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5 tips for growing your healthiest tomato plants ever…

tomato plants - how to grow the best tomato plants ever

My passion for good food is no secret.  

Neither is the fact that I plant a large garden each year; which provides most of that good food.

Whenever anyone visits my garden, the one thing they always remark on are the tomato plants. The plants can easily reach 5 ft. tall, and are loaded with healthy fruit. This always leads to questions about how I grow tomato plants that look like that. Most of the time people assume that because we live on a farm and my husband is in agriculture, that we have access to some special “fertilizer” that “regular people” can’t get. Yes, I have been asked that, and uhm…no.  It’s all in the preparation. Really. Today I’m sharing my 5 tips for growing your healthiest tomato plants ever!

1.  Prepare the soil – add compost

Before you go to your local nursery and breath in that warm, moist, earthy-smelling air, – you know the air that makes you get all plant crazy – take a little time to get your vegetable bed in order. This part isn’t glamorous, but this is where your plants are going to live. If you skimp here, your plants will pay the price later in the season.

tomato plants - how to grow bigger tomatoes

Dig deeply where you want to plant your tomato; at least 14 inches wide, and 18 inches deep. Incorporate compost (NOT potting soil) with the existing soil. Blend it together with the existing soil until it’s a uniform consistency.

  • If this is a new vegetable bed, add enough compost to make a blend of 50% compost to 50% existing soil.
  • If you have very heavy or clay soil, this may need to be a 75%/25% mix.
  • If you want to add a little slow-release fertilizer, this is the time.  Mix it in well with the soil you just prepared.  You want the nutrients to be available in the root zone you just created, but you don’t want the fertilizer in direct contact with the roots.

2.  Select strong healthy plants 

Now it’s okay to go to the nursery and breath in all those heady plant smells! *sigh*

tomato plants - how to plant tomatoes

This part may seem like a no-brainer, but every year I see folks at the nursery select yellowed, and wilted plants because they’re bigger; over green, sturdy plants that are smaller.  Go for the healthy green and sturdy plants. The vitality of a good plant will have it outgrowing a weaker, larger plant, within a few weeks. And that healthier plant will outproduce a weaker plant all summer long!

3.  It’s all in how you plant it

Gently slide your plant out of it’s little plastic pot. If the plant is in a peat container, gently peel away the peat (you can throw that peat into the planting hole).  If the roots are completely wound around inside the pot (root bound), and you see more roots than soil, return the plant for another.

tomato plants - how to grow bigger tomatoes

This plant looks perfect.  Beautiful white roots, with plenty of soil visible and no wrapping around inside the pot.  Gently pull apart the roots at the base, so that they will spread out when planted.

tomato plants - how to grow the best tomato plants ever

This next part is hard. Taking that beautiful new plant you just brought home, and yanking a bunch of the stems and leaves off seems counterintuitive; plus it’s just hard (for me at least) to destroy any part of a health plant.  It will be worth it though.

tomato plants - how to grow bigger tomatoes

See all those little leaves and stems along the bottom few inches of the plant? Just pinch them off. It’s okay. Honest.

tomato plants - how to plant tomatoes

Tomatoes will throw out new roots all along the stem of the plant.  Bigger, healthier root system = bigger, healthier plants.*

tomato plants - how to plant tomatoes

Place your plant in the hole you’ve prepared for it.  Gently spread out the roots, and hold the plant upright as you slowly fill the planting hole with soil.

tomato plants - how to grow the best tomato plants ever

The stem that you stripped of leaves should be below soil level, and just the top few inches of leaves will be visible.

*You can’t do this with most plants. If you plant them deeper than the soil level of the container they were in, they will rot and die.

4.  Direct the water where it needs to go

When it’s watering time, it’s easy for the water to run of the top of the soil and not get to where it’s needed most; the root system. Take a few minutes after you’ve planted your beautiful little tomato, and create a moat around your plant. This creates a dam for the water, and will help direct it down into the root zone.

tomato plants - how to grow bigger tomatoes

Now water your new plant. Make sure to give it a good soaking.

5. Protect and support your plant

Finally, give your plant the support and protection it needs. If you are in an area where the temperatures dip down at night, a water wall can help keep the plant warm and cozy during the chilly nights. Just remember to not leave the water walls on during high daytime temperatures, or you will damage (or kill) the plant you were protecting.

tomato plants - how to grow the best tomato plants ever

Give your plant enough support. Select a sturdy plant support. A good quality tomato cage or support will last not only this season, but many more.

tomato plants - how to plant tomatoes

These wonderful plant supports have ben with me for the last five years, and are about to begin year six in the garden!

tomato plants - how to grow bigger tomatoes

Just in case you need a little reassurance, this photo was taken only a month after planting. You can see the tomatoes (the plants closest) are plenty big!

Follow these simple tips, and enjoy the healthiest, most productive tomato plants ever!

p.s. please recycle your plastic plant containers after planting. Most facilities now accept nursery pots 😉

play hard, and have fun,


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how to make a Rubik's cube tissue box cover…

how to make a rubies cube tissue box cover -

Do you spend time waiting in the bleachers (or the parking lot) at practices, pre-game warm-up’s, between tournament games, etc.?  You know you do 😉  Today I’m letting my geek out, and doing a little crafting that’s perfect for those hurry-up-and-wait moments.  It’s small, only a few pieces, light weight, and doesn’t take an engineering degree to figure out.  A couple of years ago I saw this Rubik’s Cube Tissue Box cover on an episode of The Big Bang Theory and knew I had to make one for myself.  It took a while to get around to it and figure out the correct sizing, but it’s finally done.  I made a few mistakes along the way, but here’s my take on how to make a Rubik’s Cube tissue box cover.


  • plastic canvas – enough for 5 pieces measuring approx. 5 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches (my piece was 13 1/2 x 22 1/2 inches, enough to have some left over if I made a mistake)
  • yarn – red, yellow, orange, blue, green, and white, approx. 4 feet for each color block (up to 36 feet per color)
  • yarn – black approx. 40 feet
  • needle – large-gauge blunt

Rubik's Cube Tissue Box Cover instructions - as seen on The Big Bang Theory

You will need to cut the canvas into five pieces.  Each piece will be 37 lines x 37 lines (or 36 open squares), they will be just under 5 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches.  This means each color block will be 12 open squares. For the fifth piece (the top) you will need to cut a hole in the middle for the tissues.  Measure in 13 lines from each side.

Rubik's Cube Tissue Box Cover instructions - as seen on The Big Bang Theory

To make it easier to get the multi-stranded yarn threaded through the needle eyelet, put a little piece of tape on the end.   Snip off the tape before you start pulling the yarn through the plastic canvas.

how to make a rubies cube tissue box cover -

With my first square I tried “covering” only the outside (the part you see) of the canvas with the yarn, but this lead to two problems.  First, the plastic canvas showed through the strands of yarn more than I liked.

how to make a rubies cube tissue box cover -

Second, it made the piece curl up.  I had to take it all out, and start over.

Rubik's Cube Tissue Box Cover instructions - as seen on The Big Bang Theory

When you start each color block, leave about 1 1/2 inches of yarn to tie the ends together.

Rubik's Cube Tissue Box Cover instructions - as seen on The Big Bang Theory

Once you’ve stitched the color block, pull the yarn underneath, and tie the ends together.  Next, stitch between the color blocks with the black yarn, covering the plastic canvas.  When you have completed all five sides of the cube, use the remaining  black yarn to “sew” all the pieces together.  It’s that simple 🙂

Rubik's Cube Tissue Box Cover instructions - as seen on The Big Bang Theory

This next step is completely optional.

Tissue boxes are not square, but Rubik’s cubes are.  The Rubik’s cube tissue box cover will be bigger than your tissue box.  When the cover was finished, it felt a little bit floppy because of the size difference, so I grabbed some black foam core that I had left over from another project.

how to make a rubies cube tissue box cover -

To “firm up” the cover, cut two pieces of foam core to 5 1/4 x 5 1/4 inches, and two others to 5 x 5 1/4.

Rubik's Cube Tissue Box Cover instructions - as seen on The Big Bang Theory

Assemble with your trusty duct tape, and slip it inside your awesome new tissue box cover.

how to make a rubies cube tissue box cover -

And Bazinga! you’re done!  When you create your own Rubik’s Cube tissue box cover, I’d love to see it.  Please stop by and post a pic of it on my FB page.  Until next time.

play hard, and have fun,


p.s.  Don’t feel like you need to follow my pattern, but I would strongly suggest creating your pattern from an actual Rubik’s Cube.  The first “pattern” I created, while pretty to look at, turned out to not be possible on the cube itself.

p.p.s. A piece of plastic canvas, and enough yarn to complete the color blocks, fit neatly inside a waterproof quart size ziplock bag.  😉

living simply…

beautiful moon set over the coast range, oregon

moon set over the coast range… simply beautiful

To live a simple and fulfilling life, is one of my greatest goals. The things I choose to place value on will lead me to this road, or away from it. For me, it all boils down to my family and home – nothing else truly matters. And, if those two things are the priority, everything else will fall into place.

So, how can I do this? To create the life I want? I guess it’s fairly simple and boils down to two questions. Is it necessary? Will it bring joy? The important thing to remember is that all choices take work. Things will not magically change because I say I want X,Y, or Z.  I have to choose the life I want with intention and purpose. Our lives are as simple or as complicated as we choose to make them. Decide what is truly important to you. Eliminate everything else.

breakfast date with husband

breakfast date with Mr. Awesome… simply necessary

Like so many of you, my life revolves around my family. Mr. Awesome and I decided early on that we would put our relationship first, and our kids second. A lot of people think this sounds horrid. They think that we should always put our children first, that they are the most important thing in our lives. I disagree. I believe that if, as parents, we don’t work at having a strong relationship, that the family unit might not stay a family unit; and how is that putting children first? So we strive for time together, just the two of us. We spend time doing things that we enjoy. We date each other. Our children see what a healthy relationship looks like. Finding time to do this isn’t easy, but it is essential to having a marriage that will outlast our children moving away from home.

planting garden corn

planting the garden… simply hard work

Society as a whole, has become more focused on the acquisition of things than on relationships. Much of my “living simply” revolves around deciding to be content with what I have. It’s so easy to compare ourselves to others – to see what others have that we don’t. I’ll share with you a pet peeve of mine…  my garden. When people see my garden they frequently say “Oh, you’re so lucky, I wish my garden looked like that!“. This makes a little cranky. Why? Because we have worked on it for years… we are still working on it. We have dug rocks out of it. Dug in manure into it. Taken out trees to expand it. Put up fencing to protect it. Every year we spend hours and hours working on it. It isn’t luck, it is a choice. We didn’t buy tickets to Disneyland, we bought blocks to build raised beds. We didn’t go to that great concert by that awesome band. We put up fence posts. Do you see what I mean? You can’t compare your life to mine, or anyone else’s. Not valuing what you have will only lead to sadness. Sometimes I struggle with the feeling of the people around me not understanding my choices. But, they are the choices that feel true to my values.

The choices I make certainly aren’t for everyone. Do you know:

  • I absolutely detest shopping, and limit my grocery shopping to once a week or less?
  • I only own two pair of jeans, one for the garden and one for town?
  • I have no cable or satellite, and my internet is one step away from dial up, so there is no “streaming” anything?
clutter-free kitchen countertops

clear kitchen countertops… simply clutter-free

When people who don’t know me visit my home, they often ask if I just moved in. I like clean, open spaces. Clutter stresses me out. When my home and the things around me are cluttered and messy, my mind feels the same way. My productivity slacks off, and I get cranky. It’s hard to focus on what needs to be done when there are too many things vying for my attention. When I’m feeling stressed I start going through all the closets and drawers, and purge anything that doesn’t fit my definition of useful.

Time is at a premium around here. Working for yourself can be boon and blessing, and it can quickly take over every aspect, and free moment, of your life. Mr. Awesome works insane hours. My kids schedules seem to change on a whim. “The regular 3:00 practices are going to be at 6:00 this week?  Uhm, sure.  No problem…”  😛  You get the idea.

So what matters most to you…? Your family? Your church? Giving back to your community? Volunteering to help those less fortunate? Would someone from the outside looking in, be able to tell what you place value on, by the choices you make?

keep the green side up,


refreshing your spirit…

running is hard - Elizabeth Wendland Photography - Portland, Sherwood, Oregon

note: this post was written as a guest post on another site, with the topic being Refresh.

As I sit down to write on this topic of “refresh”, I must say part of my mind is screaming “hypocrite!”, because this is something I struggle with every day. Some days I win. Some days, well, not so much 🙁

Maybe you know what I’m talking about. You know you should be doing something to refresh your spirit. You know you need some time to yourself. You know that putting everyone else first all. the. time. is not healthy. You know, you need down-time to refresh and revive your spirit, or eventually your going to snap, but… And that’s the thing, there’s always a but. There is always something demanding your time, your energy, your attention, your skills. You feel like you can’t let anyone down. You don’t want to say no to your kids, your spouse, your job. But… at the end of the day, you’re at the end of the day. You have spent another 24 hours doing for others, and you feel spent. You feel lonely. You miss you.

suggestion or command? Elizabeth Wendland Photography - Portland, Sherwood, Oregon -IMG_0368

Refreshing your spirit need not be a huge, time consuming, or expensive thing. Sometimes when we think about refreshing our spirits, we only consider the big ways to refresh. Vacation. A week off (or two!). And while those times are important, it’s the little daily moments of refreshment that keep us going. Maybe a nice massage is your perfect respite. It might be a half hour in the early morning where you sit with your warm cup of coffee and your journal. It might be that quiet time when the rest of the world seems to have settled in for the night, and you curl up in your chair with a good book. It really doesn’t matter what your “thing” is, it just has to be something that allows you to be quiet. To be alone. Alone with yourself. Alone with your thoughts. With your worries. With your hopes.With your dreams. Remember those?  Dreams…? Your mind needs time to hear the quiet whisperings of your heart.

run because you love the feeling of living - Elizabeth Wendland Photography - Portland, Sherwood, Oregon

I’m going to tell you a little about how I refresh my spirit. Exercise. And my exercise of choice… running. There is an unfortunate predilection toward depression in my family. Especially among the women, and I (unfortunately) am not immune. Thankfully a routine of regular running keeps most of my personal demons at bay. Not everyone is so lucky, but for me running is my Prozac. Without it, well let’s not talk about that right now. For me, running is the only thing I’ve found that banishes every other thought and worry from my mind. I’ve run through…

  • fear
  • happiness
  • anger
  • sadness
  • love
  • frustration
  • loss

if I didn't run I'd have gone crazy by now - Elizabeth Wendland Photography - Portland, Sherwood, Oregon

Running is the only thing that stills the constant barrage of thoughts, ideas and worries, that seem to bounce around in my mind nearly every moment of the day. Don’t get me wrong, running is not easy or fun for me. It is a challenge. Every. Single. Day. Sadly, it is no easier for me to put on my running shoes today, than it was last week, last month, or last year; but I do it, because I must. It keeps me sane, and for that, I force myself to lace up. It sounds terrible to say “force”, but that is the truth of it. Even though I know how much better I will feel when I’m done, it’s still an exercise in mental fortitude to take those first steps. There are a couple of sayings I hear over and over from runners. They make me think I may not be alone in my battle…

running never takes more than it gives back - Elizabeth Wendland Photography - Portland, Sherwood, Oregon

or maybe this sounds better…

dead last is greater than did not finish - Elizabeth Wendland Photography - Portland, Sherwood, Oregon

It would seem that this may be a demon that I battle forever. As I wrote this, something tickled my brain. Something told me I had been here before, so I went searching.  Sure enough self- criticism and denial were waiting there to greet me.

And a final thought to make you smile, before I send you along to the next lovely teacher to read about her take on the refresh theme…

what I feel like when I run - Elizabeth Wendland Photography - Portland, Sherwood, Oregon

Made you smile, didn’t it! 😉

keep the green side up,


update:  so many of you have emailed or private messaged me this morning about this post. I cannot begin to express how humbling it is that this has touched so many of you, thank you. I will be responding to every single one of you. Please be patient as I work my way through these messages. Thank you, again.

the birds of spring…

American Goldfinch

Anyone who says pigs can’t fly, has never fed American Goldfinches!

Here, one of the very first signs that spring is on its way, arrives with a racket. Birds. Lots of them. As the first teasing warm days appear, so do my winged friends.  The bright yellow of the American Goldfinch, is a welcome spot of color after the long dreary winter months.  I keep a list of all the birds that have been seen in (and over), my yard. Everything from the constant company of the little Junco’s that flit around, to the Bald Eagle who soars over the yard on the way to his nest. The bird count is now over 50!

I would like to send out a huge thank you to my talented daughter Avery, who contributed several pictures to this post through her endless patience watching and waiting for a chance to catch many of these birds 🙂 Now, on to more birds!

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

A large portion of the spring-time racket is caused by this guy, the Pileated Woodpecker. Not only does he create a riot of noise as he drills into tress looking for a meal, but his loud, shrill call pierces the air all around him.

Violet-green Swallow in a Bluebird box

This Violet-green Swallow is laying claim to this Bluebird box.

There is one bird who we watch for with special anticipation. The calendar may say spring, but for our family, we know it’s not here until the swallows arrive. The little Violet-green Swallows wow us with their wild acrobatics. It’s impossible not to smile as you watch them swirling and diving through the air. They come swooping through the yard on dive-bomb like missions, gobbling up all the little insects that become active with the warmer weather. They move about so quickly this picture of the mama swallow staking out her box, is the only decent picture of them I have.

Juvenile Oregon Junco

Juvenile Oregon Junco

This little guy is a juvenile Oregon Junco. Exploring the world with his newfound freedom, he flew into the shop through an open door, and perched on the highest spot he could find.  🙂

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Some birds are bigger than others, and there is a wide variety of hawks in the area. This Red-tailed Hawk likes to sit on the fence posts around the garden waiting for lunch to make an appearance.

Yellow House Finch, Black-headed Grosbeak, Black-capped Chickadee, Red House Finch

Yellow House Finch, Black-headed Grosbeak, Black-capped Chickadee, Red House Finch – photos by Avery

All the movement and color make for a very happy, active yard.

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove – photo by Avery

This Mourning Dove thinks she’s invisible. Their “crying” in the early morning hours gives them their unique name.

baby Anna's Hummingbird

baby Anna’s Hummingbird

 juvenile Anna's Hummingbird

juvenile Anna’s Hummingbird – photo by Avery







adult Anna's Hummingbird

adult Anna’s Hummingbird – photo by Avery

The dominant species of hummingbird in the area is the Anna’s Hummingbird. It’s great to be able to watch them throughout the season.  Not long after hatching they are little more than a ball of fluff with a very long beak! They have an awkward “teenage” phase just like people do, but by the end of the summer, they are sporting gorgeous colors.

Western Bluebird eggs

Western Bluebird eggs

Even with all these feathered delights, there is a favorite… The Western Bluebird. We have placed a smattering of custom-built boxes around the yard, just to entice them to come and stay.  One year, a record-setting 8 eggs were laid in one of our boxes!

Western Bluebird

Western Bluebird

Due to declining numbers, the Western Bluebird was once listed as a “sensitive” species, but thanks to non-profit volunteer groups, this bird is making a strong comeback. As I write this, mama and papa Bluebird are “house hunting”. They go from box to box, trying to find the one that is just right.

keep the green side up,