Garden Bounty

A Bruised Thumb’s Guide To Gardening Kits

The Go To Guide for Garden Kits to help deal with this never-ending quarantine. 

This post includes affiliate links. Please see the policies page for more information.

Photo by Chantal Garnier on Unsplash

Well we are almost into fall and I *can’t* wait to see what the final quarter of this dumpster fire year brings. Anyone else need a break from this year? Can we all collectively agree and just hit the pause button for a 5 minute reset? Please? I am asking nicely…

So do you want to know what this year has driven me to? Well let me tell you.

Recently, I found myself Q-Tip in hand, channeling my inner Barry White and serenading my squash flowers with “Let’s Get It On” while I swabbed pollen from one flower to another. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think there would be a possibility of me being stuck in Quarantine for 6+ months. And even further from that did I ever think I would be working so hard for a plant to get lucky. But here we are. C’est la vie.

I don’t know about you all, but with the never-ending Shelter in Place, the West Coast burning down, the Gulf Coast being pounded with Tropical Storms, and the overwhelming loss of life (Rest in Power RBG), I had started running out of coping mechanisms. Not only have I run out, I am cycling back through the early ones. Oh yeah, I am baking bread again. However, they don’t work as well the second time around. But never fear, I have not given up on them. Oh no, I have actually doubled down on them and started expanding on them (more to come on that). 

For example, you may remember my little windowsill herb garden and the Fight To The Death against the Fungus Gnats. Well since then, I have progressed from a little windowsill herb garden to a container vegetable and “fruit” garden. (Scroll down to find my recommendations for some great Garden Starter Kits!)

First Tomato. Photo by Lily Latson

I say “fruit” because most of my fruit has given up on this year and straight up “quit”. And by “quit,” I might mean I killed them. The Goji berries FINALLY decided this year is worth it. They had a slow start and I could tell they were trying to decide if they were better off cashing out of this year or giving it a shot. Aren’t we all. Lucky for me, they were optimistic and that gives me hope that this year won’t be a total loss. Others weren’t quite so hopeful. Now I just applaud my almost 2 year old every time she waters the pot of dirt when she is helping me water the plants. It’s pretty cute watching her water the ground next to the pot with her Abby Cadabby (Sesame Street) watering can

My garden has evolved well over the past few month from some pretty epic fails, some weird twists (i.e. some very rude tomatoes taking over my strawberry pot), and some exciting wins. My kids argue over who gets our 1-2 Goldenberries everyday. I mean, if they are going to fight, at least it’s over a healthy berry, right?

Golden Berry. Photo by Lily Latson

I also learned some very valuable lessons about plant biology this year. Especially when it comes to squash varietals. I feel like they missed an important life science lesson along the way. You see, apparently squash have male and female flowers. But here is the twist; they don’t bloom at the same time. So you need some busy little pollinators who feed on the males and return for the females. Anyhow, my squash have been BLOOMING like CRAZY. So many beautiful, yellow squash blossoms. But, they are all Males. Every. Single. One of them. I have held out hope that the females are coming. But I am also losing confidence that the males will ever pollinate the females.  And THIS is how I found myself with a Q-Tip in hand, encouraging my plants to get busy.

What many of you probably don’t realize is, but I don’t exactly have a green thumb. I historically have had a very black thumb. Like I kill cactus, black thumb. And I would only buy the spineless ones cause I am clumsy and cactus can be quite a health hazard for me. So through this evolution of gardening through the Pandemic, my black thumb is turning less black. It is more of Bruised color I would now say.

Even despite my love of plants and their petrified fear of me, I have found some pretty fool proof gardening kits that can turn even the intrepid novice into a gardener. And here is the best part, all of these can be done in containers in small spaces, AND can be delivered to your door. And there is still plenty of time in most places to plant for a fall harvest. Just choose your plants wisely based on your climate (and save whatever seeds you don’t use for the Spring). Some are definitely be apartment friendly too.

So if you are looking for your next emotional Band-Aid during this Global Pandemic, or perhaps sending a care package to someone who needs a boost, or even just getting a jump on your Christmas shopping; I can recommend each of these gardening kits as awesome starting places. 

  • Plant Theatre: Funky Veg Kit – This is a GREAT and fun kit. We were gifted this for Christmas from my dad. I have no idea what inspired him (other than he loves gardens), but I cannot thank him enough. This has been a great project that has been a fun and EASY first adventure into a variety of vegetables. And every single plant sprouted and has done well.
    • Includes 5 Vegetables: Striped Tomatoes, Purple Carrots, Rainbow Swiss Chard, Purple Brussel Sprouts, and Golden Squash. 
    • Pros:
      • Comes with everything you need (pots, soil disk, seeds, markers) to get started so you literally need to buy nothing else. (**Note: if you are not going to plant into the ground, you will want a container to transfer them into once the seedlings get big enough – I recommend something like this or this.) 
      • The pots included are biodegradable so you can just plant the seedling pot directly into the ground or permanent pot. 
    • Cons:
      • You will need a plan (container or raised bed/garden bed) for the vegetables to transplant once they get big enough which will require soil and location. 
      • Some of these are more summer harvest plants, so you may have missed the window for outdoor planting this year. But you can always start some of them indoors or keep some of the seeds until next spring. 
Plant Theatre Funky Veg Kit. Photo Courtesy of Amazon
  • Plant Theatre: Forbidden Fruit Kit – This one has all the same benefits of the vegetable one (see #1). But if you are like us, then this is an easy sell. We LOVE berries. Every single plant sprouted and any failure in the growing process falls squarely on pilot error on my part. Also, what I like about this one is in includes a Goji Berry plant which is a multi year developing bush. 
    • Pros: 
      • Both of these kits, they came with plenty of seeds to plant some this year and keep some for next year. 
      • This goes back to my “bruised thumb”. If I can successfully grow these kits from seeds, you DEFINITELY can!
    • Cons:
      • Same as above.
Plant Theatre Forbidden Fruit Kit. Photo Courtesy of Amazon.
  • Garden Republic Culinary Herb Garden: So I love the variety of this kit, but it has been in such high demand, it is hard to get. I have noticed the price has bounced a bit, so if it seems a bit high and you are willing to wait, do so.
    • Pros:
      • Great Variety of Herbs (10!): Sage, Thyme, Oregano, Chives, Parsley, Cilantro, Peppermint, Dill, Basil, and Arugula
      • Germination Guarantee: if your herbs don’t sprout, they will send you more seeds!
      • Online Support Forum via Facebook for their growers which I have utilized and was helpful
      • Tons of seeds in each packet so you can save more for next year or plant in waves so you have a continuous supply.
      • Beautiful packaging which is great for a gift
      • Can be grown indoors – I started my herb garden in a sunny window in my kitchen and everything sprouted and grew wonderfully.
    • Cons:
      • Price and Availability – when I bought this back in March, it was pretty affordable compared to its competitors. Especially for the number of herbs. And, it was very easy to get. However, I have noticed the price has adjusted a few times since then given it is in high demand and often sold out.
      • Does require the purchase of soil and containers. I keep hoping they will change this as they keep updating their product line to include both pots and soil (disks). Fingers crossed!
Garden Republic Culinary Herb Kit. Photo Courtesy of Amazon
  • Planter’s Choice: Window Herb Garden: This is the one I got for my mom and it is so cute. I never saw it when I was looking for mine or I would have been torn. 
    • Pros: 
      • There are 9 herbs (vs. Garden Republic’s 10): Basil, Dill, Chives, Thyme, Cilantro, Parsley, Oregano, Sage, and Mustard
      • Include cute reusable plastic pots that have a sleek and modern feel. I like that they come with a matching drip trays (the set is broken into 3s so you can adjust lighting needs or spread out around your living/growing space as needed). 
      • Soil (disks) is included
      • Printed Markers in a large font: As someone whose handwriting can be questionably legible at times, I really liked that about these. Also it is in a large print format that is nice for easy identification. 
      • Great price point and is a great gift. And after discussing with my brother who is a Chef, he was very happy with the herb variety and found it to be useful.
Planter’s Choice Herb Window Garden. Photo Courtesy of Amazon

While I can personally vouch for the 4 above, I wanted to highlight a few others that have peaked my interest and I will be curious to explore next year. I wanted to highlight them in case you were looking for a something a bit different or exotic. Or if you, too, just wanted to expand on the garden you already have going. And as I can attest, these all make great gifts. They are fun to give and fun to receive.

  • Plant Theatre:
    • Hot Chili & Sweet Peppers: Includes Chili Peach Habaneros, Chille de Cayenne, Chille Pepper Jalapeño, Sweet Pepper Corno di Toro Rosso, Sweet Pepper Etiuda, and Sweet Pepper California Wonders
    • Edible Flowers: Cause who doesn’t love flowers? And I can eat them? Double win. I also feel like it would make me feel fancy in the time of Covid. Includes Marigold Sparky, Cornflower Bachelor’s Button Blue Boy, Candula Orange, Dianthus Pinks, Nasturtium Jewel Mix, and Pansey Johnny Jump Up
  • Garden Republic:
    • Tea Kit: In case you want to take on a new hobby and make your own tea, this one looks pretty cool. It just includes the seeds and markers, but it does include 10 types of seeds. These are Cinnamon Basil, Peppermint, Marjoram, Echinacea, Lemon Balm, Dandelion, Lavender, Fennel, Chamomile, Catnip
    • Bonsai Kit: This kit actually includes 4 types of seeds (most only include 3), the pots, pruning scissors (because we all need to be adequately equipped for our new obsessions), markers, and potting soil. The seeds included are: Brazilian Rosewood (flowering), Flame Tree, Black Spruce, and Colorado Blue Spruce

And if you decide to get any of these, let me know how it goes!

Now, wanna’ know something kinda’ funny? My weirdo gardening obsession is slowly wearing off on my husband. He has become obsessive over the grass in our yard. He is now seen a few times a day wandering around and checking the yard. He is out there fertilizing, seeding, watering, observing, and fighting our resident Gopher. Queue the Caddyshack jokes (and please send me some if you have any good ones!). It’s like I am getting a sneak peek of what we are going to look like when we are in our 60’s & 70’s. 

And with that, I leave you with what I have been randomly yelling in our house for the past 3 days, “Freeze, Gopher!”

Until next time,

Love,

Lily

A Mother’s Guide To Temporary Pets: Options for when you are sick of killing fish

This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission if you purchase any of the recommended items via the links below at no extra cost to you.

Photo by Ahmed Hasan on Unsplash

What is it about becoming a mother than inherently makes us want more things to “take care of”? 

I have seriously less mental space or time anymore to do anything that doesn’t consist of my family and my home. Yet, like magic, I find that I have this uncontrollable pull to add MORE things to my mental load that requires caring for and keeping alive.

When our elderly dog passed away a few years ago, within a few weeks I went out and bought fish. I thought we needed a “pet” in our lives, and I had experience with fish. Even sickly pet store fish. And guess what? I am generally pretty good at it. 

Photo by Worachat Sodsri on Unsplash

We went super traditional with a blue Beta. We even named him, Mr. Fish for the main character of The Pout Pout Fish book (just the cutest children’s board book ever, and my kids’ favorite). He lived for a solid 3 months. 

I declared this a fluke and it must be the fish. After a few month break, we went for Fish, Part Deux. This time, I found a sickly one with a gimpy fin and declared him the winner. I figured if he was sick and going to die in the store, we might as well take him home and let him live out his last days in a better venue. Yeah, I know. I am a bleeding heart. Within a few days, our little weak finned Beta was thriving. However, this one too got sick and died at 3 months. 3 months longer than I ever would have guessed looking at that miserable little thing in the plastic cup at the pet store. But all in all it was defeating for me. I declared myself done with pets until we decided to reclaim our status as a “dog family.”

However, fate had a different plan for us. Enter what I affectionately have dubbed the “Temporary Pet.” And you know what, it works for us! Let me explain why and which ones I recommend in case you think that you too, may be a Temporary Pet candidate.

The appeal of the “Temporary Pet” is that they require minimal effort to feed, no effort to clean, and provide some element of excitement, entertainment, or education.

Ladybugs: Insect Lore Ladybug Land

One of our newly emerged ladybugs taking in the view. Photo by Lily Latson

We are new to ladybugs, but they may be my favorite. Firstly, we all learned something with these little insects. For example, ladybug larvae look NOTHING like I thought they would. They are not red, nor do they have spots. They are longer and are yellow stripped. Pretty, but pretty sure somewhere along the line I have killed them thinking they were some nasty, scary bug. Secondly, they have a very fast life cycle. Each stage of life happens every few days so even the youngest kids stay engaged. My 19 month old LOVES them. She calls them “Baba Bugs” (her best attempt at “ladybug”) and squeals with delight every time she sees them. She also dances in front of their little domed habitat and tells each of them “Hi!” The best part of these “pets,” at the end of 3-ish weeks, you get to set them free in your garden and they eat pests. Score for me. 

The ladybugs are very active and like to eat. So it’s fun to check in on them. The other nice thing about purchasing one of the kits is the larvae come with an enclosed habitat. After the initial investment, in the future you will just need to buy additional larvae and reuse the habitat.  As for feeding it is so simple. The larvae come with the food in the tube which all gets poured into the habitat. Once they become adults, just a few raisins soaked in water and they are happy little campers. Overall they are VERY easy, interesting to watch, and no mess/clean up. Only downside, the pupa stage is not cute like a cocoon. 

Butterflies: Insect Lore Butterfly Garden

Butterfly from our 1st ever release. Photo by Lily Latson

Butterflies were our gateway Temporary Pet. They are very educational and exciting for kids because of the visual stages of life. Even my husband and I get into the rapid growth of the caterpillars. They arrive in a jar with food built in and the only food they require after they emerge is sugar water. They have a longer life cycle and there are more interesting transitions than the ladybugs. And who doesn’t love butterflies? From start to finish, it can take up to 5 weeks depending on how little the caterpillars are when they arrive. They do require a little more care in that you have to move the cocoons from the jar to the tented habitat. Also, our first time around, one of the cocoons fell off and that butterfly ended up with a deformed wing and didn’t make it. I learned this time that the lid where the cocoons attach is sticky so we were able to reaffix the one that fell this year. 

Newly formed Cocoons. Photo by Lily Latson

The best part of raising butterflies is the release. Both my kids got to hold them last year as we let them go. Luckily, my daughter was too young and uncoordinated to catch them or it could have been less picturesque. And like the Ladybugs, after the initial investment of the kit, you will just need to buy the caterpillars as wanted. 

Newly released butterfly resting on my 6 month old. Photo by Lily Latson

Needless to say, this is a fun Temporary Pet and one we will do every year for the foreseeable future. The downside is they are fragile creatures so they do require more adult supervision. Also, they are seasonal so pay attention to your local outdoor temperatures before purchasing.

Praying Mantis & Frogs:

We have not attempted either of these for 2 solid reasons. 

The Praying Mantis looks creepy. And I am not sure I want to have an animal living in my countertop that rips the head off it’s mate. Don’t get me wrong, I think they are awesome creatures and incredibly beneficial for the garden. But I just don’t know if I want to have my coffee with one for a few weeks. Tell me I am wrong. 

Photo by Clint Patterson on Unsplash

As for the frogs, I REALLY wanted to raise frogs. I love frogs and think they have such a cool life cycle. I know my kids would be very engaged with these. And if we could find eggs/tadpoles in our back yard, I might be inclined. But as for the mail order ones, after a lot of research I decided it wasn’t the right thing to do environmentally. I didn’t want to be responsible for introducing a foreign species of frog into my local area that ends up upsetting the natural balance. So if you do decide to go this route, I just highly recommend doing some research on what your local species of frog/toad is and make sure you are getting ones that are indigenous. 

Photo by gary tresize on Unsplash

Sea Monkeys: Sea Monkey Kit

Photo by Lily Latson

I am conflicted on declaring these Temporary Pets. I think for most people they are, but our most recent experience left me staring at those creepy little aliens for 6 MONTHS. That was 6 months longer than I wanted. You see, these Sea Monkeys were a gift to my kids from their Grandfather and Uncle. After our fish died and our success with the butterflies, they thought this might be a good activity. And while I wasn’t super enthusiastic about having mini shrimp on my kitchen counter, I was game to at least try it. The kit came with water treatment, eggs, and food for the Sea Monkeys and 1 plastic reusable habitat. It does require some initial set up (treating the water 24 hours in advance with the solution provided), but once it is set up, it is pretty much all systems go. It requires occasional feeding, mainly in the beginning, and occasional topping off of water. Other than that, they are pretty hands off. 

After I got over the creep factor of those beady little eyes staring back at me, I kind of developed a fondness for them. The upside of Sea Monkeys is they eat algae. This means they literally require no feeding once you get a healthy algae bloom occurring. The downside is, you end up with a green habitat on your counter. However, the MAJOR downside is that all kids think sea monkeys are going to look like the adorably cute cartoon sea monkeys on the package. So there is some inherent disappointment for them when you show them the weird eyed shrimp swimming around. 

But for the bang for their buck, this one is a decent investment as far as Temporary Pets. Just don’t get stuck in the circle I did of having the lone Sea Monkey hanging in there at 5 months. It won’t die and you don’t want to kill it. I did feel a little sad when she finally passed at month 6. We were all rooting for her. And hey, if you want to try this one out, I might still have 1 set left.

Triops: Smithsonian Prehistoric Monsters

Photo Courtesy of Amazon

Billed as a prehistoric animal, this one is perfect for the science nerd and/or slightly older kids. We were gifted this one too after so much success with our Sea Monkeys. The habitat is bigger and the backdrop is every kids dream (spoiler alert: it is a picture of a T-Rex as seen above). In my experience, this one was a little harder to manage than the Sea Monkeys. They require more active feeding and they will cannibalize the smaller ones. In appearance, they are essentially Horseshoe Shrimp. These do require tiny bit more effort and are a good option if you have a kid who is really into dinosaurs, is a little older and can help, or is just really into Science.

Now don’t get me wrong, a “Temporary Pet” is not a dog or a cat and will never fill that void. These are just great options when you feel that bizarre compulsion that every mom I know experiences.  So next time you find yourself compelled to take care of something, or feel the call to see if you cannot kill something, these are a good solution. Trust me, they are less effort than the Sourdough Starter you are forgetting to feed or the herb garden you overwatered and drowned. 

Until next time!

Love,

Lily

Lizards and Caterpillars: Is this how Dr. Dolittle got his start?

Photo by Clint McKoy on Unsplash

Hi All,

I hope everyone is surviving the Pandemic and handling the easing of shelter in place well.

Did you know that Hugh Lofting published The Story of Dr. Dolittle during the Spanish Flu Pandemic in 1920? I never would have guessed his work would be so relevant in my life on it’s 100th anniversary. One recent experience made me wonder if it was during the quarantine of 1918/1919 that inspired him. Spoiler Alert, the short answer is no. He actually wrote it while in the trenches of WWI. He needed a distraction from the depression and carnage, and would send it home in letters to his children. But suffice to say, it is in tough times that we let our imaginations run wild and commune more with nature.

Photo by Blake Meyer on Unsplash

This experience inspired my most recent Medium post that was published in Home Sweet Home. You can find it here: Quarantine is Crushing My Extroverted Child: Now he aspires to be Dr. Doolittle.

In some other exciting news, I found out yesterday that one of my stories will be featured on Scary Mommy this weekend. For those of you who are not familiar with Scary Mommy, it is one of the largest online resources for moms/parents. It is really exciting to have them pick one of my pieces. I will definitely share the link once it is published.

I also promise to have some more things coming up that are exclusive to the blog in the coming days. My kids have been having fun helping me prepare for the next one. Although, my kitchen might have mixed feelings on this “fun”.

Until then, Peace.

Photo by Denis Nicolae Ispas on Unsplash

Love, Lily

Talking to Your Preschooler about Coronavirus, Or just traumatizing them with pepper

Hi Y’all,

I have some very exciting news. I just had a new piece published on Home Sweet Home (a publication on Medium). Here is the link* to the article.

small glass bowl of pepper
Photo by Lily Latson

I had a lot of fun writing this one and I hope you enjoy it.

Stay away from the pepper!

Love,

Lily

P.S. – The link above is my “friend link” so will not count against your monthly Medium usage for non-members.

P.P.S. – I had another article go into publication in Mom, Interrupted today as well (another Medium Publication).

STRAWBERRIES TAUGHT ME WHAT TRUE, DEEP LOVE MEANS

Strawberries
Photo by Lily Latson

Do you want to know what I miss? Like really miss? Strawberries. I know it sounds weird. And no, I do not have an allergy and I am not on some special diet where I can no longer have them. I miss them because I NEVER get them. Oh, I buy them. 3 weeks ago I bought 2 POUNDS of them. I even bought a carton today! But I have yet to have 1. It is because my children love them and devour them.

You see that is what being a parent is all about. Having the opportunity to have something that you love. Then intentionally doing without so your child, who loves it equally (or at least in that moment claims to), can have it. I never understood that like I do now.

And I am not saying I give everything to my children. I sit up late and chow down on their chocolate when they are not around. I really am looking out for their best interest since they do not need all that sugar, right? I am a responsible parent after all. I admit that I have even hid, I mean wandered, in the other room to enjoy a delectable cookie or some other treat out of sight (and sound- my 18 month old has developed the same keen hearing for candy wrappers as my 3 year old).

Lone Strawberry
The Lone Strawberry. Photo by Lily Latson

But with strawberries, I don’t even get a shot! Those little munchkins ate an entire carton (save 1 lone strawberry) within an hour of me PURCHASING them. And that last strawberry, those little snipers got it before I could even make it back to it.

Anyone who knows me knows I do NOT share food. It just bugs me. I am finally coming around to sharing plates “family style” at restaurants. But that is only if I am with people who like the same things as me. I have this weird anxiety that I won’t get enough of what I want. I blame it all on my family’s first trip to a sushi restaurant. I ordered the “safe” chicken teriyaki while they all got roped into trying ‘new things.’ Why they decided trying sushi for the first time in a mountain town in Utah when we lived on the coast is beyond me. Either way, my 13-year-old self was having none of that. All the food arrived, and I got 2 bites before my bowl of food was whisked away from me only to return with 5 grains of rice and the dregs of sauce. I think it scarred me for life.

And as I have gotten older, I have gotten less inclined to share the things I actually want. Like a dog with a bone, I guard my favorite foods. So you can imagine my own surprise when the impossible happened. We were at lunch when my son was about 11 months old. I had ordered something that came with a Parmesan garlic crisp. Something I would normally savor and nibble to prolong the wonderfulness of it. And would never dream of even slightly considering the notion of sharing a tiny crumb with someone else. As I prepared to take my first bite, a chubby little finger came up into my peripheral and pointed to MY crisp.

I swear it was like an out of body experience. I saw my hands move back and break the wafer in two. And one of those pieces floated across the space, in what looked like my own hand, into the small-outstretched fingers of my son.

I knew in that moment exactly how much love I have for my son. I did what I never would have done for any other human being on the face of the planet. Lucky for me, he is a picky eater, so these days he rarely asks for anything. Except for my strawberries. His sister, on the other hand, she eats it all.

Someday, I know I will get to eat a strawberry again. Or not have to share my slice of cheesecake. At some point, I’ll get to stop shoving the giant piece of chocolate I was slowly enjoying into my mouth all at once because I hear little feet running towards the closet I am hiding in.

I know that day will come. Ironically, I am dreading it. For I know the strawberry will then be tainted with sadness. Because my babies will be all grown up and no longer be stealing my strawberries.