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April Grocery Report + Is a Costco Membership Worth it?

Here’s my grocery report for April – what we bought and how much I spent to feed our family of six last month. I’m also including my thoughts on is a Costco Membership worth it. Do you think a Costco membership is worth it? I’d love to hear!

April grocery report

April Grocery Report + Is a Costco Membership Worth it

If this is your first time reading one of my grocery reports, you might want to read the explanation I included the first time I did this. I started these reports in January of 2018 so that I could better understand our spending and see how we compare to other families. Each month, I share all the food I buy to feed my family of six – two adults and four kids (15, 13, 11, 8) and compare it to the USDA Cost of Food at Home.

USDA Cost of Food at Home

Here’s what the website says about the USDA Cost of Food at Home: “The Food Plans represent a nutritious diet at four different cost levels. The nutritional bases of the Food Plans are the 1997-2005 Dietary Reference Intakes, 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and 2005 MyPyramid food intake recommendations. In addition to cost, differences among plans are in specific foods and quantities of foods.”

It’s actually worth revisiting the USDA Cost of Food at Home, as it was updated in February 2019. Here’s what it says about my family:

  Thrifty Low-Cost Moderate Liberal
8 yr old child 138.90 192.00 234.40 276.90
11 yr old child 158.10 208.60 272.70 317.90
13 yr old boy 168.90 240.20 300.80 354.10
15 yr old girl 165.50 206.10 245.30 304.40
Male Adult 186.70 242.10 302.00 369.50
Female Adult 165.90 210.00 257.00 329.80
  984.00 1299.00 1612.20 1952.60

According to the USDA Cost of Food at Home, I could spend anywhere from $984 to $almost $2000 each month to feed my family which I think is just crazy. I don’t feel very thrifty – I buy as much organic food as I can and we certainly don’t go hungry. However, I don’t think we have ever spent over the Low-Cost plan – and rarely do we go over the THRIFTY plan. I think we eat a pretty balanced diet full of high quality food.

What do you think of the USDA chart? All righty then, here’s what we bought in April!

What Groceries I bought in April

If you read my monthly grocery reports, the following list won’t be a big surprise. I pretty much buy the same stuff over and over again. I’m not the only one, right?

4/1/19 Jeff’s Market – $4.70

  • Cottage cheese – 3.89
  • Bananas – 1.81

4/2/19 – Costco – $83.17

  • Organic strawberries – 5.99
  • Asparagus – 5.99
  • Dried cheese tortellini – 6.49
  • Pecan halves – 13.49
  • grape tomatoes – 5.99
  • Organic carrots – 5.49
  • Extra sharp cheddar cheese – 10.79
  • Organic half & half – 5.99
  • Organic basil hummus – 6.99 (not very good)
  • Bananas – 1.49 x 2 = 2.98
  • Organic spinach – 4.49
  • Frozen blueberries – 8.49

4/5/19 ALDI – $64.59

  • Organic frozen strawberries – 2.89 x 3 = 8.67
  • Mini cucumbers – 2.49 x 2 = 4.98
  • Avocados – .49 x 6 = 2.94
  • Cilantro – .69
  • Hash brown patties – 3.29
  • Sliced mushrooms – 1.69
  • Tortillas – 1.99
  • Cabbage – 1.59
  • Bananas – 2.36
  • Organic gala apples – 4.69 (I don’t usually buy apples off season, but for some reason I did this day)
  • Limes – 1.69
  • Pineapple – 1.89 x 2 = 3.78
  • Organic whole milk plain yogurt – 2.89 x 4 = 11.56
  • Organic mini peppers – 3.29
  • Organic diced tomatoes – 1.65 x 4 = 6.60
  • Organic grape tomatoes – 2.39 x 2 = 4.78

4/12/19 – ALDI – $55.40

  • Pineapple – 1.89 x 2 = 3.78
  • Salami – 2.59
  • NEVER ANY lunch meat – 3.29 x 2 = 6.28
  • Extra sharp cheddar cheese – 1.49 x 2 = 2.98
  • Sweet potatoes – 2.39
  • Navel oranges – 1.99 x 2 = 3.98
  • Corn tortillas – 1.99 x 2 = 3.98
  • Bananas – 1.13
  • Organic grape tomatoes – 2.39
  • Chocolate bunny – 2.29 x 4 = 9.16
  • Easter chocolate – 1.69
  • Organic blackberries – 2.99
  • Easter chocolate – 1.99 x 2 = 3.98
  • Organic roma tomatoes – 2.49

4/15/19 HYVEE – 28.74

  • Veggie juice – 2.99
  • Organic beef stock – 2.99 (should have made my own)
  • Organic whole milk – 2.59
  • Organic half and half – 4.99
  • Bean sprouts – 1.89
  • Green cabbage – 4.86
  • Organic peppers – 2.50 x 2 = 5.00
  • Snow peas – 3.53

4.18/19 Costco – 202.51 (paid with my yearly Costco credit card rewards and got a refund of 44.75!)

  • Wild caught Alaska salmon – 33.79 x 2 = 67.58 (I’m a little confused by this. Normally I only buy one bag of salmon at once, but I can’t remember if I may have bought 2 for some reason. It would totally be out of character for me which makes me wonder. It’s always a good idea to double check your receipts quickly before leaving stores!)
  • Asparagus – 2.69
  • bananas – 1.24
  • Organic tortilla chips – 4.59
  • Organic half and half – 1.97 x 3 = 5.91 (The expiration date was approaching and these were marked down. I bought 3 for about the regular price of one. When I got home, I opened the two extra, dumped a little out, and then froze them. I just pulled the last one out of the freezer!)
  • Organic triscuits – 9.59
  • Frozen strawpres – 6.99 (Can’t figure out what that was! Any ideas??)
  • Organic maple syrup – 10.79
  • Frozen cherries – 8.99
  • Organic strawberries – 7.49
  • grape tomatoes – 5.99
  • Organic whole chickens – 18.07
  • Frozen blueberries – 8.49
  • Organic frozen strawberries – 9.59
  • Extra sharp cheddar cheese – 10.79
  • Organic ground beef – 19.99

4/20/19 ALDI – $8.78

  • Hamburger buns – .85
  • Frozen french fries – 1.65
  • Winking Owl wine – 2.89 x 2 = 5.88 (includes deposit)

4/28/19 Costco – $125.15

  • Organic frozen berries – 11.69
  • Organic tortilla chips – 4.59
  • Bagels – 5.99
  • Organic carrots – 5.49
  • KS U/S QTRS – 10.35 (Some kind of chicken?)
  • Anjou pears – 5.89
  • Mini peppers – 5.99
  • Pine nut hummus – 5.99
  • Organic strawberries – 6.99
  • Frozen blueberries – 8.49
  • Organic eggs (2 dozen) – 5.99
  • Organic romaine lettuce heads – 4.99
  • Extra sharp cheddar cheese – 10.79
  • Cucumbers – 3.49
  • Bananas – 2.48
  • Snap peas – 4.49
  • Asparagus – 4.49
  • Rotisserie chicken – 4.99
  • Grape tomatoes – 5.99 x 2 = 11.98

So, how’d I do in April? Well, out of pocket, I only spent $370.53. If you add in the cost of the groceries I got for free using my Costco credit card Rewards, I spent $573.04. Either way, that’s the lowest amount of money I’ve spent on a month of groceries yet this year. To be fair, Dan and I were gone for a week so all four kids were fed by their grandparents for a week.


Is a Costco Membership Worth it?

I have been a Costco member since they first came to Iowa City several years ago. I was excited when they opened because I was looking forward to access to more organic food options. Iowa has been slow to offer organics, in my opinion.

Anyway, I splurged and purchased the Executive Membership for $110 annually. I also applied for the Costco credit card – currently a Visa. You can get a basic Costco membership for $55, but the EM gives you 2% back on your purchases, compared to 1%. I always make back my annual fee. You only have to spend $2750 per year (or $230 per month). You can tell from my monthly grocery reports that I have no trouble spending $230 a month at Costco.

I also enjoy the credit card rewards. I spend those rewards at Costco in April to reduce my out of pocket grocery expenses. You do not have to spend the money at Costco – and they will give you cash back on whatever you don’t spend. Mind – we pay our credit card off in full each month. I do not recommend using the credit card if you carry a balance and pay interest.

I just checked on my store rebate and see that I am at $110 currently. My rewards come out at the end of May – so basically I’m shopping at Costco for free. I’ll get a little over the $110 annual fee back, but not much more, and that’s fine with me! 

What do I buy at Costco

You can see from these monthly reports that I buy a lot of organic food:

  • organic half and half
  • organic ground beef (in between farmer beef purchases)
  • organic tortilla chips
  • organic chicken when I need it
  • organic frozen berries
  • organic produce, fresh and frozen
  • wild caught Alaska salmon

I also started buying Costco brand dog food this year. I get the Kirkland Salmon / Sweet Potato. Our dogs started having skin issues so I switched their food and they seem to do be doing well on it. Other miscellaneous items I buy at Costco:

  • clothing for my kids
  • flower bulbs for the garden
  • the occasional bottle of wine or booze

I hear a lot of people talk about how cheap Costco gas it, but it’s almost always cheaper in my hometown than it is at Costco, so I rarely get gas there. Occasionally, I’ll buy a rotisserie chicken -their $4.99 price tag is just too cheap to pass up some days.

In all, I like Costco. I have a large family so their bulk items work well for us. I like that the company pays its employees well and provides health care. I’m happy to support Costco.

What do you think? Is a Costco membership worth it to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts on April’s grocery report!

Curious how my April Grocery Report compares to other months? Read these:

March 2019

February 2019

January 2019

The 12 Best House Plants that You CAN Keep Alive!

If you’re looking for easy to care for plants to add to your decor, we think you will find the perfect one on this list of the 12 best house plants you can bring back to life after neglect!

The 12 Best House Plants that You Can Keep Alive

The 12 Best House Plants that You Can Keep Alive!

It’s spring and lots of people are outside in the garden working with outdoor plants. That doesn’t mean you should neglect the houseplants though. We think houseplants are a wonderful addition to any home. They add an instant pop to a drab decor and they also can help your health! Did you know houseplants help keep your indoor air clear? If you don’t open your windows much, it’s even more important to add a few plants to your home.  Potted house plants also make great gifts for gardeners too!

Based on my experience with houseplants, and from scouring the internet, I’ve come up with a list of the 12 best houseplants you can grow. Most of them can tolerate abuse and neglect and somehow keep on thriving. I’ve owned most of these myself. Just a heads up – you CAN eventually kill them if the abuse and neglect continues indefinitely! Just a heads up that they are not 100% foolproof.

snake plant is an easy house plant to keep alive

Tall House Plants

Tall house plants are lovely to add visual interest to your decor. Not only are each of these three plants pretty, but like every plant on this list, they are easy to maintain.

1. Dracaena Marginata – I love the way this plant looks – especially the tall ones. True story: I bought a small dracaena at ALDI and then completely forgot about it for MONTHS! My husband recently pulled it out of the dark and put it in a sunny window. We started watering it and it looks great after only a couple weeks! It’s great for low-light spaces and is durable and easy to care for.

2. Snake Plant – This plant is supposed to be nearly indestructible so if you have really bad luck with houseplants, this might be the one for you! Let the soil completely dry between waterings on this low-light tolerant beauty.

3. Rubber Plant – Rubber plants are also very forgiving plants that tolerate sporadic watering and different levels of light. They’re a pretty, and tall plant that will add beauty to you house.

succulent grouping

Succulent House Plants and Cacti

I love succulents. In my experience they are so easy to grow. If you have a window with lots of light and can commit to watering them occasionally, succulents might deserve a place of honor in your home. Here are some of my favorites:

4. Aloe Vera- Not only is aloe easy to take care of, I love it because it’s medicinal as well. We love to smear fresh aloes on sun burns, when we accidentally get them. Aloe grows well in a variety of light conditions and tolerates people who forget to water it.

5. Jade Plant – Low water plant, great for people who forget to water! Jade plants do like lots of light though, so find a sunny window to place it near.

6. Catci – We can’t forget about the lovely cactus. There are lots of varieties of cacti – some very prickly and some not so prickly. My kids know not to touch the tiny cacti we have and so the spines don’t pose a problem at my house, but do take the spines into consideration before deciding on cacti. The key to growing catci well is choosing the right soil and making sure it drains properly.

pothos plant
Image by Luisella Planeta Leoni from Pixabay

Indoor Hanging Plants

7. Pothos – I have had the same pothos plant for years, and I can attest that this plant will not die. I forget to water it for long periods of time and it keeps on hanging on. Of course, it does much better if you water it, but I have not been able to kill this plant – despite killing off almost every other plant we’ve owned.

8. Spider Plant – This is another hanging plant that’s very easy to take care of. I love spider plants because they grow little babies that are easy to propagate and turn into new plants. Spider plants are also tolerant of sporadic watering and will do well in a low light environment. 

9. Wandering Jew – I’m not sure who named this plant, but I love this one because it thrives on neglect and it’s so pretty! You can forget to water it and it will do just fine, as long as you eventually get back around to it. I also love it, because like the Spider Plant, it’s very easy to use cuttings and propagate new plants too.

african violet

Lovely Plants but Require More Consideration

10. Peace Lily – This plant will thrive in low light, but if you want it to flower, it needs adequate light. It’s a very forgiving plant that will come back if you periodically forget to water it. A word of caution – the Peace Lily is poisonous, though, so if you have small children or pets who enjoy chewing on your plants, the Peace Lily may not be for you.

11. Dieffenbachia- This plant has very pretty leaves. It does well in low to medium light, but it does need to be kept evenly moist so don’t forget to water this plant.

12. African Violet – These plants are easy to keep alive if you leave them alone. They’ll do well in a low light environment but are a little pickier about how they’re watered as they don’t like to get wet and don’t want to be overly saturated. They key to African Violets is to find them a nice spot and then don’t move them as the acclimate to their area and don’t tolerate being moved that well.

Do you have a favorite house plant that I didn’t include on the list? Let me know in the comments! 

Here a few more posts you may enjoy:

Colorful Shade Loving Perennials for Show Stopping Containers

Poinsettia Care Tips for Beautiful Flowers All Season

5 Minute Succulent Planter

Colorful Shade Loving Perennials for Show Stopping Containers

Here’s a list of colorful shade loving perennials for show stopping containers to spruce up your curb appeal and add a splash of color to your landscape. Shade plants don’t have to be boring or ugly when you use this list as a guide.

Colorful Potted Plants for Show Stopping Shade Loving Containers 

Heavy shade can be one of the most challenging garden situations for gardeners to deal with, but often porches, patios or overhangs create deep shade.

Whether you want to create a porch or patio container accent piece, or increase curb appeal with colorful plants in an entry way garden, these shade-tolerant plants can help gardeners working in full shade. You need to take the shade into consideration when choosing the right plants for your space.

Lily-of-the-Valley and Coralbells (Heuchera) are some of the best potted plants for shaded porch

Coralbells for Foliage and Flowers Make a Beautiful Shade Loving Plant

Coralbells (Heuchera) do well in shade container combinations because they need well-drained soil and will tolerate even deep shade. This lovely perennial is hardy to USDA plant hardiness zone 3, so they can survive a pretty cold winter.

Heuchera plants grow 1-3′ tall and wide, making them versatile to use in a variety of container combinations. In large shade containers, they act as filler plants, giving lots of body and filling in the gaps around larger accent pieces. 

In small shade containers, heuchera becomes a taller focal point by using one of the larger cultivars and more eye-catching foliage color choices. Coralbells are available in a very wide variety of color options from dark maroon, to bright green chartreuse colors. Make sure you give them room to grow if you plant them in containers.

lily of the valley

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Lily-of-the-Valley for Fragrance – Make Great Spring Shade Plants

These delicate looking flowers are some of the hardiest bulbs to grow in containers and tolerate full-shade. Like many shade flowers, lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis) blooms in the spring and prefers moist, rich soil. This perennial also needs lots of room in containers.

The bell-shaped flowers are usually white, but there is a cultivar that produces pink blooms as well. Hardy to zone 3, lily of the valley plants are a great addition to many garden landscapes. I love adding lily of the valley plants into the shade gardens and containers for their sweet fragrance.Colorful caladium foliage is one of the potted plants for shade

Caladiums offer Bright Foliage and Long Lasting Shade Color

One of the absolute favorite shade plants of all time, caladiums do very well in deep shade and are one of the easiest bulbs to grow in containers. That’s because caladiums should also be planted in well-draining soil, so they tend to do well in container combinations. Gardeners who are wondering how to grow caladium bulbs are sometimes just told – put them in the ground and let them do their thing. Caladiums are perennials in zones 9-11 and treated as annuals in colder climates.

Caladiums grown for their attractive foliage which is  usually variegated in two or three of the following colors; green, white, red, pink, rose or salmon. The leaves grow in rounded, heart-shaped leaves or thinner lance-shaped leaves with a variety of edgings as well. Hundreds, if not thousands, of cultivars are available but most caladiums grow around 1-2′ tall and wide.Shade Plants like Begonia can be One of the Best Potted Plants for Shaded Porch

Shade Plants like Begonia can be One of the Best Potted Plants for Shaded Porch

While not perennials, begonias can be brought inside to over winter. Not only are they beautiful flowers, but some cultivars have highly attractive foliage. One cultivar I saw at a garden center recently called ‘Benitochiba’ was a stunning purple color! Choosing purple or maroon foliaged begonias makes a great contrasting choice to the green, white or silver caladiums in a container combination.

Begonias make excellent container plants for shade containers because they need well-drained soil that isn’t too soggy. They also have long growing seasons so you won’t have to switch out the container plants very often. Plant begonia tubers in the spring and enjoy the wide variety of flower colors. Add  interest to containers  or shade gardens by choosing a rounded, or weeping, begonia and then watch them trail!


Image by RitaE from Pixabay

Bleeding Heart

Dicentra spectabilis, or Bleeding Heart, is a beautiful perennial that blooms pink or white arching heart-shaped flowers. Cool areas with moist, fertile soil and shade, are the conditions Bleeding Heart prefers. They do well in containers as long as you give them room to grow without overcrowding.

Do you have a favorite shade loving perennial I didn’t mention? Share it in the comments!

If you liked the post on the colorful potted plants for shade, you might like these posts too:

Grow a cutting garden in containers

Flower and Herb Companion Plants that Keep away Bad Bugs

Tips for beautiful veggie gardens from Moss Mountain Farm

12 Best House Plants that are hard to kill


Impactful Earth Day Tips to Benefit Our World

Earth Day is on April 22! To gear up for it, I’m sharing impactful earth day tips that will benefit our world. Earth Day 2018 is on April 22 is this year. To gear up for it, I'm sharing 5 easy healthy spring choices you can make to have a positive impact on the environment. From the the coral safe sunscreen we wear, to the food we eat, to the clothes we wear (organic cotton t shirts anyone?!), small choices can really add up.

Impactful Earth Day Tips to Benefit Our World

From the cleaners we use, to the coral safe sunscreen we wear, to the food we eat, to the clothes we wear (organic cotton t shirts anyone?!), small choices can really add up. What can you do to make a difference this year? If you’re wondering what to do in honor of Earth Day, here are five healthy choices you can easily make this spring! Think of what am impact we could have if everyone made even just one of these changes!

1. Ditch the plastic shopping bags, once and for all!

If you’re anything like me, you’ve said over and over that you will ditch the plastic shopping bags and use reusable bags instead. But then reality hits and you’re at the store with NO bags. This has been my life for too many years. But not any more. Now, I just keep reusable bags everywhere. They’re in my car. In my purse. In my locker next to my coat. AND, it helps that I prefer to shop at stores that don’t provide bags too, like ALDI and Costco.

However, do know that not all reusable bags are created equally. A recent Danish study found that plastic bags are less taxing to produce than cotton bags. A recent article in Quartz called Your cotton tote is pretty much the worst replacement for a plastic bag claims the best reusable bag might not be what you think.  According to author Zoe Schlanger, “If you had to choose just one, and had nothing at the moment, maybe a really durable plastic bag that you can use for a very long time and not throw out.”

2. Switch to a Coral Safe Sunscreen

Coral reefs are disappearing twice as fast as rain forests. Did you know that? A big reason for the kill-off is chemicals in sunscreen. It’s easy to switch to a coral safe sunscreen even if you aren’t going anywhere near a coral reef. You still want a sunscreen without oxybenzone like this Stream 2 Sea or this Alba Spray for KidsEco-friendly mineral sunscreens are also better for you as well, so find a coral safe sunscreen this year and say no to the harmful chemicals.

3. Switch out one Chemical Cleaner for Something Homemade

Household cleaners contain all kinds of unsafe ingredients that leach into the ground and our ground water. It’s really easy to make your won cleaners with only a few ingredients like vinegar and baking soda. Think of the impact we could have if every person made even JUST ONE homemade cleaner in 2018. Here are recipes for five safe and effective cleaners to make quickly at home!

bowl of potatoes, tomatoes, and home grown flowers, broccoli, and cabbage

4. Grow even just ONE tomato plant in a container!

It’s really easy to grow your own food, and you don’t even need a huge garden to do it! This spring, make a commitment to grow something you can eat! Maybe you like fresh herbs, or lettuce. Or maybe a patio tomato container might be for you. Whatever you decide, grow a vegetable that you like this year and then eat it. 🙂 If you’d like to start a garden this year, check out these tips for gardening for beginners (or anyone who would like to make gardening easier and more productive.

#GoOrganic Water

5. Buy Even ONE Organic Article of Clothing – soft organic cotton t shirts!

By choosing even one organic clothing article (even Organic Cotton t shirts!!) over a non organic counterpart, you can help prevent soil acidification and regenerate life and biodiversity in the soil; help protect farmers and their families from chemical exposure; and  save hundreds of gallons of water. Learn more about the impact of organic cotton here – BUT all it takes to have a meaningful impact is to switch out ONE conventional cotton t-shirt for an organic cotton t-shirt.

If you liked this post on Earth Day Tips, you might like these posts too

5 Easy ways you can help save the bees

12 Green Gift Ideas for Eco-Friendly Mamas

How to Eat Organic on a Budget

Must Know Tips Save Money on Organic Meat

What’s in Your Cleaners?

How to Save the Bees – 5 Easy Ways YOU Can help

I’m sure you’ve heard that bees (and other pollinators) are on the decline. If you’re wondering how to save the bees, here are five easy things you can do right now to make a difference! We need bees – see how easy it is to make a difference.

bee inside a poppy According to a White House fact sheet, “The number of managed honey bee colonies in the United States has declined steadily over the past 60 years, from 6 million colonies (beehives) in 1947 to 4 million in 1970, 3 million in 1990, and just 2.5 million today.”  This is a very alarming trend because we need pollinators to grow most of our fruits, nuts, and vegetables! Without the bees to pollinate our crops, we don’t get crops, folks. I’ve read various reasons for the decline in pollinators, but most often pesticides, specifically neonicotinoids, are blamed. If you’d like to help the bees in your area, here are 5 easy things you can do, right in your own backyard.

How to Save the Bees – 5 Easy Ways YOU Can help

1. Don’t use pesticides on your yard.

Pesticides are not discriminatory and kill most bugs, including beneficial bees and other pollinators – which we desperately need. I’ve seen sad memes about the amount of money we waste on lawn care in the US. We waste a lot of energy throwing away grass clippings and spraying our yards to make them “beautiful.” But the reality is, many of our current lawn care practices are harmful to vital pollinators. It’s better to let the dandelion, clovers, and other weeds live as they provide food not only for bees, but also butterflies and other beneficial insects too! And I’m sure we can all think of better things to use spend the money! Or if you must use pesticides, use them very very sparingly.

dandelion field
There are so many dandelion haters, but dandelions are a very important first food source for bees. Embrace their beauty and leave them in your yard!

2. Plant bee-friendly plants.

Bees need lots flowers for food, and they’re very useful because while they eat, they pollinate many, many, many of our fruits, vegetables, and nuts. If you’d like to add bee-friendly plants to your landscape, it’s best to find plants that are native to your area because bees are already adapted to them and can easily get their food. If you’re unsure of what types of flowers to plant, here are a few they love:

5 Easy Ways to Create a Bee Friendly Habitat - plant flowers that bees love from SimplifyLiveLove.com

  • black eyed susans
  • coneflowers
  • geraniums
  • tulips
  • lilacs
  • daisies
  • sunflowers

Planting a variety of flowers that will bloom at different times of the year is a great idea to give bees nectar throughout the year. Bees also love herbs, too! They’re easy to grow and great for cooking. So add a few herbs to your landscape as well.

5 Easy Ways to Create a Bee Friendly Habitat - shallow water dish from SimplifyLiveLove.com

3. Incorporate a shallow water source in your garden.

Bees need water like most other living creatures. Water helps them make honey and keeps their hives cool and healthy. A shallow water source, filled with rocks to provide a safe landing area, will provide a good place for bees to get water without drowning.

5 Easy Ways to Create a Bee Friendly Habitat - featured image from SimplifyLiveLove.com

4. Add a bee habitat to your landscape.

It’s nice to encourage non-aggressive mason bees to stick around. I love this Bamboo Mason Bee Hive House Friends of the Earth sent me!  It looks so nice hanging on my garden shed and I can’t wait for bees to move in.

If you get a house like this, you’ll want to find a location that’s protected from the wind and that will get warm light in the morning and shade in the afternoon. You’ll also want to mount the house 3-6 feet above the ground, on a flat surface using screws.

If bees scare you, or you can’t have them around because of allergy issues, check out this post on how to great a butterfly habitat in a pot.

5. Get to know your farmer

Organic farming is the bee friendly, so if you can buy organic as much as possible, you are supporting the bees. Sometimes, though, the organic certification process is just not feasible for producers. Plenty of small-scare growers aren’t certified organic, but don’t use harmful chemicals on their crops. Get to know your food producer! Buy organic if you want, but more importantly, talk to your local growers and support the ones who don’t use pesticides or other harmful chemicals on their crops.

If you liked this post on how to save the bees, you might like these posts too:

Beautiful Bee Friendly Plants for your Landscape or Garden

Companion Plants You Need in Your Garden this Year

Create a Butterfly Garden in a Pot

How to Start Beekeeping

What do you do to make a difference? 

March Grocery Audit – our family budget for a real food diet

It’s time for another monthly grocery audit. Last month’s post was hugely popular so I hope you enjoy this month’s post as well. If you’re curious about how a family budget for real food can look, here’s what I bought to feed our family of six in March.

grocery cart full of groceries

March Grocery Audit – Family Budget for a Real Food Diet

Every time I write these posts, I want to start out saying something like, “this month was a little odd.” It seems all our months are odd. March was strange because I was gone at the beginning for almost a week. I was back out at Expo West learning about new organic food products coming to the market. I wasn’t feeling well for most of the trip so it was a hard time.

michelle marine, dr. bill sears, martha sears

I was struck by just how much of the “food” they were debuting just doesn’t seem to be real food to me. So many kinds of processed snacks, meats, and convenience items. I understand there is a time and place for them, but overall, I was not that impressed. The trip ended with dinner at Dr. Sears’ house, talking with him, and meeting Martha Sears (his wife). That was ah-mazing!

March also meant spring break for us. We drove to Florida again to visit with dear friends who were kind enough to take us in and feed us quite a few meals. I’m so thankful for lovely friends. Wish more of them lived closer to us. <3

Anyway, just to recap. I have a family of 6 and my kids are almost 15, 13, 11, and almost 9. I grow a large garden and buy in bulk. I buy most of our meat from local farmers, but I also raise our own meat birds. I have a well stocked pantry and freezer so I don’t account for every single thing I feed my family on this post, but I do include all the food I buy.

3/02 Costco – 101.59

  • bagels – 5.99
  • organic pumpkin flax granola x 2 – 9.98
  • organic frozen blueberries – 8.49
  • organic tortilla chips – 4.59
  • organic strawberries – 9.59
  • organic blueberries – 5.99
  • Alaska sockeye salmon – 32.99
  • organic carrots – 5.99
  • organic half & half – 5.99
  • uncured bacon – 11.99

3/13 Walmart – $14.77 (had to get spring break supplies, so grabbed a couple items)

  • Boneless skinless chicken breast – 8.79
  • Whole Wheat White Flour – 5.98

3/17 Walmart – $24.39 spring break ice cream sundaes

  • sugar cones – 2.33
  • hot fudge – 1.98
  • bananas – 2.04
  • ice cream 6.88 x 2 = 13.76
  • dairy-free ice cream – 4.38

3/25 Trader Joe’s – $90.56

  • hashbrowns – 1.99
  • organic apple sauce pouches  – 2.79 x 2 = 5.58
  • organic blueberries – 3.99
  • olive tapenade – 1.99
  • organic strawberries – 7.99
  • sweet potato fries – 1.99
  • smoked gouda cheese – 3.24
  • comte cheese – 6.70
  • double cream brie – 3.23
  • pork gyoza – 2.99 x 2 = 5.98
  • shelf stable whipping cream – 1.39
  • organic baguette – 1.99
  • organic boneless skinless chicken thighs – 7.34
  • asparagus – 2.49
  • tri pack colored peppers – 3.99
  • 4 lbs organic potatoes – 4.49
  • organic yogurt plain – 3.49
  • salsa verde – 1.99
  • organic sweet potatoes – 4.49
  • organic broccoli – 2.99 x 2 = 5.98
  • 2 lbs organic red onion – 3.29
  • sugar snap peas – 2.99
  • 3 oz garlic – 1.49
  • sliced mushrooms – 1.99

costco groceries

3/25 Costco – 257.89

  • bagels – 5.99
  • Mini kind granola bars – 17.99
  • organic chips – 4.59
  • organic spinach – 4.99
  • organic triscuits – 9.59
  • mini babybel – 10.99
  • organic frozen mango – 8.89
  • organic cheese sticks – 6.99
  • mini peppers – 5.99
  • case of organic tomato sauce – 7.79
  • organic romaine lettuce – 4.99
  • organic frozen blueberries – 8.49
  • organic half & half – 5.99
  • cream cheese – 6.89
  • uncured Canadian bacon – 9.59
  • avocados – 5.49
  • organic flour – 6.49
  • garlic kielbasa – 13.61
  • sliced havarti – 7.79
  • organic unsalted butter – 9.98 x 2 = 19.98
  • Alaska sockeye salmon – 32.99
  • bananas – 1.49
  • organic ground beef – 19.99
  • sharp cheddar – 10.79
  • bananas – 1.49
  • kiwis – 6.99
  • grape tomatoes – 5.99

Yearly pork purchase,  – $419.12

  • Reasons Locker – $142.64
  • Holevoet Farm – $276.48

Notes on the bulk pork purchase: I am now stocked on pork for the year. I bought a 1/2 a hog in March – I think it equals about 75 pounds of meat and it cost right around $420 for hams, bacon, sausage, ribs, roasts, and pork chops. $420 sounds like a lot of money – I figure it’s an average of about $5.65 per pound for humanely raised, pastured pork about 30 miles from me. The Red Wattle Heritage Pig Breed results in some of the best pork I’ve had. I’m willing to pay a higher cost for higher quality meat. Last time I bought bulk pork was also last March.

In total, we spent $908.32 in March to feed our family of 6 a mostly real food diet.

We do eat out and I don’t track that on this family budget for groceries. Because we were traveling for Spring Break in March, we ate out a lot more than we normally do.

If you’re curious how this month compared to previous months (it’s the highest it’s been in a while this month), here you go!

January 2019’s Grocery Audit 

February 2019’s Grocery Audit + our top 6 family friendly budget meals

I compared us to the USDA recommendations in Jan 2018’s post

Here’s how we did last March

If you’d like to save money on groceries, these posts might help:

Must know tips for buying organic meat on a budget

15 Things you must know to save money on organic food

Tips for ordering from Azure Standard

 ALDI is not your mother’s grocery store anymore

Top 10 Tips for saving money at the grocery store

How to Place a Beef or Pork Order at Your Local Meat Locker

Holland in Iowa ~ Pella Tulip Time Festival

It’s almost time for the Pella Tulip Time Festival, coming up May 2-5, 2019.  We went several years ago with our homeschool group and had such a fabulous time. The scenery is fantastic and the events are a lot fun. I’m really looking forward to going back soon! Here’s a post I wrote after our first trip and I am rerunning it to convince you that you NEED to go to Tulip Time Pella this year!

pella iowa information windwill

Who knew Holland is only 2 hours away? I have found memories of Girl Scout trips to the Netherlands I took when I was in grade school. We always drove to Holland from Germany on an enormous tour bus. Keukenhof Tulip Gardens, the Anne Frank House, canals cruises in Amsterdam, and of course a visit to an old time village with a windmill, cheese, Delft pottery, and wooden shoes – these were the activities that filled our days. I was in grade school so I haven’t experienced Netherlands as an adult, but I have a lot of great memories of trips there.

pella tulip festival

Holland in Iowa ~ Pella Tulip Time Festival

We’ve been living in Iowa for 6 years now (NINE YEARS NOW!) and I’ve heard about the Pella Tulip Festival  – but we’ve never been before. I mean, how could it compare the real, live deal? I guess I can be kind of a snot sometimes… If it’s not as good as the real thing, why go? Sometimes I’m sad that I can’t provide my own children the experiences I had when I was little. Exploring Europe as a child is something I really treasure but isn’t exactly feasible right now.

tractors at Pella Tulip Time

But when our home school group organized a trip to Tulip Time in Pella, I jumped at the chance. And this past Thursday, our whole family loaded up and made the two hour trek to Pella to see what all the hub-bub was about. I’m so glad we went! It might not have been the real deal, but it was awesome and we all had a great time.

pella tulip festival

The Vermeer Mill was built in in 2002 by Dutch craftsmen.

The Vermeer Mill is a working flour mill and it was a lot of fun talking to the millers who were as interested to hear about how I grind my flour as I was to learn how they grind theirs!

pella tulip festival

Huge Klompen

The kids had a great time trying on the Klompen – or wooden clogs. We also watched craftsmen making them ~ an amazing sight! And these pictures of my kids three years ago make me smile. I have a fourth child who needs to try on these Klompen now too!

pella tulip festival

Wyatt Earp House

We toured the Wyatt Earp house – boyhood home of none other than Wyatt Earp. And later we met “him” on the street. I had no idea he lived in Iowa and Ben was thrilled to meet him and pose for a picture.

horse drawn carriage Pella Tulip Time

Dutch Volks Parade

But my favorite part of the day was the Dutch Volks Parade. It looked like most of the “Pella-cans” donned traditional Dutch dress and came out for the parade. It was so much fun to see such a very well orchestrated parade with all ages of people dressed in traditional Dutch clothing. I loved watching the kids especially. No expense was spared for this parade, let me tell you! We loved it.

kids pushing old fashioned strollers pella tulip time

I highly recommend Pella Tulip Days. The only sad thing was the lack of tulips. Our non-existent winter coupled with a very early spring meant tulips in March instead of May {2015 tulips are blooming now, in mid April}. I would have loved to see all of the tulips. Oh well ~ it gives us an excuse to go back next year! 🙂

washing the street pella tulip time

Have you been to Pella Tulip Time? What are you waiting for?

Looking for more fun places to visit in Iowa? Here are a few places to consider:

Wild Cat Den

Figge Art Museum

I-80 Trucking Museum

American Gothic House Museum

dutch float

5 Must Know Tips for Transplanting Tomato Plants

Homegrown tomatoes are the best!! And it’s not that hard to grow them, but you can do a few things that make a big difference in growing successful tomatoes from the very beginning. To get your tomato seedlings off to the best possible start, you must know these five tips for transplanting tomatoes! It all starts with the transplanting.Must know tips for planting tomato seedlings

*This post contains affiliate links which means I earn a small commission on your purchase.*

Welcome back to Tuesdays in the Garden! Today, you’re in for a treat. Not only do we have lots of great gardening tips to help you get your spring planting right, but we also have a few homemade gifts you can quickly put together, just in time for Mother’s Day! Make sure to read to the end of the post and check out all the great ideas from my dear gardening friends.

5 Must Know Tips for Transplanting Tomato Plants

Have you planted your tomatoes yet? It’s generally safe to plant them around your frost free date.  Our official frost free date (May 15) is right around the corner, but I always check the long range weather forecast before deciding when to tansplant my tomato plants. Fro the last three years, we have had a killing frost after May 15, so quite often, transplanting tomato plants has to wait. If you’re looking forward to transplanting tomato plants, too, make sure you read these must know tips!

pinch off bottom leaves
1 .Dig a deep hole and pinch off the tomato plants’ lower leaves.

I like to plant my tomatoes deep for a couple reasons. First, it’s super windy out here in the Iowa Prairie and planting them deeply gives them better support from the wind. It  allows roots to develop all along the tomato stem which helps make the plant stronger. So, dig a hole deep enough that only the top leaves will be showing on the ground. Pinching off the lower leaves also encourages roots to develop too, so carefully pinch off the leaves before you put the seedling in the hole.

Make sure to support the stem as you cover it with dirt. Be careful when you’re covering the plant with dirt so you don’t accidentally harm the little seedling. I like to support the stem with one had and fill the hole with dirt with the other hand. You don’t want to break the stem as you cover it – I’ve done it and it makes me very sad. Make sure you cover the seedling up to the top leaves.

2. Wondering how far apart to plant tomatoes?

Make sure you give your tomatoes enough space to grow.

  1. Dwarf tomato varieties only need to be about 1′ apart, with 2′ – 3′ between rows.
  2. If you’re staking your tomato plants, they’ll need about 2′ of separation to grow, with 2′ – 3′ between rows.
  3. Using large cages? They’ll need to be about 3′ apart, and probably 4′-5′ between rows.
  4. Want to let your tomatoes grow without support? You’ll need a lot of room! About 3-4′ between plants, and 4′-5′ between rows.

water the tomatoes after planting

3. Water tomato plants generously after planting.

Newly planted seedlings need a nice drink of water immediately after planting so make sure you water right away. I like to make an indent in the dirt around the plant so the water stays near the seedling instead of running away. You’ll want to continue watering for a few days if you don’t get a rain pretty quickly after planting.

mulch tomatoes

4. Mulch right away.

Since you’ve gone through the effort of planting tomatoes, just go ahead and mulch them right away. I’m often tempting to skip this step and get to it later, but I’ve found later sometimes never comes. Mulching right away is a great way to keep down the weeds and it also helps keep them moist. I used old hay we got for free in this picture, but a better mulch is straw because it’s weed free. My hay is very, very old, so I hope nothing will sprout from it. I could be wrong though, and end up seriously regretting the use of this old hay. I’ll let you know if that’s the case!

support tomatoes with homemade tomato cages

5. Add a support trellis or basket immediately.

Another key to tomato success,  is to add support right away. Tomatoes like to be supported and I know from experience that if I don’t support them right after planting, I won’t ever get back to it. Pretty soon I end up with a huge tomato jungle – and while I don’t think that’s a terrible thing, it does make picking the beautiful fruits more difficult and a lot of them end of smashed by my big feet. In years past, I used these homemade tomato baskets last year. They are easy to make and easy to use, but they take up a lot of space so you need a large growing area if you want to use homemade tomato baskets.

tomato trellis from moss mountain farm

This year I am hoping to use these homemade support systems I saw a Moss Mountain Farms. I love that this tomato system takes up less room than my huge cages and I think it’s awfully pretty too! Also, it’s a way to grow more tomatoes in less space since you don’t have to set the tomatoes so far apart. Do you have a favorite tomato trellis you like to use?

And that’s the start to a successful tomato season! Have you planted your tomatoes yet? I’d love to hear your ideas for success too. 

tuesdays in the garden

Tuesdays in the Garden

Want more garden tips from my friends from around the web. Make sure you click over to everyone’s posts and check out what’s going on in different parts of the country! We’ve got a couple homemade gift ideas that might be perfect for Mother’s Day this weekend, as well as growing tips too!

frugal family home

Shelly from Frugal Family Home is sharing a mini green house idea for small spaces!

hearth and vine

Patti from Hearth and Vine is sharing a cute DIY Gazing Ball – what a great gift is this?

an oregon cottageJami at An Oregon Cottage is sharing her homemade Salad Dressing Gift Basket

homemade food junkie

Diane from Homemade Food Junkie is sharing tips for growing strawberries in DIY towers

angie freckled rose

Angie the Freckled Rose is sharing tips for adding visual interest in your garden!

If you liked this post with tips for transplanting tomatoes, you might like these post too.

7 Methods of Natural Weed Control for a Weed-Free Garden

Companion plants you must have in your vegetable garden

How to grow a three sisters garden

How to kill cucumber beetles organically

How to Prepare for Mail Order Chicks (of the feathered variety)

Ordering baby chicks through the mail is a lot of fun, but there are a few things you need to do ahead of time to get your chicks off to the best start. Here’s how to prepare for your mail order chicks so they get off to the best possible start!

How to prepare for mail order chicks

Many thanks to Hoover’s Hatchery for sending me chicks via the US mail to facilitate this post.

How to Prepare for Mail Order Chicks (of the feathered variety)

There are several things you need to do to be ready for mail order chicks (feathered friends, of course). Because let’s be real. I’m not giving advice on any other type of mail order chicks. 😀

Make sure you have the right supplies

a box of baby chicks that has been mailed

Of course, it’s always better to have these items before your birds arrive – so write out your shopping list and go get them!

    • Brooder Box
    • Bedding
    • Heat Lamp with guard and bulb
    • Electrolytes & vitamins
    • Chick starter food
    • Feeding and water containers

Set up the Brooder Box

This can really be anything you want. I use a rectangular wooden box my husband actually built to be a dog bed. I like that it has higher sides to keep the chicks from jumping out for at least a few weeks. Your box needs to be big enough to give the chicks room to run around, keeping in mind that the chicks will grow quite quickly. My box is about 3 ft x 4 ft with 1 ft sides. It easily fits 25 chicks at a time, and I would have no qualms about housing a few more in there. I’ve also seen people use plastic tote boxes successfully but they work only for a smaller number of chicks.

You’ll need some sort of bedding for the brooder box.I use wood shavings that I get for free from a local cabinet building shop. Pine shavings are ok, but cedar shavings are toxic to chickens. You can use paper towels for the first day or so, but get some type of bedding very quickly for your chicks.

How to Prepare for Mail Order Chicks (of the feathered variety) - put the water up

Prepare their food and water

I have found it helpful to lift it up the food and water off the brooder box floor an inch or two to keep bedding out of it. Little pieces of styrofoam work well. I left them like this so you can see better in the picture, but I hide them a better underneath the water container a bit better to keep them from pecking the styrofoam.

Food should be specially formulated for chicks and is called chick starter crumble or mash. Don’t feed baby chicks layer food for older chickens as the protein composition is not right for the babies. I feed my chickens an organic chick starter that I order from my local feed store and use a galvanized chick feeder.

box of 50 mailed baby chicks

For the first week or so, I make sure my chicks get vitamins and electrolytes in their water. I use Save-a-Chick Electrolyte and just mix a little packet in a gallon of water that I keep near the brooder for easy refills. The vitamins and electrolytes help them recover after their time in the mail and give them a healthy start

Set up a heat lamp and bulb

Chicks need to be kept in a very warm area until they are feathered out. When the chicks first arrive, the heat lamp should be quite close to them – hanging 5-6 inches from the box. A good heat lamp has a clamp for easier securing as well as a cage around it for safety reasons. A 250 watt, bulb, {red or white} is a good choice for chicken brooders.

The temperature should be around 90-95 degrees for the first week. As you watch your chicks, you’ll know when it’s time to raise the heat lamp as the chicks will start moving to the edge of the box and hanging out away from the heat source. I bought my supplies from the local farm store, but you can also order all of these supplies directly on Amazon and have them sent directly to your house.

How to Prepare for Mail Order Chicks (of the feathered variety) early morning pickup

Prepare for an early morning pick-up

Since my phone is usually on silent, this really means I need to turn on my ringer so that I get the call! The chicks usually arrive at the post office first thing in the morning, so be prepared to get them before the post office even opens. My phone rang a little after 7 am and we left shortly thereafter. On arriving at the post office, we had to ring the bell on the locked door to pick up the chicks.

How to Prepare for Mail Order Chicks (of the feathered variety) dunk the beaks

Encourage your chicks to drink water

They’ll be thirsty when they arrive. As soon as you get the chicks home, dunk each chick’s beak in the water prepared with the Save-A-Chick Electrolyte. This shows them where their water is and helps keep them from getting dehydrated.

How to Prepare for Mail Order Chicks (of the feathered variety) baby cornish cross meat bird

The last thing to be aware of is poopy butt! Read more about that here. Now sit back and watch your chicks. I dare you to get much else done the day they arrive. 

If you think you might like to order chicks, take a look at what Hoover’s Hatchery located in Rudd, Iowa, has to offer. They sell not only meat birds and egg layers, but also ducks, geese, turkeys, pheasants, bantams, and guinea keets! All of the birds I’ve received from them arrived in great condition and are growing well.

If you liked this post on preparing for mail order chicks, here are several more posts for you!

Beginner’s Guide to Keeping Chickens – care and feeding from day 1

How to Keep Your Chickens Warm in Winter

Why you might want to raise chickens for eggs

How to Kill the Colorado Potato Beetle, Organically

Are you wondering how to kill the Colorado Potato Beetle organically? If you have Colorado Potato Beetles on your potato plants, you will want to follow this advice to get rid of them before they decimate your potato crop!

The Colorado Potato Beetle – YUCK YUCK YUCK

colorado potato beetle*This post contains affiliate links which means I earn a small commission on your purchase.*

Left unchecked, the Colorado Potato Beetle can be deadly to your potato crop. They also like tomatoes and eggplants so watch for them there, too. Here are a few things I did to kill the Colorado Potato Beetle organically.

How to Kill the Colorado Potato Beetle Organically

I’m having a lot of trouble with bugs in my garden this year. So far, I’m battling the Cucumber Beetle, the Colorado Potato Beetle, and I’m also working on Squash Bugs and Japanese Beetles. It’s a bad, bad year for beetles. I really try hard to maintain organic methods in my garden. I don’t want to smell the chemicals, ingest the chemicals, or feed them to my kids. I also don’t want to kill all the good bugs that are working in my favor. Luckily, it doesn’t seem that hard to kill the Colorado Potato Beetle organically, provided you find them early and strike hard!

  • Mulch heavily
  • Kill them when they’re larvae
  • Plant potatoes as early as possible
  • Release beneficial insects
  • Make sure to rotate your crops

Mulch heavily to control Colorado potato beetle

First, I covered my potatoes with straw mulch – mulch encourages good bugs to move in – bugs that eat the Colorado Potato Beetle. Straw mulch is also good at covering the potatoes and helps to control moisture too!

Colorado potato beetle

Get ’em while they’re larvae

Next, I paid attention! I had never heard of the Colorado Potato Beetle until my friend told me that SOMETHING was eating her potatoes. Once she told me that, I took a long, slow walk through my potato plants and found the beetle larvae. I still have not seen an adult Colorado Potato Beetle, but for days I walked through my potatoes and killed every single larvae I could find.

colorado potato beetleSome were bigger, like the fatter larvae in the pictures above, and some were smaller – like this tiny one pictured here. To kill them, I handpicked them. Some, like this teeny one, I squished between a leaf.

ow to drown colorado potato beetles

Others, I drowned in a bucket of soapy water. Since I didn’t want to touch some of them, I just removed the entire leaf and dropped it all in the water. Then, I made sure to remove the leaf from the bucket, so they would be sure to drown. Aren’t they nasty looking?

Plant potatoes early in the season

Ideally, you want your potato plants as early as possible so that they bloom before June. If you do that, some damage from the beetles won’t be enough to impact the yield of your plants. In Zone 5, potatoes can generally be planted by mid April, sometimes even by late March if the ground can be worked. To speed up the planting, cover your ground with plastic to help it warm up.

Rotate your crops & add good bugs

Next year, I will rotate my potato crop at least 200 feet from its current location. I’m also thinking seriously about introducing some parasitic nematodes to my garden to help with bug control as well. I have read that they will help with all kinds of garden pests – cucumber beetles, Colorado beetles, and even Japanese beetles! I need these nematodes in my garden for sure.

Colorado potato beetles lay their eggs on the underneath of leaves. They are narrow and yellow and they make delicious ladybug food. So another prevention method is to release ladybugs in your garden!

I haven’t seen a Colorado Potato Beetle or Larvae in a couple of weeks. I am still patrolling daily with eagle eyes to make sure they stay away. I’m pleased that they seemed relatively easy to get rid of and thankful that my friend made me look for them. If they had matured and laid more eggs, I’m sure they would have been much harder to destroy. And who knows, next week, I may be singing a different song, but today, I am happy that I haven’t seen any evidence of these nasty bugs for many days!!

organic potatoes

And look what I harvested from my garden today! Oh yum! I’m looking forward to fried potatoes tonight!

For a more in depth discussion of the Colorado Potato Beetle, head over to the Vegetable Gardener’s website. They discuss other fun methods for destroying this nasty pest.

Fro more gardening and homesteading posts, start here:

The Easiest Way to Grow Potatoes –  No-Dig Method

How to Kill Cucumber Beetles Organically

Where to Find Free Mulch

Companion Plants You Need in Your Garden

Gardening for Beginners Made Easy

Have you dealt with Colorado Potato Beetles? What did you do to kill them?