Monthly Archives: March 2016

Our Library System

I remember walking out of the library that day, my face red with embarrassment, and thinking, “I could have bought books, lots of nice books, for the amount of money I just spent on late fines.” I stewed for the rest of the day, and in the end I made the decision to never go to the library again. Ever.  I mean, who needs the stress of keeping track of dozens of books for weeks at a time, or the humiliation of having to explain to the librarian why there’s silly putty stuck to the “Curious Gorge takes a Job” cassette tape?  Not me.

Fast forward a year; the boys were older, J was becoming a solid reader and G was a shaky newbie reader in need of lots of practice.  Miss E adored picture books and could look at them endlessly.  Over and over, I would think of books I wanted to read to them, the drawing books we could have fun with, reading about trucks and tractors, and the solar system…

Finally I came to the realization that it was time for me to grow up and get a grip.  It’s taken me time, some tweaking, and a lot of diligence, but I finally have a library system that works for us, and I’m happy to say that in the last two and a half years we’ve kept our late fines under 75 cents.

Our Library System | In An Orchard

Our local library sells these great book bags.  They’re sturdy, roomy (which is really important), and inexpensive.  I bought one for each of us.  One of the things I love best about these totes is the little pocket in the front.  I always keep all of our library cards in my wallet.  I used to let the kids keep their own but the were constantly getting lost.  Now they stay in my wallet until library day when I slip their cards into the pocket of their bags.
Our Library System | In An Orchard

Once the kids have filled their library bags and checked out all their books, I make sure they give me their book receipts and I stick them straight into my wallet.  The moment I get home I set my things down, pull the receipts from my purse and I write the due date on the calendar in bright red ink.  I know this sounds rigid but if I don’t write it on the calendar immediately I will forget ( I have the short-term memory of a goldfish).  And if the date isn’t written on the calendar it might as well not exist because I won’t remember it either.  So, the calendar gets marked right away, not only with the due date, but with the number of books that were taken out on each library card.  That was a great little tip my mother-in-law suggested and it’s been a huge time saver. That way I know exactly how many books we’re keeping track of at a glance.
Our Library System | In An Orchard

As a backup, I pin our book receipts to the board above my sewing machines.  Most of the time I don’t end up needing them.  I just make sure that the number on the calendar matches the number of the books we have in the book boxes.  But every once in awhile we get a rouge book or two and I need to consult the receipts to figure out exactly which book has gone AWOL.Our Library System | In An Orchard

The book boxes are without a doubt, the best idea I have ever come up with.  I know, that’s a pretty low bar.  But let me explain the simple but magnificent beauty of the book boxes.  All the library books go into the boxes, the children know exactly where to find them, and exactly where to put them away.  Gone are the days of frantically looking under beds, in toy boxes, through vehicles, under couch cushions, and in the bottom of closets.  The kiddos find the books they want to read, they sprawl out all over the living-room reading and when they’re done they put them all back in the boxes.
Our Library System | In An Orchard

And you know what?  Because the books are so easy to find and access, they get read a whole lot more.  We find ourselves at the library pretty much every three weeks.  Having a fresh batch of books cycling in and out of the house has been so great for the kids and their reading.  Naturally, our lives get busy and there are times when it’s a struggle to get the books back to the library; which is why I keep all of our library card passwords written down in a safe place so I can easily renew our books online.  Being able to renew books online has saved me so much time and money!

Another big and slightly unpopular decision I made, was to put a stop to the children checking out videos or audio cassette tapes.  They are so much harder to keep track of, easier to damage, and the late fines are twice as much as a book.  I bend that rule now and again for a special treat or for an educational DVD that supplements what we’ve been leaning at home.  On the rare occasion that we do bring a DVD home I put on the highest shelf of our bookcase and it stays there, safe and out of the reach of careless children.
Our Library System | In An OrchardSo, the moral of this story?  Learn from my mistakes my friends, find a library system that works for you and stick with it.  Don’t waste another day avoiding the library because you’ve been singing the “I’ve got the outrageous library fine blues”, it doesn’t have to be that way.  Also, if you have any great tips or tricks for keeping track of library books I’d love to hear them!


Garden Plans 2016

Garden Plans | In An Orchard

It’s that time of year again.  I’m acting cool and subdued but on the inside I’m jumping up and down, squealing and yelling, “Flowers!  All the flowers!”.  Here in California we are experiencing another mild winter and early spring, which means flower garden plans and planting are already in full swing.
Garden Plans | In An Orchard

My order of summer flower seeds arrived from Johnny’s Selected Seeds a few weeks ago.  I have them sorted in to groups of seeds that can be directly sown into the soil, and those that need to be started and then transplanted.  Fortunately there aren’t a lot of seeds in the later category.

I’m mixing things up a little this year.  In the past I’ve purchased a lot of variety packets, were you get a dozen or so flower varieties in one packet.  It’s sort of like a surprise grab bag; you know you’re getting sunflowers, you just don’t know exactly what kind, and how many of each variety will be in a single seed packet.  I’m finding as time goes on, that I’m getting more picky and controlling about what I have growing in my garden.  For example, last year I planted Johnny’s Sunflower Collection, and while they grew beautifully and produced hundreds of blooms, there were just too many brown and variegated sunflowers for my taste, and not enough of the Teddy Bear sunflowers.

Garden Plans | In An Ochard

The same went for my zinnia varieties. I ended up with too many light pink and yellow zinnias.  This year I decided to leave nothing up to chance and only purchase the exact colors and varieties I wanted.
Garden Plans | In An Orchard

For my Zinnias I’m only planting three different colors of the Benary’s Giants ( L to R- Giant Orange, Salmon Rose, and Giant Lime) Johnny's Select Seeds{images via Johnny’s Selected Seeds}


For my Sunflowers I chose 4 varieties (L to R- Red Hedge, Giant Sungold, Premier Light Yellow, and Soraya)
Johnny's Select Seeds{images via Johnny’s Selected Seeds}

My Bachelor Buttons are returning once again.  I love these little flowers.  I bought two packages of Blue Bachelor buttons so I could plant them in two rounds.  I’ve found that Bachelor Buttons take off and bloom so fast, which is really nice!  But if you don’t space out your planting you’ll run out of Bachelor Buttons before the summer is even half done, and you don’t want to run out of those happy blue flowers!

Garden Plans | In An Orchard

Bachelor Buttons are not “cut and come again” flowers; meaning you get one flush of flowers and that’s it.  You get A LOT of blooms, but once they’re done you can’t clip them back and get a second harvest.
Garden Plans | In An Orchard

New to the cutting flower garden this year are Billy Balls.  Love these sweet little guys with their bright mustard color and round shape.  They’re also ideal because they dry so beautifully which means you can keep them for ages!

Johnny's Select Seed's                                                  {image via Johnny’s selected seeds}

The one trick to the Billy Balls is they can’t be directly sown into the soil.  You need to start them ahead of time in seed starting boxes, preferably with the clear plastic lid which creates a miniature greenhouse for your babies.   These are my Billy Ball babies…still very, very tiny.

Garden Plans | In An Ochard

I also decide to try growing Yarrow this year.  This is another flower that dries nicely and comes in such pretty colors!  These also have to be started and then transplanted in 6 to 8 weeks.  I’m getting a late start on these, which might be a problem…only time will tell.

Johnny' Select Seeds                                                {image via Johnny’s Selected Seeds}

I’m also growing Gomphrena.  My friends Sharon, and Kelley had such good success growing these in their garden last year that I just had to try them!  I wanted the all-white seed packet but Johnny’s only had the mixed seed packets left by the time I was ready to order.

Johnny's Select Seed                                                   {image via Johnny’s Selected Seeds}

This year I decide to stick with just the Double Click Cosmos.  Normally I plant both double click and the Versailles variety, but I fell so in love with the double clicks last year, I decided to forgo the common Cosmos, so I’d have more room for these beauties…

Johnny's Select SeedsJohnny's Select Seeds                                                   {images via Johnny’s Selected Seeds}

The Dahlias will also be back.  I can’t even imagine a cutting garden without Dahlias.  Last summer I was kicking myself for waiting too long to purchase new Dahlia tubers for the garden.  I promised I wouldn’t make that mistake again this year so I ordered 6 new varieties in January (I bought mine from Swan Island but I’ve also ordered them from Eden Brothers in the past).  They should be shipped soon and planted in the next few weeks.  I’m so excited about all the new colors that are going to be in the garden this year!Garden Plans | In An Orchard

I thought I might take a minute to answer a few questions I’m frequently asked about my garden-

1. Where do I buy my seeds? I purchase all my seeds from Johnny’s Selected seeds, and I do so for a number of reasons.  One, I’ve had such consistently beautiful and bountiful yields from their seeds.  Whereas with other seed companies (like Burpee), planting feels like more of a gamble. Sometimes you get a packet of amazing seeds and sometimes you get a dud, and that is so disappointing! Second, they have an entire category just for cutting flowers, and that takes all the guess work out of picking flower seeds.  Anything listed in the Cut Flower category are flowers that have long stems and a good vase life.  I also like the way Johnny’s labels their seed packets with nice detailed instructions.  They make sure to identify which seeds need to be started and transplanted, and which seeds can be sown directly into the ground.  

2. What flowers do I recommend for a beginner?  My list of easy to grow, sow directly into the ground, cutting flowers looks like this:  

Cutting Sunflowers- don’t buy just any kind of sunflowers!  Make sure they are for cutting otherwise they will wilt the second you pick them.  I prefer the branching varieties.  Usually cutting sunflowers are labeled as “single stem” or “branching”.  Single stem sunflowers are lovely but you only get one flower per stem.  Branching sunflowers will give you dozens of flowers per stem.  My one warning about cutting sunflowers is they get huge!  So make sure you plant them in a spot where they can spread out and get big.

Cosmos- Cosmos are hearty plants, with the most whimsical delicate looking flowers.  They come in lots of unique shapes like the double ruffled and the sea shell varieties.  If you buy the common single petaled Cosmos and start them from seed, they can sometimes be very slow bloomers.  I spent two summers babying and coaxing my Cosmos only to realize they just needed more time. The double click and sea shell varieties don’t seem to have that problem.

Zinnias-  I usually plant only the Benary Giant varieties but the State Fair are lovely too.  They have smaller blooms.  These flowers can handle the heat, and are the quintessential summer flower.  The more you pick Zinnias the more you will get, which is why it pays to be a generous gardener.

Bachelor Buttons- (also known as Cornflowers) are an easy, carefree flower to grow.  Again, you want to get the cutting variety, otherwise they won’t have nice long stems.  They are fast growers too!

Dahlias- Dahlias look big and impressive and it seems like they should be fussy but they aren’t.  They are delightful!  If you plant Dahlia tubers in the spring you’ll have gorgeous blooms all summer long.  The more you pick the more they produce.  They do get really tall and bushy, and have a tendency to topple over if you don’t support them with twine and poles, or a large tomato cage.   The best thing about Dahlias is they come back year after year (just like a bulb).

If you are interested in having a small cutting garden this year it’s certainly not too late!  Here in California where our winters and springs are mild, you can start planting your seeds the first week of April (although I’ve been known to be impatient and plant as soon as the end of March with no ill effects).  If you are looking for more information about cutting flowers Floret Farms is an amazing source of information and inspiration!