Balcony Garden Pests

Hello friends,

Summer is in full swing in sunny Ca-li-forn-eye-ay and my balcony garden has come to life!  It’s quite the jungle out there on the 4 X 10 space reserved for a table, two chairs, a grill, and an overflowing garden of herbs and vegetables.

Then and now garden

To update you on a few things from the last post, I ended up not using fertilizer.  About once per week I dumped my used coffee grounds in the soil, but the plants grew just fine without chemicals.

I pruned the basil here and there for sprinkling on dishes, but I also had enough to make pesto every few weeks.  Having homegrown and homemade pesto on hand at all times was well worth the effort.

And it was an effort.  Let me tell you.

About a month into the gardening endeavor I started to notice giant holes in my basil.  Soon the holes spread to my tomato plant and eventually spread to my bell pepper.  Somebody was eating my hard-earned vegetable bounty!

I read about all sorts of natural bug repellent remedies on the internet like creating a beer/soap trench for the bugs to drown in, sprinkling banana peels in the soil, etc.  As it turns out, it is much more effective to identify the pest and then find the appropriate remedy.

caterpillar

I posted this picture on Facebook and instantly got several comments that I had caterpillars (caterpillar=not pictured, caterpillar poop=full frontal).  Sure enough, I found one big beast wrapping himself in a cocoon in a basil leaf.  Filthy bastard!

The trick to killing the little jerks is to mix in a saucepan over medium heat 2 cups water with anything spicy and a small amount of dish soap.  I added what we had on hand, which was chopped garlic, onion, jalapeno, cayenne pepper, and red pepper flakes.  Then I put the concoction in a spray bottle to spritz the plants down every few days (make sure to spray at night because the soap might burn leaves in hotter temps).

The pest situation is finally under control AND the tomatoes are actually starting to ripen!  Tomatoes are ready to eat when they turn red and pulling them off the vine takes almost no effort at all.

tomatoes

I made a lovely caprese salad with these 3 beauties earlier this week.  They were sweet and mild and oh so satisfying.  I highly recommend planting your own mini garden because it is definitely rewarding.

How do you deal with garden pests?  What’s the worst critter you’ve battled?

-Mads

P.s. If you noticed I neglected to mention the cilantro, there is a reason.  More updates to come.

Balcony Gardening Steps for Beginners

Hello everyone,

I have posted about my black thumb and failed gardening attempts several times in the past.  After approximately 5 batches of failed herbs last summer, I gave up and started buying adult basil plants to graze off of and eventually kill with my black thumb.

I could not bear the thought of killing more seedlings this year, so I set out to do some research on balcony gardening before I planted my newest experiments.  I’m still learning, so please feel free to correct me (nicely) in the comments section, but this is what I’ve found from my research:

1) Buy big containers with plenty of aeration.  One issue I ran into last year was buying a small (adorable) window box for 3 kinds of herbs, which didn’t allow for the roots to stretch out and grow strong.  I found these great planters and used 12″ for cilantro, 15″ for basil and bell pepper, and 18″ for tomatoes.

Josie looks on approvingly at Home Depot

Josie contemplates the aeration quality of the larger planters at Home Depot.

These little guys have pockets at the bottom to allow for air flow and moisture control.

These little guys have pockets at the bottom to allow for air flow and moisture control.

2) Use moisture-control soil.  This type of soil might not be necessary if you live in a fairly temperate climes.  Since I live in a place where scorching sun beats down in the afternoon, I need a soil that contains moisture throughout the day.  I used the Miracle-Gro brand.

3) Give your plants 6 hours of sunlight per day.  I had to rearrange my balcony to ensure my babies were getting enough sunlight.  Some corners of our small space only see about 2 hours per day, so keep an eye on where the sun hits and when.

4) Be careful when replanting into the planters.  Break up any clumps in the potting soil with your hands, dig a hole for the plant to rest in, loosen up the plant soil without damaging the roots, and gently tamp down the potting soil (not too firmly) around the plant.

plants
5) Use plant stakes.  If you’re growing something like tomatoes, you need plant stakes to prevent the plant from flopping all over the place with the weight of the fruit.  I had no idea this was a thing.
This is a simple wire plant stake used for tomatoes.

This is a simple wire plant stake used for tomatoes.

6) Test the soil for moisture before watering.  One of the most frequent errors I made last year was letting my plants dry up and then over-watering them.  To see if your plants need water, just dunk your finger about 1 inch into the soil.  If it feels a little dry, give the plant a good drink of water.  Most of my plants need daily watering, but they will probably require twice daily watering in the heat of the summer.

7) Fertilizer?  I’ve read a thousand different opinions regarding fertilizer.  Apparently this topic is highly controversial.  I bought fertilizer, but I’m going to see how well my plants grow on their own before I decide to use it.  It’s ultimately up to you about whether or not it’s safe for consumption or healthy for the plants.

8) Pray to all of the spirits that your shiz grows. 

9) Prune (trim) your herbs every other week or so.  Some herbs (e.g., basil) will stop growing once they sprout their little flowers.  To stimulate growth, trim back the plant by cutting just above the bottom leaf sprouts.  This youtube video does a great job of explaining how to prune.

10) Enjoy the fruits of your labor! 

This basil looks like it's ready to turn into pesto!  I can practically taste dinner already.

This basil looks like it’s ready to turn into pesto! I can practically taste dinner already.

My plants are already adjusting to their new lifestyle after a week in the sun!  I’m hoping I can keep this up for the duration of summer, but I will not give up!  After all, the Californian sun isn’t always very forgiving.  If I’m successful, I might add some other fruits and veggies to the collection, but I might need a bigger balcony.  😉

Do you have a balcony garden?  What are some useful things you’ve learned over time?  

-Mads

How my friends helped me lose weight

Hello friends,

Three of my very good friends and I have kept in contact through daily emails for the past 2 years.  I can’t say that I’ve ever stayed in touch with anyone quite as long and with such regularity as these women.

So what unites us (besides friendship)?  A passion to improve our bodies and overall health.  *cue eye roll now*

We’ve supported each other through weekend binges, marathon training, 6 month plateaus, and stomach flus.  Despite the obvious “hang in theres”, we’ve given each other sound advice and reality checks.

Collectively, the four of us have lost 167 pounds!  ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTY SEVEN POUNDS!  That is an entire person.  And we’ve managed to keep it off for over a year now.

So what have we done as a team that I couldn’t do on my own?

1) Check-in with a daily menu plan.  If you write what you eat for others to read, you are more likely to eat healthy foods in normal proportions.  I get embarrassed when I have 3 carb-loaded meals per day, which motivates me to add extra veggies and proteins into my diet.  If I ask why my weight isn’t falling off, my friends can point to my diet and make suggestions.

2) Cut out the bullshit.  The previous step of making menu suggestions leads to cutting through the crap.  If I whined about not losing weight fast enough, my friends gave me a reality check, “Mads, you drank 3 beers and then ate an entire pizza, of course you’re not losing weight.”  This step might be the most important.  It’s hard to confront your friends, but truth-telling is the slap in the face that we often need.

3) Set mini-goals with specific dates/pounds to lose/rewards.  When we were all stuck, we set a mini goal of 3 pounds over two weeks with rewards varying from buying a new book to treating ourselves to a bubble bath.  The quick mini goals helped get us out of ruts and built friendly competition.

4) Give reality checks.  Along with eating tips and general weight-loss talk, we also emailed each other inspirational articles.  Having a group of friends who remind you daily that your body is beautiful, no matter how much weight you still want to lose, is a really wonderful thing.  I didn’t start losing any weight until I decided that I deserved it and they helped me see that.

5) Workout together.  Although we mostly live in separate states now, we would frequently meet up for a run or walk (occasionally we met to do awkward Navy workout videos).  I prefer stuffing my face with cheese than running any amount, but my friends made it fun.  Sometimes we do virtual runs with the addition of some friends on twitter #RunningPackInTheSky.

6) Have fun.  I hate eating healthy and exercising (truly, I do), but my friends make it fun for me every single day.  They get me excited to try new foods, and I think about them cheering me on every time I go for a run.  We give each other gold stars and shoulders to cry on when it got hard.  There’s no way I could do it without them.

I could write a million more tidbits I’ve learned on this journey, but I really want to hear from you.

 

What or who inspires you to stay healthy?  Have you recently lost weight?  What works for you?

-Mads

What to do with those overripe bananas?

Folks, there is no fruit I love more than the delectable banana.  I honestly can’t understand how my brother or The Pioneer Woman despise them.

The only fruit that comes close to its glory is the pineapple.  However, the acidity of the pineapple cuts up the inside of my mouth, so I’m limited to a slice or two at a time.  How sad.

But this post isn’t about my sad pineapple woes, it’s about bananas.

For the longest time, I thought banana bread was the only option for those overripe bananas.

Then I discovered the joy and wonderment of bananas foster oats for breakfast.

I also frequently make banana smoothies for breakfast…

…so a chocolate banana milkshake for dessert was not far from my mind.

1 banana, 2 scoops vanilla ice cream, 2 splashes milk, 2 squirts chocolate syrup, and blend

Still, I felt limited by my overripe bananas, so I consulted with The Internet (aka tweets from @HeyNanaBread).  She suggested banana boats in the oven.  Now I’ve done banana boats over the campfire, but I would have never thought to recreate it in my kitchen!

Simply take a banana (peel intact) and slice it in half lengthwise.  Stuff it with chocolate, marshmallows, and graham cracker crumbs.  Then wrap it in tinfoil and pop it in a 375 degree oven for 10 minutes.

What do you do with your overripe bananas?

-Mads

What they don’t tell you about planning a wedding

The wedding draws near.  I meant for that to sound crypt-keeper-esque, but I don’t think that translates through the internet.  It’s not so much scary, as it is insane.  Especially when I think about how quickly 3 and 1/2 months flies by.  Couple that with the fact that we haven’t even picked out our invitations?  It’s bananas.

I had bananas for breakfast.  Not the same.

There are a billion things they don’t tell you about wedding planning before you dive into it headfirst.  You always hear things like, “blah blah blah bridezilla”, “blah blah blah so much work”, “blah blah blah crazy family drama”, but nobody ever gives you specifics.  And I have a sneaking suspicion that’s true for childbirth too, but we won’t go there today.

In the spirit of keeping it real, here are some things they don’t tell you about wedding planning:

1) Nobody gives a crap about your DIY table numbers.  Will they look fabulous and make people go “aww”?  Maybe.  Will anybody care that you didn’t spend $200 and 15 hours of your life hot glue gunning the shit out of your living room?  No.  They will not be missed.

2) The free catered tasting is the best part of wedding planning.  Shoveling your face with 5 different entree options and chugging back 4 different wine options puts you in a happy place.  Would you like a mini margarita to start your meal?  Yes, yes, I would.

3) Your future husband has opinions.  Crazy, right?  This is a bummer to women who have been planning dream weddings since they popped out of the womb.  However, this is a really cool thing for women who haven’t given any thought to their wedding (i.e., me).

Case and point: Jonathan wants us to ride into dinner on Segways. Pure genius.

4) Bridal magazines will become useless the moment you actually start planning your wedding.  You quickly realize that you could endlessly plan magazine weddings, but nothing you find in there is actually realistic.  It also becomes quickly apparent that you don’t have to listen to the advice of others.

Enjoy that can of Natty Light because that's who you are.

5) It’s important to register in the store rather than online.  Why?  Because they give you free stuff!  Sometimes just registering for cutlery gets you a free knife, etc.  Also, registering in the store will save you a ton of time.  Trust me.

6) Shop around.  With everything.  Love that understated hair comb at the bridal boutique?  Save yourself $300 by buying it on Etsy for $12.  This might sound like a no-brainer, but it really can be a lifesaver.

Ultimately, do whatever is fun and easy for you.  If you are a crafter and nothing would please you more than to origami your invitations, then do that.  If you want to wear a blue dress because you look stunning in blue, then do that.  People will be more comfortable and happy at your wedding if you are comfortable and happy at your wedding.

The best part in all of this madness is that I get to marry my sweetiemonkeypants.  The rest of it is just a big fun party dedicated to us!  How totally cool!

7) Don’t lose sight of the big picture.  Stop and take the time to be engaged and happy.

What do you wish you would have known before planning your wedding?  What did you have at your wedding that was totally “you”?

-Mads

Date Night: Recap

A few weeks ago, I asked for your help planning date night.

Go to a sporting event. It is highly unlikely I will do this for date night with Jonathan, but it might be right up your alley! 😉

Here is the collective list of date possibilities:

Art events
Restaurants offering a kitchen tasting to showcase a new chef  (How do you find out about these??)
Concerts
Bike ride
5k and 10k races
Long walk holding hands
Surprise date night- trade off planning
Lasertag
Kite flying
Ding dong ditch or TPing houses
Building sand castles
Reading aloud to one another
Board games
Picnics
Day trip adventure
Go-Karts
Mini golf
Cooking together
Buy an adventurous Groupon and try something new
Walks in the park
Aquarium visit

Visit a new bar and try a new drink. For example, this awful habanero shot.

My additions:

Comedy club
Hiking
Wine on the porch/balcony/lawn during sunset
Drive-in movie
Jazz club or any nicer cocktail lounge
Get your palms read (a riskier move for new couples haha)
Bowling
Dive par with pool or darts
Museums
Plays or interactive theater (Jonathan and I did this interactive theater and LOVED it.  Plus, it was produced by Neil Patrick Harris, so what’s not to love?)
Wine tasting at a local wine bar
Play video games together
Find out what’s going on in your neighborhood (Local fairs and events happen here all the time.  I’m getting super stoked for the Garlic Festival!)
Surprise romantic dinner at home for 2
Troll your local bookstore
Build a fort together
Visit the zoo (Although, there’s probably not a zoo I hate more than the LA Zoo.)
Shooting range
Find a tea tasting room for brunch

Rent a boat and cruise around during sunset. Bring a fancy captain's hat and talk in a "yacht accent" (it usually involves pretentious words and a fake British twang. Say things like "Daaahhling".).

For the more expensive date nights:

Indoor sky diving
White water rafting
Horseback riding
Couples massage
Cooking class

Hike it out! I swear I'm taller than most shrubbery. And what's happening to my left boob? This picture is awful haha

I’m really looking forward to reading this list again if we get into another dinner/movie rut!

What was your favorite date of all time?

-Mads

Guest Post: Basic Guide to Canning Dill Pickles

My dad’s cooking is delicious.  I’ve already posted “Dad’s Badass Chili” and the pesto was his original creation.  I’m sure there will be more.  Anyway, he has taken up a new hobby of pickling everything and anything in his sight (his salsa is insane).  I’ve asked him to guest post for me with a how-to guide to canning.  Here is his dill pickle masterpiece:

Canning Hints for Making Dill Pickles –

-In advance of your pickling day, buy and wash plenty of quart size canning jars, rings and new lids.  You can’t re-use lids!  Have on hand your large boiling kettle, a kettle for preparing brine, a quart-sized pan for heating lids in near-boiling water, and a canning tool for grabbing hot jars in the boiling water bath.  In addition, I use a magnetic extension tool for retrieving lids from hot water (available at hardware stores).

-Purchase pickling spices and supplies in advance.  See spice options below.

-Wake up early on a Saturday morning in late July or early August (in Minnesota, anyway).  Stop by your local coffee shop for a cup of your favorite dark roast then head to the nearest Farmers’ Market.

-Wander the rows of vegetable displays and scope out the best – freshest – cleanest pickling cucumbers.  Buy ½ bushel of pickling cucumbers or however many you feel ready to can.  I prefer small sizes (2” – 3” long…about like your index finger).  Process soon – while fresh.

-In your kitchen sink, rinse the cucumbers multiple times until water runs clear.  Get your hands in there and stir them up – they hold a lot of dirt.  A good friend actually tumbles hers in the washing machine in a pillow case.

-Cut off any stems.  Sort to maintain quality.

-Pack baby cucumbers in ice for at least 4 hours.  I suggest simply holding them in an ice water bath in the kitchen sink while you prepare the canning materials.

Pickle Ice Bath p.s. I totally love how my parents wash and reuse Ziplock baggies. Can you find the drying baggie? haha -Mads


The Pickling Process –

-Begin a boiling water bath in your largest canning kettle (to sterilize empty jars and then to boil filled jars for last step of the canning process);

Sterilizing cans in boiling water

-Prepare a brine solution in another large kettle (make more or less depending on amount of cucumbers purchased – sufficient to fill all jars):

  • 16 cups water
  • 8 cups white vinegar (I’ve used apple cider vinegar before with successful results)
  • 1 cup pickling salt
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 3 or 4 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger

-Bring the brine to a boil until salt and sugar are completely dissolved.

-In the bottom of each of the sterilized jars, place 1) sprig of fresh dill, 2) wedge of white onion, and 3) 2 cloves of fresh garlic.

-Add combinations of pickling spices to the jars – depending on your preference.  I usually add mustard seed, 5 or 6 whole cloves, and allspice (they’re dominant flavors – make sure to judge accordingly).

-Pack the cucumbers as tightly as possible with various sizes (they float once the brine is added), and add another sprig of dill, onion wedge and garlic clove midway during packing.

Packing pickles

-Pour brine into the jars to above the “shoulder” – about ¼ – ½ inch from top.

-Heat lids for a couple of minutes in steeping water in quart-sized pan to activate the rubber seal material.

-Seal jars with lids and rings.  Make sure jar lips are clean and free from ingredients.  Continue with the rest of the jars and pickles.

-Making sure boiling water bath continues at a rolling boil, grasp top of each jar with your canning tool and insert into bath for 4 minutes.  I usually boil 5 jars at a time so that you can maintain temperature.  Boiling water must cover the jars.

-Remove jars from bath with canning tool and let cool on counter top.  As they cool, the lids should “pop” as ingredients contract.  If you can push the lids down after cooling, they probably haven’t sealed properly and you need to re-do the bath with a new lid.  Clean rims of the jars…

-Store in a dark, cool place for at least two months. Chill and eat!

Wait 2 months before eating


Homemade Pickling Spices –

Bunches o' Dill

2 large bunches of fresh dill (purchase at Farmers’ Market or produce department of grocery store)

1 jar mustard seed (3 oz.)

1 jar whole allspice (3 oz.)

Dried red pepper flakes

1 jar coriander seeds (3 oz.)

1 jar whole cloves (3 oz.)

2 jars cinnamon sticks (2 inches – add a stick to each jar)

Have you ever pickled before?

What is your absolute favorite canned treat?