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Perennial overwintering tips

Tightwad loves perennials. She is already thinking next year’s garden will look even better than this year, especially with the hosta “up for adoption” she found on the side of the road yesterday that she promptly put in a shade bed. But, even perennials don’t always make it to another season. Here are a few reasons:  

It’s their year There may be a general regional plant loss of a specific species that the nursery biz can’t explain.
Too-wet soil Soil that holds moisture over the winter tends to rot plant crowns. Excess thawing will create wet soil with a layer of ice over top which is certain death for many plants. Pull back the mulch at least 5 inches to promote evaporation.
Excessive cold Some perennials are sold as hardy in zones where they shouldn’t be planted.
Age Perennials don’t live forever. No, it’s true. The longer-lived ones (peonies, daylilies, hosta, astilbe) can easily reach twenty years but most others are shorter-lived, living for around three to five years.

What’s the answer? After ensuring that your plants are in the right spot (right light, right soil, right drainage, right heat) and therefore not stressed, mulch helps even out swings in temperature and increase the hardiness of tender perennials.

Hydroponics: microgreens on a budget

The principles of hydroponics date back to the Greek and Roman empires. In fact, hydroponics translated from Greek or Latin means “working water”, because it was in constant motion.  A modern way to explain hydroponics is to say it’s gardening without soil, which is replaced with an inert medium such as rock wool, clay pellets or perlite. The job of the medium is to provide root stability and keep it moist but not soaked with a nutrient rich water solution.

Benefits of hydroponics include:
- Uses up to 90% less water vs. a traditional garden
- Less labor - no weeding and the watering is automated
- Grow year round. Many people use small indoor hydroponic systems in the winter to provide microgreens, herbs or a favorite vegetable.  (Need a light? I made this homemade grow light for $10)
- Less fertilizer. A hydroponic garden uses 75% less fertilizer/nutrients as it can be recycled in the closed system
- Grow in small spaces - perfect for a vertical garden along an unused wall

DIY Impress your family and friends while doing so on the cheap. Microgreens are a perfect match for hydroponics and saving money. Microgreens are those tiny light versions of spinach, chard and other greens, packed with flavor and nutrition. Unfortunately they are also expensive and often difficult to find.

Why use hydroponics to grow micro greens?
- Save money.  Microgreens – aka mini versions of our fav greens - can cost $5 for just a few ounces in a specialty store
- Hydroponic systems are compact - grow a pound of greens in a 2’ by 2’ space
- Fast growing cycle. Micro greens are harvested just 2 weeks after planting

How to grow hydroponic microgreens: While you can purchase an expensive micro green kit on Amazon, I actually learned to grow hydroponic micro greens with this simple DIY hack. Here’s what you need:

- 2 cookie trays
- Perlite and peat moss
- spray bottle
- seeds of your choice

The beauty of growing microgreens is that you do not need to provide any additional nutrients to the seeds and you can expect to harvest in just two weeks. Better get planning that dinner party!

About the author: Chris lives in downtown Chicago and uses hydroponics in his small urban yard.

Daily pretty #5

Thrifty BBQ ideas

With the price of protein products on the rise, the traditional friends and family BBQ with all the fixings is compromised for budget conscious foodies. Here are some tips to help boost flavour and not break the bank for your next feast.
DIY When it comes to marinades, dressings, refreshments and desserts, skip the grocery departments and make your own. How difficult is it to whip together a batch of sangria?* So easy to toss a salad with basic oil and vinegar dressing (and seriously better), make an easy meat marinade from standard fare in your pantry (olive oil, mustard, maple syrup, soya sauce, herbs, garlic, honey, and trusty s and p) – these are all things you probably have on hand. Throw together an easy peasy pavlova and fresh berries for dessert. A healthy crowd pleaser; all you need are eggs, sugar and fresh berries.
Family style Buffets are an inexpensive way to serve a meal, and it enables guests to customize what they are eating. Ideas? A taco bar, a salad bar… serving food this way can also limit your need for much meat so it’s also healthier.
Fresh deals Before long weekends many grocers promote deals on fresh meat, which means fresh will cost less than frozen and it’s a good idea to snag these deals and stick most of it in your freezer for your next gathering.
Stay basic Don’t get lost in fussy appetizers and sides. It’s easy to over prepare these items and have lots of leftovers. Keep things simple: fresh veggie platters always disappear. People appreciate the low fat option, and kids love them. Cheese and crackers are always a crowd pleaser. Potato salad, Caesar salad, corn… You can still glam up these basics with what you serve and how you serve them, but you know that they will appreciated.
Stock up Like meat, party basics such as sodas and condiments often go on sale just before long weekends. Capitalize on these grocery store promotions by keeping your eyes peeled and stocking up on favourites when they go on special.

* Tightwad’s white wine sangria

You need a large pitcher for this; preferably clear glass because sangria is just so pretty.

1 litre white wine (crisp is better – pinot grigio works well)
½ litre soda
1 cup sprite/7up
½ orange, sliced
½ lime, sliced
2 oz. triple sec
2 oz. peach liqueur
garnish with handful of fresh fruit… sliced peach, mango, raspberries, blueberries… anything goes
sprigs of mint or basil

Combine all of the ingredients in the pitcher. Refrigerate for an hour before serving. Serve in tall glasses with ice (don’t put ice in the pitcher, it will melt and dilute the mix).

Frugalicious weekly web crawl

Gardenista Stop the Itch: Natural Mosquito Bite Remedies
84rd and 3rd Strawberry and Blood Orange Frozen Margarita
Down to Earth How to Make Soap - New Recipe
Couple Money How to Encourage Your Spouse to Start (and Keep) a Budget
Daily Finance Options 3 Financial Lessons from Warren Buffet
Gail Vaz Oxlade No Brainer Ways to Save

Marbles: don't lose 'em, use 'em

Marbles are pretty. And actually pretty useful. Here are some ideas:

Flower power Add marbles to a clear vase of flowers to add colour and texture to the stems.
Curtain weight Lightweight fabrics can billow, and - unless you like billowing curtains - cut a little slit in the hem of the textile and weigh it down with a marble in each corner of the bottom hems. 
Wildlife attractor The reflection of the sun hitting marbles in a birdbath attracts birds.
Design accessory Fill holes in your fence with marbles; creating a delightful play of colour.
Level Tote a couple of marbles with you when house hunting. A marble will quickly let you know if the floors are level.
Mixer Paint, lotions, anything that needs combining, a couple of marbles will help do the trick. 
Another way to jazz up our friend the mason jar Float candles in a mason jar with marbles. Colourful and pretty. Also in terrariums, aquariums... 
Pie weights Keep piecrusts flat. Simply fill the bottom of the crust with a layer of (clean) marbles and bake according to instructions. Let them cool before removing.
Massage tool Add marbles, Epsom salts and warm water to a foot bath and roll your tootsies over them for an instant spa treatment. 
Geocache item Make the find even more fun by adding marbles to the cache.
Boiling buddy When the water boils, the marble rattles. Good safety measure too, in the event you forget that the kettle is on.
Potted plants Marbles are excellent aerators; add a layer to the base of a pot before putting in soil, providing a place for water to collect so roots don’t get waterlogged.
Educational tool Playing with marbles will help children understand math and quantity, speed and gravity.