Project Balcony Garden: Preparation

project balcony garden

A big part of budgeting for me is finding ways to cut down on food, since it’s one of the only variable costs I have.. everything else is out of my control, like monthly bills and rent. I always make sure to plan my grocery trips ahead and make sure I stay on budget.

Now that the weather is getting a little bit nicer and I have so much free time now (I just graduated college! :)) I decided to cut my costs even further by starting my very own balcony garden! Many people believe that apartment living makes it impossible to have a garden, especially one that produces organic delicious edibles. But I have been doing a lot of research and found that to be far from truth.

So, starting this week I will be working on my balcony garden, and will record my progress and any tips here. Let’s start with preparation, because without the necessary preliminary work, you will find yourself at Home Depot with absolutely no plan, and might end up spending money on the wrong thing.

Disclaimer: I am definitely a gardening newbie and still learning as I go. My advice will hopefully be helpful for other beginners looking for simple ways to pick up some gardening in their free time (and small space). If you are a gardening expert – your input is always welcome in the comments 🙂

Identify Your Environment

The first step is to figure out the environment you live in, such as the climate and the direction your balcony faces.

In order to figure out what type of herbs, flowers, and vegetables you can grow in your area, I suggest going to this website and searching by your zip code. You will be provided the “Plant Hardiness Zone” for your area. Knowing which zone you live in can help you figure out what plants can survive well in that climate.

Find out what hardiness zone you live in before you select your plants

Find out what hardiness zone you live in before you select your plants

Then, take note of what direction your balcony or patio is facing to determine the amount of sunlight your future garden will receive. If it’s facing south – you lucked out, since most herbs and veggies call for 8 or more hours of sunlight a day. However, if your balcony gets less sunlight than that – don’t fret, as there are plenty of plants that thrive in partial sun and even in mostly shady regions.

Pick Your Plants

Here is the fun part! Now that you know what type of plants you can accommodate, start making a list of those you absolutely need. For my purposes, I wanted a lot of edibles (to cut down supermarket costs), some medicinal herbs, and a couple different flowers to keep my balcony looking lush and pretty.

To give you an example, I live in the 6th Hardiness Zone, and my balcony gets partial sun (3-6 hrs a day). Here are the plants I want to start with:

Herbs

  • Chives: I use them often for their oniony flavor. They are hardy in zones 3-10, and don’t require a lot of space.
  • Lavender: It’s gorgeous, and I use it for brewing relaxing and mood elevating teas. Lavender is hardy in zones 5-10.
  • Parsley: Russian cooking calls for a lot of parsley, so I’m going to need it. Hardy in zones 3-9.
  • Sage: Great for seasoning poultry and for air freshening. Hardy in zones 4-10 (although it can grow in all of them).
  • Garlic: Also grows just about anywhere, and there’s always demand for it.

Vegetables

  • Onions: I use them all the time, and growing them is super easy. Easily grow in most environments, but require deep planters.
  • Potatoes: easy to grow, delicious when not store bought. However, require a deep large pot. Grow in most areas.
  • Tomato: because they are delicious when freshly harvested, used for many foods, and can grow hanging upside down!
  • Carrots: why not? I will need a special variety that grows better in pots – this means shorter, wider and rounder types of carrots, such as Thumbelina, Parisienne, and Danvers Half Long.

Flowers

  • Petunias: pretty flowers for a balcony rail planter. Grow well in zones 4-8.
Petunias

Petunias

  • Vinca: cute little flowers that easily grow in most regions, hardy zones 2-11, and come in a variety of colors such as pink, red, white, and blue.
Vincas

Vincas

  • Oxalis (shamrocks): bloom all summer in small clover-shaped flowers of shades ranging between silver and purple. Hardy in zones 6 -11, and can keep growing all winter if you take them inside.
Purple Leaf Oxalis

Purple Leaf Oxalis

Pick Your Pots

Now that you have your plants chosen, you need to plan for the platers and pots for them. This is where you can get creative. Remember, not all pots need to come from the store, in fact you may have some lying around the house! Anything can work: old baskets, buckets, tubs, plastic containers, I’ve even seen herb planters made out of an old tea set! This is a great opportunity to up-cycle and design a truly unique look for your balcony garden!

Up-cycle other containers to use for planters

Up-cycle other containers to use for planters

Remember to make sure there are sufficient holes in the bottom of your chosen container to make sure the water can drain, otherwise your plants won’t like it.

Most importantly, do your research and find out how much space each plant needs. Then you can think about how many planters you can make out of existing materials and what you still need to purchase. Also keep in mind how much space you have on your balcony/patio. For smaller spaces, there are many great ways to use vertical space either by hanging planters or putting up shelves.

Here are some general guidelines for some of the plants I’ve chosen:

  • Herbs typically require the least amount of space and can be planted in 5-8in. terra cotta pots, mason jars, baskets, and even up-cycled soup cans (don’t forget those drain holes!)
Herbs need the least amount of space

Herbs need the least amount of space

  • You can also buy a large pot (16 in. or more) and plant your herbs together. Just make sure all your herbs require similar soil and watering schedule if they will be sharing a pot.
Let your herbs share a pot!

Let your herbs share a pot!

  • Onions require a pot that’s at least 10 in. deep. The width will depend on the number of onions you plan on planting. Terra cotta, plastic, wood, metal, and barrel planters work best.
  • Potatoes will need the biggest pot of all. They will grow in any large container – a clean garbage can, a bucket, a giant pot. Make sure it is at least 2 ft. deep.
  • Tomatoes also usually need a large pot, however I am going to try growing those upside down to leave some room on my balcony. Hanging tomatoes requires either a 5 gallon bucket or a 2-liter plastic soda bottle, and I will soon post a tutorial here (if you don’t want to wait – check out YouTube for some amazing tutorials for upside-down tomato growing!).
Save space by hanging your tomato plant

Save space by hanging your tomato plant

  • Carrots, the types that grow best in pots, will need at least a foot deep container.
  • Flowers are the most versatile, but I plan on planting them in those rectangular boxes that I will hang along my balcony rail.

flower box

Pick Your Soil

Most of your container plants will thrive best in potting soil. Potting soil is different from garden soil. It contains more nutrients, and has a texture that prevents water from suffocating the plant. If you’re growing edibles, like me, I would suggest using organic soil, which can be found at your local home improvement store, nursery, or even Walmart’s garden center.

What about fertilizer? Well, some people suggest using it, others say “don’t”. Since I am a beginner, I can use all the help I can get, so I will opt for the slow-release organic fertilizer pellets. There is also liquid fertilizer that can be mixed in with the water you use to water your plants. In addition, you can use compost.

So There You Have It!

Stay tuned for my detailed step-by-step instructions on how to actually plant all these herbs, vegetables, and flowers! I hope this helps you get an idea of what will go into your balcony garden project. As you can see it’s not that much work, just read up on it and talk to the sales associates at your garden center.

And one final tip: hold on to the plant tags you get when you purchase your plats/seeds/seedlings (in my next post I will get into which method works best for which plants), because those tags have all the care information you will need throughout your plant’s life!

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Going Red: L’Oreal HiColor “Intense Red” and HiColor Highlights “Red” Review

For almost a year now I have been trying to turn my mousy dark brown hair into a vibrant red velvet/burgundy shade. I have used many different box dyes that you can find at CVS or Walmart, and all they ever did was slightly tint my hair and result in a gross brownish-reddish that I absolutely hated. In order for the red to be vibrant, my hair would need to be several levels lighter, which usually means bleaching. I want to avoid bleaching both because it’s damaging, and because I am no professional and would probably screw something up.

This is the haircolor I want (source: Pinterest)

This is the haircolor I want (source: Pinterest)

So finally after hours of research, I decided to try the L’Oreal HiColor line. These dyes are designed for dark hair and they lift several levels while depositing color, all in one step. As with any lightening, there is a risk involved and some damage will happen, but not nearly as bad as bleaching first and then dying over in red. These dyes can be found at Sally Beauty Supply and cost about $4 apiece. In order for them to work, you will also need to buy cream developer. I chose the 30 volume because it lifts about 3 levels. A 20 vol developer is usually the same as the developer they put into box dyes at Walmart and CVS, so I knew I would need something stronger to achieve a more vibrant result.

To achieve this color, I decided to mix 2 different L’Oreal HiColor dyes. One of them is the L’Oreal HiColor Highlights in Red, the other is L’Oreal HiColor in Intense Red. The reason I chose to mix the two is because the first one usually turns out like a firetruck red – bright and punky, while the second one is usually not vibrant enough, more like a dark burgundy with purplish tones (despite its misleading name). I mixed the colors half and half and mixed with 2.5 fl. oz Oreor Crème 30 Volume developer. You will also need a plastic mixing bowl, a plastic tinting brush, a pair of gloves, and newspaper or something similar to cover your bathroom from evil red stains!

You will need the dye, the developer, a mixing bowl, a tinting brush, a pair of gloves, and newspaper covering all your surfaces!

You will need the dye, the developer, a mixing bowl, a tinting brush, a pair of gloves, and newspaper covering all your surfaces!

Application

The application was pretty easy, but messy. I had red stains all over my forehead and neck and ears, but after showering most of it washed off. Here are my recommendations to achieve the best results:

  1. Put some Vaseline along your hairline and on your ears to prevent staining.
  2. Section your hair and begin with the lower sections.
  3. Make sure to mix the dye and developer VERY well – no chunks!
  4. Cover the middle and ends first – stay away from the roots as they will process faster, especially if you have previously dyed hair like mine. The “virgin” roots absorb the red almost instantly, while the rest of it takes a much longer time.
  5. Once you saturated your lengths, let them sit 15-20 minutes before applying the dye to your roots.
  6. Keep it in for another 25-30 minutes.
  7. Rinse out with lukewarm water until it runs clean.

Results

I am pretty happy with the results, although I wish my hair was even lighter. The good thing about these dyes is that they lift with every application – so when I touch up in several weeks, the color will be lighter, gradually becoming what I want it to be.

Here is what my hair looked like before:

See what I mean? Fading reddish-brown. Gross.

BEFORE: See what I mean? Fading reddish-brown. Gross.

And here it is the day after! This picture was taken in the car, so it looks darker than it really is:

AFTER using L'Oreal HiColor Highlights Red and Intense Red

AFTER using L’Oreal HiColor Highlights Red and Intense Red

Here it is in the sun:

AFTER using L'Oreal HiColor Highlights Red and HiColor Intense Red

AFTER using L’Oreal HiColor Highlights Red and HiColor Intense Red

AFTER: my roots are a little bright, but that's my fault!

AFTER: my roots are a little bright, but that’s my fault!

I hope this helps those of you looking to dye your hair red! Please keep in mind, if you have virgin hair (undyed previously) or light hair, your results will be brighter and lighter than mine.

Why Marketers Should Consider Instagram

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Instagram has been gaining popularity in the past couple of years, and some businesses are beginning to take advantage of the app’s growing audience. A couple weeks ago I listened to one of Social Media Examiner’s Podcasts about marketing opportunities in Instagram. SME’s  Michael Steltzner interviewed Sue B. Zimmerman, a Cape Cod fashion boutique owner who successfully uses Instagram to draw business to her store. She also helps other businesses implement marketing strategies within Instagram.

Although Instagram is most effective for businesses that sell attractive, picture-ready products, Sue claims she could make any business successful. The photo app is perfect for showcasing employees, behind-the-scenes projects, inspirational quotes, and other content, even if no actual products are included in the images.

Why Businesses Should Use Instagram

It’s Trending

Many businesses can benefit from an Instagram account. Google Trends shows the growing online interest in the app since 2010:

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Google Trend for “Instagram” from 2010 to 2014

Growing Community

Instagram has over 150 million users who share about 55 million images daily! That is one engaged and consistent user base of potential followers. One of Instagram’s biggest appeals is that it’s predominantly mobile. It is very dynamic and allows for real-time content sharing. In addition, with 20 different filters almost any image can be turned into a photo masterpiece, making Instagram easy and fun for anyone.

Hashtags

Sue spent a lot time during the podcast talking about the marketing benefits of Instagram hashtags. People follow different hashtags that appeal to their interests, and businesses can identify the hashtags their target audience follows and incorporate those in their images. Common hashtags are adjectives that describe the image, brand name, or location. There are also several tools online that marketers can use to identify what hashtags they should be using, such as Tags For Likes and many others.

Analytics and Management

According to this Social Media Examiner list of Instagram tools, there are now several apps that help with the management of Instagram campaigns and offer additional features that the native Instagram app lacks. Marketers can now see what images received the most attention, generated most followers or comments. Some tools offer scheduling, so that you can plan your posts ahead. There are many marketing opportunities within Instagram thanks to these third-party apps, and I highly recommend reading this article and make use of them, whether you are marketing a business or your personal profile.

Charming Charlie scams you to buy unwanted magazines

not so charming charlie

As if being a broke college student isn’t enough – now you constantly have to be on the lookout for scams, unauthorized transactions, and small chunks of money gradually leaking out of your account. With the recent Heartbleed bug uncovering, we are all learning a valuable lesson: check your bank statement. Check it every day or as often as you need to, as long as you can tie every transaction to a living memory of you making the purchase.

Today, however, I am not going to talk about Heartbleed or online security problems. Today I want to talk about a bold-faced lie that a sales associate of Charming Charlie thought she could pull off. The girl offered me “two absolutely free copies of Lucky and Glamour magazine” at the register to which, of course, I said yes. If something is free, I’ll take it.
This isn’t the first time something free turned out to be a scam, so maybe there’s another lesson in here that I need to learn.
Anyways, I went on with my life, got my two free copies in the mail. The magazines were awful – no content whatsoever, just page after page of ads. Thanks, but no thanks, I will keep reading my Cosmo.
In light of the Heartbleed incident I went to check my bank statement to make sure none of my credit card information has been compromised and used without my knowledge. What do you think I discovered? Charges for Lucky and Glamour yearly subscriptions. I freaked out at first because I never gave them my credit card information. How could they have gotten it?
Then I did some research and found out that there are many people out there who were in the same boat – a Charming Charlie sales associate offered them free copies, said nothing about a paid subscription, and then passed their credit card information along to the magazine distributor. If you ask me, that’s absolutely outrageous and probably illegal. And the worst part – if I hadn’t looked in my bank statement, I probably wouldn’t have noticed the $30 charge.
Now, I got the issue resolved by calling the magazine customer service and requesting to cancel my order (and refunding my money). They weren’t surprised at all, it seems like they get these calls every day. The customer service rep confirmed that my credit card information came from Charming Charlie.
That’s when I called Charming Charlie to understand how something like this could happen and whose fault it was. The customer service rep at CC apologized profusely and explained that the sales associates were instructed to offer a discounted subscription to Lucky and Glamour, as well as two extra free issues to their customers. He said that the sales associate must’ve accidentally left out the part about a paid subscription in my case. Um, that’s kind of an important part to leave out. How can you charge me for something that I am not even made aware of?

So, Charming Charlie just lost a very important customer (I love sparkly things!) and I will do my best to warn my friends about the unethical tactics of CC’s sales associates. Not so charming anymore, are they?

What to do if you were scammed at Charming Charlie:

  1. Make sure you recently shopped at CC and that your bank statement shows a charge to CNP Lucky Mag and CNP Glamour Mag
  2. Call Lucky Magazine customer service and request to cancel your order for Lucky mag and Glamour. Explain that you never authorized this transaction. They’re used to it by now. Number to call: 1-800-777-4058
  3. Call Charming Charlie and file a complaint. Make sure to tell them you were never informed of the subscription or the cost associated with it. Number to call: 888-675-2275
one year saving

Definitely doing it.

This is a really cool savings plan I found on this wonderful blog and figured it’s perfect for someone like me – someone who could use that extra $ 1,378. By adding a dollar to your savings amount each week, the most you will need to put away in a week is $52! Pretty simple to do, if you ask me. If my man follows the same schedule we’ll have double that. I’ll update you on how that goes and on any other awesome budgeting tricks I can find!

52 Week Money Saving Challenge

Never Enough Sleep

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Sleeping has become an unsatisfying affair. Don’t get me wrong, sleeping is one of my favorite things in life, at least right now. Sleep is what I dream of as I am driving to work, running through a blizzard to my next class, or when I am nodding off in the middle of an important meeting. Sleep is still easy for me to accomplish – as soon as my head hits the pillow – it doesn’t matter if my boyfriend is watching TV or talking on the phone. Nothing can stop me, because sleep is what I never get enough of.

From the Paleo Manifesto: Ancient Wisdom of Lifelong Health:

Today our bodies have become thoroughly confused by the artificial signals of modern life. Light is no longer a cyclical function of the sun, but of always-on indoor lights, TV screens, and computer monitors. Temperature no longer follows a dynamic cycle of cooling at night and warming during the day but sits at a static level set by the thermostat. Human chatter and social interaction used to follow a natural ebb and flow, but now we are more likely to live and sleep in isolation from real people, even while we have 24/7 access to artificial people (faces on TV, voices on the radio). Then, after utterly confusing our circadian rhythm, we try to take back control with stimulants (caffeine, nicotine) and depressants (alcohol, sleeping pills). Is it any wonder that a third of Americans are chronically sleep-deprived?

Despite the fact that I sleep well, rarely dream, and more often than not sleep right through the night – I never feel well rested. Waking up always has and always will be a pain for me. And it doesn’t matter if I am waking up at 6 am or at noon (yay Sundays!), regardless of the time, my head is cloudy for at least 2 hours after waking.

Sometimes I am so tired in the morning, that I feel like my whole drive to work is spent sleepwalking. Eight or nine hours later, when I am finally ready to go home – I can’t remember where I parked my car!

So how do you deal with something like that? I don’t suffer from insomnia, I sleep well, and I get around 7-8 hours of sleep, which is pretty healthy compared to how I used to live on 1 hour of sleep a week…. but that was a long time ago, in a totally different world.

I have looked into vitamin supplements, Seasonal Affective Disorder (here in Upstate NY it’s a serious concern!) – anything that could explain why I never get enough sleep. But in all honesty, instead of looking for deficiencies and diseases to blame, I should look at all the energy-consuming activities I put myself through. Maybe eliminate some of them for the sake of my health.

Taking 8 classes, working in between, developing a startup, actively pursuing jobs and internships, constantly monitoring social media channels (because god forbid I miss anything – my whole career literally depends on it), supporting the eboard of the largest organization on campus, maintaining a happy relationship, taking care of a pet, budgeting, figuring life out. It’s a lot and it happens every day. It starts every morning and it doesn’t end until I fall asleep. And I could say “f— it!” and quit half of those things. Find some time for myself, to do the things I love, to sit in silence without feeling guilty for not being productive.

But then I really will be a lazy, self-absorbed millennial, won’t I?

Part of the Daily Prompt: Mr. Sandman

Top Social Media Trends From Mintel

Mintel, a London-based market research firm, recently came out with 5 top social media trends of this quarter, which are discussed in this article. Some of those trends have actually been trending for many months, even years now. However, their continuous success only reinforces them as good marketing strategies.Image

1. Find your niche.

You may be tempted to portray your business as the best, biggest, and most amazing at everything. But what matters is how much you can satisfy a niche market. A small group that is 100% satisfied is like a “cult” – they will be loyal, they will promote you, and they will share your message with their friends. They are the most dedicated fans a business can have.

2. Bloggers and Youtubers are great assets.

Mintel’s study suggests that blogging and Youtube are the best platforms for the beauty industry and DIY. This is great for marketers in that industry, because blogging is one of the easiest and fairly inexpensive ways to generate a loyal following of people who trust you, are willing to buy from you, and are willing to recommend you to their friends. You can have your own company blog that teachers reader how to do something, or you can find some successful bloggers in your field and do whatever it takes to get your product in their hands.

3. Need for Information-Driven Content

According to Mintel, customers tend to go to websites such as Amazon to do their pre-shopping research. This includes price comparisons, reviews, product photos and detailed descriptions. What marketers can learn from this trend is that customers want to be informed and empowered by knowledge when making purchasing decisions. You can provide this to your customers by including very detailed product descriptions, many photographs, reviews, and recommendations about your products. Give them everything you know about your product and they will be more likely to buy from you (as well as trust your business). 

4. Customer Involvement

Customers respond positively when given the opportunity to be involved in a company’s process. Whether you ask them to send you “selfies” of them wearing your product, or ask them to design your next packaging labels – customers become significantly more invested into your company. Some magazines publish their fan’s top tweets in every issue – something as little as that can generate a lot of conversations and good response on social media. Make your customers feel important and get them involved.

5. Add Personality to Your Social Accounts

Big companies seem more approachable and down-to-earth when customers see real people behind them. This is why allowing your employees be part of the social conversation usually results in more trust from the consumers. It is okay to let them post on the company’s behalf, or include work posts in their personal social media profiles. Of course this involves a certain level of risk, but when done correctly, has great results. 

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