Charting life's circuitous path

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Gardening in the City

Review: City Pickers Planter Box

We share our breakfast with a cute little guy.  His twin dark stripes running down his back and little tufty tail mark him clearly as a chipmunk.  We call him Chipper.  Okay, not original, but naming him makes him our little guy.  (Even though it’s impossible to tell if it’s the same chipmunk stuffing its cheeks at the feeder. 😮 )  We’ve yet to name the squirrels, dark red cardinals and sparrows, but Chipper is the reason we keep our feeder well stocked.  Nothing makes me smile more broadly than seeing his fat cheeks.citypick1

I keep a number of container plants on our patio and he loves to dart around and over them as he scopes out his territory.  My mother sighs in exasperation at the squirrels that dig little holes into her dirt, but I think it’s cute.  It’s not like the plants are ever hurt and it reminds me that even the animals have bad memories.

Gardening, though, takes a lot of effort – there’s the planning, buying, potting, pruning and of course, the never ending watering.  Since it’s Spring, I’m  stamping my green thumb all over my small patio with glee, but the real work is only beginning.

My May flowers are definitely filling up the muddy corners and giving everything a touch of (in my case) pink.  Inexplicably, I seemed to have gravitated towards varying shades of pink this year.  Noticing the pink trend in the checkout line, I panicked and thought about swapping out for, say, purple or orange, but I had already envisioned the plants in my pots.   This is the gardening equivalent of trying on an outfit in the fitting room.  Once you picture it in, say, the blue pot on the light blue stand, you might as well put them in the cart and move on.  🙄

citypick2In the past, I used to plant a lot of veggies.  Growing up, vegetables fresh from the garden were an integral part of summer, and I have continued that in our containers. In past apartment balconies, tomatoes grew like weeds and green peppers would be prepped and frozen to keep up with the summer yields.  In our current apartment, I’ve found that I can grow less vegetables due to the limited sunshine.  Our electric bill is lucky to have a tree shading our patio doors, but it isn’t so lucky for the tomatoes.  With only about 4 hours of direct sun, I don’t get the kind of production that an 8 hour day used to provide.  So, I scaled down, both in numbers and in expectations (course, that didn’t stop me from sneaking outside and surreptitiously cutting overhanging limbs like a vandal when no one was around).  😈

However, I’m hoping to change that with my new planter.


It’s called City Pickers and I saw it in my local Home Depot for about $30.  It promised high yields and a solution to my watering problem (by utilizing a self-watering system).  It also piggybacked on the raised bed idea with its square box shape (24.5 in x 20.5 in) – a great shape, btw, for stability and  quantity.  Nothing tips faster than a top-heavy tomato plant in a round planter.   Amazon reviews were pretty positive, so it’s now sitting on my patio.

The best thing about it?  It has wheels (they aren’t attached yet in the picture).  Honestly, I don’t know if it’ll grow twice the produce or keep my plants watered, but the very fact that I can cart it around easily to chase the sun is a major plus.

Filling the planter with dirt is a bit trickier – you need a specific type of dirt (potting mix and not soil – not sure why), fertilizer (granular and not powder or liquid – again, not quite certain why), and dolomite (which I skipped since its use received bad reviews online and I couldn’t find any at my garden center). Reading the directions is a must.  You have to pre-moisten the soil, set up the planter with the appropriate fixtures and layer the “ingredients” precisely.  It didn’t leave me kicking the pot in anger, but I came close when I had filled it halfway and then realized that I had forgotten to insert the drainage cover.  Yeah, definitely read (and follow!) the directions.

Once you fill it, it supposedly holds quite a number of plants (up to eight, if the image is to be believed), but I was a bit reluctant to overfill.  For one, as much as they want to call it a raised bed, it’s only raised in so far as being “above” ground.  It isn’t a raised bed in any traditional sense with more dirt underneath.  Also, plants needs space – especially plants like tomatoes, peppers and other heavy vegetables.  So, I planted one tomato (a Cherokee purple plant), and two yellow banana peppers.  I’m going to see how they do before I plan for next season.


The biggest downside to the planter is the provided cover, which is really just a black “shower cap” for your pot.  Supposedly you plant your seedlings through cut holes, but if you’re planting anything you’ve bought from the garden center, then you’ll have to cut such large holes to make it useless.  I attempted to do this with my small tomato plant and gave up.  I might try to cut it up once the heat of summer arrives, but right now, I put it away and the plants are just going to have to live without.

Pros:  Great size for patios, wheels!, attractive vegetable pot

Cons: A bit misleading in advertisement (not really a raised bed, and they make it seem much easier to put together than it is), complicated soil directions, difficult to use cover, inconsistent pricing online (not really a fault of the product, but definitely something to look our for)

I like the planter, but so far, it’s really just a glorified square pot on wheels.  I’m hoping it’ll live up to at least two of its claims (being self-watering and providing high yields), but I’ll have to update this post when summer is over and the verdict is in.   Still, it’s a nice pot if you have the space and I can see myself using it for many summers to come.


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Will Paint for Free

When you go out for a bottle of wood glue and come home with three cans of spray paint, primer, a paper palette, sandpaper, and enough blue painter’s tape to mask the Taj Mahal, don’t be surprised when you begin to see everything you own in a different light (or color).   :mrgreen:

I’m not completely without a craft bone in my body.  Our vacations are painstakingly recreated in a big scrapbook, and I’ve been known to decorate birthday packages with twine, stickers and flowers.

That type of craft making, however, isn’t what Bob Vila sits down to do on Monday morning.  Sanding, priming and spraying bits of old rusty iron?  Now that’s craft. 😉

gardenI got it into my head when I was doing my normal spring inventory of garden supplies. A few pots would have to go and I was picturing what flowers and vegetables I would buy (I had just bought a new patio planter I couldn’t wait to fill with vegetables).  I picked up my weather-eaten wooden pot holder to get to another pot and I was left holding a beam.  The gray wood piece felt rough in my hand and it drew my attention to the real state of my small patio.

In the corner sat a worn, matte metal flower pot holder.  Faded with age and showing small bits of red-orange rust, it didn’t look as bright and young as when my brother gave it to me eight years ago.  Three tiered stands cost nearly $60 (no small change), and this one had traveled with us on multiple apartment moves. Definitely a keeper.

Next to it sat a very rusty pot stand and a bit behind that a tiny metal bench that used to prop up two cozy garden frogs from my grandmother (now broken and long gone).

It was easy to ditch the plastic pots (my mother wanted most of them), but the other bits and bobs held more meaning and whimsy.  I wanted a way to preserve them.  So I decided to start with the wooden pot holder and went out for glue and “to have a look around”.

Little did I know that I would have to decide between what seemed like 50 shades of grey (ok, bad pun!). 😯 The wall of spray paint in Home Depot spread out before me with mysterious brands, even more mysterious names (what exactly was “hammered” when it wasn’t connected to alcohol?), and endless shades.  My eye spied the lovely named shade of “satin espresso” (or less romantic matte brown), that I thought would look wonderful over my old, wood stand and new patio planter, and I submersed myself fully into the Spring breeze by picking out a “peekaboo blue” shade for the large stand. After channeling my inner Vila and picking up a few other (what I imagined to be important) supplies, I carted my load back home and  began prepping.

garden 2

Newly painted “peekaboo blue” stand with my owls and pots and the “satin espresso” wood stand now holds my new dark green pot.

Apparently, if you’re going to spray outside, you need a temperature above 55 F or else your paint will look like orange skin (painting forums are very useful things).  My temperature gauge said 60 F, my hubby voiced caution, but I was itching to paint and see the results! So I threw caution at the temperature and set up shop outside.  (Luckily it didn’t throw it right back at me!)

Being crafty isn’t really my thing – generally I’m in the “throw it out and buy a new one” camp, but this time I decided to give it a go.  I’m glad I did!  Not only was it easy and fast, but it was a lot of fun to watch something that looked neglected “smile” again with its bright new coat.

I still have a bird bath and some entry way bells to paint, but now I’m inspired to maintain more of my belongings.  Rather than just toss and buy, I just might look, muse and revive. 🙂

garden 3

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French Toast Light

I love blueberries. Especially large, round berries that promise sweetness, flavor and summer love.  This being January with nary a fruiting bush in sight, I was resigned to eating my berries once summer strolled back into my backyard (and grocery).

So, imagine my excitement when I saw a pint of these blues on sale at my local Whole Foods.  I may or may not have squealed a bit. 😳

In a lot of ways, I’m a bit lucky.  My hubby could really not care less about whether blueberries occupied our fridge space, so I knew that the entire pint was MINE.  What I had to do was contrive different ways to cook these berries where their plumpness, brightness and flavor would be highlighted, but not an intricate part of the recipe that the hubby would miss them if he went without.

Let’s just say that pancakes are wonderful.

And french toast. Definitely can’t forget about the french toast.

french toast

My french toast is part my mother’s recipe but mostly my adaptation. I lightened it, spiced it up a bit and pumped up the protein for a french toast that tastes wonderfully decadent but doesn’t become a calorie nightmare.

Most french toast recipes include cream, butter, and a rich bread (such as brioche).  While that will give you a delicious french toast, I’d rather rejig things a bit so that I can feel better about eating it for breakfast, and with more frequency than the original recipe (and still be tasty!).

So, whip out your egg whites, whole wheat bread and skim milk, and I’ll give you the perfect companion to blueberries.

French Toast Light

(Note: This recipe serves 2. I mention the brands I use, but go ahead and substitute as you will.  Of course, if you substitute items with higher calorie counts, you’ll end up with a heavier french toast.)


  • 4 slices of whole wheat bread (I use Healthy Life 100% Whole Wheat)
  • 1/2 cup egg whites
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup skim milk
  • a few dashes of cinnamon
  • a dash of pepper (I love a bit of pepper in my french toast, but I realize that some might find this odd. Try it, but if you don’t like it, then don’t add it.)
  • cooking spray
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup berries


  1. Mix egg whites with milk and spices in a bowl wide enough for a slice of bread.
  2. Heat frying pan coated with cooking spray on medium heat.
  3. Dip slices of bread one at a time into the egg white mixture and place directly onto hot pan.
  4. Cook 5 or so minutes until lightly browned, flip and repeat until all 4 are done.
  5. After the french toast has cooked, place berries into the hot pan and “saute” until the berries look like they might burst.  Keep scooting them around the pan as they cook.  This might only take a few minutes and you don’t want them to pop or scorch.
  • Place two slices of toast on plate, top with berries and a drizzle of syrup.  Eat and enjoy the feel of summer on your tongue. 🙂