‘Tis the season of the Christmas cookie basket. That delicious treat that features sinful treats you probably don’t get the rest of the year. If you’re a master baker, put this on your gift list for an easy, fun treat no one will dislike. If you have kids, this is an affordable gift they can make for teachers and relatives alike. It’s the one thing I can guarantee no one will want to return to the store.

Cookie Basket Supplies
To make a proper cookie basket, you’ll need a few things:
Baskets or tins
Cellophane wrap
Decorative ribbon
Colored Saran or plastic wrap
Cookies and fudge

Visit a dollar store or Michael’s to stock up on the non-baking items. You can find cute, cheap baskets that aren’t decorated for Christmas, but no one will notice once they’re filled with cookies. If you need to make smaller gifts, pick up festive mugs at the dollar store.

Choosing Your Cookies
First, determine how many cookie baskets you’ll need. I usually like to put 2 dozen assorted cookies in each basket. Multiply 24 times the number of baskets you need to get the total number of cookies. Now choose five different holiday cookie recipes. I usually like to make snickerdoodles, candy cane cookies, stained glass cookies, chocolate thumbprints, and fudge.

Most cookie recipes make 2-4 dozen cookies, so five recipes is enough for 5-10 baskets. If you have kids, make figuring out how many batches of each recipe you need to bake to get enough cookies into a fun math challenge.

Shop for Supplies
If you didn’t stock up on baking items during Thanksgiving, you still can. Create a shopping list from your recipes, then visit the store with the best sale on baking supplies for everything you need.

Set Aside a Weekend to Bake
If you’re working alone, you can probably blast it out in one day, but if you don’t want to kill yourself, spend a few hours each weekend day baking. Then package them up in the evening. Start with the most complicated recipe and work down to the simplest. If you’re making a recipe with nuts and someone with a nut allergy is on your list, make it last to avoid contamination. Always keep those completely separate from the other cookies.

Package the Cookies
This is the last step. First, put a few layers of tissue paper on the bottom of the basket or tin as a cushion. Line the basket with colorful plastic wrap. Add about 5 of each type of cookie. Consider dropping in a couple candy canes or chocolate kisses for color and variety. Fold the plastic wrap over the top, then fold the tissue over it. If you’re using a tin, put the cover on. If you’re using a basket, set it on the center of a large sheet of cellophane. Pull the cellophane up over the sides so the corners meet. Gather the corners together and tie a bow around the bundle.

Freezer Tip
If you’ll be distributing the baskets over a couple weeks, freeze the cookies instead of packaging them all up at once. Lay the baked cookies flat on cookie sheets and put the sheets in the freezer for about 90 minutes. Then arrange the frozen cookies in large freezer bags or boxes. Label each one with the recipient’s name. Take a bag out of the freezer the night before you need to wrap it. Then just arrange the contents in the basket or tin and wrap it nicely. They’ll be as fresh and tasty as they were the day you made them.

Freezer cooking is all the rage right now. If you’re unfamiliar, you shop the circulars and coupons to find the best deals, stock up on sale items, and then make a month-long menu plan (with some repeat items.) Then, you spend one or two days doing all the cooking for one whole month and put it in the freezer. In theory, you then only need to buy produce and beverages for the rest of the month. That’s a lot of work, though, and you have to spend a whole weekend on it. I’ve come up with a simpler way to do freezer cooking. It reduces prep time and gives each freezer meal a fresher taste.

Stock Up and Make the Menu
For this method, you should still stock up on sale meats and filler items when the stores have sales. Put them in the freezer and then defrost before making each freezer meal. You may not want to plan each dinner for the whole month, but at least find the recipes for meals you can make multiples of or use the same components in.

Do All Your Veggie Prep in One Day
To save time, chop all your veggies for the whole week in one day. Make a big container of chopped onions that you can dip into as you go.

Make a Double or Triple Batch with Each Meal
If the veggies are cooked, then it’s not that hard to make a double or triple batch of each meal when you’re doing your regular cooking. For example, if you’re making beef stroganoff, double the recipe. Serve half for dinner and put half in a Ziploc bag destined for the freezer. It will take slightly longer to brown that much beef, but not a huge amount of time. The same goes for soups and chili – double the recipe. Eat what you can, then divide the rest into portioned bags. I put enough for one meal in each bag.

Don’t Freeze the Pasta or Rice
If the meal is served over pasta or rice, don’t cook it now. Obviously, you need to cook the pasta ahead for a layered dish like lasagna, but something like beef stroganoff doesn’t need to be frozen with its pasta or rice. It will taste a fresher if you cook the pasta or rice that day you serve it. Simply cook the pasta 2-3 minutes less than it requires. Put it back in the pot with the defrosted topping. Heat them in the pot for a few minutes. That will heat the topping and finish cooking the pasta.

Don’t Freeze Your Fresh Sides
I usually have a bag of taco meat in my freezer. Basically, I mix the marinade, slice the meat, and let them marinate overnight. Then I divide into bags. When it comes time to serve, I use fresh-cut lettuce, fresh-grated cheese, and fresh tomatoes rather than frozen versions.

Make Another Menu Plan
If you haven’t already planned each meal for the month, sit down each week with your freezer inventory. Plan your menu to use up part of your stash, along with fresh sides. Then make your grocery list for the fresh items and stock-up items for your next freezer cooking day. You may also want to plan a few completely fresh meals. For example, I keep frozen raw fish and shrimp in my freezer at all times and always make those meals fresh because I find that cooked frozen fish just doesn’t hold up well when reheated. Chicken and beef, on the other hand, reheat beautifully.

If you don’t want to pre-cook, but have a packed freezer, check out my post from last year detailing my freezer week where I used up everything in it. I didn’t have time to shop this weekend, so this week has been another freezer week.

We’re T -3 to Thanksgiving, so it’s time to kick it into high-gear. Since I have experience both hosting and traveling, I’ve got Thanksgiving countdowns for both options.

Thanksgiving Travelers’ Schedule
If you have to travel, I feel your pain. I flew home for several years, until it became too expensive and started to take nearly as long as the drive. I switched to driving 11 years ago. It’s awful, but better than the airport. (Shudder.) Here are my tips for a reduced-stress trip.

Monday
Make your packing list. If you have kids, make their lists, too.
Make sure everything on the packing list is clean. If not, do laundry.
Check the weather for both your departure and return days. Plan alternate routes if you’re driving and there may be snow along your preferred route.
If you’re flying, make a parking reservation if you haven’t already.
Refer to my list of Thanksgiving travel tips to make sure everything is covered.

Tuesday
Get out the suitcases.
Pack.
Buy snacks and water.
Double-check your backroads.
Pack car games or something for the airport/plane.
Stop the newspaper/mail (if you’ll be gone long enough).
If you have pets, confirm with their caretaker and exchange keys.
If you’re flying, check in online.

Wednesday
Pack final toiletries, pajamas, etc.
Pack the car.
Put everyone in the car.
Leave as early as possible.

Thursday
Make yourself useful to the host or get out of the way.
Eat, eat, eat, eat!

Thanksgiving Hosts’ Schedule
If you’re hosting, then your work is just beginning. Hopefully you’ve shopped for most of the food, but I’ve included a shopping trip in case you’re using a fresh turkey that will need to be picked up.

Monday
Make bread if using for stuffing so it will have time to get a bit stale.
Set bread out to dry.
Vacuum.
Make up guest rooms.
Put fresh towels in guest baths.
Make final shopping list.
Put turkey in fridge to defrost if using frozen and not brining. If you are brining it, it should already be defrosting.
Make Thursday cooking schedule, counting backwards from the time you want to eat.

Tuesday
Chill the wine.
Make rolls.
Mix dip or other appetizers.
Make pie crust.
Pick up turkey.
Begin brining turkey if brining it.
Make cranberry sauce it not using canned.

Wednesday
Make pie.
Cook appetizers.
Put brined turkey in fridge to rest so skin is nice and crispy.
Wash china/crystal.
Polish silver.
Iron linens.
Set table.
Sweep/dust.
Make stuffing.

Thursday
Wipe down bathrooms.
Stuff turkey.
Put turkey in oven immediately.
Make side dishes.
Make salad.
Warm and plate appetizers.
Remove turkey, let rest.
Heat rolls.
Make gravy.
Serve cranberry sauce.
Eat, eat, eat, eat.

Friday
Enjoy leftovers.

We’re at the one-week countdown to Thanksgiving. This is a family holiday, so no need to go all out and spend a fortune on your tablescape and whatnot. Keep it simple and it should be pretty frugal, too. Here are my top 10 tips for a frugal Thanksgiving.

Use Your Coupons Wisely
Next week is the big week for food shopping. Most grocery store circulars come out today, so check them for super deals. If you see a great deal and can combine it with coupons, consider buying enough non-perishables to get you through Christmas and beyond. Last year I had a great canned pumpkin deal, and discovered that the can would keep until this Thanksgiving, so I stocked up. Check out these money-saving tips from Woman’s Day to help you cut your food bill even further.

Shop Early and Often
The really super amazing deals will go fast. Consider taking a trip to your grocery store this Wednesday or Thursday to buy the non-perishables that are on sale. If you’re buying a fresh turkey and not one of the free frozen ones you get with a $25 purchase, you’ll have to go back next week for your turkey. Ask the meat department if they can put it on hold for you until Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on your brining/rubbing plans.

Visit the Farmer’s Market for Produce
The farmer’s market will be packed this week. PACKED. On the plus side, the farmer’s know this and stock extra. So, find the largest Saturday or Sunday market in your area, get up early, and bring a friend or spouse to help carry your load if you’re buying for a lot of people (especially if you’re buying potatoes or squash.)

Clear Out the Fridge and Freezer
If you’ve got lots of leftovers planned, make room in the freezer for the future contents. Obviously you’ll need to make room in the fridge for the big bird and all the sides. I planned a light menu for the days leading up to Thanksgiving so I can preserve the room in the fridge. My freezer is filling up, but it’s filling with components of my leftover dishes.

Make Your Schedule
Start planning your cooking schedule now. Figure out what you can make ahead. Also start planning your cleaning and project schedule now so everything will be done before the guests descend. Again, you don’t need to go all out, but sweep the floors and change the sheets on the guest beds.

Don’t Try Complicated New Dishes for the Main Meal
Want to get creative with your leftovers? Go for it. This is not the time to try a complicated new dessert or side. One year my sister tried a new apple pie recipe that took six hours. I still don’t comprehend how a pie can take six hours, even if you picked your own apples and milled your own flour. She contends that I don’t understand because I’m a baker and she’s not. Nevertheless, if you look at the recipe and any portion is confusing or it has many, many complex steps, skip it. Save it for a potluck where you can pick something up at the store if your dish is a total failure.

Don’t Choose Dishes with Pricey Ingredients
In the name of frugality, don’t choose recipes with expensive, out-of-season, or rare ingredients that will require you to stop at a dozen stores. Save those for a gourmet dinner party. Thanksgiving is about comfort foods. If someone asks where the mango chutney is, tell them that you’re trying to be authentic and eat seasonal items the way they did at the first Thanksgiving. (Hopefully your guests won’t know that the first Thanksgiving didn’t include pie, cranberries, or potatoes.)

Buy What You Need Before Thanksgiving
More stores are open on Thanksgiving than when I was young, but it’s still best to avoid running out to pick something up on Thanksgiving, when most of the sales will be over and you’ll be left with the last pickings.

Skip the Tablescape
Sandra Lee “fans” are shuddering with me. But basically, keep your table decorations simple. A couple mini pumpkins, a couple candles, a few fall leaves. That’s about all you need, because you’ll need lots of room for the food. Remember what this particular holiday is about – gorging ourselves until we’re too stuffed to move. What? You thought it was about giving thanks? Pshaw.

Skip Black Friday
I posted last year about my hatred of Black Friday, so my most frugal tip is to skip it. Stay home, snuggled in your bed. Even if they have amazing stupendous gobsmacking doorbuster deals, not spending money at all is still cheaper.

A lot of people don’t like leftovers, but nearly everyone looks forward to Thanksgiving leftovers. I’m almost more excited about the leftovers I have planned than I am about the main meal. In fact, I’m planning to buy a turkey that’s way too big for six people so I can have enough to feed my houseguests for three days and still be able to freeze chili and soup for later. If you’re stumped for ideas, here are 20 ideas and tips for planning for them.

  1. Thanksgiving dinner again (just serve the same meal you did on Thanksgiving, but in smaller portions)
  2. Turkey sandwiches
  3. Turkey quesadillas (add crumbled bacon and scallions for extra zing)
  4. Turkey and black bean soup  (I’m making a double batch this year. It’s simply amazing and freezes well.)
  5. Turkey chili (Any recipe will do. Use your favorite and freeze half for later.)
  6. Turkey casserole (substitute turkey for chicken or tuna)
  7. Turkey pot pie (Another good freezer meal. Cut the uncooked crusts to size and freeze with the pot pie filling.)
  8. Shepherd’s pie (For all those mashed potatoes, but you can also use turkey in place of the beef)
  9. Egg “McMuffins” (use up those leftover biscuits)
  10. Turkey stock  (great use for the carcass)
  11. Turkey enchiladas
  12. Curried turkey on rice
  13. Turkey burritos
  14. Turkey tortilla soup (So easy!)
  15. Sweet potato butter (Martha recommends serving it over biscuits)
  16. Melted cranberry sauce over ice cream
  17. Cranberry sauce on bagels and toast
  18. Turkey tetrazzini
  19. Turkey lo mein (Just replace the chicken and substitute the veggies for whatever raw veggies you have on hand.)
  20. Turkey fried rice (Again, replace chicken with turkey and throw in your green beans from Thanksgiving.)

Planning for Leftovers
If you want to make a few dishes that you can freeze and serve again later, plan to have the ingredients on hand and figure out how much turkey you need leftover before you buy the turkey. The Butterball calculator recommends a 9 pound turkey for my dinner for 6, with leftovers, but I’m thinking I might go for 12-15 pounds to ensure I have at least 4 pounds of turkey leftover for sandwiches, soup, chili, quesadillas, and maybe pot pie.

As I suggested before, decide in advance which main leftovers you plan to cook and add the ingredients to your Thanksgiving grocery list so you don’t have to run out the day after Thanksgiving. You’ll also be able to spend the next three weeks shopping the sales for those ingredients if you plan ahead.

Then, if you have more turkey than planned, you can throw together a few of the simpler dishes listed above with whatever you have on hand.

What If You Don’t Have Leftovers?
If you don’t serve a Thanksgiving dinner, you might not have leftovers, or might not be able to take home enough for all your ideas. So, create your own leftovers! Buy a turkey breast and roast it. Serve some for dinner, then use the rest just like you would regular Thanksgiving turkey.

Following yesterday’s post about planning your Thanksgiving menu early, Bucksome Boomer asked me to post the recipe for the Cheesy Olive Puffs. These are not only delicious and cheap, but they can be made ahead and refrigerated until it’s time to serve them. The biggest problem? Trying not to eat them all before your guests arrive. If you’ve got a big group coming, consider doubling the recipe.

The Recipe
4 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons softened butter
1/2 cup flour
dash cayenne pepper
1/2 cup stuffed olives, drained and chopped
5 ounce can water chestnuts, drained and chopped
1 egg lightly beaten

Preheat the oven to  400 degrees.

Use a nonstick baking sheet or prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat mat.

Blend cheese and butter, then mix in everything else. It will be lumpy.

Place rounded tablespoons onto the baking sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes until firm and golden. Let cool slightly and serve.

Makes 25.

If you refrigerate them ahead of time, let them cool slightly and then stack them on a plate covered in plastic, in a zipper bag, or in reusable plastic containers. They can be reheated in a microwave, but I usually pop them in the oven for five minutes until they’re warm.

I usually use the pimento-stuffed olives, but you could use any kind that would taste good with cheddar. You could probably also substitute another cheese as long as it melts well. If you need to make it gluten-free, you can substitute superfine rice flour, a mix of tapioca starch and potato starch, or a non-bean flour mix.

Unfortunately, I can’t source the recipe for you. My mom found it in one of those holiday traditions recipe books they sell at the grocery store checkout sometime in the 1980s.

Buy the Ingredients on Sale
If you buy these ingredients at full retail price, it will cost you about $6-$7 to make this appetizer. If you plan ahead, you can get most of the ingredients really cheap, if not almost free.

I frequently see olive coupons in the Sunday paper. Cut out as many as you can find, then watch for a sale on olives to combine with your coupon. The jar will keep for months if you don’t open it.

Cheese also goes on sale regularly. I often get coupons, and see it on a 2 for $4 sale at the grocery store for the shredded packages. You can also buy it in a block and grate it yourself. If you buy the bags of shredded cheese, pop them in the freezer until you need them. Use what you need for the appetizer, then serve the leftovers over chili, tacos, or nachos.

Water chestnuts are usually pretty cheap, but you’ll also see coupons and sales for these around the holidays. Watch your flyers and circulars.

Butter, eggs, flour, and cayenne are pantry staples, but also go on sale around the holidays. Stock up if you’ll be using these ingredients in other items.

For those of you in Canada, happy Thanksgiving! For those of you in the US, you’ve still got six weeks until the big day. However, it’s not too early to start planning your menu, especially if you’ll be baking or require a lot of ingredients. Once you have your menu planned, make an ingredients list and check it against the store flyers every week. Buy whatever you can ahead of time, because you can always freeze it.

Appetizers
One of my favorites are cheesy olive puffs, which are delicious and can be baked ahead of time. Then you just throw them in the oven to rewarm them. Cheese and crackers are also a good, simple choice that don’t require much prep. For a fancy twist, wrap brie in puff pastry and bake it. Serve with slices of baguette.

Main Course
The main course is the turkey, obviously. I know some people like to get creative with ham or goose, but make sure the rest of your family will accept a non-turkey main dish on the big day before you decide to go untraditional.

When it comes to turkey, you have a few choices: fresh, frozen, kosher, pre-brined, etc. You can usually get a free frozen turkey from the grocery store with a $25 purchase. These aren’t necessarily the best turkeys, but free is good if you’re on a tight budget. If you choose this option, then you should plan your $25 shopping trip for the Saturday before Thanksgiving to ensure that the bird has time to defrost in your fridge. If you don’t get a free one, expect to pay anywhere from 19 cents to 59 cents a pound.

Fresh turkeys are more expensive than frozen, but you can usually pre-order them at the grocery store and request that they be held until Tuesday or Wednesday to save more space in your fridge. If you choose fresh, expect to pay 99 cents to $1.59 a pound.

Kosher and pre-brined birds are also more expensive, and are usually fresh. I’ve seen them priced up to $1.99 a pound. Some people say they taste better, but you should be careful with the pre-brined turkeys if you have any food allergy sufferers coming to dinner because it can be difficult to know what was used to prepare the bird.

Before buying your turkey, I would also plan your leftovers menu. For example, I make turkey soup and turkey chili, so I need sufficient leftovers for that. I also need beans and other ingredients. Add those to your shopping list so you can watch for sales. The general rule of thumb is 1.5 to 2 pounds of turkey per person if you want leftovers, or you can use this calculator. For me, it says 12 pounds, but I’ll probably do 14 just to make sure we have enough for my soups and my guests.

Side Dishes
The classic side dishes are rolls, stuffing, green beans, salad, mashed potatoes, gravy, and cranberry sauce. This is where you can really get creative though, so drag out your cookbooks and magazines to find something new and unusual. If you want to buy the sale items, choose a few options for sides and put all the ingredients on your list, then buy those that come up on sale.

Desserts
Pie, either apple or pumpkin, is the traditional dessert. Homemade pie is nearly always cheaper than a store-bought pie, so either add that to your list or assign it to a guest who’s a good baker.

Shopping
Once we get past Halloween, there will be weekly promotions on the popular items, so carry your list with you at all times. The circulars usually come out on Tuesday or Wednesday. Check your mailbox and plan to shop Wednesday or Thursday night of each week to ensure you get the best deals on everything you need, even if you usually shop on the weekends. Last year I found that the really amazing deals were gone from the shelves by the time I got there.

My List
As an example, here’s my Thanksgiving menu:
turkey
gravy made with drippings
green beans sprinkled with pecans
cranberry pecan salad
mashed potatoes
pumpkin pie
cheesy olive puffs
cheese and crackers
fancy nuts
rolls
cornbread and sage stuffing

Leftovers menu:
sandwiches
turkey soup
turkey chili

Then I would get out the recipes and list everything I needed:
Potatoes – 2 pounds (from the farmer’s market)
Turkey – fresh, 14 pounds
Dried cranberries – 1 bag
Chopped pecans – 1 bag
Flour
Eggs
Milk
Green beans – 2 pounds (from the farmer’s market)
Lettuce – 4 heads (from the farmer’s market)
Canned cranberry sauce – 2 cans
Fancy nuts – 1 can
Jarred olives – 1 jar
Water chestnuts – 1 jar
Etc.

As each item came on sale, I’d buy it and either put it in the cupboard or freezer to keep until it was time to start cooking. If you plan properly, you should be able to save significantly on your Thanksgiving meal without sacrificing your traditional dishes or new experiments. Last year I spent $25 for dinner for two. This year I’ll have six and I’m aiming to keep the price tag under $50.

Last week, a farmer’s market opened next to the White House. It’s even called the White House Farmer’s Market. I believe this is what we’d call the peak of the farmer’s market trend. So what does this mean for you? If you haven’t already discovered the wonders of the farmer’s market, it’s time to go. Chances are there’s a market very near you.

Finding Local Markets
New markets open every week. To find your local market, Google your city + “farmer’s market.” If you can’t find anything, try searching for your county or visit Local Harvest to search their database. Depending on your region, the market may not be open year-round, but you can probably get in at least one or two weekends now to whet your appetite for the return of the market in the spring. Visit Local Harvest, the farmer’s market organization’s website, or call the number you find online to find out the opening and closing dates.

Shopping Local Markets
If this is your first visit, don’t bother making a list. Although I plan my menu and then go to the market to buy what I need (and buy a few things that aren’t on the list), I’ve been going long enough that I know what’s in season. Give yourself a few weeks to get a feel for the cycle of the seasons at your market. You may find that some things are available year-round, while others are only available for a month, or even just two weeks. If you see a favorite item that’s expensive at the grocery store and has a short season, snap it up when you see it. It may be another year before it’s back.

Saving Money at the Market
Now that farmer’s markets are trendy, not everything will be cheaper than the prices you’ll get in a grocery store. However, the food will be fresher, more plentiful, and better tasting. As an example, a head of organic lettuce from my farmer’s market is $1.50. A head of conventional lettuce from the grocery store is $1.69 for a head half the size. True, the organic head might have holes in a few of the outer leaves, but I still get way more for my money. At the peak of the season, my grocery store might drop their price to 99 cents, but I’m still only getting about half a head of lettuce for that price.

If you’re really determined to save money at the market, you should plan to shop late in the day. The pickings will be slimmer, but you’ll find bargains on some of what’s left. In this case, it’s best to buy what you can and then plan a menu around those items.

What to Bring
I often see people loaded down with plastic bags at my local farmer’s market, which makes it difficult for them to walk around. Before heading out to the market, gather a few items:

Tote bags – I bring two, one for each shoulder. One of them is a cooler bag from Trader Joe’s in case I buy meat or eggs.
Produce bags – If you’ve made produce bags,  bring them with you. If you haven’t, rinse out the plastic produce bags you got on your last grocery store visit and bring those. Most of the stands at my markets have large white plastic bags, which can make it difficult to see the produce once it’s in the fridge. I only use their bags for lettuce and grapes, both of which tend to shrivel in my net produce bags.
Cash - Bring lots of cash. I usually bring $40, $60 if I have meat, bread, and eggs to buy. If you have smaller change than $20 bills, the farmers will appreciate it, but they always have change. Most food stands can’t take credit. Some markets do have “market bucks,” which are vouchers you buy at the info booth and spend like cash and you might be able to buy those with credit if they’re available.
Pen and paper – If it’s your first visit, bring pen and paper so you can note the prices to compare to your local grocery store.
Imagination – If you see something unusual, consider buying it and then figuring out how to use it. You can ask the farmer for ideas, too. They usually have a couple preferred ways to prepare a specific vegetable.

What Not to Bring
Don’t bring an attitude. If the market is popular, parking may be a problem. Certain stands will also be crowded. There will be strollers, small children wandering, and people with rolling baskets or bags. Just be patient and keep a smile on your face. Everyone there is nice.

I’ve already collected a few gardening tools, and eagerly borrowed several gardening books from the library to start planning my garden. I’ve settled on Square Foot Gardening for my vegetable garden, but will also have to do some flower planting this fall to prevent our hill from sliding during the El Nino rains. I’ve pretty much worked out what I plan to grow on the hill, but I need more ideas for our vegetable garden.

Square-Foot Gardening Made Simple
The All-New Square Foot Gardening book explains in detail how to make raised beds and then plant different crops in each square foot. That way you avoid over-planting one particular crop. Since I’ve never grown vegetables before, I plan to start with one full-size box and then a few smaller boxes. I’ll expand as needed in my second growing season.

Potential Crops
Remember, I live in Southern California, so I’m both blessed and cursed. I’m blessed because my growing season stretches from March to December. I’m cursed because we have severe droughts, constant water crunches, and flooding roughly every seven years. That’s one reason I’m waiting until March to plant veggies – I don’t want to drown the poor dears my first growing season.

My current plan is to build one four-foot by four-foot box (sixteen squares) for veggies, one one-foot by four-foot box for climbing vine plants, one one-foot by four-foot box that’s a foot deep for long veggies, and a one-foot by one-foot box for herbs.

4 x 4 Box
My plan is to put the following in the 4 x 4 box:
Red lettuce
Green leaf lettuce
Yellow onions
Garlic
Scallions
Red potatoes (2 spots)
Strawberries

1 x 4 Climbing Box
The climbing box will contain:
Tomatoes
Green peppers
Red peppers

Deep 1 x 4 Box
So far I’ve only decided on one crop for this box:
Carrots

Herb Box
In addition to the herb box, I’ll have separate pots for mint and rosemary to keep them from taking over the whole box. The herb box will contain:
Chives
Italian Parsley
Basil
Oregano
Sage

As you can see, I have way more space than I have crops. So, this is where you come in. What else should I grow? I’ve got eight open spaces in the big box, one open space in the climbing box, three open spaces in the deep box, and probably a lot more room in the herb box. I’m thinking of putting snow peas in the fourth climbing spot, even though I won’t see results until the following year.

Post your suggestions in the comments, but keep the following in mind: I don’t want to grow any seriously water-hogging plants. I know the lettuce and tomatoes will take more than other vegetables, so I’m compromising there. Other plants should be able to withstand high summer heat, too. We don’t have much humidity, so they have to like dry air.

Help me grow my garden! I’ll be posting my progress with photos as the season progresses. Right now I’m in the information gathering phase. What are your secrets for gardening success?

I’m the proud owner of a lemon tree, which means that I have a LOT of lemons. I do use 3-5 lemons a week in cooking, but I’m going to have get much more creative to keep all that bounty from going to waste.

Fish: Fish and lemon just go together. Squeeze a bit over the top or add it to the pan juices for a lovely sauce.

Lettuce: Resurrect wilted lettuce by mixing a blow of water with the juice of one lemon. Place the lettuce in the bowl, then set in the fridge for an hour. Remove and dry the lettuce. It should be crisp again.

Lemonade: Is there anything better than fresh lemonade? You can be simple and make a basic lemonade with lemon juice, water, and sugar, or get fancy with this ginger-berry lemonade.

Lemon Curd: Make pies, meringues, shortbreads, a yummy topping, etc. Lemon curd is really easy to make.

Lemon Juice: Numerous recipes call for lemon juice in varying amounts. Squeeze several lemons into ice cube trays, then defrost one cube at a time for your recipe, and probably the rest of the week. Each cube equals about two tablespoons. If you live in an area where citrus trees go dormant during winter, you’ll have free lemon juice all winter long.

Garbage Disposal: My mom keeps lemon and lime halves behind the sink after she’s used them. If she gets a funny smell in the sink, she just shoves a lemon remnant into the disposal and flips it on. Instant fix.

Disinfectant: Lemon juice is a natural disinfectant, so pour it on counters and other surfaces that have been exposed to germs. Be sure to follow it with a clean sponge, so you don’t have sticky counters. Rub it into wood cutting boards to remove smells.

Rough Skin: Mix lemon juice and brown sugar, then scrub heels, elbows, knees, or any other spot where you have dry, cracked skin. Follow-up with an olive oil massage.

Limescale: You don’t need a fancy cleaner to get limescale off your faucets and fixtures. Squirt with lemon juice and scrub away.

Soap Scum: Spray lemon juice on soap scum to remove hard water stains and soap scum from shower doors and walls.

Sore Throat: Mix lemon juice and hot water for a nice, soothing beverage that will also help sooth your sore throat. The steam may also help your congestion.

Cut Fruit: Keep cut fruit fresh by adding lemon juice to water and soaking the fruit before cooking it. If you’re setting the fruit out to serve, sprinkle it with lemon juice to ward off brown spots.

Cut Potatoes: Sprinkle cut potatoes with lemon juice to prevent browning before you cook them.

Weeds: Rather than buying a weed spray, squirt lemon juice between the cracks on the sidewalk where weeds are springing up.

Highlights: Mix the juice of one lemon (usually ¼ cup) with one teaspoon salt and apply to hair. Go out in the sun for an hour or two for natural highlights. Make sure you wash your hair after that or it will keep working.

Laundry: Add lemon juice to the wash cycle to brighten whites and make your laundry lemony fresh without harsh chemicals. You can also use it to remove some stains, like ink. Pre-soak garments in baking soda and lemon juice for half an hour immediately before washing to remove tough stains.

Dishwasher: Add half a lemon to the top half of the dishwasher (spear it on a divider) for cleaner, fresh-smelling dishes.

Household Cleaner: Mix lemon juice, vinegar, and water for a multi-surface cleaner.

Metal Polish: Make a paste from salt and lemon juice, then use to polish copper, chrome, aluminum, brass, and stainless steel. Don’t use it on silver or gold.

Ants: Ward off ants by spraying lemon juice into cracks and gaps they may use to enter your house.

Grease: Get out grease stains or cut the grease on dishes with lemon juice. It’s a natural de-greaser.

Chicken: Mix herbs and lemon juice, then pour under the skin of a whole chicken to add flavor to the breast while you roast it. Also stuff a cut lemon inside the cavity for even more flavor.

Salad Dressing: Many dressings and vinaigrettes call for a teaspoon of lemon juice to add a bright, fresh flavor. Try it with your favorite homemade salad dressing to see what happens.

Refrigerator: If you have a bad odor in the fridge, first remove the offending item, then put lemon juice on a sponge or cotton ball and set it in the fridge for a few hours.

Scurvy: Obviously, this isn’t a major problem for most Americans, but it’s good to know that drinking lemon juice can prevent scurvy if you’re ever lost on a deserted island. Orange juice works just as well, and tastes better, but beggars can’t be choosers when stuck on deserted islands.

Got more uses for lemons? Share them in the comments. I’ve got a lot of lemons to use up, and I only have so many friends I can pawn them off on.

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