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Get your garden on – literally anywhere!

gardening

If you don’t have a garden, it’s probably because you don’t want one.

Which is fine. It’s your life, I’m not going to judge you.

But, it’s not because you can’t have a garden.

Even the most insidious Black Thumb can grow a garden. And it can be done literally anywhere.

There’s gardens growing everywhere right now — skyscrapers, rooftops, IKEA — even Antarctica.

Despite the ubiquity of gardens all over the world, there are still some people who swear they can’t have a garden for all sorts of reasons.

Here’s the most common ones I know AND solutions to those problems.

“My HOA won’t allow it”

Someday, we’ll all look back and marvel at the fact that we established Home-Owners Association and gave them broad powers over our lives and shake our heads in dismay.

But for today, it’s a reality that HOAs many times forbid vegetable gardens within the confines of their tin-pot dictatorships.

You could start an armed rebellion against the little old ladies wandering around measuring grass in a futile effort to protect their equity investments (I’m not advocating violence, but if you do, be loaded for bear: Little Old Ladies are surprisingly tough) or you could grow a garden anyway, and stay well within your HOA agreement.

First, find out the rules. With the increased interest in Homesteading, gardening and local food, many HOAs allow some portion of their jurisdiction to be planted with vegetables. Sometimes HOAs restrict vegetable plots to a backyard, or a certain space within the front. Other times, some neighborhoods actually have community garden space that can be planted.

If you can’t plant in your yard, then do a container garden. With some pots and potting soil, you can grow scads of veggies on your deck, on your porch, even indoors, if it’s near a window. You can take over and entire area anywhere in your home and turn it into a garden. It’s arguably cheaper and more efficient to grow indoors — there is no season and you’ll severely curtail the number of pests and disease pressures you’ll have. Don’t have a room that gets enough sun? By grow lights. They’re pretty cheap and produce lots of fake sunlight for as long as you want them to — you won’t be constrained by the length of the day.

If you don’t want to garden indoors or in containers, then find a community garden. Community gardens offer rows or plots to community members to grow in at a centralized location. For usually a very manageable membership fee, you can grow anything you want. Your HOA can’t complain because it’s off site. Don’t have a community garden? Start one.

“Climate’s not right”

Ignoring the aforementioned indoor gardens, climate is often one of the reasons people claim they can’t garden. If you live in a space too hot or too cold, then you’ll obviously have to do something different. In places like Alaska, for example, the combination of greenhouses and cold frames can significantly increase your chances of producing veggies in a space. They aren’t as expensive to build as you may think. And even heating one is relatively cheap and easy if you’re willing to get a little creative.

Even if you live in the hottest desert, you can still get some veggies out of the ground. Grey water irrigation systems can provide moisture, while xeriscaping and getting creative with your veggie choices can lead to some big gains no matter what the weather is.

One of my favorite things to grow, which does very well in desert climates, is the Prickly Pear cactus. This lovely cactus produces fruit that can be turned into jams and jellies and the pads of it can be harvested and eaten for a really tasty addition to any meal. It was a staple among the First Nations in the American desert areas.

“Can’t afford it”

A lot of people think you need tons of money to start gardening. But in reality, you can drop $10 on a shovel and another few bucks on a pack of seeds and start planting in a 10 foot by 10 foot space right now. My daughter likes to buy veggie and flowers seeds at the local dollar store with her allowance — four packs for a dollar. After that initial investment, sure you might want to spend more, but the fact is, you can manage a garden with what it costs to water the thing. If you invest in a grey water or rain catch irrigation system, you won’t spend much on water at all.

In fact, I hate spending money. It’s a fun hobby of mine to get as many gardening supplies as I can for as little as possible. Check craigslist for free stuff — If a body in your neighborhood is tearing down a deck, that wood could be re-purposed as a raised bed. Use pallets for everything (raised beds, vertical gardens, etc.). Compost for fertilizer. Hit up area coffee shops for their spent grounds to add to the soil. Contact your local utility company to get their wood chips for mulch — most of the time they’ll drop them in your yard for free.

Re-purpose old containers as pots — just drill drain holes in the bottom and go to town. Yogurt cups make great seed starting pots! Use your imagination!

“Don’t have the space”

If you think you don’t have the space to plant a garden, you’re absolutely wrong. Again — containers and indoor spaces can be used for gardening. A fodder system can produce lots of micro greens. Window boxes can be used for spinach and strawberries.

And you can always go vertical. A standing pallet garden provides grow space literally anywhere. I’ve seen people grow lettuce on apartment balconies.

My friend Christine McLaughlin wrote a great book on going vertical — Vertical Vegetable Gardening. My friend over at Sweet Potatoes and Social Change has been Apartment Gardening for a while now. One family in California produces 6,000 pounds of food from 1/10 of an acre just outside of Los Angeles.

Space is definitely not a limiting factor.

“I live in the city”

Again, community garden spaces can be found anywhere. New York City has them. Los Angeles has them. But even if  they didn’t, you can produce food anywhere.

Plant herbs in pots on your window sills. Grow mushrooms in a closet.

Or you can do like this guy did and grow veggies right next to your sidewalk space.

Ron Finley has been gardening in South Central LA for years in spaces formerly ignored and blighted.

So really, if this guy can do it, and fight the city in the process — all in the middle of South Central LA, then I’m pretty sure you can pull it off where ever you are.

Want to know more? Check out our book — Homesteading From Scratch. This beginners guide to homesteading will have you gardening in no time!

Homeschooling Project: Water for honey bees

Water for honey bees

It’s the time of year when honey bees are out and about foraging.

Drawn to newly blossoming Spring flowers, these industrious pollinators are working hard to gather nectar and pollen to provide for their hives.

They’ll often fly miles to forage.

While they’re doing it, they often require water.

Which means they will try for fluids in birdbaths, puddles, ponds, streams any water source they can find. They need the water not only to survive the journey they often take for food, but also to help process honey when they get back to the hive.

Unfortunately, water sources they often use can often be dangerous: Naturally occurring water sources expose the bees to predators while they often fall into other water sources and drown.

We made our bee waterer with flat marbles from the Dollar Store and a plate. Ignore the glitter from a previous project.

A great homeschool project, especially for primary school children, is to make a bee waterer.

It’s a simple project: All you need is a shallow pan and some rocks or marbles.

Put the rocks or marbles in the bottom of the plate, and then add water. The stones will give the bees somewhere to sit while drinking so they don’t fall in.

While making the waterer, you can teach your little homeschooler all about bees!

It makes a great science lesson. And you can use it to teach basic math facts and observational skills. Kids can watch the waterer, count the bees and average the number of bees that visit the waterer.

There’s all sorts of ways you can incorporate this simple little project into all sorts of lessons.

Here’s a list of resources you can use to craft a great lesson:

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:

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.)

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.

My favorite seed storing tips and methods

Now that we’re in the full grip of Summer here in North America, there’s some things you just shouldn’t be growing until the weather gets a bit cooler. For us in North Carolina, it’s too late to start tomatoes, summer squash, cucumbers and a few other odds and ends. But I’ve still got tons of seeds lying around that I definitely don’t want to throw away.

So, I’m going to store them until the Fall season rolls around — or some until next February.

The great thing about knowing how to store seeds is you can take advantage of clearance sales.

Here’s my favorite methods of seed storage. Try them out and share your ideas in the comments below.

Mason jars

I try to put most of my seeds in Mason jars, jelly jars to be specific. It’s the right size to hold most seeds, unless you’re dealing with pounds of cereal grains that you need to put up. I just put them in the jar, screw a lid on, and use a dry erase marker to jot down the variety and date on the top. If I avoid smudging the dry erase marker for a while, then the writing will stay and then when it’s time to reuse the jar, a bit of rubbing alcohol takes it right off.

Plastic zipper bags

This one is pretty self explanatory: Put seeds in a bag, zip it closed. Label it.

Envelops

If I’m going to be using a seed within a couple of months, I’ll usually just stick it in an envelop with the variety and date on the front. This keeps light away from the seeds and they can be put in a file-folder for later use and better organization.

Plastic bins

Plastic bins are great for larger amounts of seeds, especially things like grass seed and cereal grains. I’ve got about 10 pounds of blue corn seed stored away in a plastic bin. You can get these at dollar stores, big box stores and more. Just take your seed, dump it in there and close it off.

The main thing to remember whenever storing seeds is to keep moisture away from it and keep them in a cool space. Sealed mason jars do a pretty good job of that, as do zipper bags. Plastic bins usually aren’t air tight, but if you keep them away from moisture in a cool dry place (I keep them in a cabinet in a storage room) then you shouldn’t have a problem. The Rodale Institute suggests making a desiccant package from powdered milk, which I’ve never tried. I have used bags of baked sand (take playground sand, put it in a shallow pan, bake it at 250 degrees in your oven for about 3 hours, put the dry sand in a thin, cloth bag, tie it off) to absorb moisture in my plastic bins. Other uses have success storing seeds in freezers for long periods of time, but I’ve never had to keep seeds more than a season or two. The sources suggest allowing your seeds to reach room temperature if you keep them in the freezer before opening the package they’re kept in: It’ll prevent moisture from condensing on the seed.

Also, if you keep your seed in the freezer, you’ll have to use airtight methods, like Mason jars or freezer bags.

So, now you know how to keep seeds for a minute, go out and get a bunch of vegetable seeds on sale and have them ready and waiting for next season. Enjoy!

Raising chickens: The Basics

March 19 is National Poultry Day. It’s a day set aside to honor the myriad of poultry that we benefit from: Chickens, ducks, turkeys, quail, peafowl, pheasant — even pigeons!

In honor of this great day, we give you a breakdown on how to raise chickens, the gateway drug of homesteading.

Check it out and leave us your tips on raising fowl in the comments below!

Raising chickens is fun and easy, but not for the faint of heart. Before starting out, you must know chickens prime egg laying years are in the first three of adulthood. So, if you want to raise them for eggs, then you’ll need to be aware that chickens live for 8-10 year — sometimes longer — so you’ll get diminishing returns as time goes by.

Many chicken keepers deal with this by eating their birds. Others, like ourselves, grow a bit to attached to the animals, and keep them around for as long as possible. The choice is yours, but be aware, raising chickens can get expensive.

First: Buy your chicks

Find a reputable hatchery, or a local chicken keeper whom you trust, and buy chicks from them. While you can buy adult, laying hens, I find it better to raise the birds from just a day or two old. It’s more expensive to feed them for the first bit, but you’ll get to know the birds better. If you buy your chicks from a hatchery, pay the extra cash to get them sexed. You don’t want to raise too many roosters, as they get aggressive with the hens when there are too many roosters to compete with. A rooster isn’t required to produce eggs.

If you get your chicks locally, take the time to visit the farm where they’re hatched. Look around. Make sure the place is clean and organized. Make sure the adult birds are healthy. Look for bright-eyed, curious animals that are calm and active. If the birds are listless, or stressed, it could be indicative of health problems that you don’t want to deal with.

Second: Brood your chicks

For the first weeks of life, chicks will need to live in a brooder. You can purchase one or you can build your own. Either way, make sure the birds stay warm. The chicks aren’t big enough to generate enough body heat to keep themselves warm. The brooder ensures they have enough heat and light to grow up big and strong. Make sure the brooder stays clean. Young chickens are voracious eaters and they’ll make huge messes in the bottom of their brooder. Make sure you clean it regularly (for us, once a day was just enough).

Third: Feed your chicks

At the early stages of life, chicks need to be fed starter feed, for at least 8 weeks. After the eight week mark, switch them over to grower feed until they turn about 20 weeks old. Then finally, layer feed. You can buy all of these things at your local feed store or, if you’d prefer non-GMO feed (we do!) then you can buy it all here.

Most chicken starter is medicated to prevent coccidiosis — a parasite that can kill young chickens. However, many chicken keepers prefer to avoid medicated feed, as it can increase the parasite’s resistance to drugs over time. And if you’re going for organic certification, you’ll may have to use non-medicated feed. If you do decide to go with all natural feed, which is what we use, then you’ll have to do a little more research. Add diatomaceous earth to your feed and organic apple cider vinegar to the chick’s water. It’ll boost their immune systems, fight the parasites and the DE will help kill the parasites. Make sure they have plenty of clean, fresh water available at all times. (check out Corid (Amprolium) for Chickens)

Fourth/Third: Get your chicken coop ready

Chicken coop designs are as varied as people. Everyone has their own way of doing it.

Basically, you’ll need a place for your chickens to sleep, stay out of the wind, rain and cold. If you want to build your own, here’s some designs on Pinterest.

Make sure your coop is big enough for the number of chicks you have. A good rule of thumb is you’ll need 2 square feet for each bird. Bigger is mostly better, as long as your coop is warm and dry. If you chickens aren’t free range, then you’ll need a run — basically a place for the darlings to run around, socialize and get some exercise. Make sure the run is open to the air, covered to prevent predation from hawks, has shade and grit. (you can check out: best chicken coops here)

Grit is a product that allows birds to digest food. It also supplements their diet with calcium. You can buy it at feed stores, or online. Again, make sure your chickens have free access to water and food. It’ll keep them happier. Happy chickens produce more eggs.

Fifth?: Enjoy your chickens

While you can get tons of eggs from your chickens (average laying rate is two eggs for every three chickens daily), you’ll also get tons of joy from the little darlings. You’ll have to feed and water your chickens every day, but after the novelty wears off, it’s easy to forget to take a little time to just sit and watch them. So whenever you have a free minute, I advise you to go and grab a bucket or foldable chair and just sit and watch your birds. They’re surprising complex animals with a sophisticated social structure (the proverbial pecking order). Bring some treats! Enjoy.

Tips:

Make a fodder system: A fodder system, either purchased or made, can provide supplementary nutrition for your birds. And it gives you a chance to know everything about what your chickens eat.

Here’s a video:

Insulate your coop: If you build your coop, insulate it. The extra effort and expense will keep your birds more comfortable. Comfortable chickens are happy chickens. Happy chickens make more eggs.

Close your flock: Once you get the number of chickens you’re comfortable with, don’t get any more! This is called “closing your flock.” By not introducing new birds into your flock, you prevent disease and infection from coming into your coop. New birds can bring parasites and disease into your flock. If you just have to buy new birds, make sure you quarantine them for at least a few weeks before introducing them into your flock. It goes a long way into keeping your birds healthy. (you can read Backyard Chicken Books for Beginners)

Holy Shiitake! How to grow mushrooms in your backyard

shiitakes

By Julie Thompson-Adolf

I’m not much of a risk taker.

It’s sad but true. I don’t plan to scale the highest summit or cage dive with sharks. But in the garden?

Now, that’s a different story. I’ll plant varieties considered outside my USDA zone, push the envelope of sun verses shade recommendations, and squeeze just one more tomato plant into a bursting bed. Yep, I’m living on the edge, brandishing my trowel with the swagger of a swordfighter. The prize?

A lush, ripe delicious heirloom tomato for dinner. Although our ancestors thought them to be poisonous, today we know that tomatoes are safe. Not much risk there.

But mushrooms? Now, that’s upping the gardening — and eating — ante. There’s something subtly sinister about mushrooms. As kids, we’re warned not to touch mushrooms or play with snakes. As adults, we respect and covet the foraged fungi, salivating over morels and paying a fortune for truffles. Whether gourmet delicacy or cause for demise—mushrooms walk a fine line.

So, when I attended a mushroom growing session led by the owners of Mushroom Mountain, I definitely stepped outside my risk-averse comfort zone.

After all, the speaker was a brilliant guy — part genius scientist, part fearless farmer, part educator extraordinaire, part foraging foodie enthusiast. I was hooked.

Armed with my knowledge and a bag of plug spawn, I took a walk on the wild side: I began a mushroom garden.

I’m not certain that “garden” is the proper term, but “garden” sounds safe, don’t you think? Typically, shiitake mushrooms grow on portable, easily relocated fresh hardwood oak or sweetgum logs, approximately six inches in diameter and about three feet long. Of course, I don’t believe in easy.

Because my husband and I are tree-huggers, we won’t cut a tree unless necessary. However, we needed to remove a partially rotted tree.

Down went the tree, and with a few extra cuts—we had a forest of thick, round logs.

Much thicker in diameter than recommended and nearly impossible to move, I was determined to turn the gathered logs into a shiitake producing machine. Somehow, the stumps were very reminiscent of Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree.

Anyway … Growing shiitake mushrooms seems complicated, but here’s a secret: It’s not. Don’t tell anyone, though. When people hear about the scrumptious shiitakes you harvested for dinner, they’ll think you possess amazing gardening powers.

Here’s what you need:

  • Plug spawn from a reputable source. I highly recommend Mushroom Mountain. The plug spawn I purchased from them is cultivated on 3.4” dowels. The spawn can be stored in a refrigerator and remain viable for up to a year. Remove the plugs from the refrigerator a day prior to use.
  • Logs or stumps, freshly cut from a living tree.
  • 5/16-inch drill bit and drill
  • Canning wax, melted using a double boiler method. (Bottom pot contains boiling water, top pot contains wax and small amount of mineral oil to help prevent the wax cracking and drying out. Submerge top pot into bottom pot to melt wax.)
  • Clean paint brush

How to Inoculate

Inoculation is the process of inserting the plug spawn into the log or stump—planting the mushroom “seeds.” The log needs to be inoculated within six weeks of cutting and should be dry and free of dirt. Drill holes 1-1/4 inch into the log to create an air pocket below the plug. The holes should be drilled in a diamond pattern on the log or stump, approximately five to six inches apart.

Hammer the plugs firmly into the holes and cover them with a thin coating of melted wax using a clean paint brush. The wax prevents insects from entering the holes in the wood.

After plugging and waxing the log, soak the logs overnight.

In my case, with our crazy forest of stumps, I ran a sprinkler to soak the wood.

Additionally, with the thick logs I used, I buried part of the wood in the ground to help with moisture retention. And then … you wait. And wait.

Hopefully, when your first mushroom appears, it will look like a shiitake. Our first mushroom looked … odd. I harvested it, took a photo, and sent it to Mushroom Mountain to confirm that it was, indeed, a shiitake.

As I awaited a reply, I watched “The Today Show.”

Ironically, Nicholas Evans, author of The Horse Whisperer, appeared on the show, discussing the accidental poisoning of his entire family—by serving them mushrooms. They all required kidney transplants after ingesting foraged mushrooms. What?!? Nervously, I threw away the mystery mushroom.

It turns out, I discarded a perfectly safe, delicious oyster mushroom. Somehow, a stray oyster spore found its way onto the log.

But then, a few months later, a mushroom appeared on a log. Then another. And another. Soon, dozens of mushrooms filled the logs — and they looked exactly like shiitakes. Of course, do you think I ate them without first sending photos to Mushroom Mountain for a proper ID?

Not only am I risk-adverse, but I also try to keep my family healthy and poison-free. Fortunately, the very kind folks at Mushroom Mountain confirmed that my mushrooms were “beautiful shiitakes,” and I should happily feast on them.

That night, as I prepared dinner, I noticed that my husband waited until I took a bite of the risotto ai funghi before he tried it. He knew that if even I would venture to eat homegrown mushrooms, then they must be safe. As for my gardening status? Yep. I’m pretty much a mushroomgrowing rock star now.

And I might even attempt to forage for morels.

On a supervised expedition.

With the pros of Mushroom Mountain.

Here’s my recipe for Risotto Ai Funghi:

Ingredients

  • 6 cups organic chicken broth, divided
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 pounds shiitake mushrooms, fresh or dried (rehydrate prior to use)

  • 2 shallots, diced
  • 1-1/2 cups Arborio rice
  • ¾ cups dry white wine
  • freshly ground pepper to taste
  • sea salt to taste
  • 3 tablespoons chopped chives
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Note: Make sure to have all ingredients ready before you start. You need to stir continuously to avoid burning, so you don’t want to hunt down ingredients in the midst of cooking.

Directions

  1. Warm the broth over medium-low heat in a saucepan.
  2. In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, warm 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the mushrooms (fresh or rehydrated) and cook until soft, approximately 3 minutes. Remove mushrooms and liquid, and set aside in bowl.
  3. Warm 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet, and add the shallots. Cook 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add rice, stirring to coat it with the olive oil. When the rice is golden in color (about 2 minutes), add wine. Stir continuously until wine is absorbed. And ½ cup broth to the rice, stirring until broth is absorbed. Continue adding ½ cup broth at a time, stirring continuously, until liquid is absorbed and rice is al dente, approximately 15 to 20 minutes.
  4. Remove skillet from heat. Add mushrooms with liquid, butter, chives, and Parmesan, stirring well. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Serve alone or as a side dish. Makes approximately 6 servings.

Find out more about the writer and her work here.

Getting Goats 101 – Everything you Need to Know to get Started

Getting Goats 101
Think you’re seeing more goats lately? Well, it’s not your imagination. After chickens, goats are the fastest growing livestock animal in the US today. They’re increasingly popular on small farms and homesteads because they’re easy to care for and so useful. Goats don’t require pastures, are easily handled and housed, and can provide meat, milk, fiber, fertilizer, and brush control. Goat milk and meat are preferred over cow in most of the world, and folks in the US are starting to catch on in a big way.

Goat breeds are divided into three types: meat, dairy, and fiber – with several breeds readily available in the US within each type (see goat breed chart). Any of the breeds can be used for both meat and milk, but they’re classified according to their main usage. The meat breeds are taller and stockier, the dairy breeds lighter and more refined, and the fiber breeds typically fall somewhere in between. There’s also one breed within each type that’s considered miniature (the Pygmy, Pygora, and Nigerian Dwarf), and that can be kept in suburban settings (if local zoning allows it) because of their small size.

Choosing a breed

Choosing a breed comes down to what you want the goats for — will it be primarily for milk, meat or fiber? What breeds are available in your area, the cost, and breed size?

If milk or meat consumption is a primary goal, then tasting that breed’s milk or meat is important. Taste can vary substantially from breed to breed.

If fiber is the goal, then it is important to make sure the breed you are interested in produces the right fiber.

Next, it should be determined whether purebred goats are desired; it is easier to sell their offspring, but if they will just be used for meat or farm milk, it may not make sense to invest in purebreds.

Finally, you will want to make sure the breed is readily available within travelling distance, is in your price range, and fits your size constraints.  The miniature breeds are increasingly popular because they often cost less, fit in small spaces, and are very easy to handle (like a medium size dog).

Once you have chosen a breed, it’s best to visit several reputable breeders, look over their goats, check out the housing arrangements, ask lots of questions, and make sure you will be happy with the support they’re willing to supply. Information and experienced veterinarians for goats can still be hard to find, so having a willing “mentor” can be invaluable.  There are also several serious goat diseases that should be avoided, and reputable breeders will be willing to show evidence that their herds are free from these diseases.  It’s a good idea to avoid goats from auctions, as they may bring hidden problems or diseases with them.

Housing for goats

Housing for goats ideally includes a barn with room for the goats and their kids, water, feed storage, lights, and a separate area to milk in (if you’re going to be milking).

However, all that is absolutely required is a shelter that will keep them dry and out of the wind. Goats do need protection from predators such as coyotes, mountain lions, wolves, and stray dog packs; so housing them in a barn often makes sense. It’s also much more comfortable for humans and kids (baby goats), particularly during kidding season and while milking. Goats need a minimum of 10’ to 15’ square feet of protected space per goat, if they also have access to outside space.

Goats prefer wooded browse to pastures (they prefer to reach up to eat rather than down like sheep or cattle), and will happily eat things we consider nuisances like poison ivy and brambles. In addition to browse, they need good hay, goat minerals, water, and grain (when pregnant or milking). If an area for browsing can’t be provided, goats will do fine on hay alone for roughage. Besides food and water, they generally require regular hoof trimming, a couple of semi-annual vaccinations, and worming to prevent internal parasite infestations.

Fencing for goats

Fencing for goats is a very important, as they tend to be escape experts.

There are many fencing options available, but woven wire fencing that’s at least four feet tall and supported by sturdy wooden posts is highly recommended. Welded wire fencing should be avoided because the goats will rub and stand on the fencing causing the welds to break.

Many owners combine woven wire fencing with electric strands at the top and bottom (on the outside). The electric at the top keeps the goats off the fence and the electric at the bottom helps keep predators out. Woven wire spacing of 2” x 4” rather than 4” x 6” is recommended if horned goats or miniature breeds are being fenced (so the horns don’t get caught as readily and the miniatures can’t slip through).

Goats are social animals, a herd should start with at least two.

And since goats multiply quickly (usually producing at least two or three kids per year), a herd can build quickly starting with just a few does (mature female goats). Many start their herds with two or three doelings (baby does), and build from there. Male goats (bucks) are very smelly during the mating season, and many goat owners choose not to keep any if there are good quality bucks in the area that can service their does. If a buck is kept, it should generally be penned separately from the does, and also needs a companion (another buck or wether (castrated buck)). Bucks are housed separately from does so that the buck smell does not affect the milk, and so that it’s known when the does have been bred.

For those interested in meat goats, many people find that goat meat (chevon) is easier to digest than beef or pork, and it’s low in fat (see Table 2), making it an excellent meat source for small farms and homesteads. In addition, the markets for meat goats include those for goat meat, show goats (4-H or FFA), breeding stock, and pack goats. Today, the meat goat industry is the fastest growing livestock industry in the US, primarily because there is so much ethnic demand for goat meat. For delicious milk, it’s important to buy does from good milking bloodlines since milk production, butterfat, and protein content can vary widely even within breeds.

Milk production and butterfat content also vary widely from breed to breed, and higher butterfat content milk is generally preferred for drinking. Excess milk can be made into yogurt, cheese, and butter for home use; but selling goat milk or milk products from the farm can be difficult. Many states prohibit the sale of raw milk, or it’s against the law to sell milk unless you’re a licensed “Grade A” dairy.

However, excess milk can often be sold as “baby” food for breeders (to feed to puppies, kittens, etc.) and some owners sell “goat shares” so that others can obtain raw goat milk. When planning to market goat milk, it’s best to check the rules in each state carefully and proceed cautiously. There are; however, ready markets for dairy goat milk soap, breeding stock, and show goats.

Homesteads with fiber goats can process the fiber into roving, yarn, batts, and knitted products for extra farm income. In addition, the market for fiber goats is growing so there’s also good demand for breeding stock and kids.

Beside all the practical reasons for keeping them, goats are typically gentle creatures that are just plain fun to have around. They are very social, and if handled regularly from birth, form loving bonds with humans. And, there is no place happier than the goat barn during kidding season – goat kids are irresistibly cute and just add joy to life!

Next:

Rabbits: The Other Perfect Little Livestock

rabbits

Amidst all of the cheerleading going on out there about chicken-keeping,  I’d like to give a shout out to another small animal that makes a great addition to any homestead whether it’s urban, suburban, or small-farm; rabbits. Our family has kept rabbits (for varying reasons) for nineteen years and I often wonder how they manage to stay just off of the perfect livestock radar.

Throughout history, they’ve proven themselves time and time again to be an ideal livestock choice for small farms. In a world where farming is synonymous with “land” and “acreage”,  rabbits make excellent hobby farm mini-livestock as they have minimal space requirements and demand very little in the way of financial resources or specialized equipment. They’re as versatile as they come and are kept for companionship, show, meat, fiber, and manure.

Gentle rabbits are easy to house, handle, care for, and transport. They can provide healthy meat which makes them a smart choice for breeding and raising for food. The savvy rabbit-raiser will research the individual rabbit breeds and choose one that catches their interest, as well as incorporates two or three of the above reasons when practicing small-scale rabbit keeping.

Rabbit Manure Makes Fabulous Compost

The rabbits here at Laughing Crow have always been used for showing (both 4H and general shows), fiber for hand-spinning, and my number one reason — poop. I swear that this is why I have the most amazing compost for my garden.

One of the most valuable by-products that your rabbits can provide for you is top-of-the-line manure. I’m excited to notice that it’s recently getting the attention it deserves and becoming widely recognized by gardeners as the most nutritionally balanced manure of all the herbivores for the garden and compost piles. It’s a nutritionally rich, balanced organic fertilizer and soil conditioner — and is extremely effective. As an added perk it will also improve the texture and tilth of your garden soil.

Most herbivore manures used as soil amendments, which need to be composted (aged and broken down by microbial and macrobial organisms) before being applied. No so for rabbit manure; it can actually be used fresh from under the rabbit cages and be incorporated directly into the garden and landscaping. Because its nutritional content is already extremely well-balanced, it doesn’t need the time other fertilizers take to decompose to a workable quality. You can use it right away, without any fear of burning plants.

That said, if you’re using it in your vegetable garden, you may prefer to add it to the compost pile (where it can break down completely) to be sure that any potentially harmful pathogens aren’t transmitted to food plants. No worries, in the compost pile is where rabbit poop shines. Not only does it bring its long list of goods, but it’ll help make quick work of the organic matter in your pile; you’ll have fabulous compost in no time!

The message here is the next time someone says “What’s could possibly be as good as chickens for our homestead?” Consider letting them know about rabbits, the other perfect little livestock.