Category: Home & Garden

A Long Overdue Update

All spring and summer long we’ve been enjoying the fruits of our garden.  We’ve had greens, lots and lots of tomatoes, some bell peppers, beans, a few cucumbers, several hot peppers, a lonely tiny pumpkin, and a little ol’ watermelon.  We’re also growing in other ways…

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That’s right, our sweet bouncing baby BOY is due to arrive some time in January and we can’t wait to meet him!  This makes 6 boys and 3 girls for our family, making 4 boys in a row 🙂 that is a LOT of little boys!

In other news, I’ve been taking an herbalist class with Vintage Remedies, which has been enlightening among other things.  I knew I was taking the right course when the last paragraph of the first unit summed up what I’ve pretty much more or less been saying to myself for years – health is about the WHOLE person and needs to include a view of our WHOLE world.  A big reason I’m taking this is to educate myself, but to also share that information with others.  I don’t want to just give someone something that will help them, but teach them why it helps, and then show them how they can make it or do it themselves if they have the inclination to do so.

So that’s it for now 🙂 I’ll hopefully be posting more often in the near future.

Tomato Notes

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This is the biggest one from last year, probably 10 ft long. Letting it “sprawl” like this was kinda fun, but since it wasn’t mulched under the plant itself, we lost a lot of tomatoes at the end of the season to slugs (yuck!).

 

Growing tomatoes last year was one of the most rewarding things I’ve done and I’m very much looking forward to giving it a good try again this year.  Last year I did not have success starting my own seeds (for a variety of reasons), but my mom saved the day and donated some healthy tomato plants seedlings to our family and we were able to grow 6 prolific indeterminate tomato plants that we let more or less take over the garden 😛 (I let the plants down from their stakes to install larger stakes, but didn’t get back to them in time and the tomato plants rooted themselves to the ground!).  I feel tremendously blessed that all the seedings I’ve started are doing very well so far.  Here are the varieties we are growing at the moment.

  1. Riesentraube Tomatoes – They are said to be prolific producers with clusters of 20-40, 1 inch round tomatoes that have an average height of only 5ft, which is a perfect height for managing them.  The advantage I see to this variety is high production without having the massive height to deal with.
  2. Amish Paste Tomatoes – They ripen into 6-12 ounce sized fruit with an average height of 5-7 feet which is still a very doable size.  These are said to be good for making tomato paste (duh, lol), and I hope we can try our hand at making ketchup this year!  The kids really wanted to last year, but we never had quite enough to eat them fresh and make fun things.
  3. Pink Brandywine Tomatoes – I’m growing these because I absolutely love to eat them, but can’t find room in my budget on a regular basis for a tomato that sells for $4+ a lb (and brandywines usually weight about a pound, they’re huge!).  These do get VERY tall, but as I’m growing them for big fat tomatoes to enjoy fresh (and not for storage or cooking), I plan to keep them well pruned and topped so we aren’t overtaken by a monster tomato plant.  As a side note, the leaf shape is different than your typical tomato plant.  It’s described as a “potato leaf”.
  4. A Grappoli D’Inverno – also known as “Winter Grapes” in Italy.  These are said to store for 4+ weeks after being pulled up from the ground.  Traditionally they are pulled (plant and all) and hung in a cellar, and can be eaten long after the growing season is over!  They are also said to be very tasty when dried, and I’d like to try my hand at it.  These grow to an average height of 4ft (yay!), and the fruit are about 2 inches round.

So there you have it 🙂 What tomato varieties to you plan to grow this year?

“Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.'” Genesis 1:29

 

Garden Project 2014

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My goals for the year:

  • Getting a head start by starting my own seeds indoors
  • Increase garden space a little beyond last year (this involves taking up turf manually – volunteers being accepted) 😛
  • Grow more flowers (they’re so good for the soul!)
  • Grow enough to ease our grocery budget a bit during growing months

What we’re planning on growing:

  • Tomatoes (4 heirloom varieties, including my favorite, the Pink Brandywine Tomato)
  • Peppers (Chinese 5 peppers – a colorful bush of hot peppers, green peppers and red peppers)
  • Cucumbers (two varieties, we had success with one last year, not the other)
  • Summer Squash and Zucchini (they were killed off by mildew last year while we were on vacation)
  • Greens!  As much as I can 😀 including kale, arugula, mustard greens, cabbage, and some other lettuces
  • Radishes & Beets
  • Pumpkins, just one vine
  • Watermelon, just one vine
  • Spaghetti Squash & Butternut Squash, one vine of each
  • Flowers!  Morgan would like to grow sunflowers.  I plan to do zinnias, feverfew, yarrow, petunias, and various flowering herbs
  • Herbs, LOTS OF HERBS! 😀  I adore them because they make my heart happy 🙂

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In the Garden: 2nd Week of April

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The gardening season has begun for me!  If you haven’t started your garden yet this year, don’t despair!  As Mel Bartholomew says in his book “Square Foot Gardening“, it’s always a good time to do something in the garden.  You might be asking yourself, “Why grow your own food?”  Well here are some reasons we are expanding our garden this year.

  • We want to grow food – not a lawn (here is a fun group that espouses the idea)
  • We want to lower our weekly grocery budget (and who doesn’t want that??)
  • We want to know where our food is coming from and under what conditions it is grown
  • We (or maybe just I, MommyScott) want to be more self sustained, and since we don’t have the ability to raise animals for meat or chickens for eggs, a garden is the next logical option in my mind.
  • Have you ever tasted a *real* tomato, fresh from the garden, ripened on the vine?  This alone is reason enough!
  • It’s a wonderful chance to observe our Creator in action!  Sowing seeds, watching them germinate and sprout, drawing nutrients from the soil and then feeding us, gives an extremely clear picture of God’s provision.  We know that all things come from Him, but this in particular gives a crystal clear photograph, if you will, of the process.

Vegetable Gardens Volume 4 has an excellent article about rookie mistakes, so I thought I’d share a few of those here as I found them extremely helpful.

  • Don’t start out too big (a small garden that is successful – or even just one plants of tomatoes – will encourage you towards future successes)
  • Properly prepare your soil (remember your soil feeds your plants, which in turn feed you.  Investing your soil is an investment in your personal health)
  • Don’t ignore the light needs of your particular plants – not enough sun or too much will result in a sickly, wilting plant that won’t produce enough for you.  We planted our tomatoes in the very middle of our graden bed last year (right down the east/west divide) and it gave the rest of the garden too much shade and we didn’t get good returns from the plants who lived directly next to our tomatoes.  Lesson learned!
  • Fertilizing – this kind of goes back to preparing your soil.  We don’t “fertilize” with chemicals, but it’s very important to use good compost to nourish your growing plants.  You do not want to mix anything into your soil that isn’t already decomposed all the way as it will tie up your garden soil’s resources.  It is however ok to lay it on the top once your plants come up (I’ve read that a layer of grass clippings are an excellent way to feed your plants).  Do some research on “mulching” in your garden for a wealth of information.
  • Don’t over or under water.  Know the needs of your particular plants are water accordingly.  Plant varieties that have similar watering needs with one another – that helps 🙂

Want to know what you can plant now?  Start by looking up the “average last frost date” for your area – here is a helpful chart.  Anywhere from 2-3 weeks BEFORE your average first frost, you can start growing cold loving varieties of veggies.  Sow your lettuces, spinach, kale, carrots, radishes and other root veggies right in your garden soil or container soil (lettuces & carrots get sown on the surface and barely covered, all the rest get covered 1/4-1/2 and inch).  Water well and make sure they stay moist until they sprout.  Depending on where you’re growing (inside, outside, in a container, in the ground, etc) you can do some different things to help them stay moist.  Inside, I covered my containers with a loose layer of plastic wrap to help hold in moisture but still allow in air; I imagine this would work outside in containers as well, but with holes poked in the top for air circulation as a loose piece of plastic wrap might fly away.  I haven’t tried any of the outside methods, but feel free to google and post some info on it in the comments :P.

 

So what’s going on in your garden?  What are you hoping to do this year?  Tell me about your gardening experience!

Adventures with Square Foot Gardening!

Thanks be to God for my blessed mother and father who have graced us with our first garden this year!  I had been planning on getting one started next year, but when my mom made the generous offer to start one for us this year, I felt compelled (and excited!!) to say “Yes!”  We chose plants we know we’ll eat and that we can easily store for later use in the freezer, such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, peas, beans & some lettuce.  The children have all happily volunteered to water it when it does not rain and we’re making quick plans to put a protective covering over it to protect it from local pests (deer, rabbits & birds to list a few).  I’m looking forward to seeing how this year goes and then we can make plans for next year!

God bless our garden, water it and let it grow!

Soap Nuts or Just Nuts?

I’ve heard of soap nuts for a long time, but the very idea that a “nut” could clean my clothes (and other things for that matter) seemed way too out there for me to believe.  In my continual search for an affordable, “green”, and safe options for my family kept bringing me back to this wondrous little fruit.  Experience has taught me the hard lesson of not investing a lot in something until I know it will actually WORK for our family, so we bought a TRIAL pack from Naturoli, which included two soap bars (cleanings and shampoo), 1/4 lb of soap nuts, x18 super concentrated cleaner, shampoo and a laundry stick.

I have a few criteria that things must meet before I will “approve” them for long term sustainable use for our family.  1.) They have to be *SIMPLE*.  I can’t bend over backwards just to use a green cleaner, 2.) it needs to be safe enough to be used by my children, 3.) it needs to NOT cost an arm and a leg, and 4.) it needs to clean to my acceptable personal standard.  Now on to reviewing…

Shampoo:  I’ve used this on myself and all my kids so far and I am VERY pleased 🙂  It’s expensive, so I don’t know that it will be a do-able option for us, but it DOES work.  It is said that you can use soap nuts to make your own shampoo, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

x18 super concentrated cleaner: I haven’t tried this one *yet* so I’ll get back to that

Cleansing Bar: I’ve used this on both myself and the kids so far and am pleased.  It doesn’t dry out the skin & it has a very earthy natural smell.  Again, it is on the expensive side, but that may be ok depend on how long it lasts.  I’ve got it resting on a wire rack which allows it to dry between uses so we’ll get the most life out of it as we can.

Shampoo Bar: I haven’t used this enough to make a definitive conclusion.  Like the cleaner, I’ll get back to you on that 😉

Soap Nuts: Buying a sample size was not cheap, but if these meet all my standards, when purchased in larger quantities they can be a very frugal and green option.  The theory is you can throw the nuts contained in a little muslin bag (which are really a dried fruit, not a nut) in the washing machine with your clothes and reuse them 4-6 more times.  Soap Nuts contain a natural surfactant (the stuff they use in laundry detergent and other cleaners) which should clean your clothes.  You have to make sure not to overstuff your washing machine so the nuts can circulate in the water with your clothing and the natural surfactant can be released.  *If you are a information hound like I am, you can find more information on soap nuts here at Soap Nuts Pro.

We do many loads of laundry a day (3-4) and so reducing the size of our laundry load size is NOT an option.  Thankfully there is an alternative!  You can soak your soap nuts in hot water (or boil), essentially making a “tea” or “extract”, there by eliminating the need to make your laundry loads a little smaller so the soap nuts have more room to agitate.  You can also use this “tea” in your dishwasher, as a household cleaner & even a shampoo!  The downside is that since it does not contain preservatives, it will spoil fairly quickly and you need to either make it in very small batches OR freeze in ice cube trays for later use.  You can make it last a *little* longer by adding preserving essential oils or citric acid and then store it in the fridge.  My plan is to make just enough to get use through 1-2 days at a time, adding citric acid (which is a natural preservative & cleaning power booster) so I can just keep this out on the counter as needed if I find that to be more convenient.

I am experimenting with different ways to make my soap nut liquid.  The first night I simmered them in water for an hour.  Yesterday I just poured boiling water over them into a jar and shook it up a few times through the course of the afternoon and then stuck it into the fridge.  Both methods produced about the same colored liquid so I think I might just stick with the jar method for now.  The results are promising so far, but not enough to be conclusive.  I will let you know 🙂

My “recipe” for making soap nuts liquid:

Ratio of 5 soap nuts to 2 cups of water.  After it is done soaking, strain out soap nuts and add 2 tbsp citric acid* (1tbsp per cup of water).  I’m using about 1/3-1/2 a cup per load of laundry and about 3tbsp per dishwasher load.  I should also mention that it is NOT recommended that you use soap nuts with cloth diapers that are made out of synthetic materials (such as microfiber, fleece & suede cloth), natural fiber diapers are fine.  We use pocket diapers made out of synthetic materials, so I am looking for an alternative solution for diaper laundry.  We do enough clothing laundry that soap nuts are still a viable option for us.

*Citric acid is the acid that is naturally found in lemons and other citrus fruit.  I purchased mine online from AAA Chemicals.