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Top 6 Homesteading Resolutions

New Year’s Eve is here, which means it is time to make promises to ourselves and then, probably break them.

People all over the world will vow to quit smoking, lose weight, be healthier and more.

At From Scratch magazine, we consulted with our staff and put together a list of resolutions that are perfect for homesteaders, urban farmers and anyone who wants to live a little bit better.

Bonus: These resolutions will probably be easier and more fun to keep.

1- Get some chickens

If you do not already have chickens, get some. Just about everyone interested in homesteading or small scale agriculture can afford a couple or three chickens. Chickens are the gateway drug to farming. They require very little room, comparatively, do not cost much to feed and provide eggs! Just about everyone has enough space to keep two or three chickens (check your local zoning laws).

They are also very entertaining. As highly social creatures, they exhibit a lot of behaviors that are fun to watch and even participate in (try crowing, it will make you feel better, I promise). Just be careful: Chickens are so addictive, it is easy to become the crazy chicken keeper.

2-Buy more local food

Unless all of the food you eat is locally produced, you cannot buy too much. This year, promise yourself and your family you will eat more locally grown and produced food. You can visit your farmer’s market, join a CSA or even grow it yourself, if your budget does not allow buying more local food. Even if it is not certified organic, buying from local farmers and producers is just a good idea. It promotes a greater sense of community, will probably be healthier and helps encourage and support local growers, leading to an improved food supply for everyone. It is almost guaranteed to taste better, too.

3-Visit your extension office

Agricultural cooperative extension offices exist in every state in the United States. The Cooperative Extension System is an education program designed to help people improve their lives. As part of the USDA, the service is provided by individual states’ land-grant universities. The educational offerings are usually agricultural, food, home and family, environmental, community economic development, youth and 4H. Find your extension office here.

Chances are, no matter where you live, there is an extension office nearby that can offer information on a wide variety of subjects, including crops, pest control and more. They also offer classes, which leads to the next item…

4-Take a class

The extension offices always have a variety of classes for individuals to take, usually provided at low or no cost. The classes can be intensive as a Master Gardener program to as non-committal as a few hours. Which means anyone can go and learn something new about sustainable agriculture, raising flowers and vegetables and pest control.

If the extension office does not offer anything that catches your fancy, check out a nearby college or community college. Take a veterinarian tech class and learn more about those chickens you bought. Take a cooking class and learn how to prepare all that delicious, locally produced food you’re buying now.

No matter what, just take a little time and learn about the world around you. You’ll fell better about yourself for it.

5-Plant some herbs

Even if you only have a window sill of space available, it is still enough to grow some wonderful medicinal and culinary herbs on (many times they can be the same herbs). You will not believe the difference cooking and using fresh herbs can make in your life. Just knowing that with a little bit of sunshine, soil and water, you can harness the alchemy of nature to make your food taste better is a huge boost in confidence. Soon, you’ll be growing your own vegetables and looking for land out in the country (don’t say we didn’t warn you).

6-Plant a new vegetable

Again, even if you don’t have a lot of room available, it doesn’t mean you can’t experiment some. This year, instead of putting tomatoes out on the patio, why not try a new veggie to try out? We tried rutabagas this year, and while we’re still unsure of the success, we do know a lot more about the brightly-colored plant.

Check with the Extension Office when you visit and see if they have some suggestions. Don’t be afraid to be adventurous. The worst that could happen is you don’t like it. If you don’t, you learned something new and you have something to add to your compost bin. Which brings us to…

7-Start composting

Designate a space, either with a few pallets nailed together, or a commercially available rotating drum, and start composting. Not only does all that great compost make for wonderful fertilizer, it also helps cut down on the trash you might otherwise send off to a landfill.

Don’t just throw everything in your compost bin. Your local extension officer, and this website can give you some idea of what to do. 

No matter what your homesteading New Year’s Resolutions are, just remember to engage with your world and community and everything will work out fine. Happy New Year, from everyone here at From Scratch magazine.

How (not) to replace a pressure switch

As a brand new home owner, I’ve decided to share my expertise with others to help them learn about homeownership.

Recently, I found myself in a precarious situation when the pressure switch to my well pump decided to stop working. Since I did such a great job replacing it, I thought it’d be a great idea to tell others about the experience so they could learn from my cleverness.

(Note: Please don’t do any of these things. You might die, I almost did, I think…)

This is not my well pump. This is a stock image I got off the interwebs. But it’s a lot more attractive than my well pump, so we decided to go with this instead.

Step one: Diagnose the problem

If you’re the owner of a well, and you know nothing about well pumps, you’ll assume that a weird jetting sound coming from your well house is a perfectly normal thing, until you see water leaking out from the bottom of said well house. This is the sign that you have a problem. Upon closer inspection, you’ll notice a small jet of water shooting out from the top of the pump straight into the ground. At this point, you should poke around inside the well house until you find a pipe-looking thingy, about an ⅛ of an inch in diameter. See if this fits over your water jet. If it does, shrug your shoulders, make sure the water is still working in your house and go on about your life, confident that you’d solved whatever that was.

Step two: Diagnose the problem again

So, during the course of the day, you’ll hear the jetting sound from the pumphouse some more. At this point, you should ascertain that whatever problem you “fixed” previously, is indeed, unfixed. So, keep trying what you did before, but this time, worry about it all day. Finally, at the end of the day, go inside your new home and google this phrase: “Well pump tiny black pipe thingy water jet.”

Hey! Guess what?! Your well pump has a pressure switch. That answers a lot of unasked questions, doesn’t it? So, according to a bunch of different websites, the pressure switch works by shutting off power to your pump whenever the pressure gets to a certain point. That makes sense. Armed with this knowledge, you’re pretty sure you’re going to need a new pressure switch. Great. So, it looks like what’s happening to your well is the pressure gets too high and the little black pipey thingy gets pushed off. That’s handy as one site you didn’t look at suggested too much pressure could turn into some sort of explosive. Make sure you don’t read that site too closely, as it makes you nervous.

Also, be sure not to mention that to your wife at all, because it’ll definitely make her nervous. So, figuring you need to relieve the pressure so the black pipey thingy doesn’t pop off again, run a hose to an outside spigot. Turn the spigot on, and direct the hose away from the house, assuming that the runoff (it’s really not that much anyway) will divert to the aforementioned marsh behind your house. Marshes like water, right? Go and stare at the little black pipey thingy for a while to see if it pops off again. Hey! It didn’t. Resolve to go to the hardware store in the morning and buy a new pressure switch and install it. Sleep well secure in knowing you’re a responsible homeowner. Like an adult and everything.

Step three: Procrastinate

Wake up in the morning, get really busy doing something else and forget your well pump problem for a few hours. Suddenly remember, rush out to the well house and see if your black pipey thingy is still intact. It is! Great job!

You’re a heck of an adult! I bet your parents are so proud of you! Take this opportunity to brag to your wife and fish for compliments as you surely deserve them. Make sure you show off your newfound knowledge of pressure switches, that will really impress her! Maybe she’ll give you a cuddle or two for being so responsible. Decide to wait until tomorrow to go and get that pressure switch. Your solution to the problem is working so well (there’s only a small puddle in the yard) that surely it can wait one more day.

Step four: Have the water stop flowing in the middle of your shower

This one is tricky, as it has to be timed just right. You want to have everything lathered up, hair and beard covered in shampoo, just about to rinse when the water quits flowing. Swear. Get out of the shower and scrape suds off your body enough to get a pair of shorts on.

Go out to the well house as soap residue dries on your body and take a look at the well pump through one eye. Your other eye should be slammed shut as you have shampoo in it. Stare at the well pump and hope no one notices your lack of knowledge. Wiggle the cover to the pressure switch, hoping it does something. Have that cover come off in your hand exposing a mass of imposing wires and switches. Be afraid, but don’t show it, as your children are staring at you expectantly and you don’t want to be unmanned in front of them. Ask one of them to go get a wooden broomstick. Wait as they argue over which one it should be. Pick one at random for the job. Have that one shoot you a dirty look as he or she sulks away to get it.

Stare at the exposed switch and wonder if it’s smart to be messing around with electricity while you’re wet from a shower standing in mud barefooted as you wait.

Get the broomstick and bang the switch with it. Since it’s wood, you hope it’s non-conducting. Jump three feet into the air while cursing when the electricity going to the switch sparks. Explain to your laughing children you weren’t afraid, just alert.

Step five: Fun with electricity

Bang the switch with your broomstick a couple more times, observing as you do that the pump switches on and off every time the electricity arcs. Hmmmm… Have the other child fetch a screwdriver (allowing time for the sulk and stare). Poke the switch with a screwdriver, being careful not to touch the metal shaft of the screwdriver and notice the mechanical action of the switch. Determine the switch isn’t making contact to start the pump because the points of contact are out of alignment? Or something. Head back inside for a penny and a pencil. Come back out to the well house, and unplug the pump. Cram the penny in between the contact points of the switch and use the pencil to wedge the switch closed (it’s non-conducting, right?).

Plug the pump back up, and delight in the sound of it starting up. Rush back inside to finish your shower, awed by your genius. You could probably be an electrician, if you just applied yourself. Or some sort of engineer. Good job, smart guy! Finish rinsing off, only to have the shower quit just as you get the last bit of shampoo out of your beard. Dry off and go and look at your well pump again. Get freaked out at the smell of burning plastic, and unplug everything. Stare at your pump for about 15 minutes, wondering how long electrical fires smolder. Figuring the pump house is a good piece from the actual house, shrug your shoulders again and go inside. Explain to your wife that, according to your original plan — that you totally didn’t just make up — you’ll be without water for the next 8-12 hours. Ask her if she’d like to cuddle an almost-engineer. Get a confused look in response. Go to bed, and don’t think about electrical fires.

Step six: Go to the hardware store at least three times

First thing in the morning, get up and forget the water isn’t working. Spend 12 minutes trying to remember why. Oh, yeah, now you know. Decide, however, that you need to at least have one cup of coffee before heading to the hardware store. Use collected rainwater from a bucket left outside by accident to make coffee with. Be impressed with yourself. You’re like some sort of hybrid survivalist-engineer. Wonder what that kind of job might pay as you drink your coffee.

Remember Macgyver? He was a survivalist/engineer type. And he had a sweet mullet. You should grow a mullet. Finish your coffee. Head to the hardware store. Ask the guys in the red vests where the pressure switches are. Make sure you ask them while using all the technical jargon you got off google the previous days, so they know you’re so clever. No one wants to be the dumb guy at the hardware store. Go to the aisle specified by the store employees and stare at the 4-8 identical looking pressure switches. Stare hard, while trying to figure out the difference.

Finally, pick the cheapest one. Take it home. (Pro-tip: Take a photo of the wiring on your old switch so you can replicate it on your new switch. Immediately put the phone down so you can spend about an hour looking for it later.) Remove the defective switch from the well pump. Notice that the little black pipey thingy is attached via a nipple on the bottom of the switch. Notice that it has thread tape on it. Realize you don’t have thread tape. Head back to the hardware store. Come back home with thread tape, Unscrew the black pipey thingy, apply the thread tape and screw it back on.

Now, use a screwdriver to screw the wire leads to the switch. Realize you can’t remember where you left the screwdriver the night before. Hunt for it for 45 minutes. Finally give up, and head back to the hardware store to buy a new one. Come home and find your old screwdriver sitting on the ledge next to the well pump where you left it last night. Curse at it. Unscrew all the wiring connections, using your new screwdriver out of spite. Reconnect all the wires according to the fuzzy cell phone image you took of the previous wiring. Get confused and do it wrong. Undo what you did and do it again.

Finally, assume that it’s close enough and you’re tired of dealing with it and just plug it in. Nearly weep tears of joy when the pump starts working properly. Rush indoors and use the bathroom as you’ve been holding it most of the day since your toilet doesn’t work without water. Brag to your wife about being an engineer/survivalist (a survivalneer? An enginalist?) and ask her how she’d feel about cuddling a man with a sweet mullet. Get a little heartbroken when she says she’d love to, but then realize that she’s not talking about you. Decide in your head you don’t like Macgyver anyway.

That’s it! Easy peasy. Now you too can replace a pressure switch on a water pump  by following these 6 simple steps. (No, really, don’t. For reals. I did this, and most of it was really dumb. Try following these instructions instead, it’s a lot safer.)

Quick, Easy, and Inexpensive Ways to Decorate the Home on Your Homestead

As homesteaders we garden, we care for our livestock, we bake from scratch, we sew, cook, and can leaving us very little, if any, time and resources to focus on the inside of our home. But the home interior should not be neglected. It provides us, and those with whom we share it a safe haven from the outside world. It should be a beautiful place: calm, peaceful, and reflective of whom we are. But beautiful does not need to be expensive, and time invested does not need to be exorbitant.

The following are some quick, easy, and inexpensive ideas to beautify your home. 

  • Bring the outdoors in

Whether it is a basket of produce from your garden, a bouquet of wildflowers, or even the pruned branches of a budding shrub, bring the outside elements of your homestead inside. A table centerpiece is the most obvious place for display, but what other areas in the home could use freshening up?  How about a bedroom nightstand, the kitchen windowsill, or the corner of a bookshelf? And don’t forget utilitarian areas like the laundry room.  They deserve a nice touch and will make your every day chores a pleasure.

  • Repurpose what you have

Before purchasing something new, is there any way to repurpose something you may already have? We recently moved into our home, and since we built as simply and inexpensively as we could, we did not have a kitchen pantry.  What we did have was an old antique bedroom dresser. It now stands in our back hall serving double duty holding canned goods as well as a charging station for cell phones.

The shabby chic look blends well with our country decor.  Other pieces that work well for storage are antique wardrobes, jelly cabinets, or wooden crates. Furniture is not the only item to be repurposed. Get out your vintage linens and put them to use. Consider using an apron for a small curtain or a tea towel for a table runner. Think outside the box and don’t be afraid to try something new.

  • Art need not be framed

Another way to repurpose items is to hang them on the walls: pretty plates, baskets, quilts, and antique farm tools will provide warmth and a rustic atmosphere.  If you do choose to use framed pieces but don’t want to go to great expense try framing postcards, vintage seed packets, or handwritten recipes. Hang a small variety of items together as a grouping. Before pounding holes in the wall however, play with your items on a flat surface such as the floor to get the arrangement you like.

  • Bring out your jars

Those of us who can have them in great numbers: mason jars in every shape and size available. Free up some of your storage space and bring out your jars. Use large ones to hold wooden clothes pins or antique buttons. Set out on a shelf or counter top, they serve their purpose while looking pretty. Fill  various sizes with flowers and/or candles and group together on a tray or in a window sill. Use them on your counter in lieu of canisters and fill with pasta, dried beans, and rice. For entertaining, add a touch of down home chic to your table. Use them as glassware or to hold the silverware at a buffet table.

  • Less is more. 

In choosing the decor of a room, keep in mind that clutter creates visual noise not to mention extra work when it comes time to dust. Consider keeping extra accessories to a minimal. Try to select items that serve a function apart from just looking pretty.  If you have the time and the storage space, rotate accessories on a seasonal basis.  Most of us value the homesteading lifestyle for its simplicity – allow this simplicity to carry over into your interior spaces as well.

How to Quiet an Aquarium’s Water Pumps?

aquarium

If you’re a nature or science lover who gets easily mesmerized by nature even to the tiniest bit, then most probably, you already have your own aquarium, if not then having your own aquarium (and fishes most obviously) is a must. Aside from making your home much more attractive, an aquarium filled with tiny yet attractive sea creatures can be quite a wonderful sight to ponder upon, even more so if you add extra peripherals such as led lights, rocks, corals and other creative designs. Imagine this. It is 3:00 in the morning and the room is dark, you start your weekly existential contemplation and stare blankly into the aquarium’s light, passively observing with unfocused eyes those swiftly versatile movements of your precious underwater friends. Thinking “Hmmm… So these are my ancestral origins…

And containing them inside some kind of transparent box would prevent them from evolving into land monkeys. Nice…” Even just the thought of it can be quite mesmerizing.

Having a small and contained space of a small water ecosystem is great, however, things like regularly cleaning the tank or preventing your cat from eating your precious underwater friend can be somewhat annoying. Most especially that noise your aquarium water pumps is constantly making (While some people find background or static noise like this relaxing). This article will mainly guide you on how to quiet an aquarium’s water pumps while including interesting science facts

Why Are Water Pumps Needed?

Well, fishes need oxygen to live. Thanks to our leafy friends, Earth manages to maintain  oxygen in our atmosphere. Oceans, rivers, streams and other bodies of water obtain oxygen from the atmosphere when oxygen dissolves and mixes into the water’s surface, or when fast-moving streams and rivers help oxygen mix in, as well as underwater grasses and algae that produce oxygen. But your aquarium does not exhibit all three, and thus, will need an air pump to pump ir’ into your tank.

Do you know that dolphins and whales cannot breathe underwater? They regularly go to the surface to breathe air. Dolphins can hold their breath for 8 to 10 minutes while whales can last up to an hour and a half. If you think about it, that can be quite a hassle for these sea creatures.

Steps and Methods in Quieting Your Aquarium’s Water Pumps

Gathering Materials

First things first, the only things you will need are just a few silicone pads or foam pads (noise-reducing mats) and a bunch of zip ties. You can buy them online or probably a store near you. Very straightforward isn’t?

Place Those Mats/Pads

Place the pads and cover the surface area which where your water pump makes contact with the tank. The concept is pretty simple. You are preventing noise to travel into your tank. Vibrating objects of a certain frequency will make noise, for example, is your speakers. Studios use this concept to achieve excellent acoustics. They cover the room with objects that absorbs vibrations such that their sound recording would be clear.

Or Wrap Them Around

Some air pumps might be in contact with another area than the bottom. For this, you can wrap those pads around your water pump and hold it in place with zip ties. Make sure you reduce as much contact as possible to have a silent aquarium for your house.

Habitually Clean Your Water Tank

Aquarium water pumps or air pumps have filters to prevent debris from entering its system. However, it will gradually accumulate dirt and particles that may cause it to make irregular noises. You can prevent this from happening by regularly cleaning your tank, although you should already be cleaning your aquarium regularly without having this guide mentioning it.

In case your air pumps are clogged, you should take it to the manufacturer for some cleanup, and if you know what you are doing, then you can take it apart and do the job yourself, though that may void your warranty

Replace Your Pump

Well, if nothing avails and your water pump still makes irritating noises then you should consider replacing your pump for a new and better one. There are a lot of available water pumps with pre-built silencing system such as foam-based stands and floaters. Some are specially engineered not to make noise when pumping.

How Much Do I Need to Plant to Feed My Family?

How Much Do I Need to Plant to Feed My Family?

I was at a class at my Local Cooperative Extension Agency (if you don’t utilize your local cooperative extension agency you are missing out) and the agent started talking about estimated yields for vegetable plantings. My ears perked up because I always grapple with this every season… How much do I need to plant to feed my family? How many seeds/plants do I need to plant if I want to feed my family fresh produce during the growing season AND preserve enough to last the rest of the year.

The chart below gives you a good idea of how much of each plant/seed you will need per person. This chart is based on amount suggested per person based on fresh use. If you plan on canning, freezing or preserving you will need to plant more! I usually multiply the suggested amount by 5. For example the chart below suggests that you plant 3-5 tomato plants per person for fresh use. We have 4 people in our family. That would be a total of 20 plants per person for fresh use.

Because we LOVE having canned tomatoes all year long – I plant 100 plants. Because we can the tomatoes – we plant a determinate variety of tomato also known as bush tomatoes. A determinate variety of tomato is going to be ready to harvest all at one time. This makes sense if you want to can/preserve large amounts of tomatoes. If you want to have tomatoes available all season long you would plant an indeterminate variety. An indeterminate variety also known as vining tomatoes will produce fruit until it is killed by the frost. Vining types of tomatoes are perfect if you want to be sure to have fresh tomatoes all season long. Or you could be like us and plant both varieties!

Seeds or plant per 100-ft. row is the recommended amount or number to use for proper spacing and growth.

Estimated yield per 100-ft. row is based on optimum growth.

Some of the things you must do to ensure good yields:

  • Maintain fertility
  • Provide adequate moisture
  • Use mulches
  • Control pests (weeds, insects, and diseases)
  • Use recommended varieties for your region (another good reason to visit your local extension office, they will know what are the best varieties to plant).

Read more:

Make your own cheese

I bake my own bread. I don’t understand why anyone would use a box mix to bake a cake. I take pride in cooking things with real ingredients. So, it just seems natural that the next step in my culinary journey would be cheesemaking.

I won’t say that the process didn’t intimidate me – because it did. There are a lot of steps and strange ingredients. But, once you get past the initial challenge, it is a very rewarding process.

For more cheese recipes and supplies visit Homesteader’s Supply. 

Farmhouse Cheddar

Ingredients

  • 3 gallons whole milk
  • Mesophilic Culture (1/4 tsp Abiasa, 1/8 tsp Danisco, or 1/16 tsp Sacco)
  • 2 teaspoons calcium chloride (only needed for store bought milk)
  • 1.5 tablet rennet or 3/4 tsp liquid rennet
  • 1/4 cup unchlorinated water
  • 1 Tbsp salt

cheese-for-web-story

Steps

  1. Combine milk, (calcium chloride) in 16 qt stock pot (double boiler to prevent scorching)
  2. Slowly heat mixture to 86 degrees. Turn off heat and stir in lactic cheese culture. (Different types of culture create different flavors of cheese)  Stir gently throughout. Cover mixture and allow to rest undisturbed at 86 degrees for 45 minutes.
  3. Dissolve rennet tablet or liquid rennet in 1/4 cup  water.
  4. Keep the milk at 86 degrees.  Stir the rennet mixture into milk slowly but thoroughly. Allow milk to set undisturbed for 30 – 45 minutes or until curd shows a clean break.
  5. Using long knife, cut the curds into 1/2 inch squares, then stir gently just to break the strips of curds into chunks. Let it sit to rest for 5 minutes.
  6. Slowly heat the curds and whey to 102 degrees, raising the temperature 2 degrees every 5 minutes. Stir curd gently to prevent matting and reduce their size to half peanut size. A large whisk works well by placing it at the bottom of the pot and pulling it up right so curds break as they fall through the whisk. Hold curds for additional 30 minutes at this temperature.
  7. Place a colander — pre-warmed with hot water — over a pot and pour the curds into it.
  8. Reserve 1/3 of the whey and pour back into the cheese pot. Set colander of curds onto the cheese pot. Cover top with cheese cloth and lid to keep in warmth. Allow curds to drain for 45 to 60 minutes. This is called the cheddaring process.
  9. Cut slab into pieces and press through French fry cutter or cut by hand.
  10. Add 1 tablespoon course salt. Using your hands, gently mix the salt into curds. You can eat these curds now, or press into a wheel.
  11. Place the curds into cheese press and follow the directions for dressing with cheese cloth for the next 12 hours.
  12. Remove cheese from press, unwrap the cloth, place cheese on drying mat to air dry for 12 hours, creating a nice skin over the whole cheese.  Cheese is ready to slice and eat or you can wax and age for stronger cheddar flavor.
  13. Mix 1 tablespoon of salt with 1/2 cup of water. Use a corner of the cheese cloth to lightly apply a saltwater wash to the cheese.

Read more:

Everything you need to know about Growing Heirlooms

growing heirlooms

For many of us, a large component to modern homesteading is growing fruits and vegetables for ourselves and our families. We enjoy having a little bit of control over what we’re eating and how it was grown. Growing and eating fresh produce is hands-down a healthier lifestyle and it leaves us with healthier wallets, as well. If you have yet to try your hand at growing heirlooms, there’s some compelling reasons to introduce a few into your garden this year. One of the most exciting is the hundreds (and hundreds) of heirloom varieties that you won’t find in the typical grocery store. Everyday commercial vegetables don’t begin to scratch the surface of the many shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors that heirlooms (and other open-pollinated varieties) can offer.

When you do find the one or two heirlooms in the produce aisle, they’re extremely expensive. Growing these special vegetables in your home garden will have you saving money, eating the ultimate fresh food, and enjoying intense vegetable flavors that you’ve probably never tasted before. To top it off recent studies have shown heirloom vegetables to be higher in nutrition than their half-breed cousins — the commercial hybrids. Heirloom and open-pollinated seeds can be saved year-to-year, which means that technically after the initial purchase you’d never have to buy seeds again. Unless, of course, you’re like me and can’t wait to try the next variety that catches your eye (or palate). If generous gardeners around you (and vice-versa) share seeds from their plants; you may never have to purchase seeds for your garden again.

When you plant heirlooms, you’ll be putting food on the table that has its own genes and produces true seed. But what exactly does that mean? First let’s talk about the definition of open-pollinated, heirlooms, and hybrid plants (by the way, these terms define flowers and bulbs, as well as vegetables).

Moon-and-Stars-watermelon

Photo courtesy of: Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply/Grow Organic.com

Defining Heirloom Characteristics: 

Hybrid: The offspring of two plants of different breeds, varieties, or species as produced through human manipulation for specific genetic characteristics. Seeds kept from hybrids won’t breed true to the parent plant and can actually be sterile (as is the case for some commercial hybrids).

*Hybrids should not be confused with GMOs. A genetically modified organism has been altered by genetic engineering such as placing the gene from one species (like a fish) into another species (like a tomato).*

Open-Pollinated: These are plants that are pollinated naturally (by insects, wind, water, birds, or mammals). Seeds from an open-pollinated (OP) plant will produce seedlings and fruit that will look like the parent plant. In other words, these seed varieties are said to “breed true.”

Heirloom: Heirlooms are a sub-set within the open-pollinated class. Generally, they earn their title when they’ve been handed down from generation to generation for fifty years. Let me further clarify what puts heirloom varieties into a class of their own:

1. Heirlooms have time, stability, and history behind them. But the truth is that there’s no “official definition.” In fact, some purists don’t like to put varieties into that category unless it’s 100 years old or older (most agree to the age of 50 years). One thing is for sure, heirlooms are rich with culture being brought to us courtesy of immigrants from all over of the world. Plus, many of these seeds have wonderful stories — and names — attached to them.

2. Heirloom vegetables are always open-pollinated varieties, although not all open-pollinated varieties are heirlooms. One example is when open-pollinated varieties are “created.” This happens when a plant breeder uses two heirlooms (or an heirloom and a hybrid) and crosses them in order to get certain desirable traits. The plant produced from the seed after the cross-pollination is a hybrid. This hybrid can be grown out, allowed to become naturally pollinated, and these seeds are saved.

They’re replanted and the cycle begins again and again for five years or longer. At the point where after the seed is grown out and it consistently grows true to its parent, it’s considered “dehybridized” and can be referred to as an open-pollinated variety. Are these new OP kids destined to become heirlooms? Maybe. If they’re loved and kept around for generations, these new open-pollinated plants could end up being the heirlooms of our future. After all, family heirloom varieties whose seeds have been passed down through the generations originated from cross-pollination (started out as natural hybrids) in the garden or on the farm.

3. It’s extremely important to note that no one owns open-pollinated or heirloom varieties; they remain public domain. Unlike many commercial hybrids, heirlooms have no secret parentage (as can be the case with hybrids) and they’re available to any gardener. By the way, the above characteristics belong to the open-pollinated veggies that aren’t necessarily considered heirlooms. They just may not have the extensive history as their counterparts.

Why We Celebrate Heirlooms 

Due to some misconceptions floating about, I’d like to explain that hybrid plants are not being demonized within the heirloom-loving communities. Hybrids certainly have their place and I don’t know anyone that’s actually banished them from their home garden. Rather, the idea is to celebrate and share the incredible value of heirlooms and open-pollinated plants. Here’s the part where I share what it is about our heritage plants that just rocks our world (literally).

Unrivaled flavor — I’ll be the first one to admit that any vine-ripe vegetable grown in the home garden (hybrids included) beats the flavor of store-bought vegetables any day. That said, most heirlooms have the flavor factor in spades; the prolific hybrids have a hard time competing with that. Commercial hybrids are created for uniformity in color, shape, size, yield, transporting abilities, and the ease of machine-harvesting. This isn’t to say that there aren’t delicious hybrids — there certainly are. But there’s an amazing assortment of heirloom varieties (and therefore, flavors) to please the palate.

Genetic diversity — We can thank genetic diversity for the fact that so many varieties of vegetables exist in so many different areas. Gardeners in Alaska can have potatoes just like gardeners in California all because there are varieties adapted to each environment. A big drawback to planting monocultures (a large amount of only one plant variety) is that a single pest or disease can come in and wipe out an entire food crop. Genetic diversity in a garden is the first defense against this potential threat. An excellent example is the Irish potato famine of 1845. At that time all of the potatoes grown in Ireland were a variety called ‘Lumper.’ Farmers lost all of their crops,  the people lost their food. Because the plants were genetically identical more than a million people died of starvation.

Adaptability — Heirloom plants have an inherent ability to adapt naturally over time to their environment (these plants are referred to as “landraces”). They adapt not only to the soil they’re planted in, but also to the climate.

Historically, as vegetable varieties adjusted to their environments they also developed resistances to local pests and diseases. The resulting plants ended up strong, viable, and suited to every area in the world. You can create landraces by planting an heirloom that does particularly well in your garden, saving the seeds from the best fruit, and replanting year after year.

A Little Control — Food is a basic human necessity and he who controls the seed controls the food supply. Unfortunately, about ten companies control three quarters of the commercial seed world-wide. They literally own it. You’ll be happy to know that heirlooms are owned by no one — and everyone.

A Link to Our Past — So when did “heirlooms” become heirlooms? It might surprise you to know that the term didn’t exist before the early 1980s. Before that, they were know by a different name; food. These plants were simply traditional vegetables grown in gardens everywhere — the staples of life. I find it fascinating that some of the heirlooms preserved by family seed-saving go as far back as 2000 years or more. Connected to these seeds is the history of our ancestors and who they were; giving us a basic indication of who we are. Seeds are truly living family heirlooms.

Purple Pod Bush Beans

Photo courtesy of: Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply/Grow Organic.com

Those Funky, Fabulous Names 

If you aren’t sold on heritage seeds by now, their names and stories will surely win you over. Check out this small example of some marvelous monikers:

  • Drunken Woman Frizzy-Headed lettuce — You’re really going to resist that?
  • Moon & Stars watermelon — This melon literally has a big, gold moon and little starts on the rind.
  • Dragon Tongue beans — You can grow Dragon Tongues?
  • Mortgage Lifter (Radiator Charlie’s) tomato — M.C. Byles of West Virginia (“Radiator Charlie”) bred this tomato variety to bring in more money while he was struggling in the 1940s. He bred the plant for six years to achieve some stability in the variety. He sold the plants for $1 each and paid off his $6000 mortgage.
  • Rattlesnake beans — Pour these seeds into your kids’ hands and tell them to go plant some rattle snakes in the garden.
  • Tigger melon — Tigger is child-hand-sized, bright yellow with zig-zagged orange stripes.
  • Cherokee Trail of Tears beans — This bean was carried from the SmokyMountains to Oklahoma during the winter death march (1838-1839), 4,000 graves were left along that trail.
  • Mascara lettuce — Named for her brilliant red, frilly leaves.
  • Depp’s Firefly tomato — Read the name again. I’m just sayin’. 

Perfect Pollination

If you’d like to grow heirlooms and save the seed for next season’s garden, you’ll need to protect your plants from cross-pollination by other plants in the same family. The goal is collect pure seed and in order to do this, varieties are usually grown a certain distance apart (depending on the plant family), or by using physical barriers such as caging or bagging techniques. For example, pumpkin varieties can all cross-pollinate with one another, which would produce impure seed and the pumpkins produced from the next generation would end up a hybrid. I should also mention that there are times when it may not matter to you whether your plants are cross-pollinated or not. If you don’t plan on saving seeds, then it wouldn’t matter how (or who) pollinated your plants. Here’s why: When a plant is pollinated it produces the right fruit for that variety.

Let’s say the a honey bee carries the pollen from a ‘Dixie Queen’ watermelon and pollinates the flower of a ‘Crimson Sweet’ watermelon, the fruit borne on that plant will be a ‘Crimson Sweet.’ Cross-pollination doesn’t affect the resulting fruit of the first generation. It affects the seeds within that fruit. Therefore, only if you were going to save the seed from that pumpkin would you be concerned about whom was pollinating whom. One of the keys to successful gardening is choosing the right variety for your climate — this doesn’t get any truer than with heirlooms.

The best advice I can offer on choosing the right varieties for your area is to talk to your local nurseries and see if they offer varieties that thrive in your zone, find out what your neighbors are growing, and ask heirloom seed companies for guidance before you order. This year, plant the vegetables with the laugh-out-loud names, rich heritages, amazing colors, and mouthwatering flavors. See for yourself why the varieties of the past have earned their way into the hearts and homesteads of so many gardeners of today.

asuburbanfarmer.com

About:
Chris is the gardening/home ag editor of From Scratch Magazine. She is also a freelance writer, blogger, and author of five books including Vertical Vegetable Gardening (Alpha Books, 2012). She balances family, writing, and all things modern homesteading from their hobby farm in the Northern California foothills. She’s blessed with four fabulous kids and four darling sugar babies.

Natural Healing: Fighting off a sinus infection

healing

I tend to get a sinus infection — a bad one — about once every two years (it used to be more, but I quit smoking which helped out a lot).

This year’s infection started about four days ago and it’s been smacking me around the face since it started. If you’re lucky enough to have never suffered a sinus infection, here are the syptoms: Dayglow green mucus, pressure around the nose and eyes, headaches, body aches, runny nose and post-nasal drip.

Usually, I treat it with Dayquil/Nyquil and fight it until it winds up getting out of control. Then I follow up with a doctor, who prescribes broad spectrum antibiotics and maybe a shot of steroids.

So, this year, since I find myself with a sudden access to all sorts of essential oils and herbalism knowledge, I decided to try a different approach.

So I bought a new neti pot, grabbed the essential oils and started a steady regiment of nasal rinsing and essential oils.

Here’s what I did:

Step one: Regular nasal rinsing with the neti pot

Neti pots are odd little contraptions. They look like tiny little teapots and can be made of plastic or ceramic — I prefer ceramic. The neti pot is filled with body temperature water, sea salt and baking soda. Recipes for the mix vary, but I use 1/4 teaspoon of salt and soda for every 8 ounces of water.

I also add a drop of Eucalyptus oil and a drop of Tea Tree oil. Make sure whatever oil you’re using is recommended for internal use. If not, then you can skip it. Fill the pot up with the mixture, then pour it in one nostril until it runs out the other. Only use have of it. Then (and this is going to be gross), attempt to suck the remnants of the mixture into the back of the throat and spit it out of your mouth. Repeat with the other nostril.

This is a good practice to start on a daily regiment. If you can do it twice a day, it will have a huge impact on your allergies and sinus health.

Step Two: Use the oils

I use Eucalyptus and Peppermint oil to open my sinuses. I mix it with coconut oil and rub it on my forehead, temples and in my beard (beards: Nature’s diffusers). Both help with sinus pressure and headaches. I also diffuse Juniper Berry oil in our diffuser, which acts as a general mood and energy booster. If I catch an ear ache, I wipe the outside of my ears with a lavender/tea tree/coconut oil blend. I repeat as often as desired. The recipe for both blends is as follows: One teaspoon of coconut oil with two drops of each of the other oils.

Step Three: The magic pill

I also take essential oils internally in the form of gel capsules. The blend is a combination of frankincense, marjoram, oregano and more. I don’t know the exact recipe, as my wife mixes it up for me, but I’ll post a link to it when I find out. It’s incredible! Really. Absolutely incredible. Makes everything feel better: Reduces inflammation, pain and appears to decrease the amount of gross dayglow snot.

I take it about every three hours.

Of course, any of these remedies should require a medical professionals opinion before you try them yourself, but it’s nice to know I have a way to deal with an illness that doesn’t lead to a visit to urgent care or yet another round of antibiotics.

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You Can Cook with Dandelions! Find out How!

Whole industries have been created to combat them. Gardening books and magazines are filled with ideas for eradicating them. Homeowners everywhere scorn them. But dandelions persist and thrive – and thank goodness, because they are actually one of the world’s most nutritious foods – and good medicine, besides!

Turns out, dandelions aren’t native to North America. The prolific weeds with bright yellow flowers were actually brought here by European immigrants who valued dandelions as a superfood and medicine. Literally, dandelions have kept colonists and pioneers alive, and were highly valued during the Great Depression and WWII.

Today, dandelions are making a culinary comeback. You’ll find them in gourmet restaurants, high end grocery stores, and farmer’s markets throughout the U.S. But most of us have plenty of dandelions growing nearby, free for use, ready for the taking.

How to Identify Dandelions

There are a few wild plants that look similar to dandelions – and while they aren’t dangerous to eat, it pays to notice these important dandelion traits:

  • Tooth-shaped, hairless leaves.
  • Leaves and stems growing directly from the rootstalk in the soil.
  • One flower per stem.
  • Stems without branches on them.
  • A milky white sap when a stem is broken.
  • A thick root, looking rather like a thin parsnip. Growing off this main root may be smaller, hair-like roots.
  • For safety’s sake, don’t harvest dandelions near roadways (where the plants soak up fumes) or from any location where chemical sprays, such as weed killers, may be used.

Dandelion Leaves

Nutritionally, dandelion leaves are right up there with – and sometimes supersede – kale, collards, and spinach. And if you pick the leaves before stems and flowers appear, they are less bitter than many salad greens. (If you pick them later in the season, one easy way to remove their bitterness is to bring a pot of water to a boil, then add the leaves. Simmer until tender; taste. If the leaves still seem bitter, repeat, using fresh water. Repeat as often as necessary.

common dandelion

Dandelion Recipes

Easy Dandelion Sauté

If dandelion leaves are new to you, this is a simple and easy first recipe to try.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2 lbs. dandelion leaves, chopped coarsely
  • Pepper

Instructions

1. In a small bowl, combine the garlic and salt.

2. Place a skillet over medium high heat and add the oil. Once warmed, add the garlic mixture, sautéing for a few seconds.

3. Add the dandelion leaves and season with pepper. Cook and stir often until the leaves are bright green and wilted.

Serves 2.

Variation: Cook a few strips of bacon in the skillet; drain on paper towels. Add the garlic and salt mixture, then the leaves. When the leaves are wilted, remove from the stove and crumble the bacon on top.

Dandelion Noodles

If you like spinach noodles, you’ll likely enjoy dandelion leaf noodles, too. Eat them simply, with a little butter and freshly grated Parmesan cheese, or try them with your favorite pasta sauce.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 – 2 cups dandelion leaves (depending upon how much flavor is desired)
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 egg
  • Fine sea salt
  • 1 ¼ + cups all purpose flour

Instructions
1. Place the dandelion leaves and water in a saucepan. Cover and cook until the leaves are tender. Allow to cool for several minutes. Add the egg and a pinch of salt.

2. Puree the mixture in a blender or food processor.

3. Pour the leaf mixture into a large mixing bowl and stir in 1 cup of flour. If the dough is still soft, add a little more flour and mix again, repeating until the dough is stiff.

4. Turn out the dough on a lightly floured surface. Knead for about 1 minute. Roll the dough very thin. Let it sit for 20 minutes.

5.  Loosely roll the dough into a cigar shape. Use a sharp knife to cut strips ¼ inch wide. Unroll and cut into noodles of whatever length you desire. Cook the noodles in boiling water.

Serves 2 – 4.Dandelion Enchiladas

Dandelion Enchiladas

Serve this and no one will know they are eating a common weed  – unless you tell them!

Ingredients

  • 28 oz. enchilada sauce
  • 1 ½ cups dandelion leaves, cooked
  • 3 greens onions (scallions), chopped
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded Co-Jack cheese
  • ½ lb. cooked ground beef or cooked, shredded chicken breast
  • About 8 (7 inch) tortillas
  • Sliced black olives (optional)

Instructions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a bowl, combine ½ cup enchilada sauce, dandelion leaves, onions, sour cream, and 1 cup cheese.

2. Spoon about ½ cup of enchilada sauce onto the bottom of an 11 x 7 inch baking dish.

3. Spoon about ¼ cup of the dandelion leaf mixture into a tortilla and roll up. Place, seam side down, in the baking dish. Repeat with remaining tortillas.

4. Spoon the remaining enchilada sauce over the rolled tortillas. Sprinkle remaining cheese over the top. If using, scatter sliced black olives over the top. Bake until cheese is melted and filling is bubbly, about 20 minutes.

Serves 6 – 8.

Other ideas: Use dandelion leaves in place of other greens, like spinach and kale, for making quiche, omelettes, a pizza topping, etc. You can even use them in place of basil when making pesto. For long term storage, dehydrate the leaves in the late winter or early spring; crumble the dried leaves into soups, stews, and other dishes.

Dandelion Flowers

Dandelion flowers contain lots of vitamins A, C, and B, beta-carotene, zinc, potassium, and iron. They are also a great source of lecithin – believed to maintain brain function while supporting the liver.

dandelion

Dandelion Jelly

Here’s a superb introduction to eating dandelions. The resulting jelly tastes very much like honey.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups dandelion petals
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 6 tablespoons powdered pectin

Instructions

1. Dump the dandelion petals in a stainless steel pot. Add 8 cups of water and turn the heat to medium high. Boil for 10 minutes.

2. Place a bowl in the sink and set a fine strainer over it. Carefully pour the dandelion petal mixture through the strainer. Press down on the petals with the back of a spoon in order to extract as much of the golden liquid as possible. Discard the petals. Thoroughly clean the strainer.

3. Put another bowl in the sink. Place the strainer over it. Put enough coffee filters inside the strainer to cover its entire surface. Carefully pour the strained dandelion liquid through the strainer again.

4. Clean the pot. With a clean measuring cup, measure out 3 cups of the dandelion liquid and pour it into the pot. Add the lemon juice, vanilla extract, and pectin. Bring to a full rolling boil that can’t be stirred down with a spoon. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved.

5. Bring the mixture to a full boil and, stirring constantly, boil hard for 1 minute. Remove the pot from the stove.

6. Ladle the jelly into the jelly jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  Process jars for 10 minutes in a boiling bath canner.

Every 3 cups of petal liquid fills about 4- 5 jelly jars.

Note: Any remaining dandelion petal liquid can be refrigerated for use in teas. Or, pour into ice cube trays and freeze for a sweet addition to iced tea.

Dandelion Flower Oil

This oil can be used in any recipe calling for olive oil.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dandelion petals
  • ¾ cup olive oil

Instructions

1. Pour oil into a saucepan placed over low heat. Add the petals. Simmer for 25 – 30 minutes. Remove from stove and allow to cool completely.

2. Strain through a sieve lined in coffee filters. Pour into a glass jar with a well-fitting, non-metallic lid. Use within 3 weeks.

Dandelion Flower Tea

This is a refreshing tea that may be served hot or cold. It also acts as a diuretic, reducing swelling and bloating.

Ingredients

  • About 8 dandelion flower heads
  • Water

Instructions

1. Pour water into a small saucepan and place over high heat.

2. Pack the flower heads into a tea ball. Close ball and place in a cup. Once the water boils, pour it over the tea ball. Steep for 10 – 15 minutes with a saucer placed over the cup.

Simple Dandelion Flower Fritters

When I first served these to my family, they were very skeptical. In fact, I had a hard time getting them to taste even one. But once they did, they were hooked!

Ingredients

  • Olive oil
  • A couple of handfuls of dandelion flower heads
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup all purpose flour

Instructions

1. Place a skillet over medium high heat and add enough oil to come up the sides of the pan just a little.

2. In a bowl, whisk the egg. Add the milk and flour, stirring until well blended.

3. Dip a flower in the batter, coating completely, and place it flower side down in the hot oil. Repeat until the skillet is full of flower heads. Cook until the batter is crispy, then turn the flowers over with tongs and cook the opposite side.  As each flower finishes cooking, transfer to paper towels to drain.

Other ideas: Add fresh dandelion flower petals to your favorite muffin or oatmeal cookie recipe or your favorite salad. Make dandelion flower vinegar by stuffing a glass jar with the flowers (green parts removed) and covering with apple cider vinegar; cover and let sit in a dark location for 6 weeks before straining and using. Also, try pickling the flower buds, picking them while still tightly closed. The flower stems are edible, too, though quite bitter. Try chopping them into a salad. You may wish to boil them first.

Dandelion Roots

The roots of dandelions are a terrific source of vitamins C, A, D, B complex, and beta-carotene. They are also high in iron, potassium, zinc, biotin, phosphorus, and magnesium, and are a good antioxidant. This is also the most medicinal part of the plant, used to cleanse the liver, gallbladder, and kidneys, and as a tonic for PMS.

Young roots taste similar to salsify or artichoke hearts. Older, larger roots are more bitter, but boiling or roasting reduces or removes their bitterness. When dandelion roots are roasted, they taste very much like coffee.
Dandelion Root “Coffee”

This drink tastes like instant coffee – but it’s much more nutritious and has no caffeine.

Ingredients

  • Scrubbed dandelion roots
  • Water

Instructions

1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.

2. Place some scrubbed dandelion roots in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Place in the preheated oven with the door left ajar. Stir every 15 minutes until roots shrink, and are golden and without moisture, about 2 – 3 hours. Store cooled roots in an airtight container in a dark location until ready to use.

3. When ready for “coffee,” fill a small saucepan with water and place over medium high heat. Bring to a boil.

4. Grind the roots in a coffee grinder until they form a power. Add the powder to the boiling water, reduce the heat and simmer for 10 – 15 minutes. Strain.

Dandelion Root Cake

Dandelion roots add coffee flavor, minus the caffeine, plus lots of nutrients, to this cake.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup quick-cooking tapioca
  • 1 cup hazelnuts, roasted and ground in a food processor or coffee grinder
  • 1 cup almond meal
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 tablespoons chopped, roasted dandelion roots
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup coconut or olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla

Instructions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 inch cake pan.

2. In a mixing bowl, stir together the tapioca, hazelnuts, almond meal, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cream of tartar.

3. In a small saucepan placed over medium high heat, pour the milk and the dandelion roots. Bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and allow the mixture to sit for 10 minutes. Strain.

4. Beat the eggs in another mixing bowl. Add the milk, syrup, oil, and vanilla and mix well. The batter will be thinner than average cake batter.

5.  Bake in the preheated oven until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes.

Makes one 9 inch cake.

Dandelion Root Tea

This medicinal tea is a great way to reap the benefits of dandelion root. It is a bit bitter; if desired, add a little honey, or some dried red raspberry leaf.

Ingredients

  • Dandelion roots
  • Water

Instructions

1. Scrub dandelion roots and chop. Fat pieces of roots should be cut in halves or quarters for easier drying and grinding.

2. Place roots on the tray of a dehydrator set at 135 degrees F. Dry until the roots are hard and no trace of moisture is left in them. Store cooled roots in an airtight container in a dark location.

3. Grind a small number of roots in a coffee grinder. Pour into a tea ball. Cover tea ball with boiling water. Cover cup with a saucer. Steep for at least 10 minutes.

Variation: Dehydrated and ground dandelion root can also be added to water, juice, or smoothies for a nutritional boost. Added to orange juice, it is tasteless.

Other ideas: Grind roasted dandelion roots and use them to add coffee flavor to homemade ice cream or baked goods, or use them as part of a meat rub. Try pickling roots harvested before stems grow on the plant.
Kristina Seleshanko is the author of The Ultimate Dandelion Cookbook – 148 recipes for dandelion leaves, stems, buds, flowers, and roots. She also blogs about homesteading, foraging, cooking from scratch.

It’s Time for Your Vegetables to Grow UP

vegetables

When Less is Actually More

It’s obvious that growing vegetables up instead of out saves space, which opens gardening doors for almost everybody. Lack of space is certainly a great reason to start thinking vertically and that may be the road that led you to consider growing things vertically.

However, a small space is only one reason on a long list of great reasons to grow vertically. Even if you have plenty of gardening room, you may want to add vertical components in order to take advantage of the other compelling reasons to grow up.

Less Time and Work

This reason alone is enough to keep my interest. Between raising kids, working, keeping house and garden, cooking meals, livestock care, and volunteering, I lead a very full life. My guess is that you do, too! Gardening and growing fresh food is something that I strongly believe in and have no intentions of cutting out.

The question is, how many things can I grow? Most of us keep up a busy daily pace just to stay afloat, so it may feel like one potted pepper plant is all you can manage. This is the beauty of growing vertically[md]the time commitment is very little compared to what’s considered a horizontal garden bed. Of course, how much time depends on how many vertical gardens you’re tending.

I should point out that even if you choose to have a large garden of vertical veggies, you’ll still get twice as much done for your vertical plants as you would their horizontally grown counterparts. This is because there’s very little soil for you to deal with, especially if your veggies are in a container.

Less soil means less time watering for those of you who are hand-watering. Pruning plants such as berry canes, tomato plants, or fruit trees is easier. And harvesting? Harvesting is a quick endeavor when fruit is at eye level and can be easily seen and picked.

In short, your back and knees will thank you for adopting an upward gardening plan! Each of these factors also make vertical gardening the perfect method for those with physical limitations, as well. Gardeners in wheelchairs or with other physical challenges find that growing veggies up makes their hobby much easier[md]or perhaps even possible.

Less Money

Personally, this is a deal-maker for me. It’s a tough economy, right? If you intend to create raised garden beds, growing plants vertically will save you money on purchasing soil because you won’t need to build large rectangular beds. In fact, you’ll be able to get away with obtaining just enough soil for the roots of the plants. When you garden with large horizontal gardens, you’re providing fresh soil for the vines that simply rest on the soil as they sprawl; soil that’s basically wasted.

The same principle applies to compost. Compost is the best thing you can do for your garden and whether you have your own compost piles going or plan to purchase this important amendment. It’ll go a lot farther when you’re adding it only to the area that really needs it — the plant roots. I believe that no single thing benefits plants more than rich, crumbly, nutritional compost.

The building materials used for the upright climbing structures may be the area where most of your dollars go. However, this isn’t necessarily so. With a little imagination you can recycle and upcycle discarded items for the vertical garden that otherwise have been discarded.

Fewer Weeds, Pests, and Diseases

One of the best vertical gardening perks is that you’ll have very few weeds sprouting up. Even when they do rear their ugly heads, they can all be tugged out in minutes. On the other hand, with horizontal beds you’re also weeding all of the bare soil areas in-between the plants so that they don’t take over the garden as they mature. Vertical gardening has you working with much less soil surface and many times you’re starting with bagged soils that are weed-free from the outset.

Plants grown vertically enjoy exceptional air circulation — much more than most of their ground-dwelling counterparts. More air circulation around plant foliage means less trouble with pests and disease, which means a stronger plant and that will produce more unblemished fruit. And much, much less food waste due to rotting.

When plants are grown horizontally, their leaves often cover the soil leaving it damp and warm which can expose plants to soil-borne diseases. By allowing plants to grow up instead of out, you also limit their physical contact to neighboring plants. This is a major plus as plant diseases are readily transmitted through physical foliage contact. Crops grown on a support also have much fewer problems with rot, and therefore, waste.

More Produce

If the above advantages aren’t enough to have you scrambling for fencing and trellises, this one just might push you over the edge: a bigger bounty. That’s right, gardening vertically can actually increase your vegetable production. This increase in production is due to the plants and veggies receiving better air circulation and sunlight, which help maintain healthy foliage. Healthy plants with fewer pests and disease offer bigger yields, yet in a smaller space.

Ripe veggies that are grown vertically also have a much better chance of being spotted by the gardener. There are a couple of reasons that this is important. One is that you won’t pass up a perfectly ripe fruit that’s ready for the kitchen. But the other reason it’s important to keep ripe fruit picked from the vine is that for many plants an overripe fruit is a signal to halt production.

Cucumbers, for example, will produce like mad until one or two of the fruits ends up left on the vine and becomes overripe. At that point, as far as the plant is concerned, it has met its goal. It has now produced some fruit that contains mature seeds that will be part of the next generation of cucumbers. Thus, production comes to a full stop.

When vegetables are harvested ready for the kitchen (but not fully mature), the plant keeps trying by maintaining vegetable production.

Interested in growing YOUR vegetables vertically? Then you have to check out this book!

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