Self Watering Seed Starting Kits

I found something interesting today related to seed starting.  The older I get, the more I think I should simplify.

I was looking around on line for some cool indoor containers that would be fun to grow basil seeds and found this cute little kit.  It seems a bit pricey, but it looks sleek and contained.

This unit is self contained and includes:

  • a grow light
  • a self watering system with water reservoir
  • cartridges of special soil with seeds already embedded in them (evidently these are re-usable)


How it works:

According to the video, you pop in a pre-planted seed thingy that has the perfect amount of nutrients, special soil, etc. all in a cartridge of sorts.

  1. pop in a cartridge,
  2. fill a reservoir with water,
  3. and plug it in.
  4. Self watering seeds are a go.


Who Could Benefit from a Product Like This:

It could potentially be awesome if you are one of those crazy busy people who wants fresh basil, but can’t handle one more thing to remember to take care of.  Or if you are going to be gone for a few days, and don’t want to have your seedlings dry out, this might be something worth checking out.

The company claims you can grow your own cherry tomatoes in it, but I am highly skeptical about that.  Do they have a clue as to how huge a cherry tomato plant gets?  Even if it’s a super dwarf variety meant for containers, I would still not plant a cherry tomato in it, unless you plan to just start the plant and then plant it outside once it gets about 5 inches tall or so.

Plants that I think you would have the most success with using this unit:

  • basil,
  • cilantro,
  • arugula,
  • mizuna (Japanese mustard greens),
  • radishes(if using for microgreens),
  • beets(for microgreens),
  • basically, any kind of plant that you would like to eat regularly for microgreens.

Why I think small leafy greens would work best:

The reason I think it could work well for herbs that you eat regularly, is because you can maintain a small enough size plant that is compatible with the size of the unit because you will be eating your greens regularly.

I would love to test this product out and give a review!  I think it would be great for a city dweller with a small apartment or condo who doesn’t want to mess with a huge garden, but enjoys being able to pick a few tasty herbs to garnish meals, or simply to scratch and sniff!

What do you guys think of the look?

I found this little gizmo intriguing.  What do you think of it?  It’s a self-watering seed starting kit. There is a short video description of how it works with a time-lapse growing video to see it in action.  Click the pic if you want to learn more from the manufacturer.


Radishes: How to Make Haters Love Them

watermarkradish french breakfast 8 x 12Heading out to the garden to pick some radishes, and actually eat them! Finally tried them sliced thin and sautéed in fresh garlic, rosemary, parsley, butter, olive oil, and then seasoned w/kosher salt. They were actually good! And I thought I hated radishes! Even steamed the greens and ate them too.

4 Garlic Cloves Finely Chopped

1 Stem Fresh Rosemary (leave the leaves on the stem)

4 Stems Fresh Parsley Chopped

3 Tablespoons Olive Oil

2 Tablespoons Butter

1.  First heat the olive oil in a 12 inch skillet

2.  Saute the herbs on low to medium heat so you don’t burn the garlic

3.  Once garlic is sautéed after about 3 minutes, add the butter and melt.

4.  Then add the thinly sliced radishes and sauté until tender, then add about 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and toss.

5.  Add about 2 Tablespoons water to the skillet, and then steam 4-6 cups of baby radish greens, baby kale, and baby spinach for about 1 minute or until barely wilted.

This makes a beautiful green edible background for Tuna steaks, or whatever steak you are in the mood for.  I had mine last night with pan seared Tuna steaks and a side of Flax and Quinoa pilaf.  Yum, and my kids thought I was a rock star chef and devoured it!

Boneless Beef Short Ribs, Italian Style

Boneless Beef Short Ribs, Italian Style © Marie Stephens 2015

Preheat oven to 500 degrees F


The Rub
  •  1Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2Tbsp olive oil
  • 1tsp granulated onion or onion powder
  • 1 tsp granulated garlic
  • 1 tsp kosher salt 1tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp ground oregano
Wisk ingredients together and rub all over meat.
NOTE: Works best if you wisk dry ingredients together first, then add wet ingredients and wisk again to avoid lumps of spices.
  • Meat: 3 to 4 lbs of Boneless Beef Short Ribs from Fareway or your favorite butcher.  Only about $4.99/lb, and tastes delicious, like a flat iron steak but in roast form.


This recipe is for 3 to 3.5 lbs of meat.

  1. Preheat oven to 500.
  2. Put meat in a foil lined baking dish, I use a ceramic roasting pan…a deep one.
  3. Arrange the ribs side by side, standing on the skinny side, and nestle in the pan as close together as you can. I put the fat side facing up so it can baste the meat as it cooks.
  4. After you mixed all the spices and oil and vinegar, rub it evenly all over the meat on all sides.
  5. If you want the flavor to go down into the meat, you can pierce the meat on top but don’t go all the way through.
  6. Put the meat in the oven at 500 for about 15 minutes,
  7. then turn down the heat to 325. Cook for half hour, then baste with the juices, then another half hour, baste, then maybe 20 or 30 more minutes until it reaches your desired level of done ness.
  8. You can either just use the juice as is for an au jus sauce to dip meat in, or make gravy to go w/ mashed potatoes.


  • 1 cup drippings
  • 1 cup water, mix those together
  • Then put 1/4cup flower with 1/2 cup cold water in a container that seals, then shake or wisk
  • add to the drippings and water and wisk constantly until boiling
  • then turn down heat a bit and keep stirring until it thickens.

I use the Betty Crocker Recipe for my mashed potatoes, and use the gigantic individually sold potatoes, because they are much faster and easier to peel. 4 large potatoes makes enough for our family of 4 and we still have a few leftovers. I usually roast carrots and other veggies in a separate dish, so they don’t get too soggy or too much fat from the beef on them. Usually roast about 10 whole carrots in the oven too. Let me know if you have any other questions. NOTE: If you want the meat super evenly cooked, it’s a little extra work, but you can cook it for 7-10 minutes at 500 and the flip it over and do another 7 minutes or so, but it’s a lot of work and sometimes you burn yourself doing it! It’s kind of hard to do with the beef ribs vs. a whole roast.

My Oh My, Purple Potatoes?

Update October 19, 2014:  My family and I were able to enjoy some of our fall harvest…together!  I knew I missed having my hubs around on the weekends, but having experienced life without him every Saturday and Sunday over the past 7 months, has really made me appreciate the time we had around the table as a family today.  And, we got to try our purple potatoes!

The Recipe :  I had a small amount of little baby potatoes, enough for 2 adults and 2 kids, so I boiled them until tender, added about 1/4 cup milk, about a tablespoon of butter, 1/4 tsp real salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of dried dill weed, and finally about  1 or 2 tablespoons of parmesan cheese.  I mashed them all together, skins and all, and they were deelish!

Regrets:  Just wish I had more of these yummy potatoes!  I planted them in an area that was over crowded, so I was unable to do the cage method and did not hill them up.  I think I could have really increased my crop yield if I had a raised bed that was dedicated to potatoes.  I think I would plant half the bed with the potatoes, and then reserve the other half with extra soil that I could use to hill them.  I think that would be much less complicated than the cage method, and just as effective, if not more so.  Time to expand my vegetable growing area in the back yard!

Original Article from Spring 2014

Yesterday, I placed an order for some potatoes.  Where I will plant them, I do not know.  What I do know is that they are delicious and there are many reasons why I need to be feeding them to my family.

  1. They are full of nutritional goodies.
  2. They are purple!  How fun is that?  Purple inside and out.
  3. They have 235 milligrams of anthocyanins per 148 gram serving, which is about 1 and a half of these potatoes.

What are anthocyanins?  According to the Potato Garden catalog description of Purple Majesty potatoes, anthocyanins are a subclass of high-potency antioxidants shown to reduce the risk of several health issues and diseases:

  1. cancer
  2. heart disease
  3. cholesterol
  4. age-related memory loss
  5. strengthens the immune system

I felt like I spent quite a bit on a small amount of seed potatoes, but I can’t find them anywhere around here.  I am justifying the purchase by telling myself that I would rather spend a few bucks on something that tastes good, is healthy, and is fun to grow rather than blow money at the doctor’s office later on in life.  I’m thinking of it as an investment in my family’s health.  Hopefully the returns will be exponential:)  And hopefully, I can talk my boys into trying some purple potatoes this fall.   If you would like to try some yourself, click here to see where I got mine.   Check back soon, because I will be attempting and reviewing a couple of new ways…well, new to me, to grow my potatoes this season.  The cage method,  and maybe even the mulch alternative method.  If it means lots of potatoes that I don’t have to dig and scrub the dirt off, I am willing to try anything.

Recipe for Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Recipe for Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

“Holy cow, I finally perfected it!”

And I even remembered to write down what I put in this time.  Miracles really do happen.  Now I can make the flavor I love for half the price or less than what it costs to buy a ready made batch at the grocery store.  I’m just a tad bit excited about this.  And it is not spicy hot at all!  Just has a lovely smokey, warm, roasted peppery garlicky deliciousness that I crave.  I kind of went out on a limb adding the curry powder, but it really does give it a nice depth of flavor that was missing with the last batch I tried.


two 16oz. cans of chickpeas drained

1/2 jar of Mezzetta Deli Sliced Roasted Red Bell Pepper Strips with some of the juice

1tsp ground cumin

1tsp real salt

1Tbsp minced garlic

5 tsp lemon juice

3tsp white vinegar

1 tsp granulated onion

1tsp curry powder

3 drops habanero tobasco sauce

1/8 tsp chipotle tobasco sauce

Place in a food processor and pulse until smooth.  Add liquid from the roasted peppers to get it to achieve your desired texture.

Makes about 40oz of hummus.


Recipe ©Marie Stephens 2014  All Rights Reserved


Corn Chow a Must Try Sweet and Salty Snack

Corn Chow a Must Try Sweet and Salty Snack


I just made a new discovery.  This has nothing to do with gardening.  It has everything to do with my sweet tooth.  

If you like puppy chow, the tasty snack with rice chex, chocolate, peanut butter, and powdered sugar, you might enjoy this tasty alternative, especially if you love Fritos and Nutella!


For one cereal bowl of the mix here’s what you will need:


2 Tbsp Nutella heated about 30 seconds in microwave until warm and gooey.  Heat at 15 second intervals.

Add a cereal bowl full of Fritos to the Nutella and toss with 2 spoons until Fritos are coated.

Put about 1/2 cup powdered sugar in a 1 quart sized zip lock bag.

Dump the Nutella coated Fritos into the zip lock bag with powdered sugar.

Seal zip lock bag.

Shake until Fritos are coated with powdered sugar.


Now you have a portable sweet treat just for you or to share.  Deeelish!  It’s a must try, if you are love salty and sweet snacks.

You can thank me later:)

I’m sure this has already been done somewhere on the internet, but it’s new to me!

Bounty of Beans

“Beans don’t fry in the kitchen.  Beans don’t burn on the grill.  Took me a whole lot of tryin’, just to get up that hill.”  Sometimes, that’s how gardening feels, doesn’t it?  But then, when you get a crop, it’s soooo rewarding, even if it’s a small one, it still feels like a victory… you’re finally “In the big leagues”, and you’re finally, “Movin on up!”  I love that song, and as I have been writing this post, it keeps popping into my head, so I thought I’d share it so you can listen to it while you read:)   My two year old and I have been dancing and clapping along to the music this morning.

This spring I planted beans.  A LOT of beans.  I had high hopes of sampling new varieties of Limas, black beans, Garbanzo Beans, Yin Yang beans, Fava, purple pole, green pole, yellow wax, and I think that’s it.  Everything was going great, until this drought came along, and nothing was happening.  I had almost given up on my crop, and thought all the hundreds of seeds I planted were only going to amount to about a handful for the entire crop!

The beans proved me wrong, and have been beating the odds that were stacked against them.  I can’t remember the last time it rained, but the beans are giving me a decent crop, with even a few to share!

With this recent heat wave, it’s been too hot to cook in the kitchen, so I decided to try grilling the beans.  They tasted deeelish!  Almost like a healthy french fry with an extra crunch, these babies were super easy to prepare, and the results were more than worth the effort.

The only thing I would change about this recipe, if I could, would be to make it so the beans hold their color better.  They don’t look nearly as colorful as they do raw, which could be a turn off to if you didn’t already know how delicious they taste.

I Garden Because I Can….Pun Intended

This post is about gardening, and why I love it, why I hate it, and why gardening will always be a part of my life!

I garden because I can!

There’s no place I’d rather be.

In this place, treasures abound,

when searching around,

hunting on bended knee.


My arms are getting itchy,

The bugs are beginning to bite!

Yet still,

I feel,

A calm respite.


My buns are sweating, 

My back is breaking, 


I should be staking!

Muscles I never knew I had,

soon will be aching!


Weeds are tall,

My patience is shrinking!

My boobs are sweating!

My armpits are stinking!

And then I start thinking:


How I would love to fall into a pool

But then I look at my haul,

and I begin to drool!


My shirt is stained

My body is drained

My thirst needs quenched

My clothes are drenched




My mind is clear

My soul is cheered

My heart is full

along with my bucket!


My bucket is full

of gardeners’ loot.

I’ve hit the jackpot

in multiple pounds of delicious fruit!


My garden may not be perfect,

after all, it’s full of weeds,

but still it remains

an escape for me.


Not to be alone,

but to live in community

with birds and bees…….

and those stinking rabbits,

the snakes that give me the shivers,

the caterpillars,

other creepy critters

and let’s not forget the coons!

Yes they have a right to be here too,

so I guess I could spare them a tomato or two.

©Marie Stephens 2018

Are You Ready?

If after reading this poem, which is almost a disclaimer stating that gardening is not glam, you still want to give it a try this year, then I found a collection of seed at a decent price to get you started!  I read a little bit about the company, and it warmed my heart!  Take a peek and see for yourself when you click the pic!

The “I Garden Because I Can” Gift Collection, by Marie Stephens Art

Below, is a link to a small collection of “I Garden Because I Can” items that I created as gifts for gardeners and home grown food preservation fanatics!  They can all be personalized and shipped directly to you or to the person you’d like to send the gift to!

So far, I have designed a

  • kitchen floor mat with funny canning puns and phrases,
  • a tshirt that can be ordered in multiple styles and colors,
  • an apron,
  • a bandana to hold your hair back on canning day,
  • and a mason jar mug with the graphics I designed to make your fellow gardener/canner smile, especially if they hate bunnies…even though they really are so cute!

I hope you will get a chuckle, and if you do order something, thanks so very much!  I earn a royalty for the items purchased with my art on them!

Canning and Gardening

Starting Basil Indoors

How to Start Basil In Your Kitchen

I just got a question from Shaina about how to start basil so she could have fresh herbs in her kitchen.  Basil is an easy one to germinate, or start from seed.  And fresh basil tastes wonderful in so many dishes.  So this one is for you, Shaina, hope this helps:)

First and foremost, you’ll need some seeds!  Below are links to where you can order some of my favorite varieties!  And there are tons of different kinds of Basil!

As I was hunting for links for Basil seeds and looking at pictures of this delicious herb, I began smelling Basil!  I told my family, “Man, all of this talk about Basil is making me so hungry, I am starting to smell it!!!”  Then I walked into the kitchen and realized that my son, Harrison, was eating his breakfast, leftover angel hair pasta with basil pesto mixed in!

This is Italian Genovese Basil. If you sprinkle it right on top of the soil and give it a pat, several little seedlings will pop up, and make a nice green stand of basil babies! Kinda like a Chia pet, but with larger leaves.
This is Spicy Globe Basil. It is the cutest, in my opinion of all the basils. It has tiny leaves and makes a cute little ball that you can clip and sprinkle on everything. The flavor is less licorice “y” than other basils and more spicy sweet. Click the pic to order from Amazon.
If you can’t decide on which variety to try, many companies offer collections of seed, like this one that features Dark Opal Basil, Thai Basil, Lemon Basil, Lime Basil, Italian Genovese Basil, Sweet Basil, Spicy Globe Basil, and Cinnamon Basil. Click the pic to order via Amazon.

This is a set of 5 pots from Ceramo, a company I used to order pottery from when I had my flower shop.  The size is 4.25 inches.  You can also order clay saucers from them. I prefer using a pretty plate and then putting 2 or three pots on the same plate.


You will need a basic potting mix to start your basil seeds in.  There are hundreds of brands and recipes out there.  I have always found Miracle grow to be a good basic mix to start with. Click the pic if you want to order some from Amazon.

Getting Started

Potting Soil Prep:  

One thing that nobody seems to tell you is that potting mix is hard to moisten in the beginning.  It usually has peat moss in it, which can hold a ton of water….but because of that, it takes a while to soak up!  I would advise that prior to planting any seeds………

  1. grab an old bucket
  2. grab an old large spoon or trowel
  3. pour the amount of soil you need into the bucket
  4. turn on some warm water in your kitchen sink
  5. turn the spray nozzle on
  6. gently spray some water into the bucket, being careful not to spray directly onto the soil, because if it’s really dried out, the soil particles might poof into your face and make you sneeze:)
  7. start mixing the soil, to work in the water
  8. add squirts of water until the soil feels moist, and will clump together when you squeeze it…kind of like shortbread cookie dough, or pie crust…still crumbly, but will hold together if you squeeze it.
  9. Once it has enough water, put the soil in the pot
  10. You are now ready to plant your yummy Basil seeds!
  11. Doing this soil prep will make it much easier to water in your seeds after you plant them. Why?  Really dry potting mix tends to float and repel water at first.  If you are trying to get the soil to soak up the water after you have already planted the seeds….think flash flooding of baby seeds and drowning and suffocation of baby seeds…not good:)

What if you Don’t have time for soil prep as described above?

  1. Here’s a cheat.  In plant nerd terms, we call this process capillary action.  Just set the pot that you planted your seed in, in a saucer and fill the saucer with water
  2. Let the water soak in from the bottom, up through the soil, from the drainage hole in the pot.
  3. refill the saucer until the soil appears to be moist on top.  This may take a few hours.

Planting the Basil Seeds

1.  Find a small 4 inch pot.  I prefer clay pots, because they are cute, and because they allow the soil to dry out faster, which helps me to avoid rotting my seedlings from overwatering.

2.  Get your favorite variety of Basil seed

3.  Sprinkle the Basil seeds right on top of the soil

4.  Gently scratch the soil surface to let the Basil seeds fall into place

5.  Water in the Basil seeds with a gentle shower from your kitchen sprayer

6.  Make a mini greenhouse environment for your newly sown basil seeds by

     a. covering the soil with a clear baggy dome, or

     b. you could set the whole pot inside one of those clear plastic lidded spinach

         boxes from the grocery store that acts as a saucer to catch the drips and

         keeps the air humid which will make the seeds germinate faster.

7.  Place your mini greenhouse with your newly sown basil seeds on the top of your      refrigerator, as the bottom heating of the soil from the fridge will stimulate them to sprout.

8.  After they sprout, take the baggy off  or remove the salad container lid and keep them in a bright place.  Away from heat vents and scorching sunlight.  A foot or 2 away from a sunny window would be good to start out.

9.  Once the sprouts get 4 leaves, pinch off the top 2 to get the plant to branch, each place you pinch, you should get 2 new branches right below the pinch. Once those get big enough, pinch and use for cooking, and you’ll then have 4, then 8 then 16 branches and so on. Feed at least once or twice/month and don’t let it flower, so you can get more greens off it. mmmm, now I want to try it!  I think I will be trying spicy globe basil, because it branches so easily and is a nice looking plant, plus, it should have great flavor too.

After all of this talk about planting seeds, I think I am ready to start some of my own for this year.  It seems quite appropriate given this weeks weather of snow, snow and more snow!  Thank goodness we don’t have to wait until spring to start gardening!!!  Check back for updates and maybe even some pics of our planting day. Or follow along on @gardenshapers on Instagram!

Learn How to Plant Basil Seeds from a 7 year old!