An Unlikely Place to Find Free Seeds for Your Garden

An Unlikely Place to Find Free Seeds for Your Garden

Want free seeds for your vegetable garden? Look no farther than your kitchen.

Free seeds and starter plants for your vegetable garden happily live in your refrigerator and pantry. Plant a potato and you’ll harvest a bagful; plant a single horseradish root, and you’ll grow a field of the eye-watering spice.

Theoretically, every fruit or vegetable seed in your kitchen can germinate and deliver baby produce. But some store-bought veggies are hybrids and produce offspring that look nothing like their parents. Others are irradiated to prevent insect infestation, or sprayed with anti-sprouting chemicals to prevent spoilage, which wrecks their ability to go forth and multiply.

Your best bet is to shop for produce in an organic market. Seeds (and tuberous roots) from chemical-free produce yield plants that sprout readily and look like their folks.

Here’s a look at some kitchen leftovers you can plant this spring.

Celery: The next time you chop celery, save the crown (the bottom), place it in a shallow bowl of water until the center leaves turn green and sprout, then transplant it into your garden. Or, just plant the crown straight from crisper into garden, keeping the top of the crown at soil level. Not only is celery a yummy vegetable, it attracts beneficial insects that keep unwanted bugs at bay.

Garlic: Separate cloves and plant the largest ones pointy-side up, under about 2 inches of rich, well-drained soil. Plant garlic around roses to reduce black spot and sooty mold.

Poppies: For a brilliant floral display, shake poppy seeds directly from the container onto well-drained soil. Lightly press into the ground and cover with a dusting of soil. Thin seedlings to about 10 inches apart.

Horseradish: In the fall, plant the tuberous horseradish roots horizontally under 2 inches of soil that’s been well-worked with compost. The plant is invasive and spreads quickly, so plant at the end of garden rows or in areas where they have room to wander. Harvest with a pitchfork in late fall.

Ginger: Select a plump ginger rhizome with many small, growing buds. Plant just under rich soil in a spot with filtered sunlight and wind protection. Avoid planting in low-lying areas, or in spots with poor drainage.

Sesame: These seeds grow into flowering plants that are resistant to heat, drought, and pests. Press seeds 1 inch into well-draining soil. Water lightly for 3-5 days after planting, then as needed. Be sure not to overwater, because sesame plants do not like to sit in wet soil. Harvest in about 150 days after seed pods open and seeds are thoroughly dry.

Beans and peas: It’s easy-peasy to plant any dried bean or pea. Just push the seed under 1-2 inches of loose, rich soil in a location that gets at least 6 hours of sun each day. If your soil is hard clay, grow beans and peas in a container.

Potatoes: If you’ve ever kept a potato too long in a bowl, you’ve seen the plants begin to sprout. Place the potato in a 10-inch-deep hole, and cover with rich soil. As the plant grows, continue to mound soil around its stem. Harvest potatoes in late fall.

Tomatoes: If you love heirloom tomatoes, cut them in half to scrape out their seeds. “Ferment” seeds in a glass jar with about a cup of water for 2-4 days. When a foamy mold appears, rinse and dry seeds on a paper plate. Start tomato plants indoors in containers, then transplant to a garden spot with full sun.


By: Lisa Kaplan Gordon:© Copyright 2015 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®

How to Create the Garage Workshop of Your Dreams

How to Create the Garage Workshop of Your Dreams

A weekend and a few hundred bucks can unleash your inner craftsman.

Garages often harbor a not-so-secret second life: heroic home workshop. They’re well-suited to the task, with a tolerance for the noise and dust of do-it-yourself projects.

But if a garage workshop isn’t comfortable and convenient to use, you’ll avoid projects rather than enjoy them. Here are the essentials:

  • Adequate work space. Ideally, you’ll need room to work even when your cars are parked inside. Figure a minimum area of 10 ft. long and 6 ft. deep.
  • Appropriate storage. Places for tools and supplies are mandatory — the top of your work surface doesn’t count!
  • Excellent lighting. Both task and ambient lighting help keep you safe and projects mistake-free.
  • Durable surfaces. Pound away on your work surface — it can take it.
  • Easy-to-clean environment.

You can assemble a basic workbench, cabinets, shelving, and add simple overhead lighting for less than $500. At the other end of the spectrum, there’s no end; you can spend tens of thousands of dollars creating an ultimate garage shop showplace.

Your Workbench — Heart and Soul of DIY

Your primary work surface should be a rock-solid bench with a hard and heavy top. Buy or build the best you can manage. (Then vow to keep the top clear — tools and materials have a way of eating up workbench space).

Premade workbenches run $100 to $500 and come in many lengths; they’re usually 24 inches deep. A 38-inch height is typical, but you might be more comfortable with a work surface as low as 36 or as high as 42 inches. Some benches include vises, drawers, and shelves.

Build one yourself using readily available plans. A simple, sturdy workbench takes less than a day to build and materials cost less than $100. The Family Handyman magazine offers detailed instructions for several, including an inexpensive, simple bench. Amore complex bench with a miter saw stand and drawers costs $300-$500 to build and takes a weekend.

The Right Bright Light

Garage work surfaces need bright ambient light and strong task lighting.

  • High-intensity lights (halogen, LEDs, and others) are great for over-bench task lighting. An LED task light with a flexible goose-neck ($75-$150) puts light where you need it.
  • If your garage has a finished ceiling, recessed fixtures (can lights) are inexpensive ($10-$20) and are good for task and ambient lighting.
  • Ceiling-mounted fluorescent light fixtures are the classic, low-cost solution for workshop lighting. A two- or four-bulb, 48-inch fluorescent fixture costs less than $50.

When shopping for workshop lighting, think lumens rather than watts. A lumen is a measure of lighting brightness, and is a handy way to compare today’s new energy-efficient light bulbs. Lighting fixtures and bulbs have labels that indicate lumens per device. A general rule of thumb is to use 130 to 150 lumens per square foot of work space.

For example, a 40-watt fluorescent bulb puts out about 2,200 lumens. A 60-watt incandescent bulb puts out about 800 lumens.

Adding Adequate Electrical Power

Along with your new lights, be sure your garage workshop has adequate electrical service — outlets and capacity — to accommodate your arsenal of power tools. Place outlets nearby; don’t depend on extension cords stretched across your garage — they can be a tripping hazard. If you don’t have 30-amp circuits on your garage service, talk with an electrical contractor about making this simple upgrade.

Ballpark $75-$100 an hour for an electrical contractor, plus a probable service-call fee of $50 to $100. Rates will vary across regions of the country.

Good electricians work quickly, so installing shop lights might take only an hour or two if access to electrical service is readily available. Increasing circuit capacity generally requires running new, heavier-gauge wire from your circuit-breaker box to the shop site.

Storage: Everything in Its Place

Don’t make yourself rummage through old coffee cans full of rattling bolts and bits: Visit home improvement centers for garage storage ideas and products.

Modular, wall-mounted garage storage systems let you configure shelves, bins, and hooks the way you need. Cost is about $10 per sq. ft. of wall space.

Plastic bins and hefty tubs protect tools, sandpaper, and tool manuals from insects, rodents, and dust. A 10-gallon plastic tub with lid is $5-$8.

Old kitchen cabinets, available where salvaged building materials are sold, are a great way to add storage — and a homemade workbench. Salvaged cabinets are about 50-75% cheaper than new. Top a run of cabinets with ¾-inch plywood for a durable work surface.



By: Larry Erickson:© Copyright 2015 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®

How to Prevent Weeds from Ever Sprouting

How to Prevent Weeds from Ever Sprouting

When it comes to weeds in your garden, an hour of prevention is better than a season of yanking.

Unlike seeds and plants you buy from catalogs and nurseries, indigenous common weeds are naturally suited to the sun, soil, and water conditions of your garden. That’s why it’s so hard to get rid of weeds after they’ve taken root.

But if you prevent weed seeds from germinating, your garden will be weed-free. Here are some surefire ways to keep weeds from growing in the first place.

Shhh! Don’t Disturb the Soil

Weed seeds “sleep” in your soil all the time, just waiting for sunshine to enable them to germinate. Left underground, many weed seeds remain dormant for years. So the less you disturb the soil, the more likely weed seeds will remain asleep.

Avoid high-powered tillers, and go easy on the hand cultivating. Sow your flower and vegetable seeds above the ground in mounds of compost, shredded leaves, or even in bags of topsoil. Better yet, plant seedlings and starts.

Smother Weed Seeds

Another way to keep seeds asleep is to cover your soil with sun-blocking organic or synthetic mulches.

Organic mulches — hardwood mulch, newspaper, cardboard, straw — degrade in a few months and improve soil structure and add nutrients. Synthetic mulches — landscaping paper, plastic — can last several seasons, but won’t help rebuild soil when they eventually degrade.

Heed these mulching tips:

  • Wet the ground before you lay down layers of paper, which will prevent the paper from blowing away while you work.
  • Scout yard sales for old carpet and wallpaper, efficient sun blocks that prevent weeds.
  • Spread mulch 2 to 4 inches deep to suppress weeds and retain moisture.
  • Always pick straw, not hay, to prevent weeds. Hay usually contains hayseeds, which will sprout where you’re trying to keep weeds out.

Learn more about mulching with our handy garden mulch guide.

Wage a Chemical Attack

Pre-emergent herbicides prevent weed seeds from germinating, but don’t kill existing plants and grasses.

The exact timing for applying a pre-emergent herbicide is hard to pinpoint because you must spread the herbicide before seeds germinate, which happens underground at different times.

Conventional gardening wisdom says spread pre-emergent herbicides when the daffodils pop or the forsythia wilts. But advance planning is the best way to determine when to spread. Log the date when you see the first weeds in your garden, then subtract three weeks to arrive at the date you should spread the pre-emergent herbicide next spring.

Grow Up Close and Personal

The closer together you plant your flowers and vegetables, the less space weed seeds will have to grow.

If you double-dig — loosen (don’t pulverize) soil at least 2 feet down — you can plant cheek-by-jowl, because plant roots can grow down, not out, to find water and nourishment. If you plant intensively in a diamond-shaped pattern — rather than rows — you’ll avoid barren spots where weeds will grow.

To keep weeds out of lawns, make sure your grass is lush and healthy so weeds have no room to grow. Reseed bald patches; fertilize if a soil test determines nutrient deficiencies; aerate in the fall.



By: Lisa Kaplan Gordon:© Copyright 2015 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®


Plant These Fun Veggies Your Kids Will Love to Eat

Plant These Fun Veggies Your Kids Will Love to Eat

Win the eternal battle between kids and veggies by letting your little ones plant these child-friendly varieties in your garden. The more invested they are in the growing process, the more they’ll want to eat the fruits (and veggies!) of their labor.

Heirlooms: Heirloom (non-hybrid) veggies can grow in surprising colors and wacky shapes. Try:

  • Chocolate peppers
  • Watermelon radishes
  • Italian rose beans

As an added bonus: Heirloom plants and seeds can trace their ancestry back hundreds of years, so you can slip in some history while you’re planting with your kids.

Popcorn: Your kids can grow their own popcorn — specialty kernels with tough hulls and starchy centers that produce the pop! when heated. Japanese White hull-less and Robust Yellow hybrid are popular varieties.

Grow in full sun and keep well-watered.

Leafy greens: Greens provide almost instant gratification for kids. Little hands can scatter lettuce seeds anywhere and see tiny sprouts in about a week. In a month, help them cut the tops for a salad. In hot weather, the plants will bolt (kids will love how they suddenly shoot up), flower, and go to seed, which kids can harvest for planting next year.

Pick mild, sweet varieties, such as iceberg, which are more likely to appeal to youngsters.

For some extra fun, plant leafy greens in an old wheelbarrow or unused wading pool that’s reserved as a garden space just for kids.

Climbing peas: Kids will enjoy watching these vines climb up trellises. Some popular pea seeds:

  • Super Sugar Snap
  • China Snow
  • Mammoth Melting Sugar

Plant in full sun as soon as the soil has thawed.

Cherry tomatoes: Kids will gladly pop these sweet mini-tomatoes into their mouths straight from the vine.

  • Sweet 100 and Matt’s Wild Cherry are particularly yummy and sweet.
  • Sungold produces a golden-orange fruit.
  • Snow White is a pale yellow, almost white.
  • Jolly Elf is oblong with sweet, red fruits.

Be prepared to stake or cage the plants, because they can grow 8 feet tall. And throw on some mulch so they don’t dry out.

Growing tomatoes can be tricky, so check out this helpful article, How to Grow Your Best Tomatoes Ever.

Pumpkins: What kid doesn’t love a pumpkin? Large seeds are easy for kids to plant in little hills surrounded by plenty of open growing space: a single vine can stretch 30 feet.

  • Connecticut Field is the traditional jack-o’-lantern pumpkin.
  • Rouge Vif d’Etampes is the Cinderella coach pumpkin.
  • Musquee de Provence is a flavorful, deep-brown pumpkin with orange flesh.
  • Cucurbita maxima is the giant pumpkin that can top 500 pounds.

Even if you can’t get your kids to eat roasted pumpkin, they’ll love the toasted and salted pumpkin seeds. Warning: never throw pumpkin pulp down the drain; it can wreck your disposal.

Potatoes: If your kids like treasure hunts, they’ll love to grow potatoes they can search for in late fall. As foliage grows, continue to add soil around the stems. Then, when the green parts die, let the kids get down and dirty digging up the spuds.

Pizza fixings: Kids can grow oregano, basil, and thyme to spice up their pizzas.

  • Basil likes hot weather and well-drained soil.
  • Oregano self-seeds, so thin plants annually.
  • Thyme seeds are hard to germinate, so avoid frustration and plant seedlings.

Want more veggie gardening tips?

You can find free seeds for your veggie garden right in your own kitchen.

Veggie gardening newbies will want to avoid making these rookie gardening mistakes.



By: Lisa Kaplan Gordon:© Copyright 2015 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®


How to Keep Your House Cool Without AC

How to Keep Your House Cool Without AC

You don’t have to switch on the air conditioner to get a big chill this summer. These tips will help you keep your house cool without AC, which will save energy (and avoid AC wars with your family).

Block that Sun!

When sunlight enters your house, it turns into heat. You’ll keep your house cooler if you reduce solar heat gain by keeping sunlight out.

  • Close the drapes: Line them with light-colored fabric that reflects the sun, and close them during the hottest part of the day. Let them pillow onto the floor to block air movement.
  • Add awnings: Install them on south- and west-facing windows to reduce solar heat gain by up to 77%, says the U.S. Department of Energy. Make your own by tacking up sheets outside your windows and draping the ends over a railing or lawn chair.
  • Install shutters: Interior and exterior shutters not only reduce heat gain and loss, but they also add security and protect against bad weather. Interior shutters with adjustable slats let you control how much sun you let in.
  • Apply high-reflectivity window film: Install energy-saving window films on east- and west-facing windows, which will keep you cool in summer, but let in warming sun in the winter. Mirror-like films are more effective than colored transparent films.

Here’s more information about energy-efficient window coverings.

Open Those Windows

Be sure to open windows when the outside temperature is lower than the inside. Cool air helps lower the temps of everything — walls, floors, furniture — that will absorb heat as temps rise, helping inside air say cooler longer.

To create cross-ventilation, open windows on opposite sides of the house. Good ventilation helps reduce VOCs and prevents mold.

Fire Up Fans

  • Portable fans: At night, place fans in open windows to move cool air. In the day, put fans where you feel their cooling breezes (moving air evaporates perspiration and lowers your body temperature). To get extra cool, place glasses or bowls of ice water in front of fans, which will chill the moving air.
  • Ceiling fans: For maximum cooling effect, make sure ceiling fans spin in the direction that pushes air down, rather than sucks it up. Be sure to turn off fans when you’re not in the room, because fan motors give off heat, too.
  • Whole house fans: A whole-house fan ($1,000 to $1,600, including install) exhausts hot inside air out through roof vents. Make sure your windows are open when you run a whole-house fan.

Power Down Appliances

You’ll save money and reduce heat output by turning off appliances you’re not using, particularly your computer and television. Powering down multiple appliances is easier if you connect them to the same power strip.

Don’t use heat- and steam-generating appliances — ranges, ovens, washers, dryers — during the hottest part of the day. In fact, take advantage of the heat by drying clothes outside on a line.

Plant Trees and Vines

These green house-coolers shade your home’s exterior and keep sunlight out of windows. Plant them by west-facing walls, where the sun is strongest.

Deciduous trees, which leaf out in spring and drop leaves in fall, are best because they provide shade in summer, then let in sun when temperatures drop in autumn. Select trees that are native to your area, which have a better chance of surviving. When planting, determine the height, canopy width, and root spread of the mature tree and plant accordingly.

Climbing vines, such as ivy and Virginia creeper, also are good outside insulators. To prevent vine rootlets or tendrils from compromising your siding, grow them on trellises or wires about 6 inches away from the house.

Speaking of shade, here are smart, inexpensive ideas for shading your patio.

Want more tips for staying cool this summer? Substitute CFL and LED bulbs for hotter incandescent lights.

Also, try insulating your garage door to prevent heat buildup.



By: Lisa Kaplan Gordon:© Copyright 2015 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®