Simply Grateful Gardener

Gardening To Fill The Pantry!


Early Blight – The Continuing Saga of ‘How The Tomato Grows!’

This morning as I examined my tomato plants for any damage during last nights storm I found the beginnings of what appears to be Early Blight. I dealt with this last year on nearly every one of my tomato plants and ended up cutting so many of the leaves away that the tomatoes got sun scald.


This year I was hoping to avoid this problem by moving the tomato garden to the opposite side of the house. No such luck.


The good news: I caught it early. It appears that the only plants affected right now are the pear tomato plants. The only plants already having a hard time keeping their leaves healthy. I swear, these little buggers (pear tomatoes) are so temperamental. I can’t catch a break with them. First, they are the only plants with the leaf curl, which has pretty much spread to every pear tomato plant regardless of where they are in the yard. Next, they are growing so tall that I don’t have cages or stakes tall enough for them. (My research, which I did just today, tells me they can grow as tall as 12 feet. Who’s going to get a ladder to pick those puppies?) And finally, they are now coming down with blight.


Yet I have to say the one good thing about all this is at least I know these plants are not GMO.  If they were they certainly wouldn’t be having all these problems. Hubby says if I can beat all the stuff going against us with the pear tomatoes and actually get a good harvest this year, maybe next year we’ll have enough know-how to grow a healthy garden full of them — enough to sell at the local market. Being so difficult to grow they would fetch a hefty price. At the moment though it sounds like a whole lot more work than I’m up for.

As for the blight, it is a highly contagious fungi that could easily spread to all the neighboring tomatoes. To overt this, I immediately mixed up a batch of baking soda and water and sprayed each and every tomato plant. I soaked the top and bottom leaves and was sure to get the trunk all the way to the ground. This needs to be done once a week and after every rain.


When making the baking soda and water spray I used 1 tablespoon of baking soda for every gallon of water. This should work well for the above 80 degree weather we’ve been having and are predicted to continue having throughout the next 15 days. If it were cooler I could use a higher concentration of baking soda, 2 tablespoons for every gallon, but if I were to use that now I’d risk burning the leaves.


Before spraying the plants I inspected each plant closely and removed all infected leaves. There were only six stems on five plants (all pear tomato) that had to be removed and put in the compost bin for the trash man.

I’m not sure exactly why the plants are getting Early Blight, but one cause could be watering at night. The best time to water tomato plants is in the morning so they have the entire day to dry out. I have been doing this, but there have been a few times when I didn’t get out there until evening. From now on I will be sure to water in the morning or at the very least if I have to water at night only water the base of the plants with the watering can so as to not get the leaves wet.


So the tomato plant saga continues. Every day brings something new to deal with. So far my spirits are still fairly optimistic, but honestly the pear tomato plants are really wearing me down. What is so disheartening is I read on the internet today that these plants are known for the high production. They have been known to regularly produce between 100 and 200 tomatoes per plant. I seriously doubt my plants are going to reach even half that. There are probably about 20 – 30 tomatoes on the healthiest plants and only flowers or a handful of tomatoes on the plants worst hit by the leaf curl. I keep thinking…what could have been.

Oh well, can’t worry about that now. What’s important is to keep the tomato plants as healthy as I can for as long as possible. The pear tomatoes were only supposed to be for fun and eating. I’ve got to stay positive if I want to be — Simply Grateful.



Tomato Plant Woes – Splitting Down The Middle

Just when I thought it was safe to go back into the garden…

Last night before calling it a night I headed out to the garden to see if any plants needed a drink, some pruning, or a bit of a pep talk. It had been hot and humid, well above 90 degrees, and sunny most of the day. Having been such a hot one, Hubby and I hid out in the house catching up on anything we could find to do that didn’t require leaving the comfort of our air conditioning. Being on the inside looking out all day, the day seemed calm, almost tranquil, an illusion that would soon be set to right.

As I rounded the corner of the house and peered at my tomato garden the first thing I noticed was one of the yellow pear tomato plants that was planted right next to the house on the ground. What was strange about that, other than tomato plants don’t typically lay flat on the ground, was that the cage surrounding the plant as well as the 4-foot plant stake the tomato plant had been clipped to were on the ground too. The cage and stake had been pulled completely out of the ground.

Panic set in as I ran to the plant to survey the damage. Thankfully the stem had not broken. In fact, other than it being on the ground rather than standing its full height of more than 4 feet, it was perfect. As I picked up the cage, plant and stake and began positioning them back in place and in the ground I began to wonder how this could have happened. My first thought was that some neighborhood kids had decided to vandalize my garden. Not that this sort of thing happens often, but things do happen on occasion. I hated to place blame or even think such a thing, but it did not seem possible that wind could cause something like this.

Once the plant was securely in place I returned to surveying the remainder of the tomato plants. Looking into the garden that holds 33 of my plants I noticed one of the plants looked odd. The plant closest to the end against the house had been nearly 5 feet tall, and now I looked as if it weren’t there at all.


Closer inspection revealed that this plant was split completely in two.

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Now I was really mad. Had some kids thrown a basketball into the garden and taken out one of my two cherry tomato plants? Had some dog chased a rabbit into my yard and barreled through the garden in so doing? What was going on?

I was devastated. The plant was full of huge cherry tomatoes, some even on the brink of turning red. There had to be more than 50 tomatoes on this plant. It was full of lush thick leaves that seemed to multiply daily even though I pruned them constantly.  There were branches full of flowers and the beginnings of yet more tomatoes. I’m not exaggerating when I say this one plant would have no doubt yielded more than 100 tomatoes on its own.

Standing there, heart-broken, I bent over and grabbed one half of the plant. Carefully I lifted it, noticing immediately how heavy it was. Gingerly placing it back on the ground I lifted the other half. This half was even heavier. The wheels in my head began to turn.

Standing back up I examined the area where the plant had stood. There was a sturdy 4-foot garden stake still standing with the plant clip attached. Reality was beginning to set in.

This wasn’t the work of some feisty neighborhood kid or rambunctious dog on the rampage, no this was far more serious. This was something that would surely threaten every tomato plant in my garden if I didn’t take action.

What was the cause of the first tomato plant falling to the ground and this tomato plant split?

Too much bounty!

Honestly, with all the difficulties I have had this summer with my tomato plants, having TOO much fruit was one problem I never thought I’d have to deal with. The heat and humidity have caused the tomato plants and their constantly multiplying tiny tomatoes to grow faster and larger than their stems and trunks can handle.

Looking closer at the other plants in the garden I noticed branch after branch laden with tomatoes bending close to breakage toward the ground. Even though every plant had been staked and most had cages around them as well, they were far too big and heavy for their own good.

Back to my split tomato plant though.


Before I could address the rest of the garden, I needed to fix or at least try to fix this cherry tomato plant.

Tomato plants are very resilient and even when struggling against blight, sun scald, leaf curl, or any of the other countless things that can go wrong when growing tomatoes, they somehow overcome. Branches or even the trunk of the plant splitting is no exception.

My first task was to set the trunk back together as best I could so it could heal. I didn’t have anything to treat the wound with, to protect it against pests, so I set the sides as close together as I could and used additional plant stakes and clips to set it in place. It took four heavy-duty stakes and seven clips to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again, but in the end I think it looks pretty good.

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With this plant now secure and off the ground I set to work on the rest of the garden. I added additional stakes to every plant, some even two or three, and placed clips to secure branches and trunks as far down as I could. Here are just a few of the other plants with the additional supports:

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This morning when I checked the split cherry tomato plant I was thrilled that it was doing fine. I had expected it to be withered and the leaves and branches to be drooping toward the ground. Surprisingly it was fine. The leaves were fresh, the branches stiff, and none of the tiny tomatoes had fallen off.

Last year my plants were heavily laden with fruit as well, but it was later in the season and the trunks and branches were developed enough to withstand the weight. This year the plants need to do a little catching up, although already many of the plants are more than 5 feet tall.

Hubby suggested I thin the tomatoes a bit, something about “too much of a good thing.” I don’t have the heart. It’s been a long road to get the plants where they are and I’m going to do whatever it takes to harvest each and every one of the tomatoes. I think they’ve endured enough and deserve the opportunity to thrive the best they can, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.



Tomato Leaf Curl Epiphany

So in order to try to help resolve the tomato leaf curl situation in the garden, I ended up investing in a moisture meter.


I say “investing” but it only cost about $6 from Wal-Mart.  This little gizmo is obviously at the low-end of the spectrum on moisture meters, but I figured for a start it would be fine.

When I took it out of the package I immediately started testing it on the house plants. Everything came out on the dry side. I watered and measured the moisture again and this time the level was right in the middle. Perfect.

Heading outside I started with the tomatoes planted in the big garden. We’d had rain the night before so I figured there should be some reading. I was right. It was right in the middle.

Then to the side of the house where the tomatoes are planted in small boxes with either mulch or rock around them as well as a planter top marking the base of the plant and giving me a guide for watering. These too showed they were moist enough.

The meter is right in the middle, where it should be.

The meter is right in the middle, where it should be.

On further inspection though I noticed that the planter tops that were around the bases of the three plants with severe leaf curl were smaller. This meant that when I watered them, they would not get as much water as the other plants. Could this be why these are pretty much the only plants in the ground that are affected?

Small planter top.

Small planter top.

Larger planter top.

Larger planter top.

I tested my theory last night when the moisture meter indicated the plants were dry enough for watering. When I watered the three plants with the smaller planter tops, I watered them twice, filling the space around the roots twice with water.

When I went out to the tomatoes this evening, 24 hours later, already some of the curly leaves are uncurling!

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Success!? Well, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in gardening — Don’t get too excited. Who knows if what I did made a difference. It could be the actual rain we got a few nights ago, it could be that the weather has been cooler, or what I’m really hoping for — it was me watering them twice.

Well, after noting that the tomatoes on the side of the house seemed to be doing slightly better, I headed to the tomatoes planted in pots. These too have been fighting the leaf curl a lot more than the plants planted directly in the ground. With these I have been sure to water them until the water flows from the bottom of the pots. When I checked for worsening leaf curl, there was none. In fact they too seemed to be improving.

The evidence seems to support the fact that I have been under-watering, so I am going to continue watering more and using my moisture meter to gauge when I should be watering. Just looking at the soil is deceiving. This pot here looks like it’s bone dry and yet when I put the meter in the soil it comes out right in the middle. I won’t water now until tomorrow.

See how the dirt looks completely dry?

See how the dirt looks completely dry?

But when the moisture meter is inserted, it's moist.

But when the moisture meter is inserted, it’s moist.

I’m not sure if anything has been resolved, but it does seem like I’m getting closer to a solution/cause for the tomato leaf curl in my garden, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.


The Beginning of July and All’s Well in the Garden

Although I am still struggling with tomato leaf curl on several of my plants, for the most part, the garden is doing well for the beginning of July.


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There are six different types of peppers planted in the garden: Anaheim, Jalapeno, Sweet Banana, Yellow Bell, Romanian Bell, and Pablano. Of these only the sweet banana and Romanian actually have peppers. The remaining are full of flowers and continuing to grow.

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This being my first year growing zucchini, I’m very happy with the results. I think that perhaps I should have given the plants more space as they are taking over the radishes, beets, and even sneaking into the peppers. Next year I’ll know better.

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The rest of the garden:


The beets are getting big and will probably be ready for harvest soon. I’m not too optomistic, as they seem to be small. I’m not sure the ground is soft enough for them to grow.



The cucumbers are finally big enough to climb the a-frame and there are tons of flowers already. Without many bees around though I’m not sure how many cucumbers we’ll get this year. I might be out there pollinating the flowers myself.

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The second planting of radishes are doing well and will probably be ready for picking in a week or two.



The peas continue to flourish and I’ve picked three times now and the flowers are still coming.


Overall everything seems to be on schedule so barring anything catastrophic, hopefully by late July we’ll be getting some pretty bountiful harvests, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.


Tomato Leaf Curl Quandary

Growing up my father could grow tomato plants without so much as a thought. He’d put the plants he’d bought at the local greenhouse in the ground and several months later he’d have tons of beautiful red tomatoes. Occasionally he’d weed, once in a while he’d water, and on the rarest of occasion he’d prune, but for the most part it was ‘Plant It and Forget It.’

Is that the trick? Is that what it takes to grow beautiful, hearty tomato plants? Please, somebody tell me because from Day 1 I have been struggling to keep my tomato plants alive. I’ve failed miserably, picked up the pieces, started over, and stumbled my way to nearly making it and finally when I thought the hard part was behind me, I wake up one morning and find my plants looking like this:


Research has told me that this is tomato leaf curl. Of the three culprits (disease, herbicides, or environmental) the only one that fit my location and situation is environmental. Of course, this particular diagnosis doesn’t really help because the leaves are curling either because they are getting too much water or too little. This might sound easy enough to determine which one it is, but not really.

The weather here in Michigan has been utterly terrible for a would-be hands-off gardener. Although we have had tons of sun and warmth, there has been little to no rain for over a month. This means watering is my job. Now I watered my tomato plants last year and didn’t really have any issues. At least once or twice a week it would rain, and I’d just fill in by watering every once in a while. Now all the watering is up to me.

What makes this situation even more confusing is that not every plant is affected. In the main garden one or two plants have just mild curl.

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On the side of the house there are 8 plants and 3 of them are so curled that it is hard to tell that they are even tomato plants at all.

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Other plants that are planted in pots are hit or miss. Some of these are curling, some are fine.

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To determine if I was over or under watering I read up on what is the best way to water tomato plants. According to my research if tomatoes are in pots, it is best to completely soak the soil. Watering until the water comes out the bottom of the pot and then waiting until the soil is dry about an inch down before watering again is suggested.

As for ground planted tomatoes, heavy, thorough soaking is best. If moderate or light watering is done daily or every other day, the roots will not grow deeply. Watering heavy 1 -3 times a week is better than watering light 5 -6 days.

So what had I been doing? I was watering everything light to moderately about 4 – 6 times a week. The rest of the plants in the gardens are doing well, just the tomatoes seem to be struggling.

To test the theory that heavy watering would be best I watered the ground tomatoes super heavy three days ago and have left them alone in the 90 degree, sunny weather since. Upon checking them this morning they seem to be doing okay. They aren’t any worse, which to me is success. The three plants that were severely affected by the leaf curl seem to be improving just a little, but I’m not sure if it’s just wishful thinking.

The potted plants I watered heavily and left them until the pots dried up enough so when I put my finger into the soil an inch down it was no longer wet. They have not gotten worse, but I don’t see much improvement either.

So will my plants survive? Who really knows.

Many of the plants have tiny tomatoes and most of them have flowers (less the three with severe leaf curl that are beyond recognition). Without any help from Mother Nature to feed the garden as only she can I’m struggling. Last year and the three years prior to that I never gave much thought to how I should water the garden. It rained, I watered when it didn’t, and the garden grew. Now, with no rain and all the watering left solely up to an amateur gardener, the garden might just fail miserably.

Gardening is not easy, I know that. Last year I dealt with slugs, cucumber beetles, Japanese beetles, early blight, and cabbage moths. All of these however were fairly easy fixes. Sure it took time and a little science and/or luck, but the 2015 garden was pretty much a success. I’m going to keep plugging away, watering, not watering, feeding, not feeding, until the last. I figure the worst that can happen is the tomato plants don’t survive and I have to get our tomatoes from the local farmers. Worse things have happened, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.


Saving Plants That Have Suffered Sun Scald

Consistent! I am nothing if not consistent and when it comes to my gardening this year — well, let’s just say I really need to change things up a bit!

For years I thought I had a black thumb when it came to any type of plants – house, garden, or even artificial. Hubby always joked that I could kill silk flowers, but in all honesty, he wasn’t too far off. Then a few years ago I made a real effort to grow a few tomato plants and possibly actually have a few for the family to eat. Well, that first year was tough, but by the second year I felt I was getting the hang of it and by the third year — that was last year and boy did the bounty come in. Over 1,000 peppers, 200+ cucumbers, tons of root vegetables, more beans than we could eat, and so many tomatoes that I actually had a few people who were driving who saw my plants weighted down with fruit stop by to ask me how I did it. Boy did this fluff up the old tail.

Conceit has got to be one of the seven deadly sins, and if it isn’t, well it ought to be. When I set out to start my seedlings this past spring I jumped in without giving it so much as a thought. I figured I’d done it before, so now I must be an expert, right? WRONG!

Everything and anything that could go wrong this year, has and it isn’t a matter of the weather not cooperating, my seeds not being fresh, the soil having lack of nutrients — no, it’s just me. I forgot that gardening isn’t easy. Gardening takes time, patience, attentiveness, and mostly knowledge. If you bounce around haphazardly, thinking you know everything when the truth of the matter is that you know so much about things that just aren’t so, things are going to get screwed up and screwed up fast.

This is exactly what has happened this year. I keep rushing around as if my garden has got to be done yesterday and because of this I have rushed my plants to near extinction. Even after replanting my tomatoes and vowing to slow down and learn from my mistakes, I am still killing them at every turn.

My latest fiasco was planting them outside. Did you know that you are supposed to “harden” seedlings off that are grown indoors prior to planting them outside? Well, I did, but that certainly didn’t stop me from just grabbing a tray of plants and putting them right in the ground. Can you guess what happened? Right, they began to die. Big surprise!

So, I tried to remedy my error and put my wonderful milk cartons to work. I knew to put them over the plants at night until they got accustomed to the varying temperatures, but forgot that the sun and wind would wreak havoc on them during the day. Guess what that led to? Yep, sun scald and breakage. Things just keep getting better.

To make matters even worse, I got so excited when the garden expansion was finally done and the soil looked so inviting, that I began planting my pepper plants outside. Do you think I hardened them off, learning from my tomato mistake? NO! Why would I do a silly thing like that. Can you guess what happened? Exactly! They too got sun scald and wind damage.

I swear, I am really beginning to think I should just hang up my garden gloves for the year, leave this gardening thing to the professionals and begin planning my trips to the farmer’s markets. At this point I don’t think I even deserve for my plants to live, that would truly teach me a lesson, wouldn’t it? Probably not. This dog is definitely too old to learn new tricks.

My problem is that I need to find a solution to my problem to recoup my losses and prove to myself that I am not a total failure. Googling sun scald and wind damage I found that really there is no fix for this other than luck. Some plants will recover, while other may not. This was not what I wanted to hear. I have never believed that there isn’t some solution to every problem. Even the most dire circumstances have to have a silver lining. I really can’t believe that I am being this optimistic at this point, but what the heck I’ve got absolutely nothing left to lose.

Staring out into the garden, with the sun beating down on my helpless little pepper plants, knowing that they will have at least 10 hours of full sun, I came to the realization I had two options. One, I can dig up every last plant, put them back in their little pots, hope they don’t die from the shock, allow them to recoup in the greenhouse for a week or so, and then harden them off like I was supposed to in the first place before replanting them back in the garden; or, I can find some way to protect these guys while they are still in the ground until they become acclimated to their new environment and do my best to nurse them back to health. Being the impatient sort I couldn’t see myself uprooting all those plants and trying to save them that way. No, there had to be a way to protect them.

Looking at all my wonderful milk cartons it came to me. Every plant in the garden has a stake. These stakes serve two very important purposes. One, they will help support the main stem of the plants as they grow throughout the summer (keeping my fingers crossed this happens this year) and two they hold the milk cartons in place when I cover the plants at night.  Well, maybe I could somehow use the milk cartons and stakes together to shelter the plants from the sun and wind during the day. Leaving the milk cartons over the plants all day would surely kill them. Although there is a hole at the top where air can escape, the heat of the sun would probably bake the plants and suffocate them. There had to be some way of suspending the milk cartons over the plants so air could circulate around them yet shade them from the harsh sun and gusting wind.

My solution: A simple clothespin!

By clipping a clothespin to the stake about a foot off the ground (a little more or less depending on how tall the plants were) and then sliding the milk carton back on the stake suspended the carton above the plant leaving enough space for the plants to breath and give them a fighting chance at becoming acclimated to their new home.

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Although the theory behind my idea seemed sound, it is definitely not foolproof. I have to go out several times a day to adjust the clothespins and cartons so the sun that is moving overhead doesn’t find it’s way to the tender leaves. This being said, I didn’t realize this the first day, so a few more leaves got scalded. Quite a few plants however have managed to avoid scalding altogether. Perhaps there is a little light at the end of the tunnel.

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Why is it that for weeks it was too cold out to even think about gardening and the first nice days we have when I stupidly put my plants directly in the garden, the sun shines in a cloudless sky and the temperatures reach the mid-80’s. No doubt this is one of those wonderful Murphy’s Laws.

I planted 24 peppers and 20 tomatoes outside without hardening them off. All of the peppers are still alive, but some with severe sun scald. Four tomato plants have died and a few others are pretty iffy. The remaining tomatoes have sun scald on about 50% of their leaves. Today is the first day that I believe there has not been any additional deterioration of the plants, although the day is not yet over. The peppers have at least another four hours of sun to endure.

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The remaining pepper and tomato plants I started inside have had two full days on the patio in the shade out of the wind and look pretty happy. I’m hoping by the weekend to be able to put them in the garden. The weather is supposed to become cloudy later in the week with a chance of rain. Why couldn’t that have been the case after I put those other plants in the ground? Just my luck. That’ll teach me, or not.

So, my milk cartons continue to be functional and will hopefully save the day, or in this case, save the pepper and tomato plants, and for this I am keeping my fingers crossed and — Simply Grateful.

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The House of Many Milk Cartons

Our house will probably forever more be called “The House of Many Milk Cartons.” Hubby lovingly/mockingly referred to our house as this as I’ve been collecting them since last summer and since work began outside for the garden expansion and preparation for seedlings, it looks as if we are growing them!

As soon as the snow melted in the early spring, I laid out tar paper to kill the grass for the new garden expansion. Milk cartons filled with water were used to hold the paper in place.

As soon as the snow melted in the early spring, I laid out tar paper to kill the grass for the new garden expansion. Milk cartons filled with water were used to hold the paper in place.

Once the cartons were done being used to hold down the tar paper, I emptied the water into a rain barrel and cut them down so when the pepper garden is ready to be staked out, I can use them when the plants are moved from the greenhouse to the ground.

Once the tomato garden was turned over and the soil readied for planting, I staked out where the plants would go once the weather was warm enough to transplant the seedlings and a milk carton (bottom removed) placed over the stake.

When the tomato garden was turned over and the soil readied for planting, I staked out where the plants would go once the weather was warm enough to transplant the seedlings and a milk carton (bottom removed) was placed over the stake.

The milk cartons will allow me to transplant the seedlings directly from the greenhouse to the garden without worrying about hardening off. I just need to make sure the temps stay above 50 degrees.

The milk cartons will allow me to transplant the seedlings directly from the greenhouse to the garden without worrying about hardening them off. I just need to make sure the temps stay above 50 degrees.

The milk cartons are also being used to insulate bean seeds that have been planted directly in the ground. With mulch sealing the bottom edges of the carton to the ground, the ground is kept warm enough for the seeds to get an early start.

The milk cartons are also being used to insulate bean seeds that have been planted directly in the ground. With mulch sealing the bottom edges of the carton to the ground, the ground is kept warm enough for the seeds to get an early start.

There are a ton of uses for milk cartons in gardening. I use them to hold liquid plant food mixes, as scoops for transferring soil to pots, and as weights to hold down tarps or sheets when covering plants to protect them from frost. Being able to reuse these in a productive way — upcycling, is something I am always on the lookout for when it comes to my garden.

For the next month or so our yard will be full of milk cartons, probably much to our neighbors dismay. As for me, I’m glad to be able to use them to protect my plants and make quick work of many gardening projects, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.