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fairwayfarms

First Time Gardener

14 years ago

My name is Joshua, and I'm a first time gardener. My family has become quite interested in growing our own organic vegetables since our daughter just turned one year old. We are going to do raised bed boxes in our backyard. We will have 3 - 4'x 8' boxes and 3 - 4'x 10' boxes. We are looking for suggestions on what to grow in our gardens.... I do realize this is a very broad question. But, We are just looking to hear what are good crops for beginners and will grow well in our area. Also, what crops can you grow in the same box? Can you just mix anything together? I look forward to hearing what everyone has to say. Thank you for your time!

Joshua & Courtney Seabolt

Collinsville, Oklahoma

Comments (24)

  • 14 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Hi Joshua and Courtney,

    Welcome to the Oklahoma forum.

    You can grow almost any vegetable you want here in Oklahoma as long as you take care to plant cool season crops in mid-winter/early spring for harvest by late spring before the heat arrives, and plant warm-season crops in spring around or after the date of your average last frost for harvest in the summer through fall.

    Cool-season crops include English, snap or shelling peas; onions, potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, lettuce, spinach and other greens, beets, turnips, carrots, cabbage and kale, brussels sprouts (actually do best if planted in summer for a late fall harvest), kohlrabi, Chinese cabbage, Swiss chard, chives, parsely, endive, garlic (best planted in fall for harvest the following late spring/early summer), leeks and horseradish. Rhubarb is iffy here at best because it doesn't like our heat, and I omitted a few veggies most people don't grow or eat like salsify and parsnips. I also omitted asparagus as it requires a lot of space.

    Warm-season crops include peppers, tomatoes, corn, watermelons, muskmelons, cantaloupes, beans, pumpkins, southern peas (a group that includes blackeyed peas, purple hull pinkeye peas, crowder, zipper and cream peas), cucumbers, eggplant, summer squash, winter squash (including pumpkins), sweet potatoes, and okra.

    I always advise new gardeners to plant whatever it is that you like to eat and grow. I can plant and grow eggplant all day long, but since no one in my family cares much for it (including me), I rarely plant it unless I'm growing some for a friend or family member who likes eggplant but doesn't have a garden. So, ask yourself what you enjoy eating and make your list of plants you want to grow based on that list.

    Some plants give you a lot of harvest in comparison to the space they occupy and, since you're gardening in raised beds with limited space, those are the ones I'd focus on.

    At the top of my list would be tomatoes. You can get dozens of tomatoes off one plant and, while that plant will take up several square feet, you'll get a great harvest in return. I'd plant at least one indeterminate type of tomato that produces well in our heat like Jet Star, Better Boy, Supersonic or Goliath and I'd plant at least one indeterminate that produces bite-sized fruit like Sweet Million, Black Cherry or Sungold. If I were you and I had space, I'd try to make room for one more plant and I'd made it an heirloom type like Cherokee Purple or Black Krim simply because the flavor of these heirloom varieties is unbelieveably good.

    Peppers generally are very productive also, especially hot peppers because their blooming/fruit set are not negatively impacted by heat. I raise sweet peppers as well and they can be very productive, but if the weather gets too hot too early and they haven't already bloomed and set peppers before the heat arrives, then they likely won't produce much of a harvest until the weather cools in September. If you like to make salsa, I'd encourage you to plant a pepper that can be used in salsa....and almost any hot pepper can be, so you could plant a Jalapeno type or a cherry type for example. For sweet peppers, I'd go with one of the hybrid sweet bell types that tend to be disease-resistant and highly productive as well.

    Green beans are very easy for beginners. You can plant pole types or bush types. Clearly, if you are going to plant pole types, you'll need some sort of fence or trellis for them to climb. If you plant bush types, you won't have to errect anything for them to climb and you'll get an earlier harvest. I'd probably advise a new gardener to grow bush beans the first year and then try pole beans the second year.

    Onions are easy. You buy the small onion plants, plant them shallowly in the ground, keep them well-watered which means moist but not sopping wet and watch them grow. They might need a feeding or two of a nitrogen fertilizer to push them to grow well early in their growing cycle---while they are producing foliage and before they bulb. With onion plants, for each green leaf your plant sends up, you'll get one "ring" or "layer" of onion, so to get the largest onions, you want to have the largest and most vigorously growing green leaves before the bulbs begin to size up. Onions can be spaced just a few inchs from one another so it is possible to grow quite a lot of them in a small space.

    For a garden the size of yours, I'd suggest you google and read about Square Foot Gardening and make a list of the plant spacing recommended for that type of gardening. In general, I've had good luck with their spacing, although I give tomatoes, peppers and broccoli more space than is recommended for square foot gardening.

    You can plant some cool-season crops like peas, onions, lettuce and carrots (short ones like Tom Thumb or Little Fingers or Parmex grow well in raised box-type gardens) and then plan to replace them with southern peas, okra or melons (or all three) after you've harvested the cool-season crops. Your warm-season crops will produce into the fall months for you and, then, if you want you can finish harvesting them in September or earliest October, then yank out those plants and plant very cold-tolerant crops like garlic, shallots, spinach, beets and kale for a late fall to early winter harvest (for spinach, beets and kale) and for a spring harvest (for the garlic and shallots). That is how you can maximize your production---by harvesting in a timely manner and then not being afraid to take out a particular crop as production declines and replace it with a follow-on planting of something else.

    Since I have no idea what veggies y'all regularly eat and enjoy, I'm going to comment briefly on all of them:

    Asparagus--Wonderful flavor when grown in a home garden, but needs a lot of space and soil prep and is permanent. Not recommended for a first-time gardener with limited space.

    Beans--Pole or bush, warm season. Bush beans can give a harvest in about 50 days and pole beans take longer but produce a lot at one time, so are great if you're going to can or freeze a lot of beans for later. Easy.

    Broccoli--Relatively easy to grow but plants can take up a lot of space. Timing is tricky--if exposed to too much cold early in their growth, they give you button heads about the size of a quarter. If planted too late, they go to flower about the time the heads are getting large enough to harvest. If space is limited, I'd stick with smaller varieties like Small Miracle or Major.

    Brussels Sprouts--Long growing season and our spring gets too hot too early for most people to get a good spring crop. Better planted after mid-summer for a fall crop

    Cabbage--Easy to grow. The biggest problem will be cabbage loopers or imported cabbage worms. The organic remedy for that is Bt, a bacteria that targets only caterpillars. Standard cabbage gets really big but you could grow some of the very small cabbages like Gonzales. (Johnny's Selected Seeds has some great mini-cabbages.)

    Cantaloupe/Muskmelon--Easy to grow but take quite a lot of space. You can work around that by raising them on a trellis and using panty hose 'slings' to support the melons. Very yummy if not overwatered.

    Carrots---The hardest thing with carrots is getting the seeds to sprout which can be tricky. Planting can be difficult because the seed are tiny. You can work around that though by scatter sowing seed mixed with a little sand or by using seed tapes (planted or home-made). Once the seeds germinate, they're a cinch to grow.

    Cauliflower---These take up quite a bit of space but grow pretty well here as long as we don't get too hot too early. Has the same problems with button heads/heat as broccoli.

    Celery--Recommended for advanced growers only. Extremely difficult to grow in our climate.

    Collard Greens--Very easy, but a big bunch of uncooked greens will cook down into am amazingly small amount of product to eat. I wouldn't grow these unless I had lots of space.

    Cucumbers--Very easy. Be sure to plant slicing types for fresh eating or pickling types for pickling. You'll need a lot of plants to get enough to make a batch of, say, 6 jars of pickles.

    Eggplant--Very easy and very productive. Also very tolerant of heat. If you like eggplant, it's a great garden crop. Some of the newer varieties are not bitter like some of the older ones. Many varieties are available that produce not only dark purple eggplant, but also white, violet, white-and-violet or white-and-purple streaked types, green, orange and red fruit. Flea beetles can be an issue in earliest spring.

    Kohlrabi--Fun for children because they look like something a space alien would grow. I wouldn't grow 'em if you don't like to eat them though.

    Lettuce--Strictly a cool-season plant here. Burns up in summer heat, but does well in spring and fall and possibly in winter in a cold frame or under a low tunnel.

    Mustard Greens--same as collard greens

    Okra--Produce wonderfully in our heat. Pick okr regularly or productions slows down. Some okra plants get very large, but there are dwarf ones they stay much smaller and still produce yummy okra to eat.

    Onions--Planted in Feb. or March for harvest in June or July. Easy. Delicious. Plant only short-day or intermediate-daylength types here. Visit the website of Dixondalefarms.com and read their information about daylength.

    Peas--English, snap and shelling types are planted in mid-winter to spring for late spring to earliest summer harvest. Timing is of the essence but home-grown peas are very, very tasty and much better than any than you buy at the store.

    Peppers--Need to go in the ground a couple of weeks after tomatoes and eggplants because their entire year's productivity can be affected if they are exposed to cold weather early while the plants are fairly young. Very productive. Jalapenos can be used in salsa, for fresh eating, for poppers, and can be canned or frozen for future use. Sweet peppers can be used in cooking, for fresh eating and even can be frozen for future use in stir fries or cooking.

    Potatoes--Take up a lot of space, but can be grown in containers like Smart Pots,etc. The flavor of fresh home-grown potatoes is amazing.

    Pumpkins--Most take up a huge amount of space. You can grow some of the mini pumpkins on trellises, fences, or tee pees but these would mainly be the ornamental type like Jack-B-Litte or Baby Boo. Cheyenne is a good bush pumpkin but it still takes up a lot of space

    Radishes--Super simple, easy and quick from seed. You can get radishes that are eating-size in less than a month from the time the seed sprouts. Biggest radish mistake--not thinning them within the first 48 hours after the plants emerge from the soil. If not thinned that quickly, they often are spaced too close together and don't "radish up" into the expected shape. Plant 1 square foot of radishes every couple of weeks because you don't want to have to harvest and eat 200 radishes all in one week.

    Southern Peas--Terrific hot-weather crop. There are some that stay fairly compact, but they all will try to climb whatever sits next to them, so plant them by themselves. If you plant them by a pepper plant or tomato plant they'll try to climb it. Wonderful flavor, very productive and fairly fast to produce--about 60 days from planting date for most types.

    Spinach--same as collard greens and mustard greens.

    Squash--There's two types. Summer and winter.

    Summer squash includes all types of zucchini, yellow straightneck, yellow crookneck and pattypan types. One plant of zuchinni and one plant of another type is all you need. Each plant can spread out 3 to 4 feet wide but will produce a lot. These produce beginning about 40 days after the plants emerge from the soil. Harvest early and often. Flavor is best if you harvest and eat them while they're on the smallish side. Large ones can get too watery and have diminished flavor.

    Winter squash includes many types. I'd stick with a bushier form in a raised bed. Butternut types are probably the most insect-resistant. With all squash, squash bugs can be a problem and so can squash vine borers.

    Sweet Potatoes---one of the last crops to go in because they really need hot weather in order to perform. This have a long growing period--so expect to grow them for 3 or 4 months before you can even think of harvesting from them. Do best in fluffy, well-amended sandy or sandy loam types of soil and not as well in heavy clay. Drought tolerant and heat resistant and not bothered by many pests.

    Tomatoes--The Queen of the Garden. I discussed them at great length above, so won't add much here. If you are really concerned about the space they'll occupy, you can go with determinate types but I like the flavor of most indeterminate types better. Let us know if you want the names of some of the smaller determinate varieties.

    Turnips--Along with rutabagas, these do best if planted in late summer for a late fall harvest.

    Watermelon--These take up a lot of space, but some of the mini-watermelons take up a lot less space than the standard ones. Every child who visits my garden wants to harvest a watermelon. The best compact melons are Bush Sugar Baby and Sugar Baby. Yellow Doll is a good-flavored yellow-meated one. Black Tail Mountain takes up more space than the others I've mentioned, but is also produces a lot more melons per plant. If I were growing only one watermelon, I'd plant Black Tail Melon because of its relatively heavy production and superior flavor.

    HERBS: You can grow all kinds of herbs, including cilantro (cool-season), parsley, basil, sage, rosemary, thyme, etc. If you enjoy cooking with herbs, they are well worth growing because home-grown ones will give you superior flavor and will save you a lot of dollars at the grocery store since fresh herbs are pretty pricey at the produce section.

    So, think about these various veggies. Make a list of what you'd like to grow. Then, come back, show us your list and let us work with you on which plants to place in which bed and also on the proper spacing.

    You're going to have so much fun doing this!

    Dawn

  • 14 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Thank you very much for taking time to educate us on all of that!! I will talk to my Wife tonight on what we would like to plant. After looking at our backyard this morning...I think we will have 1-6x8 1-6x16 2-8x8 2-8x16 beds. Is this alot of space for a beginner? Thanks again!!

    Joshua

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  • 14 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Joshua,

    You're welcome.

    It is a lot of space, but I mean that in a really good way. Don't let the size of it frighten you because we'll teach you all about mulching which will really, really help keep weeds to a minimum and make maintenance less of a chore.

    Also, the most important thing you will ever do in gardening is to be sure to get rid of all the bermuda grass and Johnson grass roots, runners and rhizomes before you build your beds. Nothing is more discouraging than having to fight those two evil grasses. Rototilling may be the only option you have if your have very thick, heavy clay soil that is impossible to work with a shovel. If you rototill, you need to then spend a lot of time raking through the soil and removing all the grass runners and rhizomes. Later on, you'll be glad you did.

    Dawn

  • 14 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Dawn, what is the best way to get rid of the grass. My grass is not very thick where the gardens will be going. I'm starting to get very excited haha.

  • 14 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    One consideration on size of a raised bed. If you plan to work it from the ground then don't make them too wide. Along a fence, I would never want it more than 2.5 - 3 feet, and if it is in the center of an area where you can work both sides, then four feet is OK.

  • 14 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Sooner, They are all in the open. Nothing against the fence for us.

  • 14 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I wondered about the width too. With beds 6 and 8 ft wide, you might have to put stepping stones (kneeling pads) down the middle for weeding and harvesting. We make our beds 4 ft wide and can work them from both sides. Along the fennce they are only 3 ft wide as Carol suggests.

    Are you saving your newspapers already? Dawn and Carol can tell you how to use them to mulch your beds.

  • 14 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Joshua,

    The best way is to dig it out by hand, and I mean really dig all of it out. This can be completely and totally impossible in the summer when the clay dries as hard as concrete (if you have clay) but is almost manageable in the cooler months when the clay is wet and easier to work.

    With both bermuda grass and Johnson grass, every piece of runner or stolon that you leave underground will start regrowing and the grass will completely cover your entire garden within a couple of months of the return of warm weather. So, if you can dig it out in the largest, most whole pieces possible, that will help a lot. If you chose to use a rototiller, it will chop those pieces of runner, stolon and root into a billion pieces and you'll have to aggressively dig it out for years and years and years. It is so much better to put in all the time necessary to get the roots out in the first place, than to rush through that part and fight grass forever.

    The "best" way to remove solid sod is to rent a sod cutter, set it at the proper depth, and cut and remove the sod in pieces. However, if you aren't starting with a thick, solid grass sod, that's an unnecessary expense.

    To comment on the width of the beds, there are several ways to do it. If you are building raised beds that will be several inches above the grade of the surrounding area, you might want to make them no wider than four or five feet so you can reach into them to work from the pathways outside the beds, but not step into the beds. One huge advantage of raised beds is that the soil is loose and almost fluffy (compared to the rest of the ground that you're walking on). That loose soil allows free movement of roots and water, but if you start walking on that soil, you pack it down and compact it and lose one of the big advantages of building raised beds to begin with.

    If your use of the term beds just means an area you'll mark off and use as a garden without actually raising the soil level, it still is better to walk in the beds as little as possible to avoid soil compaction. In that case, I'd designate certain pathway areas within the larger growing area, and take care to walk only on the paths in order to avoid compacting the roots of your veggies.

    I'm not very tall so my arms don't have a terribly long reach. For that reason most of my raised beds are between 3' and 4' wide. I only walk on the pathways.

    However, there are some gardeners here in Love County who made large raised beds....like maybe 15' wide and 40' long. That kind of width means they walk in the beds and that causes soil compaction. To combat that, they rototill the soil every spring to fluff it up. Given a choice, I'll make the beds wide enough that I could reach in from either side to weed, harvest, etc. If you stay with your original width, consider putting down boards or stepping stones or something to divide the bigger beds into halves or quarters and try to walk only on those pathways. If you are walking on boards or stones, your weight is more evenly dispersted over a slightly larger area than if you are walking directly in the beds.

    You can use either multiple layers of newspaper or cardboard in your pathways and even in your planting beds as your first layer of mulch. On top of that, you can heap up grass clippings, hay, straw, etc. The newspaper or cardboard layers help keep weed seedlings from sprouting. The organic material stacked on top of the news paper or cardboard keeps the paper in place so it won't blow away and helps the soil maintain a more constant level of moisture and a more constant soil temperature. It is so much easier to prevent weeds with mulching than to spend every weekend pulling, digging or hoeing them out.

    Mulching the pathways is very important too. Since you walk in the pathways, the soil there becomes very compacted and hard and weeds that sprout in it are almost impossible to easily pull out.

    As a bonus, both newspaper and cardboard are very attractive to decomposers like earthworms and as the decomposers break down your paper and cardboard, they'll further enrich the soil.

    I know we are throwing a lot at you at once, but trust me, we've all learned the importance of these things over time (often learning them the hard way) and, if we can help you avoid some rookie mistakes, you'll have success more quickly as a 'new' gardener.

    If you aren't sure if your soil is mostly clay, sand or silt, let me know and I'll link an article that tells you how to do a test to determine your soil's composition. Iit is quick, free, easy and effective and will give you results in just a day or two.

    Dawn

  • 14 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Alright my Wife and I have came to an agreement on the size of beds and what we are wanting to grow this spring...

    12- 4x8 beds

    Green Beans - Bush style
    Onions
    Cucumbers
    Okra
    Onions
    Peppers - Different Varietys
    Radishes
    Squash - Summer
    Tomatoes
    Cilantro
    Parsley
    Basil
    Sage
    Rosemary
    Thyme

    Which of these would you plant together in the same boxes? And are there certain kinds of each species that you recommend? I wish I could snap my fingers and it would be spring :) Also, are there any periodicals that you recommend for organic gardening? We are wanting to use some of these vegetables in our BBQ Catering Company and sell the rest at the local farmers market for a little extra cash....here is our BBQ Site- www.fairwaybbq.com

    Thanks!!!

  • 14 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    My daughter lives in Collinsville and said that the city notified her that the soil there is contaminated with mercury and cadmium, I think she said, and that the city is going to remove the top 6 inches of dirt from her backyard where the children play and replace it with clean soil. Are you getting into that? Because you could get really good new soil or you could get junk. My daughter had rather sandy soil, that was very fertile. The frontyard is heavy in sod so they aren't removing that but the back has a small veggie bed and a small area where the kids play and they are redoing that.

  • 14 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    We had our soil tested and it was deemed non contaminated. But, we are doing raised beds just in case. My Wife is a pediatrician, so she is very anal about that sort of stuff.

  • 14 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Dawn, do you have an email that I could send a drawing of our projected gardens to? I would really like your advice on them. Thank you!

  • 14 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    My e-mail address is listed on my member page.

    I find it difficult to comment on people's garden bed layouts for several reasons, and the main one is that it is hard to get a feel for how the garden sits in relation to sun/shade, buildings, trees, the direction the beds run, etc. Click on the (My Page) right after my okiedawn GW name, and it should take you to "My Page".

  • 14 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Welcome, Joshua!

    Speaking of emails, Dawn, I just sent you one.

    GW gremlins are still at it, btw, and your member page is not loading. I got error messages all day trying to send you an email. (Ha. While waiting for this to go through, your page loaded in another tab.)

    *bangs head against keyboard*

    Diane

  • 14 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Diane,

    Your e-mail came through and I just responded.

    Hope the info is helpful.

    I swear, I love Garden Web but I think it has become possessed by Garden Gnomes and Garden Gremlins and I hope they are successful in getting rid of them.

    I couldn't even log on for most of the day, and that kind of thing drives me crazy.

    Don't bang your head against the keyboard...you might hurt it (it meaning the keyboard, because I know how hard you head is!). : ) Just kidding you, of course.

    I've been hoping that your kids would get some snow to play in, but it isn't happening. What's wrong with LeFlore County? Is snow not allowed?

    Dawn

  • 14 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I wonder if it is all the fault of GardenWeb because I haven't ever had trouble logging on. I did have a message disappear last night, but that could have been my fault.

  • 14 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Thanks, Dawn! I'm not sure what's wrong with our county. Too much hot air, I'd imagine. ;-)

    Diane

  • 14 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Diane,

    You're welcome.

    I think your county is in the wrong location. Y'all need to move your county down here next to mine.

    It makes sense. In the spring and summer, all the wicked and evil severe thunderstorms with tornadoes come at our county from the southwest, tear through Love County and head right for your county, causing me to post warnings with creative names like "Diane, Look Out, It's Coming Your Way." In the winter, the snow misses you and what a disappointment that is for the kids.

    So, move your county down here by mine and you'll still have the thunderstorms you're gonna get anyway, but you'll also have the snow in winter. It seems like the perfect solution.

    So, if I ran the world, that's what I'd do...just move your entire county down here and put you right in the middle of our wacky winter storms.

    Of course, you'll have to suffer through our occasional drought year with only 18" or 20" or 22" of rain. No place is perfect.

    Dawn

  • 14 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Boy, I'm not sure I could deal with that drought you seem to get. It's bad enough here when we get out July-August dry spell. If we had any more than that, I'd be forced to get off of my lazy rump and water.

    How about I just ship the kids off to you each winter? I could take a nice, long winter nap!

    Diane

  • 14 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Diane,

    Sure, you can send the kids over to play in our snow any time. We usually get one snowstorm per year, the snow stays on the ground for 1 day and then melts. This winter....snow on 4 days so far, and we still have some patches that haven't melted from the Christmas Eve snowstorm, altough they are few and far between.

    This morning, I35 has ice but our house doesn't have any. DH is 'trapped' at the airport....can't drive home because roads between there and here are so bad, and I expect DS will be 'trapped' in Love County and unable to drive to work at his fire station at the airport. Multiple accidents on I35 and the cops and tow truck drivers and OHP are busy. The fire dept. 'next door' to our fire district has already rolled/wrecked their rescue truck this morning...which is why I'm awake...because our pagers went off.

    See what you are missing? The snow, the sleet, the mess, the mud....the skating rink formerly known as I35. Love County can be really exciting in icy weather, but it is bad when the rescuers need to be rescued themselves.

    Dawn

  • 14 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Holy cow, I didn't know it was that bad over there again. Nothing much happening here. Sit tight and everyone stay safe!

    Diane

  • 14 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Diane,

    We weren't expecting much freezing drizzle, but it doesn't take much to glaze the highways. We had a very light drizzle for hours before the front arrived. It was a fine mist--almost like freezing fog. Once the front arrived, more freezing drizzle fell on the roadways and that's when the fun and games began. Most of the accidents were between the town of Marietta and the Winstar Casino (which is on I-35 at about the 1 to 2 mile marker), and I know some of them involved locals so likely they were casino workers trying to go to or from work.

    The roads were bad from about 3 a.m. to about 8 or 9 a.m., but I haven't heard many calls since then for vehicle accidents....just lots of medical calls and a fire or two.

    Sitting inside the house looking out, everything looks fine. I think by now the roads probably are fine.

    The freezing drizzle hit Dallas about 5 a.m. and the wrecks began happening then.

    It is SO boring to be stuck inside. I haven't even walked down to the mailbox yet...because she might be running late because of the ice, and I don't want to have to make that walk twice in this cold weather.

    We are not supposed to get above freezing until Sunday afternoon. Isn't that awful? Spring seems light years away.

    Dawn

  • 14 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Dawn, I sent you an email. Let me know if you don't get it. Thanks!!

  • 14 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I received it and sent you back a rather long e-mail reply.