Easy Plants for New Gardeners

Growing an epic fruit and veggie garden takes a lot of work and dedication. But there are a few plants that make the task MUCH easier. Knowing what these plants are can help you grow a beautiful garden quickly, especially if you are new to gardening. The plants we will highlight today produce like crazy with minimal effort for you.

There may be some variation in plants, depending on where you live. We are in North Florida, just to give you a good idea of our climate and location. Just make sure you are planting something that is friendly to your climate and at the right time before you get started.

Peppers

Everyone loves a good hot pepper…or at least we do! There are a few plants that are just easy to grow and that produce tons of peppers for months on end.

Tabasco Pepper

The Tabasco pepper plant is our #1 pick for the easiest pepper plant. We planted a tiny seedling in March and have not regretted it since. From May moving forward, we have had non-stop Tabasco peppers (it’s almost November and it is still producing like crazy). So many of them in fact, that it is hard to keep up with eating them. They are tiny orange-red peppers that actually grow up, which is pretty cool. Not only is it easy to care for and a great producer, but it is also a very pretty plant. The peppers start green and change from yellow to orange and finally to red. The plant is like a rainbow of colors at any point in time.

A picture of our Tabasco pepper plant is on the right. We had already clipped off all of the ripe peppers before we snapped this photo, but you can still see that there are a ton of peppers on the plant.

When cooking with Tabasco peppers, just be aware that they are tiny and mighty. In other words, one pepper usually provides enough spice for a dish that will feed 4 people. If you like a lot of heat, then 2-3 peppers would probably get you to that next level. Just remember that a little bit goes a long way with these teeny-tiny peppers.

Dragon Cayenne Pepper

Coming in at a close #2 is the Dragon Cayenne Pepper. The only reason that this is ranked slightly below the Tabasco pepper is because it has slowed production down substantially since summer, though we still get a few peppers per week. This might be because we had to bring it indoors during hurricane Irma to keep it safe, but it’s really hard to tell. During the heat of summer, this plant produced at least 5 peppers that were ready to snip per day. It was an easy plant to care for and started putting out peppers very quickly after we planted the seedling.

It is also VERY good eating. From a flavor standpoint, this is my absolute favorite pepper. It’s very hot upfront on your tongue, but it doesn’t stick around and burn like the dickens. Can you say perfect pepper? Well, at least for us it is. I chop up one of these peppers and put them into everything from egg scrambles in the morning to red meat sauce for pasta. Versatile, delicious and easy to eat. But most of all, it is EASY to grow :-).

Shishito Sweet Pepper

If you’re not into spicy, but want a good sweet pepper to add to your dishes then the Shishito Sweet Pepper is by far the easiest sweet pepper we’ve grown. It is also still producing peppers and we get about 1 a day from it. Though, during the heat of the summer we had numerous peppers every day and could barely keep up with them. They are small peppers with a wonderful flavor and a thinner flesh. Now that we’ve grown them, I like them much better than bell peppers. They grow faster, ripen faster and are much less finicky than a regular bell pepper. We’ve found that anything that ripens for a long time on the vine (especially in Florida) is subject to bug destruction. That’s part of what makes this pepper such a great option.

Fruit

We love growing fruit, though as you expand into more adventurous fruit plants you will find that cross-pollination is a requirement for many plants. As a result, our suggestions are plants that you just stick in the ground and water instead because today is all about keeping it simple.

Watermelon

Watermelon is by far the easiest plant we’ve ever grown, probably because it’s pretty much a weed :-). The bigger challenge will actually be getting rid of this plant, rather than growing it. Because of this, I feel compelled to warn you about it before you plant it: THIS WILL TAKE OVER YOUR GARDEN. Just plant it far away from anything else and give it plenty of space. It’s a vine, so it will grow like crazy until you decide it’s time to pull it out. It will also put out watermelon like it’s its job, which is fantastic.

The best part about this plant is that it actually needs less water in order to produce flavorful fruit. You do still need to water it, but definitely not every day and you do not want to over-soak it when you do. You also only need one plant in order to get a good yield of fruit. So, just plant it in the ground and watch it grow :-). Also, we did notice that the vines can be tender, so please handle with care and don’t dead-head.

In order to tell if it’s ready, the belly (the downside of the fruit) of the plant will actually turn a creamy yellow and it will sound hollow when you knock on it. I had to look at a watermelon from the store to really compare. That will give you a good gauge to tell when it’s ready.

Blackberries

In the right climate, blackberries are another plant that is crazy easy to grow. You just need to plant, water and watch it grow. Much like watermelon, they will be more difficult to get rid of than to grow in the first place. They can be invasive, so we’d recommend planting them a little further away from your garden or in a pot with a trellis (depending on the type of blackberry you have). The trailing thorn-less blackberries like to climb and the trellis helps encourage them to do that.

As far as fruit production, you will pick blackberries about every other day during the production season. I can’t say that we had an abundance of blackberries in Florida, but we definitely did when we grew them in Northern California. However, they were still easy to grow and we did have a decent harvest of fruit.

A Note About Fruit

Most fruits are not the easiest to grow, which is why our selection is pretty narrow. However, we have had some luck with strawberries and know others who have done well with raspberries.  Raspberries should be more plug and play than strawberries as they don’t need to be cut back for a full year like strawberries do. But both of these are decent options if you are looking for a little more variety.

Roots

Sweet Potato

Roots in general have a tendency to be easier to grow as they are not exposed to the elements. But we’ve found that Sweet Potato is the easiest to grow, especially in our tropical climate. Just a few plants will produce enough sweet potatoes for your family for months. They are also a vining plant (are you seeing a theme here?), so you will want to give them plenty of space to sprawl. Otherwise, they will take over your garden, much like watermelon.

The most difficult part about growing sweet potato is figuring out to when to pull them up. We actually dug one up too early and replanted it and it didn’t die. So, that just gives you an idea of how hardy they really are.

After the first harvest attempt, we were a little gun shy and decided to wait another month. So, after about  2-3 months of growing and vining, we pulled them up to make room for more plants. It turned out that we had a huge harvest that we didn’t even know about right under the soil. It was a very pleasant surprise!

Greens

Romaine

Romaine is a super easy green to grow during the fall in full sun. We planted a lot of them from seed and bought some from seedlings as well. They have grown like CRAZY and you can start snipping baby romaine pretty much right away. They don’t require a lot of space and just need water, sun and decent soil to produce a healthy crop. We have about 10 plants and this supplies us with salad every night for dinner.

Arugula

We LOVE homegrown arugula! It’s pretty easy to grow and you can just snip the leaves off and add them to your salad. There is no real “rule” for pruning, which makes them very easy to handle. We actually cut these 100% back during hurricane Irma and they SURVIVED. Hardy? You bet!

The best part about growing your own arugula is that the flavor is a million times better than what you get in the store. It’s almost like trying a completely different green in your salad. If you like a peppery flavor, then this will add a little spice to any salad.

The only thing to worry about for lettuces in general is a bacterial infection. We had this occur and we simply cut back the infected leaves and sprayed neem oil on it and haven’t had a problem since. It’s an easy issue to resolve, but it’s better to try and control the quantity of water your are putting on the leaves of your plants. We can’t really control that here because it rains so frequently.

Herbs

Who doesn’t love a fresh herb garden for their kitchen? I know we do and we have had a lot of success with many different types of herbs. Luckily, some of the popular ones are the easiest to grow!

Rosemary

Rosemary is our top pick for the easiest herb to grow. The reason we chose rosemary first is because it is actually a challenge to kill it, during the right season. It is best to grow it in a pot separately or plant it away from other plants, as it has a tendency to take over. It’s rather like a weed in this respect.

Mint

Mint is like rosemary, in that it is a vigorous and easy-to-grow plant. You will want to keep it in a pot or tucked away from other plants as it likes to sprawl. It sends out runners and can take over other plants if you let it. We use it to flavor adult beverages like mojitos and anything with watermelon or cucumber in it. It is also wonderful when mixed with basil to make pesto. It adds a nice, refreshing flavor that isn’t too overwhelming.

Basil

While basil is not as easy to grow as the two mentioned above, it is definitely not difficult. It does best in warmer weather and needs its blossoms pinched off regularly to encourage healthy growth. It also has a tendency to get woodsy, so keeping it well snipped discourages that.

Thyme

Thyme is definitely easy to grow, as long the soil has great drainage and you keep it snipped. It has a wonderful aroma and is hearty enough to survive all summer and into the fall. Like most herbs, it is frost sensitive and needs to be moved inside during the winter.

Oregano

Oregano is another easy herb to grow. It likes to be in containers where it can spill over the edge. It’s a very pretty plant that has a great scent. It is relatively hardy and likes a good amount of sun. This is another plant that likes to be cut back, but there is not really a science to it. You just want to keep it trimmed to make sure it stays full and bushy.

Final Thoughts

All of the plants that we’ve highlighted today are low-to-medium maintenance and produce a lot of edible fruits, veggies and greens. This means that there is a lot of bang for your buck, if you plant these crops in your garden. They are also plants that we’ve grown and have had a lot of success with in the past or currently. We hope this helps narrow down what to put in your garden and as always, let us know if you have any questions! We’ll do our best to answer what we can.

5 Must Sees in Maui

Maui is an absolutely beautiful place! Forested mountains and rich green plains meet the crystal blue ocean. I’ve been a few times over the last 15 years and it’s one of my favorite places on earth. There is a lot to do while you visit this stunning island and I have a few recommendations to help you plan an awesome trip based on my travels there.

1. Snorkeling in Molokini

Though there are a ton of tourists that frequent this partially submerged volcanic crater, it is an absolutely beautiful experience. The boat ride out there is relatively short and there is a lot of sea life waiting to be explored. The coral is vivid and beautiful and so are the fish. We got VERY lucky on our trip and a school of dolphin swam by while we were snorkeling. It was a totally unforgettable experience.

If you decide to book this day trip, there are some cruises that include a stop at Turtle Town on your way back from Molokini. This is a trip that I think is totally worth tacking onto your snorkel experience in Molokini. While I probably wouldn’t just got there, I would absolutely do both in the same day. I’ve been on this trip a few times and I have always seen sea turtles, which is pretty awesome. They are graceful and beautiful creatures and it’s everything you can do to keep from pestering them while you’re out there :-).

2. The Road to Hana

This trip is not for the faint of heart, but absolutely worth taking. It will be a long day of driving through about 65 miles of winding highway loaded with switchbacks. But the sights you will get to see while you make this long treck will stay with you forever. This is where you will see the Waianapanapa Black Sand Beach and the Pools of ‘OHe’o (The Seven Sacred Pools), along with numerous hikes to other incredible locations. Bring your suit and be ready to swim in both locations, as long as your comfortable with a little rip tide at the beach. The pools, however, are fresh water and a nice, easy swim for anyone.

Outside of the specific stopping points, the scenery as you drive through the forest is stunning. When you actually arrive in Hana, it’s like taking a step into the past. The village is remote enough that it remains relatively untouched by the outside world. If you make this trip, it’s wise to break it up by choosing great stopping points along the way.

3. Snorkel in Kapalua Bay Beach

If you’re looking for a great way to spend an inexpensive day, then this is your ticket! One morning, we asked our resort concierge where we could snorkel locally without taking a day trip and they recommended Kapalua Bay Beach. So, we rented some snorkels and fins for $15 and then drove over there from Ka’anapoli Shores Resort. It’s only two towns over and the ride was about 10-15 minutes total. The beach was beautiful, easy to swim and had pretty awesome snorkeling very close to shore. We whiled away the day between sunning ourselves on the sand and heading back to snorkel different spots around bay.

4. Shore Dive in Ka’anapali

Admittedly, I haven’t done a ton of diving in Hawaii since I wasn’t certified when I last took the trip. But, this is the first place I ever dove and it was an awesome experience. If you have any interest in Scuba, this is a very easy dive that is conducted right off of the shore and is only about 30 feet deep. We took a discover scuba course at Ka’anapali Shores Resort at the time, though other dive shops offered similar dives nearby. There is a small reef right off the shoreline that you get to explore and there is also a good amount of sea life.

The coolest thing I’ve ever experienced was holding the octopus, which is pictured in the album above. Our instructor spotted it and caught it for us during the dive. This particular octopus actually suctioned onto your skin and then changed colors to match whoever was holding it. It felt like the softest velvet you could possibly imagine and every time I dive, I pray that I get to replicate the experience. It hasn’t happened yet, but a girl can dream!

5. Hyatt Drums of the Pacific Luau

For some reason, I can’t seem to bring myself to go to Hawaii without attending a Luau! The Hyatt Drums of the Pacific Luau is the best one I’ve been to by far, from both a performance and food standpoint (and I’ve attended a few). The fire dancing is pretty incredible to watch and the show covers cultures from all over the pacific islands. So, if you’re looking for that true Hawaii tourist experience, this will complete your trip!

Honorable Mentions

The most memorable meal we had the entire time we were in Maui was at Mama’s Fish House. The food there is absolutely incredible, as is the ambiance. We stopped on our way back to Lahaina from the road to Hana and that worked out perfectly. This restaurant is a little pricey, so it was our one big splurge while we were there. But, it was definitely worth it! My general rule in Maui is to eat as much seafood as possible while I am there and this is definitely the place to do it!

We hope that this helps you plan out your vacation and gives you a good idea of some of the prime locations to spend your time. There are also some pretty awesome volcanic drives/hikes, specifically Haleakala National Park, which is on my personal to-do list for my next trip. As you can probably tell from any research you may have already done, there is a ton to do in Hawaii. Maui is an incredible place and no matter what you choose to do while you’re there, the energy and the island will make it a wonderful experience!

How to Save Money on Your DIY Renovation

This post will walk you through how to budget for a renovation and some helpful tips to save money on your journey. All of our suggestions are gained from personal experience and we hope that you can use them to benefit your future projects.

The Budgeting

Categorize a List of Projects & Prioritize Them

DIY Renovation, Saving Money DIY Renovation, Save Money

The first step is to make a list of all the tasks that you want to complete in your remodel. We find it helpful to look at your project through the lens of “in a perfect world.” Then you can imagine everything that you would do to update your house, bathroom, kitchen, laundry room, etc. Once you have completed that list, then you should rank the tasks based on their importance to you. Let’s face it, most of us have limited resources we can afford to spend at any given time. Prioritizing the list breaks down your project into what really matters to you. Now that you have a prioritized list, you an start to break your remodel into phases that make sense for your budget.

During this process, it helps to think about what tasks must be done together. If you are an avid DIYer, then you know what we mean when we say that some projects are linked. This is a frequent occurrence in home renovation, so just ensure that you account for that in your plans.

Budget All Components

Save Money DIYNow that you have a list of each project broken into phases, it’s time to start budgeting. My favorite way to do this is to set a max budget and then give yourself allowances based on the average cost of each project component. Our Phase 1 Project Budget is pasted below for your reference. We had a max budget of $15,000 to start. We had many (oh so many! :-D) other to-dos on the list that were pushed to a later phase in order to ensure that we stayed under budget. We also gave ourselves a cushion for any unexpected issues that came up. This is always a good idea because no renovation goes perfectly. There are always unexpected hiccups along the way.

Phase 1
Project Components  Allowance 
Demo Floors, baseboards, Walls  Free
Remove Walls Engineer  $          300
Install Floors Flooring  $      2,000
Underlayment  $             –
Stair Noses  $            75
Moisture Barrier  $          250
Base Boards Baseboard  $      1,000
Toe kick  $          500
Caulk  $            15
Drywall Work Repair Drywall  $          500
Re-texture Ceilings  $          500
Appliances Refrigerator  $      1,700
Microwave  $          350
Range  $          750
Dishwasher  $          750
Paint Brushes  $            35
Pans  $              5
Paint  $          100
Plastic  $            35
Doors Interior Doors  $      1,000
Fire Door  $          300
Exterior Door  $          300
Front Door  $          300
Knobs & Hardware  $          250
Paint  $            35
Electrical Fans  $          500
Light Fixtures  $          300
Chandelier  $            95
Canned Lighting  $      1,000
Labor  $          500
Total Expenses    $    13,145

Determine What to Keep

Just because it’s ugly doesn’t mean it’s not salvageable. Look around your existing rooms for good quality workmanship. Then make notes of what could be fixed rather than trashed. There is bound to be something that you can keep. We kept our kitchen cabinetry and our stone fireplace. We simply refinished them to give them a more modern look. This saved us thousands of dollars in remodeling costs and they both look great.

If you’re unable to keep anything cosmetically, then think about what you are able to sell online. If your cabinets are in basically good condition, then you may be able to sell them on Facebook Market Place, Let Go or Craig’s List. The same goes for your ceiling fans, vanities or chandeliers. This can help you recoup some of the cost of the renovation.

Do not trash any good quality wood, if you can avoid it. We kept all of the studs from within our walls and used them for a boat load of mini-projects. One of my favorites is the floor to ceiling shelving unit in our garage that cost us next to nothing thanks to those studs. We also used them to build a stand for our chicken coop, my husband’s saw tables/work bench and a wall rack to hold all of the wood. It’s been over a year and we are still using the wood from our first phase.

Buy Materials Slowly

This suggestion is a great way to create a forced savings account for your next project. All this tip does is simplify your savings by taking the money that you would otherwise save for your project and buying the necessary tools for the job instead. This ensures that your money goes to the project, rather than to something else.

My husband and I slowly accrued a lot of the materials we needed for our kitchen remodel. When Nick “accidentally” (are we sure that was an accident? I wonder :-D) broke our kitchen counters, we had a lot of the components already purchased and waiting at our house. This made it much easier for us to start the renovation the day of the breakage.

Remodel in Sections

If you can’t complete the remodel due to budget restrictions, then go slowly. Section out the broader project into small, digestible tasks. For example, you can replace your light fixtures or repaint before you start gutting a room for a heftier remodel. This is an easy way to make noticeable improvements quickly without breaking the bank.

Demo Day!

Much like Chip Gaines, we LOVE demo day! Demolition is a no-brainer task that contractors can charge you north of $1,000 to do. For most demolitions, it’s just about effort and has very little to do with skill. If you’re comfortable with a few basic tools, then this is a great way to save money on your project. So, get your hands dirty and have a little fun while you’re at it. Also, please don’t forget to wear the proper protective gear. Insulation in your lungs is never fun…neither is concrete. Trust me…I know these things :-D.

Take Advantage of Tool Rental

Rather than buy all of the tools you need upfront, it’s worth checking out the cost to rent them from the tool desk at Home Depot. We do this a lot, especially when the tool is not something we do not expect to need again for a while. They have a lot of different options out there, which can help immensely with your upfront costs. They also offer truck rental, which has been a life saver for us since we don’t own one of our own. $19.99 for the first 75 minutes…Yes please!

Final Thoughts

We hope that you found our money saving tips helpful and that you are able to use them successfully in your remodel! If you’re interested in our other DIY Posts, please read the following posts: Beach House Renovation Story, How to Remodel Your Kitchen for $1,000, White-Wash a Stone or Brick Fireplace and 6 Tips for DIY Renovators.

5 Chicken Boredom Busters

There are a few good reasons to keep your chickens happy and entertained. But the primary one is that chickens are naturally cannibalistic. As if it weren’t enough that every other carnivore wants to eat them, they now want to eat each other?! This is a question I’ve contemplated many times. The sad truth is that chickens also need to worry about their own flock, along with all of the other predators out there. The good news is that keeping your chickens well entertained greatly reduces the likelihood that you will run into this behavior in your flock.

Everything we’ll suggest in this post is inexpensive, easy to implement and totally healthy for your chickens. We hope you enjoy our methods and that you try them out!

Community Dust Bath

Dust baths are a great way for your chickens to socialize and stay entertained. They are super easy to make and also have a variety of advantages associated with them. In addition to the social benefits, dust baths also keep your chickens clean and reduce bothersome bugs. The dust removes the excess oil from their feathers and the ingredients in a traditional dust bath help your chickens stay mite, lice and flea free. Any plastic storage bin will work for this purpose, as long as your chickens can get in and spread their wings a bit.

An easy recipe for a dust bath is as follows:
  • 2 Parts dry dirt – Peat moss is a great ingredient to use for this as it’s so light and fluffy. But you can also just dig up dirt from your yard or use top soil.
  • 1 Part play sand
  • 1 part diatomaceous earth (this is what keeps the bugs away)
  • 1 part wood ash (healthy for them to peck at and adds a nice texture to the bath)

Strategic Fruit & Veggies

There is a lot of different produce that can keep your flock interested for hours out of a day. A few examples of these are pumpkins, squash, and watermelon. Depending on the season, we cut one of these in half and put it in our chicken’s run. They will peck at it all day and eat every last bit of flesh away from the rind. It’s amazing how clean they can get a watermelon!

The other method we’ve tried is to tie a string around the stem of a cabbage and hang it from the roof of their run. This gives them the added enjoyment of watching it swing back and forth when they peck at it. The purpose of this tip is to find fruit that will take them longer to eat and keep them interested while they are doing it. You can also use apples or other fruit and dangle them from strings in the same manner as a cabbage. Be creative and be sure that anything you feed your flock is safe for their digestion.

Roosting Bars

Chickens love to roost high off the ground. It makes them feel safe and secure. It also entertains them to hop from branch to branch in their run. We currently have three roosts set up for them at varying heights. We have a lot of trees around our house and just cut a few branches and put them right into their coop. Free and effective!

If you want to get more creative, you can also add a swing to their run. It can be something as simple as a 2×4 with rope tied to either side and secured to the roof.

Mirrors

Birds love mirrors! It’s just how they’re programmed and chickens are no exception to that rule. We were able to find a mirror on clearance at Target for $4.95, which we added to their run. They totally enjoy it and interact with it frequently. It’s really cute to watch them turn their heads and look at themselves in the mirror. Adorable! 🙂

Free Range

This is our favorite way to keep our chickens entertained! It’s free, easy and there are also some substantial health benefits to allowing them out of their run and into your yard to explore. But for us, the most important benefit is that it makes them happy. It also provides them with an opportunity to interact and bond with us. They are very curious and often come over to watch what we are doing, craning their heads comically to see better.

They are not interested in flying over the fence or getting too far away from their coop, which is good because their wings are not clipped. They mostly scratch around the grass and forage for grit and bugs. They are a little bratty when it comes to our garden. They LOVE to get in there and nibble on our greens. But they will take direction and leave when we shoe them away.

As for the health advantages, chickens digest their food in their crop and this requires grit. If you free range them often enough, then they scratch and forage for their own grit. Otherwise, they need it in their feed on a regular basis. Free ranging saves us the hassle of worrying about grit and also ensures their overall health.

Final Thoughts

We hope you’ve enjoyed our tips to keep your chickens happy and entertained. If you have any you’d like to share, please feel free to comment below. We are always looking for way to improve out hens’ quality of life. If you’re interested in reading more about raising backyard chickens, please check out our other posts: Baby Chick Care Guide,  Chickens are Cheap, Coops are Not & Chicken Breed Matters.

5 Tips for New Gardeners

New to gardening? We have some simple tips that will help you succeed in your first garden adventure!

Why We Love to Garden

Gardening is one of the most rewarding activities you can do. There’s nothing like planting something into the ground, nurturing it and watching it grow. After all, you get to see all your hard work and dedication flourish right in front of your eyes! It’s even better when you’re able to harvest your plants and use them at your dinner table. Can you say, “YUM!?”

We’re sharing what we’ve learned with you today because want everyone to feel that sense of accomplishment you get when your plants do well. We hope that you find our tips both encouraging and helpful.

Our Tips for New Gardeners

1. You Win Some You Lose Some

This tip is definitely the most important for any new gardener. EVERYONE loses sometimes, no matter how good you are with your plants. Most backyard gardeners are not horticulturists and have learned our methods through trial and error. As with anything, you often learn more from your failures than you do from your successes. So, don’t be discouraged if something you put a lot of effort into growing dies.

We have encountered our fair share of failures in our vegetable and fruit garden. The key is not to allow those failures to define you as “Ye Old Killer of Innocent Plants.” You do not have the black thumb of death, as my husband would say :-). We’ve had plants wilt and die within the first week of planting them, no matter what we do to try and save them. Sometimes, it just happens and you have to try again. For example, we are still trying to figure out the secret to keeping dill and cilantro alive longer than 4 weeks. We’re finally getting there (please…can we be there already? :-D), but it took us 4-5 plants of each just to find the right spot in our yard for them.

2. Don’t Commit Too Soon

If you’re unsure about where to put a certain plant in your yard, leave it in its container for a few days (5 or so) in the spot you want to test. If it does well, then you have your answer. If it starts to look a little wilted or droopy, then move it to more sun. If it looks burnt, then move it to more shade. This is a method that we’ve tried to great success in our garden and when we re-landscaped our front yard.

This is especially helpful for more sensitive plants or locations that don’t have an ideal amount of sun. You’ll know it’s time to replant or re-pot your seedling once the root system starts to grow out of the drainage hole on the bottom of the pot. At that point, it’s time to give them more space to grow and flourish.

3. Sun, Soil, Water

This is your key to an awesome garden! Getting this right can take a little trial and error and we’ve found that the ideal combination is based on the climate where you are located. However, there are a few tried and true rules to follow that can help no matter where you’re located.

Sun

All plants need sun in order to grow, but this varies depending on the plant that you want to grow. Be sure to look at the instructions on the plant’s tag to determine the ideal sun/shade mix for it. Then do what you can to give it that ideal mix. It’s a simple task, but sometimes you have to move your plants around a little to find the best location for them. We pot most of our more sensitive plants, rather than plant them in our raised garden beds for this reason. It allows us to maneuver them around the yard to see where they do best.

Soil

Plants need good drainage and plenty of nutrients from their soil. If you buy a soil that doesn’t have mulch and/or sand in it, then you are going to run into draining issues which leads root rot. One of my favorite soils is Nature’s Care, which I normally get at Home Depot. It’s a good quality, rich, organic soil with plenty of drainage. However, if you have a Costco membership and it’s spring time, then I’d definitely recommend buying the Miracle Grow Organic soil instead. It comes in a bag 2xs the size of regular soil bags and is about the same price as regular soil from any garden center. HUGE money saver, especially if you’re filling garden beds or large pots for the first time.

Water

This is probably the trickiest part for most gardeners because you don’t want to either over or under-do it. How often you water will also depend upon things like heat, humidity and sun exposure. The general rule of thumb is to water every other day and to give them a good drink, but not to drown them. It also helps to make sure, if your plant is in a pot, that there are holes in the bottom for drainage. Most come this way, but some don’t and it can cause moldy soil and root rot if you don’t drill holes into the bottom.

If I’m unsure whether or not a plan needs water, I usually do the poke test. It’s super scientific and rather resembles the poke test to check the done-ness of a good steak (I kid!). All I really do is press my finger into the soil about an inch deep and if moisture comes away on my fingers, I will let it go another day. If it’s dry, then I water it. Plants typically won’t die if you go a few hours longer than you should have without watering. So, don’t worry too much over it. As long as you’re watering at least every other day, you should be in good shape.

4. Prune Baby Prune

Google or Pinterest the pruning instructions for the plants that you are starting with in your garden. We used to be really bad about pruning, but then we discovered what a HUGE difference it makes. I have not met a plant that doesn’t like to be cut back a little or dead-headed. It will help keep your plants looking healthy and bushy, instead of woody and wilted. Pruning allows more sun to get to where it needs to go in plants like tomatoes and cuts away nutrient sucking limbs that don’t produce fruit. It’s definitely worth the time investment and will keep your garden looking beautiful.

5. Get Friendly with Liquid Fertilizer

Nothing makes plants grow better than poop! Kind of gross, but also true. So, grab a liquid fertilizer with chicken poop as a primary ingredient and follow the instructions on the bottle. We apply our liquid fertilizer at the recommended interval in the instructions and it seems like our plants double in size over the span of a few days. It’s amazing to watch!

Final Thoughts

We hope that you enjoyed our tips and found them helpful! If you’re curious about any more gardening tips, please check out our other posts: Growing Plants from Seed, Easiest Garden Beds EVER!, Square Foot Gardening, and Grow Your Own Pineapple Plant.

6 Tips for DIY Renovators

If you’re taking on a new DIY renovation project, we have a 6 tips that will help make your experience a great one. Our goal is to help you keep your excitement for DIY alive throughout the whole process, even after you’re finished.

DIY is a great way to build sweat equity and your self-confidence. After you tackle that first project, big or small, the courage you gain in the process inspires you to dream bigger and to do more. Speaking from experience, once you catch that bug, there is no turning back.

A Little Background

As seasoned DIYers, Nick and I have made our fair share of mistakes. What’s important is that we learned from them and now every project we undertake is easier because of those experiences. We want to share what we’ve learned with you so that you can hit the ground running on your project.

Tip #1: Visualization

Have a vision for the finished product. This may seem simple, but it really is critical to any DIY project. If you know what you want, then it eliminates the hours of dithering that occur when you don’t. Can you tell we’ve been there before? 🙂

Whenever we do a project, we browse Houzz and Pinterest for ideas and formulate a picture in our minds of how we want the end product to look. This removes the uncertainty from the equation and we can move forward with a single, unified idea.

If you do not have an exact vision in mind, then pick a few key words that describe the look you want to achieve. Basically, it helps if you create a “brand” or “theme” for your project. For our beach house remodel, our theme was light, bright and beachy. Everything we chose for our home followed along that theme. There wasn’t a rigid picture in our minds, but we had a definite path to follow. Picking a few key words can really help clarify your goals and ensure that the final product is what you wanted.

Tip #2: Buy Everything You Need BEFORE You Start Your Project

I cannot stress the importance of this tip enough! Our first major renovation project was to build a 450 square foot deck off the back of our house in Orangevale, CA. This deck was a massive undertaking, especially since it stood 8 feet off the ground. Unfortunately, we made this mistake constantly during the course of the project. Every day we worked on the deck, we had to run out to Home Depot, Lowe’s, Ace or a local lumber company to get more supplies. It was a huge waste of time and increased our project timeline substantially.

Do not make the same mistake we did! Write down a list of supplies you need to complete your project, validate it against other sources (You Tube, Pinterest, etc) and have all of those essential tools with you BEFORE you start working. It also helps if you arrange them in an easily accessible area. It will save you loads of time spent looking for them if  you do.

Helpful Hint for Saving Money

This does not mean that you have to buy everything you need all at one time. Instead, you can slowly acquire the supplies you need for a project over time before your start. We are actually doing that right now for our guest bathroom and have been for about 3 months. We find that this method helps spread the cost of the renovation and is basically like a forced savings for your next DIY project.

Tip #3: Do Your Research

Nick is particularly good at this and we’ve found some great resources as a result. These are the methods we use most often:

  • To the You Tubes!
  • Pinterest it Up
  • Leverage Your Personal Network

There is one You Tube channel that we’ve found particularly helpful, especially since he has so many different projects that we’ve done already on his channel. His name is Shannon and his channel is called HouseImprovements. We like this particular channel because he always explains everything VERY thoroughly. We usually take a look at his videos before we decide to take on a project. This helps us get a very solid picture of what’s entailed before we start.

Pinterest is great for the smaller, more artsy or wood-working projects. We always look here before we build or design anything. It helps us round out our ideas and make sure we have thought of everything.

Over time, we have developed a pretty solid network of friends and acquaintances who DIY as well. We also have a couple of contractor friends who help us out when we need advice. It’s always helpful to ask someone who’s done your project before and can help give you tips and ideas. Don’t be afraid to ask! Most of your fellow DIYers are just dying for an excuse to talk about anyone’s next project!

Tip #4: Do a Test Run

Sometimes, you’re just not sure if what you want to do is going to look good. We’ve all been there! We are only human after all. There is one sure fire way to make sure that your project turns out beautifully and that is to test anything you’re uncomfortable doing before you actually do it.

For us, this discomfort occurred when we started to texture our ceilings and patch our walls. Rather than going for it and texturing the whole ceiling, we tested our method on a small scrap of drywall and realized that we sucked at texturing. So, we called a professional. 🙂 It was good to know that this was not our cup of tea before we re-textured all of our ceilings and then had to scrape it all back down.

We also started with one small section of mudding on our wall. That helped us ensure that we were doing it properly before we started on the other 10 patches that needed work. Starting small and doing a dry run on something that isn’t important to you or permanent, will help ensure that you love your final product.

Tip #5: Keep a Clean Work Space

We are not suggesting that everything needs to pristine by any means. If you’re renovating, your house will be dirty, that’s just the truth for most projects. That being said, you should definitely make an effort to keep your work space clear of debris and unused equipment. I am totally guilty of this, but do not walk by the same obstacle 10 times before you pick it up! It never ends well…trust me…I know these things :-). If you follow this tip, it will limit the opportunity for injury and help regulate the risk of cuts and other frustrating mishaps along the way.

Tip #6: Know Your Limits

This one is pretty standard, but it is definitely a requirement for all DIY enthusiasts. Sometimes, it’s just better to call a professional and it’s important to know when that time arrives. We like to use Home Advisor, if you don’t have a good contact for what you need done. The reviews and certifications are super helpful to know you’re getting a good contractor.

There are two rules that will help you judge when it’s time to call a pro from a safety standpoint:

  1. You have no experience with the project you are trying to accomplish

AND

  1. You don’t have the foundational knowledge required to do the project

Nick and I have done plenty of projects without ever doing that exact project before. But what you do need in your toolbox are the skills to do the job. That foundational skill-set is what will get you through the project successfully. This is especially important if the project you are trying to accomplish can be dangerous. While we are big advocates of DIY, we do not recommend undertaking a job that can cause injury due to a lack of experience.

Another piece of advice if you do call a pro, watch what they do and ask questions. Most of them are happy to discuss what they are doing as long as you aren’t impeding their work. We had a closet installed earlier last year and we watched while the handy-man built a wall. We now know how to add onto a wall, which is critical for our kitchen expansion project…start date TBD.

Final Thoughts

We hope you enjoyed our tips for new DIYers. Welcome to the club and we hope that your next renovation project turns out wonderful! As always, if you have any questions about your current DIY project, feel free to ask us. We’ll answer what we can and get you any resources we have for what we can’t. Also, don’t be discouraged if things go a little sideways while you’re working on your project. It happens to everyone! You are not alone! Just remember that almost anything can be fixed and that there are a lot of resources out there to help you.

If you enjoyed this post, please check out our other DIY Renovation posts: Beach House Renovation Story, How to Remodel Your Kitchen for $1,000and White-Wash a Stone or Brick Fireplace.

Florida’s Fresh Water Springs

When most people picture Florida, they see white sandy beaches and bright blue water. They envision the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, dotted with beautiful resorts and condominiums. Or they picture cruising on an airboat through the dark swamp water of the everglades and sighting alligators.

But did you know that the northern/central part of the state is home to a ton of fresh water springs? The water is a constant 72 degrees Fahrenheit, crystal clear and bright blue. They are popular dive and snorkel locations, as well as lazy river float haunts for college kids. They are a wonderful way to see the state in a different light and give their visitors a nice reprieve from the state’s summer heat.

Blue Grotto

Blue Grotto is an incredible spring located at the bottom of a sinkhole, for lack of a better description. It looks as though the earth fell away and opened into a rocky cavern of crystal clear water.  It’s spring fed and has that same cool, constant temperature mentioned above year round.

We dove Blue Grotto and it was a fun, but short dive. There are a lot of rugged rock structures and interesting fossils to see while you’re down there. There is also an underwater lookout point that is filled with breathable air. This is kind of awesome from a novelty standpoint. Getting to be underwater and taking off your mouthpiece is a trip!

However, as far as animal life is concerned, it’s a closed system so there isn’t much in the spring. This is part of what makes it a short dive. Once you’ve explored the upper and middle caverns, there’s not much else to see. However, there is Virgil! Virgil is a lovely female, soft-shelled turtle who has lived in the cavern for years. She is pretty much tame and sneaks up on you when you least expect it! She is absolutely beautiful, so we’ve embedded a video for you guys to see.

Rainbow River

Rainbow River is by FAR my favorite fresh water dive and actually ranked closely with the kelp forest dive we did in Monterey Bay, CA. It’s a drift dive in an absolutely spectacular location. You start at the Rainbow River Park and take a boat up to the mouth of the river. Then you jump off the back of the boat and let the current take you down the river while you scuba.

The water is crystal clear and you are surrounded by spectacular trees with Spanish moss waving from their branches on the ride up-river. Then, once you get underwater, it is even more beautiful. There is a ton of vivid green, waving sea grass and quite a few caverns and structures during the dive. This is mixed with plenty of colorful fish and turtles swimming all around you. I wish we had more dive footage of this, but the go-pro images we had didn’t really convey the peaceful serenity of the experience. It seems like there’s something special about this dive that doesn’t quite translate on camera. Guess we’ll just have to go back and try again…darn! 😉

I did, however, find a really cool video of the fresh, underground spring water bubbling up from the sand. This is compliments of our friends Joe and Nora, so thank you guys!

Places to Stay

The best part about most of the springs we’ve visited is that they are open for camping. On this particular trip we camped at Devil’s Den, which is another awesome spring just a short drive away. However, you could definitely check out the camping sites at Blue Grotto or Rainbow River and be just as happy.

As a side note, if you do decide to visit Devil’s Den, I would not recommend scuba diving there. We did that the first time we visited and it wasn’t really worth it. It is definitely worth snorkeling though!

Tips for Fresh Water & Spring Diving

Before I finish this post, I wanted to share a couple of tips for fresh water diving and the temperature in the springs. The first tip is that you will definitely want gloves, boots and a 5 millimeter wet suit. Though 72 degrees Fahrenheit doesn’t sound that cold, it is not warm at all. I can’t imagine doing this, or any spring dive, without a wet suit of at least that thickness.

The second tip is with regards to buoyancy. For those of you who are newer to fresh water diving, the weight needed to achieve proper buoyancy is much less than in salt water. We dove in Blue Grotto first, which is a super easy dive to use to adjust your weight. There is a floating dock right by where you will dive and you can add or remove weight as needed right there, without impacting the enjoyment of your dive. If you are going to do both dives, I’d do that one first so that you get your weight right there instead of at Rainbow River.

Final Thoughts

If you are not a diver but love to snorkel, then all of the springs mentioned in this post are still incredible locations for you! Diving is not required in any of these places and I think you could have a great experience and see a lot of what the springs have to offer if you snorkeled instead.

As always, we hope you enjoyed this post and please feel free to reach out to us with any questions you might have! If you’re interested in more dive spots, check out our post on Belize.

Donuts Coffee Beach

Does it get any better than a great cup of coffee and sticky-sweet donuts shared with a beautiful view? If you said, “Nope”, then we definitely agree! A morning shared with great company, delicious food and the sound of waves crashing onshore is an amazing way to kick off the weekend.

This has become a bit of a tradition in the Torres household. One Saturday a month, we pack up our beach chairs and a couple of to-go coffees and head over to our favorite local bakery. Then we pick out our favorite donut spread and make our way over to Jax Beach Pier.

It’s a great place to spend your morning, watching surfers catch waves and fishing enthusiasts snag their daily catch. This time of day is also the quietest and most peaceful, as few have ventured out for their beach outtings yet. So you can just grab a donut, sip your coffee and relax to the peaceful soundtrack of the ocean.

Cinotti’s Bakery

Cinotti’s is our favorite bakery in Jax beach, specifically for their donuts. They are fresh baked and delicious every morning. They have plenty of selection and, during this time of year, seasonal flavors! I am crazy excited to try the pumpkin donut the next time we go. Nick says I’m going “basic”, but I don’t really know what that means so I choose to ignore it :-). I’m going to eat my pumpkin donut and love every minute of it, thank you very much!

Any Recommendations?

We are always looking for ways to broaden our horizons and try new things. If you have an awesome coffee and donuts location that we need to try, please comment and let us know what you think. We hope you enjoyed this post and we will definitely have more to come on our awesome hometown!

Square Foot Gardening

There is nothing more satisfying than going out to your garden to harvest food for dinner. Nick and I trim arugula, baby chard, romaine, and bay kale every couple of days for mixed green salads. Maybe it’s just me, but the flavor of the greens is so much better because they’re fresh picked from our garden. When we started growing our own food we learned that many of our friends don’t garden, though they would love to start. We also found that the primary thing holding them back is space.

Thankfully, there is an solution! Square foot gardens are an incredible way to maximize your space and still grow great food in your garden. This method of gardening makes home-grown fresh food possible for anyone, no matter what kind of  space restrictions you may have.

Pick Your Plant Mix

The key to any successful garden is to plant the foods that you enjoy eating most for each season. This ensures that you will not throw away veggies that you are putting effort into growing in your garden. Keep in mind that anything you cannot eat, can always be put to good use and composted.

Right now, Nick and I have three square foot gardens growing in our backyard. Two are lettuce gardens for fall and one is a mixed vegetable/root garden for winter. We planted lettuces because I like to make a salad every night with our dinner. Nick would probably prefer just to replace this with a potato or meat, but growing it in the garden makes him more amenable :-). The mixed vegetable garden is a combination of the veggies we eat most frequently.

In the next section, I’m going to show you guys how to calculate the proper spacing between plants. That way, you can create a garden using whatever combination is best for your palate without following a rigid guide.

Calculate Your Spacing

Take a look at the back of your seed packet or on your seedling’s planting instructions. You will see a section for plant spacing and one for row spacing. All you need to worry about for a square foot garden is the plant spacing.

For example, a beet’s row spacing is 18″ whereas the plant spacing is only 4″, which means that you can plant 9 beets into a single square foot.  As you can see, if you had followed the row spacing, you would loose a lot of valuable space.

Below is a general guide for some common spacing configurations that you would see on seed packets or seedling cards. I’ve also included the basic mathematical formula to calculate plants per square foot, for those of you who are so inclined:

Formula if plant spacing is less than or equal to 12″

  • (12″/Plant Spacing)^2 = plants per square

Formula if plant spacing is greater than 12″

  • (Plant Spacing/12″) = number of squares for each plant

    

Our Square Foot Vegetable Garden

The square foot garden we planted this year consists of the following roots and veggies: Beets, Radishes, Broccoli, Carrots, Cauliflower and Brussel Sprouts. They are all still seedlings, as you can see to the right.

Before we started planting, we created a square foot template for our 4′ X 4′ garden beds using scrap wood, a table saw and small finishing nails. It helps to have a template when you are planting your square foot garden, just to be sure you have the dimensions correct. You can use anything you want to make this template, but this is a simple method.

After we laid out our template, we looked at the plant spacing instructions on the seed packets. We primarily used these guidelines as a precaution against over-planting. For example, we only had 12 carrots to plant, though we could have used as many as 16.

Once we calculated the number of plants per square foot, we arranged them within the square using the plant spacing requirements as our guide. At this point the process goes very quickly, as you’re just planting plants.

We also hit any newly planted seedlings with a good, organic liquid fertilizer and plenty of water. This combination seems to help the plant transition to its new location. We also find that, when used properly, liquid fertilizer increases the growth rate and overall yield of your plants. We are all for anything organic that increases the speed of growth for our plants while keeping them nice and healthy!

Final Thoughts

We hope that you enjoyed reading through this post and that it inspires you to try your own square foot garden! Whether you use it for a small herb garden or for a full veggie and root garden, it’s a great way to get fresh food on your table for you and your family.

Growing your own food is also a great way to get those pickier eaters in your family more interested in greens and healthy food. I find that whenever Nick and I have grown something we are not wild about, we end up finding a way to like it because there is a sense of ownership for it. If we put in the effort to grow it, then we are going to eat it!

As always, if you have any questions please feel free to reach out to us. We are here to help answer anything we can. If you’re interested in reading more about gardening, please check out our post on Growing Plants from Seed.

Southern France

The Village of Eze

During our visit to the French Riviera, we stayed in a picturesque village called Eze. Conveniently located between Monte Carlo and Nice, it’s a great home base for a peaceful trip. When Nick and I go on vacation, we like to be away from big cities and spend our time in nature. This was the ideal location for that as it was the most beautiful place we’d ever seen.

Bed & Breakfast

We stayed in a wonderful bed and breakfast called Domaine Pins-Paul.  It’s a stunning stone home, tucked into the cliff-side that overlooks the old castle of Eze. The home has historic charm but all of the modern amenities. We do highly recommend this as a place to stay, but be sure that you request a room with AC if you get hot at night.

The breakfast is delicious, especially the pastries. There is also an infinity pool that is cut into a cliff and that overlooks the Mediterranean Sea. It’s a wonderful way to spend an afternoon, lounging in the sun and reading.

Places to Eat

There isn’t much to eat in the Village of Eze, but the Village de la Turbie is a quick 5 minute drive away. The village is situated on a large cliff, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. It’s home to quite a few delicious restaurants and the coolest soccer field I’ve ever seen. We both WISHED we could have played there just one time.

Monte Carlo

Monte Carlo is everything that you’d expect and more. How to best describe it? The palace and the casinos were lavish and full of wealth. Everything looked as though it had been scrubbed clean. The gardens and landscaping were spectacular everywhere we went.

We made the mistake of going on a Sunday, not realizing that everything would be closed. We want to pass this information on because we want to make sure you don’t make the same mistake.

Nice

Nice was very pretty, but to us, it was just another big city. However, we spent a great day there shopping and eating lunch by the ocean. The perk of this big city is definitely the shopping. Europe has a tendency to be a little more fashion forward than the United States. So, you can get some great clothing there that’s unique.

Final Thoughts

Because we tacked this trip onto the end of my master’s program trip, we didn’t have as much time as we’d have liked. It was truly the most beautiful place we’d ever been in our entire lives and we’d definitely go back. The cliffs and the Mediterranean Sea are absolutely breathtaking! Though if you’re planning to spend anytime on the beach, please bring water shoes because you’ll be walking across large rocks to get to the sea.

We hope you enjoyed the photos and reading about our trip! Please reach out with any questions if you are planning a trip to the region.