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Make Tomato Cages that will Last Forever

Have you bought the typical metal tomato cage at a garden center? They are everywhere at this time of year. They maybe quick and easy to buy and install, but in a southern garden when indeterminate tomatoes reach 7' tall or more, a little 54" tomato cage just doesn't work. After a season or two the welds come undone and you're stuck with a useless piece of metal. At $5 or more a piece, it can add up to a lot of wasted money. That is why it is much more frugal to invest in making tomato cages that will last forever out of concrete remesh.

Concrete Remesh Tomato Cage Supplies

The kicker here is the price for materials. I needed 18 cages, I had to buy a large roll of 150', which costs $107 at Lowes. It's a lot up front, but I was able to get 20 tomato cages out of one roll, which makes each cage $7.50 to make. That's less than one of the fancy, plastic tomato cages.  If you only need a few cages, you can buy remesh in smaller sheets for about the same price. I was able to make 19 cages in 2 hours all by myself. Not bad for something I will never have to do or buy again!

This roll is heavy. I had to have someone load it in the truck for me, and my husband and I had a heck of a time getting it out. Once on the ground, though, I just rolled it to where I needed it to be. I started out this process on one end of my yard. Keep in mind, I'm a smallish woman and I managed to make 20 of these in a few hours so once it's on the ground, it's not too labor intensive.

Making Remesh Cages


1. Roll out the mesh to your desired length. My cages are 2 1/2' in diameter, you could make them up to 3'  but of course you would get fewer out of the roll.




2. I weighed the loose end with a large block, measured my cut (7 1/2') and used bolt cutters. When cutting, I cut right behind the squares so that I had a long piece of metal to hook around and latch. This way I didn't have to purchase additional fasteners.



 3. Once my 7 1/2' piece was cut, I made a tube by securing the wire around the other end.



4. There are a couple of options to secure the cages to the ground. You can use stakes or rebar to secure them, or simply cut off the bottom bar, similar to how we cut the sides to leave wire to wrap around. If you cut just the bottom bar off, you have 6" prongs to push into the ground.

I now have indestructible, non-tippable, long-lasting tomato cages ready for even the largest indeterminate varieties. I have seen these in action in other people's gardens and they are amazingly strong.




If you already have a bunch of those flimsy cages, don't worry, they have other uses. They make great structures for growing cucumbers and beans.

Making Simple Newspaper Pots for Seed Starting

Over the last few years, I have experimented with all kinds of seed starting methods. I’ve used store-bought seed starting mix, all kinds of different ingredients, peat pots, plastic containers in the windows -- you name it, I’ve probably tried it. Of all the options I have tried, making simple newspaper pots for seed starting is the easiest, cheapest and best seed starting process.

Why Use Newspaper Pots

Lots of gardeners start with those little peat pots, including myself. After dealing with several plant failures, I discovered that the roots of many of my crops weren’t able to grow beyond that little net that surrounds the peat pellets, preventing them from growing properly. I was also disappointed to find many of those little nets were not breaking down very quickly in my soil. My solution is creating my own truly biodegradable plant pots out of newspaper. Not only do I save money by making free containers, I also save a lot by mixing my own simple seed starting mix.

Seed Starting Mix

For a frugal, basic seed starting mix combine equal parts:
Compost
Vermiculite
Soil (store bought or from your own garden)

Making Newspaper Pots

When making simple newspaper pots for seed starting, I used a pint beer bottle because I like the aluminum and it’s taller than the standard soda can, but you could use a kitchen glass, or just about anything to make your newspaper pots.

Planting Seedlings

When it’s time to plant, I put the whole newspaper pot in the ground without disturbing my fragile plant roots. It takes no time at all for newspaper to break down in the soil and give the worms something yummy to feast on!


How do you like to start seeds?

Adrenal Fatigue - The Condition That Doesn't Exist (Until You Have It)

"Stress kills" is a phrase we hear shouted from the TV and internet, and sometimes from our own doctors. Generally, this refers to stress that causes extreme conditions like heart attacks and strokes. While it is true that stress leads to these health emergencies, it also leads to lesser-known (and often disregarded) health conditions that can become debilitating.

The Beginning

Looking back on my adult life, I can see symptoms of adrenal fatigue all the way back to when I was 19, when I was in college and planning my wedding. Up to that point, it was probably the most stressful time in my life. I wanted to get married, but I didn't care about the wedding. This might have been the beginning of  sacrificing myself and what I wanted to conform to what society expects. I don't even think my parents cared if I had a wedding or not. It was just what my friends were doing so it seemed like the thing to do. While I had experienced anxiety on and off during my childhood -- always during specific events, like school starting -- this was the first time I experienced on-going, long-term anxiety. I was so anxious all the time I could barely eat. I lost a bunch of weight and everyone said I looked fantastic. Too bad I had to be sick to conform to society's standard of beauty.

And So it Continued

After the stress of the wedding had passed, my husband and I settled into our new lives and the daily anxiety stopped. Over the next decade, I went through several high stress jobs, along with the regular stress that just comes with life, and anxiety came and went. It was never bad enough to feel I needed to seek help or try medication. But then I became a mom.

The First Big Adrenal Crisis

For the first year and a half after our adoption, we lived nearly every day in survival mode. It was so, so hard and while we had plenty of friends, we really didn't have anyone who understood our struggle. The daily challenges we faced by adopting an older child were much more intense than we had ever imaged. After that first year and a half, things seemed to calm down for our little family, but I fell apart. All that time of restless sleep, worrying, and stress meant I was running on adrenaline and my body was worn out. After a series of particularly stressful events, one of which included my grandmother passing away, I woke up one morning completely consumed with panic. I couldn't function and spent several days in the fetal position on my bed wondering what the hell had happened to me. This wasn't my first experience with panic attacks. I had one about six months prior which landed me in the ER of a rather uncaring doctor who, after discovering I had not had a stroke, told me to "go home and eat a sandwich." This time, though, it wasn't one panic attack. It was almost constant panic attacks for a month. I wasn't able to eat, and lost 15 pounds that month. I don't really remember much about that time. I did start seeing a therapist, though, and she really brought me through the worst of it. I continued having panic attacks for about 6 months after, although they lessened in frequency. It was during this time that I learned about adrenal fatigue from a friend. From the first beginning of my research I knew that this was what I had and that I was pretty much on my own to recover.

Thankfully, the techniques I learned in therapy saved my life.

One More Time

Four years after my first adrenal crisis I was feeling good. I no longer had any symptoms of adrenal fatigue, and hadn't for a few years. I felt so good, in fact, that I felt like it was time to start a new, project: starting a farmer's market. I loved the process of starting the market. Recruiting vendors, planning the market and events, and promoting the market via social media was fun! I still had time to work in my garden and write articles for clients (from 2009 to this point I worked freelance as a writer/blogger). Life was good. I was fulfilled.

Then the peopling started. I'm an extreme introvert, happiest when I spend all day alone while my husband and son are at school and work. I thrive with lots of private, quiet time, but as the market got closer to opening I did a lot of press, a lot of networking, and a lot of meeting with vendors to finalize plans. I reached a point that I was working 7 days a week. From the moment I woke up at 6:30 to the time I fell asleep, I thought about the market. I consumed caffeine all day to keep me going, and switched to a few alcoholic drinks at night to help me slow down. I completely lost the ability to relax. I was going downhill quickly. Once I realized my health was in trouble, it was really too late. I was on a speeding train of demands that I created and I could not figure out how to stop it.

Just like the time before my first adrenal crisis, I was struggling every day, then there was a series of stressful events. Again, I reached a point that I could not get out of bed, but this time it was more serious. It wasn't panic keeping me there, it was my whole body. The best way to describe it is the fatigue that comes with a terrible flu. It wasn't like I was tired. We all get tired after a long week. It was like my body was too heavy for me to move. Y'all, I was too tired to sit up. When people are bedridden with adrenal fatigue, they often say they feel like they are dying and it's completely true. When you are too tired to hold your head up, you know that the very life has been sucked out of you and it is terrifying. What's worse is that I had this terrible, debilitating fatigue, but I could barely sleep. I slept maybe 5 hours a night for several weeks. My body had no strength, but my nervous system was completely haywire. Any time someone in my house made a noise, I had a surge of adrenaline that would last a few hours. I had to wear my sleep mask in the morning because the sunlight coming through my blinds and curtains was too bright and caused adrenaline surges. A few other of my worst symptoms included:
  • Complete loss of appetite- I had to chew food and swallow with water to get it down. 
  • Blood sugar disregulation- At my worst I had to eat every hour
  • Blood pressure disregulation- My blood pressure would go from high to low, in spite of no physical activity
  •  Dizziness
  • Heavy feeling in arms and legs
  • Severe allergies- mostly head congestion and post nasal drip
  • Wrinkled fingertips
  •  Anxiety and depression
  •  Mood swings (I have never been an emotional or moody person)
  • Severe brain fog
  • Racing heart
  • Complete inability to handle any stress
  • Loss of muscle tone- most of this happened before the crisis, in spite of the fact that I was very active
  • Weight gain- I gained 30 pounds. (that is painful to admit!)
For the first two weeks I was sick, I was to weak to walk to the kitchen so my husband and son had to bring me food in bed. That was humbling! Eventually, I gained enough strength to walk to the kitchen to get my own food. I was also eventually able to see a doctor, who told me what I expected to hear: I am perfectly healthy! Well, isn't that a relief -- except I lack the strength to do even the most basic tasks. My past experience with adrenal fatigue prepared me for this information, so I wasn't surprised. I was, however, disappointed. I needed more help than a prescription for anxiety meds, but I was on my own. I would have loved to have seen a naturopath or chiropractor to help me navigate this illness, but since we lost my income suddenly, there simply weren't the funds available to pay out of pocket. I guess the good thing about having all that free time is that I had plenty of time to read, research, and learn what to do to help myself recover, although with the terrible brain fog I experienced, I struggled to remember what I had read. I wrote down the important stuff and managed to come up with a list of supplements to help rebuild my depleted body. During this time (and still today) I focused on general vitamins and minerals: b-complex, vitamin C, magnesium, good fats, and omega 3s. I also focused on calming my overworked nervous system. I learned meditation and mindfulness techniques, as well as practicing affirmations. I'll write more on these topics later.


Recovery

As of April 14, 2017, I am 9 1/2 months into recovery. My only remaining symptoms are anxiety and slightly wrinkled fingertips. I don't have fatigue anymore, but I do get tired much more quickly than I used to. I am building stamina now. I can do what I need to do every day. I can walk around the park with a friend, work from home, have meals with friends and family, and spend time doing light work in my garden. Every month I get a little stronger and more resilient, and my anxiety has lessened considerably. Back in October, I had terrible, debilitating anxiety from the time I woke up to the time I went to bed. Full disclosure: I did resort to taking anxiety medications, which I took regularly for 3 months, before weaning off completely for a month. I now only take medication as needed, which is a half doze up to twice a week. Hopefully, in the next few months, I won't need that anymore.

This terrible time in my life has served as a wake up call. I can no longer go through life just ignoring stress and trying to survive. I have had to learn to manage stress and retrain my thoughts to be more positive. I have had a major lifestyle change, which I will have to maintain in order to avoid this nightmare again in the future. I am committed to making the necessary changes to recover and be well, and this is what The Restoration Garden is all about. It is about learning to manage stress, promote health, and finding peace in the garden. If you are dealing with the symptoms of adrenal fatigue right now, please know that my prayers are with you and it will get better. I cannot emphasize enough how necessary it is that you believe that. Even if you don't believe it yet, create an affirmation to say to yourself every time you have doubts and fears. For example, when you find that thoughts like "I'm never going to get better" or "What if I feel like this forever?" creep in, have a set memorized affirmation to repeat over and over until the thought/fear passes. I love Louse Hay affirmations, like the one I posted above. Tell your body you love and care for it. Eventually, you will believe it!


Warming the Soil Before Planting

Spring is here and the sun has returned to take the chill out of our bones. For those of us in the south, we are weeks away from planting summer crops. Those of you further north are probably working on spring veggies. Regardless of where you are, you may want to start warming the soil before planting. If the soil temperature is too cold, seeds will not germinate and plants won't thrive. A tomato seedling, for example, won't die in soil that is too cold (unless the plant is exposed to freezing temperatures), but it also will not thrive and grow until the soil temperature raises, subjecting it to weakness, pests and disease. Stressed plants attract pests, and that is not a battle any of us desires.

Expose the Soil

While I encourage heavy mulching, particularly over the winter, one of the first ways to warm the soil is to remove all mulch and expose soil to direct sun. This is about the only time you should actually see exposed soil in a no-till garden. When things warm up after planting, mulch again and keep the soil covered for the remainder of the year. Allow a few weeks for exposed soil to warm before planting. Check the soil temperature to make sure it is warm enough for what you want to plant. There's a great chart here on Gardener's Supply with optimal planting temperatures.

Use the Sun

In general, I like to avoid plastic products, but if you are in a big hurry to plant, you can use black or clear plastic to attract the sun's heat and warm the soil beneath. Either cut a hole in the plastic to plant, or remove it before planting. I would suggest removing all plastic and add mulch around plants before it gets very hot to avoid cooking the soil.


Small efforts like ensuring the proper soil temperature before planting helps prevent problems later in the season. Save yourself some time and energy by waiting to plant until the soil temperature is correct.

Are you planting anything in your garden right now? 



A Healing Journey

After my family, my great love in life is gardening, so you can probably imagine the heartbreak I felt when I quite suddenly lost the ability to work in my beloved garden. In fact, I lost my ability to do almost everything. I have slowly recovered from being completely bedridden (I wasn't even able to walk from my bed to the kitchen for a few weeks!), and I am eternally grateful that those terrifying days are behind me, but I have learned that I have to change my habits in order to avoid reaching that dark place again. With this new lifestyle, it seems appropriate to begin a new blog. Rather than focusing as I once did on higher production, growing more types of food, and high-efficiency gardening -- you know, the bigger, better, faster, MORE mindset -- I am focused on gardening for healing. This gardening style highlights the healing aspects of gardening. Certainly the food we produce is a big part of promoting good health, but I believe that the practice of gardening is equally healing. We aren't talking just about burning calories here, folks. We will focus more on the meditative aspect of gardening as well as the mentally and physically restorative benefits of slowing down to enjoy the journey. But don't worry, there will be tomatoes. There will always be tomatoes!

With this new blog I hope to encourage and teach you to grow something -- whatever makes you happy. Flowers? Herbs? Veggies? Fruit? You can grow that, even with physical limitations. I will discuss low maintenance gardening and teach you the finer points of growing through blog posts, ebooks, and videos.  I will share a bit of my personal story along the way, and I pray this will become a community through which we find healing. Together, we will find joy and peace in the garden.

You can follow The Restoration Garden on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook





Putting the Garden to Bed for the Winter

Putting the garden to bed for winter keeps the soil biologically active, prevents weeds, and prepares the space for spring planting during the cold winter months.

Methods

Cover Crops

There still may be time to get winter cover crops started in the garden, depending on your location. Even if you don’t have time to plant cover crops for the winter, there will still be time to plant them in early spring to “wake up” the soil biology before summer planting.

Mulch

We are in the season of ample free mulch. While tree leaves don’t offer much in the way of nutrients, they do break down and add valuable humus to the soil. Humus is what gives you that loose, crumbly soil that those of us with clay soil so desire. Whole or shredded leaves can be added to the soil once crops are removed. This process insulates the soil, prevents winter weeds, prevents soil compaction from rain and snow and protects from erosion. Never leave the soil bare over the winter.

Compost

If you have been working hard all year to make compost from kitchen scraps, this is a great time to add it to the garden. Over time, the nutrients collected in that compost pile will leach out, fertilizing the soil under the compost pile. Go ahead and move that pile to your garden beds so those nutrients are located where they are most useful.


The best spring gardens begin in the fall. Putting the garden to bed for the winter will keep those beautiful soil bacteria and fungi healthy and happy all winter, creating an environment ready for your spring crops when the weather warms again.



What do you do to put your garden to bed for the winter?



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Leaves: Making Use of this Free Garden Gold


It can seem a bit sad to watch the leaves fall because it indicates that winter is coming. However, each year I get excited for the trees to shed their foliage because my garden gets a healthy layer of valuable, free, slowly decomposing material.

Benefits of Leaves in the Garden

There are several benefits of adding a layer of leaves to the surface of your garden over the winter. Keeping the soil heavily mulched prevents compaction and soil erosion from winter rain and snow, prevents winter weeds, and keeps the soil biology active. Microbes and fungi in the soil still need to feed over the winter even though there are few plant roots to feed and keep them active. Leaves slowly decompose, offering a steady supply of food so the soil is active and healthy when it’s time for spring planting. If you want leaves that are completely decomposed by spring, run them through a leaf shredder before adding them to the garden.

I also keep bagged leaves by my compost bin for an endless supply of brown materials to make compost throughout the year.

Garden Expansion

Leaves are also a valuable element for expanding the garden. In November I prep new beds by laying down a thick layer of cardboard and topping it with at least 8” of leaves. When it’s time for spring planting, I dig a hole and place my plants. By the end of summer, all the grass is gone and has been replaced with dark, loose soil. No tiller needed!


Not only do I move all of my own fallen leaves to the garden, I import them from my neighbors. Several of my neighbors rake and bag their leaves in special bags that they buy from the city. I have asked them to bag their leaves in regular trash bags and I will come pick them up. They save money and I get extra leaf mulch.


What is your favorite way to use leaves in the garden?


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The Restoration Garden by Tiffany Selvey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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