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Eating the Weeds! 5 Steps to Enjoying Wild Edible Leaves, Roots and Flowers

Eating the Weeds

The organic produce aisle…of all places to have an epiphany. There I was, wrestling with the guilt of feeling bored with the canned veggies from my garden, when suddenly my eyes got stuck on the most peculiar looking foliage. I blinked a few times not quite believing what I was seeing – very luscious but expensive bundles of certified organic dandelion greens!

As an herbalist I was rather amused, thinking to myself about the pure abundance of dandelion greens growing in my front yard even in the dead of winter (albeit much smaller in stature than what I was seeing on the shelf in front of me). I had just collected some that morning to put into our salad for dinner.

I stood there slightly bewildered and thought, “Why would anyone actually buy dandelion greens, especially at this crazy price?” And then it dawned on me. Not everyone is as comfortable as I am walking out into my yard, a fallow pasture, or the forest to harvest and eat the plants that are growing there.

What is to me of second nature may be rather intimidating to others. Maybe the average person wandering through the grocery store is super interested in testing out the infamous dandelion greens of their granny’s dinner time stories, but they are a little freaked out by the idea of foraging them from wild spaces? Well, perhaps I can remedy that.

Acquiring knowledge about how to properly identify, harvest, and prepare edible weeds can be a lifelong journey and there is as much to learn as there is fun to be had. So on behalf of the wild weed kingdom, I would like to welcome you to an enlightening and satisfying way to build relationships with the natural world and truly connect with local wild foods you can rely upon for nourishment.

Why eat weeds?

Anyone reading a cooking blog these days can tell you that there is a growing interest and market for ‘wild foods’ such as mushrooms like chanterelles or morels and berries and fruits like elderberries, mulberries, or paw paw. These delicious and well-known miracles of nature can be both expensive and hard to find.

Fortunately, there are many less famous edible plants, or ‘weeds’, growing with wild abandon right outside our front doors whose tasty leaves, roots, and flowers contain tremendous nutritional value.

In fact, in the days before grocery stores, farmers markets, and year-round produce, these wild edible weeds served as primary sources of both food and medicine. Not only are these edible weeds nutritious, they are also free of charge, costing only the energy it takes to learn how to identify them and to get out into the great outdoors (with a bit of bending over). Research has shown that fresh air, natural light, and exercise all have the added health benefits of reducing the effects of stress on the mind and body (unlike a typical trip to the grocery store, in my experience).

Foraging for wild foods is a very rewarding and nourishing way to interact with nature. For many individuals and families, taking time to eat the weeds — even just those in your own front yard — can be an inspiring and memorable way to spend time with loved ones. It can also be a powerful teaching tool for parents wanting to instill in their children a sustainable food ethic and admiration and respect for nature’s bounty. In practicing the ethos of ‘eating local’, it is so important that we remind ourselves and our children where our food actually comes from. When learning to harvest and eat the weeds, we create mindfulness about respecting and honoring the life, the death, and the resources used to get that food to our dinner plates. In addition, preparing delicious food from the weeds you have harvested yourself can enliven the spirit behind your meal and the intention in your cooking.

5 Steps to Foraging and Eating Weeds

Step 1: Do your homework

When I find a new subject that I am uber excited about, I want to jump right in. However, in order to ‘eat the weeds’, we need to learn which plants are safe to consume as foods (i.e., not poisonous) and how to identify them accurately.

There are many poisonous look-a-likes out there, and although some of these plants are deadly, more often than not you and your guests could end up with a bad case of vomiting and diarrhea (it’s a terrible way to end a dinner party).

Needless to say, getting a handle on basic botanical identification is of utmost importance, so arm yourself with at least two plant identification field guides. The Herbarium and the blog of the Herbal Academy of New England are fantastic websites that house loads of great information about the properties of plants, but any good book on medicinal plants will cover edibility, what the plant is capable of inside the human body, and whether or not it may be ill-advised to consume it.

The caveat is this: always cross reference your field guides and herbal books in order to ensure you have positively identified a plant before harvesting it.

We also need to understand which plants are both edible and abundant. Many edible weeds also valued for their medicinal virtues are in danger of being over-harvested in the wild. Some edible weeds require very specific places to live which can also account for their rarity. Never collect rare or legally protected plants and never enter into fragile habitats where your presence can alter the sanctity or stability of the ecosystem. If you are not sure about these things, check out the United Plant Savers ‘At-Risk’ and ‘To-Watch’ lists and the USDA Plant Profile database which will provide information about the vulnerability status of the particular species you are interested in eating.

Step 2: Find a fresh location

Like vegetables grown in a farmer’s field, edible weeds absorb everything they are exposed to in the water, soil, and air. Therefore, it is important to consider the growing conditions. It’s generally good practice not to harvest edible weeds that are growing next to roadsides due to likelihood of residue from gasoline and diesel engines and the salt, fracking wastewater or coal cinders used for deicing.

These substances are full of toxic chemicals and heavy metals which accumulate in the soil. There is also a very high likelihood that roadsides have been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides to discourage plants from growing too close.

The use of pesticides and herbicides can also be an issue with public parks, as can excrement or urine from pets (or even people!). Be weary of immaculate or highly manicured lawns, parks and gardens, which are not likely to be pesticide-free. Know the history or maintenance regimen of the land you wish to forage from, even if it looks wild. Stretches of land with a dubious past may look benign but could have been an old landfill or industrial dumping ground. Your local county auditor’s office or public library should have historical plat maps that can tell you the history of that land.

It is also important that you seek permission from private landowners before foraging their property for edible weeds.

If you intend on foraging from state or federal lands be sure you know what you can legally harvest. For example, many state parks and nature preserves have a moratorium on harvesting anything from their properties, and federal lands like the national forests might require special permits or have specific rules about what you can and cannot take.

Step 3: Harvesting fresh plant material

Before harvesting fresh plant material, get in the right headspace and be prepared with the necessary equipment.

You’ll need a magnifying glass to assist in proper identification of flowering plants, clean and sterilized scissors or pruners, a trowel or hori-hori for digging roots, collection bags with labels, and a pair of gloves (for harvesting species with thorns and stings).

It is also a good idea to bring along a first aid kit. If going out alone, be smart and let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return — getting lost or injured in the deep woods when no one knows where you are can be a terrible and frightening experience. There are also some ethical issues to consider.

Bottom line: do no harm and leave no trace.

Be gracious and caring about your foraging practices, never harvesting more than 10% from the plant itself or from the plant grouping. If you are collecting roots, remember to be mindful of the damage you are causing to the surrounding area, including other plants and the soil.

If significant damage is likely, don’t harvest. Always remember that when you harvest the the plant can attempt to regrow (depending on the species, sometimes regrowth is possible, sometimes not). Use what you pick and don’t let wild foods go to waste.

There are real benefits for harvesting with the seasons. In the case of flowers this is pretty straightforward, but the nutritional (and medicinal) benefits as well as the palatability of weeds and their various parts will ebb and flow throughout the year.

Spring and summer are definitely good times to harvest leaves and aerial parts, where late summer through fall is believed to be the best time for digging roots. Some plants are only available in the spring or taste better when young, whilst others last all season long. Get to know the growing season to help you decide when, and where, to forage.

Avoid collecting material that is damaged, diseased, infested by bugs, or pooped on by critters.

I personally prefer to keep my weeds separated by species when I am harvesting (hence the multitude of bags and labels).

Keeping edible weeds separated will help with the final stages of preparation when you are removing non-edible material or undesirable tag-alongs.

Step 4: Preparing the weeds for consumption

Proper rinsing and cleaning of your weeds is straightforward.

Dispose of any damaged, buggy, or rotten material that you may have overlooked when harvesting and sort through your weeds carefully to make sure there is no foreign or unidentified plant material. Most edible weed parts like flowers and leaves are best consumed fresh, but for short term storage, make sure they are drained of excess moisture and then stored in bags in fridge.

Consume them within a few days so you do not lose them to rot. Flowers will wilt and go off sometimes within hours of being picked, so it is often best to eat them right away.

The roots of a plant should also be consumed fresh for highest nutritional benefit, but they can also be chopped and dried for longer-term storage. Learning how to dry edible weeds properly is both an art and a science and care must be taken in order to avoid spoilage. Some edible weeds, like dandelion leaves, nettle, chickweed, and red clover all make wonderful weedy vinegars that can be used in salad dressings and other recipes.

The vinegar not only preserves the plant material by extracting the nutritional and medicinal virtues of the plant, but also assists the body in assimilating them. For further lessons in drying and preserving edible and medicinal plants, check out the Herbal Academy of New England’s online Introductory or Intermediate Herbal Courses.

They are chock full of solid information, how-to’s, and delicious recipes!

Step 5: Cooking and eating the weeds!

Finally! The exciting moment of reaping the nutritional rewards of your harvest has arrived. When first starting out and especially when preparing weeds for others, a little will go a long way. A whole mouthful of dandelion greens may make a different impression upon a dubious first-time weed-eater than a few leaves chopped up and added to a salad. Start small and go slowly, giving time for palettes to adjust to the new tastes and textures.

Similar to legumes, there are some weeds that contain properties that can be harmful if not nullified by heat, and some of which may require substantial cooking. On the other hand, there are some wild weeds whose nutritional value and palatability can be completely annihilated through cooking. Make sure you know which herbs you need to cook and others that would be better off eaten fresh. Everything in between is left to you, the artist!

Last but not least, have fun! Be creative! Remember that sometimes it can take a while to incorporate new things into our lives and wild foods are no different.

Be patient with yourself, and with those whom you share food. It may take some convincing or stealth weed-eating tactics, but eventually everyone will likely come around and enjoy eating weeds with you.

Good luck and happy foraging!

This post was written by Erika G Galentin, MNIMH, Medical Herbalist and Assistant Director of Course Development, Herbal Academy of New England

6 Simple Ways to Save Money on your Grocery Bill

At the Lil’ Suburban Homestead we love growing our own food right in our backyard but with both of us working full time we still buy quite a few of our groceries at the grocery store down the street. We are able to supplement a substantial part of our diet with farm fresh produce right out back especially in the warmer months in Coastal North Carolina.

We also gave up couponing a couple of years ago when we realized the couponing was steering us to mostly processed foods and we knew that in order to have good health and to continue to improve on a healthy lifestyle getting away from chemical laden and processed foods was the direction we wanted to go in!

However we have learned a few tricks that help us save money on our groceries and let’s face it they aren’t getting any less expensive, if anything prices continue to climb.

No. 1 Cut your bacon in half

I’m not joking whether you buy turkey bacon, regular bacon we noticed that when we started cutting our groceries in half that no one noticed and your waistline may thank you as well. When we shop for bacon I freeze it because I don’t know when we are going to use it. Bacon cuts very nicely in half when frozen with kitchen scissors. All you notice is that you have short pieces of bacon. This works well with a family of 4 of course this may not work so good with a family of 8 but start cutting things in half and see what happens.

The cutting in half principle also works with fruit for lunches cut your apples and bananas in half again most people just want the taste of the fruit and won’t really notice that they had less apple or banana. Again this is for most people not for 6’4” athletes like my son

No. 2 – Start adding dried milk to your baking you can use it anytime a baked good recipe calls for milk.

I use it to make banana bread and corn bread and so much more! A lot of times I mix some up in a bottle in keep it in the fridge. No one will be the wiser…seriously.

No. 3 – Start adding Fish to your family’s diet

Going totally meatless is more of a struggle for me since I eat a gluten free diet but it can be done and if you can’t go all the way meatless then try to have an inexpensive cut of fish one night a week in many places cod, tilapia, or flounder are still relatively inexpensive and don’t forget the good ol’ standby of tuna! Also there are a lot of gluten free pastas at the grocery store nowadays they are not necessarily priced low so you may have to look for deals!

No. 4 – Make the veggie the star of your meal!

I have a favorite recipe on my blog at Lil’ Suburban Homestead called Stuffed Peppers with Quinoa so the grain and the peppers are the starts and there is a little hamburger or turkey burger in the sauce to make it a hearty meal and it’s a heart healthy meal if you use a reduced fat meat and omit the cheese!

Grains really can stretch your grocery budget and using them up as leftovers and lunches will stretch your money even further at the grocery store!

No. 5 – Beans really are “Big Value” for your buck!

They are a great source of complex carbs and they are not only a great addition to every meal they also can be the centerpiece of your Meatless Monday meal!

Meatless chili and if you are concerned about dropping the additional protein of meat you can also add “TVP” or Textured Vegetable Protein. I have slipped soy based TVP into many an unsuspecting meal of course I always mixed it in half and even I could not tell the difference!

I often will make chili in the slow cooker on Friday’s in the winter and I will eat chili for lunch the following week I just pre- measure it into 1 or 2 cup containers the next week depending on everyone’s appetite. Delicious lunches make the day go so much better in my opinion.

No. 6 – Cook a turkey or whole chicken at the beginning of every week!

If you have a large family you can take off the turkey what you need for a recipe for every night of the week and you can cook the bones up for good healthful homemade broth and then you will have soup every day for lunch or at least for a couple of days that week!

Finding small ways to save on your grocery bill, eating less processed foods, and putting some change back in your pocket at the end of the week is a good thing!

Read this list before buying a sewing machine

Whether you sew all of your own clothes, use it to make curtains, or just keep it on hand for mending, the sewing machine is one tool no homestead should be without. However, with the myriad of choices available today on the market ranging from antique to vintage; from used to brand new; how do you choose the best fit for your lifestyle all the while staying within the homestead mentality of “keeping it simple?” Once you have decided what to look for where to you find one at a reasonable price?

First there are two things you should consider:

1. What are you going to use it for?

Are you planning to sew a bridal gown? Do you need draperies for that west window in the bedroom? Do you just want to sew a patch on that pair of overalls with a hole at the knee? In most of these situations a very basic machine will suffice, one that will perform an excellent straight stitch, a nice zigzag, a decent buttonhole; and one that includes a zipper foot that can be easily installed. On the other hand, if you want to machine to quilt or appliqué you may need something that will provide you with additional features and functions. Think it through carefully. You may not need something with all the bells and whistles.

2. Do keep it simple.

The first sewing machine that was completely my own did nearly everything but make the bed. Apart from adjusting the thread tension at the touch of a button, it came complete with a vast library of embroidery stitches including the alphabet in three different fonts. However, after about fifteen years of repeated use it started to give out. When I took it to the repair shop, I was told that the computerized parts were obsolete. My expensive, amazing machine could not be repaired.

It has since been replaced with a 1960’s vintage Sears Kenmore. Embroidery stitches are not in her repertoire.  She only performs the basics, but she does them very well. She has run steady for the past 50 years and with a consistent maintenance schedule should continue to do so.

With that in mind then, it’s time to go shopping! There are a number of different resources for a sewing machine but these are those you would most likely find in your community:

A sewing machine store

Typically these specialty stores will offer several models of just one or two brands.  The advantages of shopping here are a knowledgeable staff that will readily be able to answer any questions you might have. Often times the store will offer classes on how to use your machine and be available later on down the line for repairs and service.

The disadvantage is cost. While most stores will offer used models, you will be paying more, and you may be paying for special features that, while they look fun in the store, will rarely be used at home. My vast library of embroidery stitches? It was hardly used. The latest model may not be the best purchase.

A sewing machine repair shop

Often times these little jewels will sell used machines in excellent condition or in some cases may be able to secure a new model. The advantage of a repair shop is a knowledgeable individual who knows machines and will be able to direct you to one with the features that best suit you. They usually offer a wide variety and aren’t typically limited to any one brand, therefore they can give you solid advice on a good purchase. Another advantage is cost. Usually you will pay less at a repair shop than you would at a sewing machine store. One disadvantage however, is that while the store will help guide you in your purchase and be available for maintenance and repairs, they won’t offer the back-up service by way of additional classes. You’ll need to have some knowledge of operating your machine on your own.

eBay

My  Sears Kenmore was purchased through a reputable used machine dealer on eBay. The advantage was a great machine at a good price delivered right to my front door. The disadvantage here, obviously is the risk. You are purchasing something you haven’t seen. Before you hit the purchase button, make sure you have contacted the seller with any questions you have, checked to see if there is a return policy, and checked the seller’s history.

Craigslist, estate sales, garage sales

The advantage of situations like these is going to be a machine at a very low cost.  The disadvantage obviously is that you may not always be in a situation where you can try out the machine before purchase and the machine may need to be repaired or serviced before it can be used. Unless it is a great bargain or your are experienced enough to know exactly what you are looking at this may or may not be a good choice.

Regardless of where or how you purchase your machine you will want to test the following:

  • The straight stitch, adjusting the length several times, and the zigzag stitch. Test them both for a good thread tension as well as the overall feel of the machine.
  • The buttonhole stitch.  The buttonhole stitch of some machines may be manual, or it may be as simple as pushing a button. Make sure that you are comfortable with how it operates. Make a few buttonholes on a scrap piece of fabric and slash them.  Are you happy with the end result? Does it look professional?
  • Any additional stitches or features the machine offers.

And finally:

Don’t underestimate the power of the old fashioned treadle machine

Although these machines typically only perform one function they perform it well.  The lack of buttonholes and other fancy stitches will force you to improve your hand sewing skills. What could be more enjoyable than an afternoon on the back porch swing sewing a hem or a series of buttonholes by hand? The rhythm of the pedal is a bit like learning how to ride a bike, but once mastered the experience is therapeutic,  not to mention the fact that you are free from the need of electricity making this a great option for one who is wanting to be completely self sufficient.

Read more: Discover the joys of spinning your own yarn

Warm chickens without burning your coop down

chicken-coop

It’s cold weather time, and that means a lot of chicken keepers are worried about keeping their birds from freezing on their roosts.

During this time of year, there’s always a few fires in chicken coops where well-meaning owners put space heaters or heat lamps to keep their animals toasty.

But, it doesn’t take a fire marshall to explain the issues with putting heating elements in a small space made of dry wood, lined with straw and filled with flapping, unpredictable animals.

There’s not a lot of officials safety information regarding chicken coops, but these common sense tips, along with barn fire safety tips from the USDA will go along way toward keeping your lovelies safe this winter.

No smoking in or around the coop

Sure it’s a no brainer, but it still needs to be said. If you’re smoking around a coop, an errant spark or hot ash can send all that dried straw and feathers up in a flash. An ember can smolder for hours too, so even if you’re careful and check around the coop often, that ember may sit for hours unnoticed, only to flare up in the middle of the night.

Inspect your electrical systems often

Lights and extension cords in a coop can lead to frayed wires and electrical sparks inside a coop, especiallay considering all the rough edges. Sparks lead to fires. So make sure any electrical wiring or outlets in and around your coop are well insulated and secure. A quick visual inspection can save a lot of time and heartache down the road.

Secure your heat sources

If you just have to use a heater in your coop — we suggest you don’t, see alternative heating methods below — then make sure it’s secure. Bolt it in place and make sure your animals can’t get to it. It’s a good idea to have a designated area for any heat source fenced off to keep your birds from flinging straw or wood shavings on the heating elements.

Alternative methods for keeping your birds warm

Perhaps the easiest way to prevent fires is to avoid electricity all together. No electric heat, no electric lights means no source of electrical sparks. But you may be worried that your feather babies won’t be able to survive a cold winter’s night.

But, chances are, your chickens will do better in the cold that you think. Most breeds can survive temps down to 0 degrees Farenheit (-17C). But, there are some parts of the world that get even colder.

How do you minimize electric heat in those situations?

Insulation

Insulating your chicken coop when you build it is a great idea. Even after it’s done, however, you can still use foam panels, reflective foil barriers and straw or wood shavings on the floor. This lets the heat the birds produce via body heat stay inside the coop. Just make sure you don’t give up ventilation for insulation. It may seem like sealing a coop up is a good idea, but even in the winter, your birds need fresh air more than ever.

Deep litter heating

You can also use the deep litter method for heating a coop. The idea is simple: Put straw or wood chips down as normal, but instead of cleaning it out when it gets soiled, add more clean straw or wood chips over the top. This material composts in the floor of the coop and the heat produced during the composting process helps keeps the birds warm. Fair warning: When the Spring comes, you’re going to have a bad time cleaning that mess out.

Compost heating

You can also use compost piles to heat chicken coops. This method is almost identical to using the deep litter method, but it involves using a mobile coop placed over a compost pile to produce heat. This method has something over the deep litter method, since there’s no cleaning at the end. But, if you don’t have a mobile coop then this one is going to be hard to pull off.

Build a solar collector

A solar collector can be built cheaply and easily. Essentially, it uses the sun to heat air in a glass encased chute that rises into the coop. Coupled with good insulation and maybe a thermal mass (see below) that warm air will be enough to keep your birds from turning into chickensicles. Check out this link to find out more about solar collectors and heaters.

Thermal mass

A thermal mass is a material used in construction to absorb heat during the day and radiate it at night. Usually made of brick, concrete or rock, these A thermal mass can be built into your chicken coop during construction, but if not, then there are other options. You can spray paint milk jugs black and fill them with water and put them in windows (or in front of your solar collector). At night they’ll radiate the stored heat into the coop, just like any thermal mass would. If your coop is small enough, this is an easy way to keep the temperature of your coop just high enough to prevent frostbite.

If you just take a little time, you’ll be able to baby your birds through the winter without incident. And there’s a bonus. Warm birds eat less. So if you do any one of these tricks, you’ll wind up with a cheaper feed bill at the end of the season.

Links:

Using compost to warm chickens

Barn safety tips from the Humane Society

What’s a thermal mass?

Ideal Indoor Grow Room Conditions: Grow Room Temperature and Humidity

Having a grow room is what every farmer should think of. It is one of the best things to have. A grow room comes with several advantages as compared to cultivating in an open field. You get to control pest infestation, odors, make use of a small space, and have total control over your crops. Since it is an enclosed area, you will need to manually control the climate inside the grow room. Unlike an open area where the environment controls how the plants grow, this entirely depends on you.

A grow room needs ideal indoor conditions for your crops to survive. Actually, it is not just a matter of surviving but getting the most yields out of them. There are two main weather conditions that are very paramount for crops growing inside a grow room or tent. Let’s find out what they are.

marijuana

1. Grow room temperature

Temperature is very crucial for growth and development of plants. Each type of plant has its own favorable temperature at which it thrives best. However, photosynthesis takes place nicely at 77 degrees Fahrenheit. Any temperature higher than that can affect the process badly.

Else ways, some plants can withstand heat a little higher than the normal level. Summer comes with very high temperatures which may sometimes be difficult to control. Plants like cacti, Aloe Vera, succulents, Devil’s ivy, and Ponytail Palm can withstand a lot of heat. They have enough water to sustain them through drought. They also have mechanisms that prevent excessive transpiration. However, other plants need a controlled environment in order to blossom.

The temperature required depends on the stage at which the plant is. For example, in the vegetative stage, 70-78 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and around 10-15 cooler at night are standard for growth. The flowering stage requires a temperature of 68-75 degrees Fahrenheit during daytime and about 10-15 cooler at night.

For conditioning the air inside your grow room, we have the best ac for grow tent. It is not every conditioner you find on the market that can serve you to your satisfaction. Our company supplies high quality, durable, eco-friendly, and reliable air conditioners. This is what you need to control the temperature inside your grow room.

You can find a programmable ac which automatically switch depending on the environmental temperature. For instance, when the heat goes too low for plants’ survival, the heater turns on until the optimum temperature is attained. When the heat is too high, a cooler is turned on. A fan helps in circulating the conditioned air inside the grow room.

If you may need to move your conditioner to different places, consider buying a portable ac grow room. We have it in stock at a very affordable price. A portable air conditioner gives you an easy time in case you want to relocate your plants to a different grow room, or even use it for conditioning your house. It is easy to carry around and operate.

Depending on your budget, you can find an air conditioner of your preference. All sizes and designs are available. You do not want a big ac for just a small tent. This will be as good as wasting electricity. In addition, you can find one that uses gasoline or even solar. Think about what will serve you well and go for it.

2. Grow room humidity

Humidity can affect growth of indoor plants depending on its level. It is very crucial to keep it at the recommended level to ensure your plants bloom. Plants need different quantities of humidity depending on the growth stage. For example, seedlings need a strict range or humidity, unlike grown plants which can resist a wider range.

For plants in the vegetative stage, 45% to 55% of humidity is ideal for growth. In the flowering stage, plants need a range of 35% to 45%. You can even lower it to 30%. Plants can survive between 3-55% of humidity. However, the ideal range is between 40% and 45%.

To monitor the amount of humidity in your grow room, you need a hygrometer. In addition, a humidifier will help you regulate the level of moisture in the room. Too high levels of humidity may cause growth of molds, rotting of buds, and Powdery Mildew. On the other hand, too low humidity may affect the capability of transpiration. This causes stunted growth in plants as photosynthesis is highly affected.

We supply the best humidifier for grow room to help you regulate the amount of vapor in it. You can find any design and size from our store depending on your preference. The humidifier has sensors which detect the level of humidity in the atmosphere before automatically switching to the appropriate action. Good ventilation can also play a big role in controlling the humidity inside your grow room or grow tent.

Using a buyer’s guide, you can choose the best humidifier available in our store. You can choose one depending on the speed of humidification, temperature of the moisture, source of power, convenience, and portability. You can find any type of humidifier grow room at your own budget.

Apart from the two weather conditions, there are more requirements for crops in growing rooms to survive. For instance, oxygen, carbon IV oxide, light, water, soil type, mineral nutrients, and support are other necessities for growth. Good ventilation will ensure most of the requirements reach the plants. Nonetheless, there are a few plants that can grow very well without sunlight. They can survive on indirect light. Such plants include Dracaena, bromeliads, Maidenhair Fern, Parlor Palm, Umbrella papyrus, snake plant, and creeping fig among others. These are some of the plants you can grow indoors.

It is the joy of every cultivator to reap maximum yield. With no pests in the picture, it is very possible to harvest well as long as you keep the weather conditions in your grow room ideal. A grow room saves you the tussle of fighting pests, weeds, and worrying about bad weather. You can grow any type of plant during any season. You don’t have to think about the weather outside. Your cops will still thrive because all the power lies in your hands.

How to Bathe a Guinea Pig (Steps by Steps)

You might be thinking about getting the best guinea pig shampoo out there, but this must be a safe guinea pig shampoo, of course. Well, a guinea pig will allow you to have a lot of fun because this animal is truly gorgeous.

You need to keep your guinea pig truly clean because this will allow you to have fun with it for a long time. But you need to read the right information about how to do this right away, and you should not spend an arm and a leg to keep your guinea pig looking good at all times.

We are going to let you know how to clean your guinea pig as soon as possible so you can truly get what you want. The tips we are going to give you are not hard to do, and you will manage to use them right off the bat. Therefore, we encourage you to continue reading so you can know more.

Wash It

You have to calm the guinea pig before bathing it. You need to understand that the animal might become afraid or anxious because it does not know what you are going to do. Use a damp cloth to wipe your guinea pig’s fur as soon as you can too.

Use a container and pour just two inches of water into it. Put just a small cloth on the bottom of your container so you can prevent your guinea pig from slipping down the road. Lowering your guinea pig right into the water is something that you have to do right away too.

Use warm water to rinse your guinea pig as soon as you can. Scoop warm water with your hands to achieve this goal. You have to make sure that the fur of the guinea pig is wet after pouring the water into it.

You have to use shampoo right away so you can rub it onto the fur of your guinea pig as soon as you can too. Warm water should be used right now to rinse the fur of your guinea pig, and that will be awesome for you down the road too. Make sure that you use enough warm water over the food of the guinea pig.

Drying It

Use a clean towel to dry your guinea pig right away too. You have to wrap the guinea pig up gently as soon as you can too. The towel will get rid of most of the moisture over time. You have to towel dry the fur of the guinea pig now.

You need to brush the fur of your guinea pig as soon as you can too. This is useful if you have to deal with a long-haired guinea pig down the road too. Using a hairdryer is also great, yet you have to use this machine with all the caution in the world too. This machine is useful if you are in a cold climate.

Keep It Clean

Keeping your guinea pig clean is not as hard as you might have thought these days. You just have to change the bedding of the animal once every day, and that is all. You need to both disinfect and clean the cage once every single week down the road too.

You need to spot clean as needed too. You have to take a look at the cage of your guinea pig once per day so you can keep it free from any dirt out there. Keep the animal’s play area or hutch free from dirt.

Keeping your guinea pig looking good is not as hard as you might have thought because you can do this quickly and easily at all times. Make sure that your guinea pig is not afraid of you before starting to clean it these days too.

Remember that you will need to use warm water and a towel to achieve your goal. And getting a high-quality shampoo will also help you a lot down the line too. Make sure that the towel will be clean so you can truly clean your guinea pig down the line too. Keeping your guinea pig looking terrific is not hard because we have told you what you have to do right away. Do this and have fun down the line too.

Simple ways to celebrate the holidays without breaking the bank

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Editor’s note: This story, by Jennifer Cazzola, was originally published in the Dec. 2013/Jan. 2014 issue of From Scratch. Read that issue here. Read more from Jennifer at the Black Fox Homestead.

The holidays are a time to celebrate with our family and close friends but often times our schedule is so overloaded with holiday parties, shopping, and entertaining, that the season can pass by without spending quality time with our loved ones. Not to mention the fact that gift giving can be more of a financial burden than a blessing.

With that in mind, here are a few ways that will give the gift of quality time together, that shouldn’t break your budget.

Have a pre-holiday tea

Begin the Christmas season with an intimate afternoon tea. Tea fare need not be fancy or expensive. It can be as elaborate as scones and finger sandwiches, or as simple as a single tea cake. In addition to an assortment of teas, provide coffee, and perhaps punch or sparkling cranberry juice for the non-tea drinkers among your guests. Light lots of scented candles, play some soft music (Thomas Newman’s Little Women Soundtrack is a good one) and provide an atmosphere of peace and tranquility where guests can visit and reconnect before the holiday rush sets in. If schedules are already beginning to fill, consider allowing guests to come and go at their leisure.

Organize a skating party

Whether you are fortunate to live near a picturesque pond, or an outdoor rink, invite your guests for an afternoon of skating together. Bring along a basket of scarves and mittens to keep warm, as well as a thermos (or two) of hot cocoa. Extend the afternoon by inviting everyone back to your home for chili or beef stew and old fashioned board games such as Yahtzee, Monopoly, or Sorry.

Host a cookie exchange

Cookie exchanges are the most popular and obvious way to lighten the Christmas baking load while enjoying a nice visit with friends. However, it can be the gateway to a sugar overload at a time when neighbors are already bequeathing you with tins of holiday fudge. If you feel you might be cookie-ed out over the holidays consider a soup exchange or even a casserole exchange instead.

Invite a small, intimate gathering of friends to bring a batch of favorite soups or casseroles and a visit over a cup of coffee or cocoa. Allow everyone to leave with enough healthy food to get them (and you) through the rest of the holiday season. Don’t forget to ask everyone to include a hand written recipe with their offering.

Host a gift wrapping party

A gift wrapping party is another way to lighten what can be a heavy load while getting in a visit. Provide a large table, a few snacks, and a marathon of classic Christmas flicks. You and your friends can enjoy the time together while accomplishing a mammoth task that is often put off until the last minute.

Some things to consider in advance:

  • Holiday schedules begin to fill quickly. Schedule your event and contact your guests as soon as possible.
  • In an era of email and Facebook a handwritten invitation sent by post can be a gift in and of itself.
  • To lighten your load and expense, allow guests to pitch in with the food.

Alpacas: Not just a pretty face

An alpaca suns itself in the summer sun. Photo by Renee Henry

Photo and story by Renee Henry

Wondering why it seems like you are seeing more and more adorable alpacas inhabiting local farms and homesteads as you drive through the countryside lately? Pondering what the fascination is with these unusual creatures? Alpacas are growing in popularity as a welcome livestock addition to many small farms and homesteads as word spreads about their gentle manner and practical uses.

Alpacas, members of the Camelid family, are smaller than their Llama cousins, typically weighing in between 100-200 lbs. and standing at approximately 3-4 feet tall. Their smaller stature makes them easier to manage than some larger livestock, and they can be transported in vehicles as small as a minivan.

There are two types of alpaca: The Huacaya and Suri. Huacayas have a thick, crimpy, fluffy fleece, and Suri alpacas grow long, silky fleece that often looks like dreadlocks. They are a herd animal and therefore it is recommended that you should always keep two at a minimum, although once you get a couple it is easy to get hooked on acquiring more. A three-sided structure is recommended — at the basic level – to provide a windbreak and storm protection, and fencing is necessary to keep them safe from predators such as coyotes and dogs.

Alpacas are a low-impact variety of livestock, as they can subsist on smaller pasture areas and they have soft footpads rather than hooves which means they do less damage to their pasture. Generally, one acre of grassy pasture can support a herd of up to ten alpacas. In addition, their food is supplemented with grassy hay (approximately 1-2 lbs. of hay per day) and grain, especially in winter or times when grass is less plentiful.

Maintenance is fairly low-key and much of it can be managed by their owners once a few skills are learned. Most importantly, alpacas must be shorn once each year to remove the thick coat of fleece that they grow. This should be handled by a trained and skilled shearer in order to avoid any harm to the animal and to ensure that the fleece blanket is removed properly to maintain its value as a commodity to your homestead or hobby farm. Alpacas are sturdy animals evolved to withstand the cold temperatures of the Andes Mountains and in order to keep them comfortable and healthy they need to have their heavy fleece removed before the temperatures soar in Spring/Summer. In addition to shearing, alpacas require occasional trimming of their toenails and regular vaccinations against the Meninga Worm, which can be deadly to the animals. (you can use these trimmers)

The fiber produced by an alpaca is praised for its warmth, softness, strength and fire-resistance, and can be a great resource for your homestead business. Alpaca fiber has a hollow core, which boosts its thermal capacity, making it warmer than sheep wool and other fibers. Nothing beats the cozy warmth and water resistance of a knit alpaca hat or scarf on a bitterly cold day. Additionally, alpaca fiber is considered to be almost completely allergen free because it lacks the lanolin oil that naturally exists in sheep wool – meaning that it can be worn even by those with allergies to wool products.

After shearing, the fleece blanket can be sent out to a fiber mill for processing and is a real delight for hand spinners and fiber artists who enjoy more hands-on involvement in the processing of fleece. Fiber can be carded into roving for use in many needle felting and wet felting craft projects. It can be spun on the spinning wheel to create soft and luxurious yarn to knit and crochet into ultra-cozy apparel. Alpaca fiber comes in twenty-two natural shades! Colors range from white, grey, black, brown, fawn and a multitude of gorgeous shades in between. It is also very suitable for dyeing, making it possible to create a virtual rainbow of colors for use in handmade projects. If homespun yarn and fiber art is of interest to you, consider the ways in which having your own source of this fine fiber can help you boost production of handmade items to sell from a homestead shop, or perhaps offer classes in fiber processing (carding, spinning, dying, knitting) to create a source of income.

Many homesteaders focus on best practices to support production of their own food sources, and here, too, alpacas can provide added benefit. Alpaca dung, commonly referred to as beans because of its similar appearance to coffee beans, is a nutrient rich source of natural fertilizer for garden production. It is generally high in nitrogen and potassium and is not considered “hot,” meaning it can be spread directly onto garden plants without the risk of burning them. The herd uses communal dung piles, which makes it easy to quickly scoop up and remove manure from their pasture areas and use it directly in vegetable gardens or add it to composting heaps for later use. Many alpaca owners find a source of income through packaging and selling their surplus beans to local gardeners who are eager to get this power-packed fertilizer into their own garden beds.

Alpacas are quiet, gentle creatures. As they munch away on pasture grass, you will notice the subtle humming sound they make to indicate their contentment. Many owners will comment that they find themselves just hanging around the pastures to enjoy the peace and calm of the alpaca hum. While they are not overly friendly, alpacas are good-natured and rarely display aggressive behavior (males will sometimes spit and tussle to assert dominance in the herd). Alpaca babies, known as crias, often enjoy being petted and older animals can usually be hand fed grain as a treat, which is a real delight for visitors to your farm. No one can resist snapping a picture or two of these beautiful, doe-eyed creatures while visiting, and the lure of their “exoticness” can be an additional boon if you are working to create foot traffic to support a homesteading business.

Renee Henry is a fiber enthusiast residing in rural Western New York, where she and her husband and two children are learning about and practicing sustainable living while gardening, raising a flock of chickens, and lending a hand at her parents’ alpaca farm. A graduate of SUNY Geneseo, Renee works at a local community college and enjoys working with the many facets of processing and crafting with animal fibers.

Righteous Bacon

photo provided by righteousbacon

A self-proclaimed guacamole addict, Diana Prichard spends her days deep in the heart of Michigan on a hog farm. As a farm, food and political blogger, she shares her exciting life with a captive audience. We had a chance to talk to her recently.

When you were young your mother told you that you should marry a hog farmer? What made her come to that conclusion?

Yes, an Italian Hog Farmer to be precise. I’m not sure, exactly, but suspect it had something to do with my unique ability to put away a plate of spaghetti that weighed more than I did and my tendency for having champagne tastes on her beer budget. She must’ve been under the impression that hog farmers make a good living. She was wrong, but the benefits are paid in bacon so I keep at it.

Tell us about Olive Hill.

I joke that it’s my quarter life crisis. I was working full time and taking more than full time credits in my pre-med program in college when I decided to be a farmer instead. In hindsight it was probably more of a miniature mental breakdown than a purposeful decision making process, but it’s led me in an amazing direction so I can’t complain. Worn down and feeling lost, I’d gone AWOL from classes for a week.

I was on a trail ride with a good friend in the back forty, the fall breeze ruffling the soy beans beneath our mares’ bellies. As I vented about my schedule my friend planted a seed, suggesting I might be happier doing something else. Shortly before that I’d undergone a battery of tests for what looked like at the time to be ovarian tumors. They turned out to be cysts and nothing serious, but during the process I’d written a bucket list that had included “raise chickens for meat.” My mare’s name was Olive and, as they say, the rest is history.

Since then the farm has gone through several incarnations. We began with those chickens, just for ourselves. The next season we raised more and then more again later in the season, selling first to family and friends and then friends of family and friends of friends. The third season it kind of ballooned into this thing with a mind all its own. It was all wonderful experience, but I’m enjoying the more refined nature of the operation now. These days we have just the pigs, raising heritage breeds and their crosses on paddocks and in dirt and deep-bedded pens. We sell pork locally, direct from the farm, and we’re looking into wholesale opportunities for later this year.

You recently visited Africa with ONE (a grassroots campaign of more than 3 million people committed to the fight against extreme poverty and preventable diseases). What was the experience like? How did it change the way you view the world?

You know, I went into the experience very much expecting to be changed, but I think I just came back stronger and more rooted in who I already was. I’d like to think that means I had a strong sense of self and perspective before I left. I never felt like those things came easily growing up so it’d be quite a triumph for me at this stage in life. All the same, it was an amazing experience that I will never forget. When I first came back I wrote that I wasn’t so much moved to give as I was moved to do, to take action. That feeling has really stayed with me throughout the journey of re-entry and re-acclimation to our western ways. The people of Ethiopia gave me a tremendous amount of hope for the future and renewed my faith in our ability to make the world a better place.

The programs that are working on the ground in Africa, and Ethiopia specifically, are making tremendous strides and all in ways that empower the people to do for themselves. It’s not all drop shipping food and water like is so often purported. The initiatives they have for educating farmers were, of course, especially interesting to me. Like all of their programs it’s really a full-circle effort, teaching everything from farming techniques to educating families on ways to prepare the new crops they’re growing so as to maximize the nutrition.

Above all, I’d say the people of Ethiopia taught me a lot about resilience and joy; two things on which you simply cannot put a price tag.

You do a lot of work helping farmers connect to their communities with social media. What advice do you have for farmers who are trying to get their message and products online?

Patience and persistence. Bringing up a social media presence is kind of like bring up livestock. They can’t fend for themselves at first. You’d never throw a chick or a calf or a pig out in a field and expect it to survive without a little help. You can’t throw your social media presence out there and hope for the best either. It takes time and you’re not going to net any results until you’ve at least raised it up to market age.

What is a typical day in the life of a woman hog farmer/writer/photographer in the middle of Michigan farm country?

One of the really great things about being a small operation is that we’re not doing the same thing every day. Our chores are still cyclical. Some are static, of course — feeding, watering, bedding, general tending — but things like farrowing, weaning pigs, castrating, and shipping pigs to the processor are all intermittent. I tend to write and shoot in the down times. When we’re busy with those “extras” there is less writing and less photography happening, and when we’re slow with just the everyday tasks I spend a lot of time behind the Macbook and camera.

What advice would you give other women who are taking a similar path?

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. I see a lot of new farmers wanting to completely reinvent the wheel just for the sake of reinventing the wheel. It can cause a lot of headaches. You don’t have to agree with everything someone does to get something out of what they do. Pay attention, dig until you find the ‘why’, that’ll tell you something about how to go about change if change is what you desire. And you may just find that once you understand the ‘why’ change isn’t the goal so much as refinement.

How do you see the food movement in the United States? What would you like to see change?

I’m really excited about what I see happening in the food movement right now. There seems to be a greater sense of cooperation emerging, more willingness to listen and learn. These are the conditions under which real innovation comes about and that makes me very hopeful.

As for change, I’d like to see more of our prominent food and ag voices coming from farms. Right now most of our big food and ag names are people who are writing from behind desks in NYC, Berkeley, and so on and so forth. They’re sitting in urban centers, surrounded by concrete with no real life experience in fields and barns. That’s a big problem and aside from my farming aspirations, it’s something I’m really trying to change.

What do you see as the future of Olive Hill?

I’d like to do more wholesale, more farm tours and ag education. I’d love to open an on-farm shop and classroom to facilitate that. We’ll see. Right now we’re just focused on the hogs, turning out the best pork we can and growing smart rather than fast. Quality is important to me. Balancing flavor, production practices, and economics is our first priority in whatever we do.

What people/experiences have inspired you the most?

My Grandpa, who we called Poopsie, hands down. He and my Granny had a whole herd of kids, as was customary of German Catholic farm families of their time, and the family lore is that he ruled with an iron fist. I never saw it and I guess I’m happy about that. It allows me the luxury of seeing him through a smitten child’s eyes forever. He was the main cook in the family long before feminism made engaged fathers a thing. He was a gardener and I remember the smell of his musky cologne and tiny tomato plants filling the back porch of their farm house whenever we went for a visit in the late winter and early spring. He passed away when I was a teenager. I was far too cool to ask him about his gardens and recipes at the time and I regret not having had that chance a bit.

We asked Diana what her favorites were. Here’s what she said:

Favorite Farming Books

I’m one of those really nerdy people who choose to read things like ‘The Nutrient Requirements of Swine’ for fun. I also waste inordinate amounts of time digging through dusty boxes in antique shops hoping to find farm manuals and cookbooks from decades ago. Unfortunately, this makes me absolutely worthless at recommending books that people can 1) find and 2) will find at all entertaining. A few that I’ve enjoyed recently have been ‘Food In History’ by Reay Tannahill; ‘Blood, Bones, and Butter’ by Gabrielle Hamilton; and ‘The American Way of Eating’ by Tracie MacMillan. Not exactly farming books, but related.

What music are you listening to right now?

Barton Hollow by Barton Hollow.

Favorite Blogs?

My friend Karen Walrond of Chookooloonks inspires me on a daily basis.

The folks at Frog’s Leap Farm fulfill my tomato lust.

I visit What Katie Ate regularly just for the photography. Her ability to capture texture in food photography is unrivaled.

Favorite bacon recipe.

Bacon Cabbage Homefries. I love warm, hearty fare. If it can’t be eaten with your fingers I prefer it to be something best suited to a bowl.

Canon or Nikon?

I shoot Canon, but have to be honest. I chose my first Canon simply because of the brand name recognition, I knew it was a good company that would stand behind its products and knew nothing about Nikon. I’ve been pleased with that assumption, but I’m not as rabid about my brand loyalty as many.

Adventures in the dirt

Jenna Woginrich, of Cold Antler Farm

Jenna Woginrich, of Cold Antler Farm, in Washington County, New York, is a blogger, writer, farmer, shepherd and musician who is inspiring the world with her unique journey. From Scratch magazine had the chance to talk to Jenna about her life, farm and inspiration.*

What made you decide this was the lifestyle for you? How did you get started? Did you have any mentors?

I started farming shortly after I graduated from college (with a degree in graphic design, not agriculture!) because of an experience I had in the Smoky Mountains. It’s a long story, including a near-death experience and a 35-ft tall waterfall but to put it bluntly: I realized life was short, and if it wasn’t for a grocery store and gas stations I had no idea how to live it. So in the spirit of those first pioneers in the Southern mountains I did as they did. I moved west. I got on some rented land. I learned beginner livestock husbandry through bees, rabbits and chickens. I learned to cook and sew and bake bread. I even taught myself the fiddle. It was in their honor and out of a love of the feeling of independence it welled up in me.

I did have a few mentors, most notably a fellow coworker in the office I was working at named Diana. She taught me the basics of chickens and bees, and showed me it was possible to have a farm and a desk in a cubicle at the same time. Something I never would have thought possible.

Tell us about your farm.

Cold Antler Farm has had many incarnations, and is currently on its third. It started on a rented ex-cattle ranch in Idaho, then moved to a log cabin in Vermont, and in the spring of 2010 I bought my first ever scratch of land. I now proudly own and farm six and a half acres of a mountainside in Jackson, New York. Here I raise sheep, dairy goats, pigs, working horses, poultry, honey bees, rabbits, and vegetable gardens. It’s become my full time job to keep this place (and its home online: barnheart.com) running smoothly.

Who helped bring Cold Antler Farm to life?

Cold Antler is my home, and I am the only person who lives here, but it is the work of hundreds of people and thousands of readers around the world. The list of people would be too long to print, but know that none of this was a one-woman operation. I had mentors, neighbors, coworkers, family, relatives, friends and organizations create the farmer I am now.

How did you make it self-sufficient?

It’s not entirely self-sufficient yet, but that is the goal. I moved from oil heat to wood stoves shortly after moving in. My goal to move towards solar and wind keeps me saving my pennies. The animal systems are not a full-circle. I need to buy in hay and feed for my animals, because I can’t grow it. I have adapted to bartering though, and learned I may not have enough trees to grow all my firewood but I can trade lambs or sides of pork for cords of wood, and so even if I can’t create everything I need to keep the place moving, I can trade for a lot.

What has been your biggest achievement so far?

I think buying the farm has been the biggest step, but what feels like the biggest achievement has been taking on horses. When I started homesteading five years ago I would never think I would be putting a harness on my own cart horse and driving down the road with lines in my hands across the country just five years later. Learning to ride, drive, and live with my wonderful Fell Pony, Merlin, has been as magical as it sounds. He changed my life, my self esteem, and gave me courage I didn’t know I had.

What has been your biggest challenge so far?

I find it is the finances I have the most trouble with. The reality of any business is it needs capital to keep moving and growing. I had to adapt and change to the very true fact that I needed a lot of money to do this and didn’t have any. It required a lot of sacrifices, penny pinching, and learning to do things like barter for basic supplies and move from shopping at Banana Republic to Goodwill. When I left my job to do this full time, it got even harder, but the mortgage still gets paid and the blog readership grows and I feel like I am winning a secret game every morning I wake up here and don’t have to drive into an office. It’s not easy, but it is so ridiculously worth it.

What advice would you give someone who is just starting out?

Start now. Go out to your bookstore or library and get a book on your agricultural interest. Visit local farms, become a CSA member, or ask to be an intern. Turn your vacation time into haycation time and instead of going to the beach, go to a workshop on dairy goats or fiber management. If this is something you want, you can have it, but it requires constant immersion in a new world. Go get it!

What is a typical day in your life like?

I wake up around 5 am, winter and summer, and head outside to do morning chores. There are no tractors here, so I carry buckets to troughs, carry bales of hay and bags of feed, and check the health and status of the animal crew here. My border collie, Gibson, is always by my side. Together we herd and watch our animal staff go about their lives of life and birth, and in some cases death. I raise pigs and chickens for the table, some lambs too. I would love to tell you what happens next on a typical day but it varies so very much depending on seasons and the farms needs. For example, an April day would have me checking for new lambs and getting shots in babies and tails docked. A June morning would have me knee deep in the garden weeds, or plowing a field with Merlin for a pumpkin patch.

An October day could be cider apple collecting and pressing, or hosting a workshop. Regardless, every day I write and every day I make time for some good meals and exercise. My day is book-ended with another set of evening chores and I head to bed early. Some nights I tie one on, but most nights it’s a book or a fiddle by the wood stove and a dog curled up at my feet.

What do you see as the future of Cold Antler Farm?

I see it growing as I grow, becoming larger and more productive. I’m sure i will find more adventures and bigger pieces of land. I hope to find love out there in the dirt as well. Right now it is as open a book as could be, but my thoughts are positive and my main focus is to help get other people who want this started and thriving. For all the kindness I have received it is the least I could do.

What would you like your legacy to be?

Luceo Non Uro! (I shine, not burn!)

Story by Melissa Jones

Photos provided with permission by Cold Antler Farm. Originally by Jon Katz.

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