Maple Alps


Beginners Guide to Gardening: 7 Tips

Guest PostsAmanda Walter | Maple Alps4 Comments

Hi! My name is Colleen and I’m the author of Frenchie Farm, a blog dedicated to urban homesteading, healthy living, and clean eating. My husband, Ben, and I live on our family farm in the Chicago suburbs with our toddler, 2 french bulldogs, 2 goats, and 10 chickens.

I’m a city girl at heart and never anticipated that I would fall in love with a more simplified lifestyle. When my husband asked me to move to his family’s farm about three years ago, I thought he was crazy. I lived in Chicago for 5+ years, and I wasn’t on board with suburban living, let alone living on a farm. Somehow my persuasive husband convinced me that it was a good idea, and I’m so glad that he did.  We remodeled his grandparents’ old house into the farmhouse of our dreams and dove head first into creating a homestead of our own.

When Amanda reached out and inquired if I would be interested in writing a “Beginners Guide to Gardening” post, I immediately jumped at the opportunity. Although gardening comes naturally to my husband, I’ve always struggled to succeed at it. I was determined to develop my own green thumb when we started our homestead, and I’m so happy to share the following gardening tips. I promise that these 6 tips are beginner friendly and will help you create the garden of your dreams!

Beginners Guide to Gardening: 7 Tips |

STEP 1: Seeds versus Plants

If you are a beginner gardener, then I would strongly recommend purchasing mature adult plants rather than growing vegetable plants from seeds. Although planting a garden from seeds is a more cost efficient option, it also requires significantly more planning and prep work, which can be tricky for a beginner gardener.


STEP 2: Do your Research Before Purchasing Plants

Taking time to prepare and plan for your garden is essential for success! Before you head out to the nearest store and randomly start purchasing vegetable plants, consider the following:

  • Keep in mind your climate and the length of your growing season - this will be dependent on where you live geographically

  • Create a list of best suited plants for your geographic location - be sure to do a quick Google search to determine which plants thrive in your climate zone


STEP 3: Planning your Garden Space

Determine how much space you want to dedicate to your garden.

  • Are you planting in pots or directly in the ground? Some plants excel in pots (i.e. strawberries because you can easily control the water intake), while other plants thrive in the ground (i.e. pumpkins, squashes, and gourds perform better when planted directly in the soil because it provides them adequate space while also giving stems direct soil contact)

  • Each vegetable plant has different spacing guidelines. Be sure to read the instruction tag on the vegetable plant before planting!

  • Do your best to resist the urge to plant your veggies too close together. Confession - we still get really excited when planting our veggies and sometimes try to squeeze in a few extra ones. DON’T! Overcrowding vegetable plants will prevent your veggies from reaching maturity, so it’s definitely not worth it.

Beginners Guide to Gardening: 7 Tips |


STEP 4: Purchase Necessary Materials

Now that you’ve taken the time to research and plan, it’s time to purchase your planting materials! The below items can be used as a general guide, but be sure to reference your specific gardening plans when creating your own list:


  • Planters (if using)

  • Organic garden soil

  • Gardening gloves

  • Small garden shovel

  • Watering can

  • Labels (if you have a larger garden, it can be easy to forget what you purchased!)

  • Tomato Cage/Trellis (if applicable) - check out our blog for a DIY version that we recently made!

  • Patience (HA, my husband thought I should add this bullet point because I’m the most impatient person when it comes to waiting for plants to grow!)


STEP 5: Plant your Garden


The day is here, it’s time to plant! Refer back to your specific gardening plans and START PLANTING!

  • Remember, be sure to read the instruction tag on the vegetable plant before planting.

  • Follow the instructions on the tag and have fun!


Beginners Guide to Gardening: 7 Tips |


The hard work of researching, planning, purchasing, and planting is behind you. Now you need to make sure those vegetable plants stay healthy and keep growing!

  • Water your plants every day for the first week.

  • After the first week, you can get away with watering a few times a week. As long as the soil is always moist, your vegetables should continue to thrive.

  • I tend to avoid this one, but don’t forget to weed your garden! If weeds take over, your plants won’t grow and thrive.



Seriously, fresh produce from your garden tastes amazing. Not only is it super satisfying to know that you’ve grown your own (organic!) food, the taste and overall quality of the food is unlike anything you can purchase from the grocery store. Enjoy those yummy veggies and consider dehydrating, canning, or freezing the extras to have on hand all year round.


Beginners Guide to Gardening: 7 Tips |

Well friends, I hope you’re feeling motivated and excited to start planning your garden! I would love for you to stop by Frenchie Farm to let me know how your garden turns out this year. I’m happy to answer any questions and most importantly, have fun!


Follow Colleen and her adventures on Instagram and Facebook


Modern Hexagon Afghan

DIYAmanda Walter | Maple Alps6 Comments

I had an unexpected 8 weeks off of work, and while I had a ton of projects to work on during that time, I decided to pick up one more. The weather was getting chilly and it seemed like a good time to pick up my crochet hooks again. 

I didn't really know what to work on, so I started browsing Pinterest for some ideas. I saw a beautiful hexagon baby blanket from Make and Do Crew and decided to run with it. 

Modern Hexagon Afghan |

The original had space on the sides, but I decided to crochet some half hexagons to fill them in to create a more finished (okay, rectangular) feeling.

I was really happy with the outcome and Astra loves it too, so naturally, it was part of her first Christmas photo shoot!

Modern Hexagon Afghan |
Modern Hexagon Afghan |

I think the hardest part (besides sewing all of the hexagons together) was choosing the colours! I wouldn't be able to tell you how many times I changed the colour scheme. In the end, I am satisfied with what I chose (dark teal, light grey, dark grey, dusty pink, white, and cream) - it fits right into our living room. 

Modern Hexagon Afghan |

If I ever get bored enough, I might consider making another one! That sewing hexagon together thing is no joke! The outcome was pretty darn satisfying though. 

DIY Natural Toothpaste

Natural LivingAmanda Walter | Maple Alps51 Comments

You probably remember my last post about toothpaste, where I told about the dangers of commercial toothpaste and had tried to make my own for a few months just to see how it would be. Well, consider this a sort of update, because I now use a new recipe. I’ll tell you why and what happened.

This post contains affiliate links.

DIY Whitening Toothpaste; easy and all natural |

I’m still convinced that commercial toothpaste does more harm than good. As a matter of fact, my dentist told me that toothpaste is not even necessary. The hygienist recommended baking soda or just plain nothing and assured me that it was perfectly safe.

I had a good few months with the original toothpaste recipe, but once the summer got hot, I noticed fairly quickly that every time I went to the washroom to brush my teeth, my new amazing toothpaste was in liquid form! Keeping it in the fridge was annoying, because unless I remembered to take it out a few minutes before I was ready to brush, it was a solid chunk that I could not be broken down. Imagine my frustration!

I decided I wanted something a bit more pasty - something I could maybe even put in a tube to transport easier and use (since we travel often). After some research, I opted to try bentonite clay for it’s many benefits. Here are just a few:

Benefit One: healing and detoxing properties

Benefit Two: high concentration of minerals like calcium, silica, potassium, iron and magnesium

Benefit Three: alkalizing effect on the body

DIY Whitening Toothpaste; easy and all natural |

I came across an amazing article by Wellness Mama that you can read here for a more in-depth look at bentonite clay, it's properties, and a whack ton of uses! 

I added activated charcoal for some whitening power. I don’t know that I’ve necessarily seen a difference, and I only added a bit for fear of it being too abrasive, but I have heard good reports from others I know personally who use it. It's perfectly fine without the charcoal too.

This version of toothpaste is one I can definitely recommend. It was easy to make (no double boiler required), easy to put in a tube, tasted just fine, and felt more like toothpaste. The best part is that it doesn't melt in the summer heat, so I had squeaky clean teeth the whole season! 

DIY Natural Toothpaste

2 TBSP bentonite clay
4 TBSP water
15 drops peppermint essential oil
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp activated charcoal (optional) 

Put dry ingredients and add water slowly until your desired paste consistency forms. Add essential oils and mix well.

Note: Be sure the clay does not come into contact with metal. Use glass containers and wooden or plastic to mix.


UPDATE: By the way, I have been loving using bamboo toothbrushes! There are so many different companies and I’ve tried two that I like so far! These ones are great too!

I have found that this works amazingly well and leaves my breath fresh and minty, and most importantly, my teeth clean! Just make sure to rinse your mouth out well when you're done! Oh, and don't forget to floss ;-) 

What about you? Do you make your own toothpaste? Did you know how easy it was?

DIY Natural Toothpaste |

DIY Muscle Rub

Natural LivingAmanda Walter | Maple Alps18 Comments

Sometimes, I get really excited when making up a new DIY or recipe. Today's remedy is no exception. It all started after week one of amping up my workouts to get ready for a Tough Mudder. I was sore, and I was miserable. I was also lacking in the coordination needed to apply essential and carrier oils to my sore muscles without a mess. That's when I knew it was time for a new DIY - for my soreness' sake!

Well, friends, I am happy to say that the results were as great, if not even better, than I expected! Mess-free AND effective is the real name of this easy DIY muscle rub. 

This post returns affiliate links.

DIY Muscle Rub. Easy and Effective |

This salve soothed my sore muscles perfectly, and I felt so much better after my long runs and hard workouts. Seriously, I do not know why I didn't consider making a balm sooner. Less mess, easier to apply with one hand, and crazy effective.

By now you can guess that I really enjoy making my own products. A lot of the ingredients I use are versatile and are found over and over again in different recipes, which I love, because it limits the amount of different things I need to purchase at one time. For this rub, I had everything I needed already in my cupboard. If you've made any of my other DIYs, you likely do too! In fact, this looks a lot like my Wonder Ointment - works great like it does too!

Easy, No Mess DIY Muscle Rub |

2 TBSP Beeswax
1/4 cup Coconut Oil
1/4 Cup Sweet Almond Oil
2 TBSP Shea Butter
10 Drops Wintergreen Essential Oil
10 Drops Peppermint Essential Oil
10 Drops Pan Away Blend Essential Oil

1) Melt the beeswax using double boiler (glass container in hot water in pot on stove) on LOW heat. It will take some time for it to melt completely.
2) Add sweet almond oil, coconut oil and shea butter and allow to melt.
3) Remove from heat, pour into desired jar, and stir in the essential oils.
4) Allow to harden completely

Easy and Effective DIY Muscle Rub |

Will you be trying this for your sore muscles? I have a feeling I might need to bring it out again soon, after a tough mudder AND a move! Let me know if you try this!