Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Empty Nest

I have often thought of myself as a nature lover. I love exploring into the woods trying to keep a mysterious eye open to the forces of nature and looking into the unexpected, searching for things that are above the obvious. 

Sometimes, all one needs to do is keep an open mind, looking deep into the forest, looking past those things that we've observed time and time again, but really searching for the unusual things that are hidden from the common eye's sight. 

The other day I was standing at my kitchen sink, looking out into my landscape and saw something hanging from a tree, swaying gently in the wind. After peering through my binoculars I was positive I had not noticed this intriguing object before. I decided a further inspection was necessary. Grabbing my camera and putting on my boots I walked into the woods and found "The Empty Nest". 

I was in awe of this magnificent work of art made by what appears to be a Queen Hornet. The intricacy of this nest made me realize that hornets, while posing a threat to humans, are crafters in their own right. I now have an entirely new respect for hornets and wasps. 

Did you know that a nest like this is made from chewed up plant material and the hornets saliva? The result is a paper-like nest that can often be the size of a basketball. What looms and buzzes about inside are thousands of hornets breeding in each of the cells. While it may look like a city inside the womb, it is simply an undertaking with one single purpose and that is to ensure the maturing of the queens young so that the family can continue into the following season.  Does that sound familiar? Just like a mother who brings up her child in a protected home, nourishing them, teaching them, making them strong enough to face the world and finally when the child is of age they often will spread their wings and make a world or nest of their own. 

While many are afraid of the nest itself, it will pose a threat if it is loaded with hornets or wasps in season, but unless they are threatened, they will not threaten you. Look from afar, but do not touch would be the best words of advice if you see a hornets nest. Unless of course, it happens to be the dead of winter when the nest is empty. 

There are benefits though of having such an interesting nest hanging from your trees or in your landscape. The hornets or wasps that reside inside can benefit your gardens by preying on potential pests such as grubs, caterpillar, boll weevils and black widow spiders.

Have you ever been lucky enough to have a large sized hornets nest in your landscape?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Getting My Fingers Back in the Dirt!

Even though it's only been a few short weeks since I put my garden to bed, I am missing my regular routine of visiting my vegetable garden. Isn't it funny how that happens? We no sooner harvest our last vegetables, put the garden to bed and already we're missing it.

This is the time that I usually pay more attention to my houseplants, but let's face it, houseplants are typically just foliage plants and while they do provide me with the look of green and nature, they certainly do not provide the benefits that an herb or vegetable does.

So, what can you do?  Ah! we can start some vegetables right in our own home! I owe a big 'Thank You'  to "My Little Heaven" who suggested this idea of starting such things as celery and lettuce. You don't even have to start them from seed, but rather the bottoms of already harvested vegetables.

If you don't know already, I am a "Canner". I am a person who loves to preserve things for future use. Along with this comes an entire theory of repurposing, growing, preserving and becoming self sufficient.  If you're interested in "Canning" you can visit my page "Earth to Glass Canning" on Facebook.

Now, are you ready to get your hands back in the dirt?

Have you recently purchased a head of lettuce, a bunch of celery or a bag of leeks? Why not try to regrow them? It's very easy!

Cut the bottom off of the head or bunch. Set the bottom in a small dish of water. Celery, especially, will start producing roots within a few short weeks as well as lettuce. But, what you'll see within a few days is the center of the vegetables start to push out new growth! Once a root system starts to push out the bottom, you can plant them in a pot with soil.

I have also tried to plant the bottom of a head of romaine lettuce directly in a pot of soil without a root system established and what I'm seeing is new growth already producing from the center. It will be interesting to see which head produces more leaves faster.

Are you a "Leek" lover? Why not try planting the bottoms of leeks in a pot? Soak the bottoms in water for about 30 minutes, to soften up the roots, then plant them in a pot of soil too. While I've planted a lot of leeks in a relatively small pot, I am hoping to get a healthy root system and then will transplant them into a larger pot later on. In just a few short days, I've already witnessed the centers of the leeks pushing up!

Aside from planting the already established vegetables, I've also decided to start some herb seeds using recycled containers such as take out containers or where baked items came out of. They are perfect for starting seeds with their clear lids that act as a mini greenhouse. Other planting mediums would be cardboard egg cartons or rolled up newspaper. Once the seedlings are strong enough, I will transplant them into larger pots and use the herbs within my recipes. Then, come Spring, I will transplant them outside to my vegetable garden. But, in the mean time, I will have my own vegetable and herb garden right inside my own home.

If you're missing your vegetable and herb gardens, why not bring the outside, "inside" and enjoy your bounty all winter long!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Recycled Keurig K-Cup!

In an effort to start saving money, I took a closer look at those things in my home that I could trim some fat off of. The first place I zoned in on was my kitchen.  It was here that I found a way to dramatically reduce my weekly grocery bill simply by re-evaluating my Keurig machine.

Last year my husband received a Keurig Coffee Machine as a Christmas present. Since then it has become one of our favorite kitchen appliances, however, recently while in my "money saving mode", I realized that it has also become one of the most expensive appliances we've ever owned. Although we didn't purchase the machine ourselves, I think we could have bought three of them by now with the amount of money we've spent on the actual K-Cup coffee!

I have to admit though, that one of the delights of this machine is its 'convenience' factor. It can make a cup of coffee in a flash, which is of utmost importance to a working family who races the clock to get to work on time.

Now let me put my 'miser' cap on and grind out the dirty details on the K-Cup coffee prices.

Here is what my local supermarket sells a
(12 pack) box of K-cups for:

Now look at what a 10oz. can of
ground coffee costs:

Which do you think is more cost effective? I'm going with the 10oz. can of coffee, wouldn't you? 

Now, hold on to your coffee cup! I know that they make a filter that you can fill with your own coffee, however, there again I have some issues:

Not only have I experienced this (maybe because I was not fully awake yet in the A.M) but, I know of others that have said that they can never get the measurements exactly right to produce a great cup of coffee.

Plus, let's go back to the reasons I wrote why I loved this machine.. "the CONVENIENCE factor". There is nothing like beating the clock running out the door to work, seeing that you have five minutes to spare, you want a cup of java, no problem! You pop in a K-cup and it's done! 

With the filter, you have to get the filter, get the coffee, measure it out, make sure you have the proper attachment in the Keurig in order to hold the special filter and then make the coffee and let's not discuss if there are others waiting to make their 'cup to go'!!  Remember.. the CONVENIENCE factor... how is that convenient?

Did I mention how much one of those filters cost?

Well, enough I say! I've found a way to cut costs, keep it convenient, be earth friendly and still have a great cup of coffee!

Follow along with the pictures and you'll discover a great, money saving idea if you're an original K-cup user (this technique will not work with the newer style  K-cups that simply have the filter sack like bottom).

The inside of an original K-Cup - Peel back the top, remove old coffee grinds, gently wash out the inside of the cup being careful of the small, secured filter. Dry completely.

Put 2 tablespoons of your own ground coffee in the K-Cup, place a 2" x 2" piece of tin foil over the cup, making it tight across the top, gently hold the bottom of the top and give it a slight twist to secure the foil under the small lip of the

Put K-Cup in the machine, no need to use the special filter attachment, close filter lid and proceed as normal.

See how the machine accepted the recycled K-Cup! A perfect match!

I started saving all of my original K-cups and have also been collecting the used K-cups from work where we have a similar machine. I have 20 K-cups in my possession that I have simply use, wash out, dry in a rack and once a week I will refill them all at my convenience with two tablespoons each of coffee. 

I have found that this technique does no harm to the Keurig machine. How many times can one recycle an original K-Cup? To this date, I have one cup that I have recycled at least seven times and counting and all with the same, great tasting coffee I long to enjoy in the morning.

Want to start saving some money like a "Bean Counter"? Recycle your K-Cup! I do and have now started calling them the "L-Cup"!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Six Months Worth of Positive Changes

Nearly six months ago I made a bold decision and walked away from a job that I had loved for five years. I was a Nursery Sales & Customer Service Manager for a well known garden center and took pride in my job day in and day out.  I put everything that I had into that job and only realized after nearly losing my mother last summer, that perhaps I had put too much of myself into that job.

I have never been one to make rash decisions nor doing things out of fashion without thinking it through thoroughly. However, when I decided to leave my job and walk away, I left that day with only the pictures on my desk in hand and drove home thinking, "What the heck am I going to do now?".  Was I insane? Who walks away from a good paying, successful job without having another job offer in your back pocket? Who? Me.. I had the support of my husband the day I decided to walk away and the faith that I will once again be successful.

Four days later I was offered another position at the very same garden center that my husband works at. Albeit a little farther than I would have normally traveled, the opportunity was there and I grabbed it.

In the six months since I up and left my old job, so many profound changes have taken place in my life which proves that I may have closed one door, but the door that I opened has definitely proved to bring so many positive changes in my life!

* I have had more time to catch up with old friends and even made some new friends!

* My husband and get to work together side by side, eat lunch together and yes, we even sneak a kiss and hug in between the day!

* My youngest daughter and I have a much closer relationship now as she says, "I'm a much happier person" and I actually have the time to listen to her without having something else to do relating to work.

* In general, my life has been much happier as I am laughing more, am much more relaxed and have time to explore different creative ventures!  For example, I am writing on my blog when I have time and there's something interesting to write about. 

*  My Tranquil Acres of Alexandria facebook page recently turned 100 fans where I update my county with interesting things that are going on, and write reviews of local favorite places and life in general.

* My garden has had my attention from the day I planted the first seed and the bounty has been plentiful!

* I've been thoroughly enjoying my canning, jelly making and dehydrating and am so happy that I have the time to devote to this wonderful craft. There's something very heartwarming and satisfying when you "Can" fresh produce and fruit as well as drying herbs that you grew in your garden knowing that you'll be able to enjoy them all winter long. 

* Then there's my "Earth to Glass Canning" facebook page! I started this page on August 11th, 2012 and to date have 290 fans! To say that I am humbled by its response and liking is not describing my feelings enough.  Not only have I learned so much from my fans, but I am enjoying reading about their successes and failures when Canning or Dehydrating and realizing that maybe, just maybe I'm making a difference.

So, six months worth of positive changes has me thinking and wondering what is next and what venture will I pursue next?  I think for now, I'll enjoy my life, love my family, laugh with my friends, harvest my garden and keep canning and dehydrating until the ground is frozen..

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Pineapple Sage - The Untapped Herb

Close your eyes and think of some things that remind you of an exotic island.

Would the sweet smell of pineapple be one of the scents that reminds you of such a place? If so, then you're in luck, because you don't need to go to an island to enjoy pineapple, nor do you have to live in a zone that you can actually grow pineapples in.

Instead, you can grow Pineapple Sage also known as Salvia Elegans!  During mid spring, most nurseries will carry this untapped beautiful herb that many pass by simply because they don't know the benefits of it, nor how you can use it.

Let's review.. Pineapple Sage in NJ (Zone 6) is a tender annual, which of course means that it will not come back on its own if planted in the ground year after year.

In these parts, Pineapple Sage can grow as large as 3-4' tall by wide if not clipped or pruned.  Its leaf color is a bright green that when rubbed smells just like pineapples!

In late fall, this herb also blooms a wonderfully dark red flower that somewhat resembles a salvia or even a lobelia.

However, what do you do with Pineapple Sage as it is technically considered an herb?

Well, there are many uses that one can take advantage of.

Here's a list of what you can do with this beautiful herb:

- Garnish for a glass of ice tea or pina colada
- Use it in recipes that call for basil as a quick substitute
- Blend it in with a glass of lemonade
- Infuse it in with a baked custard
- Add into boiled rice
- Makes a perfect addition to BBQ sauces and glazes
- Add it to chicken or pork dishes

With some imagination, the possibilities are endless for Pineapple Sage! Use it in recipes that calls for a taste of the exotic pineapple.

Now for the really interesting info about Pineapple Sage! It also has some medicinal qualities to it as well!

Such as:
  • it aids in digestion
  • helps to rid heartburn
  • balances the nervous system
Recently, I filled my dehydrator up with 10 full racks of clipped Pineapple Sage and dried them for 12 hours. It always amazes me how little a dehydrated herb produces in a jar.. I often wonder how many herbs a large size McCormick herb container contains and I can definitely appreciate the cost of them now even more!

Pineapple Sage is much more than just your 'ordinary' annual, in fact, it is one of the lesser known herbs that I believe is untapped. Visit your local garden center and scour the shelves to see if they have some left as it's not too late to get them as they've not even come into their full beauty yet with the flower still to come in a couple of weeks. If they do, pick yourself up one or two, enjoy the leaves, enjoy the flower, and then bring it inside where it will last for quite sometime given full sun.

Do you have an herb that is not a regular in your herb palate that you cook with, dehydrate or use in a canning process? Feel free to share your experiences and stories on my new facebook page called,