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29 March 2012

How to Make a Video Tutorial and GET VIEWS!

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Last year I made my first vlog tutorial showing how to create fabric pocket organizers.  This year allfreesewing.com is featuring the video and post.  The difference in traffic is IMMENSE...  If you are a talent blogger (as opposed to a popular blogger), you must must must take advantage of aggregation and compilation sites for your work!   You will see your site grow organically (even if you aren't a garden blog), gain an authentic, niched audience and your work begin to make a profit.  Win, win and win, win, win.

...but this is a post about video tutorials, not aggregation sites, SO let's move on, shall we?

Here are a few simple tips that will help you set up a video tutorial with a digital SLR.

First things first....find a space in your home where you can work easily and a space that also looks fairly nice.  It doesn't have to be the MOST beautiful space in your home, but if you can stay away from the pile of dirty laundry and the broken toilet in the bathroom....it will help!

This is the space I chose on the couch, with my sewing machine perched on the trunk.  This is my typical setup for sewing and it worked well for the tutorial.  The only problem is that the camera is facing directly into doors that are filled with sunlight.   This could be a problem (you would be a black silhouette against the light) unless you adjust the exposure compensation.  (If you need a basic primer on exposure compensation, read THIS first!)

The first thing I did was check my exposure in camera and adjusted it to +.07 or +1 to compensate for the lighted doors.  Notice how the couch is darker in the first photo and the trees outside can be seen somewhat through the windows.  When I upped to exposure compensation (in the second photo),  the foreground (where I will be) lightens up and the window is completely blown out.  You can no longer see any detail outside the window which is perfect for my purposes.

Check exposure
Adjust exposure

 After you have fixed your exposure, then you need to work on focus.  This is a bit difficult when you are filming yourself.  You could set the self timer on your camera, run into the photo and hope it focuses correctly on you, but I prefer to just use monkey arms, hold an object out as far as possible and focus on it while looking through the lens.

Once your focus is set on that object, your camera will focus on that same point when you start video.  As you might imagine, it is difficult to get everything in the photo when your object is this close, so use the wider end of your lens when shooting (20mm or 24 mm is usually great for this type of setup).
Focus on product where it will come into view.
The Setup
SO here is the whole setup....Camera is perched on a tall stool, while I sit on the couch.  The focus is on the space where I hold up the pocket organizer over and over to show detail.  It is certainly not a perfect solution (I'd much rather have a cameraman at my beck and call!), but for quick videos while you are working alone...it works!!!

In conclusion:
1.  Find a Beautiful Setup
2.  Check Exposure and Adjust
3.  Check Focus and Adjust (Wide Angle Lens Helps!!)
4.  Test your setup and Adjust
5.  Submit Your Work to an Aggregation Site for Great Exposure and Niched Traffic!

Interested in the actual video? You can check it out HERE!!
Interested in aggregation sites?  You can check out the sites I submit to HERE and stay tuned for more info!
Interested in more sewing projects?  Check out the DIY page!

Questions?!  Just ask!

Since many of you have asked for more gear recommendations, here goes!


1.                           2.                                3.


Want the best camera ever?  Sorry -- I can't help you.  I CAN however tell you what got ME started!
I started out on a D40 (camera 3), currently shoot with a D7000 (camera 2) and recommend the D3000 (camera 1).
Whatever you do, save your money you had set aside for that Nikon Coolpix or Canon Powershot and buy a used DSLR.  Trust me.


...oh and PS -- these tips work JUST as well for a manual camera as they do for digital cameras...

28 March 2012

Vaccinating Those Babies on the Weekly Rhubarb

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Down the street at Penn State Hershey Medical Center a battle is brewing.  Mama vs. Hospital.

Mama was planning on a home birth, but ended up at the hospital, delivering her bebe in the ambulance.  What follows is a tale of evil nurses and hospital politics and ends with a social worker that clearly had a bone to pick with home birthing, non-vaccinating mamas.  Where does the vaccination problem come into play?  Mama refused a Hep B vaccine until she and her daughter could be tested and also refused a Vitamin K vaccine.  She had every right to refuse the vaccines, but the result was the newborn baby being taken away from the mama and mama and papa sleeping in the parking lot of the hospital.

It reads like a soap opera doesn't it?

So the question is...

Whose side are we on?  Well, my first instinct is to be completely, fully on the mama's side.  I am the mama's side.  In every respect, the mama was abused and I fully support her suing the hospital for all they are worth (remind me to give birth somewhere else next time around, right??)

My only issue comes with the vaccinations.  Let me get this straight before I dive in.  I think it should be a PARENT'S decision whether or not to vaccinate.  However, I've thought about this a lot.  A LOT a lot a lot.  Especially with having three children of my own, I've thought about the issue of vaccination and decided to have my children vaccinated.  Why?  Mainly for their sake (I can't delude myself of the real threat certain diseases cause - hello polio!), but also for the sake of others.  I see a very big problem with the "herd" mentality of everyone's child being vaccinated (except yours) and thus safe.  That's my opinion.  ...and to be honest, it has little to do with the story above because it was completely, utterly wrong what happened to this mama.  Vitamin K is NOT the polio vaccine. After reading the comment section in Sarah's blog however, the vaccination issue came front and center for me.

I worry that sometimes we forget how horrible these diseases were.  I worry that we consider these diseases "were" diseases instead of "are".  They could come back.  All we have to do is vaccinate no one and polio can come back.  That scares me.  The death count of children under 10 a few generations ago scares me.  I don't think we should be fighting about it, but I do think we should be talking about it.  I certainly don't think hospitals and social workers should have the last say and have the right to kidnap a newborn child based on a mom's refusal to vaccinate. 

What are your thoughts?  Where should the lines be drawn?
If you comment here or elsewhere, please be kind, polite and respectful.

Want the whole story?  The Healthy Home Economist has a more in depth look at the story. 

I'm not a Garden Snob -- Are you??

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Have you ever met a garden snob??

I know I have.

They typically hide out on gardening chatrooms and once in awhile they speak up on garden blogs, and you might find several in your local nursery, but never in your local home improvement store. They are the chatterers that make sure you cross your "t's" and dot your "i's" when it comes to Latin names of plants and cluck cluck at you when you purchase the clearance bag of King Alfred's in the checkout lane (tsk...tsk...so passe...).  Now, I do prefer a new daffodil hybrid to the hass been Alfred and I would like to know all of the proper Latin names, but do I need to?  NOPE.



You see, God gave us plants free of knowledge.  One of the great joys in life is to figure out how things grow.  One of the great lessons of life is learned by digging your hands in the dirt, planting a seed and coddling it until it produces a fruit and flower.  Then we can mess with hybridizing those plants, collecting seeds, splitting perennials, arranging garden designs and creating cut flower arrangements.  We can also make wreaths, create garden pathways, EAT seeds, fruits and nuts and raise animals and children on the plants we have grown.  All of these processes have best practices.  All of these processes can be accomplished in an optimal efficiency.  All of these processes can also be accomplished by amateurs that know little to nothing.  When you first come to gardening, you need to know little more than plants need soil, sun and water.   You will experiment and learn and research and change.  You will probably pick up a Latin name or two.  The point is -- Gardening is for the masses, yet the snobs tend to make it elite.

By now, some of you might be getting all up in arms about what I am saying.  (Beware...you might be a snob).  There is nothing wrong with knowing all 1,700 species of daffodils.  There is something wrong about looking down on someone who does not.  There is nothing wrong with feeling pride in your prize winning collection of hybrid teas.  There is something wrong about expecting everyone to raise roses exactly the way you do.  You are not God and God has given these gardens to us all.


So beginners, be encouraged.  Go ahead and make mistakes.  Buy anvil pruners instead of bypass if you want.  They'll break in a season anyway and you will learn which you prefer.  Go ahead and plant your bulbs at the wrong depth.  You will learn next year.  Go ahead and do what you want in your gardens.  They are your classroom and you get to make the decisions.  The next time a garden snob waves her finger at you at the nursery and advises you against buying that mint (It will spread and take over your garden!), go ahead and buy it and simply plant it in a pot.   

Advice is great, knowledge is grand, 
but experience is the crux of our existence.



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26 March 2012

PTO Pots

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I don't know if your PTO is anything like my PTO, but mine is VERY active.  (Perhaps a little too active to tell the truth...)  Typically there are 3 emails a day and various papers sent home about a host of activities and volunteer activities.  Now, don't get me wrong == I think the PTO is a great thing...they are supporting our schools and our kiddos and they are wonderful.  However, it is a weird kind of satisfaction to use up the mass piles of PTO papers making little paper pots for my seedlings...(is that wicked??)


Are you wondering how to get the rounded rectangular shape?  It is quite easy!  My secret is a little can of Old Bay.  It is the perfect size, metal and strong and creates the perfect handmade biodegradable pots.

1.  Cut (or rip) a sheet of paper approximately 6" by 3".  If the paper is thin (like newspaper) stack several sheets this size together.

2.  Set the can (or jar or whatever you choose to use) in the middle of the paper.  Wrap the paper around and secure with a tiny piece of tape.

3.  Fold the bottom of the pot up like a present or coin roll (anybody still using coin rolls???)

4.  Secure with another little piece of tape and fill with your choice of potting soil.

It takes maybe 20 seconds to make each pot...the perfect activity to keep your hands busy while watching the kids ride their bikes on the driveway.
 

Other options include toilet paper tubes, newspaper pots (I still use the Old Bay can for these), yogurt cups and old planting pots.  I clearly use whatever I have on hand...it ain't pretty!

Feel free to share your thoughts on PTO and please share your method for making newspaper (or PTO paper) pots.

Speaking of sharing...I'll be sharing this post on Gardener's Day.  You should absolutely link up your garden posts there if you have them!!  Extra traffic and exposure never hurt anyone, now did it???

23 March 2012

Beneficial Plantings for Chickens

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Today's post is all about beneficial plants for your chickens - and by for your chickens I mean, yes for your chickens, but also "plants for YOU that chickens won't destroy".  You have chickens? Excellent! Jo in me today as we chat about a few dos and don'ts in the planting world of chickens!

First and foremost - chickens are great weeders. They can take a weedy spring bed and get all those tiny pesky weeds out just by scratching around with those ferocious claws for bugs.  This bed is always a pain in my behind in the spring, but this spring, not so much.  The chickens clawed their way around the established plantings, creating an almost perfectly weeded bed for me.


Of course the phrase "established plantings" is important in that last advertisement for chickens.  You see...as good as they are at weeding established beds...well they can take that wrath out on UNestablished beds as well.  Case in point...


Now luckily, the only thing I had in this bed were little succulent cuttings, so no real loss, but I learned a lesson.  If I am growing things from seed I need to keep those chickens in the coop while they get established or be vigilant about keeping the chickens out.

How to encourage the chickens to stay away from beds??  I've found a few things that help (but they are certainly NOT foolproof, so beware!):

1.  Minor Fencing  -- Chickens are not the most enterprising of creatures, so even a small border fence can help create a boundary for them.  This has worked thus far in my veggie garden.  (crossing my fingers...)

2.  Creative Food Tossing -- This has been my favorite method so far.  Simply throw their scraps under bushes that need weeding.  NEVER through ANYTHING anywhere NEAR newly seeded plants.  The chickens start to associate certain places with good food and they keep returning there.  That is how I was able to get that 1st bed weeded for free up there.

3.  Maintain Dirt Baths -- Chickens bathe in dirt (weird I know).  If you create an environment with loose, bare soil, they will dig little burrows in it and "bathe".  If your seedbeds are mainly empty dirt, your chickens will scratch them up.  Put a bunch of stakes or other uncomfortable markers so the chickens don't like it there.  This also ties into the creative food tossing because once the chickens have scratched up an area, they usually like it for bathing if the dirt is pliable enough.  try to encourage them by turning the soil over where you want them to hang out (this works about 50% of the time).

4.  Overplant and Don't Get To Attached -- You have chickens.  You get eggs.  They work hard to give you those eggs, so give them a break.  they need space too.  Prepare to lose a few seedlings and have a few in reserve.  The benefits far outweigh the losses (in my opinion!)

So what plants are GOOD for chickens??  Anything that has a large root system or grows from a bulb/tuber etc.    
Irises stand up really well to chicken bathing...they are tough cookies:


If the bulb is small (say crocus), plant a little deeper than normal and they should be good.  
Chickens don't dig up plants to eat them -- they just want the bugs.  

Plant small bulbed flowers deeper than usual.

On to other great plants for chickens!!!  I have been exceedingly pleased with using ornamental grasses as bedding for the chickens.  The grass breaks down nicely and the chickens seem to like it.  Also great for chicken coops and runs?  Weeds.  I am so in love with my chickens because all those weeds I either threw in the trash (and felt horribly for doing so) or threw in the compost (and felt a wee bit scared that I was just propagating the weed species) -- they all now go in the run.  The chickens scratch up the big clumps of weedy grass, eat all the bugs, eat some of the greenery and trample the weeds into oblivion.  Then they poop on them.  Mix it all together and you have fertilizer stew for the garden.

See those giant roots in the coop?  Those are horrible tree/weed/bushes and I went on a rampage digging a bunch of them out.  Now they are little perches for the chickoos - I love it!



So those are my favorites - what are yours??  Next on the list of chicken plants is growing grain for them...check back next year for an update on THAT one!

21 March 2012

Star Magnolia | From Bud to Bloom

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It is SPRINGTIME here is PA {officially} and one of my favorite part of spring is when the trees finally perk up and get their flower on. One of my favorites among the sea of flowering trees is the Star Magnolia. Small and compact -- PERFECT for small gardens, its fuzzy buds turned into beautiful white/pink flowers this week.

All winter long there are these fuzzy buds, just waiting...and waiting...and waiting...
Sometimes it feels like forever waiting on the trees to wake up...
 THIS year they went from peeping flowers.... 



...to full fledged blooms within just a few days...

Some years things just happen faster than others...what kind of year are YOU having?

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20 March 2012

Dresser Drawer & Window Cold Frames | FREEkDesign

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So you've got your newspaper pots all ready to go, 
but nowhere to put them...  

You have stacks of peat pots, 
but they keep blowing over in the wind...

You don't want to spend money on trays and greenhouses, 
so what to do?   


Go trash picking!


First things first -- you need some containers.  I use a combination of leftover black plastic pots from the year before, yogurt cups, toilet paper tubes, peat pots and newspaper rolls - whatever I can get my hands on for free!

Then you need to keep watch for dresser drawers and spare windows in the weekly trash or hanging out in your garage.  I found my dresser drawers in the weekly trash and the windows buried under weeds behind my shed.

Then simply fill the drawers full of all of your little pots, flats, etc as tight as possible so nothing will be moving around in there.


Cover the drawers with a piece of glass on cold days (and nights), but either take the glass off or allow it to vent so your seeds don't cook!  Be careful not to prop your window up against the fence behind your setup on a windy day.  OOPS.  Good thing there were at least 35 spare windows behind our shed... : /


How do YOU get your FREEkDesign on in the garden?  
Have you rescued anything from the trash lately?
Do YOU use toilet paper rolls for pots every spring?

Are you a FREEkaholic??
I am.





More great ideas over @ The Girl Creative - check it out!

16 March 2012

'Weed and Eat' | PURSLANE

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SO. A couple of days ago I was talking to my friend Nicole (yup -- the same Nicole that taught me about squash soup) and we get talking about edible weeds. So Nicole starts talking about purslane. I had heard about purslane, but didn't know what it looked like and had never tasted it, but when she started describing it, I knew EXACTLY what plant she was talking about.


You see, purslane is pretty distinct.  It has paddle shaped leaves, a little shiny, succulent-like and a reddish stem.  It grows anywhere (and everywhere) and is considered a weed.  It is also considered a delicacy, garnering up to $7.00 a bunch at the farmer's market.  Call me crazy, but I'll take the free stuff growing in my backyard to the 'gourmet' bunched option.  Anybody with me?


So of course the danger in eating weeds is that you have to be certain you know what you are eating.  I researched picture after picture, article after article on purslane until I was convinced I knew my plant was indeed the edible sort.  After researching, I tested a leaf.  Just one -- just me.  Just in case.  After 24 hours, no problems, so I ate a few more.  Still no issues -- this plant is clearly edible and I've just scored some high priced purslane from my backyard - awesome!


WARNING!!!   READ THIS:
Purslane has one evil twin called spurge.  There are various types of spurge, but what you must really look out for is "milky sap".  It looks like it sounds, thin white sap that oozes out of the stems when the plant is broken.  This sap will irritate your skin (similarly to poison ivy) and will make you very sick - DON'T EAT IT!  I personally don't think the two look very much alike, but if in doubt, watch out for the sap.  Purslane has very clear sap that is more gel like (similar to aloe or other succulents).

ON to the cooking.  While researching recipes for purslane, I came upon a lot of salads, soups and surprisingly -- potato salads.  One of my favorite summer foods is a warm potato salad made from just a few simple, fresh ingredients.  The chives are up and green already (HELLO early spring), so I decided to give it a go.


The recipe is simple.  You boil chopped red and/or yellow potatoes.  Allow them to cool while you create a simple mayo from scratch.  Add finely chopped chives and purslane and you are good to go -- SPRING HAS ARRIVED!

If you are brave enough to pick a few weeds and eat them in a delicious potato salad, you'll want to check out the full recipe for Purslane and Chive Warm Potato Salad!

Purslane and Chive Warm Potato Salad

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Hello purslane. Wanna make a salad?


INGREDIENTS:

6-8 Large Yellow and Red Skinned Potatoes
1 Egg
2 Cups Oil
1 T kosher salt
2 T lemon juice
1 handful of chives
1/2 a handful of purslane

This recipe is very much "to taste" so adjust amounts according to your preference!

1.  Cut the potatoes into large chunks and boil until fork tender.  Drain and allow the potatoes to cool slightly.

2.  Make an easy mayo by blending egg, salt and lemon juice and then slowly incorporating oil, bit by bit until the sauce starts to thicken.  Need more help with this step?  You can read my full tutorial for homemade mayo!

3.  Add finely chopped chives and purslane to the potatoes.

4.  Pour the mayo over the mixture and combine gently.  Eat warm or chilled.

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Want to learn more about purslane?  
Click on over for a full post on how to hunt and harvest this weed!

15 March 2012

Cute and Simple Polka Dot Bulletin Board

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There is perhaps no easier project that this one I am sharing with you today.  The materials are few (and cheap!).  The methods are simple and the time is minimal.  Who can ask for more?  oh yes...cuteness -- that is covered too!

The story starts with a plain jane corkboard (yard sales have these in abundance for a dollar or two!).  You probably have one sitting somewhere around your home.

The plot thickens when you want a little va-va-voom in your office (or closet!).  Pick out your favorite bit of fabric, or take a trip to the remnant bin for 1/2 a yard or so.  (What?!  You've never been diggin through a remnant bin?  Start out by visiting your local WalMart...visit the fabric section and ask the nice ladies for the remnant bin.  They'll show you.  You'll never buy off the bolt again.  Ok...maybe you will if you need more than a yard of fabric, but who needs more than a yard of fabric anyway annnnnnnnnd HUSH.  Just go.  Buy pretty fabric.)  Another tip - exterior fabric works really well for this project, so if you find some, grab it!

I chose polka dot fabric.  In red...and brown and black and navy too, but who is counting...

Exterior Red and White Polka Dot Fabric from WalMart (Remnant!)
You will need a couple tools for the job, namely a staplegun and either pins or brads.  I chose to use little white pushpins because they matched the white polka-dots.  The little brads that are used for chair trim can be really cute for these boards too.  It is your choice - anything that can be pushed into the cork works.
Once you have your materials, you have a few simple steps.

#1  Iron the Fabric.  I know -- I don't iron either.  It is a flat piece of cloth though and will make a difference.  Do it.  Add starch if you are brave!

#2 Lay the fabric down on the table (or floor) face side down.  Lay the corkboard centered in the fabric face side down.  

#3 Pull the fabric taunt (but not tight) and staple along the back edges at 12,6,3 and 9 (like a clock!) in that order.  If you need a staplegun, this kit (gun and staples) is a good deal @ $12.


(To learn more about getting started with DIY tools and projects, read more HERE)

 #4 Turn the board around and start pinning the fabric down around the inside edges of the frame.  With the polka dot pattern, I tried to place the white pins in the diagonal red spaces to make the spacing intentional instead of random.

Pushpins Along Inner Frame Edge

#5  Pin stuff on your board!  You are done!  You only started 5 minutes ago!  Congratulations!






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14 March 2012

The Weekly Rhubarb on Sponsored Content

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Welcome to the Weekly Rhubarb!!  Confused?!  Read about the creation of the Weekly Rhubarb right HERE!
















This week's rhubarb is inspired by an article on sponsored content from Creature Comforts.  Ez gives her approach to sponsored content and invites her readers to join her as she partners with a brand.  A good appraoch I think - up front -- honest -- but clearly focused a business.

My questions for YOU is how you deal with sponsored content.  Do you allow brands to sponsor blog posts?  Do they contribute to any of the content?  Do you skip blog posts that are sponsored?

As a reader, I typically skip ad posts.  If the post is talking all about a brand, I don't typically finish reading.  I don't think I am alone.  I think sponsored content is a good way to get brand names in front of readers without diluting your content.  Say a garden brand approaches me and wants to sponsor garden posts - that is a no brainer for me.  I'm writing garden posts all the time and the brand can slide in seamlessly.  ...but this ain't a post on sponsored content - it is a RHUBARB on sponsored content, so share your thoughts - bare your souls....what do you love to hate about sponsored content??

13 March 2012

Forcing Branches for an Early Spring!

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It's time to break out the bird house, sharpen the shovels, air out the patio furniture and get planting!  I don't know about you, but spring has come early this year here in PA and it is DIVINE!   60's and even 70's lately with birdsong and bee buzz all around...IN MARCH.  If it snows again, I might cry.  For now, though, I'll just enjoy the crocuses...

For those of you that are still under a blanket of ice and snow, you can force your own early spring!


It is simple really...just grab your pruners, snip off a few crossing branches with plenty of big buds and plop those puppies into a vase of water indoors.  In a few short weeks, they will bloom indoors, bringing spring right to your doorstep!

Which trees should you cut branches from?  Anything that blooms in the early spring is a good candidate.  Classic choices include forsythia (bright yellow!), star magnolia (white and pink) and even redbud (little pink wiggly blooms).  You can prune anything that has developed buds though -- you might check out weigela or lilac or Bradford pear.  It never hurts a tree to have crossing branches pruned out, so experiment a little and see what blooms!

How do I know which branches to prune?  Crossing branches are your best bet.  Dead wood should also be cut out, but it won't bloom for you.  Crossing branches rub against each other and cause wounds on the bark.  I talk more about pruning RIGHT HERE if you want more info!

How do I know that the branches will make flowers?  Any tree that blooms in the spring should have a fair amount of leaf beds and flower buds.  Any apple or cherry tree will have plenty!  The leaf buds are slightly smaller than the flower buds in most cases, so just look closely and you should be able to tell how many flowers you will eventually have.

Once the branches have bloomed, you have a couple choices. #1 Toss them in the compost to add a little air to the pile (the branches will create air pockets amidst the heavier, thicker items like leaves). #2  go ahead and stick the branch into the ground or a pot of soil.  Some will take off and make new plants for you.  Dogwood, Willow and Forsythia are classic spring bloomers that will root easily!

So if you aren't able to break out the bird feeder, barbecues and trowels just yet, force a couple branches to hold you over!  (It helps, I promise!)

If you are in zones 6-7, you might want to check out my monthly garden TO-DO list over at HOUZZ!



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