Changing my Stance on Vaccines

First off, I’d like to say that I still believe that it’s every parent’s right to choose how they parent. This post isn’t meant to tell anyone that they’re wrong or a bad parent because they don’t believe with me 100%. Of course this is the case with all my posts, but I feel the need to state it right in the beginning of this one because I know this is such a touchy subject. People have very strong opinions on either side of the argument and that leads to some very heated discussions. I’m not saying these things to turn into an argument, but rather to show other parents that we can change our minds. We can admit when we’re wrong and go another direction and in this case, I am admitting that I was wrong. Here’s another article that my husband recently shared with me that has a similar theme.

My vaccine journey, of course, started when Peanut was very young. I knew a little about vaccines, but not much, when she was born. I knew I wanted to wait on the Hepatitis B vaccine, though she ended up getting it at 2 weeks because of a miscommunication between myself and my husband. After researching and reading The Vaccine Book (still a great read that I would recommend), I decided that she would still get all of her infant vaccines, but she would go in every month to get them and do 3 at a time instead of every other month and 6 at a time. It just made sense to me to still get this protection, but have less of an overload on her system at once.

Then as she got older, I started to question some of the live inactive vaccines they are supposed to get at one year. I was initially planning on getting the MMR in three separate vaccines, but it was take off the market as separate vaccines before she was old enough to get it. I also questioned chicken pox, as many parents who are my age or older do, because I had the illness as a child and it really wasn’t that big of a deal. I also decided not to do Hepatitis A because of the minute risk of seizure for children under 2. So she didn’t get any vaccines at one year. She did get her boosters for the other vaccines we had already started for 15 months.

This is about the time when I really started to get “crunchy.” Of course, I don’t consider being crunchy a bad thing whatsoever. I still completely believe in questioning the system, avoiding chemicals, and so many other parts of living a more natural life. Anyway, I started talking to these moms I now surrounded myself with and found that many of them did not vaccinate at all. This made me question vaccines myself. I became even more questioning when I read some obscure article stating there could be a link between peanut allergies and vaccines. By the time that Twig was born, I was completely anti-vaccine.

Now we fast forward to a few months ago. As many of you may know, I’m a biology teaching major. Last semester I took microbiology. This course was something I was not excited to take and therefore I put it off until almost the very end of my degree. Turns out I love it. Microbiology is fascinating to me and has actually solidified many of my crunchy ideals (e.g. fermentation and the health of gut microflora), but the one thing it directly clashed with is vaccines. We had a whole lecture series on vaccines and vaccine preventable diseases. Initially I felt like I was the person sitting bright cheeked in the second row (embarrassment), but that quickly turned into bright cheeked in the second row from anger. How dare my professor (and a guest professor) tell me I was wrong about vaccines? Then what they were saying started to make sense.

I’ll be the first to admit that they were both very passionately pro-vaccine. That’s not what got me though, it was the facts. So many of the things that they said made so much sense to me scientifically. For the longest time I had been simply ignoring the arguments from the crunchy folks that didn’t mesh with what I know about science, but all of this brought it to light in one foul swoop.

Many say that vaccines weren’t what brought down illness, but sanitation. My professors presented multiple charts to me showing that simply wasn’t the case. Many argued that vaccines just don’t work. Well here’ the mechanism that shows that they do work and it makes absolute sense from everything I know about biology and human physiology (which I’d venture to say it quite a bit at this point). Many say that they simply are too unsafe for the small risk that these relatively harmless diseases present or incredibly rare diseases present. Yes, there have been 5 cases of diphtheria in the US in the last 10 years, but do you know what that disease does? It basically chokes you to death. And it’s all one radical terrorist with the wrong connections away from running rampant in our country again.

So this all got me thinking. I understand the science behind vaccines, I understand the logic of getting them. From here, we decided to have a talk with our doctor. I had always planned on vaccinating Twig at some point, but I had no idea when. All I knew is that I didn’t want to bring so many foreign things into her body (especially anything that could risk her having a peanut allergy like big sis) at such a young age. Well all this thinking made me realize that now was the time and I wanted to discuss with our trusted pediatrician (Seriously, we have the best pediatrician in the whole world and I wish she could be my doctor. When we brought Peanut in with eczema, do you know what she told us to put on it? Coconut oil!) to decide which ones were important for her to get. During our discussion, she told me point blank that the whole peanut oil in vaccines thing was completely off base. I knew it probably was just some crackpot theory, but this solidified it. So we discussed which vaccines were the most important for her to get and I went home to plan out a schedule.

I decided she would for sure get polio (my husband has a co-worker who is from India and this series made me realize how close polio really is), HiB, and PC. I was unsure on DTaP because I’m fairly sure she’s already been exposed (my husband and Peanut both had it June before last) and received enough protection from my breast milk to avoid getting sick while producing her own antibodies. We would wait on all of the others and probably not get the flu vaccine at all.

Then the unthinkable happened to a friend–her baby died of the flu. I was so convinced that this just didn’t happen based on what I had read in The Vaccine Book and elsewhere. The flu isn’t that bad! We all make a big fuss about nothing! It’s mostly the elderly that die and even then, it’s reported the same way as pneumonia so we can’t really say a specific number! But it does happen and I saw it with my own eyes. I’m ashamed that it took seeing an innocent life taken for me to understand the true importance of herd immunity. Herd immunity may not be perfect, but it’s real. And if someone wouldn’t have exposed that poor baby to the flu because that (likely) healthy adult had good immunity, she would be alive today. I’m not saying this just for fear mongering, but because we need to know that these illnesses that can be prevented with vaccines really do kill. And if we all vaccinate we can help protect those who can not.

So here I am. I’m not completely sure where we’re going from here, but I know we’re going to vaccinate. I’m not sure when and if all, but I’m leaning towards all of them. And this goes for myself too. I can’t believe I’ve been saying no to the flu vaccine every year when I’m asthmatic and highly susceptible to pneumonia. I’m a scientist at heart and it just makes sense to me from that perspective. I feel like so much of the anti-vaccine arguments aren’t based in science. Anyway, this has been kind of a mash of all of the things going on in my head, so I’m sorry if it doesn’t make sense. For anyone out there who is crunchy and contemplating doing vaccines, know you’re not alone. There’s a whole horde of breastfeeding, co-sleeping, attachment parenting, babywearing, gentle disciplining moms who also choose to vaccinate their children.

A New Version of Co-sleeping

For those of you with an eagle eye, you may have noticed that the last photo in Twig’s birthday post was the girls in their very own bed. I’ll go ahead and post it here too because it’s just ridiculously cute.

 

A few weeks ago, we bought a full sized mattress and put both girls in it to sleep at night and it’s been wonderful! We had a hunch that Peanut would sleep much better if Twig was in the bed with her. My husband has been sleeping in Peanut’s room most nights because she would wake up and come downstairs to him (he’s a night owl, so he’s up quite late) and he’d come to lay down with her and fall asleep. We were slowly working on her sleeping on her own (mostly because his back hurt from being squished on a twin mattress with her), but it wasn’t making much progress. So we decided to take a different route. Twig had recently night weaned (following Dr. Jay Gordon’s method again and it was quick and successful) so we decided to try it out.

First off, if you have a second child you know how much they love doing things just like their big brother/sister. So when we asked Twig if she wanted to sleep in Peanut’s bed, she was ecstatic. They were actually both so excited that we let them sleep in the twin mattress for a night or two because we hadn’t bought the full mattress yet. The first couple of nights Twig woke up after a few hours and came back into the bed with me, but I expected that. Peanut did that for a long time the first time she moved into her own bed.

Over the course of a couple of weeks though, she slowly stopped coming into our bed! For the last week she’s been sleeping completely through the night in the bed with big sister. We often put them to bed separately and then I move Twig into their bed because she gets distracted and takes a long time falling to sleep with Peanut, but I don’t mind. They also have been waking up at 6am (sometimes earlier!) which we need to work on, but have just been putting them down earlier to account for it. All in all, it’s been a smooth transition! And my husband is in the bed with me again! Yay co-sleeping!

How to Move Baby Chicks Outdoors in Winter

Last August, a friend who was moving out of state gave us her chickens (two red sex linked, one buff orpington, and two unknown) and coop. I’ve always wanted chickens, but have had a hard time convincing my husband that it’s worth it to take on the start up costs. Free? He could handle that.

We had a relatively short amount of time to prepare for the chickens (the friend wasn’t sure if she was moving until a couple weeks before), so I read as much as I could before the chickens got here. Still, I didn’t know much. I’ve been working on gaining more chicken knowledge as I go, but I’m far from an expert. One of the things I didn’t understand was molting. Every fall, chickens can (but don’t necessarily always) molt. This means that they stop laying for a while so they can focus on growing new feathers. When our chickens stopped laying sometime in September or October, I thought it might be molting, but I didn’t realize how long it can go on. I think that I may have made them go even longer with being a novice chicken owner (sometimes I wouldn’t fill their water often enough and they’d go a day without water, which can make them stop laying too).

I wasn’t sure if they were going to stop laying for good (they’re somewhere around 2-3 years old, which is the normal time frame for chickens to stop laying) and I didn’t want to go without eggs for long. So I came up with the brilliant idea to get chicks in October and raise them indoors, ideally getting eggs from them in the Spring (rather than having to wait if we got spring chicks). I found some on a local site where people go to sell random stuff and brought them home.

IMG_1881 The first two chicks we got (not a lot of chicks available in the fall, so we took what we could find, this case being only two) we beautiful Japanese Silver Phoenix. They were super tiny and were going to grow up to be beautiful birds. Sadly, even with the addition of 6 other chicks (or possibly because of), they both died. It made me really sad because even though our chickens are purely farm animals (no names, we will cull them when they stop laying, etc.) these ones were just great. I could tell that they would have been great to handle as adults. 

The other six we got were a mixture of either Buckeye (rooster) with either Cinnamon Star, Buckeye, Speckled Sussex, or Rhode Island Red hen. The lady that was selling them buys speciality breed eggs for selling and then just throws in a few from her own hens in the incubator at the same time. So they could be from any of her hens. The chicks took a lot longer than the other two to get used to being handled and they’re still not as good with it, but now they seem to realize that I’m here to help. It’s nice when the chickens get that and don’t run away from me constantly. It took our big hens a while to understand it too. 

Anyway, back to moving them outside. 

Obviously we had to have them indoors while they were young. There are plenty of guides about how to do this online and in books, so I won’t get into the details. First they were in a big box that I realized was too small pretty much as soon as we got the six bigger chicks. Then they moved to a kiddie pool that we happened to have lying around (and we kept for doing this in the garage with future chicks). They pretty quickly decided that they should fly out the top and we didn’t have anything to put over the top to keep them in, so we moved them to the big dog crate. This is what they stayed in until they moved outside. It was a bit cramped at the end, but they spent most of the day outside by that point. 

The plan was to move them outside at 8 weeks, just like you do in the spring. I’d spoken with someone else who raises chicks in the fall and was able to do the same thing. She specifically said that she gets them so they can go outside before it snows. Of course, luck would have it that we had a huge storm come in when they were about 6 weeks. This was also when I realized how much dust they were creating (I’ll never raise chicks indoors again and we had to deep clean that entire room), so I was in a bit of a panic. I started frantically searching the internet for how to move chicks outdoors when the weather is below freezing (both day and night) and came up with absolutely nothing. I ended up winging it and it went well, so that’s why I’m sharing it here! 

First, I started by gradually increasing their time outside for about a week. They had already been outside before, but I stopped once the snow hit. They needed to get used to the snow and cold if they were going to go outside though, so this is where we started. First it was about an hour, the next day maybe 3 hours, and so on. By the end, they were out in the morning and brought in as it started to get dark. I did this for maybe 2-3 days. One day I even got them a little too late and they started trying to hide in a bush which was a huge pain. Luckily they didn’t go deeper in the bush trying to get away from me (I think they realized I was there to take them inside) but I still got covered in welts in the process. 

Once they had spent a few entire days outside, I decided it was time to move them into the coop overnight. I was afraid that the big chickens would be mean though (I had already had to chase them away from the chicks for trying to peck them on the head multiple times), so I decided the best idea was to divide the coop in half with chicken wire. Most guides tell you to put them in a cage in the middle of the coop, but ours isn’t big enough for that. I had a bunch of chicken wire lying around so this seemed like the best bet. I just wedged the chicken wire in and stuck the chicks in the side that didn’t have the door to get out. I took out the daylight lightbulb (trying to extend the daylight hours for the big chickens so that they would lay more) and replaced it with the red heat lightbulb. I let it run 24 hours a day. 

When I came back to check on them the first time a few hours later, everyone was happy as clams. The big chickens seemed to really appreciate the heat lamp. The next morning though, the chicken wire had fallen over. Should have secured it with a staple gun! It trapped one of the chicks (it was fine) and the others were mingling with the big chickens. No one was getting pecked though! I took out the chicken wire and they’ve been together ever since. No one is getting picked on and everyone is happy. The two groups still mostly separate in the day (the big chickens like to hang out by the back door waiting for me to throw scraps at them (or yell at me when I open the door and don’t throw scraps at them) and the little chickens wander the yard in a group. 

I’ll slowly be decreasing their heating hours for the next probably month or so until I can switch it back to the daylight extending lightbulb (I want more eggs!). And of course we’ll be culling the boys when I get off my lazy butt and go sex them (it’s a lot easier when they’re older, I hear). For now though, we’re a happy 11 chicken family.

So that’s how I move baby chicks outside in freezing temperatures (with snow on the ground!). It was much easier than I thought it would be and everyone is happy and healthy. Though I probably won’t get baby chicks in the fall again because my garage isn’t warm enough to keep them (and they’re not staying inside my house again), I definitely would suggest it for someone else. I even found two tiny eggs this morning that I suspect were from the baby chicks! 

Almost all the chickens happily eating some hard boiled eggs (with shells). They love them and they’re great for them-who knew!?

Riding the Bus

DSC_0110If you have the opportunity, I suggest you take a ride on the bus with your kids. Personally, we can’t most days. With our current schedule I’m driving 15-30 minutes to one of the grandparents’ houses and then another 20-40 minutes up to campus from there. Neither set of grandparents has a bus that goes anywhere near their house and I honestly feel bad taking any extra time to get to and from school for both the grandparents who are doing us this favor and Twig who I’m already spending so much time away from.

Thursdays are different though. I don’t have class until the afternoon, so we drop off Peanut at school and then I spend the morning alone with Twig until we pick Peanut up after lunch and go drop them both at the grandparents’ for my lab. This means that we have some extra time and, since the girls love it, we try to take the bus to drop off Peanut.

Beyond the fact that it’s green or that it saves us money, there’s a bigger reason why we take the bus: the girls love it.

DSC_0112It’s so easy to strap them in their car seats and go. I know exactly where they are, they can’t get out, and my mind can wander off to different things. It’s almost like a mini version of alone time. Or at least it is until it’s not. Then bickering starts or they dropped a toy or they’re screaming at me to play What Does the Fox Say? for the millionth time. Sometimes it’s a peaceful trip, but most days it’s not.

On the bus it’s a different thing. They play with each other. They watch their surroundings. They show me things I never realized that they could do and parts of their personality that I don’t normally get to see. It turns a normal trip to drop Peanut off at school into a fun excursion.

All this for the $20 a year for a bus pass (through my school) and an extra 10 minutes each way.

I’m not sure if it would be the same if we took the bus every day, but I’m excited to try it out when Twig gets into the preschool next year. I’m sure there will be days when we take the car instead. But the days on the bus will be good ones.

Frozen Breakfast Burritos

Peanut working on her writing skills on a burrito.

Peanut working on her writing skills on a burrito.

During the school year, I tend to fall back into bad eating habits. This, of course, leads to general yucky feelings and a high risk of getting sick. Not so great for attending class or being alert and receptive while there.

So this year I decided to set us up for success. I made a bunch of healthy, whole foods crock pot freezer meals. I seriously cannot recommend these two ebooks enough (I’m not being paid or anything to say this either!). I also made a boatload of breakfast burritos so we can have something healthy and filling on the days where we’re running out the door.
I ended up making approximately 36 of these and they cost less than $2 each. Much more healthy and delicious than the things you could buy at McDonalds for a similar price. Another great thing about these is that you can change up the recipe to tailor towards your likes or what you happen to have in the fridge.
So here is a very general recipe for some awesome frozen breakfast burritos:
  • fried potatoes (hashbrowns, home fries, etc)
  • eggs (about 1/2 to 1 per burrito)
  • bacon/ham/sausage or a mixture of any/all
  • cheese (optional)
  • tortillas (one per burrito)

How I like to do it is by starting to fry up a big pan of potatoes. While those are frying, I cook the meats (we like to do some of each) and fry up a smaller pan of eggs. I mix the meat and eggs together and put cheese on if I’m going to do it (I skipped it this time just because I didn’t have enough in the fridge and didn’t want to go to the store). Once the cheese is melted and the potatoes are done cooking, I mix them all together in a big bowl. Then I heat up one tortilla at a time (we like to buy the delicious TortillaLand ones, so I’m actually cooking them as we go. Even if you buy pre-cooked ones though, you should heat them as you make the burritos so they’re easier to fold) and put a good amount of the innards into it without over-stuffing it. Then fold in on each side, turn it and fold in on the other two sides. Roll it up in a piece of tinfoil and store in the freezer! Simple as that! My ratios were about 6-8 eggs (just depending on how many we had in the fridge), 1/2 lb bacon, 1/4 package of sausage (we used links that come in packs of something like 16), about 1/2 a cup cubed ham, and quiet a few cups of fried potato for 12 burritos. I did mine in 3 sessions and probably spent about an hour each time including clean up. Not too shabby!

So go try out some breakfast burritos! You can do all sorts of changes. Add some onions and pepper! Switch out tofu for the eggs! Try out all of the things, then get back to me and tell me which are the best so I can try them! I’m certain I’ll be making more soon. These things are too good to last very long.

Preserving Peppers

Our little family loves peppers… but to an extent. Really, my husband and I adore peppers, but the kids aren’t so sure. This means that pretty much everything I cook has some pepper in it, but not a whole lot. I used to buy a pepper at the grocery store about every other week and end up throwing out part of it each time. I’m not sure if I just got tired of this or if it was a big infusion of peppers all at once (such as today), but I questioned this logic. We freeze so many things in this house because it’s such a simple preservation technique, so I decided to start freezing peppers.

I looked at Pick Your Own and found directions for freezing peppers. The directions I’m giving you today are mostly the same as these, but with a few differences. First off, I don’t blanch them. It seems like Pick Your Own almost always wants you to blanch produce before you freeze it. In the peppers directions, they give an option not to blanch them, but it’s kind of confusing. I’m not quite sure why they want you to blanch them if you’re using them mostly in cooking. Personally, I use mine mostly in cooking and haven’t noticed a difference in not blanching them.

Second, wear gloves! I got this idea from Alton Brown and it’s amazing. I wore cleaning gloves in his demonstration because it’s what I had, but surgical gloves work great too. The biggest thing I hate about peppers is how my hands are disaster zones after cutting them. Scratch your cheek? It burns. Rub your eye? You’ll be sorry! And it’s not just until you wash your hands. Oh no, that stuff sticks around for the next 24 hours. Wearing gloves 100% bypasses this! And luckily, cutting up frozen peppers never causes this issue for me.

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Start off with a pepper. Yeah, I know. Who would have thought?

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Take a serrated knife and cut around the top edge (like a pumpkin). Try not to go deeper than you have to with this.

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Take out the top, being careful not to disturb the seeds. Throw this away (unless you want really hot seeds for whatever).

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Take your finger and rub it around the inside of the pepper to knock off any seeds that are remaining. Turn the pepper upside-down over the trash and bop it a few times to get them out.

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Cut the pepper in half.

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Cut each half into fifths (or whatever size you’d like, it doesn’t really matter. Just try to stay consistent when you’re cutting peppers each time so you know about how much each slice is and try to do it small-ish so you can cut them when they’re frozen).

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Put all the pieces (this is 5 peppers) on a cookie sheet. Try to spread them out as much as possible. Freeze for at least a few hours (I generally do a day) before dumping them all into a freezer bag for long-term storage.

I keep all of my bell peppers in the same bag (I have green, red, yellow, and orange). They keep indefinitely if you keep your freezer at 0 degrees, but will eventually start to get some frost on them. The frost doesn’t change the taste at all, so I don’t mind. If you have some sort of air-tight sealing system though, you probably won’t get the frost. When I’m ready to use pepper, I take however many spears out that I want to use and I chop them short-ways. It takes a little effort to chop them, but it’s not difficult.

And now you have yummy pepper to use in a dish whenever you want without waste! Yay!

My Garden

My garden back in May.

My garden back in May.

This year I decided that I was going to do Square Foot Gardening instead of just planting rows in the ground. Last year everything was a huge weedy mess, nothing got very big (I’m wondering if my soil is imbalanced), and it was a pain to water. So this year I wanted to try something different.

First I bought these books, which I think are a great resource (if a bit overpriced). These books will tell you pretty much everything you need to square foot garden, including exactly when to plant everything in your garden. It’s super helpful! Next I made my 8 foot by 4 foot by 1 foot box. It holds 48 squares, which was the maximum recommended for your first year by the book. Honestly, I don’t know what I would do with more squares! It was difficult finding enough things to fill the squares.

Next I made my Modified Mel’s Mix. I wasn’t willing to spend an arm and a leg on the mix, but I wanted it to be good enough for my plants to thrive. So I ended up going with a big scoop of compost from the recycling center one county over ($25 and it filled my mom’s long bed truck so that the top of the pile was about level with the top of the bed), some compost from my friend’s chickens (which will be my chickens soon, eek!), a 3.5 cubic feet bag of vermiculite ($30), and a 3 cubic feet bag of peat moss ($11.50). It was quite an investment with the mix and the box, but these are things I’ll never have to buy again (beyond a bit of compost when I plant next year to replenish). I also bought everything I need to do an indoor seed starting area. I’m not quite sure how much I spent on the whole ordeal (I meant to save reciepts so I’d know, but you know how it goes), but it was definitely less than $200 for everything including the stuff I’ll need yearly for the garden (like seeds and what not).

I started most of my seeds (or planted them as seeds outside) myself. The exceptions being that my peppers and tomatoes didn’t look happy (and I really wanted tomatoes and peppers), a basil plant since mine were small, watermelon, and cantaloup (the last two were just because they were there and nice and big). I got some of them from a local high school who was doing a sale and some from a local gardening store. I tried and failed at both broccoli (when I transferred it, it disappeared overnight) and carrots (only two ever sprouted and were tiny). In the broccoli spot I ended up doing sunflowers and basil (both of which are Peanut’s, but I’m still taking care of them).

When we went on vacation, I came back to an absolutely blooming garden. It was really hot while we were gone and I had my friend watering them for me (I’ve been using a big cup and bucket to give each square one cup of water a day. Yes it’s tedious, but it makes me go out and check on the garden every day).

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Top to bottom, left to right: pepper, pepper, tomato (four squares), peas (two squares) that are now dead, watermelon. 2nd row: pepper, pepper, more of that tomato plant, more of the dead peas, more of the watermelon. 3rd row: small pumpkin (two squares), another small pumpkin (two squares), 3 sunflowers and a basil, used to be spinach (they all went to seed in the hot weather), squash, used to be spinach. 4th row: more pumpkin, more pumpkin, one basil and two lettuce, used to be spinach, more squash, used to be spinach.

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Top to bottom, left to right: corn, cucumbers, tomato plant (4 squares), onions, pie pumpkin (two squares). 2nd row: same. 3rd row: cantaloup (two squares), lettuce, used to be carrots, used to be carrots, onions, pie pumpkin (two squares). 4th row: same.

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Thus far, I’ve had mostly a bunch of lettuce and spinach. I did 10 plants because I needed 8 to fill my  two squares and assumed some would die, but none died! So I’ve been having bowls like this a couple times a week. It’s just barely starting to slow down.

I’ve also had a couple of ripe tomatoes and there’s a lot of new stuff growing, like this cute little tomato. Everything is thriving (except the couple things I mentioned). I’m really happy I decided to do this method and I’m sure that the amount of harvest I’m going to get (and all time I’m saving without weeds!) is going to make this worth it in no time.

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Do you do square foot gardening? Do you do traditional gardening? What are you growing this year!?