Garlic, Onions, Peaches, and Companion Planting

IMG_5445_FotorLess than a year ago we knew almost nothing about plants, trees, or bushes. Needless to say, there has been a steep learning curve and we still have so much more to learn, but early this spring out of necessity we started reading about companion planting and its usefulness. Companion planting is choosing to plant certain things together so that they will derive benefit from one another for the purposes of pest control, pollination, and/or to attract beneficial bugs. Companion planting became crucial for us in order to preserve our peach harvest.

Several weeks ago, when looking for fruit trees to put in our yard, we came across this beautiful peach tree at a local nursery. After planting it, we were even more excited to see the little peaches start to grow. All that excitement almost came to a complete halt when one day we found the tree covered in ants. After a little more research, I was even more disappointed to find out that the ants can destroy all of your harvest by burrowing into the peaches. A couple of websites suggested pesticides, but since my husband and I are committed to organic gardening that was not an option for us so we started looking for organic alternatives (to find out why go to my blog on lawns and pesticides).


IMG_5729_FotorThe first organic suggestion we came across was a miserable failure. Putting petroleum jelly at the base of the tree every few days seem doable, except that the ants seemed to walk right over it. I guess the ants in my yard are a little more determined than most. The next suggestion was to plant garlic and onions around the tree. I have to say that I was not too convinced, but since I was a little desperate, I drove myself to the nursery and got some onions and garlic. Within a day of planting them, the ants almost came to a halt. We will find one or two here and there, but that is a million times better than what we had before. Who knew a peach tree would do well with garlic and onions? The plus side is that in addition to peaches, I will also be harvesting onions and garlic.

Lesson learned: If you are going to start an organic garden, try companion planting. It will save you a headache or two.

Edible Landscaping

Great step-by-step guide for a beginner on all things homesteading.

The last few years, my husband and I have decided to try to make our land, half an acre, work for us. If we are going to plant things to improve the curb appeal, might as well plant something that can feed us. I would be lying if I said that we came up with this idea all on our own. We were greatly inspired by a book we found at a local bookstore called The Backyard Homestead: Produce all the food you need on just a quarter acre!  (If you click on the link, you can also order it from Amazon).

It really all makes sense. We spend a fortune on buying organic fruit and vegetables, so why not grow our own instead and save ourselves some money? If our blueberry bushes yields 4 lbs of blueberries each on average, and we have 12 bushes, then that would give us 48 lbs of blueberries a year.  Since I pay 5.99 for an 11 oz container at the store, I would save myself $313.00 a year on blueberries alone. Yes, we eat a lot of blueberries around here.

Saving ourselves money is not the only reason. We feel it is important that our girls grow up having an appreciation for God’s creation and growing their own food is really a wonderful way to experience His intelligent design. The Bible is also full of sowing and harvesting imagery, and what better way to  fully understand those scriptures than to actually do some sowing and harvesting yourself.

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A strawberry plant.

We feel that too many people today have little appreciation for where their food comes from and even less people have basic homesteading and survival skills. That included ourselves. Three years ago, the only place we would even consider getting a fruit or vegetable was from the grocery store. We were not able to recognize a strawberry plant from any other plant. However, my daughters will now grow up being able to identify edible plants and know how to grow them themselves if they wanted to.

For us, this is the first year in a three-year-plan. We are concentrating primarily on fruit-bearing trees and bushes and have already planted blueberry bushes, raspberries bushes, a peach tree, a fig tree, two sour cherry trees, an elderberry bush, strawberries, and two chokeberry bushes. We may potentially add hardy kiwi, grapes, lingonberries, and/or plums. Next year we will concentrate heavily on our vegetable garden and the following year we will get chickens!

Seeing that both my husband and I have black thumbs this is quite the undertaking but with good books like The Backyard Homestead: Produce all the food you need on just a quarter acre! and Google, we are confident we can do it. Stay tuned as we will be sharing our struggles and successes and feel free to follow our board on Pinterest for ideas!

 

Crayon Hearts

Those of us with kids have this!

Instead of throwing them in the garbage, we can re-use them to make crayon creations.  For Valentine’s Day, we made crayon hearts.  I originally got the idea from Pinterest but I changed it around a little bit. Instead of just mixing all the crayon pieces together, we experimented with color combinations.  The results were awesome!

Supplies: muffin or cookie molds and old crayons (I used a silicone heart mold that I bought at Michaels but it is also available through Amazon)

Step 1:  Peel the crayons, break or cut them in little pieces, and separate them by colors (reds with reds, yellows with yellows, blues with blues, etc).

Step 2: Think about what color combinations would be cool such as purple with black; red, purple and pink; or yellow and green.  Place your color combination into the molds.

Ideally, you want to have dark and light colors in the mix.
Crayons in the molds.

Step 3:  Once all the molds are full, pop in the oven at 250 degrees for about 20 minutes.  Wait for them to dry and your crayon creation is complete!  You can now admire the cool marbling effect :o)

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My Un-Green Confession

My daughter harvesting green beans at our local farm.

Most of you that know me well, know that I am granola, as one of my good friends call me.  I care about the environment.  I reduce, I reuse, I recycle, and I compost.  I use a rain barrel to try to conserve water.  I eat primarily organic foods and I am the only “loser” on the block that pulls up the weeds one by one to avoid using any chemicals on my lawn.  We buy our produce locally.  Heck, we sometimes pick our own vegetables from a local organic farm and I make my kids take part.  I work hard to try to preserve this beautiful green world that God gave us and frankly, sometimes it is exhausting.

I have a confession.  I should be ashamed.  I use paper plates.  No, not once in a while, but regularly to avoid doing dishes.  I know, I know, it is awful.  Sometimes I feel real guilty about it.  Here I am sending unnecessary trash into the landfill.  I know other granolas understand where I am coming from or they are probably just wondering how I can live with myself.  I mitigate my habit by composting the plates that I can, but most end up in the trash.  I really do feel bad about it, but some days I am exhausted enough to not care and I make no apologies for it.  It is my one vice that keeps me sane while my husband is off doing his thing (protecting this great land of ours at the Marine Corps’ beck and call).

To all the environmentalists, I am so sorry.  To God’s green earth, I am so sorry.  To hubby, stop traveling so much so I can go back to being a regular ol’ granola and stop feeling so guilty.

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Light at the End of the Tunnel, Literally

I love my house.  It was built over 50 years ago and when we first purchased it there was little in the way of updates.  Since then we have redone just about every room on the main level and second floor.  Some things we had professionals do, but most were done through the help of friends, family, and a lot of sweat equity on our part.   It is not a very big house, but this is our forever house.  We love the location; we love our neighbors; and we love the view.  And there is nothing like sipping your morning coffee (as I am now) while listening to the birds happily chirping and being surrounded by trees and foliage.

Yet, there was one thing about the house that had troubled me for some time.  My master bedroom and the hallway on the second floor were very dark.  The one window in my room was just not enough to brighten up the space and it was driving me crazy.  I felt like it was affecting my mood sometimes, especially on cloudy days.  With my husband’s impending deployment, I told him we needed to do something about the darkness or I was just going to be miserable for the next few months.

We decided to install solar tubes.  If you don’t know what those are, solar tubes reflect the sun through a mirror like tube that runs from the roof to the living space.  They do not use electricity, so if you are constantly turning lights on and off in a certain area, these are good alternatives.  After a lot of research and looking at several reviews of different brands, I settled on Solatube.  Solatube lighting apparently better reflected natural light and you can purchase additional accessories such as shutters in case you need to darken the space (such as 5 am when you are still trying to sleep).  Unfortunately, they were not sold by my local Home Depot and I could not find a way to order them online, so I had to drive about 45 minutes away to purchase then from a dealer.

With his hectic schedule, my husband was unable to help me install them, but thankfully my dad came for a visit and the both of us tackled the problem.  The mechanics of the installation where actually not that complicated and I presume 100 times easier than trying to install skylights.  However, because of the awkward areas we were working in; being super careful; and then my dad stepping on a nail, the process to install two tubes took us about 9 hours.  I read reviews of people being able to install one in 2 hours.  It is definitely possible, but we took our time and did a practice installation on a piece of cardboard before we cut a whole in the roof.

The results were better than expected.  These tubes do indeed work as advertised and were worth every penny.  On cloudy days, those two areas are the brightest spots in the house!  The before and after pictures were all taken without flash around the same time of day.  I actually do not believe the pictures do this product justice as it just feels so much brighter once you are actually in the room.

Sadly, the before picture was taken with the curtains drawn open.

On a final note, I saw some people complain in the reviews that the materials were pretty cheap looking for the amount that the tube costs (apps. $320 each with the extension).  During the installation, one of the domes fell from the second story of our roof unto the brick patio.  I was certain the dome had cracked and reluctantly went to retrieve it.  When I picked up the dome it was intact!  These domes can definitely take some punishment.  I am not exactly sure what materials were used to make these, but they work and that is really what matters to me.

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Your Health: Why Soil Matters

photo copy 2Few people understand the importance of soil. I have to admit that I was one of them. In today’s American culture, most people get their food from a grocery store like I have done for most of my life. Therefore we have lost an appreciation for what is involved in growing fruits, vegetables, and grains. This lack of knowledge on how things are grown is the primary reason why the average Joe does not understand what it means to grow food organically. And as I once did, he does not understand the role of soil in growing the food that he consumes.

When you watch a plant grow, have you ever wondered how you get something for nothing?  It almost seems that way.  You may add a little water here and there but how exactly does something go from a little tiny seed to a large plant?  We certainly understand how that happens with people. You give kids liquid and food and eventually they become teenagers who eat you out of house and home. Where is the food for the plant?

Yes, you can go to the nearest Home Depot and buy “plant food,” but the food for the plant typically comes from the soil. As a plant grows, it absorbs vital nutrients from the soil. If you leave nature on its own, carcasses from animals, dead leaves, and wood decompose and return those vital nutrients to the ground. New plants use those nutrients to achieve their form and to grow. Different plants require different sets of nutrients to thrive and each one will absorb what they need.  Eventually these plants die and return those nutrients back to the soil. The cycle continues on and on. It is a beautiful self-sustaining system that God created.

What happens when you have bad soil?  The latest news on arsenic in rice is a perfect example. Many decades ago, farmers used to use insecticides that contained arsenic for their cotton plantations. Even though those types of insecticides were banned in the 1980s, the arsenic remained in the soil. Fast forward to today and rice farmers are now having to contend with the arsenic in that soil and one of the main reasons why rice products, even organic ones, have arsenic in them.

In addition to whatever poisons we may add to the soil through conventional farming, the lack of crop rotation further depletes the soil of vital nutrients. When you have a concentrated crop on a field, corn for example, it will absorb the same set of nutrients over and over.  As crops are harvested year after year, the amount that the soil is producing is not being returned. Therefore the soil can only sustain that for so long before beginning to see the effects on the quality of the produce.  Conventional farmers respond to this problem by adding more and more NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) to the soil with not much else. NPK allows for good looking plant, but it will be void of key nutrients. This is why organic produce has been shown to have a greater concentration of nutrients than conventional produce.  More worrisome, however, is that the overuse of farmland can lead to the destruction of soil leaving instead dusty unusable land. Ever heard of the Dust Bowl? (Read about causes of the Dust Bowl).

On the other hand, a good organic farmer uses a variety of methods to maintain the quality of the soil. For example, they will rotate crops which not only prevents diseases and pests from taking hold, but it is another way to avoid depleting the soil. Crop rotation will allow for certain nutrients that were absorbed by one crop to be returned by another.  After a certain period of time organic farmers will also allow the land to rest and will use livestock to graze and fertilize the soil (The concept of allowing the land to rest is not new–see Leviticus 25:4). Responsible organic farmers will also avoid the use of pesticides. The result is a much more robust soil full of key nutrients and better, more nutritious produce.

What we as a society put in the soil is what will end up on our plates. If we put pesticides in the soil, eventually it will end up in our food. And we will pay the price as a society through illness, disease, allergies, birth defects, rising health care costs, and even more ominously, the destruction of farmland.  We have to be stewards of the soil to protect our health and most importantly, our children’s health and future food supplies.

–Here are some suggestions on how we can be stewards of the soil.

–Stop using pesticides in home gardens and try organic methods instead.

–Stop using weed killers on lawns and try alternative methods instead.

–Grow your own fruits and vegetables.

–Join a CSA.

–Support organic farmers.

–Push your congressman to support a sustainable farm bill, stop subsidizing irresponsible farming, and support family farms and organic farms.

–Pray for the land and pray for God’s blessing on your soil.

Let’s be good stewards of God’s creation!

Further Reading:

 

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Teaching Kids to Identify Dangerous Plants

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We have a very wooded backyard with a lot of poison ivy growing in the out edges of our property.

Last year we moved to a much more wooded area than our previous home. We used to live in a new development where trees where few and far between. Now we are enjoying the beauty of so much foliage around us, however, along with the good comes the bad. We have some poisonous plants. As a mother of a five-year-old who loves to play in the backyard and a baby this is a serious concern. Most recently my husband developed a bad rash and we believe it was from touching some of the poison oak and/or poison ivy while doing yard work. So what is a mother to do?

We do plan to find ways of organically getting rid of these plants. However, we doubt we will be able to get rid of it all because this is such a wooded area and I will not spray chemicals in my yard. I could not let my daughter go outside and play or I can follow her every move to make sure she does not touch anything.  Neither of those options seems realistic. I could also just teach her to recognize harmful plants. I chose this last option.

Since I am doing supplementary home schooling in addition to her half day kindergarten class, I made this a teachable moment during our science class. We had so much fun doing it and I know that my daughter is now better prepared and a little bit wiser on how and where she chooses to play. It is also a little bit of knowledge she can take with her wherever she goes.

Poisonous plants2Here is what I did. I put together a list of the most common poisonous plants in our area. Once I printed out their pictures, I laminated the cards. For class, we talked about each plant and why they are harmful and then we took a little field trip to our yard. My eldest walked around with the cards in her hands looking at all the plants and identifying them in our “manual.” By the end of this exercise, she was very well informed on which areas of the backyard she should avoid.  Not only did she become a little wiser, but so did I!  I found out exactly how much poison ivy we had in the border areas of our yard and we also found some poison oak!! We now keep the manual near the backdoor so my daughter can reference it whenever she needs to.

As a side note, there are also many common household plants that are poisonous to ingest which is also good to know, especially if you have little ones that are still putting things in their mouths.

For reference, I used these articles.

Six Common Backyard Plants That Could Kill You
Dangerous Plants in Your Backyard
Pictures of Poisonous Plants