Crazy for Containers

Last week I finally finished filling all of my containers! Yippee! It was a strange, slow tedious process. I think I have accumulated at least 35 containers in my attempt to compensate for my lack of gardening space. I began my quest by bugging friends and family for their unused gardening containers.

I would scope out abandoned containers and shamelessly inquire about them. You know, the ones that they had acquired from last year when they were gifted a weary unsuspecting hibiscus tree or that giant poinsettia, both of which to soon suffer an early demise. I often visited estate and garage sales and found great deals on these once loved treasures.

Estate Sale find total cost with plants $4.00

In the end I purchased many and bummed a few. So when the time came to fill these puppies I soon realized it could cost a pretty penny. So what does one do when they are short on cash and large on expenses? Well, honestly I had no plan. Most of my season planning surrounded my raised beds and the large half-barrel whisky containers I’d be using strictly for tomatoes and peppers. As for my smaller containers, I had not figured out what I was going to fill them with.

Being that my raised bed mix was quite expensive (it consists a 1/3 of perlite, 1/3 top soil and 1/3 good organic compost) I estimate that I  spent roughly $35.00 filling just the four whiskey barrels. This is a huge cost when we consider that I can’t use the same soil for these containers next year.

Many tomato varieties need to be rotated at least every two years to avoid tomato wilting diseases such as Verticillium or Fusarium wilt. I have been rotating mine yearly. 


It quickly became apparent that I needed a plan B potting mixture. Luckily, I stumbled across a bag of Black Gold organic potting soil on sale at my local DeRonnes True Value Hardware for just $3.50 a bag!

Choosing organic mixes with fertilizers can save time and money.

With just one 2 cu ft bag I could fill at least 4 of my medium sized containers and who knows how many of the smaller ones. Sorry… I did not keep track. I quickly grabbed as much potting soil as I could afford and stocked up! So far I am pretty satisfied with the results. These containers consist mostly of plastic pots with great drainage holes, and a few ceramic and terra cotta ones. For the plastic ones I always add a few extra holes at the bottom to assist with the drainage as you can never have too good of drainage. The other pots I just make sure they have a large enough hole at the bottom before buying as trying to drill in pottery could be damaging. For versatility I have staggered the sizes, colors and locations through-out my small yard making several nice displays. In these pots I have planted many experimental items such as; colorful purple bush beans, rainbow carrots and vibrant eggplants. I even decided to experiment with a hanging basket to see if I could get some cherry tomatoes to grow in it.

For herbs I’ve used mostly long window box type containers placing them along my patio edging and also some smaller containers, tucked in obscure places or between larger pots.


Containers have become a great way for gardeners to extend their garden space but keeping them watered properly can be challenging. They often need to be watered daily and when temperatures rise in the summer sometimes twice.

Well, thats enough for now. Time to go out and plan me a nice garden party!

Your’s Sporadically,

Top Shelf Gardener





My Seed Starting Fiasco 2016

Last season, I decided to start my plants from seeds. I purchased a variety of seeds from any place I could find them. I searched the internet for vegetables that were either too expensive to buy at my local grocer or that I’d never had before. I started my seedlings with regular garden soil in styrofoam cups, purchased some seed starting cells and, repurposed some random large mail assorting bins my fiancee had found somewhere.

I carefully wrote down everything I’d planted and used color coded toothpicks to organize everything. I watched a few tutorials and thought I had it all figured out! The results… TERRIBLE! The seedlings were long and spindly. I had a host of fungus gnats flying in my house and to make matters worst, I accidentally knocked over one of the containers while vacuuming one day. At that point I took most of the remaining seedlings and dumped them into my compost bin!

Are these seedlings or spaghetti?

It was off to my local nursery for starters that year. After all that organizing and some planning what could have possibly went wrong? Well here is a list based on my assessment.

  • I started off with the wrong medium for seedlings.

Seedlings should be started indoors with a soil free mix. These are usually labeled as seed starting mix.  The garden soil I bought because it was cheaper, did not drain well contributing to the fungus gnats and slow growth.

  • Some of the containers that were used were not suitable for seed starting.

The mail sorter was made of a cloth/cardboard material that held moisture in and the styrofoam cups were o.k but putting holes in them were a pain, not too mention easy to knock over.

  • I did not feed them any nutrients.

After they gained their first set of true leaves, I should have begun feeding them with some sort of natural nutrient such as worm casting or maybe an organic compost tea.

  • I did not thin then out.

Again, after the first set of true leaves, they should have been thinned out by snipping away the weaker seedling from each cell.

  • They were not provided with adequate light.

I relied on light from a nearby window which forced my seedlings to lean towards it in a desperate attempt to catch some rays. Most of the time a window does not provide enough energy for the young tender plants. A fluorescent light at about two inches away is what was needed for these babies. Most seedlings need at minimum 8 hours but I suggest 10-12 hours.

  • Not enough prior research was done

Yes, the internet is at our finger tips and offers a ton of information but it also offers a lot of misinformation! Comparing several techniques and trying to refer to reputable sources is the best way for success. I now include in my research, articles from my local university gardening extension which includes information tailored to my specific region. I also listen to a ton of podcasts!

  • I over watered them

Fungus gnats are a sure fire way of telling that you are using too much water. Plants and seedlings like to dry out in between waterings. This encourages deep root development which is integral for a healthy plant.

My seed starting that first year was a bit of a fiasco but I can’t say it was a complete failure. I did after all discover what is often referred to as “black tomatoes” and also Brandywine tomatoes. I was once one of those people who thought tomatoes were only red. A couple of these varieties survived the neglect and abuse and even produced some fruit.


I had no idea what these plants were all season long until they began to bare fruit. My disappointment from the entire fiasco made me just throw them in a random pot and keep it moving. But by the end of the season I had produced a few beautiful fruits!

Some sort of Brandywine. It was Delicious!

Yes, my first attempt was a disaster but since I hate failure, I spent months planning for the next season. One resource that I love the most is a podcast called “You Bet Your Garden”. Mike McGrath has over 20 years of experience and each episodes offers a wealth of knowledge. Armed with his knowledge and additional information, my 2017 attempt is currently looking like a success! I am happy to say that 99 percent of what is in my modest garden was started from seed. Taking the next step of gardening (seed starting) is not for the inexperienced or uninformed and honestly it can be somewhat costly that first year. I paid a total of 154.00 just to set up the shelf with lights and that does not include the cost of; seeds, seed starting mix, worm casting, fungus knat control ( you can almost always expect to see a few), containers etc…


In the long run it will pay off because I love not worrying about pesticides and having the ease of going out to my garden to harvest fresh vegetables for dinner!

That is all for now my fellow gardeners. Stay tuned for more on my journey as I strive to become a Top Shelf Gardener! Happy Gardening!

Climate Change Doesn’t Exist?

Its cold, rainy and I still want to go out and play! I feel like a child on punishment. I  look out into my yard, wondering, when will the sun shine again? Hoping that the weather forecast is wrong, as it often is. Wishing and dreaming of a place where I can garden and write all year long.

Rainy day equal flooded yard.

Yes, I have been away for many moons. I myself doubted that I would return. I know that being consistent to any endeavor is vital to its success, but I am one who is always changing, always moving and forever evolving! Well, thats what I tell myself. But here I sit at 5:22am with little to look forward to on my day off from the slammer (aka job) other than the cold rain and a long line down at my local Secretary of State. How did I get here?

I fell off of my wagon for many reasons; a new ever demanding full time job, kids graduating, health challenges, blah blah blah, etc etc. I guess in a sense, it was just life that kept me away. Or maybe just excuses…But any who, I am back! I can’t say for sure how long. Can’t promise if I will stay. I guess I am like that long lost lingering love that keeps coming in and out of your life. I totally understand if you decide to not let me back in. Heaven knows that I don’t deserve you. But even still, while I am here, I will attempt to be somewhat useful and moderately entertaining.

So back to the issue at hand. Weather in Michigan has always been unpredictable but now it is completely and utterly erratic. The weather people have not a clue as to what will come. They seem to be able to only predict what the weather is going to be a day in advance. Hell, even I can do that! The apps on my phone often contradict themselves. They will tell me high of 60 degrees by 12:00 and then when 12:00 arrives, it will say” oops I meant 50 degrees with snow and hail”. Pretty hard to plan accordingly under these conditions. But even still, everything must change.

I have managed to stay ahead of the game to some extent. Maybe too far ahead to be exact. This year I decided to grow all of my vegetables from seed. Last year I tried and failed for many reasons but thats a conversation for another day.

In the past, I’d start with plants purchased from my local nursery but since this is my 3rd season of vegetable gardening. I figured it was time to step my game up.I followed the directions on the seed packs as to when to start my seedlings indoors, but with climate change, I could have started some of them a little later. I started the cabbage, eggplant, tomatoes and some lettuce on the 24th of February. The broccoli, cauliflower, and more lettuce on the 3rd of March and by the 10th, I had also started chard, turnips, watermelon, collards and my favorite, peppers!

Jamaican Yellow Peppers and Chocolate Habanero Peppers

Last year I bought cabbage plants and they were not successful in my opinion. I think it was  because we basically skipped spring and went straight into summer. The poor things were finished before they started and only grew a  little larger than a baseball. From what I read, once the temp gets around 80 degrees, cabbage and broccoli both tend to bolt. That was definitely the fate of mines.

Cabbage, broccoli and chard galore!

Being that those two cold weather crops are a family favorite, I was sure to make them a top priority this season. With perfectly healthy seedlings, at the first consistent sign of warm weather ( about a week), I put out my broccoli, cabbage, collards, lettuce, turnips, chard, onions and potatoes (onions and potatoes were direct sewn of course). Although the weather was in the 60’s on the day I planted them. The next week brought on snow! I was sure that they would all be damaged but these cold weather crops are fine and are actually thriving! They laughed in the face of old man winter and are growing strong! I have been fertilizing them with fish emulsion and they are absolutely gorgeous! I am sure this year will be a success but only time will tell. I guess everything changes and we must be prepared for the unexpected. I know I was lucky so in the future, I will give myself a little more wiggle room. Transplanting my cold weather crops in early spring is best when I know that spring in my zone only lasts a minute. But I think some roll covers may be in my near future just as an extra precaution.

Thats all for now! I feel good about this. I hope you do to. I guess I missed you more than I was willing to admit! ❤



A Deck of Chard

Like most people, growing up I was not big on vegetables. My mom would force me to eat many of the things I now love as an adult. Although vegetables such as green beans, mustard, turnips, and collards were often included in our daily meals, spinach was the only one I truly loved. I think my love for spinach came from watching Popeye the Sailor Man or something.

As a child, I would grudgingly eat what was set out in front of me, but when it came to trying something different, I was always a skeptic. One day last year while visiting my mom, she introduced me to what has become my new favorite green vegetable. Good old tender delicious Chard!

It’s a wrinkly looking leafy vegetable that comes in many varieties. It doesn’t require much seasoning ( I like to saute mine in olive oil and garlic) and is pretty easy to cook. This delicious green vegetable pairs well with steaks and I even can eat it solo which is a big deal for a carnivore like myself.

This year I planted my first crop and I absolutely loved growing it! It has continued to grow all through the season while my other greens have come and gone.


Nutritionally, it is not as high in nutrients as spinach but, it is still pretty close and, for me it’s good to break up the monotony of my spinach days. To harvest, I simply cut the outside leaves and the inner leaves keep multiplying and producing!

What makes this vegetable even more outstanding, and my favorite to grow, is the fact that none of the insects or critters that invade my garden periodically like it! There is never a hole and rarely a nibble. I guess it’s just too healthy for the animals in my area.

So if you have not tried this delicious green, be sure to include it in your next seasons garden. You won’t be disappointed!

Here is my favorite sauteed recipe from Food Network. Enjoy!

Composting is Not Brain Surgery

When we moved into our new home there were a lot of things left behind by the previous owners. They were thoughtful enough to leave us instructions on how to care for the pond ( which we ended up getting rid of ), the waterproofing warranty for the basement, and my favorite thing of all, a big old compost bin!

My compost bin. Looks are deceiving.

When we first discovered the bin, we’d planned on just getting rid of it. It’s not the fanciest container and it’s dirty and kinda ugly. But when I got more into my gardening and did more research, I realized this ugly container was worth more than gold.

I must admit that I did not know anything about composting until I actually needed compost. It all started when I learned that my tomato plants were lacking in calcium. The biggest indicator was the sign of blossom rot on the bottom of some of my tomatoes.

char_calcium2_03Seeing the black bottom on some of these tomatoes was a huge shocker to me. I wondered what I was doing wrong since all of the soil was store bought.

I figured that this new soil would be full of nutrients since I’d mixed together, organic soil for gardening, manure, and top soil.

What I did not know is that I should have mixed in some of my native soil but being that this bed was a new bed, there was little available at the time so buying was my only option.

Not sure if the native soil mixing would have helped, but it definitely would have made the purchased soil a little firmer. I read that light soil is good, but I think mine may be a little too light.

When I began to do my research about the black bottomed tomatoes, I learned that this could be easily fixed by mixing egg shells and compost into the soil. I had used Miracle Grow as my fertilizer in the past, but somehow the thought of putting a blue liquid on my garden no longer seemed right.

My fiancee then reminded me of the ugly bin of compost that the previous owners had left behind. I figured why not try it since it was available and free. My only concern was rather or not they had put dog feces in it or something else not desirable. I decided to put my paranoia aside and hope that was not the case.

In the event that they did put dog poop in the bin, it had been sitting from at least the previous year so, by now it would be safe. Needless to say I mixed some of the compost with the surrounding soil around my plants and have not had a problem since.

A bountiful mixture of beautiful veggies from my garden. We love fried green tomatoes in my family!

Now I have become a composting maniac. I constantly mix in the vegetable scraps, grass clippings, leaves, eggshells and the coffee grinds I come across daily. Because the bin is a little awkward and requires some strength to mix the bottom, I have my partner turn the compost every couple of weeks with a shovel.

I do plan on investing in a better container that is better looking and easier to turn in the future, but for now, this ugly bin has become my best friend.

Please visit the below link for things you can put in your own compost bin.