In my neck of the woods, February and March are prime garden readiness months. Fruit trees are pruned, berries are trimmed of dead canes and tied to trellises or fencing, raised beds are restocked with compost or built brand new. But, the most fun of this time of year is starting seeds. We mark the day on our calendars and when it arrives the task begins like the start of an Olympic race.
There’s truly nothing better than plunging your hands deep into freshly dug soil, warmed by the spring sun and planting homegrown seedlings started way back in winter, when spring was just a hope and a dream. And, the money you save over buying already started veggies and the vibrant taste of homegrown food ain’t bad either.
This is also the time when garden centers and hardware stores stock a plethora of seed starting paraphernalia: peat pots, soil pellets, plastic pots, covered mini-greenhouses, you name it, if it can start a seed, some store in your area will carry it.
But, do you really need all this fancy commercial stuff to start the seeds you want to plant in your garden. The answer is no! Seeds are not divas. They don’t require 5-star accommodations to germinate and thrive. What they do require is the right kind of starter/growing medium, the right amount of moisture, warm temperatures and room to produce a strong healthy root system. Read the rest of the story »
About a decade ago, a librarian from New York State had the great idea of offering seeds right along side the racks of fiction, novels and movie rentals. The project has now blossomed into the Hudson Valley Seed Library. Members borrow seeds just like books and replace them after the harvest. Since its inception the trend has taken root.
Not from New York? Not to worry. The Richmond, California Public Library has compiled a state-by-state list of all 150 seed lending libraries.
Check out one near you.
The best part though…there are no fines for overdue seeds!
photo credit edibleoffice
Most Americans have never stepped foot on a farm or ranch or even talked to the people who grow and raise the food they eat. The connection between production Ag and consumer has slowly dwindled since the end of WWII. The majority of the population is comfortably ensconced in urban centers or suburban outcroppings, blissfully unaware of where their food comes from, how it gets to them and what, if any, the ramifications would be should farming decline or a break in supply occur.
Regardless of how you feel about conventional, commercialized farming; no matter how much you wish small diversified sustainable farms would prevail, the American Farmer still feeds, not only our nation, but many others throughout the world. With just 2% of the population engaged in farming, and the average age of a farmer well into their 60’s, America and the world will be reliant on the next generation of young farmers to produce the world’s food.
Farmland takes an intimate look into the lives of farmers and ranchers in their ‘20s, all of whom are now responsible for running their farming business. Through this film from award-winning director, James Moll, you’ll step inside the world of farming for a first-hand glimpse into the lives of young farmers and ranchers. Learn about their high-risk/high reward jobs and passion for a way of life that has been passed down from generation to generation, yet continues to evolve.
I urge you all to take the time to watch this movie when it comes out in March 2014, and then take the next step to acquaint yourself with farmers in your area. Learn how your support of the Ag community can help not only understanding of a way of life that is hidden from most of Americans, but also bring engagement into discussions of how to make it better, for the benefit of all.
If I told you that you could make 5 gallons of laundry soap for just a few dollars would that interest you? It peaked my interest and we’ve been making our own laundry soap ever since. The average American household washes 6 to 7.5 loads of laundry each week and spends $120 – $378 a year on detergent. With less than an hours worth of time and a few simple ingredients you could save hundreds of dollars a year.
Since making our own, this is the recipe we use. You can find all of the ingredients you need in the cleaning isle of your local grocery store, Target, K-mart or other variety store. Adding a few drops of an essential oil keeps our clothes smelling fresh as the day!
To make a 5 gallon bucket of laundry soap use:
1 cup Borax
1 cup washing soda
2/3′s of a bar of Fels-Naptha or 1 bar Ivory soap, grated (I keep an inexpensive cheese grater just for the soap)
12 cups of water, kept warm on the stove
8 cups of hot tap water to be added when you mix the ingredients in the 5 gallon bucket
2 gallons + 12 cups of hot tap water for your final stir.
Heat 12 cups of water on LOW heat in a big pot.
Add the grated soap, stirring constantly to dissolve.
When the soap is completely dissolved add 1 cup Borax and 1 cup Washing Soda.
Stir until the Borax and Washing Soda is completely dissolved and the mixture thickens (about 5 minutes).
Add 8 cups of HOT tap water to your 5 gallon bucket.
Pour soap mixture into bucket and stir.
If you want a fragrant soap add a few drops of essential oil now. We use lavender or orange. It’s wonderful, smells fresh and clean!
Stir to combine the soap mixture, water and essential oils, if added.
Add 2 gallons + 12 cups of HOT tap water to make the five gallons.
Stir and cover. Let sit overnight.
When you’re ready to do laundry:
Use 1/2 cup of laundry soap for each load. I use the cap of an old liquid detergent container to measure with. To keep the cap from gunking up I just throw it in with the laundry. It comes out clean and fresh every time.
Store your homemade detergent in old laundry detergent containers or use it right from the 5 gallon bucket. For a pretty look in your laundry room pour it in old mason jars or decorative containers. Keep detergent covered when your not using it.
There is nothing worse than the dry cracked feeling of winter skin and with the weather we’ve had all over the country I’m sure many of us have been dealing with it.
In an act of desperation this past weekend I whipped up a batch of soothing lavender sugar scrub. I had forgotten how simple and fast it is to make.
Unlike the scrubs you find in drug stores, department stores or in beauty supply shops, homemade scrubs are much better for your skin, don’t contain chemicals and are much, much cheaper. The part I like best is my ability to tailor the fragrances to match my mood or the season. If I want a soothing, relaxing scrub I use lavender oil. Early spring days, when the sun shines and the weather warms call out for a bright orange vanilla scented scrub. And, after a day of work in the garden or cleaning out the barn something from the mint family is perfect for those tired sore muscles. With the number of essential oils available the possibilities are endless. So—choose your favorites and enjoy!
Basic Sugar Scrub
Materials & Supplies
2 cups coarse sugar
1 cup olive oil
15-20 drops of your favorite essential oil or oil blend
1 clean glass lidded jar
- Combine ingredients in a bowl, stirring well to combine.
- When mixed well pour into lidded jar.
- Use homemade sugar scrub to slough away dead skin and moisturize skin.
NOW—sink into a hot tub and pamper your winter skin!
After months with nary a drop and a drought that threatens house, farm and factory the skies FINALLY opened up at the close of dusk today. The storm that was promised days ago has arrived with more than half an inch so far. It’s a far cry from the 15+ inches we need to get us back on track, but it is a welcome beginning.
The long awaited pinging off the roof is a beautiful sound as I hunker down in front of a warm fire watching an HBO mini series about our Founding Fathers. What could be better?
All I can say is Halleluiah! Keep it coming.
Get Up & Get Out!
With much of the country locked in a polar vortex colder than the inside of a freezer it may seem strange to exalt the virtues of outdoor activities. Even in my area though, where we don’t really deal with the frozen underbelly of winter weather many are bound to struggle with the inactivity of the season. So, in an effort to lift spirits and ward off the winter blahs, I’ve listed a few good reasons to love this season and time outdoors.
1. Enjoy the Morning Light Show: Unlike the summer months when sunrise occurs long before we raise our heads from our pillows, the winter sunrise waits until the more civilized time of about 7:00 am to make its appearance. With the lack of foliage on the trees and the crisp brilliance of the sky, or snow and ice sparkling in the sunlight it is also the perfect reason to break out the camera for some beautiful shots.
2. Keep Colds and Flues at Arms Length: It’s no coincidence that colds and flues increase during the winter months. After all they love to congregate and flourish in warm places, and, what better place to multiply than indoors with other humans and their germs. Spending a bit of time outdoors each day helps to separate you from the bugs.
3. Banishing the Blahs: Winter’s diminished light and our lower activity levels are the perfect combination to bring on winter blahs. But, you can banish your blue mood with a brisk walk outdoors or leisurely stroll, weather permitting. Staying active in the winter can also increase your vitality and raise your self-esteem, while decreasing tension and depression.
4. Get a Dose of Vitamin D: Our body’s production of vitamin D plummets during sunless winter months when the days are shorter. One Norwegian study found that a fair-skinned person only needs five minutes of sun exposure in July to attain a healthy daily dose of vitamin D, but in January it can take well over an hour of sun worshipping to get he same result.
5. Burn Calories: Winter activities area great way to burn calories while attending to your mental and physical health. Find an activity you like and make the commitment to doing it a few times a week. Even if it just talking a walk you body and mind will thank you for it.
6. Stay Hydrated: Snow may be piled to the windowsill, but fierce cold winds can be drying, so drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Your body and your skin will thank you.
No matter what your weather is like in winter you can find a reason and an activity to help chase away the winter blahs, lift your spirits and make your outlook on life a whole lot better. But, remember always dress for the weather to prevent frost bite, hypothermia or a dangerous fall. Wear layers and sturdy boots whenever you venture outdoors. This is a special season full of amazing natural beauty. Take time to enjoy it.
Women have always been an integral part of farm life, but in the past 25 to 30 years they have been taking a more active role in farm management, taking the bull by the horns as it were.
In a recent USDA study, the number of women run farms more than doubled in the years 1982 to 2007, that’s about 1/3 of all farm owners, and the number will continue to rise as women take a more active role in producing healthier, chemical-free food. One can only imagine how these women, and the daughters under their tutelage, will shape the future of Ag in American. Should be fun to watch!
To learn more about female farmers in your state or to become involved with other female farmers, check listings in your state for Women in Agriculture (state name), National Women in Agriculture or the Association of Women in Agriculture.
It may be the dead of winter for most of the country, but here on the Central Coast the sun is shining in more ways than one. Yes, there are bright blue skies with no hint of storm clouds in our future. But, that is not the only sunshine we get. You see it is lemon harvest time and that means tons and tons of glorious yellow lemons bursting sweet, tangy and juicy. With our Mediterranean climate we actually get 4 to 5 lemon crops, referred to as picks by local growers, in a year. That means we are never too far away from picking those little bright globes.
Lemons are a very versatile fruit, perfect for dishes from entrees to desserts. One of my favorites is lemon curd. And, today was all about stocking up on Lemon Curd, a creamy sweet custard like concoction bursting with lemony flavor. Warm or cold, lemon curd is the perfect accompaniment to fresh fruit, gingerbread, angle food cake, pound cake, spooned over ice cream or used as the base for a fruit tart. No matter how it is used it will chase away the gloom of any stormy winter’s day.
I use a classic lemon curd recipe from the Ball Canning book. It’s simple to make and freezes for up to a year.
Classic Lemon Curd
6 large egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
Grated peel of one large lemon
1 cup fresh lemon juice (about 5 medium)
1/2 cup (1/4 lb) cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
PRESS egg yolks through a sieve set over a heavy saucepan to remove all egg whites.
ADD sugar, lemon peel and lemon juice. Whisk just to combine.
COOK over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Make sure to stir down the sides of the saucepan. Cook until mixture coats the back of the wooden spoon, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat.
ADD butter, one piece at a time, stirring after each addition to assure the mixture is smooth.
LADLE lemon curd into clean freezer containers and cool.
Now…anytime you feel the need for a bit of sunshine in your day you can pull it right from the freezer.