All Certified Organic

In the deep winter, it makes me feel better to order my seeds and start planning my garden. I have traditionally bought every kind of seed that caught my eye, but that ended being wasteful. After several years of honing my choices, I have found a few real winners for my garden. I generally buy seeds from because they are affordable, good quality, and they always have a wide variety. The pictures are theirs.


Masai Bush Haricot

This thin, elegant french green bean is tasty and freezes beautifully. Unlike most green beans, if you go to the beach for a week and leave them on the plant, they won’t get dry and tough. They will be just fine when you get back.


Cylindra Beet

This little beet thrives in my garden, and its unique shape is perfect for canning. It is easy to peel, and slices in uniform chunks like a carrot. It is also completely delicious.


Waltham Butternut Squash

These are not particularly unusual, but they grow like weeds in my garden when the other winter squash give in to damp or diseases. They are wonderful in everything from pie to soup to pasta sauce, and they last forever. I just used one the other day that was almost two years old. If you have eaten dinner at my house, I promise I did not feed you two year old squash, but only on principle. It is still amazing.  John is reading over my shoulder and is distressed to learn that he has frequently eaten aged squash.

Other good seed purveyors include Seed Savers and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

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After six months of not having a couch (The couch wrapping experiment did not keep the cat from destroying our last sofa,) John and I finally needed to address the living room situation. Our neighbors were coming over for a open house, and we had nowhere for them to sit. The walls were bare, and there was a random assortment of other furniture. This is actually the sort of situation in which John and I are at peak performance. Sometimes we need to be backed into a corner before we do anything.

Ever unwilling to pay retail, we acquired our “new” Ikea sofa and chair on Craigslist. They were barely used. The only trick was that we had to use the freight elevator to get them out of a eighth story apartment in Bethesda. That accomplished, we set about decorating with the flotsam and jetsam that we have accumulated at various auctions, flea markets and yard sales.

The room is anchored by a faux fireplace that we picked up at an auction for $75. It is a lovely wooden thing, probably from the 1920s, and clearly used to surround some sort of radiator rather than a real fireplace. Now it frames a wooden sheep with peeling paint. Why not? We also have the shelf that we made out of a church door, my great grandmother’s piano, and a huge map makers cabinet that John got for a song because no one wanted to move it. It will now stay in our living room forever, because we don’t want to move it ever again.

With the furniture in place, we then added the surveyor’s tripod lamp that John built, assorted small collectibles and photographs, and our beloved wall art. John loves cars, and the poster over the fireplace is a copy of an advertisement for a race in Monaco. That goes nicely with the World War Two gardening propaganda poster that John got for me several years ago. Finally, we hung our two favorite finds. The “ART” sign is from an old farm museum in Pennsylvania. It is from a larger “ART PRESS” sign that was installed in the 1930s over the recreated printers shop. We bought it when it was too rotted out to leave outdoors any more. I found the car dealership sign at a flea market near our house, but as luck would have it, it is from a dealership in the town where my grandmother grew up. John built a frame behind it so that it doesn’t get rust on the wall. Oddly, all of our wall pieces have elements of red, so they weirdly go together even though they are from different times and places.

I love our new living room. It took a long time to come together, but everything in it means something to me. It is really nice to sit on the couch and look at the beautiful items that John and I have collected together. It is also nice to know that it didn’t cost much.

Estate auctions are great for finding cool old stuff. Check out for an auction near you.

For more ideas on cheap decorating with old stuff, check out our kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom.

This was my Christmas present from John this year. Isn’t it amazing?! He made it out of a surveyor’s tripod, an old acetylene torch, and an antique drop light.  He found a reproduction Edison bulb, and modern wiring that is wrapped in fabric to make it look old. Pretty cool. I have seen lamps in the stores in Frederick that are made from assorted antique bits. These are usually labeled “steam punk,” cost $1500, and look silly. John’s lamp looks awesome, and he made it at our house for less than $100.

Apparently this particular lamp did take some welding, but for the most part, anybody can wire a lamp at home. My mom made some out of mason jars, and I have a huge flour sifter that will make a nice floor lamp.

Apartment Therapy put together nice post on how to make lamps from scratch. Check out their ideas. 

My baby sister has a new blog. Her blog is, um, bolder than mine, but you can tell we were raised by the same people. We are both frugal do-it-yourselfers who are having a great time creating our own homes. Hannah is just more outspoken, and a bit more prone to the odd fart joke.

She is also a very good cook. Check out her recipe for Burrito Bowl Soup. I loved it. I altered it a little in that I dumped the ingredients in the crockpot for the day, because I knew I would not have time to throw things together in the evening. I also used my immersion blender to puree it before I served it. John has no objection to eating beans, as long as he can’t tell they are beans. In any case, it is tasty, cheap, and you should make it tomorrow. Click here for the recipe.

Burrito Bowl Soup Shacked Up: Cohabitation for Millennials

As I told you in the last post, I didn’t make a whole lot of fresh fruit jam this year, and foolishly gave it all away before Christmas. This left me searching for delicious canned goods that could be made with grocery store ingredients. Like last year, I turned to Cranberry Cider Jelly.

My first batch was inspired by a gallon of cider given to us by our friends Susan Butler and Washington White, who own Waters Orchard. They pressed the cider themselves and it was amazing. After I made several batches from that, I turned to store bought cider, which was still good. If you have local cider, use it. It makes for a special present.

This appears to be a pretty popular recipe. Versions appear in the Ball Blue Book, and on websites like,, and This is my variation.

Cranberry Cider Jelly 

1 cup cranberry juice cocktail

3 cup local cider

1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

5 cups sugar

1 pouch powdered pectin

5  1/2 pint canning jars with lids

If you have never canned before, please refer to the University of Georgia Extension Website for an introduction and safety tips.

Wash the jars and lids. Sterilize the jars in boiling water, or in your dishwasher. They should be piping hot when you put in the jelly, to avoid cracking. Put your jar lids in a small sauce pan of water over low heat. Do not boil.

Pour juices into a large sauce pan, and stir in pectin. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Add in sugar and bring to a boil again, stirring frequently. When the mixture reaches a rolling boil, stir for one minute, and then remove from heat (a rolling boil is one that you can’t stir down.) Skim off foam, and save it to eat on your toast in the morning.

Pour hot jelly into sterilized jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Pop air bubbles with a spoon, and wipe the rim with a damp paper towel. Put on lids, and hot water bath (boil) the jars for ten minutes. Make sure boiling water always covers the lids of the jars.

Remove from water, and wait for the satisfying pop of sealing jars. Enjoy!

This is hard without proper canning tools. Here are some options.

This was one of those years when I didn’t can enough in the summer. It came time to put together Christmas baskets, and I had only canned peach-cherry butter (which was amazing, don’t get me wrong. See future posts.) It was time to dig out my cookbooks and see what fancy goodies I could make from ingredients in the supermarket. Or the liquor store, in this case. I was inspired by a recipe for Red Wine Jelly in the Ball Blue book, but the Green Valley BP doesn’t carry fine burgundy, and my Christmas budget was stretched as it was, so I settled for a Merlot. Anything dark and fruity would be good, and if you have a fine Burgundy, by all means go crazy. Perhaps a port? I will have to keep experimenting.

Why would you make wine jelly? First of all, it is totally delicious, and really tastes like wine, but better. It is perfectly good on an English muffin, but it is best on cheese. We served it on brie at Christmas, and on New Years we discovered that it was good on almost everything on the cheese plate, from cheddar to Manchego. And it is just so darn pretty. I canned it in quilted jars and used lovely bridal address labels to identify it.

This is possibly one of the easiest canned goods I have ever made, with the exception of Cider Cranberry Jelly, which I will address next week. It looks and tastes elegant, and allows you to be a creative canner even in the depths of winter. Enjoy!

Wine Jelly

2 cups cranberry juice cocktail

1 packet liquid pectin

3 1/2 cups sugar

1/3 cup red wine of your choice

If you have never canned before, please review this University of Georgia webpage for safety tips

Wash four half pint jars and their lids. Sanitize by boiling, or in your dishwasher on the sanitize setting. Warm your lids in a sauce pan of water over very low heat. Do not boil.

Combine juice, and sugar in a large sauce pan. Bring to a boil. Dump in sugar, and bring to a boil again, stirring often. When it reaches a rolling boil (one that you can’t stir down) set your timer for one minute, and stir constantly. Then immediately remove from heat. Add your wine and stir (note: the alcohol does not boil out. This is good for you, but don’t put this in a PB&J.) Pour into sanitized jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Wipe down the rim before you apply the lids. Boil the jars in a hot water bath for ten minutes, and remove.

Eat with yummy cheese!

I have been crocheting for years, but I mostly stick to granny squares, shawls and blankets. I have tried to make a sweater for myself, but I lost interest in the large scale, complicated project. Lately, my friends have been having babies, and I have had the chance to practice making clothing on a much smaller scale. This little sweater was a very basic pattern, but with pretty soft yarn and an iron-on chick patch, it looks quite sweet. If you have never learned to crochet sleeves, try this little number. Thank you, Sarah, for letting me make this for your baby, and then immediately take it back and enter it in the fair. It takes a certain type of friend to think that that is normal behavior. wpid-img_20140804_153802_632.jpgBaby Cardigan Pattern from Cre8tion Crochet



I can’t have anything nice. Really. Because when I have something nice, some friendly animal who lives in my house inevitably pukes on it, pees on it, poops on it, shreds it, or eats it. This is quite dispiriting, and I would be a lot more upset if they were not a pretty cute gang of hooligans.

I just interrupted this post to stop Ruby from eating the dish towel.

The result of this is that my nice living room furniture has been torn and stained, and I cannot buy new living room furniture because it will become torn and stained. The couch is so bad that I have to vacuum up the foam that Bitsy pulls out of it every week. Note the hole at the corner



I realized that I had to do something when my neighbor stopped by and I found excuses to talk to her in the driveway instead of inviting her to sit in the living room. I looked into slip covering, but fabric would cost at least $200, and hiring someone to do it would cost far more. I could sew it myself, but even if my sewing machine was not broken, I have never taken on something this hard.

Hence, I purchased the cheapest, toughest fabric I could find, which turned out to be a huge canvas drop cloth from Lowes. I appropriated John’s staple gun, and went to work on some no-sew upholstery. .

Actually, I didn’t go right to work. I washed the canvas first, and it got horribly wrinkly, so I ironed all fifteen by twenty one feet of it on the dining room table (with quilts underneath to protect the finish.)



Then I set to work wrapping my couch like a present, and stapling the canvas in place. I wrapped the cushion separately and pinned the fabric, because I know I will have to wash that canvas at some point. Below is the result.


It looks a little bit like I stapled a drop cloth to my sofa, but it isn’t offensive, and it keeps us from having to buy a new sofa for a while longer. Let’s call it shabby-chic, shall we?


While growing plants in the basement may bring to mind illegal activities, my indoor horticulture is restricted to cabbage and peppers and the like. When I can, I like to start my veggie plants from seed, well before the ground has thawed. This saves a lot of money. I blogged several years ago about the plant table John built for me. Every year I try to do it justice, but I have struggled to figure out the perfect temperature that would allow both tomatoes and cabbage to thrive.

Here is a hint: it can’t be done. Cabbage enjoys March in Poland, while tomatoes enjoy summer in the tropics.  Hence, I ended up with stunted tomatoes, and cabbage that shot up and fell over. This year I finally bought a heat mat (you can find them in a garden center or online.) I was a little scared about being electrocuted when I watered, but the thing seemed pretty sturdy. I put my flat of peppers, tomatoes, and marigolds on the heat mat, and my cabbage and broccoli off of it. It worked like a charm. My plants grew like crazy and were ready to go when I finally finished the fence.

The heat mat was pretty small, the size of one flat of seedlings, so even if you do not have a lovely grow table, you could use one on the counter, table, guest bed, or whatever sunny spot you are using to start your seeds.

Random note: In a controlled experiment, zinnias did better off the heat mat.


So check out that garden. It looks decent doesn’t it? This is the first year that I have been able to stand on my deck and say “Huh, that looks OK.”

Usually my garden is weedy or eaten the ground by marauding deer and ground hogs. Not this year. Instead of giving up and gardening at my Mother-in-law’s house again, we decided to fight the critters. John helped me put up a post and wire fence, buried six inches just in case. He even made me a classy looking gate, and I strung leftover wedding ribbon around the top as an added disincentive for deer.

Weeds usually move in for good when I go on vacation in June, but this year I covered my paths and some of the beds in landscape fabric. There were still weeds when I got back, but probably half as many as usual. I have some permanent features, like strawberries, blueberries, asparagus, and compost bins, so the veggie part is actually smaller and less overwhelming this year.

Using landscape fabric paths, I marked out eight beds that I can rotate from year to year. Theoretically, I have two beds for brassicas (cabbage, kale, etc.) two beds for cucurbits (squash,cukes, etc.) two beds for solanaceous plants (tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes) and two beds for legumes (beans.) If I rotate these every year, the soil will benefit because the different plant families need and release different nutrients. I will also cut down on disease and pests. For example, I had late blight on my tomatoes one year. I didn’t plant tomatoes there for four years, because they would be susceptible, while cabbage or squash were not.

This is a lovely system, but it is already breaking down somewhat. I should have two beds of legumes, but I get really sick of green beans, so one of those beds has okra and basil. Beets are scattered in all the beds, and I just planted some extra squash between the baby strawberries and blueberries. Oh well. It is better than no crop rotation.

We started the garden late this year, because fencing took so long, but we had our first big haul of green beans last night. I will let you know how the harvest comes out in a garden that has a fighting chance!

 Garden 5





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