subjects in orange and you can add the rest as you get more success under your belt: All You Need To Know To Grow The same information is also at the top of this page under Gardening Basics

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If you are struggling with clearing Bermuda grass and are impatient to have finished beds I suggest this approach: Beds Over Bermuda grass Or: Landscape Fabric Sandwich

Inexpensive Vine Support

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If you would like to try to train your vining plants on a cheap support next season: this is a fast, inexpensive and strong solution- Simple, Inexpensive Vine Support

Seed Starting: Tips and Tricks

Seed Starting: Tips and Tricks

My tips for starting seeds in milk jugs and my recommendations for mail order seed and live plant companies: The Seed Collector’s Insanity (Tips And Tricks For Starting Your Seeds)

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If you dislike the hardening off process (getting your seedlings ready to plant out in the garden) like I do, here is a short cut: Short Cut Through The Hardening-Off Process

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If you would like to see what other people have been interested in on here, this is Crazy Green Thumb’s most read article. I don’t advocate using gravel in the landscape and this is why: Please Don’t Rock Your Yard!

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If you are longing for a fun craft project for this winter, here are a few ideas. These are the projects I have enjoyed creating this year:

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Melted Perler Bead and Pony Bead Craft Projects

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Last Minute Kid Friendly Halloween Decorations

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Come On, You Know You Want To! Recycled Glass Flowers In The Garden

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Solution For Sore Shoulders: Microwavable Rice Sock

Want some new ideas for using plants that you may already enjoy growing? Here are some of my favorite recipes from this year. These are my own recipes. They may make you interested in adding a few of these plants to your plans:

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Ever Had Spiced Hibiscus Flower Tea?

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Cooking With Lettuce?!?! Yes! And It’s Delicious!!!

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Garden Huckleberry: A Completely Nutty Science Experiment!!!

I love my short winter down time! I get to look at my successes and challenges, plan my garden for next year and organize and choose the seeds I want to grow. I hope you have a productive winter planning your garden! Here in the Northern Hemisphere our season is at an end. If you’re on the Southern part of the globe: Happy Spring/Summer!!!

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See you all in the garden next year!!!!

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Last Minute Kid Friendly Halloween Decorations

We love Halloween at our house and so do most of our neighbors! We see all kinds of great decorations, but most of them are purchased. I’m from a generation that made their costumes every year because there weren’t other options. I like to decorate for Halloween but I am not interested in spending a bunch of money. I mean really: How hard is it to make a ghost decoration?

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I also have young children. I wanted to do something that they could help with, so it had to be simple. I decided on a garland of ghosts. We bought a package of coffee filters and folded them into triangles. I drew faces on some of them with magic markers and my four year old colored on those. My seven year old drew his own ghost faces on his. After my kids were finished I used some cellophane tape and taped the ghosts into a cone shape.

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This is such a simple project and you can even finish this on Halloween night in those high energy hours between when school lets out and before it’s time to trick or treat!

Here’s how to do it:

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Fold standard coffee filters into a triangular shape.

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Draw your ghost/monster face. When finished tape the coffee filter into a cone shape.

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Poke a hole in the top of the coffee filter and run string or yarn through the hole.

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Tie the string or yarn to a screw, nut or bolt underneath the ghost/monster. (This is a great use for all of the accumulated odds and ends in your junk drawers!) This will weight the filter and prevent the yarn or string from pulling out of the hole in the filter.

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Tie a loop at the top of your ghost to hang directly from a branch or take a long length of yarn or string and tie the ghosts about 4-6″ between each ghost down the length of the string/yarn to make a garland. Tie the ends in your trees, bushes or along a patio railing. Y ou can also hang these inside.

There you go! Super fast, super simple and you can see these from a good distance.

Here are some other things I made for Halloween this year: A twenty foot, two story spider web I made from yarn.

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I also decorate marshmallows for my kids as a reward for finishing their lunches at school. If they have eaten all of the lunch I send with them, then I will decorate a marshmallow for them for the next school day. This week I did a lot of Halloween themed marshmallows.

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It has been very effective at our house and it’s fun to send something to let my kids know I was thinking about them.

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You don’t have to use these nightly like I do, you can randomly add them to lunches on nights when you have a little extra time. Your children will remember these, and more importantly: they will remember you.

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I like them better than notes. I was able to start making these before either of my children could read. I would have had to wait to add notes.

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I wanted my kids to look forward to remembering me at school instead of noticing a note and then hiding it because it isn’t cool to have your mommy write you love letters!

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I’ve been doing these for three years now. It takes very few supplies to do these although it takes a while to learn how to write on such a soft surface.

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All I have to make these are some food markers and aerosol cake frosting dye colors (these are in cake decorating isles at hobby stores), clean scissors, toothpicks (currently just for my seven year old because he is old enough not to just bite into them) and food coloring added to bags of powdered sugar. I will create a post on my techniques in the future.

Of course we carved pumpkins:

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but look at what we found on a walk in our neighborhood! We aren’t the only Doctor Who nerds here!

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This Dalek jack-o-lantern is awesome.

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The clear balls look like the containers you get from the 25 cent toy machines in grocery stores. I will definitely be making one of these next year!

Have fun tonight and Happy Halloween!!!!

Melted Perler Bead and Pony Bead Craft Projects

Every once in a while I end up on Pinterest. I don’t do it often because it’s like going to an all you can eat buffet: I think I can eat (or do) way more than reality will allow me to. On one of my visits to Pinterest I saw some melted pony bead crafts and I thought it would be fun to do them with my kids.

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These are pony beads. If you want a stained glass look: make sure you use translucent beads.

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I bought two big bags of pony beads and then separated them by color and put them into sandwich bags.

I also like a challenge and since I saw a pony bead version of Van Gogh’s Starry Night on Pinterest I figured I could do that as my grown-up craft. You can find it here: http://www.craftster.org/forum/index.php?topic=101446.0

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Van Gogh’s Starry Night.

So, now I am going to come out of the closet and admit to being a Doctor Who fan. (This seems like a random admission at this point, but keep reading.) I love BBC programing and I have since I was a kid. I would hand tune my TV dial to PBS and watch everything BBC as often as I could. It definitely affected my sense of humor! To celebrate my inner nerd (Who am I kidding? I’m all nerd!) I did a bunch of Doctor Who themed crafts for the season premier, this being one of them.

I saw the original starry night pony bead sun-catcher and I said to myself: this just needs a TARDIS (Doctor Who reference) and it would be perfect! (I had seen a starry night painting online with the TARDIS in it before. It’s here: http://stuffpoint.com/doctor-who/image/36814-doctor-who-starry-night-with-tardis.jpg ) I also thought there had to be a way to make the pony bead version look more interesting (the colors in the original were very plain in the sunlight). I also wanted to have better control of the dark areas: I decided I’d use Perler beads there.

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These are Perler beads. Perler is a brand of beads . They are usually sold to be used in a preset pegged design and then fused together by passing an iron over it. These are sold in craft and hobby stores.

You certainly don’t need to watch (or care) about BBC programming to enjoy this craft. I also made a tic tac toe board using the same technique (The tic tac toe board was my son’s idea and it was a good one!). I used a combination of Pony and Perler beads for the Starry Night project. I only used pony beads for the board. Doing a large project like the Starry Night one isn’t too difficult but it takes a long time to finish. You may want to start with something smaller like the tic tac toe board or a small sun-catcher to get a feel for the melting times. I assembled my bead version of “Starry Night” over two days. You have to be very careful not to bump it or tip it or you may have to start over!

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We used parchment paper for the board but you don’t have to. Although, it made it easy to line the beads up in a grid.

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This is the tic tac “bow” board we made, prior to melting it.

The reason I am exposing my nerdy tendencies is this: as I was doing the Van Gogh craft I wanted to use Perler beads for detail and translucent pony beads for the sun-catcher part. I could NOT find anything that had information about melting Perler beads or if you could use them with pony beads. This was my first bead melting project and I had no instructions. I’m a firm believer in the “go big or go home” way of living. (You can refer to my past gardening entries for verification of this.) I spent two days assembling the beads and I had no idea if they would work.

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Perlers and pony beads. DO NOT try it this way!

They didn’t, and they failed in a different way than I thought they would. My husband and I were able to pry them out and in the process we broke the whole thing. Luckily this project is just melted beads so I was able to save this by fixing the problem with the Perler beads and remelting the whole thing.

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So, Yes! You can melt Perler beads and pony beads and any combination of the two, you just need to follow these directions:

There are many melted pony bead sun-catcher instructions online. All you need to be successful melting pony beads is a non-stick cookie sheet and an outdoor gas grill so you don’t have to deal with the fumes. (This will forever ruin the non-stick cookie sheet or non-stick cupcake tin. Make sure you put them in with your crafting supplies when you are done rather than trying to cook on them again. If you don’t have a non-stick pan you are willing to ruin: visit your local thrift shop and pick one up. You can also do this in an oven. I don’t recommend it because the fumes are horrible.) After you melt the pony beads: they cool and shrink and will automatically release from the non-stick surface. Just wait for them to cool and lift it out. EASY!

Perler beads are a different animal. Perler beads look like they are made of vinyl. I figured they would melt first and maybe run under the pony beads and make a huge mess. They did make a huge mess, but not in the way I imagined. The Perler beads melted last and I didn’t leave them in our gas grill long enough to melt out the holes in the middle of them. I imagine if I left them in a bit longer I would have had a smoother end product but this was when I was dealing with the difference in the beads. I came very close to giving up. The Perler beads fused to the nonstick cookie sheet. I ended up having my husband force them out with a hard spatula. He had to break the whole thing to get the Perler area out.

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I was afraid I had wasted two days of my life on this dumb sun-catcher project. So, I started going through pages and pages of obscure blog posts trying to find the answer to the Perler problem. I did find an answer: parchment paper. Here’s where I found it: http://rebekahgough.blogspot.com/2012/12/perler-bead-oven-ornaments.html

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If you line your cookie sheet with parchment paper the Perler beads will not stick. But would the pony beads work with my solution? Yes. They did.

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The very nearly ruined first attempt.

The problem then became how could I melt these in the gas grill and not catch the parchment paper on fire? I ended up deciding not to chance it and remelted the broken pieces on parchment paper in our oven. It stunk up the whole house with a sickening plastic smell! That is why Fall (or Spring) is a great time to do this. You can open up your house and air it out! I did mine in +100 F degree summer weather and I still HAD to open the house up to get the plastic smell out. Not good for our air-conditioning bill…live and learn! I wish I had had a big enough toaster oven to do this outside which would avoid the chance of catching the paper on fire. I think the paper might work at a very low temperature for a longer amount of time in a gas grill.

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I’ve made a few things with melted beads and I would only use Perler beads if I wanted the effect I got in the Van Gogh project. The pony beads are much easier to work with! Either way: this is a fun and satisfying project!

Instructions:

First decide which beads you want to work with. For pony beads you just need a non-stick cookie sheet (Use a sheet with sides! I wouldn’t try this if you are making something large on a completely flat sheet.) For Perler beads, or for a combination of the two, you will need to line the cookie sheet with parchment paper.

The pony beads don’t ooze much so you don’t need much paper outside of the pony beads design. Perler beads ooze more so: you will need more paper or run paper up the side of the tray for them. Put the parchment paper down and fold the area by the sides so that it is creased enough to follow the  of the edge of your sheet.

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Decide on your design. Mine was loosely based on Van Gogh’s Starry Night. I printed out and put a grid on my inspiration piece so that I would have an easier time lining things up in the right proportions. The more I worked on it the more it became my own idea and less of what I’d seen.

Remember this is a bead project. If you keep these two rules in mind this will be a much less stressful project: 1. You won’t get a lot of detail with little circles that melt down to a hexagon shape. 2. You will not get straight lines with a large picture like this. For a very large project it is necessary to pack the beads tightly to keep the design from moving. That means the beads will be in a zigzag pattern as you push them close together. Try and remember that as you pick out your design. It is one reason that the Van Gogh painting works with this: few straight lines. Anything with strong lines or great detail will be hard to duplicate.

I marked on the parchment paper with a pencil to get the lines straight on the tic tac toe board (Or: “tic tac bow” as we call ours. It looked too much like a present to not add a bow!) I was able to create straight lines with this one because the pattern was much smaller. It took a long time to get straight and then the slightest bump made the lines wonky. Also, the pencil transferred to the melted beads so you might want to try a pen or marker.

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Some pony beads don’t melt as fast as others. The red ones that I had that did not have glitter in them stayed lumpy even though the glittery ones melted flat. I would guess if you wanted to have them both flat it would just take a little longer in the grill. I kind of enjoy the lumps. I used two kinds of beads because I didn’t have enough of one kind for the project.

Arrange your design. Work until you are happy. I didn’t have enough beads for the Van Gogh project to use the colors I wanted. I wish now that I had just bought more beads. You can’t change your design once they are fused. This takes a long time to get right and you might as well invest in the color beads you will be most happy with. I also wanted more colors than the one I saw online. Unfortunately, the beads looked very different before I melted them than they did afterwards.

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Before

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A very different “after” look.

I really liked my color choices before I melted them. After I melted them I wished I had used slightly different colors and gone ahead and bought more beads…but they aren’t cheap so I doubt I will redo this. Plus: it was a fun Doctor Who themed craft. It’s not like it was going to hang in a museum!

Set your gas grill burners on low or set your oven to 400 degrees F. Carefully place your cookie sheet in your heat source. Wait 5 minutes and check it. These will continue to flatten out. If you want it as smooth as glass it may take 30 minutes or more. The longer you melt, the fewer bubbles will be trapped and the clearer the design will be. Heating times will vary depending on the look you want and (unfortunately) the type and brand of plastic pony beads you use (which makes the melting time kind of random.) Mine melted really fast on the grill. Slower in the oven. Your project most likely won’t be done after five minutes, but you need to keep an eye on this. I have read some people have caught them on fire in their grills. (I would guess they left them in way too long, had the heat too high, were using charcoal or did something else that aren’t in these directions.) Check on your beads every 5 minutes. Opening the oven or gas grill often will allow the bead fumes to vent. Again, I wouldn’t do this inside if you don’t have to: but you can.

Once your beads are fused and as flat as you would like them, carefully remove them from your heat source and allow them to cool. Put them outside to cool! Since cooling can be done outside and they are still creating fumes: remove them from your home if you had them in your oven! Wait until it’s cool to the touch. If you used pony beads they will have automatically pulled away from the non-stick surface as they shrink and cool. Lift it out and admire your handiwork!

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If you used Perler beads: allow your project to cool. They should not have touched anything other than the parchment paper. If that is the case: lift it out and admire your handiwork! If they touched the cookie sheet: Pry it off. If it breaks, put parchment paper along the whole surface (you’ll know exactly where it didn’t have parchment, it’s okay, you can fix this!) and carefully align the broken area/s. Remelt. Allow to cool and admire your handiwork!

Finishing:

I have a bunch of different colored magic markers. I added details using the magic markers. You can easily remove the magic marker marks from the pony beads with a pencil eraser. This way, you are not stuck with just the way the beads melt. I wanted to see a little more movement in it so I added swirls to it. I know from experience magic marker will not last outdoors. If you like what your design looks like with magic marker make sure you hang it inside.

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For anything you would like to hang (versus just sitting it in a window, which is what I did): use a small diameter drill bit and drill a couple of holes and hang (If you break it, you can always remelt!) These end up pretty fragile so be careful. For the tic tac toe (tic tac bow) board: use dry erase markers to play. I’ve only done these projects with the above directions. I don’t know what else would work, but that’s the fun part: experimenting! I’d love to see any projects you come up with using these directions!!!

Please remember where you got your instructions! If you use these directions and post your own project please be kind enough to link back to this page. Thanks! Have fun!

Here are the other projects I tried out for the Doctor Who season 8 premier:

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I tried painting some $5 shoes I picked up at Walmart. I will definitely do more like this. Sonic screwdriver

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A weeping angel and the eleventh doctor with a mop, a bow tie and a fez. You can scream “NERD!” at me now. I’ll roll with it.

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A crack in the Universe and my obligatory glitter. Yes, I am only twelve years old in my mind! I figure I should never grow up: It’s bad for my imagination!

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Goofy, Doctor Who themed nails. WAYYY to much work. I will not be trying to do this much detail on my fingers again (especially since I was using toothpick tips to paint the details!) I have a lot of respect for the people who post nail art. I will have to admire their work from a distance from now on!

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Come On, You Know You Want To! Recycled Glass Flowers In The Garden

It’s hot out right now. Like: “melt into a puddle with whatever remaining liquid is left in your poor dehydrated body” hot out. San Antonio has a long growing season: 280 days. Our summers are included in the 280 days but I’m not sure that’s very fair. I can get peppers, okra and eggplants through our summer but but I need to water each plant every other day. Although I enjoy having these veggies I don’t want to be out in the yard in 100+ degree days sweating myself into a puddle if I don’t have to. So to celebrate and beautify my garden (without actually being out in the heat gardening) I have a great project: glass garden flowers!!!!

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Okay, I know glass and the great outdoors don’t seem like a good match but they can be. I’m going to teach you how to add a little recycled glass glamor to your yard. These are the stand-ins in my garden before my flowers take off in the spring and they are pretty enough to command attention even though they are located within one of my big patches of beautiful zinnias.

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I have seen drilled glass flowers. I am too lazy to deal with that. Mine are glued. I like mine glued. Very fast, very simple, plus: I used very heavy glass serving dishes, not thin porcelain plates like most people do. Glue is the way to go!

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There were a few things I learned from reading online and the rest I did from a few attempts on my own. I’ve seen bell hangers used for glass flowers. Since that seemed to be what the majority of online posts have used I figured I’d go ahead and rely on their experience. The only bell hangers I have found are at Lowe’s in the plumbing department. (Don’t bother with Home Depot. They don’t carry them. However, you can certainly try other hardware stores in your area.) If you don’t have a Lowe’s near you can find them online. They aren’t cheap but they work.

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These are bell hangers. They come in different sizes for different diameter pipes. Make sure you have all of your supplies matched up before you check out. Go ahead and remove the screws. You won’t need them if you are gluing.

I thought about using something other than bell hangers, but I was already at the store and wasn’t interested in wandering the isles coming up with my own idea. The main issue I have with the bell hangers is that they only have a thin circular rim to attach to the plate. Something flat would probably work better, giving the glue more area to adhere to between the plate and the attachment piece. In the absence of my own brilliant answer to this shortcoming: I will admit from my own experience the bell hangers do work. I bought a contractor pack because I plan to make a bunch of these.

Here’s a link for the pricing: http://www.lowes.com/Search=bell+hangers?storeId=10151&langId=-1&catalogId=10051&N=0&newSearch=true&Ntt=bell+hangers#!

While you’re at the hardware store in the plumbing department (near where you pick up the bell hangers) will be the area for pvc pipe. Match up the pvc so that it will fit inside the ring that is attached to the bell hanger (The bell hangers come in different sizes to accommodate different sized pipe.)

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Looking for rebar? You are in the right section of the hardware store if it looks like this. Those boxes on the shelves are full of rebar. Pick something thick and long. Get the same number of rebar as you have plans to make finished glass flowers.

You will use the rebar to run into the ground as the base/support and you will place the pvc pipe over it.

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You will also need some epoxy gorilla glue. I have no idea if anything else will work. This is the only glue I have used for this project.

The other thing you can use to decorate your flowers are glass beads or stones from a craft store.

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These are in the floral section of hobby/craft stores. Hold them up to the lights in the store. If they are too dark: pass them up. If they shimmer beautifully in the light, head to the checkout! I was sure the dark red would look nice in the sunlight. They were too dark and not evenly colored. I went with a bag of blue and a bag of green.

I have used high heat clear “window, door, trim and siding” silicone glue (the high heat designation will be listed on the side in the fine print) to put them on and also gorilla glue.

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They both work for this application. The silicone glue is much messier and will require gloves. You will also need mineral spirits to clean up the silicone glue. I recommend sticking to epoxy for the whole project.

We got a box of medical gloves from our pediatrician and I’m hooked! I use them to protect my hands during any messy chore/craft and this project was no different. They’re really handy to have around and you can bet I’ll be ordering another box when this one runs out!

Find some pretty plates you’d like to use to make your flowers. My antique plates are not things I would choose to ruin for this crafting project, so I hit the local Goodwill to find some cheap alternatives. This is what I picked out:

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Two very decorative pressed glass plates that created a really cool effect when put together.

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This is a great use for all of those pretty stamped glass plates your great grandmother would have collected. Fortunately, if you can’t bring yourself to mess up your own antique plates there are always a bunch of them at thrift shops! Look for lighter weight plates if you want to do several layers. (I did have a failure. Don’t use frosted glass on a side you will glue. It looked horrible. The lopsided glued area was clear and the rest was frosted. I’m still trying to find a solution for that one.) If you just want one plate with glass stones glued to them like the ones above and below, know that those glass stones will add quite a bit of weight on their own. I think the stones look better on the back of the plate rather than the front. You also should thoroughly wash your plates before starting to remove any film or dirt that will affect the adhesive. I ran mine though our dishwasher which uses a separate spotting/rinse agent in it.

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This was very heavy with the thickness of the plate and the glue, glass beads and the bell ring. It is not the one that dropped. I think if you use a textured plate: try and use the flat side for the bell ring attachment point. I believe the ridges in the other set of plates is why that flower dropped. I just went back and doubled the glue to fix it. All three flowers are still holding.

If you really like the look of something heavy, you may still be able to use it. Just make sure you use a couple of layers of glue. I didn’t think what I used would hold, but I have been pleasantly surprised by the strength of gorilla glue epoxy. Look for the highest psi rated, clear epoxy glue you can find.

Squeeze the two sides of the epoxy glue into the plastic mixing plate that comes in the package. Thoroughly mix it together with the enclosed stick and immediately place it on the bell hanger rim, both inside and out. Do not wait long or it will begin to set and you’ll have to start over with new glue. Use the stick that comes with the glue to smear it around the bell hanger and up the sides. Wait the recommended time for it to cure. Once it is completely cured add a second layer around the plate and up the sides of the bell hanger. Again: wait the recommended time for each layer to cure.

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Look around your yard and find the spot you want to add a glass flower. Don’t place your glass flower over something hard like stone or concrete. I had one of my assembled flowers drop (the gray set above). It bounced off of the soil below it and wasn’t damaged. I just popped some of the old glue off and used a few more layers of glue to repair it. I put it right back up once the glue dried. If you use thicker glass and it falls onto the surrounding soil, it may not break as easily as a very thin piece would.

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As you can see the real flowers in this photo are from this spring (2014). I waited until the fall to recommend my methods. These instructions worked for me. The completed glass flowers I made this spring still look great and are still holding strong!

Once you find your spot: drive your rebar into the ground with a hammer or mallet like you see in the above photo. It needs to be fairly deep to support the weight of the flower and whatever wind hits it, but needs to come up close to the top of the pvc pipe so the pvc doesn’t bend and break from the weight. Put the long piece of pvc pipe on the ground next to the rebar and mark how tall you want the pipe to be. Cut your pipe to the length you measured. You don’t have to be exact since the bell clamp is adjustable. I recommend placing the cut side down although, it probably won’t really matter since the glass plate will cover that end.

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Take the assembled glass flower and place it and the attached pvc pipe over the rebar. Slide the flower up or down to make sure the glass and pvc is supported by the rebar. (The pvc does not need to fit tightly over the rebar. The rebar just serves as additional support for the pipe.) The pvc will probably be stamped. I just turned the printed area towards the back of the flowerbed.

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The outside part of the clamp opens up and can be adjusted without removing the entire back of the bell clamp. It has a u shaped area to support the screw. Hang the plate with the open area of the u shaped area up. This will allow the screw to be supported underneath by the outside of the clamp. Tighten the screw down with a screwdriver.

Using pvc pipe over rebar makes the flower quickly removable by sliding the whole assembly off of the rebar. Just grab the plate and pvc pipe together and lift it up and off of the rebar. When you have storms with high winds or hail and for when your winter dips below freezing (we don’t see much of that down here!) pull the whole assembly off the rebar and store it in a protected area. When it’s time to put it back outside just slide it back over the rebar. It also makes it easy to work on your flower if you need to do repairs. I don’t notice the pipe and I don’t recommend painting it because it would eventually peel.

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My flowers have made it from February to September. One needed repair but hasn’t had an issue since I used two layers of epoxy on it.

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Now you have the basic instructions for whatever removable glass art flowers you decide you’d like to see in your flower beds. I have totally enjoyed mine. I think the next few I make I’ll try some pretty china from the local thrift shop, just for variety.

If you use my instructions and decide to post your work, please link back to the instructions on my site. Thanks!

 

 

 

Be The Bee! How And When Hand Pollinating Makes Sense.

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Flowers are beautiful examples of sexual reproduction. We gather them, we create bouquets, we stick our noses into a plant’s sex organs and take a deep breath of intoxicating fragrance.

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The idea of sex (at least when we look at our own species) seems to be incredibly more complex and inherently immature.

 

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I will point to plants for transferable lessons in the beauty and enjoyment of sexual reproduction. Because: with flower sex there are no immature experiences. Enjoying a flower is simple and healthy.

Plant sex: On display

Plants are never shy about reproduction. Those beautiful blossoms on your rose bush? Reproduction. The fruit you enjoy from the market? Reproduction. The nuts that provide fiber and protein in your diet? Reproduction.

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Plants can’t walk around and find their ideal mate. Instead they are more like billboards attempting to get pollinators to look so they might entice them to stop by and enjoy some nectar (and to spread some pollen around while they are at it.) With a plant’s sexual reproduction: it is in the plant’s best interest to get noticed. Pollinators create new offspring for plants, fruit and nuts attract animals to help with dispersal.

Humans select strains for the best fruit as far as taste and visual appeal. However, we create imbalance in the system when we don’t remember to select to attract and feed pollinators. I believe helping create healthy pollinators is going to become a necessary interest that must be included in the future of breeding and research in horticulture. It will be in recognition of the importance of the balance that nature strives to create.

What is the difference between hybrid and open pollinated seed?

These are legal definitions for plants. If you would like to know how and why these are separated in seed catalogs this is a great explanation: http://www.garden.org/subchannels/care/seeds?q=show&id=293&page=1 You need to know the difference before you start on the pollination journey.

Purposeful hand application of pollen:

As a home gardener, you can effectively focus on two different things in hand pollination. The first is to (1) purposely pollinate plants to create (A) a new hybrid or to (B) isolate and maintain pure strains:

(A) Hybridization (taking pollen from one desirable plant and placing the pollen on a second variety. With this method you are trying to create a better strain than either of the parents) will produce a new type of fruit but the seeds will not be stable. Reliably hybridizing takes more expertise than the average home gardener has. If you allow one of nature’s pollinators to do this you will get something unique next year if you sow the crossed seed (although you may not enjoy eating it.) Letting nature engage in hybridization is like the slot machine gambling of the plant world. You may hit the jackpot growing hybridized seed but more often you may just lose your money (with lesser quality plants than the parents, wasted garden space, water etc). I will admit to enjoying random crosses that grow out of discarded winter squash seed in my compost heap. Even if it’s merely to marvel at the possibilities that plant genetics can offer us!

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In my home garden I occasionally play the game of: “Squash, squash, what is that squash?” I have had some crazy crosses come up when I haven’t rotated crops from year to year or have found them growing from discarded seed in my compost heap. This game can easily be played with all cucurbits (squash/melon/cucumber/gourd family). To play: encourage the help of bees. Just save seed after two varieties of the same species have been growing at the same time.

(B) Keeping plant strains pure: The other part of this type of pollinating is isolating varieties to prevent hybridization. You will need isolation space (which varies per plant type), grow only one variety or use barriers like bags to keep what you have pollinated fertilized by only what you have chosen to place on it. You can try this if you have had a few successful seasons in your home garden and feel ready to expand your skills. You can learn more about keeping open pollinated seed strains pure or creating new hybrids here: http://www.seedsavers.org/Education/Seed-Saving-Resources/

and here: http://www.seedsavers.org/Education/Seed-Saving-Instructions/

If you are a seasoned gardener, I suggest this site: http://seedalliance.org/index.php?mact=DocumentStore,cntnt01,download_form,0&cntnt01pid=12&cntnt01returnid=139

(I always encourage people to support seedsavers.org. They are a genetic bank for open pollinated and heirloom strains of vegetables. They are maintaining diversity which is in complete opposition to GMO and hybrid seed companies like Monsanto.)

The second part is 2) Lack of pollination: The second focus in hand pollination is to make up for a lack of pollinators. No bees is a big deal! When sexual reproduction in a vegetable or fruit garden is bee reliant, you can intervene if there is a lack of them. Just make sure you add bee attracting flowers next season. You aren’t going to want to have to totally replace the bee’s handiwork. They work hard!

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Where we fit in:

Just like humans can sometimes use help with fertility: plants that use sexual reproduction can use our help as well. Male and female organs on a plant use pollination to reproduce. Here is a list of common vegetable plants and how they reproduce: http://www.harvesttotable.com/2009/05/how_vegetables_are_pollinated/

There are three main categories of pollination and gardeners can easily affect them:

A: Pollination by wind. This happens between separate male and female flower parts found on plants like corn (how to hand pollinate corn: link) You can help these plants along by physically rubbing the male pollen onto the female flower to increase your chances of fertilization. You can specifically help corn by cutting off one of the tassels (located at the top of the plant)

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Corn tassles.

and knocking pollen onto the silks as they emerge (found closer to the middle of the plant).

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Corn silk from this years plants.

B: Self-pollination: This happens within the same flower like tomatoes (how to hand pollinate tomatoes: link ) The key for these plants is agitation: grab a stem and give the plant a good shake. It is a little like what a good wind or rain storm would do. Self pollinating plants have their male and female parts close together. The pollen needs to drop a very small distance onto the stigma. Grabbing the plant and giving it a good shake will help knock loose pollen from the anthers onto the stigma.

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You can grab a tomato plant and give it a shake to knock the pollen off of the male part of the flower onto the female part. Tomatoes are self-pollinating. Each flower contains both male and female parts.

C. Animal pollination. Where a plant relies on something in the animal kingdom to spread pollen from plant to plant. Examples are bees, butterflies, moths and other insects pollinating your home vegetables and fruit trees. Here is a list of plants and their pollinators: link

Ideally you have a ton of bees in your yard from avoiding insecticides and other chemicals while ensuring you plant nectar and pollen rich flowers. This should create conditions to assure that you have pollinators already on your property eager to pollinate your fruits and vegetables. Even so, early in our season we are short on pollinators. Unfortunately, most suburbs are surrounded miles and miles of a monoculture of lawn grass.  Homeowners struggle to keep weeds out of their lawns just so neighbors (or an HOA) don’t judge them for noncompliance. While homeowners are planning their herbicide attack they don’t notice the hum of bees enjoying those same weeds.

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Lawn weeds in Bermuda grass. These are tiny, but the bees love them!

I hope within the next decade we start looking at the ground around our homes as the potential to support nature rather than trying to enforce an arbitrary idea of beauty. Humans seem to enjoy battling the way things work in nature by forcing the unnatural concept of perfectly manicured lawns. Try removing as much grass as possible and replacing it with pollinator friendly, native plants.

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A butterfly magnet: lantana.

When does it make sense to hand pollinate?

Cucurbits are number one on this list of home fruiting plants that have issues with pollination. Cucurbits include: winter squash (which includes pumpkins), summer squash, melons, cucumbers and gourds. They produce large fruits on a bush or a long sturdy vine. If you have struggled getting these plants to produce for you, it may be time to start looking at pollinating the flowers yourself.

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My melon patch this year. I recommend trellising cucurbits unless they are a kind that will “slip” from the vine when ripe. Here’s how I do it: Simple, Inexpensive Vine Support I don’t support melons or squash that I grow like this. I don’t need to. Big vines like these climb naturally and retain their fruit as they do it. I cut the melons off when they are ready.

Identifying male and female flowers on cucurbits:

In the cucurbitae family there are separate male and female flowers. Once you can tell the difference between the sex of a flower, you can try your hand at pollinating.

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Male flower on a melon plant. Notice there is nothing but a thin stem attaching the flower to the vine.

These are the male flowers. They are easy to identify because they will be on the end of a long straight stem and covered in pollen. The male part of the flower is called the stamen. There will be a long filament that has a pollen covered anther at the end.

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I sliced a male blossom in half here. Notice the shape of the interior of the flower. There is pollen at the end of the stamen and no immature fruit below the petals.

At the end of the stamen is the anther. This is where you start. The anther is where the pollen (which is male) is found that is required for the female flower to produce fruit.

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Female flower on the same melon plant. Notice the immature fruit between the stem and the flower. There will be many more male flowers and if you eat squash blossoms you should plan on frying or stuffing the male blossoms. This would not affect the amount of fruit you get.

This is the female counterpart. You can spot female flowers by looking for the swollen ovary.

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Here is the interior of a female blossom. You can see that the stigma (on the inside of the petals) is pollen free and that there is a swollen ovary (the future fruit) that contains unfertilized seed.

These will abort and fall from the plant if they are not fertilized properly.

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If you have a whole lot of this…

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…and not a lot of this: You probably have a pollination problem.

Like most living things: the female reproductive organs are more complicated than the male organs. The entire length of the female part of a flower is called a pistil. Starting from where the pistil is attached to the base of the flower you will see a swollen area which is the ovary. It is full of potential seeds called ovules. Continuing up the pistil there will be a narrower tube called the style connected to the sticky tip of the pistil: the stigma. This sticky tip is what needs to be fertilized with the male pollen.

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Male and female parts within the same flower.

Here is a simple description that will give you a working foundation in hand pollination:

You don’t need to work with hundreds of flowers, just a few per vine. If they fail, go out and do it again, until you have the amount of fruit you are after. You will get better quality, larger fruit if you allow your plant to concentrate on only producing a few fruit per vine.

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Thai Golden Round melons. I have these on my melon trellis. Learn to build a cheap trellis here: Simple, Inexpensive Vine Support  I’ve probably got 10 or more that are close to being ripe. These are not my favorite melon but they are prolific and the vines do well here.

If you have to stand in for bees frequently, you will realize how much work these little garden friends do for us. I recommend making plans to plant nectar and pollen rich plants so you can attract these busy bees to your yard and save yourself the trouble of trying to do it all yourself.

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Successfully pollinated by our neighborhood bees. The blossom is shriveled at the bottom of this melon.

The following is how I like to hand pollinate in small areas with large fruited plants:

I use a q-tip to gather and spread pollen. They are cheap and simple. I twirl it over several of the same species/variety of squash or melons. This is Thai Golden Round. Then I hunt for open female flowers and twirl the pollen onto the stigma. If you’ve done it correctly: the fruit will begin to grow and mature. If your attempt fails: the immature fruit will fall from the vine. You will have more chances and this is why I save and label my q-tips: I want to load as much pollen on them as I can. You can also use a small paintbrush or remove the male flower completely and rub it’s anther directly onto the female’s stigma.

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You don’t need to be careful if you aren’t saving seed, but you won’t create a squash with watermelon pollen. You still need to focus on one species of plant, even if you choose to mix varieties of pollen from the same species of plants. Here is a good explanation of cross-pollination in cucurbits: http://www.walterreeves.com/food-gardening/squashpumpkincucumberwatermelon-pollination-explanation/

You can label your q-tip by putting a piece of tape on it and writing the variety you used it on. If you aren’t saving seed you can use the same q-tip for all of your pollinating (I am not currently saving seed because I am trialing too many, in too close of proximity, to keep the strains pure. Although I usually keep at least one q-tip for each: winter squash/summer squash, melon, watermelon etc. In this way I make sure the q-tip only contains pollen that will fertilize the species I am trying to grow.)

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You can be as detailed or as simplistic as you want. My labeling depends on what I am trying to do for the season.

For more information including recipes, pictures and growing information: Here are some great links.

Learn all about melons: (This is a fantastic site out of Australia that includes growing information, recipes and reviews of melon varieties.) http://melonmaster.yolasite.com/

Learn all about squash: This site can take a while to load but it has reviews and recommended ways to prepare and consume pretty much any variety of squash, gourd and cucumber that you are growing. The site is listed alphabetically.) http://www.thenibble.com/reviews/main/vegetables/squash-glossary.asp

There you go! A simplistic guide to an incredibly complex field of study. Botanists can write the text books full of the complex how’s and why’s, but anyone with this simple guide can go out and enjoy becoming the bee!

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