Tomatoes in February…Let Spring 2010 begin!

This year, I ordered most of my plant seeds through a seed company called Baker Creek Heirlooms (  They are non-GMO certified (meaning that their seed is tested and is free of any genetically modified organisms), and offer a huge variety of heirloom seeds.  Why are heirlooms important?  Because they are literally seeds of the past, and they are not hybrids, which means that you will be able to collect and save seeds from the plants that you grow. Hybridized plants do not breed ‘true’.  This means that the seeds from a hybrid plant may or may not reflect the qualities of the parent plant.  Whereas, a heirloom plant will produce seeds which will produce exact genetic copies of the parent plant.  Moving on…

So, I got my seeds and headed on over to Wally world, where I picked up a 6 dollar Jiffy brand 72 cell greenhouse.  I have used them in the past, and I have been pleased with the results.  Plus, I mean…they’re only six dollars and the peat pellet refills are extremely cheap, too.  I put 2 seeds in each peat pellet, and I planted tomatoes, peppers, and parsley.  That was on February the 5th.  Today is the 15th, and most of the tomatoes have sprouted well and one pepper is just beginning to sprout. (thanks, Tayce!) So, I will let the little plants keep on growing until they are looking crowded and then I plan to move them to a larger pot (yogurt cup, maybe?), and let them get a little bigger before transplanting them.  This will be my first year ever to grow all of my own stock.  Exciting!!! 

Now, for planting dates.  If you are here in Texas, here is the recommendations I typically go by:  Spring Planting Dates  I am in Region III.  March 15th is considered our last frost date, to which you all who live here know that to not be the norm.  We usually have one last frost in April.  SO, if you decide to plant your warm weather crops, such as tomatoes or peppers come March 15th, you’d better bet your buttons you’ll have to provide some frost protection at least one more time, or your baby plants will suffer frost damage and possibly die.  For a freak cold snap, it is often enough to cover the plants with milk jugs with the bottoms cut off to completely cover the plants, or you can use buckets (I love my 5 gallon buckets).  This prevents the frost from settling on the delicate leaves.  During a late cold snap last year, I used milk jugs for my peppers and tomatoes, and while the tomatoes suffered minor damage, the peppers didn’t fare as well, which is why THIS year I won’t be planting them until mid April, but that’s just my personal choice.  I probably, in retrospect, should have also thrown an old blanket or some hay over the jugs, too.

If you are in East Texas, here is a great Month by Month calendar on what to do in the garden

For recommended varieties of veggies for East Texas, look here.  In fact, this website, set up by the Smith County Master Gardeners, is great.  Go to East texas home Gardening tab for lots of info.  Recommended varieties are the ‘tried and true’.  However, this year, I am adding a lot of different tomato varieties, so I am excited to see how they do!  There are test gardens all over the state who are continuously trying out different varieties to see which ones perform the best overall. 

The Country Pantry

My friend Jamie asked me the other day to help her come up with recipe ideas.  But, you can’t make a dish without the right ingredients, right?  So, I tediously wrote down a list of most everything I have stocked in my pantry.  May I also add that I began this list about 6 weeks ago, and I had so much stuff in there my hand cramped as I was trying to record it all and I had to take a 6 week leave of absence from that project!   Without any further ado, here is:

 My Official Pantry List:

Tomato Products:

Canned spaghetti sauce

tomato sauce

tomato paste

Whole tomatoes (including home-canned ones, I recommend buying whole ones and cutting them up for recipes, the flavor is better!)

tomato based soup base (home-canned)

Red enchilada sauce

Canned fruits:

Pineapples, in own juice!

Pears in own juice,

Peaches, in juice

Cranberry sauce


Black beans

Kidney beans

Garbanzo (chickpeas) Beans

Great Northern Beans

Pork N’ Beans

Black eyed peas

Pinto beans

Canned Veggies:

Diced green chilies

Pimiento peppers, diced

Creamed corn


Sliced Mushrooms

Green enchilada sauce (made from green chilies…qualifies as a veggie for me!)


Organic peanut butter

Solid white albacore tuna

Wolf Brand Turkey Chili, no beans (tastes GREAT)

Dry Goods:

Quick cook oatmeal

Organic rolled oats (takes a little longer to cook than quick cook)

Bob’s Red Mill Muesli cereal

Bob’s Red Mill Steel Cut Oats

Bob’s Red Mill 10 grain hot cereal (can you tell I’m a fan of Red Mill now???)

Cream of Wheat

Assorted whole grain cereals, like Kashi Go Lean/Go Lean Crunch


Popcorn, both microwave and kernels

Elbow macaroni

Egg Noodles




Boxed Mac N’ Cheese

White Rice (oh no!)

Instant white rice (horrors!!!)

Instant brown rice

Organic brown rice

Scalloped potatos (boxed)

Taco shells

Panko bread crumbs (for a crispy, crunchy coating)

Seasoned bread crumbs

Rice A Roni

Cornbread mix (I prefer my own, but just in a pinch….)

Graham crackers

Wasa whole grain crackers

Stuffing mix, chicken flavored

Jello, assorted flavors


Homemade Taco Seasoning

Homemade Cream Soup mix (AWESOME, recipe to come later!)

Onion soup mix

Dried Legumes:

Pinto Beans

Lima beans


Navy Beans


White vinegar

Cider vinegar

Red wine vinegar

White wine vinegar

Rice vinegar

Balsalmic vinegar

Sherry cooking wine

Dry white wine (I use Chardonnay, in the little 4 packs)

Dry red wine (Usually use Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot in the little 4 pk)

Assorted cooking goods:

Olive oil

Vegetable oil

Sweetened condensed milk

evaporated milk


Vegetable shortening

Pancake syrup

Baking soda


Brown sugar

White sugar

Flour (we are currently switching from white to whole wheat)

Powdered sugar

Yellow cornmeal

Powdered milk

Sweetened coconut


Pickling salt (for making canned goods)


Instant coffee

Regular coffee beans

Hot cocoa

Black tea

Whew, see why my hands needed that 6 week break???  Let me also add that I am currently switching everything over to whole grain products where possible, and I am trying to get away from white sugar and white flour, too.  So, all of my noodles and such will soon be whole wheat pastas.  I’m trying to get rid of as many possible processed foods as I can without going crazy!  I hope that this list will help you with stocking your own pantry.  Recipes will also be coming soon!


Country Cleanin’

Well to preface this post, let me begin my revealing my December ‘Mystery Craft’.  It was how to make Christmas Trees out of magazines a la Martha.  You can see them here: Folded Magazine Trees.  Admittedly, mine did not turn out as glorious as Martha’s staff’s did, but who’s checking?  Also, you really need to get Martha’s Bone Folder, which can be found @ your local Wal-Mart for less than five dollars, to make things go along smoothly. 

Ok, now with December out of the way…onto…February? 

My topic today is going to be natural cleaning (read: non-toxic, mostly cheap) products you can make at home.  I starting doing this back in December, when I picked up a neat little book: Make Your Place off of Amazon.  (I also would like her other book, How to Make soap without Burning your Face Off.  Seriously.)  So, freshly inspired, I ran to the local health food store, well, actually I drove because I hate running, but I snagged a big bottle of Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap with Almond Oil.  It smells just like a million cherries are crammed in the bottle!  And, over the course of a couple of weeks, I also bought several essential oils: Tea Tree, Lime, Tangerine, Eucalyptus, and Lavender.  Note that these are NOT aromatherapy blends, these are the real, pure pressed oils from the plants themselves.  You can expect to pay about $5 to $12 dollars (or more) for a small  bottle of these products.  And, no, they do NOT carry them in Wal Mart!  ;0)  Anyway, I have fallen in love with essential oils!  Now, how to make your own products and using oils.

For a great, All-purpose general cleaner, I use this recipe:

1 tsp. liquid castile soap

2 Tbsp. White vinegar

1 tsp. borax (you can find 20 Mule Team Borax @ WalMart in the laundry area)

2 cups hot water

1/4 tsp each:  eucalyptus and lavender oil

3 drops tea tree oil

Mix all ingredients together in a spray bottle.  Do not use on glass. 

It also recommends to spray it on, scrub, and rinse off with a clean, damp cloth (which honestly….I don’t rinse it off  *shrugs*)  I also add a couple more drops of lavender oil because I am so addicted to the fragrance!  I use this on my tile floors, countertops, etc. *Shake well in between uses*

Glass Cleaner:

So very simple:

1 part water

1 part white vinegar

This works GREAT.  I mean, a million times better than “the blue stuff”.  Well, to me anyway!  Make Your Place also has this recipe for a Glass Cleaner:

1.5 cups white vinegar

1/2 cup water

4-8 drops of orange, grapefruit, or lemon essential oil

Combine all ingredients in a spray bottle and shake well.

Let me now add in here that you must, must, MUST use microfiber cloths.  I love my microfiber cloths and can’t imagine ever, in a zillion years, going back to stupid paper towels.  I only use paper towels for grody clean ups like…dog pee.  You know?

So anyway, back to the castile soap.  I have used it straight up as a body wash, as shampoo, and in the kid’s baths.  Also, the label says you can brush your teeth with it.  Did I do it?  Well…let’s just say…do you remember the scene in PeeWee’s Big Adventure where he brushed HIS teeth? (“Mad dog!Mad dog!”) Moving on:

Now for another biggie:

Dishwasher Detergent  (for use in the dishwasher, not the sink!)

1/2 cup liquid castile soap

1/2 cup water

1 tsp. lemon juice

3 drops tea tree oil

1/2 cup white vinegar

Add to squirt bottle container, preferably a recycled dish soap container, right?!?  I personally use about 2 Tbsp with each load, or, 3 good squirts directly in the bottom of the dishwasher. You will need to shake this concoction up vigorously before usage.  If not, it will form this gel-like substance from the reaction of the vinegar/lemon juice to the soap, which, incidentally still works great, but is potent.  I found this out when I added too much of the gel stuff and I had bubbles frothing from my dishwasher!  Lol.  BUT, if you use your dishwasher on a regular basis, like every 2-3 days and keep this shook up, you should not have a problem with the gel formation.  I love this recipe!!!

My only concern would be the breakdown of the fats which are in your dishwasher filter/lines.  I am not sure if this mixture is potent enough to fully dissolve buildup, so you could use your regular dishwashing detergent ever so often if you feel this could be a problem.  Also, I have noticed that it still leaves a thin film on some plastics (like disposable containers) but frankly with the whole Bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalate scare, I’m trying not to use too many plastics for food storage anymore anyway.

Now, a word on essential oils.  Essential oils come in varying qualities.  I just use my local natural foods store because it is convenient and I like the oil quality just fine.  Also, essential oils should be considered as possible skin irritants so DO NOT get them on your skin undiluted. If you want to tinker with making your own aromatherapy/massage oils, the essential oils must be diluted in a carrier oil (an oil which is safe for the skin).  Some essential oils are extremely irritating to the skin!!!  I do not know anything about making massage oils and the like, so you’ll have to do the legwork there!

I hope this will help you all save some money and help you to break the cycle of thinking that we MUST buy specific cleaning products for every purpose, which is just silly!  Many more natural cleaning recipes can be found online.  OH, one last tip.  If you ever have stains/burned on food/etc. on your countertops, bathtub, other solid surface, try using baking soda and a damp sponge.  Make a thick paste of baking soda and water and scrub gently with your sponge OR microfiber cloth.  Most stains/food spills/etc, will just vanish.  It is very similar to using a Mr. Clean Magic sponge….but a looooot cheaper!