Yep, that Loofah in Your Shower is a PLANT

I have to say, this was a huge shock to me. I had no idea the brown loofah from the store actually came from a plant. I thought it was engineered in a factory like everything else. Granted, the hot pink plastic ones are factory-made, but not the natural ones!

Luffa was my "grow something for fun" plant in 2019. I was really curious about this process and couldn't wait to begin. This was really a fun learning process. And aside from that- it was a success! Read more to see how this process went and why I'm adding it to my "grow every year" list.

This is a really fun plant to grow. It needs full sun and thrives in the heat. It's a climber that produces beautiful bee-loving flowers all summer long!  


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We Raised a Few Monarchs

I follow a lot of gardening instagram accounts (follow me @somewhatplannedgardening) and one consistency is a lot of gardeners raise monarchs. Being the follower that I am, I had to get on board.


I planted milkweed in the spring and honestly, by August figured the monarchs weren't able to find my house. I only had one plant and it was somewhat hidden by other overgrown things. On top of that, my plant looked scraggly and while it bloomed consistently I wasn't sure if it was 'doing well.' I resigned myself to leaving it alone and decided to plant more next year and move on.


One early September morning I was checking on something else in that garden when I spied tons of monarch caterpillars. Needless to say, I was more than excited and this is where our journey begins....


My one plant was nearly devoured by these cuties so I called a local nursery to see if they still had milkweed in stock. They did so I drove over and bought two more plants. I also bought 2 bug cages from Walmart so I had a place to put the things. (They are actually fish transport containers in the pet fish department, in case you were wondering.) After school my kids carefully helped me take all these little guys and stick them in the two containers and put the bigger ones in one and the smaller ones in another along with handfuls of milkweed.



Some of the bigger one's went into J within a day or two. Right away we had 3 chrysalids. It was pretty cool.


The caterpillar is about to change when it's antennae look wilted.
At that point, don't blink or you'll miss it! 
I had also ordered a butterfly tent from Amazon and thankfully it came just in time. The fish tank containers were just too small for all these and they need space to fly around once they emerge from the chrysalis. I read a tip to turn the tent onto it's side, giving the caterpillars more room. By doing so we "lost" the view from the clear window (which was now facing down) but giving the caterpillars more spaces as well and making it a little easier to clean was a good trade off.


We transferred all the cat's into the bigger tent in time for 4 more chrysalids to form. Only, like I said, now they would have more space.


We changed out the paper towel/poop collector daily and added more milkweed throughout the day. My tent was too small to hold an actual plant, so I had to rely on cuttings. I washed the leaves really well and patted them dry before adding to the tent. You do this with plants from a nursery because you don't know if the grower (or the nursery) sprayed with any pesticides. Once planted in your yard and the next year's growth comes out, the plant is now pesticide-free (Well, providing you don't spray with anything- which includes flea/tick stuff! Monarchs are incredibly sensitive.) 

We had many, many hot, hot days. We were setting records here in middle Tennessee so we tried our hardest to keep them out of the sunlight. This was out 'redneck' method of keeping them shaded. Cardboard is a multi-use device.

Once most of them formed their chrysalis we moved the tent to the backyard table. Mainly so we could see a little easier but it also provided a little more shade.

The beauty of the chrysalis is stunning. The perfect seafoam green with the golden details just make you want to stop and stare. And we did, many times.


But with beauty is sorrow and we lost a few of our little guys. We lost two to tachnid fly which is a fly that lays its eggs on the skin of a small caterpillar. The eggs hatch and 'live' inside the caterpillar feasting on non-essential parts until it forms it's chrysalis. Once the chrysalis is formed it eats the rest of the caterpillar and then climbs out of the chrysalis and slides down a white string. The larvae ends up on the floor of the container and starts the process all over again.

Evidence of Tachnid Fly.
The 2 holes where they emerge plus the lines dripping down from the holes.
The baby fly slides down those strings. 
If you see this, find the larvae and kill it immediately before it gets your other caterpillars

We lost one chrysalis to black death. It's when the chrysalis just dies. It turns black and the butterfly never emerges.

Black Death. The caterpillar/chrysalis just dies.
photo courtesy of google. I couldn't find the picture of my own. 

But luckily we only lost those three. The others were fine and there is nothing like watching your first butterfly emerge. It really is a memorizing experience!

The chrysalis gets really clear and you can see the black of the monarch inside. And then all of a sudden, it cracks itself open and crawls out. It;s wings gradually unfold and it hangs upside down for a few hours as they dry out.





After they flew around our tent for awhile we let them go. You cannot keep them as pets, don't even think about it. If it's a rainy or really gusty day, it's recommended to keep them in the tent until the weather clears. You can do this for us to 24 hours. Lucky for us, each day we released them was calm and beautiful.


We ended our first season with 7 males and 2 females. They all emerged at the end of September which means they are super monarchs and the ones that migrate to Mexico. I hope they all made it!

We can't wait to do this again next year!





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Sunflower Beauties

Sunflowers are a favorite among gardeners. They are simple to grow, they aren't fussy and the fun doesn't end when the bloom dies. In fact, you could say it just begins!


I bought Mammoth Sunflower Seeds and planted them directly in the ground around May 1. (That's when its warm enough in Middle Tennessee to plant.) From there they grew and grew. I actually planted mine around a bamboo teepee. They don't have to be staked though.



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Zinnia

Zinnia's are another summer favorite. They are easy to grow and bloom all summer long. With so many things dying this time of year, it's great to have a stunning flower you can rely on. 


I grew these from seed and are the Candy variety. I started the seeds in a seed tray in March. Put them in the ground in April and really didn't see any blooms until July. They are a warm weather flower, so next year I'll wait until May. One they start blooming, they don't stop!

They are also a favorite of butterflies- which is even more of a reason to grow them! Mine grew about 4 feet high, so make sure to plan for that. I actually have them in front of my nasturtium and now I can't even see it. I will fix that for next year. They also come in every color imaginable, I just have a deep pink variety this year.


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Straw Bale Update- June 2019

The straw bale garden has been doing wonderfully. Around May it really started to take off.


Rainbow Chard
I use this in salads and smoothies. It doesn't store well, so cut off when you are about to eat



Cucumbers
I had tons and tons of cucumbers! These thrived in the straw bales.


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Straw Bale Garden- Oh My Gosh, What IS That?? May 2019

I ran into a slight problem with my bales. Well, I thought it was a problem. I planted a few things and and a few days later my plants had this 'stuff' all over them. And yes, I started to panic.


Upon further inspection, this "stuff" was all over EVERYTHING.



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Homemade Weed Killer


I'm not a fan of store bought weed killer. You don't have to do much research to know that these weed killers are in fact killing more than weeds. They have been attributed to cancer, sickness and reductions in all sorts of populations- most significantly bees. 


I'll be flat out honest, I've used it. I used it in 2018 when we moved into a new house and I wanted to get rid of large patch of grass that I was turning into a garden. And yes, I mildly hated myself for it. All I could think about were those poor worms being fried to death when that evil stuff touched their sensitive skin. Ok, I don't know if that's exactly what happens, but it's what I envision to be happening. So while I did use it, I told myself I would try my hardest to never use it again.


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Winter Sowing

The dead of winter gets me stir-crazy. I'm tired of sitting around. I'm tired of being cold and I'm ready to work outside. Luckily there is something you can do for the garden in the winter- sow some seeds! I don't like to over complicate gardening so this is super simple.


Early in the year I asked friends for empty milk jugs and we got a full trash bag of them. One cool  but yet slightly warm day in February my daughter and I got to work.


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Setting Up My Bales- February 2019

I called 2019 my 'experimental' year. I tried several gardening methods and grew many different things to see what did best and where. One of my main experiments, was the Straw Bale Garden! 

I have to say, if you haven't read the book- READ THE BOOK. Get your hands on it any way you can, it will be a life saver and will answer any questions you have. Joel Karsten's Straw Bale Gardens Complete is worth it's weight. (I do not work with him or earn any commissions from recommending this book. This is a friend-to-friend recommendation.) 

Step one in Straw Bale Gardening is to get the bales. I know, shocker! Straw Bales are best, but if Hay Bales is all you can get your hands on (at a decent price) then go for it. These are actually Hay Bales. They will deteriorate quicker and you can get some hay grass sprouts, but it's not that big of a deal. My garden this year consisted of 6 bales. 


I laid mine on weed cloth to help prevent weeds from growing up through the bales. It worked great. On the flip side, my mom who lives in Georgia put hers on top of grass that wasn't growing too well, no weed block, and she had no problems.

From here you need to water them. They need to be saturated. I let good old mother nature do the job. I watched the weather report and bought these a day or two before a good rainstorm was about to hit.

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