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Authentic Vietnamese Pho Recipe

vietnam rice noodles

This delicious recipe from Chef Tara Dawdy is traditionally eaten for breakfast.

I love Asian food.

All kinds of Asian food: Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese.

Something about the combination of what we consider common vegetables into new and interesting flavors tickles me. And the concept of Umami as a flavor piques my curiosity.

So, I was thrilled when a new friend, Tara Dawdy, of Cumberland County, NC, put together a Pho recipe using local, fresh ingredients.

Dawdy trained at Le Cordon Bleu and is an excellent chef. She recently joined forces with the Slow Food movement to lend her talents to supporting good, clean and fair food.

Pho is a Vietnamese soup recipe, often consumed for breakfast.

But, using ingredients she found at area farms and farmers market, Dawdy put together an excellent meal. I asked if I could share the recipe.

Here it is:

Pho

Roughly 8 servings

FOR THE BROTH:

  • 5-6lbs beef bones – oxtail, neck, marrow, knuckle (if possible)
  • 2 med yellow onions (about 1lb)
  • 4” piece of ginger (about 4 oz)
  • 5 star anise (40 star points total)
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 3” cinnamon stick
  • 1 ½ tbsp. salt (kosher)
  • 4tbsp fish sauce (available at Asian recipes)
  • 1 oz. yellow rock sugar (substitute light brown)

TO START Blanch the beef bones (30-60 sec), remove and rinse with cold water and return to pot. Add about 6 q water, bring to boil. Then reduce to simmer. Use spoon to skim any scum that rises to surface. While the bones are simmering, cut onions in half, and slice the ginger. Toss in EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) and place on sheet pan to roast (about 325- 350), approx. hr. This process is called caramelization; it adds to the flavor of the broth. Cut off any burnt ends. Add roasted veggies and remaining spices. Simmer for an additional 2-4hrs (min 90min). Remember to continue “skimming the scum” from you pot. That will remove impurities not flavor. Add remaining ingredients; fish sauce, sugar, and salt. Once you’re ready, strain twice. First to remove bones and spices, second strain is for smaller particles. Use cheese cloth lined in strainer, this will give you the clear but flavorful broth that pho is so famous for.

FOR THE NOODLES:

Rice noodles. You can find them at any Asian market, and sometimes in your local grocery in the international isle.

DO NOT OVERCOOK. Rice noodles are quick to cook so be careful. Make sure your water is at a rolling boil, drop noodles in and let boil for about 3-5mins. You do not want mushy noodles or noodles fully cooked. Al dente, or slightly undercooked. Remove and rinse with cold water.

PLATING:

Grab a generous three finger pinch (about half to cup) of noodles and place in bowl. Add desired veggie toppings (traditional bean sprouts, sliced scallions, jalapenos or Thai chilies, chopped cilantro, basil, lime wedges) and pour hot broth over noodles. Add meat on top.

Enjoy!

Note: For the meat, you can use whatever cut and variety you prefer, cooked to your liking. Traditionally speaking, this would be thin cuts — “I used sirloin tips,” Dawdy said — and flash cooked in boiling broth.

Tara said she leaves the meat cooking up to the individual.

“I found not everyone eats meat mid-rare,” she said.

About Tara:

Chef Tara is an Army veteran who moved to Dallas, Texas, to pursue cooking professionally after leaving the military. She attended Le Cordon Bleu there, and then graduated to worked in all “From Scratch” kitchens — where the restaurants created all of their food from whole ingredients.

She also volunteered with a veteran’s club in Dallas and received award for fund-raising efforts for Suicide prevention for veterans. She’s passionate about local food, and preparing all her meals “From Scratch.”

Since moving back to North Carolina, Chef Tara found it challenging to find a “From Scratch locally-sourced kitchen,” she said, so now she’s pursuing the dream of starting her own business in the Sandhills area.

Other passions include: Volunteering with local animal rescue — Mickeys Haven for Pit Bulls, restoring antique furniture, collecting antique kitchen utensils and cookbooks, old architecture and preservation and playing rugby with Bragg Women’s Rugby.

Read more:

Should cornbread have sugar in the recipe?

A friend posted a note on Facebook about whether or not cornbread should have sugar in the recipe.

The obvious answer is no, but it got me to thinking: How many people have the wrong opinion about cornbread (Just kidding — I know everyone is entitled to their own cornpinion).

So, I figured I’d share my cornbread recipe, taught to me by the saintly Donna Kay Jones, my mother, in case you guys were in doubt about the validity of the excellence of non-sugared cornbread.

If you’d like to register your opinion, take our survey below the recipe.

Donna Kay’s Cornbread recipe

Ingredients

  • Two cups cornmeal mix (this is our favorite brand, but any will do)
  • About 1 cup milk (any variety, including soy, almond, 2 percent, skim, goat, etc.)
  • One egg
  • Mayonnaise (as much as it takes)
  • Some form of fat to grease your skillet with (any oil will work, but to use Donna Kay’s traditional recipe, use shortening).
  • Cast iron skillet

Instructions

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, except for the mayo. Stir until it looks like cornbread batter (not too runny). Add two dollops of mayo (instead of oil. This makes the cornbread extra moist and not crumbly). Stir until it looks right again, adding extra milk or cornmeal mix as needed. Grease your skillet well, and pour in the mix. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. Or use the traditional Donna Kay timer: When the young’uns have asked you when supper will be ready for the 15th time, snatch the skillet out of the oven and slam it on the table and tell them to “hush!”*

*I love you Momma!

How much does it cost to produce a dozen eggs?

A recent thread on a homesteading group in Facebook got me thinking. The question asked by a homesteader was a common one: How much should she charge per dozen for eggs?

The thread garnered all sorts of answers but got me to thinking about the advice I once received from an Agronomist during a class.

He said, and I paraphrase here:

“You should charged based on how much it costs you to produce your product, not how much the other person at the Farmer’s Market charges.”

Basically, the idea is if you don’t at least cover the cost of production, plus a touch for profit, you won’t be able to produce whatever it is you’re producing for a long period of time. In this case, you won’t be able to raise chickens for as long as you might want to if you don’t cover your costs.

Another user on the thread pointed out that many chicken keepers aren’t concerned about the money: It’s a hobby they enjoy and get pleasure from. And that’s fair, and a perfectly valid reason to keeping chickens.

The entire conversation, however, got me to thinking, how much does it cost to produce a dozen eggs?

Note: We’re going to do a really basic start up operation for this thought experiment. We’ll use whatever the cheapest feed available at a nearby place involving tractors and the means to supply them, but said retail establishment will go unnamed as I only give free advertising to organizations, companies and groups that I feel deserve it. The methods described in this thought experiment will not be organic and may not be the method you prefer, but h the most common methods I’ve seen that doesn’t require a huge start up cost.

Well, first you have to get chickens. Most people i know buy chickens as chicks, and raise them to laying age. Let’s start with about three chicks.

So, we’ll have to start with a brooder for an enclosure.

If you’re a little bit handy, you can make a brooder all on your own with ease. If not, you’ll have to buy a brooder, a heat lamp, bulb and some wood chips (pine works fine). It’s probably a good idea to buy a waterer and a little feeder, but, to save some cash you can use a pair of shallow dishes.

Wood chips will be a surprising expense. A bag of wood chips from a big box store costs about $3. That bag will have about 1200 cubic inches. You’ll need at least 2 inches of wood chips in your brooder, and it will have to be changed out at least every 7 days (I prefer four inches of wood chips and changing it out more often, but we’re trying to save money here).

So that means you’ll use two bags of wood chips every 7 days, as the brooder we’re using is about 3 feet across, which means at 2 inches deep, we’ll need about 2000 cubic inches of wood chips.

Luckily, you’ll only have to keep them in the brooder for about six weeks. That means you’ll have to have about 12 bags of wood chips, for a cost of $36.

After we have all that, we can buy our chicks. I tell everyone to get their brooder set up before buying chicks. It makes life a lot easier for chicken keepers if their chickens have a home before they arrive from the store.

Again, we’re going to buy our chickens from the store that shall not be named. And at that store, sexed pullets cost about $3.50. We’re going to buy three chicks, which will cost us about $11, after taxes and whatnot.

That brings our list of materials and cost (costs are approximate and don’t include shipping) to:

  • Brooder $30
  • Heat lamp $11
  • Bulb $11
  • Wood chips $36
  • Chicks $11
  • Total cost $98

We’re off to a great start!

Now, we’re going to save most of our feed costs for later, but, for the time being, let’s go ahead and calculate the cost of starter feed for our baby chicks. Again, we’re going to assume you’re buying medicated starter feed, because it’s the most widely available and most often the first type of food purchased by first time chicken keepers. It’s widely recommended that a bird eat starter feed for at least the first 8 weeks.

The starter feed purchased at the store involved with the supply of mechanized farm equipment cost about $18 for a 50 pound bag.

You’ll need 10 pounds per bird of feed per week, according to most popular feed manufacturers. In my personal experience, I usually wind up feeding them more. That means you’ll need about 80 pounds of feed per bird for the 8 week duration. Since we have three birds, that means we’ll be buying 240 pounds of starter feed for our little babies. That means you’ll be buying 4.8 bags of feed. The cost will be about $87.

So, new total:

  • Supplies for brooder $98
  • Starter feed $87
  • Total $185

Now, after 6 weeks, it’ll be time to move our baby girls into a coop. They’re probably already escaping the brooder by now, so it’s definitely time. Again, we’re not handy in this thought experiment, so we’ll have to buy a little coop.

My favorite coop company is the Urban Coop Company. Their starter coop, with a run extension, is probably the best coop you can buy for the money. It’s about $450, which is a surprisingly good price for the coop.

You’ll also need to purchase a feeder and a waterer.

That’ll cost about $80, if you add it to your Urban Coop package.

So, you’re looking at a cost of about $530 total.

Bringing up our new total to:

  • Supplies for brooder $98
  • Starter feed $87
  • Total coop cost $530
  • Total $715

Now, the biggest cost, feed. After the first 8 weeks, you’ll switch your chickens over to grower/finisher feed. That cost will be about $16.50 per 50 pound bag. The darlings will continue to eat about 10 pounds of feed a week during this time. They’ll need to be on grower feed for at least 10 more weeks while we wait for them to start laying.

So, 30 pounds of feed for 10 weeks equals 300 pounds of feed. That’ll be only six bags, for a total cost of $99

So, new total:

  • Supplies for brooder $98
  • Starter feed $87
  • Total coop cost $530
  • Grower feed $99
  • Current total $814

Finally, it’s time to calculate feed costs. We could calculate the cost of feeding the chickens for the first dozen eggs, but this isn’t accurate.

Many chicken keepers put their hens into semi-retirement after the first three years of life. Chickens produce the most eggs during their first year of laying, decreasing about 20 percent or more every year (this isn’t a hard rule, as some hens lay very well almost their entire lives. Some, on the other hand, lay much less.)

This site puts the average number of eggs laid by a single chicken at 265 per year.

We’ll assume that we won’t be getting enough eggs to bother with after the first three years. Mainly because I’m running out of math steam and I don’t want to have to figure out how many eggs an ancient 8 year old hen might actually lay and how much she’d have to eat. So we’ll just cut our girls off at three and go from there.

So, after 18 weeks, we’ll assume our hens have started laying. We’ll have to switch them to layer feed, which runs about $13.50 per 50 pound bag. Now, once chickens reach adulthood, they only need about 1.5 pounds of food per week, per bird. That means our three chickens will eat 4.5 pounds of feed per week. That means for the first year of life, they’ll only need 153 pounds of feed (34 weeks x 4.5 pounds of feed). For the rest of the three year life cycle we have planned, that equals out to 468 pounds of food, for a total of 621 pounds of layer pellets through our three chickens’ egg laying career. (If you’d like to try organic layer chicken feed, this is hands down the best company: Non-GMO, all natural layer feed).

That will cost $168. Which is kind of a steal.

So, where does that leave our budget?

Well:

  • Supplies for brooder $98
  • Starter feed $87
  • Total coop cost $530
  • Grower feed $99
  • Laying pellets $168
  • Total $982

Now, I’m going to assume that you’re going to take care of your chickens, and I’m also going to assume that you’re going to sell your eggs. If you do this, it’s actually quite important to consider the cost of your labor. If you’re going to do an agricultural business you should at least consider the cost of labor.

I’m going to put a low number on the time you spend taking care of your chickens, and say it’ll average out to about a half hour a day (it’s going to be more).

So, 3 years, 365 days in a year, one hour a day, 547.5 hours of labor in caring for your chickens.

Just assuming your time is worth about minimum wage, which as of writing this, is set nationally (in the US) at $7.25 per hours.

That’s just under $4,000 in labor costs.

So, the grand total of cost of production is going to be $4,982 over three years.

During that three years, you’ll get about 265 eggs per year per chicken. Three chickens then, will produce 795 eggs a year. Over three years, that’s 2,385 eggs. For a cost of $4,982. That means each egg costs about $2.09 cents. So a dozen eggs cost about $24 to produce.

That’s a lot.

But, let’s assume that you don’t want to pay yourself. You don’t really count that 30 minutes a day (it’s going to be more), and don’t feel the need to pay yourself.

So, we’ll deduct the $4,000 in labor costs.

That means the new cost for our 2,385 eggs is $982 or about 41 cents per egg.

That means a dozen eggs costs about $4.92.

So, final tally:

  • $24 per dozen counting labor costs
  • $4.92 per dozen without labor costs.

So, the next time you see a farmer at the market selling eggs for more than $3 a dozen, know that she’s giving you a bargain.

What do you think? Check my math and let me know if you get different numbers. Comment below for your tips on saving money raising chickens.

Walking Onions, the best allium ever

A friend of ours recently gave us one of my favorite housewarming presents ever: A pot of Walking Onions.

Walking onions are onions that don’t produce flowers as they get older. These onions instead produce clusters of mini-bulbs at the end of every stalk. Eventually, the weight of the baby bulbs causes the stalk to fall over and touch the ground. From their, the onions start an entirely new plant!

It’s an onion that plants itself!

Also known as tree onions or Egyptian onions, the walking onions are a bit strong in flavor, but make excellent scallions in the Spring time. As the bulbs mature in the ground, they elongate, similar to leeks. They can be peeled and fried or chopped up to add to any dish, just like any other onion. The bulblets are tiny little things, but they can be pickled, eaten whole or cooked into other dishes as well.

It’s one of my favorite things to plant, because once you get some in the ground, you don’t really have to pay them any attention again.

You probably should put them in a raised bed. If you aren’t careful, the little darlings will take over a patch of earth.

If you keep an eye on them, and harvest them regularly, then you won’t have to worry too much about them. While they are considered invasive, they aren’t as tough to manage as mint, or other invasive plants.

Harvest the tiny bulbs when they’re about the size of a pearl onion (approximately 1/2 inch in diameter). Mature bulbs can be harvested from under the ground whenever they’re ready. Trim the stalks off with scissors or a harvesting knife to gather the green onions.

Come winter time, it’s a good idea to mulch them, just to give them a head start on the growing season in the spring. Like most bulbed plants, however, the plant will go dormant through the colder months and return as soon as it’s warm enough.

If you’re interested, you can purchase them here, although they won’t ship until Sept/Oct.

A Way to Work from your Homestead

The #1 Question I receive

We get emails here at From Scratch Magazine. We get lots of questions. Questions about crops. Questions about animals. Questions about food.

But the #1 question we receive is “How do we Homestead fulltime?”

This question is from people who work outside of the homestead to support themselves. They wake up every morning and leave their house to work a job for someone else. They don’t want to. They want to spend all of their time working on their passion.

So, they ask me how do you work from your homestead and not starve?

As I was working in my traditional corporate job – I asked myself this very question many times.

And I was talking with one of my dearest friends and colleagues – Shaye Elliott, from The Elliott Homestead about this very issue. You see, Shaye and I have done this very thing. We completely support our family and work full time from our homesteads.

We both started our own essential oil business with doTERRA.

essential oil doterra

Even though I have always had a passion for Homesteading and the Homesteading movement – I also had a passion for paying the mortgage and having the money to pay bills.

So, I worked for someone else while I homesteaded. I worked while we started From Scratch Magazine. I worked until I could afford to quit.

How did I afford to quit?

I worked part time while I worked full time. I worked part time on the side until I made more money part time than I did full time.

I made a decision. I decided that I was going to figure out a way to marry my passion for a sustainable lifestyle with a way to make a living.

And I did. Now I work from my homestead full time and I LOVE what I do. And you know what? My husband does the same thing. We BOTH work from home. In fact, right now as I type this – he is finishing up a book that he is writing about homesteading.

We get to live this passion.

And Shaye does too.

And we want to help you do the same thing.

So, we have decided that we are going to focus on helping people be able to support themselves financially.

Because that is what homesteading is after all.. Freedom. Freedom from the rat race. Freedom from a job that doesn’t ignite us.

So, we are having a webinar this Sunday at 8PM EST. We are only accepting 10 people for this online video call.

Shaye and I will work with these 10 people to transform their lives. And we will do it personally.

You see, we care about this community. And we see people struggling and wanting to change the way they live and we want to help you achieve your dreams.

**CLICK HERE TO FILL OUT AN APPLICATION FOR ONE OF THE 10 SPOTS**

Working 9-5?

Are you built for 9-5 work? I bet not. That’s probably why you’ve landed here in the first place. Perhaps you’re looking for satisfaction in your work that you’re just not finding. Or maybe even you’d just like the opportunity to work at your own pace and on your own terms.

What if I told you that was actually possible?

I can relate to that – always an entrepreneur at heart. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be my own boss. Set my own goals, rules, and schedule. And yet often, we begin our adult life with great passions that somehow drift away and we wake up to find ourselves following the “everybody does it” traditional path of working all day to pay the bills so we can keep the lights on and food on the table.

I worked in the corporate world and remember staring at my desk thinking “This is it. I’m going to die at this desk. This is all I have on the horizon for the next three decades.” That works for some people. Not for me. I needed a vehicle to help me fulfill my ultimate dreams and purposes. Because I had (and still have!) big ones. Do you? I bet if you tap into that piece of yourself, and actually allow yourself to dream, you can most certainly relate to those shared feelings.

The new HQ for From Scratch magazine and the Herbal Homestead

WHAT IF YOU COULD CREATE A CAREER YOU LOVE?

I’ve been where you are. I wanted to homestead fulltime. I didn’t know how I was going to do it. We always had grand aspirations, but never had the financial backing to make any of those possible.

I started From Scratch Magazine as an outlet to build community and share this common vision of living closer to the earth. And I wanted to help as many people as possible. I wanted something I could share with others and build a community around. 2014. That was the year I was introduced to dōTERRA essential oils.

Nope, I didn’t see the potential at first. Once I got over my initial skepticism, I had lots of reasons why this opportunity wasn’t for me. (“I’m too busy… I have a magazine… I homeschool…I have to work…”). We all have excuses. 

But wouldn’t you know it, those crazy oils kept giving me results, and after several profound experiences with them, I couldn’t help but share. My passion quickly morphed into a business, and once I made the choice to take the opportunity seriously, I started to see massive growth. At first our paychecks were small… $19, $36, $249. Within a matter of months, we were making enough for me to quit my traditional job and be able to focus 100% of my efforts on From Scratch Magazine and doTERRA.

Fast-forward 2.5 years? dōTERRA is my family’s full-time income. I set my own hours and run the business right here from our homestead while we homeschool, run a magazine and promote the homesteading movement. My husband runs the homestead and the magazine. He is writing a book right now! I get to connect with people all over the world and have a front row seat as I see lives being changed – both from the essential oils and from the business growth. We found the vehicle to achieve our financial goals and then some.

Sharing the beauty of essential oils has become a part of my life. It’s what I do. My dreams and mission have only become bigger. These oils have a big story and I’m going to keep telling it.

SO WHERE DO YOU FIT IN?

If my guess is correct, you may be looking for a vehicle to help fulfill your financial goals as well. Think it’s too late?

Guess what? It’s not. You still have an opportunity to create a job that YOU LOVE. The best way to start out on a new path is to find someone who’s been there, done that, to walk alongside you. And I’m willing to be that person.

I’m currently looking for highly-driven, motivated people to partner with on my dōTERRA team. I’ll provide the training, you bring your passion and determination. My team is already filled with success stories. Will yours be next?

WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT WHEN YOU JOIN MY TEAM

  • The opportunity to share life-changing products as you partner with a mission-focused, humanitarian-minded company.
  • Coaching by me and my frontline team leaders–it is our goal to see YOU succeed in your business.
  • Access to to our exclusive calls, webinars, targeted trainings, incentives, and challenge programs.
  • Access to our password-protected team training website.
  • Access to our private team Facebook discussion groupswhere you’ll learn how to use your oils and build your essential oil business.
  • Access to our three-week ‘Launch It’ training that will fast-track you to effectively and confidently sharing oils with the people who need them.
  • The ability to get the deepest discounts possible on essential oils & products.
  • The opportunity to create real residual income from a very legitimate home-based business.
  • The limitless possibilities that come with experiencing joy in your work.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

IS THIS A PYRAMID SCHEME?

No. Pyramid schemes are actually illegal. This is authentic network marketing– they are very different. doTERRA is a product-based company with an extremely high customer retention rate because the oils work. 

“If you are a person with big dreams and would love to support others in achieving their big dreams, then the network marketing business is definitely a business for you. You can start your business part-time at first and then as your business grows, you can help other people start their part-time business. This is a value worth having – a business and people who help others make their dreams come true.” — Robert T. Kiyosaki, Entrepreneur and Author

“The future of network marketing is unlimited. There’s no end in sight. It will to continue to grow, because better people are getting into it. They are raising the entire standard of MLM to the point where soon, it will be one of the most respected business methods in the world.” Brian Tracy, Author and Motivational Speaker

“Network marketing is the big wave of the future. It’s taking the place of franchising, which requires too much capital for the average person.”–Jim Rohn, Author, Motivational Speaker, and Entrepreneur 

ARE THERE ANY MINIMUMS OR QUOTAS?

After starting with your initial kit (these start at $150), simply commit to ordering 100PV (roughly $100) per month. This ensures you are using the product you are sharing, and gives you a chance to try all the products.

Other than that, there are no quotas, no sales minimums, and you do NOT need to keep closets of inventory. When you compare that to the start up costs of a traditional business, it’s quite remarkable, and makes it attainable for anyone to enter this business.

THERE ARE LOTS OF ESSENTIAL OIL TEAMS…WHY YOURS?

I can sum it up in one word: SUPPORT. I get frustrated emails from folks constantly who signed up under a random person, and now feel confused about how to use their oils or how to effectively share with others. My team stretches all over the globe, and I am crazy-passionate about making sure you have the information and training you need to feel confident in both using and sharing your oils. We’ve been there, done that, and will show you how.

HOW MANY HOURS PER WEEK SHOULD I EXPECT TO COMMIT TO THIS?

How fast do you want to build? You get to pick your pace, although I will say that it is easier to build fast than it is to build slow. I have people on my team sharing part-time at 5-15 hours per week, and I have others growing more quickly by committing 20-40 hours per week. This is definitely something we can discuss more over the phone.

HOW DO I SHARE OILS?

Most people have the best success with small, informal gatherings. (Either in their home, or at a restaurant or library). We have materials and scripts to help you get started with these. You can also share one-to-one or hand out samples, etc.

WHAT IF I WANT TO START A BLOG TO SHARE OILS?

I have used my blog platform to share oils with many people. However, believe it or not, I recommend that the majority of people NOT start this way. Unless you have an existing blog with traffic and existing readership, attempting to only share oils online can be extremely tedious and frustrating. You are much better off (and will see better results) by sharing locally. I am happy to discuss this more over the phone, though.

I’M ALREADY ON ANOTHER DOTERRA TEAM. CAN I SWITCH TO YOURS?

No, you will need to stay where you are. In order to preserve the high-integrity culture of doTERRA, I do not participate in cross-recruiting or coach people how to leave their existing teams. However, you will likely be able to find the support you need by reaching out to an upline higher in your particular structure.

THIS OPPORTUNITY IS FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE:

  • Highly passionate and decisive 
  • Ready to make major life changes
  • Willing to actively share something they believe in
  • Willing to start out with an enrollment kit (these start at $150)
  • Willing to devote focused time each week to sharing oils with others
  • Dedicated to placing a consistent, monthly order. (This enables you to earn commission and bonus checks-I will show you how to quickly build your income to cover the cost of this monthly order.)

“Network Marketing has come of age. It’s undeniable that it has become a way to entrepreneurship and independence for millions of people.” -Stephen Covey

(Interested in enjoying essential oils, but not looking to start a business? I can show you how to get wholesale pricing with no obligations. Click here for details.)

I don’t understand tomatoes

tomatoes

Tomatoes do not make the first kind of sense.

Bear with me.

First, tomatoes are members of the nightshade family, which include potatoes, eggplants and deadly nightshade. That last one is poisonous.

According to wikipedia, deadly nightshade was also called belladonna. Which is Italian for “pretty woman.” Wikipedia says it was called “pretty woman” because Italian women made eye drops with it to dilate their pupils and make them appear “seductive” during one of those crazy and fancy periods in European history (I’m betting the 1700s, but wikipedia didn’t say).

So, first of all, that’s confusing, right? We eat a plant very closely related to a plant that can kill us. But only moderately so. Technically, all plants are related to plants that could kill us.

In fact, it was such a concern that tomatoes weren’t consumed by Europeans, who widely though they were poisonous. The legend is Col. Robert Johnson, of Salem, New Jersey, proved the fruits (and yes, tomatoes are a fruit) were edible by eating a mess of tomatoes and not dying in 1820.

Tomatoes, like potatoes and sweet potatoes, are New World plants, which means they were cultivated by the Native Americans.

Potatoes and sweet potatoes are interesting plants. In the veggie growing world, these two plants are kind of low maintenance. you stick ’em in the ground, you try not to let too many weeds grow around them, you do a bit of maintenance and then, a few weeks later, you have delicious tubers.

In fact, I’d argue that most of the New World veggies were relatively low maintenance. Summer squash produces a canopy which, if properly managed, reduces the amount of weeding necessary. Jerusalem Artichokes plant themselves to the point where you’ll probably find yourself fighting them back.

The ever popular Three Sisters method, widely attributed to Native Americans, is almost stunning in its elegance: Corn provides a structure for beans, beans provide nitrogen for corn and squash and squash provides weed suppression by shading out undergrowth.

But tomatoes, tomatoes are different.

There are companion plants, sure, but they grow all over the place (I prefer indeterminate varieties to determinant), they don’t provide much in the way of calories and it seems like the leaves are always getting some sort of blight.

Here’s a breakdown of calories for various New World plants (medium sized fruits/tubers, one whole fruit or tuber):

  • Potatoes-163 calories
  • Sweet Potato-114 calories
  • Seminole pumpkin (whole pumpkin)-More than 800 calories
  • Tomato-22 calories

What gives?

I have two theories: One-We’re growing the wrong kind of tomatoes or Two-We’re growing them wrong

First, maybe we’re growing the wrong kind of tomato.

Tomatoes, according to this site, descended from small, hardy fruits that could thrive in harsh conditions. some of the wilder relatives even thrived in desert conditions, with fruits that featured waxy coatings to prevent water loss.

This site shows tomatoes growing wild in Chile, where the plant is believed to have come from. An image shows the wild cousin growing from a crevice in the rock. Tomatoes are still grown in the lower Andes, where they are believed to have been introduced to the rest of the New World.

Wild tomatoes are built by nature to survive. The fruits produced, much like the ancient apples of Kazakhstan, bear little resemblance to their domestic cousins. Is it possible, in our zeal to produce the sweet, zesty, thin-skinned tomatoes we know and love, we’ve lost something?

I’d argue that we have.

Secondly, maybe we’re growing tomatoes wrong. If you read the article on gastronomica.org, you might notice something familiar about the descriptions of the wild tomatoes grown in a greenhouse used for research. Some of these plants feature woody stems and are constantly seeking refuge, putting down roots all over the place. If left to their own devices, indeterminate tomatoes will put down new roots, sending off shoots that turn into new tomato plants. While this isn’t behavior that one wants to encourage for fruit production, there is something to be said for attempting to see what happens.

The most common method of tomato growth is to stake the tomatoes, to keep them off the ground and prevent disease. Some people trellis tomatoes, others use tomato cages.

Which works, but the method requires a lot of upkeep and training. If you’re interested in doing that here’s a video with about a dozen different staking and caging methods:

Another method, that actually resembles how wild tomatoes grow, is the hanging basket or upside down tomato method. Here’s a video on that method:

Why are tomatoes so difficult to grow? Find out the history of this unique fruit as well as some ideas on how to improve our growing methods.

While it’s too late for this year, I’m going to try doing most of my tomatoes in hanging baskets next year, but I’m also going to try and make some mesh tables. My idea basically involves creating one-foot high, six feet long tables with fencing instead of a table top. The idea is to let the tomatoes grow up, then let them naturally fall over on the tables. The fruit can grow through the fencing and be shaded by the leaves above. Hopefully, this will help reduce the amount of pruning required, combat high temperatures and keep them off the ground. I don’t know if it’ll work, but if it does and I use cedar for the framework, the tables will last for years and save me a heck of a lot of work.

Another method, I tried once before, involved growing Russian Giant Sunflowers, pruning them and using the stalks to tie my tomatoes off. It worked reasonably well, with the exception that the foliage from the flowers shaded the tomatoes out a bit too much. I think I might try that again next year, and use more aggressive pruning methods to prevent the shading from happening.

I’ve also reached out to my favorite Dirt Nerd, Dr. Lisa Rayburn, of the Onslow County Extension Agency, about my theories. I’m hoping she responds, if she does, I’ll update this article with more information.

What’s your favorite tomato growing method? Let us know in the comments below.

Best crops for Fall gardening

It’s time to get ready to plant your Fall garden! This is, at least in the South, hands down, the best time to plant a garden.

In the Southern states (and other very lucky places), Fall veggies can be grown nearly through January, with the proper row covers and what not. And, you don’t have to fight disease outbreaks, insects or the oppressive Southern heat. (Fun Fact: Most veggies stop growing and producing fruit whenever the temperatures get over 85 degrees F. Which means July and August in most parts of the South are a no go).

And we get to grow Brassicas! Brassicas are a family of vegetables that include most of the yummy greens: Cabbage, kale, collards, broccoli, cauliflower and mustard. Scientists believe all the brassicas resulted from a strain of wild mustard greens. The various flavors of brassicas actually result from the different species attempting to fight off insects. The pungent flavor of mustard, for example, comes from the plants attempts to fight off nematodes and other parasites by producing a chemical toxic to them.

But, there are other plants to grow during the fall seasons. Here’s our list of favorites, including our favorite Brassicas:

Cabbage

Cabbages are a great crop, versatile and put up well — especially if you make your own sauerkraut. If you’re going to grow cabbage, it’s best to start the seeds indoors (a south facing window sill will do in a pinch) about 8 weeks before the first frost date in your area. You can start the plants in origami newspaper pots, or buy commercial trays here. Harden them off about a week before transplanting. Transplant the starts in early August to September. Plant them in the soil with compost or manure, about 1-2 feet apart. Most cabbages mature over about 70 days. Cabbage, like most cool season crops, can withstand a frost, but if temperatures drop below 25 degrees F, row covers are recommended overnight. A lot of sources suggest a red cabbage variety for Fall gardens.

Kale

Believe it or not, kale can be grown nearly year round in most parts of the world, especially with row covers. It’s a hardy crop, able to withstand heat and cold relatively well. Kale grown in the warm months will often be bitter. These bitter greens however, are a popular folk remedy in many parts of the world, recommended for digestive issues, nursing mothers and more. Kale grown in the cooler months, however, is often sweet and tender — nearly a completely different crop. Like Cabbage, start kale indoors. When the plants have true leaves, and are about four inches tall, harden them off for about a week. Most gardeners and seed companies suggest planting kale about 12 inches apart, but I’ve had success planting them as close as six inches apart. Try this variety, it’s my favorite.

Swiss Chard

If I’m being completely honest, I don’t like eating Chard. The stems tend to have a texture that I don’t like. But, watching Chard grow, especially Rainbow Chard, makes me very, very happy. These lovely plants can add a splash of color to a Fall garden, which admittedly tends to be a steady shade of green for most of the season. Follow the same instructions for planting Kale, as seen above. Chard, however, can be grown as close as two inches apart.

Arugula

Arugula is a fast growing leafy green. It can be started indoors, but it’s probably best to plant these seeds directly in the ground, as soon as the worst of the summer heat has passed. Arugula grows incredibly fast — they’re also known as rocket greens.

The seeds should be planted about 12 inches apart, but closer plantings don’t seem to bother this fast growing herb. The plants are usually ready to harvest less than a month after planting. They tend to taste spicy, and if left out too long, they’ll flower, which intensifies the flavor. While most people tend to think the plants are too spicey after flowering, they are still edible, including the flowers. If you’re worried about early flowering, then try a slow bolting variety.

Garlic

Garlic planted now won’t be ready this fall, but it can be overwintered, which is just plain fun. Plant your garlic cloves in composted, loose, well turned soil. The point of the clove should be pointed up, and about two inches deep. Water the cloves for about four days then cover with six inches of straw mulch. Then ignore it all winter long. In late spring, mulch again with another four inches of mulch. Let the stems of the garlic get about 6-8 inches tall then cut them down to encourage bulb development. The garlic will be ready to harvest in mid summer.

How to add microbes to your soil

Rhizodeposition

Via commons.wikimedia.org

Recently, we decided that for weed control, we were going to solarize our garden beds through the hottest part of the summer.

But, as our research showed, there’s a drawback to solarzing beds: The heat and UV radiation kills beneficial microbes in the soil.

So, I’ve been doing research on how to add microbes back into the soil in order to get better results for our Fall garden.

Some of these methods are well researched, others, however, are random, barely researched ideas, and should be taken with a grain of salt. I’ll start with the researched topics first:

1.Earthworms

Earthworms are hands down one of the best ways to improve your soil. These wiggly, slimy powerhouses work really hard to ingest organic material, including fungus and other microbes, and produce worm castings (a.k.a. worm poop) that is rich in microbial activity. In the process, their movement through the soil aerates the soil and breaks down the organic matter into humus, which provides a home for microbes and helps retain nutrients and water in the soil. If you don’t have any earthworms, get some. You can buy a worm bin here (we’ll also be doing a blog post soon on turning an old bathtub into a worm bed).. We’ll be digging earthworms out of the forest floor on the edge of our property. But, you can also add earthworm castings to your soil to get some of the same benefits.

2. Compost

Compost is chock-a-block full of microbes, most of which can be beneficial. As compost breaks down, bacteria and fungus “eats” the organic material in compost, making the nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium (NPK) available for use by plants. While there’s an important distinction between soil and compost (soil is an aggregate material while finished compost is primarily humus — aka broken down organic matter), for the most part, finished compost can be used as soil and as a soil amendment. The bacterial and fungal materials that work to break down compost have benefits to your soil: Earthworms and other organisms consume them and work in conjunction with them to improve your soil. Soil containing compost and other organic matter “holds” on to nutrients plants need better and require less water over time. If you haven’t started composting yet, do it now. Here’s all the information you need to know. If you have an HOA, you might want to invest in a commercial compost bin. Otherwise, build one with what you have lying around. In the meantime, get some compost tea and add it to the soil.

3. Innoculants

Soil inoculates, applied to seeds or directly to the soil, take the problem of adding microbes to your growing medium on directly: Need microbes=Add microbes. Commercial soil inoculates are used to add beneficial bacteria and fungus to soils which hopefully provide a method for nutrients in the soil to be made more readily available to plants. You can also apply them to seeds before planting them, in order to create a “zone” around the root structures of your plants. Both methods work, but scientists often disagree on why, how or how much.

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The methods below are collected from various and assorted forums, conversations and experiences through the years. I have no idea if they’ll work or not, but there’s anecdotal evidence that suggests they might. A couple of them are just random guesses and thoughts.

1.Beer

Beer was suggested as a soil amendment when I found out about Terra Preta. After reading about this magical material, I googled around to see if anyone had attempted to recreate the soil. This was the only recipe I found. The recipe suggested using beer to add yeast to the soil. Another google search brought up this forum thread for cannabis growers who claimed beer worked really well for all sorts of things. It’s worth trying, because beer is cheap. I figure I’ll buy a 40 oz. beer from my local gas station, mix it with a gallon or two of water and put it in my sprayer.

2.Fermented Rice Water

About two years ago, as a member of the Onslow County Farm Incubator Program, we hosted a group of Mexican Agricultural college students visiting. The group was part of a class of Mayan Indians from the Yucatán Peninsula. While there, I was discussing, with my incredibly limited remembrance of high school Spanish and with the help of a Panamanian-born extension agent, the difficulties we were having dealing with Curcubit Downy Mildew. An agronomist with the group said they used in their Milpa farms in the region, fermented rice water to combat the problem.

Essentially, farmers there cooked rice, and buried it in the ground in a small, two-three foot deep hole in the ground lined with leaves to hold the water in.  I cannot, for the life of me, remember if the opening was covered with more leaves or had a mesh screen over it or not? According to her instructions, after a few days, get the water out of the ground and strain it. Then use the material, a cup per gallon of water, to spray down your plants. So, of course, straight to google I go. I found this recipe for a similar product, but I honestly don’t know if it’s the same thing. Check it out. Either way, I’m going to try it out and see what happens.

3. Kefir, yoghurt and sauerkraut juice

I have no idea, or reason, to believe this will actually do anything. But, I figure all three things have live, bacterial cultures; are readily available and I doubt can do any serious damage, so why not? Again, I’ll cut these with water and spray the soil down with the mixtures. Wish me luck!

My plan:

I’m going to solarize my soil until the middle of August. While that’s happening, I’ve surrounded the clear plastic covering my beds with mulch (composed of leaves and wood chips). While waiting for the soil to solarize, I’ll spray that mulch down with beer, fermented rice water, kefir, diluted yogurt, sauerkraut juice and innoculants. I’ll also spray down the mulch with Neptune’s Harvest Fish and Seaweed Fertilizer, to provide nutrients to help break down the mulch. After August, when I pull up the plastic, I’ll mix the mulch in with the soil and add manure, compost, compost tea and earthworms and earthworm castings from my worm bed. Then I’ll begin my Fall garden at the end of August. What are your thoughts? Do you think this grand experiment will produce results? Let me know in the comments.

Top 3 Natural Antifungal Remedies

Soybean leaves

In this area, Cucurbit Downy Mildew and Powdery Mildew are a problem during the warm, wet months of the year. In Eastern NC, those conditions can last well into the Fall.

So, it’s important to treat your plants with a fungicide application whenever conditions are right for fungal outbreaks.

There’s a lot of different treatments for fungus commercially available, but, here at our Homestead, we’re both cheap and organic, so we make our own. Here’s our top three favorite all natural fungicides.

Neem oil

So we don’t make Neem Oil, but this product is a powerful tool in an organic gardener/farmer’s arsenal. Derived from the seeds and fruit of the Neem Tree from the Indian subcontinent, this vegetable oil is an excellent product that can be used as a fungicide and a pesticide. It’s not harmful to mammals, butterflies, earthworms and a host of beneficial insects, including bees. You can buy Neem Oil here.

Essential oils

We take lavender oil, tea tree oil (aka melaleuca oil) and peppermint, all of which are known fungicides, and mix those up into a great spray to prevent fungal infections (and it makes your garden smell great!). Mix eight drops of each oil into a cup of ethanol (cheap vodka works great.

Moonshine and rum also work, but, hey, don’t waste a good thing). The ethanol acts as a solvent for the oil so it can mix with water. Witch hazel also works. Then add the ethanol oil to a gallon of water, mix and spray liberally on leaves and stems. Be sure to get the underside! Get your essential oils here. You can buy your vodka at your local dealer 😉

Bacteria

Bear with me here. Bacteria can occupy an ecological niche often exploited by fungal spores and, if you use the right kind of bacteria, then they won’t harm your plants and protect them. And look, I’m going to be honest here, I’m not entirely sure how well this works. I’ve been using a version of this method for a while now, but with everything else I use (see above), I can’t be really sure of the bacteria. I know it doesn’t hurt. I originally decided to use bacterial inoculant as a fungicide after talking to a group of ethnic Mayans from the Yucatan Peninsula.

They visited an incubator farm project I was working while part of an exchange program. By using a translator and the smattering of Spanish I knew from high school, we discussed a traditional antifungal method. Essentially, by fermenting cooked rice — with the water — they’d make an inoculant of lactobacillus bacteria. Since then, I’ve used sauerkraut juice, diluted yogurt and more to achieve the same impact. It’s cheap, easy and worth trying. Note: If you use sauerkraut juice, make sure you use fermented sauerkraut — it’s easy to make and so good for you.

The store bought stuff usually doesn’t have live, bacterial cultures. Similarly for yogurt, make sure you use plain yogurt with live cultures. Check the ingredients list. As far as how to apply: Take a cup of your inoculant (mix a half a cup of yogurt with water if you’re using that) and mix with a gallon of water. Spray liberally on your leaves and plants — don’t forget the undersides!