Happy Anniversary To Me!

Apparently, 8 years ago today I started this blog. Has it really been 8 years? I actually remember that night vividly, and it’s interesting that it’s the summer solstice. Today was the longest day of the year, but it hardly feels like it at all. It’s been a rainy summer, so getting outside has been tricky. At any rate, we’ve got a few months left – maybe we’ll get some nice weather yet.

Camping Gear From the Dollar Tree

Yep, you read that correctly. I am a fan of the Dollar Tree. There’s a lot of junk in there, no doubt, but there’s a lot of treasure. You just have to know what to look for. Did you know you can find a bunch of stuff that’s great for you camping kit there? Well, it’s true. Some of the gear I’ve picked up in the last year has included -

- Metal buffet serving spoons. They’re the perfect size for camp cooking.

- Metal buffet spatulas. Ditto on being the perfect size.

- Mini cutting board.

- Paring knife with plastic sheath.

- Mini colander.

- Metal can opener.

- Purell hand sanitizer wipes.

- Pocket packages of tissue.

- Plastic toiletries containers.

- Jif To Go peanut butter

- Reynolds Wrappers aluminum foil sheets

- Cream of Wheat instant farina 3-pack

- Advil or Aleve travel packs

Mostly kitchen and toiletry items, but no camping trip is complete without them, so why spend a fortune?

The Ant & The Grasshopper: Prepping For The Rest Of Us – The Car Kit

Remember way back when when I started this series, posting about how to set up your commuter bag? Well, I didn’t forget about you! Granted, I didn’t plan to go so long in between posts on the topic, but here we are again at any rate. Hopefully you’re all walking around with a fully stocked commuter bag and have been prepared to face everyday emergencies where ever you are.

For those of you that own cars, you want to be just as prepared with your vehicle. If you break down on the side of the road, get stuck in a snow storm on Lake Shore Drive, or have to evacuate in an emergency, you’ll want a car that is stocked with a well-rounded supply of basics. You need to think of two sets of stuff for the car – stuff the car, and stuff for the people.

The stuff for the car is pretty simple -

- Motor oil

- Spare windshield wiper blades

- Tire patch kit

- Tire gauge

- Reflective warning triangles

- Windshield scraper

- Small shovel

- Paper map of your area. Because sometimes the internet is not an option.

And the supplies for the people is pretty straight-forward as well. Just think “commuter bag”, on a slightly larger scale. I absolutely love the Sterlite Stack & Carry containers for organization (not only do I use one in the car, I also use them for my sewing kit and camp kitchen gear, and husband uses one for his miniatures painting supplies).

Sterlite

One section is given over to small supplies for the car, one section is for first aid, and the third section is for food/emergency supplies.

The smaller car items listed above are stored in the “car section”, including the tire gauge and patch kit. Rounding out the kit are the following -

- Head lamp (great for repairs after dark if needed)

- Mini multi-tool

- Permanent marker

- Measuring tape (kind of more of a general reference item for gardening, or when we need to measure something we want to buy – just not a bad place to stick one, really)

- 2 glow sticks

- Mini flashlight (hand crank, so we don’t have to worry about battery replacement)

The first aid section has an assortment of basic supplies, not much different than what’s contained in our commuter bags -

- Pain reliever

- Band aids

- Butterfly closures (for deeper cuts that may need stitches later)

- Alcohol/disinfecting wipes

- Neosporin

- Aloe vera or burn gel

- Ace bandage (If you sprain your ankle or have a bad knee, you’ll want one. Can also be used as a tourniquet in a pinch.)

- Baby wipes (Great for cleaning up without having to use water.)

- Maxi pads (Not just for the ladies – these are great for absorbing a lot of blood without getting sopping and saturated. They also take up a lot less room in your kit.)

- Pair of rubber gloves (In case you need to perform first aid on someone else – you can never be to careful around blood.)

- Cough drops

- Travel package of facial tissue (If you have a runny nose while you’re out, you’ll want some. Can also double as toilet paper in a pinch.)

- Mini bottle of sunscreen (because if you have to walk home in the blinding sun, the last think you want to do is get sunburned.)

- First aid card or mini booklet (Because in an emergency, your might draw a blank and forget how to do the Heimlich maneuver.)

- Few emergency blankets

- Few emergency ponchos

And the food section – not meant to keep anyone alive for an extended period of time, but as a decent energy boost and keeping a growling stomach at bay. It’s tricky to pack items that will withstand the frequent extreme temperature fluctuations of  a car, so this is what we’ve landed on -

- Box of raisins

- Couple of packages of pop tarts.

- Crackers

- Bottled water

And while certainly not necessary from an emergency standpoint, we do have routinely have a few more items in the car that make even short trips more enjoyable with a small child (and in general, sparing the toys) -

- Small trash can that lives in the back seat floor board underneath the car seat. Corralling loose ends keeps the car tidy.

- Small assortment of children’s books.

- A coloring book and crayons (just don’t leave them in full sun so they melt).

- Few small hand toys, like Hot Wheels cars.

- A spare child’s hat (ball cap in summer and knit in winter) and gloves in the winter.

- A couple of towels to wipe up spills and clean up messes.

All of that pretty much fits in the seat pocket on the backside of the passenger seat, keeping everything out of the way yet still easily accessible. If you don’t have a built in seat pocket, so you can sew up a simple car organizer that does the trick just as well (and maybe even better).

Time Flies When You’re…

Having fun? But also when nature completely elects to skip the entire spring season, and winter instantly fast forwards to summer. So, Apartment Farming has consisted of the following mad dash to get ahead of the three months of the year that we basically lost -

- Transplanted and summarily killed an entire flat of tomatoes and peppers that got set out into the garden without a proper hardening off period due to extreme weather fluctuations (I will not go into a rant about climate change…).

- Killed half a flat of peas due to some weird dampening off situation and too-late transplanting (again with the weird weather…).

- Waited for weeks on end for the mud pit otherwise known as our community garden plot to dry out so we could actually plant out any surviving plant matter that we could lay our hands on (thank you commercially grown vegetables starts from a psuedo-big box retailer - not the Devil That Shall Not Be Named, but perhaps an equally onerous competitor…)

- Discovered that you can, in fact, regrow green onions. Oh wait, I did take a minute and blog about that… small miracles!

- Started the DIY key hook project from way back when. As it my typical trend, the simplest concept is proving to have unexpected roadblocks (like the screws are too long for the wood I chose; seriously!?). Hindsight will likely prove all of these obstacles are 100% attributable to human error, so stay tuned for the post on that.

- I have backslid on how I want to be feeding my family. Commercial lunch meat has re-entered our lives. Now I’m not going to be too hard on myself, because in some respects this is a first-world problem from someone who has a decent income to make the choices I want regarding the type and quantity of food I put on the table – and that’s a luxury that not everyone has. But damn it, I could probably do better here.

So yeah… all that and a woefully neglected blog. Have I mentioned my day job is giving me a literal run for my money on top of it all? But I am still here, and still Apartment Farming – and god help me if I can’t find 20 minutes per week to write something interesting and/or mildly amusing about it here!

Two Great Kid’s Gardening Books – With a Giveaway!

Maybe, just maybe, spring will actually arrive. I’m a bit on the skeptical side so far this year, with our see-saw temperature shifts and nearly-constant precipitation, but things are starting to green up. So there’s hope. In addition to trying to keep my seedlings alive until the ground dries out enough to get them planted, I’ve also been doing a bit of reading. Now that I’ve got a toddler at home, coming up with ways to get him involved in the garden is at the top of my parenting to-do list. Fortunately there are two great books that take the guesswork out getting kids involved (and that I was lucky enough to receive review copies for).

But not only did I receive review copies, one lucky reader will also receive a copy of each of them as well, direct from the publisher! What are they, you ask? Square Foot Gardening With Kids by none other than Mel Bartholomew, and Gardening Lab For Kids: 52 Fun Experiments by Renata Fossen Brown.

Square Foot Gardening (SFG) in and of itself is such a great concept. I read the original book geared for adults years and years ago and practice many of its principles in my own garden every year. It’s especially well-suited for kids for too, because SFG is kid-scaled. SFG maximizes space and efficiency in the garden by using intensive planting techniques so you can get a lot out of a small space. Watering, weeding and harvesting are done quickly and easily in a garden of this design. And that’s a great starting point for kids.

The book has a fantastic layout, and as a primer for SFG I have to say I prefer it to the original form of the book for adult audiences. The kid’s version has a lot of graphics and photos that really make it easy to conceptualize the concepts of setting up and maintaining the garden. The other benefit of the book is that is really strives to turn the garden into a classroom – it’s almost a curriculum guide for parents and educators, with built-in lessons for all age groups (toddler right on through to high school) in a variety of subject areas, such as math and science. Another nice feature of this book is it teaches not only concrete skills, but also more conceptual ones, such as time management, confidence and independence. I’m definitely excited to have this book in our home library, serving as our “curriculum” for gardening.

While Square Foot Gardening With Kids is aimed more at the parents and educators of kids, Gardening Lab is aimed at kids themselves. There are a ton of projects in this book for a wide variety of age groups. From egg cartoon seed starting to making a mini worm bin, this book is filled with both “standard” and innovative projects for kid gardeners. A couple that I have earmarked to try in the next few weeks are making home-made seed tape, soup can luminaries and garden magnets. And that’s the great thing about this book – it’s not strictly about making things that can only be used out in the garden, but great crafts and projects that will help bring a little of the outdoors in. It really focuses on reusing and recycling as well, which is always a great thing for both the environment and the pocketbook.

So, who wants a copy of these books!? One lucky reader will be chosen at random to receive one copy each of Square Foot Gardening For Kids and Garden Lab. Here’s the fine print/legalese – All you have to do to enter is like the Apartment Farm Facebook page – just click the Rafflecopter link below!

Gardening Book Rafflecopter Giveaway

One entry per person please; multiple entries will be disqualified. Please note that this giveaway is only open to readers in the contiguous 48 US states (sorry Alaska, Hawaii and international readers!). The giveaway is open until Friday 5/9/14 at 11:59 PM CDT. The winner will be notified via email on Saturday 5/10/14. If the winner does not claim the prize by Sunday 5/11/14 by 11:59 PM CDT, an alternate winner will be chosen.

Pantry Improvements – Label It!

Sigh, I have misplaced the camera again. We have a designated spot for “media stuff” and for some reason the camera just never ends up there. So, this post will have to be sans proof-of-life pics. But anyhow – maybe you remember me talking about getting some half gallon canning jars last summer to organize dry goods? I’m still using them, and they’re still working out great. In fact, I’m anxiously awaiting the next Menards bag sale so I can pick up a couple more cases – I want them to hold my cleaning supplies (now that I’m making my own) and they would be perfect for some of my craft supplies as well.

One thing that has been lacking has been my labeling system – either none at all, or a masking tape label. The masking tape worked, but it’s ugly. And the lack of labels was a definite problem in some cases – dry yeast and rye flour don’t look all that different at a glance. Fortunately, this is a problem that was easy to solve now that we have a printer at home again (yes, I finally broke down and bought one – but I got a good deal!).

At Hobby Lobby the other day, I was able to score some Avery Print-To-The-Edge Oval Labels (item 22814) and they are amazing. Hobby Lobby has a really limited selection of labels (oval, round and rounded-edge square) but I’d highly recommend getting them there as you can use their 40% off coupon, making a package of 90 labels just over $7.00 (aka $0.07 per label). I decided to keep it simple – black color only (cheaper on ink that way too), with a simple double-line border on the edge. I choose Garamond for the font, and set the size to 15 and bolded the text. They came out perfect!

As far as label placement on the jars, the labels I choose were glossy white because I figured they’d hold up better in the kitchen, so you have to make sure you have a relatively flat, smooth service to put them on. Otherwise they wrinkle and don’t lay flat. On the half gallon mason jars and my smaller recycled Better Than Bouillion jars this was easy. The half gallon jars have a perfect, flat space between the “Ball” and “mason” text where the label fits perfectly. The Better Than Bouillion jars aren’t embossed at all, so label placement isn’t a concern.

The quart mason jars are a little trickier if you’re using the standard design ones with a lot of embossing on the glass – there’s really no ideal place to affix the label. So I settled on the side of the jar with the metrics measurements – I was just careful to affix the center of the label and smooth it out before working toward the edges to really make sure the label adhered well around the vertical embossed lines on the jar. Overall, they came out really well.

So, slowly but surely, I’m getting my apartment pantry to a good spot with organization. It still needs another shelf to make the most of the height in there, but it’s getting better. And now I know exactly what I’m grabbing when I start cooking!

Yes, You Can Regrow Green Onions!

I’ve heard about this a few times over the last few years – that you can supposedly regrow green onions. Well, I finally decided to give it a try, and it’s true! Leave an inch or two of the white part with the root end, and stick them into a small glass with water. Be sure to change the water every few days so it stays fresh. It is slow going though – I’ve had mine for about a week, and they’ve only grown back up about an inch. But what a cool way to get something fresh that you’d otherwise throw away!