Building a Greenhouse and Growing My Food

Hello Friends!

The month which ushers in Spring is upon us! If you’re like me here in Southeast Missouri, Spring arrived in early February for the second year in a row, which concerns me about the upcoming summer. Last year from June until about mid-August, we only had roughly a week’s-worth of days where we did not see heat indices above 100 degrees, which was incredibly hard on my plants.

With positive hopes for what’s to come, I’ve started preparing for this year’s growing season, which for me in zone 6b stretches from February until about the end of October. Until now, I have always purchased my plants from a nursery or garden center, then planted them directly into the ground. I haven’t had a greenhouse before, so I’ve never started my plants from seed (with the exception of those you direct sow into the ground, like lettuces, squash and cucmber, for example).

An add for a greenhouse showed up in my Instagram feed, which happens regularly considering that a lot of my content is gardening. It was insanely expensive, as greenhouses tend to be, but I was curious to see what Google had to offer. So I did a search. In the results, a greenhouse from Harbor Freight showed up…for $399.99. My partner was sitting next to me and saw it, and immediately said “you need to go buy it!”

We hopped into my car minutes later and drove to Harbor Freight and purchased it. Michael is (lucky for me) an engineer and was already planning out the foundation for the greenhouse en route to pick it up. I would have probably anchored it to the ground with tent stakes and rope if I didn’t have him, but since I do – it has a proper concrete block foundation and is solid as a rock!

We spent a few weekends, the first one freezing cold, digging trenches, burying and gluing blocks, and assembling the greenhouse frame. I put in the panels, then he helped me assemble the door and windows. I put together a video of the process for Instagram reels and Tik Tok, which I will insert here:

In the meantime, I started some seeds! The first thing I started was onions, because they need the longest to be ready for transplant. Next up was bell peppers, with the tomatoes and marigolds following about a week later. Then I started some other companion plants: borage, nasturtium, basil, rosemary and cilantro.

During that time, I also planted my early Spring vegetables: beets, radishes, peas, swiss chard, kale and various lettuces. I’m getting ready to start carrots too, but we have a little cold snap coming up and they will not be under the cold frame this year, so I’m waiting just a couple more weeks.

Here is a little diagram of my planting beds, to help visualize where everything is going. Not pictured are the three tomatoes that are container varieties (early girl, big boy and cherry), that will go in pots in the sunniest spot in my yard above my retaining wall.

I will be sure to share more progress as my plantings come to life and gardening season takes off. For now, I will leave you with some snaps of the greenhouse and planting beds!

Good morning my friends!

In true fashion I was awake before 6 this morning, and have been lounging with a cup of coffee in my living room while thinking of what adventures await me today. It’s sadly going to be a chilly day here in Southeast Missouri – only 57 degrees after a high of 80 yesterday! Probably not much work outdoors for me today, except for weeding the yard and fertilizing my roses. And I may be making a run to a garden center somewhere to pick up a new outdoor rug to replace the old one that has met the end of its useful life.

I also need to get the meal prepping done sometime today, and have the week’s meal plan to share with you. It will be short and sweet for us this week – the boys have Spring break from Thursday until next Tuesday so they go to their dad’s Wednesday night. Which means I only have to make one full meal this week! Then Michael and I will get a little time alone to celebrate our two year anniversary! It is actually on Easter Sunday, and I have the boys for Easter this year so I pick them back up on Saturday. So we are celebrating on Friday night…official plans as of yet undecided.

At any rate, here is the meal plan for this week:

Tempeh Tacos

As for the rest of the meals, they are largely improvised using ingredients I always have in the house. Like these tempeh tacos I made last night using the rest of a package of tempeh I had open, some spinach and arugula, and pickled red onions. I topped it off with fresh cilantro, salsa and avocado, and it was a really quick, easy and delicious dinner (sometimes I actually remember to snap photos!

Besides food, I’ve also been working hard outside. I’ve spread 45 bags of mulch so far, and need to pick up about 5-10 more. The lawn received its first mowing this week and is ready to be weeded this afternoon now that we’re due for a couple of dry days. I repaired my Strawberry beds (boards were falling off because of old rusty screws) and topped them off with some soil. I got my pots filled and ready to be planted with flowers in a couple more weeks when the danger of frost has passed.

I put out a new trellis for my clematis, and strung twine between the pea trellises for them to climb. The peas are already up an inch or two, so they’re doing fantastic! All of my greens have sprouted, I thinned my beets, and the green onions and carrots have finally broken through the soil in the last couple of days as well. The radishes are up and going strong, so I need to get outside here shortly and thin those as well. I’ve also removed all of the rock from the tomato bed, so I need to get the bone meal and fertilizer in place and till the soil under.

The rose bushes were trimmed back a couple of weeks ago and are ready to be fertilized (something else I’ll be doing today), and the hostas shoots have broken through the soil and new mulch. The last outside work on the agenda for today is to pull up the outdoor rug and toss it in the garbage because it’s reached the end of its useful life – it has molded over and can no longer be cleaned, so I’m heading out to buy a new one. Then I will be able to sit back and enjoy my patio again until it’s time to start planting flowers!

It feels SO good to grow food, and flowers. I’m hoping to focus more on flowers this summer since I have the veggie gardens where I want them. I have a butterfly bush and clematis so far, so I want to bring in some phlox, sunflowers, zinnias and other bee and butterfly drawing flowers. It’s a little tough in my yard because I don’t quite get enough sun to really make these plants happy, but I’m definitely going to do my best!

It’s now almost 10am, so I need to get myself to work in the kitchen. Then it’s off to the garden center and working more on the yard. Have a wonderful Sunday, and I will see you back here soon!


How the Copper Fungicide is Working, and Prepping the Garden for Fall

Dear Friends,

It’s that time again — to get the fall plantings ready in the garden! But before I get too far into that, I must admit that my plans have again had a wrench tossed in the gears. Did you know that garden centers stop carrying seed packets by the first of August?! I did not know this, and this is the first year that I had no seeds left at home and needed to buy more for my fall plantings. So that means….

My only fall veggies this year are going to be beets, and green leaf lettuce. Because I could not find seed packets anywhere for spinach, arugula or green beans. The garden centers are sold out, and not restocking. Something to take note of for next year – double up on seed packets!!

Now then, moving on…

I’ve done away with the planting bed next to the patio, because it’s too shaded to grow much of anything besides lettuce and carrots. So for the Fall plantings, I’m utilizing one of my raised beds. I’ve removed the summer crop from the bed, turned the soil, and added fertilizer. Then I sowed beets and lettuce, and gave it a good watering.

As for the rest of my crop? The watermelon is vining out well now, and has a couple of cute baby watermelons growing. The pumpkin is definitely a little behind and is just now really starting to fill out the pot, but still isn’t vining. That is because it almost died a few weeks ago thanks to squash beetles (I got rid of the little jerks, but it stunted the growth of the pumpkin). They also got in the watermelon, but didn’t seem to effect it as badly. I used to grow a small field of pumpkins, and honestly never had trouble with squash beetles before — this was my first year with that experience.

The bell peppers and jalapenos are starting to produce more now, and I made my first batch of salsa last weekend for a date night treat (more on that coming up on the blog next week) with jalapenos and tomatoes from the garden. I also had to cut my sage and mint because they were growing absolutely wild! I have the sage drying so I can grind it up for winter use. The basil I started from seed is coming up nicely now as well, which is great because I use that more than any other herb. The strawberries are starting to fill in quite a bit too, and should be getting ready to bloom for a fall crop soon.

As for the tomatoes — they are looking so much better! I think just the fact that things are starting to dry out (finally) late in the season is helping pull back the anthracnose fruit rot. But in addition to that I purchased this copper fungicide from Amazon and have been spraying it directly onto the tomatoes once a week for the last couple of weeks. I’m seeing the tomatoes ripen beautifully without spots! I have this photo for comparison, with the before photo on the left and the now photo on the right:

While the copper fungicide is preferable to bleaching, it’s still important to wash the tomatoes before eating them. This is the one disappointment I’m facing, because I had no trouble at all with insects so up until this point I’d grown them entirely chemical-free. However, I have a method that I use to wash fruits and vegetables that works really well:

I place the produce in a large bowl, and sprinkle baking soda on to cover the top. Then, I pour on a lot of white vinegar; enough to cover almost half of the produce once it’s done fizzing. When the fizz has gone down, fill the rest with water until it just covers the produce. Then let it sit for up to 20 minutes (I do about 15 for strawberries and other soft fruits or veggies that don’t hold up as well to the acidity of the vinegar). There are some things that can’t really be washed this way, such as broccoli, because it absorbs some of the vinegar flavor. Most produce, however, will do just fine with this and it takes off so much gunk you’ll be shocked at what is floating on top of the water when it’s time to drain and rinse!

It’s once again time to sit back and wait for nature to do its job and sprout the seeds I’ve planted…with crossed fingers that the oppressive heat coming up this week doesn’t do any damage. In the meantime, I’ll continue to focus my attention on the tomatoes and hopefully get a good crop to finish out the summer growing season. If all goes well I should still be getting tomatoes into September…so fingers crossed!

Up next — the boys start school tomorrow! Hunter is off to high school and I can’t believe it! Photos and first day of school post coming soon!


The New Missouri Summer Brings with It — Anthracnose Fruit Rot??

Dear Friends,

Have you noticed a trend in the last few years? If you live here in the Midwest I’m sure you’ve caught on to a change…once upon a time it rained in April and early May. Then it dried out, warmed up, and was beautiful until the summer heat of July hit. That no longer seems to be the case. Climate change is becoming more noticeable all the time…especially in a Midwestern summer.

This is the third out of the last four summers that the rain has come down in buckets for weeks longer than normal. By this time of year the mowing should be down to once every week or two because it isn’t raining enough for the grass to grow. Instead, we were having regular storms up until the end of June, and we’ve been having pop-up showers and rain events every couple of days since then, even in spite of the July heat.

The Mississippi River has been flooded since early March, and the water level has finally just receded enough for the flood gates downtown to open back up earlier this week, although it is still two-to-three feet above flood stage. The ground has also been consistently wet, preventing me from finishing a landscaping project I started in early April that requires digging down several inches into soil that has basically been clay all summer. The grass also won’t stop growing, making mowing season a little extra aggravating.

The worst part, however, is the gardening. I struggle already with not having enough sunlight in my back yard, but the excessive amount of moisture has created a new problem — fungus and bacteria. When I first started harvesting tomatoes a couple of weeks ago I noticed a couple of them had some dark spots. At the time I didn’t think much of it, but now every single red or ripening tomato on every plant has dark spots on them.

I haven’t experienced this before in all of my years of gardening, so I really didn’t know what it was. I did some research, fearing that it may be blight, but the spots on the tomatoes don’t seem to be consistent with blight (thank goodness!), especially since blight seems to effect the leaves more than the fruit. They looked a lot like bacterial spots, but from what I’ve found bacterial spots tend to be tiny, just a few millimeters across. These spots are larger than that, so that didn’t quite fit either.

Finally I found a photo of something that looked just like my tomatoes. I followed the photo to the linked webpage and found something called anthracnose fruit rot. I looked up images of this disease, and it definitely fits what my tomatoes currently look like. What also fits is the explanation of causes. Tomatoes planted in soil that has inadequate drainage, for example. I have my tomatoes in a raised bed, but I lined the raised bed with landscape fabric to prevent weed growth.

I honestly didn’t think drainage would be a problem in an 8×4 raised bed, because typically in a Missouri tomato growing season we are hard-pressed to get enough rain and have to keep tomatoes watered daily. We are much more likely to have problems with drying soil than soaked soil…except, evidently, this year. I actually thought lining the raised bed and not creating drainage holes would help keep the tomatoes watered enough to thrive. You know what they say about the best laid plans…

So basically, insects carry this fungus from one plant to another, and it thrives in damp environments. Just like a lined tomato bed with the plants crowded closer together than they really should be (I decided to shove four plants in instead of three), where they don’t get quite enough sunlight and the soil is constantly wet from rain water. The good news is, unlike with blight, I may be able to salvage my plants without pulling them up.

I’ve read a lot about washing the fruit with a baking soda mixture, which I plan to try this weekend. I’ve also been reading a lot of good things about copper-based sprays, and I’ve ordered some to treat the plants. I will be sure to share an update as to how well this works in a later blog post. For now, I will share some photos of what this looks like on my tomatoes. I am no botanist, but based on my research, this is anthracnose fruit rot on my tomatoes:

If you’ve experienced anything similar or have additional information that could help, please feel free to share with me in the comments.



We Built an Enclosure for My Raised Bed to Protect the Tomatoes from Squirrels

Dear Friends,

If you’ve been following my blog since last summer, then you know all about my never-ending battle with the squirrels. Last year, I did not get to harvest one single tomato because the squirrels stole every one before they were even ripe. This year I decided to build a raised bed, and build an enclosure with chicken wire to protect my precious tomatoes from a premature death. Little did I know when I made those plans that I was going to meet a man right at the start of gardening season who is an engineer!

Logan and I had plans to build something that would keep the squirrels out – but frankly we were winging it with our limited knowledge of cutting and screwing together lumber, and stapling on some chicken wire. One of the first things I told Michael about myself was my love for gardening. When I talked about making an enclosure for my tomato bed, he volunteered to design and build one for me, if I was willing to share my tomatoes. I wasn’t about to turn him down! I even added a fourth tomato plant to my bed just for him.

The tomato bed turned out to be pretty simple – I found a kit in exactly the size I wanted (4′ x 8′) on Amazon made completely of cedar, which means it’s virtually rot-proof, for $149.00. I put this together easily by myself, stapled landscape fabric to the sides, then filled it with garden soil. I bought my tomato plants – an early girl, a roma, a big boy, and my personal favorite; an heirloom brandywine – and got them in, then let everything grow while Michael designed the enclosure. I told him we would have until about mid-June before I started seeing tomatoes.

As it turns out, those tomatoes must have really loved my soil, because I discovered two green tomatoes on the early girl plant just a couple of days before the end of May! I sent Michael a text and told him we would have to get that enclosure built a little sooner than anticipated, so we got to work that next Saturday, June 8th. My mom was in town for a visit, so she brought Grandpa’s truck down and Michael, Logan and I took it to Menards to get our supplies.

We were racing the rain, but we made it to his friend’s house to cut the lumber (his friend does woodworking and has every tool we could possibly need for the project) and got the cut boards all unloaded in my carport ahead of the drizzle. Michael and Logan set to work assembling the lumber while my mom and I made a couple of store runs and put together some lunch. Then helped stretch the chicken wire onto the doors that, by that point, were assembled and waiting.

Myself and my boys, my mom, and Michael moved the enclosure to its place on the tomato bed, where Michael and Logan attached the last couple of boards and stapled on the last panel of chicken wire. What we ended up with is a 4′ x 8′ x 6′ enclosure with four doors – two on each of the long sides of the bed – to access the tomatoes. The enclosure sits down perfectly inside of the tomato bed, with no room for pesky squirrels to get inside!

Since we were in a time crunch – the first two tomatoes on the plant were already stolen by the time the enclosure was done – we put it up without any kind of sealer or stain. We wrapped the posts that go into the soil in plastic sacks to keep the soil off of them. Then at the end of the season we will take it back down and I will put polyurethane on it to protect it from the elements moving forward.


I can’t believe how well it turned out! There is no way Logan and I could have come up with anything even close to this, and I am super impressed by Michael’s skills. He put a lot of work into it, and in the hours spent working alongside my son he was incredibly patient. He taught Logan how to design a structure on the computer (I assume using CAD, but I honestly don’t even know what program he used), how to assemble it, and he set a wonderful example of a good attitude. We got to spend some time together, my son got to do something he loves, and my tomatoes are now squirrel-proof. I call this project a huge win!

Coming soon on the blog…tomatoes–because this year I’ll have some!