Straw Bale Gardening: Year 2

My first year of straw bale gardening was such a success I didn’t hesitate to embark on another year of straw bale gardening. My handy husband built me a lovely compost bin which was a perfect for all of last years bales. (I am looking forward to having fertile soil to fill pots with.) He used some 2×4’s we already had in the garage and some chicken wire leftover from last summer.

Set up this year was far less work that last year. We bought some new straw bales ($5 per bale) and lined them up where the old bales were. I actually added a few more bales but was still able to use the same area which was great. We added some new mulch between the bales to freshen it up a bit and then put the soaker hose back on and got the timer all ready.

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Oh, and my amazing hubby put the supports on which can be seen in the photo below. (It is something he built last summer to help stabilize the bales because as they decompose they fall apart.)

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I have already started the conditioning process for my 2016 garden. Tip: Be sure your bales are right side up. You should see the ends of the straw rather than the folded pieces. Once you have them all upright you can begin the process which involves sprinkling fertilizer on each bale followed by a good water. This is all explained in great detail in the book, Straw Bale Gardens by Joel Karsten. (He also has the book Straw Bale Gardens Complete available on his website.)

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After applying the fertilizer the bales need a good watering. This also helps to push the fertilizer down into the bales and before you know it they’ll be cookin’. The kids are great helpers and love to lend a hand. The older kids each wear a digital watch which makes it easy for them to keep track of how many minutes they are watering each bale. (You can see my strawberries pushing through the mulch already)

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I am pretty excited to branch out and try some new veggies this time around. My plan is plant more of the items I need for canning in the fall to prevent buying from the store. I am also excited for the kids to learn more about growing onions, garlic, & potatoes. Most of the plants we will be growing can start from seeds planting right away on day 12; however, there are a few that must be started indoors first. I used this as an opportunity to teach my preschooler and toddler about gardening from seeds. My 2 and 4 year olds were great helpers and really enjoyed getting to play in the dirt, (and with the popsicles sticks of course).

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I’m looking forward to planting May 1st and (impatiently) watching for our first plants to sprout up. I’ll keep you posted on progress.

Happy Gardening!

 

 

 

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Straw Bale Gardening

With a big family like ours it’s great to find ways to save money and as an educator I also like things that help teach our children valuable life lessons so when our local librarian showed me a book on straw bale gardening I was all-in! She knew our house was built on very rocky land and therefore the soil is difficult for growing anything, including grass! She and I agreed this method would mitigate that problem so I checked out both of the books our library had on the subject, Straw Bale Gardens and Straw Bale Gardens Complete both by Joel Karsten. I read the books and was so glad I did because as with most instructions, you must read the WHOLE THING before starting or you’ll miss steps. It was also helpful to be able to ask questions when I attended a seminar by Joel Karsten at our local library. (I bought my own copy of Straw Bale Gardens too). image Living in a rural area it wasn’t too difficult to find someone selling straw bales for a decent price. I think I paid $5 per bale from a farmer who also insisted we take some farm fresh eggs . (Be sure you get STRAW bales NOT hay bales. There is a big difference!!) Then I had to decide where to put the garden. The book explains ideal locations and with that information I decided to use the area by our garage to get the most sunlight. It is slightly sloped so I had to make sure to put the line of bales the correct direction to avoid the bales tipping over. I also had to get underground lines marked so when we begin digging we don’t accidentally hit anything. I measured and marked off the area placing some rocks around the entire area. Then I laid down chicken wire, covered that with a layer of landscape fabric,  and placed the bales in a line. Finally in between the rows of bales I put down a layer of mulch. This required a great deal of mulch. I ended up using a full load from the back of a pick-up truck rather than bags of mulch. It was far more cost effective (and a great workout to shovel out). My husband placed the poles at each end of the bales and then I put up the wires for the plastic to hang on to create the greenhouse. The wires are also great for the vines to climb up. image It was a bit of work to get the garden set up but wasn’t too cumbersome. I was still pretty excited to start the conditioning process. I followed the instructions found in the book sprinkling fertilizer on each bale and watering them. My husband and I placed a soaker hose across the tops of the bales and got it hooked up with a timer so the watering the garden would be a snap. By day 12 I was ready for planting and was sure of this because when I stuck a thermometer into the bales they were hot!! I had already planned out the garden so I had the seeds, plants and map of what was going to be planted in each bale.

I had lots of little helpers for the planting. They helped plant the strawberry plants and tomato plants which go directly into the bales-no dirt! I put a layer of dirt on the tops of the bales that would be seeded. Then the bigger kids helped plant the seeds on those bales. Finally we placed clear plastic over the rows of bales which created a green house of sorts. We used rope and bungie cords to help keep the plastic from blowing away. As the plants grew we moved the plastic up. The kids loved watching the seeds sprout and the plants grow.

I planted May 1st and the garden was still producing tomatoes through the month of October! I had more than enough tomatoes and cucumbers. It was more than I knew what to do with so I decided to give canning a try.

 

I made spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, salsa and pickles. It was enough to last the entire winter so it was definitely worth with the work. The kids were excited that we had our own pumpkins too!image.jpg Since embarking on straw bale gardening I have had many people stop by and ask about it. I suppose it looks odd to see such a garden. I have also had many people call, text or contact me via social media to ask questions. I am NOT a green thumb and often struggle to keep house plants so a successful garden was a surprise for me. If you think you want to do this you should. It’s a great way to get fresh produce regardless of the soil conditions you may have AND there is NO WEEDING!!   Happy gardening!!

Holiday Gift Ideas

As you may have noticed by my previous post Bitty Birthday Bash I am a big fan of the company Minted. I love that the artists are independent and from all over the globe. I also love that their products are high quality and can be customized! How cool is that?? When the Minted catalog comes in the mail my daughter and I look at it as closely as any other magazine because there is always something new and interesting with so many talented designers.

If you are anything like me you are getting your shopping lists organized and scouring the internet for ideas. What do you get for those family members who have everything? And oh my word, some of those DIY pinterest ideas while cute aren’t for everyone. So if you are in need a gifts for grandparents, Godparents, or your spouse I have a great idea for you-a silhouette art print!

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Seriously, aren’t they the cutest?? They seem to capture something really unique that your standard photo just can’t. I have silhouette prints of my kids on my wall and just love them. I get compliments on them when guests arrive as they are hung by the front door. What a unique and personalized gift for loved ones on your list! It’s as simple as uploading a photo of your child, pet or loved one and let Minted do all of the work.   Screen shot 2015-12-03 at 3.51.15 AM Screen shot 2015-12-02 at 4.52.53 PM There are so many choices too; foil-pressed, letter-pressed, or printed (with a plethora of colors to pick from). And the best part, Minted extended their cyber monday deals so you can get 25% off!   If you are in the mood for deals those extended cyber monday deals also include 20% off their holiday cards. Screen shot 2015-12-02 at 5.17.56 PMScreen shot 2015-12-02 at 5.18.22 PMScreen shot 2015-12-02 at 5.19.42 PM You can customize your card and they have a price point for every budget. Oh, and if that isn’t amazing enough, they do receipt address printing FOR FREE!! Sounds like angels singing right? 😉 As you get your shopping lists together or search Pinterest for what to get your family and friends this holiday season I encourage you to check out Minted’s custom silhouette art prints. I’d love your feedback. Let me me know your thoughts on the silhouette prints, other holiday gift ideas you have or what your get those hard to shop for loved ones.

Happy Holiday Shopping!

Still Learning with Baby #6

Baby #6While pregnant with our 6th child I was a bit shocked at how much I still had to learn about pregnancy, babies, etc. As a former FACS teacher and mother of 5 already I felt I had a firm knowledge base but oh-my-word-big-bird there are still some things to learn.  Here are a few things I have found…

  • The post postpartum uterine contractions (you know, the ones that hurt like heck while you are nursing). Those get worse with each baby. And I can confirm this is so true.
  • Just as the postpartum pains are worse so are the pregnancy pains. Those lovely ligament pains as your muscles stretch for the baby…yeah they hurt far worse with each pregnancy. The Braxton Hicks pains may feel a bit stronger too. (I am not a medical professional-just figured this out on my own)
  • Most of the pregnancy websites and apps are focused on first time Moms, etc. That is totally cool with me but trying to search for anything on the 4th, 5th or 6th pregnancy-yeah, I came up empty handed. Unless I wanted to scroll through some discussion threads I couldn’t find anything.  So, I guess it is learning along the way.
  • Some people are mean or just don’t know what to say when discussing your pregnancy status. I have often pondered if I should just lie to people when they ask me if this is my first because good-golly you should see/hear their reactions when I told them, “Nope, it’s my 6th.” In fact when I was pregnant with my 5th I had someone ask me if I had ever considered the impact my large family is having on the environment and if I thought about the carbon footprint I am creating. – I think I would have settled for a ‘congrats’ and left it at that. I certainly wasn’t prepared to respond to such a comment.

On a lighter note there are some funnier tidbits too.

  • My eldest child has been paying attention to each pregnancy. He came to me with a very serious face and began with “Mom I don’t want to sound mean” and proceeded to ask why I don’t just get a big belly. He wanted to know why my butt gets so big too. HILARIOUS! I may have felt bad about his question if he wasn’t so sincere and kind about the way he asked. I laughed and was a bit shocked. I explained how the hormones of pregnancy cause the fat to store up for a variety of reasons. My husband didn’t flinch and said it’s to balance out the weight of my big belly. (Because we don’t want Mom to fall over) Nice huh?
  • We all have heard of memory foam. Well I am convinced our bodies are similar. With each additional pregnancy your body knows just what to do. The baby bump seems to ‘pop’ a bit sooner with each one. I swear this time I peed on a stick and had a baby bump. What does one do when they have a noticeable baby bump at 6-8 weeks??? Working in administration at an elementary school while pregnant with #6 I was in my office usually but when I was with the students they noticed. I tried telling them I had a large burger and fries for lunch…they weren’t buying it. 🙂
  • Also on the note of kids…If I was ever to forget that I was getting bigger I had plenty of kids to remind me. They tell me as if I really didn’t notice! “Mrs. Menne, your belly is really getting big!” It’s pretty funny. Ya just have to laugh.

And finally some “Menne Mama” tidbits

  • I no longer care about what people think about my belly, or my cloths. I wear what is comfortable. SO, I totally broke out the maternity clothes as soon as my regular jeans were a bit tight. Who needs to feel uncomfortable?? Not me!
  • People ask how I am feeling and how my energy level is. HA! With 5 other children I don’t have time to feel ill, or nap, etc. I just keep on truckin’. There are no sick days when it comes to being a mom. Frankly I think if I slow down I may fall asleep. 🙂
  • The stomach flu whilst pregnant absolutely sucks!!! (yes it’s worthy of 3 exclamation points-probably more) I’m sure we can all agree the stomach flu isn’t a fun thing but lemme’ tell ya’ when you are 6 months pregnant holy-moly it’s awful! I swear I was not in control of my body and hurt worse than anything I could have ever imagined.
  • Trust your gut. I am very aware that I don’t know everything but there is something to be said about women’s intuition. If you think something is wrong call your Dr. If you don’t agree with something regarding your pregnancy or child get a second opinion. In the end, trust your instincts. Baby’s don’t come with a manual and you have to do what is right for your child and your family.

Guest Post: Christy, Chrysler or Chrysalis

I think that how we look at students has a huge impact on how we treat students.  Let me give you three examples to get your thinking started.

Are students widgets?

This would be a Chrysler, as in a car is a widget.  People design cars, design processes for making cars, selling cars, and fixing cars.  Once a car is designed we can work on a better design, once a process is in place we can design a better process.  Marketing changes to accomplish more selling.  It is an interconnected process from start to finish that has many opportunities for revising, improving, changing.  In some ways students look like widgets.  Each student enters the assembly line in Kindergarten and is put on the track to graduate at the end of 12th grade.  Along the way certain Carstandards must be met, if the standards are not met the student gets pulled off the line, reworked a bit, hopefully brought up to standard and then put back on the line to keep moving toward that graduation date.  We rate schools on how many successful widgets they produce.  We define success from the corporate offices at the state or federal level and refine the “success determining process” so that millions of students can easily be coded into success or non success categories.  With students as widgets schools need to manage objects, sort, organize and maintain quality control.  Principals manage teachers as assembly line machinery, if one is not working we just switch it out with a working one, boards manage schools as factories seeing which ones are producing the most widgets.  Management centers on those numbers that define success.

Are students employees?

We can also look at students as employees.  Employees are hired by a company to get a certain job done and in return receive a fair compensation.  Along the way they need to be managed, pointed in the right directions so to say.  They need some inspiration at times, other times they need some controlling.  Employees can take on many different forms customerfrom the assembly line type employee being very compliant to the process to a Google employee with significant leeway to define his/her process.  Employees are there to get the work done that is under the umbrella of the company.  Students are “employed” to meet the standards, put in the time, and in the end we will pay you with a grade, a diploma, and give you a recommendation for your next place of employment.  That recommendation will vary depending upon your performance.  With students as employees schools need to manage people as part of a large human resource process.  Teachers manage the students under them, principals manage the teachers, superintendents manage the principals, school boards oversee the entire process as a large corporation.  Treating students as employees makes for a very different organization than treating students as widgets.

Are students customers?

What if schools treated students as customers?  Customers have money to spend to get what they need and want.  In the US customers have a myriad of choices in front of them, they need to investigate, shop around to find the best deal.  They talk to each other about the deals they got, or the high quality product they found, or the piece of junk they just paid for.  Customers get to choose how to allocate their spending, sure getting groceries is a high priority, but even with Chrysalisthat how much fruit do you buy, how much ice cream?  Stores cater to the needs and wants of customers and work to be just a bit better than the other guy down the street.  Products that are no longer needed are no longer produced or even supported.  Schools that treat students as customers realize that students can come to their school or go to another one but also realize that with the student comes the revenue.  Teachers work to meet the needs of students and find ways to support each student.  Principals work to support the teachers finding out what the teachers need to better support the students.  Success comes when the customer is pleased with the product s/he purchased, not when the company is pleased with the widget it produced.  The students end up “owning” their education because they bought it.

In the end teachers, principals, and schools get to pick their point of view.  But I think one of the problems in education is that the corporate board thinks students look like Chryslers.  As you move down the ladder to individual interaction between student and teacher students look more like Chrysalides with each student growing and developing quite differently and uniquely from each other.  These are extremely different viewpoints and I would argue that an organization living in both worlds will have tensions – possibly extreme tensions.  The customers desire an individually hand painted picture by an artist of his/her choosing.  The company board wants to produce many prints of one picture and produce it on time, in quantity, and at a certain level of quality.  To help increase the tensions the company board also has trouble finding the one picture it should produce.  To further increase the tensions the board usually picks a new picture to produce even before the “factory” has time to complete very many of the previous pictures.

So with all the politics around education and the seeking of the silver bullet solution, maybe we should start by deciding who these students are?

Keven  Kroehler is a husband and busy father of four who is very passionate about education reform. After 24 years in the classroom in addition to administrative roles he shifted gears to have a larger impact on education as the Executive Director of the national non-profit EdVisions Schools. Keven has a wealth of experience in both charter and traditional schools including project-based learning, technology, school finance, & school leadership. Follow Keven on Twitter @KevenKroehler .

Guest Post: Creative Ways To Enjoy Your Summer And Make Money

Creative Ways To Enjoy Your Summer And Make Moneymoney

In the middle of the summer, you might find your mind wandering toward thoughts of sunny beaches and get-away vacation spots. For most families, the price of leaving town and booking a hotel isn’t always easy when there’s business to attend to and bills to be paid. However, there are ways to have fun and make some money during these dog days of summer. Whether you’re managing the family at home or working at your office, see how these four creative tips can improve your life and your bank account while the sun is still in full force!

Sell Your Photos
Do you love snapping pictures with your camera? Don’t let those gorgeous photos you’re taking go to waste! If you’ve taken hundreds of photos that only a few people have seen, you could be missing out on a great opportunity. Make some extra bucks by selling your beautiful images as stock photos. There are several sites online that let you sign up for free which allow your photos to be sold to their users. It’s a good way to build your portfolio and make some money at the same time!

Become a Dog Boarding House

If you enjoy animals like I do, then you will love this idea! A great way to make a pet-owner feel at ease while they’re out of town is dog boarding through a service such as DogVacay. It’s a fantastic way to make some extra cash in your free time! Some people feel uneasy about the idea of leaving their furry friend in a kennel. This way, you give the pup some much needed attention while their owner is gone and you get paid to let them stay with you. It’s a win-win for everyone involved!

Switch Off Your Air Conditioner
Your home doesn’t have to be an icebox in the summertime! If you’re not living in an area where the temperatures rise to 100 degrees in the warmer months, chances are you could turn off the air conditioner more times than you think. Buy yourself a few portable fans that can move from room to room. Open the window and let the fans push the air around your house. It’s easy to lay off the air conditioner when the cooler evening hours set in. It’s a great way to lower the electric bill that has a way of rising a little on the high side around the middle of the year! 

Go on – Double Your Recipe

This idea might sound a little bit out there, but it could really save you some cash! Next time you’re cooking, go on and double the ingredients in your recipe! It might seem a little odd staying out of the kitchen too long, but having food for longer than you planned goes a long way. Doubling your recipe means fewer trips to the store and less time leaving the oven on. All in all you’ll save time, decrease your electric bill and have energy left to relax!

The summer season is the perfect time to find small ways to enhance your life. Take some time to soak up the sun and increase your savings. Let your creative side and your budget skills collide by trying some of these tips for yourself!

Shaye is a single mom that has a passion for family, budgeting, healthy living, fitness, and travel. She loves finding new ways to cook healthier and stay fit, all while doing it on a budget. She has a beautiful son and one eccentric dog, but wouldn’t have it any other way.. Follow her blog athttp://simplyshaye.wordpress.com!  

Simply Shaye

DIY Wedding Style

Spring is fast approaching and I am certain will bring with it many weddings and or wedding planning. With weddings on the horizon I thought I’d share some trials and tribulations I experienced during the last wedding season.

The bride and groom were looking for a creative way to showcase the table assignments and a few tables at the reception. They wanted something that could bring the décor together and be very functional. After searching the internet and getting feedback from them on what they desired the decision was made to make giant framed chalk boards. Here is where the ‘fun’ begins….

The Final Products

The Final Products

DIY Wedding Style

I started with a trip (okay MANY, MANY trips) to Hobby Lobby and was able to snag VERY large frames on clearance and a couple smaller ones as well. I also picked up small wooden squares and dowels. I found ribbons that matched the wedding colors at the Dollar Store. (I was totally surprised). I had to go to a number of Menard’s before finding the chalk paint I needed and also got flat black spray paint. After trying a few different places I found thin pieces of wood for the back of the frames.

I think I found the twine at Michael’s and wood glue as well. The hardest item to find was the chalk markers which I ended up getting at JoAnn’s Fabrics.

1-Painted all of the frames with the flat black spray paint including the dowels

2-Painted all of the flat pieces of wood with the chalk paint

3-Drilled holes in the small wooden squares

4-Painted the small wooden squares with the chalk paint

5-With the help of my Father-in-law I got the wood cut to attach to the frames

6-Using the pneumatic nail gun I stapled the backs to the frames…

7-Measured, cut and glued the dowels in place to divide the large frames into 9 sections each. (one section per table)…

Power tool girls

Power tool girls

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Paint & Glue

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Divided into sections

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Demonstration of size

Final Product

Table assignments

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Poem to describe the table names

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Head table

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Name banner

8-Used a few of the chalk markers to write on the boards (they require water and a rag to erase and don’t wipe off like chalk does while still giving the look of chalk)…

9-Strung the letters with the twine & wrote on them…

10-Dressed up the frames with the ribbons as well as some pine cones collected from nature…

Tips to pass along…

  • Everything I read said not to try this as it takes too much time and money. I agree. It’s way more time than anyone would want to put in. I am not kidding when I say it took all summer to complete for a fall wedding. You had better be well paid for this kind of work or really love the people you are making it for. If you are the bride I do NOT recommend taking this on!!!
  • Chalk markers are great but don’t wipe clean from chalk paint. Apparently only actual chalk boards.
  • Chalk paint is not cheap
  • Large frames are expensive
  • Last but not least-Hand written items take a long time
  • Changes happen….spelling, guest list, etc.

If you are tackling a wedding DIY-Good Luck 🙂