Drying Herbs the Easy Way

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My favorite way of drying herbs is to use nylon mesh hampers that have cloth handles. These were designed for college students, and they come in various colors. They are also collapsible for easy storage, so we have several of them and we usually dry four to five different herbs at a time.

We have installed hooks used to hang plants in the ceiling of our carport, and we loop the hamper handles over the hooks. Since we have a lot of wind in our area, looping the handles over a second time secures them from being blown off the hooks, and the herbs can dry in the shade of the carport.

The herbs need to be stirred up occasionally to separate them and make sure they are getting enough air, and it is easy to just hit the bottom of the hamper a couple of times as you go by. Some dry within just a couple of days.

If it is going to rain, it is best to take the hampers down and hang them indoors. Even though they are protected when they’re under the carport, it is still better to put them in a place away from the moisture while they are drying.

Drying Different Herbs

When I am drying herbs on stalks, I cut the whole stalk and put it in the hamper.

When I dry leafy herbs like comfrey, which are more compact, I leave the stems on the leaves and put just a small amount of leaves in each hamper. I stir these more often.

As you put the herbs in the hamper, you will get more of a feel for how many to put in as you see how much they compact. I usually don’t fill the hampers more than one-third full.

Storage Tips

When the herbs are dry, just strip the leaves down off the stalks.

For comfrey or mullein leaves, wear gloves and crumble the leaf off the stems. You can use a coffee grinder if you want to powder some of the dried herbs.

Store the dried herbs in separate bags. When the herbs are in the bags, you can crumble them up some more. I prefer using the gallon-size plastic storage bags, but not the kind with sliders.

You can also store the dried herbs in jars.

Keep the stored herbs out of the light, in a pantry or other cool area.


This article by Sharon Devin was submitted for The Grow Network’s 2015 Writing Contest and was originally published on June 15, 2015. Thank you, Sharon!

 

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Learning to Grow Ginger and Turmeric in the Midwest

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As the mother of four wonderful children, I have been active in the nutrition and wellness arena for over 20 years now. I start every morning gathering the ingredients I need to make several different smoothies for my family. I have studied herbs over the years, and over the last year I have incorporated lemons, ginger, and turmeric.

I decided last December to find out if I could successfully plant and grow ginger and turmeric. These plants are not native to the Midwest, and therein lay the challenge. I bought turmeric and ginger root from a local organic grocery.

I allowed the ginger to set out and protrude into small bulbs before planting them about an inch below the surface of the soil. I have 2 ceramic planters on my front porch, which faces east, so they get the morning sun and about 4-6 hours of daytime sun exposure. These planters also have the cover of the porch during inclement weather and can be pulled back toward the house when needed.

I planted the turmeric directly in its own pot with the same sun exposure, also about an inch deep. I will say that patience is needed for both plants. As the first few months went by, I waited to see the first signs of growth peering through the soil. Soon, I was happily surprised to find the turmeric shooting up lush green leaves. The ginger followed with its own full leaves within a week or two.

I soon learned that both plants like to be kept moist, and I added a rainwater-catching system near the front porch to make watering easy. I have had no problems with insect damage and both plants quickly rose to at least 3 feet tall. I allowed both plants to grow as long as I could, covering both with a black plastic bag during the colder nights in November.

I began to harvest the turmeric when I could see the tuber peak through the soil on some of the plants. These tubers are easily snapped off, allowing the remaining plant to continue to grow.

Turmeric can be frozen whole, or grated into individual serving sizes. It can also be dried in a dehydrator or in an oven on parchment at low temperature.

Use stored turmeric later in smoothies, curries, or tea. Turmeric is a great anti-inflammatory. I use it daily and find that it makes a noticeable difference in the nerve pain I have in my feet.

My ginger was also growing well. Ginger leaves are not as round as turmeric leaves; they are thin and spiky. I finally harvested ginger late in November. I removed the upper stalks and leaves, and then dug up the root.  I harvested one third of the ginger and stored it in a covered box in the basement, where it seems to keep well in the dark, cool environment.

It was nice to harvest my own ginger, but we consume a lot of ginger in our smoothies, so it didn’t last very long. I replanted the remaining two-thirds of the ginger root in an indoor planter, because these plants don’t like temperatures lower than fifty degrees. I will move them back outdoors when temperatures warm up in the spring.

My first-year harvest was minimal, but the stock I have for next year is more than double what I started with initially.

Next year when I plant, I will allow more room for each plant, because they grew too close together last time and this may have stunted their productivity. I am also composting so that I can add fresh compost to their potting soil.

This first year has been a learning experience, and I know I will improve in the coming years. I am working on a vertical gardening idea to maximize my growing space, and I also have a big backyard to expand into eventually.

I created a challenge for myself and had fun proving that turmeric and ginger can be grown in the Midwest and other cool climates. I hope this information is helpful, and I encourage you to try it yourself. If nothing else, you will discover a beautiful new plant with lovely ornamental green leaves.

Note: This article was an entry in our October-December 2014 writing contest and was originally published on December 10, 2014.

 

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7 Ways to Prevent Livestock Water Tanks from Freezing

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Winter. It’s that time of year when the livestock water freezes! Really, is there anything worse?

Members of The Grow Network Community, Jeff and Tracy, wrote to me looking for suggestions about how they can keep animal watering systems from freezing. And as always, our community provided quality advice—everything from tried-and-true products to creative brainstorming! Below is a sampling of some of the amazing responses The Grow Network received. (And be sure to check out the comments for some more great ideas!)


7 Ways to Prevent Livestock Water from Freezing

#1Cow Balls, wait … what?

Cow Balls Water Trough

Heidi knows of one solution that has worked well for her in the pastcow balls. That’s right: cow balls! They are large plastic balls that are used to cover the surface of the water tank. The balls decrease the amount of water on the surface that is exposed to the external cold temperatures. When ice does form, cows are able to break through the ice by pressing down on the balls with their noses. Genius!

#2Insulated Plastic Bucket Holders

Insulated Bucket Livestock Water

Patrick says that he has had success using insulated plastic bucket holders. These plastic holders are fastened to the wall and have an opening on the top that is the right size for a plastic 5-gallon bucket. Some of them even come with a food-grade 5-gallon bucket!

Foam insulation helps to keep the water from freezing! Patrick likes this solution, but he said that he does have some trouble when temperatures get very coldbelow about 15F.  When temperatures get below 15F, he said that he then resorts to using a submersible electric warmer.

#3Fish Tank Heater

Lyn wrote in and suggested that using a fish-tank heater in the bottom of a livestock tank might work.  She suggested using solar power, if possible, and also pointed out that cattle can be destructive, so it would be important to make sure that any cables are either buried or placed inside metal conduit and anchored to a 4″ x 4″ post. What a clever suggestion!

#4Creating Movement

Livestock Water Tank Deicer

DJ suggested that creating movement in the watering system would be a good way to prevent freezing. Basically, the idea is to copy nature and create a simulated brook. This idea should work in areas where the nighttime lows aren’t too terribly cold.

A small pump could also be used, or perhaps a simple water wheel device. There are a few products available online that do this, like the one below. You can also find these products available from any farm supply stores, like Tractor Supply. Usually, they are sold under the title of ‘water circulators.’


Protecting Smaller Water Troughs Using Innovation

Below are a few great ideas from the community that seem like good solutions for those of you trying to protect smaller watering troughs. Let’s take a closer look:

#5A Tire

Old Car Tire to Prevent Livestock Water from Freezing

Gerry knows of a tried-and-true trick that works to keep water thawed out in a 5-gallon bucket. Find an old tire that fits securely around the bucket, and fill the inside of the tire with rocks. Then, place the bucket inside the tire. Voilà!

Leave the tire and bucket outside in the sun so that they are able to warm up all afternoon. The black of the tire will absorb warmth from the sunshine and the rocks will help to retain some of that warmth. When night falls, the warmth of the tire and rocks will help to keep the water from icing over, and it should remain thawed until morning. Awesome idea, Gerry!

#6Olive Oil

Olive Oil

Lyn had an idea to experiment with—and she admits that while she hasn’t tried this yet, she is certain that the olive oil could work to protect a small watering trough from freezing.

Since the olive oil will not freeze, pouring a thin layer on top of the water’s surface could help to protect the water from developing a layer of ice. Olive oil should be safe for the cattle, and it just might be an inexpensive and simple solution!

#7Pure Innovation: Thinking Outside the Box!

Last but not least, DJ has an experimental idea that may help a small water trough. His idea is to submerge some sort of a grid into the waterpreferably something with a handle attached so that this device can be easily moved around to break up any ice near the top.

This idea, of course, would have to be done as the ice forms. DJ pictures something like an old ice cube tray or perhaps using black plastic to create a waffle grid. This sounds like an interesting idea … and I think it just might work! Might be a million dollar product for any of you aspiring inventors out there!


Well, I know there are a lot of other ways to prevent livestock watering systems from freezing that we did not cover here. But, please feel free to leave a comment and let us know of your favorite product or a tried-and-true method you use to prevent your livestock’s water from freezing! 

(This article was originally published March 26, 2015.)

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Learning to Homestead as a Beginner

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The Buffet is Closed!

Five years ago, when we decided we needed to get really serious about gardening and raising more of our own food, we didn’t realize how much of a hurdle we were facing. Both our lack of knowledge and skills, plus where we planned on doing this, have turned out to make us a bit of a cautionary tale for any one else.

The first questionable decision we made was deciding that our lake home property, located in northern Minnesota, was where we should dig in, so to speak. We owned the land. It sloped to the south, what else did we need to consider, right?

Choose Your Site Carefully

Maybe we should have considered the fact that we are over half way to the North Pole, and that 10,000 years ago the entire area was under 2000 feet of glacial ice. Maybe we should have considered that in Texas you can start planting around Valentines Day, and where we live we are not safe until Mothers Day. Or that our short growing season is coupled with some pretty lousy top soil, which is underlaid with sand and rocks which can often be as big as your head.

Ah, but we were old and stupid, a potentially lethal combination, so we forged ahead. Our county has 100s of failed farms from the 1920s and beyond, but our 8000 square feet would be special. Did I forget to mention that we actually live 150 miles south of our plot in paradise, and that we often have to travel for work; sometimes leaving for several weeks at a time?

A Weedy Beginning

One advantage we did have was that we had the resources to invest in this utopia, to make it possible. We hired a bulldozer to shape the land. And we ordered 3 dump truck loads of locally produced compost, 1 of black dirt, and 1 of manure.

This gave us about 4-6 inches of good topsoil to go with our sand and rocks, and probably ten trillion quack grass and weed seeds that would happily spring to life as soon as they got the chance. Some of the weeds turned out to be rather toxic to our skin and can cause nasty rashes to break out days later on exposed flesh.

I suppose most of us growing stuff have to face many of the same challenges. But our being gone for weeks at a time has meant that when we are there, we spend our two or three days weeding.

“Oh, you poor fools,” you say, “why don’t you mulch?” Ah, but we do. Bales of straw, leaves from the neighbor’s yard, cardboard, and a dump truck load of wood chips for the pathways all contribute to our constant competition between the desired and not-so-desired plant life. The problem, of course, is that they all biodegrade, making new soil, but no longer stopping the unwanted weeds, trees, and invasive species from rising once again.

Read More: Straw vs Hay – Which Makes a Better Mulch?

Learning Which Crops to Grow

In June and July, patches that look weed-free when we leave are overgrown when we get back. This makes it particularly tough on the peas and carrots. My adaptive strategy has been to raise a lot of squash and pumpkins. They have such big leaves and take up so much space that success is almost possible. I give the local food shelf (and anyone else who wants some) at least 100 of them every fall.

spaghetti-squash

Keeping Critters out of the Crops

The other challenge is the critters. Putting a buffet in the middle of the forest is kinda crazy. They want to eat everything. We dealt with this by having a fence erected right when we started. It’s chest-high and does keep out the rabbits.

It has a solar powered battery running a current through a wire which is 18 inches above the fence, and that actually does keep the deer out. I know they aren’t getting in because we turn it off for the winter, and the deer break the wire when they climb in during the off season. During the summer, they are often seen loitering nearby, and we’ve heard them asking each other, “What time does the salad bar open?”

Learn More About Electric Fencing: Electrified Fence for Predators (Solar Available)

Raccoons – A Worthy Adversary

Another big problem we had starting in our third year was the raccoons. Nasty, voracious, clever, not-so-little invaders, who like to eat fresh young plants as well as many veggies during their struggling attempts to become our food.

The pea pods just disappear by the hundreds. I attempted to solve this predation by adding a second wire to the electric fence, this time just above the non-electrified fence. This sorta works, but they are persistent buggers, and losses are now just part of the equation. We will never grow sunflowers again; the birds got all of them.

Learn More About Raccoons in the Garden and Homestead: A Whole Litter of Raccoon Solutions

The Tiny Pests are as Bad as the Big Ones

Speaking of bugs, we have lots of them. They too know it is a short growing season, and they make the most of it. We have lots of swampy marsh areas nearby and uncountable swarms of mosquitoes and other blood-sucking vampires that feel it is their god-given right to torment us when we foolishly overstay our welcome in their domain (which is to say, every time we go outside). All I can add is that our prayers for a steady breeze to blow the bloodsuckers away are not always answered.

With all of these problems, you might wonder why we keep turning the soil every spring. We ask this same question as well. Perhaps we bit off more than we can chew. The farmers market sure has great stuff at reasonable prices, and all we have to do is bring our grocery bags home and eat.

But the fact is, we have learned a lot about feeding ourselves, and I’ll be damned if I will let this garden just return to a weed-infested patch in the woods. When I retire next year, I will finally have enough time to really do this right. Maybe even go fishing and hiking… maybe take up hunting… who knows? The immediate question is, “Does anybody need some squashes?”


Thanks to “Northern Dirt Digger” for participating in the [Grow] Network Writing Contest.

We’re still getting the list of prizes lined up for the Spring 2016 Writing Contest. We awarded over $2,097 in prizes for the Fall Writing Contest, including all of the following:

– A 21.5 quart pressure canner from All American, a $382 value
– A Survival Still emergency water purification still, a $288 value
– 1 free 1 year membership in the [Grow] Network Core Community, a $239 value
– A Worm Factory 360 vermicomposting system from Nature’s Footprint, a $128 value
– 2 large heirloom seed collections from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, valued at $103 each
– A Metro-Grower Elite sub-irrigation growing container from Nature’s Footprint, a $69 value
– 2 copies of the complete Home Grown Food Summit, valued at $67 each
– 3 free 3 month memberships in the [Grow] Network Core Community, valued at $59 each
– 4 copies of the Grow Your Own Groceries DVD video set, valued at $43 each
– A Bug Out Seed Kit from the Sustainable Seed Company, a $46 value
– 4 copies of the Alternatives To Dentists DVD video, valued at $33 each
– 4 copies of the Greenhouse of the Future DVD and eBook, valued at $31 each

 

5 Homestead Probiotics You Can Make at Home!

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Making Your Own Low Cost Probiotics

Well the science is in folks, and has been for some time! Probiotics are essential to maintaining a healthy gut, and a strong immune system. A properly functioning digestive system is the key to good health. You can grow, purchase, and eat all of the organic, mineral dense, beyond awesome food you want, but if you are not digesting and absorbing those nutrients then it is all for naught.

The same can be said for all of the fancy vitamin supplements, and even many of the probiotic supplements that are out there. There’s an old saying that goes something like: “garbage in, garbage out.” Anyway, there’s good news. You can grow your own probiotic nutritional supplements right in your homestead kitchen, or barn, or hallway closet… The point is you can be in control of your health and not have to depend on high dollar supplements grown in some lab someplace hundreds of miles away!

The Top 5 Probiotic Foods on Our Homestead

I put together a list of the top five probiotic-rich foods that we are currently or have in the past made and consumed here on the Traditional Catholic Homestead (www.traditionalcatholichomestead.com):

#1 – Kefir: We make both dairy and water kefir at home. It’s super simple, and easy to keep the process going perpetually. We usually go through about a gallon and a half of kefir per week in our household.

#2 – Kombucha: Another super simple and easily propagated probiotic beverage. The Traditional Catholic Homestead family consumes anywhere from 3 to 6 gallons of continuously brewed kombucha per week. Here’s how we brew ours: Brewing Kombucha. I really like experimenting with different herbs and teas in our brews. I’ve even heard of someone making Mountain Dew-flavored kombucha (though I wouldn’t recommend it)!

Note: Kefir grains and kombucha SCOBY will grow and reproduce so you can propagate the cultures and give away or sell the surplus.

#3 – Sauerkraut: The old homestead standby! There are a million different recipes for fermented kraut that you can make at home. As long as you don’t can the finished product it will be a probiotic-rich powerhouse. The beauty of sauerkraut is that it doesn’t require any fancy inoculants or cultures to get going. A true kraut is like a sourdough bread starter… made from wild cultures that occur all around us! Other than cabbage (or seed), no start up costs!

home-made-sauerkraut

Home made sauerkraut

#4 – Other Fermented Veggies: The same process and bacteria used to make sauerkraut can be used to ferment any number of other veggies. Just use what you like or what you have in abundance. We’ve fermented carrot sticks, salsa, shredded beets with carrots, garlic… you name it. The possibilities are literally limited by your imagination and tastes!

#5 – Homebrew!!! Most people wouldn’t think of homemade beer, hard ciders, mead, or wine as a probiotic food, but if you think about it, they are. Any of your homebrews will have living yeasts present throughout the beverage (as long as you don’t pasteurize it, but who does that, right!). I know there is a big push in some circles to eliminate yeast from our diets, but they are an essential part of our digestive process. They just need to be kept in balance. Plus, homebrew is awesome!!!

Honorable mention goes to homemade vinegars. These are the living vinegars with the “mother” culture still in them. We haven’t made any yet, so I didn’t include them in this list, but homemade apple cider vinegar is coming soon to the repertoire of fermented foods on The Traditional Catholic Homestead.


Thanks to Dave Dahlsrud for participating in the [Grow] Network Writing Contest.

We’re still getting the list of prizes lined up for the Spring 2016 Writing Contest. We awarded over $2,097 in prizes for the Fall Writing Contest, including all of the following:

– A 21.5 quart pressure canner from All American, a $382 value
– A Survival Still emergency water purification still, a $288 value
– 1 free 1 year membership in the [Grow] Network Core Community, a $239 value
– A Worm Factory 360 vermicomposting system from Nature’s Footprint, a $128 value
– 2 large heirloom seed collections from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, valued at $103 each
– A Metro-Grower Elite sub-irrigation growing container from Nature’s Footprint, a $69 value
– 2 copies of the complete Home Grown Food Summit, valued at $67 each
– 3 free 3 month memberships in the [Grow] Network Core Community, valued at $59 each
– 4 copies of the Grow Your Own Groceries DVD video set, valued at $43 each
– A Bug Out Seed Kit from the Sustainable Seed Company, a $46 value
– 4 copies of the Alternatives To Dentists DVD video, valued at $33 each
– 4 copies of the Greenhouse of the Future DVD and eBook, valued at $31 each

 

Overhaul Your Medicine Cabinet with Herbal Remedies

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Herbal Alternatives to Over-the-Counter Drugs

As you more than likely know, some over-the-counter medications and prescription drugs consist of synthetic chemicals that damage the body and only mask the symptoms of the underlying problem or disease. But there’s a great alternative that is simple to do and much less expensive. Making herbal remedies like tinctures and salves is one of the easiest crafts to learn, in my opinion.

The most difficult part is acquiring the knowledge about which herbs are used to remedy different conditions, and then learning to identify each of those herbs. There is a plant available in nature to heal every ailment that man has.

glass-bottle-and-herbal-flower-petals

Glass bottle and flower petals

Learning about Herbal Remedies

I personally have been learning this art for years for my own family. So I decided to replace my family’s over-the-counter medications with herbal remedies. I was able to find a good substitute for each medicine, and I got them all ready in only about a year.

Tincturing herbs is not hard but it does take some time. Soaking takes about six weeks for leaf and at least eight weeks for seeds, roots, and barks. Soaking time may vary from person to person, and from plant to plant. These are just the general guidelines that I use. Topical salves for wounds are also very easy to make.

Herbs for the Immune System and Stomach

I have become an avid maker of elderberry products for my family – kids love it! Elderberry is a great immune stimulant. If someone in your family has a cold, elderberry syrup can be used every few hours to shorten the duration of the cold.

Ginger syrup is also easy to make, and it’s great to have on hand for tummy troubles. I like to use it in cooking as well, in stir fries and Indian dishes when I want that sweet ginger flavor enhanced and intensified.

Herbs for Pain Relief

Acetaminophen (Tylenol™, Anacin™, etc.) is overused in this country, and it can be very harmful to the body – especially the liver. I make an anti-inflammatory tincture using turmeric and wild yam that is an excellent alternative to acetaminophen. With this combination, you can even just encapsulate the dried herbs, and swallow the capsule to relieve your pain.

For bruises, aches, and pains, arnica is a great anti-inflammatory and pain reliever. You just apply it topically as an ointment, cream, or salve. Arnica is especially good for muscle pain.

Making An Herbal Tincture at Home

When tincturing herbs, I recommend using potato vodka – unless someone in the family has issues with alcohol, or you are going to give the tinctures to children on a regular basis. In those cases, I would recommend using glycerin. Generally, I feel that alcohol-based tinctures are more effective than glycerin-based tinctures.

To make a tincture, fill any size mason jar half way full with your desired herb or a combination of herbs. Fill the jar the rest of the way with vodka or glycerin. Allow the jar to sit for the appropriate length of time (can vary depending on the herbs and solvent used, and by application). As I mentioned, my rule of thumb is 6 weeks for leaf, 8 weeks or longer for roots or barks. I use a cool, dark cabinet; and I give them a turn over to mix the herbs at least once a week – more if I remember.

Remember to label each bottle with the contents and the date you started it, otherwise it is easy to forget – especially when you have multiple batches tincturing at once.

After soaking time has elapsed I strain the herb from the liquid, placing the herbs in my compost and placing the tincture in amber bottles with droppers. Again, remember to label each bottle with the contents and date.

Here are some examples of herbs that my family uses in this way on a regular basis, meaning daily:

Astragulus/Ashwaghanda: This is a great adaptogenic herb combination, helping the body cope with everyday stresses.
Nettle: Great for inflammation, building red blood cells, and allergies.
Hawthorne: Great for the heart, by regulating blood pressure; both high and low.
Hops: Sleep
Kava Kava: Anxiety
Valerian Root: Anxiety
Horsetail: Strengthens hair and teeth
Black Walnut, Wormwood and Cloves: This is used for parasites.

Making an Herbal Salve at Home

Salves are also necessary remedies that are easy to make. Goldenseal is an excellent alternative to Neosporin™ and I find it is a superior product as well. Calendula is great for dry skin, wounds and rashes. Arnica, mentioned above, is great for pain. St. John’s wort is good for minor injuries and burns. And Sassafras for poison ivy. The possibilities are endless.

Making salves is very simple. Start by constructing a double boiler on the stove top. Place coconut oil, sesame oil – or some oil that benefits the skin and is a good carrier oil for the desired herbs – into the double boiler, and add the herbs. Simmer slowly for 30-60 minutes; the longer the better, but do not burn or scorch the oil or the herbs. When this is complete, strain the herbs through a cheese cloth, retaining the oil infusion and discarding the herbs for compost.

Using the double boiler once again, shave beeswax into the bowl and place over low heat. Add your herbal oil infusion to the beeswax and stir to combine completely as the beeswax is melting. Once combined, you are ready to pour your salve into storage containers. I prefer glass jars to metal tins; it is just too messy for me to attempt to get salve in such a shallow dish.

There are many YouTube videos explaining how to make salves in a myriad of ways. This is just the easiest for me and it works well too. Creating new types of salves is fun and allows you to get your creative juices flowing. This type of procedure works well for lip balms too.

Herbs and Over-the-Counter Medicines

Herbs are a gift that should be cherished, respected, and utilized by all of us. Every herb has a use, and learning what those uses are has been a beautiful experience for me. It is empowering to be able to heal oneself.

I have found alternatives to every over-the-counter medicine my family used, and I believe that the natural herbal remedies are far safer for me and my family. Herbs are a gift from Nature, and we can feel as if we are being gifted everyday of our lives if we choose to see this fact. I choose to, and I hope that you do too. Stay Healthy Friends!


Thanks to Bonnie Spiker for participating in the [Grow] Network Writing Contest.

We’re still getting the list of prizes lined up for the Spring 2016 Writing Contest. We awarded over $2,097 in prizes for the Fall Writing Contest, including all of the following:

– A 21.5 quart pressure canner from All American, a $382 value
– A Survival Still emergency water purification still, a $288 value
– 1 free 1 year membership in the [Grow] Network Core Community, a $239 value
– A Worm Factory 360 vermicomposting system from Nature’s Footprint, a $128 value
– 2 large heirloom seed collections from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, valued at $103 each
– A Metro-Grower Elite sub-irrigation growing container from Nature’s Footprint, a $69 value
– 2 copies of the complete Home Grown Food Summit, valued at $67 each
– 3 free 3 month memberships in the [Grow] Network Core Community, valued at $59 each
– 4 copies of the Grow Your Own Groceries DVD video set, valued at $43 each
– A Bug Out Seed Kit from the Sustainable Seed Company, a $46 value
– 4 copies of the Alternatives To Dentists DVD video, valued at $33 each
– 4 copies of the Greenhouse of the Future DVD and eBook, valued at $31 each

 

Is Your Emergency Information Ready for an Emergency?

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Notebooks and Binders Full of Emergency Information

I have been reading about preparedness online for several years. I love all of the information I have collected over years of searching and reading. I have so many binders and notebooks full of information!

binders-full-of-emergency-information

Binders Full of Emergency Information

At first, I wasn’t keeping paper records of the important information I found online. I had so much information saved on my computer. Then the thought came to me… What if the power goes out? What if my laptop dies? What if both of these things happen! The information I have been collecting would not be available to me when I really need it.

What Happens When the Power Goes Out?

In today’s world, we tend to forget that our phones, laptops, and tablets run out of power… until they die! Then we are scrambling to find the chargers and plug them back in.

Well, in a real emergency situation that’s probably not going to work. We all know it, but for one reason or another we delay, and we just keep doing things the same way. So what can we do?

The other day, I was reading another entry from the [Grow] Network Writing Contest. I realized that in all the years I have been following along, not much has been said about different ways to save the information that I have collected.

5 Steps to Get Your Emergency Information Ready for an Emergency

Here are five steps you can take to prepare your emergency information, so that it is ready to go when an actual emergency happens:

Step #1: Get an “Emergency Note Tote”
Any tote from your favorite store will do. The size of your tote depends on the amount of information you need to save – you might want a binder, or you might want a plastic file box. My tote is my favorite color – this helps me to remember it when I come across something new I want to add to it.

Step #2: Weed Out Your Electronic Info
Select only the most important information on your computer that you want to save. You won’t be able to take your entire library of information with you if you need to leave quickly. So narrow it down to the things you really need to have with you during an emergency. Print them out!

Step #3: Review Your Notebooks
You took the course, and you took good notes. Don’t forget to go through your hand-written notes and find the most important information that you want to take with you in an emergency. If your notes are clearly written in ink, you can just throw them right in. If your notes aren’t clear, or you wrote them in pencil, you might choose to type them up and print them out instead.

Step #4: Build Your Emergency Note Tote
Take the most important information from your computer print outs, and the most important pages from your notebooks, and add them to your emergency note tote. Organization is key. Separate information into useful categories like medical, water, gardening, etc. Color coding is a good way to find what you need quickly.

Step #5: Store Your Emergency Note Tote
Find an easy access spot to store your emergency note tote. If you have bugout bags, you should keep your tote in the same place. Keeping your tote in a designated spot will help you get to it quickly in any emergency situation – whether it’s Lights Out or Bugout!

Prepare for the Future

We place much importance on education in our society today. The biggest “What If” situations may seem improbable, but they are not impossible! The books, binders, and notebooks we collect today might be a large part of the education of our children tomorrow. In an extreme situation, they might be the only education!

Preparing food, water, and gear is very important. But let us not forget that we had to learn all of our skills from somewhere. Prepare your information so that your children and grandchildren can learn the same skills that you have now!


Thanks to Crystal Moore for participating in the [Grow] Network Writing Contest.

We’re still getting the list of prizes lined up for the Spring 2016 Writing Contest. We awarded over $2,097 in prizes for the Fall Writing Contest, including all of the following:

– A 21.5 quart pressure canner from All American, a $382 value
– A Survival Still emergency water purification still, a $288 value
– 1 free 1 year membership in the [Grow] Network Core Community, a $239 value
– A Worm Factory 360 vermicomposting system from Nature’s Footprint, a $128 value
– 2 large heirloom seed collections from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, valued at $103 each
– A Metro-Grower Elite sub-irrigation growing container from Nature’s Footprint, a $69 value
– 2 copies of the complete Home Grown Food Summit, valued at $67 each
– 3 free 3 month memberships in the [Grow] Network Core Community, valued at $59 each
– 4 copies of the Grow Your Own Groceries DVD video set, valued at $43 each
– A Bug Out Seed Kit from the Sustainable Seed Company, a $46 value
– 4 copies of the Alternatives To Dentists DVD video, valued at $33 each
– 4 copies of the Greenhouse of the Future DVD and eBook, valued at $31 each

 

Hand Washing vs the Dishwasher – Which is Better?

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Is it Better to Hand Wash or Use the Dishwasher?

Cooking from scratch is an integral part of preparing meals from your home food pantry. Unfortunately, cooking from scratch also means extra dirty dishes, pots and pans! Recently I read an article on the U.S. Government’s ENERGY STAR web site that claimed, “If you wash dishes by hand you are wasting more then just time…” (https://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=dishwash.pr_handwash_dishwash; January 31, 2016)

I thought I would double-check this claim, which is based on the ideas that using the dishwasher saves money and time, provides better cleaning results, saves energy and water, and so helps to save the environment. This caught my attention because while today’s dishwashers use less water than older models, they also run longer to make up for using less water. For example, our new dishwasher uses 2.5 – 6.4 gallons of water to run a load instead of the 7.0 gallons our old dishwasher used. However, our new dishwasher runs nearly an hour longer at 130 – 135 minutes per load instead of 76 minutes! What’s more, run time estimates assume that the hot water arrives in the dishwasher already heated to 120 degrees F. If the water arrives at a cooler temperature, our new dishwasher runs even longer to heat the water before washing.

The Cost of Running the Dishwasher

The yellow energy tag that came with our dishwasher states that we can expect to spend $25 a year on electricity and/or natural gas if we run four normal loads of dishes per week. This works out to around $0.12 per load for electricity and/or natural gas, assuming that our hot water supply consistently delivers water at the required 120 degrees F. For our calculations, we assume that normal loads use around 5 gallons of water since we only run full loads. A quick look at our utility rates shows that the cost for 5 gallons of water and sewer is currently $0.03 in our region. This means that we can reasonably estimate a cost of around $0.15 per load to run the new dishwasher.

If conserving water is the most important thing, washing dishes by hand can conserve heated water as effectively as a dishwasher if about the same amount of heated water is used for either approach. When this condition is met, washing dishes by hand will always save energy over running the dishwasher for two reasons; (1) washing dishes by hand eliminates the use of electricity to run the dishwasher and (2) hardly anyone will hand wash dishes in water as hot as 120 degrees F! Most people like dish washing temperatures to be similar to the temperature of a hot bath, around 100 degrees F. This second reason is often overlooked.

The Cost of Hand Washing Dishes

If the groundwater is at 60 degrees F, this means we heat the water by 40 degrees F to hand wash dishes instead of heating it 60 degrees F to wash dishes in the dishwasher. Using the calculations at the “Ask Mr Electricity” web site, we estimate that it takes us around $0.06 to heat 5 gallons of water 40 degrees. This, plus the costs of water and sewer adds up to around $0.09 per load to hand wash dishes. (http://michaelbluejay.com/electricity/waterheaters-figures.html; January 31, 2016)

Following the process outlined below, we have found that we can meet the lower water consumption goal. We use dishpans to limit water use and rarely rinse dishes under a running faucet. Sometimes we use heated tap water, but an even better option is to use water from our rain barrels that is heated in our solar ovens.

dishpans-for-hand-washing-dishes

Dishpans for hand washing dishes

Comparing Hand Washing vs the Dishwasher

Are the dishes washed in the dishwasher cleaner than those washed by hand, as the web site claims? Well, we don’t leave bits of food behind when washing dishes by hand. That is the reason why so many people rinse dishes before placing them in the dishwasher. We use vinegar in the rinse water to help get dishes squeaky clean. We use bleach if needed to sanitize the dishes, whereas it takes extra energy to run a dishwasher’s sanitize cycle.

Are there any hidden costs that the web site does not account for? Last I checked, cheap white vinegar, bleach and dish washing liquid cost much less than dishwasher detergent and rinse aides. The government website also fails to mention that a dishwasher is an expensive appliance to purchase! It could take decades to recoup the cost of a new dishwasher, and I doubt if a new model will last that long. Dishpans are cheap!

Will using the dishwasher save time? Not if we have to wait 2 hours to run the last load of the day before turning in! We can hand wash a large load of dishes in close to the time it takes to rinse and load them into a dishwasher, and have a nice chat with family or friends while doing it.

And so, contrary to the ENERGY STAR web site, we have concluded that washing dishes by hand is still much preferred to running the dishwasher, as long as a little attention is paid to the process. My simple cost comparison below assumes that one load of dishes is washed each day. However, when you are processing and preserving food, you may need to do several loads in a day – further adding to the savings. And even better savings can be had if you are able to use harvested rain water and heat that water in a solar oven!

Estimated Yearly Cost for Washing Dishes (7 Loads Per Week)

1. Dishwasher, Normal Cycle, Heated Rinse, No Dry Cycle
(Not including the cost of detergent, rinse aide, or the dishwasher for that matter!)
$55.00

2. Washing Dishes by Hand using Tap Water
(Not including the cost of dishwashing liquid and vinegar, dishpans or water heaters.)
$33.00

3. Washing Dishes by Hand using Rain Barrel Water and Solar Ovens
(Not including the cost of dishwashing liquid and vinegar, dishpans or solar ovens.)
$0.00

Instructions to Hand Wash Dishes using Tap Water

Materials
• 2 dishpans (15 quart capacity rectangular plastic pans)
• Dishcloth
• 2 tablespoons dish washing liquid
• ½ cup cheap white vinegar (bought by the gallon)
• 5 gallons comfortably hot water

Instructions
1. Fill one dishpan with 2 gallons of comfortably hot water and add the dish soap.
2. Fill the second dishpan with 3 gallons of comfortably hot water and add the vinegar.
3. Wash the dishes in the first dishpan; rinse in the second.
4. Use the dishwasher racks as a dish drainer and let dishes air dry.
5. When finished, hang the dishcloth to dry on the faucet or some other convenient place. Then rinse the dishpans and set them aside out of the sink to dry.

Instructions to Hand Wash Dishes using Rain Barrel Water and Solar Ovens

Materials
• 2 dishpans (15 quart capacity rectangular plastic pans)
• Dishcloth
• 2 tablespoons dish washing liquid
• ½ cup cheap white vinegar (bought by the gallon)
• 2 large pots to heat water
• 2 solar ovens

Instructions
1. Heat a large pan of rain water in each solar oven until the water is uncomfortably hot but not boiling. This can take some time. Be very careful when carrying the pots of heated water into the kitchen.
2. Fill one dishpan with the first pot of hot water. Add the dish soap and cool tap water as needed to make the water temperature comfortable.
3. Fill the second dishpan with the remaining hot water. Add the vinegar and cool tap water as needed to make the water temperature comfortable.
4. Wash the dishes in the first dishpan; rinse in the second. Wash the least dirty dishes first.
5. Use the dishwasher racks as a dish drainer and let dishes air dry.
6. When finished, hang the dishcloth to dry on the faucet or some other convenient place. Then rinse the dishpans and set them aside out of the sink to dry.

Below is pictured a load of hand washed dishes from breakfast and canning 10 pints of broth.

a-full-load-of-hand-washed-dishes

A full load of hand-washed dishes


Thanks to Lois Harper for participating in the [Grow] Network Writing Contest.

We’re still getting the list of prizes lined up for the Spring 2016 Writing Contest. We awarded over $2,097 in prizes for the Fall Writing Contest, including all of the following:

– A 21.5 quart pressure canner from All American, a $382 value
– A Survival Still emergency water purification still, a $288 value
– 1 free 1 year membership in the [Grow] Network Core Community, a $239 value
– A Worm Factory 360 vermicomposting system from Nature’s Footprint, a $128 value
– 2 large heirloom seed collections from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, valued at $103 each
– A Metro-Grower Elite sub-irrigation growing container from Nature’s Footprint, a $69 value
– 2 copies of the complete Home Grown Food Summit, valued at $67 each
– 3 free 3 month memberships in the [Grow] Network Core Community, valued at $59 each
– 4 copies of the Grow Your Own Groceries DVD video set, valued at $43 each
– A Bug Out Seed Kit from the Sustainable Seed Company, a $46 value
– 4 copies of the Alternatives To Dentists DVD video, valued at $33 each
– 4 copies of the Greenhouse of the Future DVD and eBook, valued at $31 each

 

A Simple Deterrent for Deer

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An Inexpensive and Easy Solution for Browsing Deer

About 10 years ago, we had a big vegetable garden that was about 40’x 40′. I planted several rows of bush beans in the garden that year and I got a bit obsessive, every day watering and waiting for those first sprouts of green to appear.

One morning I went to the garden, and there they were! I am always enthralled to see plants come up from seed! It’s such a beautiful and miraculous thing to watch.

The next morning, I went out to my garden and what did I see? Every single bean sprout was nipped to the ground. And there were deer tracks leading to and from those rows of beans! I was about fit to be tied!

a-family-of-deer-browsing-for-breakfast

A family of deer browsing for breakfast

We were headed to church that morning, so I steamed off! Once I got to church, I was talking to some of the ladies about the deer that had destroyed my young garden. One of the ladies told me about a secret trick she used to keep the deer out of her garden…

Using Rubber Snakes in the Garden

She told me to buy rubber snakes and place them out on the ground in the garden. I’d never heard of such a thing, but after church I went straight out and found them at the dollar store. They were inexpensive, and I bought several of them.

I went home and replanted those beans, in the same rows where I had planted them the first time. And I placed the snakes all around on the ground in the garden.

As soon as I saw the new beans sprout up, I made sure to place a few rubber snakes nearby on those rows.

The next morning, I went out and I was shocked by what I saw. The beans were still growing. There were fresh deer tracks heading toward the bean plants, but they turned away a few feet from my rows of beans and exited the garden!

I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least! From that day on, I have used rubber snakes in my garden every year.


Thanks to Linda Bacon for participating in the [Grow] Network Writing Contest.

We’re still getting the list of prizes lined up for the Spring 2016 Writing Contest. We awarded over $2,097 in prizes for the Fall Writing Contest, including all of the following:

– A 21.5 quart pressure canner from All American, a $382 value
– A Survival Still emergency water purification still, a $288 value
– 1 free 1 year membership in the [Grow] Network Core Community, a $239 value
– A Worm Factory 360 vermicomposting system from Nature’s Footprint, a $128 value
– 2 large heirloom seed collections from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, valued at $103 each
– A Metro-Grower Elite sub-irrigation growing container from Nature’s Footprint, a $69 value
– 2 copies of the complete Home Grown Food Summit, valued at $67 each
– 3 free 3 month memberships in the [Grow] Network Core Community, valued at $59 each
– 4 copies of the Grow Your Own Groceries DVD video set, valued at $43 each
– A Bug Out Seed Kit from the Sustainable Seed Company, a $46 value
– 4 copies of the Alternatives To Dentists DVD video, valued at $33 each
– 4 copies of the Greenhouse of the Future DVD and eBook, valued at $31 each

 

Growing Boys and Growing Vegetables

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Even though I have been growing gardens for 53 years, and boys for 39, I do not claim to be an expert at either! I did happen to run into two good ideas for growing both, however, while experimenting with my youngest son on his vegetable garden.

My youngest son was 15 at the time and we had made a deal. He would grow the produce and I would can it. I figured that was a great trade off since I was a busy working Mom. When you have a teenage son, it is a very good idea to keep them busy and productive; and this deal would accomplish two things at once. Teenage boys also eat a lot, and I needed to supplement our budget with the produce from the garden.

After he planted the spring garden and it was growing, I lamented that we did not have composted manure. I explained to my son how his great-grandmother used to come out to the farm and bag up big bags of old rotted manure from the edges of our dairy cow lots for her garden. I told him how grandma always swore that was the secret to a bountiful garden, and how beautiful her garden always looked.

Our Manure Tea Experiment

When I went inside I remembered that Grandma also used manure tea on her garden. I got busy and researched manure tea and compost tea. We decided to use manure tea because we had fresh manure available. We took the oldest and driest manure we could find from the edges of our steer lot. It had aged, but it had not rotted into composted manure as of yet.

Then we put the manure in an old burlap bag and we tied the end shut with twine. We used about a quart of the manure. We used an old barrel that had been cut in half, and we filled it with water. We lowered the manure-filled burlap into the water and tied the twine to a bush to keep the tied end of the burlap from falling down into the “brew.”

To tell the truth, I then forgot about the whole thing for approximately a month. In the meantime the garden was growing beautifully. It turned out my son was a much better gardener than his mom and he even kept it weeded!

One day it dawned on me that the manure tea was still brewing, and my son and I went to check it out. It was bubbling mysteriously like witches’ brew. I used my vast wisdom about manure tea (none) and decided it must be “done.”

At first we were going to water the plants with it. Then, I remembered learning about foliar feeding plants and how fertilizer can be absorbed through the leaves for quicker results. My son removed the burlap bag and stirred up the manure tea with a large stick. Then we filled our sprayer, mixing 1 part manure tea with 10 parts water as I did not want to burn the leaves of his beautiful garden. We sprayed it on and waited.

thriving-tomato-plant

Effects of Spraying Manure Tea

What happened next was almost miraculous. The garden responded within the week, shooting up and greening up.

My father was living with us at the time and he was gone during the days. After about a week, he came home one day and mentioned that the garden had grown and looked wonderful. We had not told him about brewing the tea or spraying it on the garden; he noticed the change on his own. He wanted to know what we had done. He could not believe the difference in the garden.

[15 Simple and Inexpensive Homemade Fertilizers]

This turned out to be a very easy and successful way to fertilize the garden with great results. Anyone could do this, and it is also a lot easier than hauling manure. However, I still recommend making sure you rot or compost manure before you incorporate it into your garden in the spring or fall.

The son has grown as well, and it is hoped that he will turn out as well as the garden. I’ll keep you posted!


Thanks to 4 Boy MoM for participating in the [Grow] Network Writing Contest.

We’re still getting the list of prizes lined up for the Spring 2016 Writing Contest. We awarded over $2,097 in prizes for the Fall Writing Contest, including all of the following:

– A 21.5 quart pressure canner from All American, a $382 value
– A Survival Still emergency water purification still, a $288 value
– 1 free 1 year membership in the [Grow] Network Core Community, a $239 value
– A Worm Factory 360 vermicomposting system from Nature’s Footprint, a $128 value
– 2 large heirloom seed collections from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, valued at $103 each
– A Metro-Grower Elite sub-irrigation growing container from Nature’s Footprint, a $69 value
– 2 copies of the complete Home Grown Food Summit, valued at $67 each
– 3 free 3 month memberships in the [Grow] Network Core Community, valued at $59 each
– 4 copies of the Grow Your Own Groceries DVD video set, valued at $43 each
– A Bug Out Seed Kit from the Sustainable Seed Company, a $46 value
– 4 copies of the Alternatives To Dentists DVD video, valued at $33 each
– 4 copies of the Greenhouse of the Future DVD and eBook, valued at $31 each

 

Are You Prepared? Do the Obvious!

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Here in Oklahoma, and many parts of the Midwest, we had a glorious warm fall. Temperatures reached into the 70s each week and dipped only to lows in the mid 30s for the most part.

We celebrated Christmas on Monday the 27th, waiting for my grandson to come be with us. It was a delightful family gathering, presents aplenty. I made ham, mac and cheese, and scalloped corn, each in separate crock pots. My daughter brought a salad and a pecan pie. We feasted and enjoyed the day. We were too tired (or lazy) to wash the crock pots and do the final kitchen cleanup.

It was raining as it had been for a couple of days. The basement was doing its usual leak from the east wall. The wind was picking up and really whipped up in the night as the temps began to drop. It turned to sleet, ice, and then snow. The wind was really putting up some strong gales. The electricity was still on and the heater was running. All was good.

This morning, my husband noted that we were out of dry dog food for our dogs. So, bundling up, we planned to go to the grocery store. We went out to start the car; the car doors were frozen shut. The gate to the chicken pen was frozen shut. I had to hammer the door on the coop it to loosen it up and let the chickens out. Their water was slushy, but drinkable. There was snow on the ground, only about 2 inches, but the roads looked questionably icy. Within the hour I saw 2 tow trucks pass by. Well, maybe we will postpone the trip to the store. We usually mix wet food in with the dry food, and we have some canned dog food the dogs can eat for now.

The point of this article is this: Do the obvious! Stay organized and prepared!

What if the electricity had gone off? I don’t want those icky sticky crock pots sitting in the kitchen, or a dishwasher full of dirty dishes. I have a small kitchen and the counters were cluttered and full. What about the laundry? It was thankfully caught up. The house is still cluttered from all of the Christmas wrappings and festivities. The garage is so cluttered that we cannot get the cars in out of the weather. The chicken waterer is not heated. My freezers are way too full. Again, what if the electricity had gone off? Things would turn out very differently, very quickly. We don’t have back up heat, or a generator. I have been wanting to make one of those cute clay pots you heat with tea lights, and a rocket stove, and a solar oven.

canned-foods

I have my freezers full of food and my shelves are lined with canned foods. I review my food storage log every couple of months and make sure it is up to date. Besides I can look at my shelves and see what is getting low. I watch for bargains at the grocery store. Right now, 12 oz. bags of fresh cranberries are 50 cents each. I bought 10 and I will can some cranberry juice.

But what if the power did not come back on for a couple of days or even weeks? I would not want to lose the food in the freezer. I need to start canning more of the freezer items. I have several canning jars holding non-food items and none more available for canning. I need to make sure canning supplies are available. I wish I had a supply of food for my pets – but I have neglected to incorporate pet food and supplies in my storage inventory.

This scenario is relatively minor. But, I can’t help but wonder, what if…

I am retired, so there’s no excuse not to get these things in order. I have the time and skills. Meanwhile, this served as a good practice run for a bigger storm, calamity, or misfortune. There would be plenty of gaps in my preparedness if a real catastrophe were to occur. Why not take care of the obvious ones that I know about?

Oh, and that leaky basement wall… Better check the gutters. And the cartridges need to be replaced on my printer, I am out of black, so I am printing this in red.

My #1 resolution for 2016: No more putting off the obvious tasks to keep my house in order.


Thanks to “Connie’s Musings” for participating in the [Grow] Network Writing Contest.

We’re still getting the list of prizes lined up for the Spring 2016 Writing Contest. We awarded over $2,097 in prizes for the Fall Writing Contest, including all of the following:

– A 21.5 quart pressure canner from All American, a $382 value
– A Survival Still emergency water purification still, a $288 value
– 1 free 1 year membership in the [Grow] Network Core Community, a $239 value
– A Worm Factory 360 vermicomposting system from Nature’s Footprint, a $128 value
– 2 large heirloom seed collections from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, valued at $103 each
– A Metro-Grower Elite sub-irrigation growing container from Nature’s Footprint, a $69 value
– 2 copies of the complete Home Grown Food Summit, valued at $67 each
– 3 free 3 month memberships in the [Grow] Network Core Community, valued at $59 each
– 4 copies of the Grow Your Own Groceries DVD video set, valued at $43 each
– A Bug Out Seed Kit from the Sustainable Seed Company, a $46 value
– 4 copies of the Alternatives To Dentists DVD video, valued at $33 each
– 4 copies of the Greenhouse of the Future DVD and eBook, valued at $31 each

 

And the Winners are…

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first-second-and-third-place-ribbonsWell, it’s that time again – the latest round of our writing contest is over, and now it’s time for my favorite part…

Giving away lots of free stuff!

There were many good entries in this contest – and I wish we had enough prizes to give out to everyone. Once again, we got lots of useful information about gardening, homesteading, and home medicine. I love getting in all of the great stories and ideas that you all share. There is so much knowledge and creativity in this community, and it’s always exciting to see what people will send our way.

And I especially want to thank all of our generous sponsors, who make the whole contest possible. This is the biggest pot of prizes we’ve ever had, and it’s worth over $2,574! So, please show your support and appreciation by clicking on the links below to visit our sponsors. Here are the prizes:

First Place (7 prizes valued at $898):

• A 21.5 quart pressure canner from All American, a $382 value
• A free 1 year membership in the [Grow] Network Lab, a $239 value
• A large heirloom seed collection from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, a $103 value
• A free copy of the complete Home Grown Food Summit, a $67 value
• A free copy of the Grow Your Own Groceries DVD video set, a $43 value
• A free copy of the Alternatives To Dentists DVD video, a $33 value
• A free copy of the Greenhouse of the Future DVD and eBook, a $31 value

Second Place (7 prizes valued at $624):

• A Survival Still emergency water purification still, a $288 value
• A large heirloom seed collection from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, a $103 value
• A free copy of the complete Home Grown Food Summit, a $67 value
• A free 3 month membership in the [Grow] Network Lab, a $59 value
• A free copy of the Grow Your Own Groceries DVD video set, a $43 value
• A free copy of the Alternatives To Dentists DVD video, a $33 value
• A free copy of the Greenhouse of the Future DVD and eBook, a $31 value

Third Place (6 prizes valued at $340):

• A Worm Factory 360 vermicomposting system from Nature’s Footprint, a $128 value
• A free 3 month membership in the [Grow] Network Lab, a $59 value
• A Bug Out Seed Kit from the Sustainable Seed Company, a $46 value
• A free copy of the Grow Your Own Groceries DVD video set, a $43 value
• A free copy of the Alternatives To Dentists DVD video, a $33 value
• A free copy of the Greenhouse of the Future DVD and eBook, a $31 value

Fourth Place (5 prizes valued at $235):

• A Metro-Grower Elite sub-irrigation growing container from Nature’s Footprint, a $69 value
• A free 3 month membership in the [Grow] Network Lab, a $59 value
• A free copy of the Grow Your Own Groceries DVD video set, a $43 value
• A free copy of the Alternatives To Dentists DVD video, a $33 value
• A free copy of the Greenhouse of the Future DVD and eBook, a $31 value

That’s $2,097 in great prizes, just for sharing what you know about growing your own food and medicine with the rest of the group. And, we threw in two honorable mentions to bring the total pot up to $2,574.

And now, without further ado, here are the winners…

Honorable Mention
Claire Cox’s article about her custom fodder system and Steve Curtin’s article about self-sufficiency both got a lot of votes, and they just missed making the top 4. As an Honorable Mention prize, Claire and Steve will both receive one year of free membership in the [Grow] Network Lab. If you missed either of these articles, you can read them here:

Growing My Groceries’ Groceries
http://growyourowngroceries.org/growing-my-groceries-groceries/

Why I Chose the Self-Sufficient Life
http://growyourowngroceries.org/why-i-chose-the-self-sufficient-life/

Fourth Place Winner
Our fourth place prizes go to Alice J Haslam, for her article about using water beads to maintain soil moisture during a drought. If you missed it the first time around, you can see it at this link:

Using Water Beads to Maintain Moisture in Your Garden Soil
http://growyourowngroceries.org/using-water-beads-to-maintain-moisture-in-your-garden-soil/

Third Place Winner
Susannah Sammons is our third place winner, for her article about her family’s learning experiences on their small farm in Tennessee. They learned that you can only put so much stock into what “they say.” You can read Susannah’s article here:

What We Learned about What “They Say”
http://growyourowngroceries.org/what-we-learned-about-what-they-say/

Second Place Winner
Second place goes to Karlynn Holland for her article about how to make a simple, natural hand sanitizer. We love practical and useful solutions – and many of our readers loved this article too. If you didn’t catch it the first time – check it out here:

How to Make a Natural Antibacterial Hand Sanitizer
http://growyourowngroceries.org/how-to-make-a-natural-antibacterial-hand-sanitizer/

And, drum roll please…

First Place Winner
First place goes to Dave for his article about what you can learn from the weeds in your landscape. Congratulations, Dave! I know you and your family will enjoy your new pressure canner from All American. In case you missed it, this is a great article about viewing weeds from a permaculture perspective. Here’s the link:

Weeds: What They Tell Us and Why You Should Care
http://growyourowngroceries.org/weeds-what-they-tell-us-and-why-you-should-care/

Congratulations to all of the winners! Thanks again to our many great sponsors. And thanks to everyone who sent in their articles and took part in this contest.

We’re going to take a short break from the writing contest, but stay tuned… We’re planning to host another round early next year. We’re going to have loads of great prizes to give away, as always. And we’ll let you know about the dates ahead of time, so you have plenty of time to get your entries ready.

 

Wild Edibles from the Utah Desert

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I’ve been studying and eating wild edible plants for several years now. I started this research in my local area of Utah, primarily the desert, by accident almost. I was asked to assist in a youth activity for my church to teach what foods might have been readily available to pioneers coming into the area over a hundred years ago. I didn’t know a whole lot at that time but through research I soon found that there were a lot of edible plants even in the Utah desert.

As I struggled to find the names of the plants I was finding and then to determine if they were edible I began putting together all kinds of notes to compile a good list of wild edibles in the west because I was not able to find such a list readily available. What I did find as I worked to understand wild edibles is that there is quite a bit available for food that we can harvest from around our homes and in the wilderness. There is a huge number of plants available and proper research can help identify them.

I found some favorites that grow well in my area. Here are a few of them…

blue-mustard

“Chorispora tenella” by Lee Ferguson. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Blue Mustard
Blue mustard is a delicious spring vegetable. This is a great tasting plant in early spring when it is young and I even like it’s spicy flavor later in spring before it gets too old in the heat. Blue mustard is easy to identify when it blossoms because you will see fields of light purple flowers. It is a mustard, so simply look for the four petals and it’s two short and four tall stamens. The flavor when young is like a sweet radish and the plant gets more spicy as it grows but is never really bitter or too much to take. This is a beautiful wild edible that I look forward to every spring.

lambs-quarters-wild-spinach

“20140812 Chenopodium album” by AnRo0002. Licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons

Lambs Quarters (Wild Spinach)
I like to follow John Kallas on this one and call it what it is, wild spinach. Wild spinach is another great edible with good flavor and this one can handle the heat so it will be available well into the summer months. I have cultivated it in my garden through the entire summer and into the fall. What a great edible. Once again it is easy to identify though it does have some variations to it depending on location and nutrients provided. The white waxy film is a dead giveaway and if it is watered well the leaves have a thick feel to them. This is another of my favorites that nature now provides.

purslane

“Portulaca Oleracea…” by Isidre Blanc. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Purslane
I love to eat fresh picked purslane right in the heat of the middle of summer. This is a prolific plant that will always be around in my yard from now on. This plant is a succulent, and it is said to contain more omega-3 fatty acids than many fish and meats. This is not something you hear often when talking about a plant. Purslane has a pleasant flavor and it makes a great potherb. I enjoy snacking on it while I’m working in the yard or garden, and personally I think it looks very good when used as an ornamental ground cover.

yellow-dock-curly-dock

“Rumex crispus 15052006 rosette” by Henry Brisse. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Yellow Dock (Curly Dock)
I love the dock plants. I have grown yellow dock in my garden for a few years now and I enjoy its young leaves that have almost a lemon flavor to them. I eat it in salad and on sandwiches and I really love this little plant. I have had the seeds in the past after a long winter when they did not taste too bad but most of the time they are too difficult to extract from the shell and are loaded with tannins. The leaves of this plant are delicious, however, and they are a treat that adds flavor to any salad.

All of my research and findings on desert edibles are compiled together on my website at www.WildUtahEdibles.com.


Thanks to Mike Wood for participating in the [Grow] Network Writing Contest.

We have over $2,097 in prizes lined up for the Fall 2015 Writing Contest, including all of the following:

– A 21.5 quart pressure canner from All American, a $382 value
– A Survival Still emergency water purification still, a $288 value
– 1 free 1 year membership in the [Grow] Network Core Community, a $239 value
– A Worm Factory 360 vermicomposting system from Nature’s Footprint, a $128 value
– 2 large heirloom seed collections from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, valued at $103 each
– A Metro-Grower Elite sub-irrigation growing container from Nature’s Footprint, a $69 value
– 2 copies of the complete Home Grown Food Summit, valued at $67 each
– 3 free 3 month memberships in the [Grow] Network Core Community, valued at $59 each
– 4 copies of the Grow Your Own Groceries DVD video set, valued at $43 each
– A Bug Out Seed Kit from the Sustainable Seed Company, a $46 value
– 4 copies of the Alternatives To Dentists DVD video, valued at $33 each
– 4 copies of the Greenhouse of the Future DVD and eBook, valued at $31 each

 

Turn Your Apple Harvest into Homemade Apple Cider Vinegar

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fresh-ripe-apples-on-the-treeFall is abundant with many opportunities of harvest. One such opportunity for us in the Mitten State is the bountiful apple harvest. If you live in Michigan, it’s no secret that apples are very prolific here!

Even without your own orchard or even your own tree, there are apples to be had alongside country roads and often people will give them away for free! Apples can be found in virtually every part of Michigan, and it’s a wonderful opportunity to take advantage of at this time of year. For us, we’ve had the good fortune of buying a piece of property with a well established orchard. The last couple of years, we barely scratched the surface of the bounty, even though we made apple pies, apple sauce, and ate apples to our heart’s content.

This year is a different story. I decided I wasn’t going to let those beautiful red, green and yellow orbs of goodness go to waste. Along with collecting as many as we could for pies and sauce, we also collected for cider, and apple cider vinegar! The inspiration came to me while I was fermenting grain with whey. If grain and vegetables benefit from fermentation, so can apples, and it’s an age old process that preserves the apple harvest for months or even years.

Hard apple cider is made simply by allowing raw apple cider from freshly pressed apples to ferment. Don’t let the simplicity of the thing fool you, however. Good hard apple cider is difficult to get right. The cider is traditionally fermented in oak barrels, but it has been problematic due to the inherent leakiness of wooden barrels, and our current divorce from using wood anything. We’ve used glass fermenting jars. The fermentation process will occur regardless of any added culture. Wild cultures that are naturally present in the apple will ferment the cider just as well as the purified strains from the store. The only problem with wild cultures is, you’re not sure what you’re getting! If you’re not much of a gambler, you can always add a yeast killer, wait a few days (the appropriate length of time should be described in the directions), and add a known culture. If vinegar is your end goal, the wild cultures will do just fine. A cider maker may also choose to add sugar or honey or some other sweetener to boost the end alcohol content. For vinegar, adding sugar will make a more acidic end product.

The cider will go through two stages; aerobic and anaerobic fermentation. During the first aerobic stage, the cider will froth and foam – it is casting off impurities, and the cider maker should be sure to keep the fermentation vessel clean during this time. He should also take care to keep the top covered. Even though this is is an aerobic process, the cider maker will not want wild yeasts and dust to prematurely spoil the cider. When the foaming subsides, an air lock can be placed over the opening so that the anaerobic process can begin. You will notice that during this stage, there will be lots of bubbles from the yeast fermentation process. You know that the cider is near finished when the bubbles slow or completely stop. The actual amount of time it takes completely depends on the blend of apples, their ripeness, sweetness, and if any sugar or sweetener was added.

Apple cider vinegar is easy to make. First you have to make hard apple cider, described above. If you aren’t interested in drinking the hard cider, it doesn’t really matter how well it turns out, because either way it will turn to acid vinegar. The hard cider is simply allowed to remain in open air, so that the alcohol can be converted to acetic acid. The cider maker may add a bit of previous apple cider vinegar to the mix to speed the process. Raw apple cider vinegar will grow a ‘mother’- a cloudy yeast complex that floats around in your cider. This is normal. Stir it twice daily, and test your vinegar after about a week. If it has reached a desirable acidity level, simply pour it into clean storage containers such as glass canning jars, seal it, and keep it in a cool, dark place. Vinegar will last indefinitely, but it may get stronger over time. If your vinegar turns too strong, dilute it with water to taste.

The amount of apples needed to make cider is not very large. This depends on the type of apples and also their ripeness. The taste of the cider and vinegar will also depend on the type of apples. Optimally, one would want some sweet, some tangy, and some bitter apples to round out the flavor. For our first try, we were able to obtain a few different varieties. The process is still underway, as fermentation takes time. But our liquid gold is bubbling away, and we’re eager to try it!


Thanks to Michelle Maier for participating in the [Grow] Network Writing Contest.

We have over $2,097 in prizes lined up for the Fall 2015 Writing Contest, including all of the following:

– A 21.5 quart pressure canner from All American, a $382 value
– A Survival Still emergency water purification still, a $288 value
– 1 free 1 year membership in the [Grow] Network Core Community, a $239 value
– A Worm Factory 360 vermicomposting system from Nature’s Footprint, a $128 value
– 2 large heirloom seed collections from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, valued at $103 each
– A Metro-Grower Elite sub-irrigation growing container from Nature’s Footprint, a $69 value
– 2 copies of the complete Home Grown Food Summit, valued at $67 each
– 3 free 3 month memberships in the [Grow] Network Core Community, valued at $59 each
– 4 copies of the Grow Your Own Groceries DVD video set, valued at $43 each
– A Bug Out Seed Kit from the Sustainable Seed Company, a $46 value
– 4 copies of the Alternatives To Dentists DVD video, valued at $33 each
– 4 copies of the Greenhouse of the Future DVD and eBook, valued at $31 each

 

Learning to Grow – A Beginner’s Journey

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a-tray-of-seedlingsLet me start on a humorous note. I always tell folks who inquire that my entire journey into learning about growing thus far has been via a “YouTube Education.” Yes, I am one of those iPhone power users that loves the YouTube app. I think this is funny and it causes me to smile and laugh. Others may think that this is corny, but yet they tend to smile and laugh at my exuberance about it. Prior to my “YouTube Education,” I can earnestly say that I never even considered the world of gardening or self-sustainable food. Now it’s all I think about. I have truly found a sense of tranquility surrounding growing things that do not die and that taste so much better than store bought items.

My journey started a little over a year ago. My man and I had just moved from a city dwelling we lived in for more than 10 years to a more suburban area. We moved into a townhome that has a backyard, a basement and a garage, none of which did we have in our city apartment dwelling. This opened up a world of possibilities. A friend of ours gave us a basil plant as a house warming gift as she knew my man loves to cook. Suffice it to say, my entire path that summer was to not kill the gifted basil plant and to figure out how he could use it to cook! As I knew negative 7,000% about keeping a basil plant (or any plant) alive, I turned to my iPhone and pulled up YouTube and queried “Basil.” Throughout that summer/fall season, just by watching many of those videos, I learned not only how not to kill basil; but also how to harvest it, how to freeze the leaves, what heirloom seeds are, how to put the leaves in little ice cube trays with olive oil to freeze, and then what it means when the plant starts to flower. That basil plant did end up dying at the end of the fall as I didn’t realize at the time what the signs were once it started to flower. What did not end up dying though was my utter curiosity for more knowledge.

indoor-greenhouseThat entire experience caused me to become very curious so I turned to Amazon. During the fall/winter time I proceeded to purchase various heirloom non-GMO basil seeds from Amazon. I was so exuberant I also purchased sage, thyme, and rosemary seeds, little rockwool cubes (as they looked cool!) and starter trays to try my hand at growing. As much as my man kept stating that it was not a good time of year to try, I still ended up continuing on my winter path as I tend to be stubborn once I have my mind on a path. What did I learn? Well, apparently, growing seeds need… light! As much as that fall/winter seed growing project was an epic fail, I learned that it wasn’t an uber epic fail and there are definitely tiers of failing that are all a success in some way, shape or form (smile). Instead, I learned an awful lot just by watching the seeds try to grow while also watching YouTube videos on the subject and I learned about what essential elements they need.

My entire curiosity graduated and went on a wild journey when by happenstance during that winter I also ran across a video on the fact that you can grow potatoes in a bucket! Watching those YouTube videos was just simply awesome. My man then surprised me and purchased me an indoor 4 shelf greenhouse and a bunch of buckets from Home Depot. My man further surprised me and installed special grow lights in the indoor greenhouse. Talk about an explosion of inspiration!!!

This inspiration further developed into doing all of the following during the spring/summer season:

growing-plants-on-windowsill

• Grew potatoes, garlic and carrots in buckets outdoors. I learned that Home Depot buckets may not be the best to use as I learned they are not food safe, so a friend gave us a bunch of white food safe containers that the carrots and cherry tomatoes grew well in.
• Grew peas and green beans in two new small outdoor patio planter boxes. As it was our first time, we determined to go with a small starter setup.
• Grew 29 basil plants from seed in the greenhouse and then moved them into larger pots and learned to have an endless supply of basil. I ran out of room on an indoor sunny windowsill that I had them on so my man extended the window sill to accommodate them all.
• Grew sage and rosemary which both were not successful although I was able to harvest a small bit of sage.
• Grew 6 cherry tomato plants from seed in the greenhouse which grew into huge plants outdoors; as well as, grew two hanging cherry tomato plants.
• Grew 3 lemon trees ordered from Amazon in the greenhouse.
• Started to try to save a peach tree that I learned has peach borers and peach leaf curl in our new backyard.
• With all the basil and sage grown, learned how to harvest, freeze, propagate more, dry into shaker seasoning, and harvest the heirloom seeds for next season, and started learning how to create essential oil.

lara-with-her-potato-harvestNow that the 2015 northeast summer growing season has concluded, I am now at a point of going back and doing a review of the ups and downs of my first official growing season. Overall in that I am quite a beginner grower, I deem the growing season a success in my book. I definitely was not growing enough to be fully sustainable, yet, I grew enough to have some awesome dinners with my man filled with fresh vegetables/etc. I also was able to freeze about one meal’s worth of each so during this coming winter I hope to have some fine tasty Sunday dinners. The basil plants are still growing and I am still harvesting and propagating. I am curious to see how long they will last into the fall/winter. The lemon trees are still happy in the greenhouse although unfortunately I had to learn all about “fungus gnats” and had to transplant the lemon trees to get rid of the large amount of gnat larvae. They are still adjusting to the transplant. I also learned about nitrogen, soil pH, the different types of soil and the importance thereof.

As I move into the winter months again and as much as last year was an epic fail, last week I had the opportunity to watch a YouTube presentation on indoor winter gardening and hydroponics. On the same day I watched that presentation, I also found down the street a hydroponics store had just opened up. Based on this new inspiration… broccoli, cauliflower, spinach and peanut seeds were ordered. I plan to learn a lot about each of these this winter.

Suffice it to say… “Next round of inspiration, here I come!!!”


Thanks to Lara Smith for participating in the [Grow] Network Writing Contest.

We have over $2,097 in prizes lined up for the Fall 2015 Writing Contest, including all of the following:

– A 21.5 quart pressure canner from All American, a $382 value
– A Survival Still emergency water purification still, a $288 value
– 1 free 1 year membership in the [Grow] Network Core Community, a $239 value
– A Worm Factory 360 vermicomposting system from Nature’s Footprint, a $128 value
– 2 large heirloom seed collections from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, valued at $103 each
– A Metro-Grower Elite sub-irrigation growing container from Nature’s Footprint, a $69 value
– 2 copies of the complete Home Grown Food Summit, valued at $67 each
– 3 free 3 month memberships in the [Grow] Network Core Community, valued at $59 each
– 4 copies of the Grow Your Own Groceries DVD video set, valued at $43 each
– A Bug Out Seed Kit from the Sustainable Seed Company, a $46 value
– 4 copies of the Alternatives To Dentists DVD video, valued at $33 each
– 4 copies of the Greenhouse of the Future DVD and eBook, valued at $31 each

 

Channel Your Mama-Energy for Healthy Homestead Animals

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feeding-a-baby-goatBeing a retired Veterinary Technician, having practiced more than 30 years, there are a few things I have learned. One of them is that when you catch a problem early, before it becomes a major problem, it is easier to remedy and less expensive. Also, don’t underestimate the benefit of feeding good food and clean water to your animals be they livestock or pets.

In my opinion, there is no substitute for daily interaction with your animals. I feed my goats and chickens twice a day, during the warmer months I am likely to walk past their enclosure several times a day. I enjoy spending time with them, watching the chickens do the amusing things they do, or grabbing a brush to rub up the goat girls. This type of interaction gives me what I call, “Mama-energy”.

Have you ever been at a cookout or on a beach and seen a mother’s head snap to attention and start searching for her kid, even when you didn’t hear anything out of the ordinary? Then you see said kid running toward mama with a cut finger or bruised knee. She knew something was wrong almost instantly.

It is much the same with animals. You learn the essence of them, how they sound when they are “normal,” how they act and react within the flock or herd. Did they eat with gusto today as they usually do? Is the water disappearing faster than usual? You can learn to intuit so much from your animals. This info can tip you off to something that is amiss, giving you a jump on treating it before it is a full-blown problem.

For example, we have 2 cats. One is a young male who often stays out at night but usually arrives back for breakfast by 8:00 AM. One day this past summer, he was late. He didn’t get home until nearly noon and upon arriving home, rather than demanding his breakfast, he stretched out on the porch and went to sleep. My Mama-energy alarm sounded. I picked him up and he seemed a bit depressed to me, although still alert and purring. I felt his ear tips and the pads of his feet – two sites you can check quickly and easily for general temperature and if you aren’t sure, then you can get a thermometer for confirmation. Well, my little friend was hot, not just warm. I looked at his eyes and his 3rd eyelid was slightly visible. A sign in cats that signals something amiss. I offered some food and he ate… some, but not like the teenage boy he typically resembles. Bingo – we just hit “red alert!” I knew something was wrong, but what? The 3 things that came to mind immediately were: 1) internal parasites, 2) ingestion of poison, 3) abscess.

I placed him in the bedroom where he immediately went to sleep. I gave him a litter box so I could get a stool sample to test for parasites. I checked him all over for any break in his skin which might indicate the source of the abscess. You can also feel for tenderness, swelling or a “mushy” spot under the skin which will turn into an abscess and break open to drain. Initially I felt nothing. To speed the story along, my buddy got lethargic and was eating less and less, and in 2 days had an open and draining abscess on his back. If he had been sick for more than 4 days, with a fever and refusing food totally, I would have had him to a veterinarian. But I use homeopathic remedies and one of the remedies I used on him will speed up the exit of anything that needs to exit body. I spent the next few days cleaning the abscess, keeping it open and draining, and force feeding water and food when I needed to. Some of his tissue sloughed away and he was left with an impressive gaping hole which eventually filled in and closed and you can’t even find a hint of a scar today. The body is an amazing thing.

The point I want to stress is: because I knew the normal actions and reactions of this cat, I knew something was going on and needed attention. Now if you are one who uses antibiotics, you could have gone that route, and begun to treat him with those. If my buddy had not been responding to the homeopathics, I would have taken him to a vet who probably would have prescribed antibiotics and a blood test to look for bodily function like liver and kidney. But I could see that each day he was moving through a new level of healing, showing me his body was doing its thing and moving toward health. Another thing, had he been an elderly or sickly animal to begin with, I would have taken him for testing and treatment earlier because such animals have less life and spirit with which to fight disease.

To summarize: Feed your animals as well as you can afford to feed them. Especially if they are feeding you (milking animals, chickens for eggs or meat, or meat animals). The product they produce will be more nutritious and healthier for the humans who ingest it.

Provide fresh (unfrozen) water in clean containers. None of us can live without water, and dehydration – especially in a dairy animal – can lead to swift and grave problems. Also be aware of new trends in water consumption. Excessive thirst can indicate infection and fever. Diarrhea can cause dehydration.

Spend time with your animals. Be attentive to them and their needs. Don’t go through the routine of feeding like a robot and miss information that might alert you to a problem. If you have to feed after dark, take a flashlight, count heads, be aware of appetites – who is eating, who is hiding, who is getting picked on. Pay attention to what comes out of them – hard stool, diarrhea, or bloody stool can be a signal of problems that could turn serious if not addressed. Learn to assess body condition – is your animal too fat or too thin? How is her hair coat – thin, coarse, full of dandruff, or thick and shiny?

Use all of your senses. Run your hand over your livestock and get the general feel of them. Watch how they behave and pay attention if you or one of your family casually remarks, “That’s odd…” or “I never saw her do that before….” It is most likely the start of something. It could be as minute as one of your goats going into heat, but could also be something serious. Just pay attention.

Don’t omit listening as one of your tools. One time I averted a crisis (young goat caught in a hay feeder) just by hearing her vocalization and thinking that it simply didn’t sound right. Enlist the help of your spouse and kids. Kids are often great observers and will notice something you may have missed.

It is also very helpful to record the normals of your species: average heart rate (an animal in pain will have a higher HR), average respirations per minute, average temperature. Learn to check mucus membrane color, the gum above the teeth should be pink, like bubblegum. White or gray gums indicate possible blood loss or compromised blood flow, and blue gums indicate poor oxygenation. If you have horses or ruminants, a stethoscope is helpful for hearing bowel sounds – learn how many “gurglings” per minute is normal for your species. Practice taking your animals’ temperature. Make a record of what the normal reading is so you know what is not normal. Find out where to feel for a pulse and get proficient at it so that you can check in an emergency. A strong steady pulse is normal, a weak or thready pulse could point to shock.

Even if you end up working with a veterinarian, the information you collect and share with the doc will help in your animal friend’s treatment. Get your Mama-enery mojo working and spend some quality time with your pets and livestock.


Thanks to Mama Megan for participating in the [Grow] Network Writing Contest.

We have over $2,097 in prizes lined up for the Fall 2015 Writing Contest, including all of the following:

– A 21.5 quart pressure canner from All American, a $382 value
– A Survival Still emergency water purification still, a $288 value
– 1 free 1 year membership in the [Grow] Network Core Community, a $239 value
– A Worm Factory 360 vermicomposting system from Nature’s Footprint, a $128 value
– 2 large heirloom seed collections from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, valued at $103 each
– A Metro-Grower Elite sub-irrigation growing container from Nature’s Footprint, a $69 value
– 2 copies of the complete Home Grown Food Summit, valued at $67 each
– 3 free 3 month memberships in the [Grow] Network Core Community, valued at $59 each
– 4 copies of the Grow Your Own Groceries DVD video set, valued at $43 each
– A Bug Out Seed Kit from the Sustainable Seed Company, a $46 value
– 4 copies of the Alternatives To Dentists DVD video, valued at $33 each
– 4 copies of the Greenhouse of the Future DVD and eBook, valued at $31 each

 

Weeds: What They Tell Us and Why You Should Care

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dandelion-flowerFor many a homesteader or gardener, weeds can be a major topic of conversation. They should be, but maybe not for the reasons you think! I’m not talking about eradication or even control of noxious or unwanted plant life. What I’m referring to is listening to what the weeds are telling us… now that is a conversation that can really go places! No I don’t mean the loony bin (the weeds aren’t actually talking to you, even though you may be cursing them!). Where I’m going with this is observation and interaction.

Many weeds indicate deficiencies in the soil makeup or structure. For instance, dandelions and most thistles are indicative of compacted soils. You can literally tell what is wrong with your soil by looking at what wants to grow and thrive there. I’m sure this doesn’t really come as a surprise to a lot of people, but my next bit of illumination might. Get this, the same weeds that indicate a problem in the soil-shpere are also the ones that can fix it! The same compaction that is indicated by the presence of dandelion and thistle is also being broken up and relieved by those very same plants with their deep burrowing tap roots. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! Many of the weeds that thrive in iron-deficient soils also accumulate iron, and so on and so on.

plantainMany of the most obnoxious weeds the typical gardener faces are armed with impressive tap roots. This makes them a serious pain to get rid of by simply pulling them out of the soil as little chunks of root get left behind and new plants emerge. This leads the average Joe with nothing left to do but resort to a chemical cocktail that kills the plant and decimates the underlying soil biology, only to have them reemerge later. Remember, the problem still exists whether we let nature fix it or not. What I say is toss that Chem-Ag juice and work with nature to actually cure the underlying problems with the soil, instead of treating the symptoms (which in this case can also be the cure, look at my article on how I’m combating Canadian thistle for more)!

Observe the weeds you have flourishing in your system. Listen to what they are telling you about your soil. The answers are there! If you are not willing to let them run their course and correct the deficiencies on their own, (which I totally get… a brother needs some tomatoes this season, not a bunch of dandelions for the next five) then you’re going to have to do the weed’s work!

There a few different ways this can be accomplished. The first thing that might come to mind is to physically alter and amend the soil so that the problems with the soil can be corrected. Think tilling, sub-soiling, broadforking, fertilizing, mulching, and importing mineral amendments to add to the soil. This can get very costly and labor-intensive on a large scale though. The next option would be to utilize intentional plantings that alleviate the problems with the soil to remedy the deficiencies. Planting something like daikon radish in compacted soil or strawberries where the soil is iron-deficient could help alleviate thistle problems and net a yield. Legumes, clovers, or alfalfa will add nitrogen to you soil. Be creative, as there are many cultivated plants that have soil remediation analogs with weeds.

weeds-as-fodderIn the permaculture world, these are often referred to as dynamic accumulators. The plant will mine minerals and nutrients from deep in the soil layers and bring them to the surface in the form of leaves, and fruits. The deposited leaves, etc. from these plants will have concentrated levels of the deficient soil element, which then becomes available at the surface for other more desirable plants. Comfrey is the classic permaculture dynamic accumulator. Most permaculturists don’t consider dandelion or plantain to be weeds, and will actually encourage their growth because they are dynamic accumulators. Many types of thistle are also in this category, as are mulleins and stinging nettles. On a homestead or larger scale, if a person can spare that particular piece of land for a few seasons the problems will be alleviated and the “weeds” will eventually be pressured out through succession. In the mean time, thistles and nettles make pretty darn good fodder for the livestock and many “weeds” can be marketed as valuable medicinals should you want to add that to your income stream.

mulleinThe bottom line is that weeds can be an ally in the quest for truly awesome soil that will grow literally anything your climate and heart will allow. It takes patience, perseverance, and trust in the fact that the natural systems set in place by our Creator are resilient, and restorative. We just need to observe and interact appropriately with our environment, then emulate those natural systems and the answers to our problems will present themselves in due time. Most often those answers are embarrassingly simple… like letting the weeds accumulate nutrients and resolve the soil deficiencies!


Thanks to Dave for participating in the [Grow] Network Writing Contest.

We have over $2,097 in prizes lined up for the Fall 2015 Writing Contest, including all of the following:

– A 21.5 quart pressure canner from All American, a $382 value
– A Survival Still emergency water purification still, a $288 value
– 1 free 1 year membership in the [Grow] Network Core Community, a $239 value
– A Worm Factory 360 vermicomposting system from Nature’s Footprint, a $128 value
– 2 large heirloom seed collections from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, valued at $103 each
– A Metro-Grower Elite sub-irrigation growing container from Nature’s Footprint, a $69 value
– 2 copies of the complete Home Grown Food Summit, valued at $67 each
– 3 free 3 month memberships in the [Grow] Network Core Community, valued at $59 each
– 4 copies of the Grow Your Own Groceries DVD video set, valued at $43 each
– A Bug Out Seed Kit from the Sustainable Seed Company, a $46 value
– 4 copies of the Alternatives To Dentists DVD video, valued at $33 each
– 4 copies of the Greenhouse of the Future DVD and eBook, valued at $31 each

 

Patio Farming: Growing Great Edible Gardens in Small Spaces

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container-garden-at-summerwindsFinding space to grow food can be challenging in urban environments, especially for renters and apartment dwellers. Container gardens are a wonderful way to grow beautiful and productive edibles in small spaces. Fun and easy for aspiring and seasoned gardeners alike, container gardens offer flexibility and manageability that in-ground gardens lack. In fact, the endless possibilities can make container gardening addictive.

Start by selecting some functional containers. In order to choose the best containers for your plants, the following questions need to be considered:

1. What do you want to grow? In general, the pot ought to be slightly wider and slightly taller than the mature size of the plant you want to grow. Tiny succulents can grow well in coffee cups or shallow bowls, but a tomato plant will need a lot more space.
2. Drainage: The pot needs adequate holes in the bottom to allow for water to drain out of the pot.
3. Toxicity: Avoid growing edible plants in containers that are made of or once held toxic chemicals. Don’t use treated wood or pallets for edible gardens, as they contain preservatives and other chemicals that may be toxic to plants and harmful to humans, as well.

As long as it meets these three criteria, anything that can hold soil can be a plant’s home. Feel free to be creative and select containers that are both fun and functional.

Potting Mixes

Once you have selected your containers, you will need to fill them with potting mix. A great potting mix is the foundation for a successful container garden. To make an effective potting mix, start with organic potting soil or compost.

wetting-the-potting-mixTo the potting soil, add some perlite and vermiculite. Perlite resists water and helps to maintain good drainage in your containers. Vermiculite holds water, and releases it back into the soil when conditions are dry. Mix one part potting soil, one part perlite and one part vermiculite to create your own all-purpose potting mix that is free of synthetic chemicals, provides good drainage, and contains organic matter to provide your plants with nutrients.

Wet the potting mix ingredients and mix them well. It is important to begin wetting the ingredients prior to mixing, as dust from the potting soil and perlite are not healthy to breathe. You will notice that it takes a lot of water to wet the potting mix thoroughly. The goal is to get the mix as wet as a wrung-out sponge.

Planting

Gather your transplants and fill containers to within one inch of the top with potting mix. Make a hole in the soil for the plant that is slightly wider and as deep as the root ball.

Gently turn the plant upside down and ease the root ball out of the nursery pot, being very careful not to damage the stem. Tease roots apart, snip off any circling roots, and place the plant in the hole. Make sure that the root ball makes very good contact with the potting mix, leaving no air gaps or pockets.

Return displaced dirt to the hole to fill in empty areas. Do not press or force the dirt into the hole. Gently water. The soil may settle, revealing low spots. If low spots appear, add a little bit more soil, as necessary, and water in again.

Watering

In warm weather and dry seasons, containers tend to dry out quickly, particularly small pots and clay pots. Mulch the top of the soil with wood chips or pebbles to decrease evaporation. Water your plants until liquid runs out of the bottom of the pot to prevent mineral build-up in your soil. To facilitate draining, place the pot on small legs or in a shallow dish filled with gravel.

Allow the soil to nearly dry out before watering again. Roots need air, so a water-logged plant will die just as quickly as a dehydrated plant. Too much water also encourages the growth of mildews and molds.

Fertilizing

container-garden-in-pink-potsCommercial potting soils generally have enough nutrients to last a couple of months. Following this initial period, add a balanced, water soluble organic fertilizer. For patio plants that are watered often, nutrients are flushed away rapidly. It may be helpful to refer to the directions on the fertilizer package, adjusting to fertilize twice as often at half the recommended strength. This provides a regular nutrient drip for plants that are contained and thus reliant upon the gardener to meet their nutritional needs.

Enjoy

Just about any container that can hold soil and water can become a plant pot – including buckets, boots, reusable grocery bags, and wine barrels. Have fun creating your unique patio garden, and enjoy the benefit of having your own fresh produce, right outside your door!


Thanks to Kari Spencer of TheMicroFarmProject.com for participating in the [Grow] Network Writing Contest.

We have over $2,097 in prizes lined up for the Fall 2015 Writing Contest, including all of the following:

– A 21.5 quart pressure canner from All American, a $382 value
– A Survival Still emergency water purification still, a $288 value
– 1 free 1 year membership in the [Grow] Network Core Community, a $239 value
– A Worm Factory 360 vermicomposting system from Nature’s Footprint, a $128 value
– 2 large heirloom seed collections from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, valued at $103 each
– A Metro-Grower Elite sub-irrigation growing container from Nature’s Footprint, a $69 value
– 2 copies of the complete Home Grown Food Summit, valued at $67 each
– 3 free 3 month memberships in the [Grow] Network Core Community, valued at $59 each
– 4 copies of the Grow Your Own Groceries DVD video set, valued at $43 each
– A Bug Out Seed Kit from the Sustainable Seed Company, a $46 value
– 4 copies of the Alternatives To Dentists DVD video, valued at $33 each
– 4 copies of the Greenhouse of the Future DVD and eBook, valued at $31 each

 

A Life Long Love (of Gardening)

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raised-vegetable-bedI grew up on an 80 acre farm. My father rotated corn, soy beans, and wheat, so I knew enough about gardening to be (as they say) dangerous. My family fell on hard times just after my father bought the land. A car accident left him with two cracked vertebrae and a mountain of hospital bills. This was the in the 1970s, and it was a hard decade for us, as my mother learned to make soap, as well as clothing, for herself, my father and us three boys. And we learned how to garden. And boy did we garden – over a full acre of sweet corn, tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, beans, lettuce, cabbage, squash, onions, peas, beets, and many herbs. We would pick wheel barrels full of sweetcorn and tomatoes, and bushels of beans almost every other day!

What we couldn’t sell at the farmer’s market we ate or canned for winter use, and even what some would call waste was given to the chickens and pigs. I can never remember a time when we didn’t have enough to eat.

Then I went to college and then a university 150 miles from the family farm. I worked forty hours a week or more to pay my way through, and never took a dime from folks for my secondary schooling. I had grown used to the food in the college cafeteria, and quickly forgot how good fresh vegetables and fruits are.

Later I got a fairly good job, married and eventually moved into a condo. The condo association allowed flower beds, but for nine years I grew a small garden with a few tomato plants, beans, cucumbers, and potatoes (all heirloom varieties organically grown). I really enjoyed gardening and especially the fresh vegetables, and even gave tomatoes and cucumbers to some of my neighbors.

Then one day we got a letter in the mail from the board of our condo association (no direct communication, just a cowardly note) that said to cease and desist. I was heartbroken, as I loved to garden and even more loved the fruit of my work.

A couple of years later a friend of mine was retiring from his job. He is about ten years older than I, and we started talking about gardening. He had a large back yard, and decided to turn a corner of the yard into a garden. I helped him amend the soil, pick out heirloom varieties of seeds and potatoes, and we planted the first garden he had ever had in his life.

That first year was OK, but we live in Michigan, were there is a lot of wildlife, particularly deer, woodchucks, and other small creatures who tend to love heirloom and organically grown food as much as we do. So the first two years were about learning how to keep out the pests.

Then three years ago I told him about square foot gardening, and how we could build raised beds and then fence everything in to help from losing most of the veggies. He enlisted the help of his stepson and father-in-law, and between the four of us we built 10 8’x5′ beds two feet off the ground. My friend found some plastic owls that have sensors that detect movement and spay water from attached garden hoses, which he attached to the fence on either end.

I have had one bed to plant, and I have been planting three tomato plants, four cucumber plants, an eight foot row of beans, and then carrots and potatoes in the remaining space. I trellis the cucumbers, and stake up the tomatoes. We have been getting the tomato plants to grow over eight feet high! From this one bed, I get twice as many tomatoes, cucumbers and beans as my wife and I need and the rest I take into work. My workplace lets us bring in extra garden produce and my fellow workers give money to the local food bank for any veggies they want.

So in conclusion, I have come full circle as a gardener, and have brought in a friend who is using gardening not only as a hobby, but a way to keep him from getting (as he says) fat and lazy.


Thanks to Jim Craft for participating in the [Grow] Network Writing Contest.

We have over $2,097 in prizes lined up for the Fall 2015 Writing Contest, including all of the following:

– A 21.5 quart pressure canner from All American, a $382 value
– A Survival Still emergency water purification still, a $288 value
– 1 free 1 year membership in the [Grow] Network Core Community, a $239 value
– A Worm Factory 360 vermicomposting system from Nature’s Footprint, a $128 value
– 2 large heirloom seed collections from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, valued at $103 each
– A Metro-Grower Elite sub-irrigation growing container from Nature’s Footprint, a $69 value
– 2 copies of the complete Home Grown Food Summit, valued at $67 each
– 3 free 3 month memberships in the [Grow] Network Core Community, valued at $59 each
– 4 copies of the Grow Your Own Groceries DVD video set, valued at $43 each
– A Bug Out Seed Kit from the Sustainable Seed Company, a $46 value
– 4 copies of the Alternatives To Dentists DVD video, valued at $33 each
– 4 copies of the Greenhouse of the Future DVD and eBook, valued at $31 each

 

Growing My Groceries’ Groceries

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sprouted-grains-close-upI want to eat wholesome food. I think anyone who wants it ought to be able to eat wholesome food, but cost is a barrier for too many people. Like me. I wanted to eat the kind of food I could not afford to buy, so I started to grow my own. Sustainable gardening was an obvious first step, but raising a cow to be my source of organic dairy products, and chickens for eggs and meat meant buying expensive organic animal feed or growing their food, too. That’s how I started to grow their food too, or at least as much as I can.

I have dabbled and tweaked my technique for years now, and last year I finally raised my first crop of non-GMO, pasture-penned chickens for less than the ones labelled “natural” in the store. I want to be clear, I still buy non-GMO chicken feed from a local supplier and I buy organic fishmeal. Sprouted barley doesn’t quite supply adequate protein for layers, so I bump the overall dietary protein by putting 1 part fishmeal into 13 parts chicken feed. The birds get 10 pounds of sprouts and 3 pounds of the feed every day.

I don’t just grow food for chickens, though. I use less than half the hay to winter my cows than the local average. My cows still get hay, just a lot less. My system is still tiny, for cows. If I had room for the racks I would be feeding the 3 cows about 150 pounds of fodder a day. This is an ever evolving project, but one that has given me much better control over what all the animals eat.

The key is barley. Once sprouted, it becomes a nearly perfect chicken food. Indeed, it becomes an excellent feed for almost any grazing animal. There are many valid reasons not to feed cows grain, but sprouts and fodder are a very different story. With just a soak, anti-nutrients are converted to nutrients. All the good reasons you would sprout your own food apply to your grazing animals, too. Grain is generally cheap compared to hay, and if you grow it into fodder the savings can be quite significant. You can sprout many grains, but barley is uniquely well suited for my needs, nutritionally.

My first system was set up all over my kitchen. I had soaking/sprouting buckets under cupboards and fodder trays on top of counters, fish tanks, anything horizontal and water resistant. I was thrilled with my experiment, and so dedicated a spare bathroom to the effort. That set up had my soak buckets under the racks, had my fodder trays on wire shelving with sprout bags hanging off the corners. Watering was as easy as turning on the shower. It worked very well. At that point, I had 18 chickens and 2 calves. By the time I had 2 cows, I needed a much bigger system.

fresh-pastureCurrently, I use blue 55 gallon barrels to soak and sprout, with fodder trays below. This is set up in a semi-earth-sheltered greenhouse, so my climate control is not as good as when it was indoors. When I was better able to keep the temperature and humidity stable, I averaged 7 pounds of fodder per pound of grain. My current set up only gives me about 5 pounds of fodder per pound of grain but I am able to sprout up to 40 pounds of grain at a time. Five pounds had been the most I could do in my other set ups. This system will be getting upgraded soon, but it has served me well and hopefully is adequate to illustrate the concept.

Normally, I put 20 pounds of locally sourced barley in the barrel. So far barley is still non-GMO (to the best of my knowledge). You want to know your farmer though, because many use a “Round Up knock down” to make the barley all ripen at the same time. Locally, our conditions are so dry it is not needed and even farmers who love Monsanto won’t spend money they do not have to. I cover the grain with about 3 inches of water and give it about a tablespoon of bleach. I know that sounds scary, but it is worth it. First, bleach dissipates within 24 hours, so by the time I feed this to my animals the bleach is long gone. Furthermore, I buy animal grade barley. There is debris in there, sometimes mouse poop. That debris comes with microbes who will love the moist, dark, humid conditions I am about to give my sprouts. If my sprouts get mildewed or moldy, I do not feed them to anyone. I have tried several things to avoid the bleach, but at this point the bleach is far preferable to risking feeding my animals molded feed or throwing away 25 pound racks of fodder. Also, if I were getting my water from a municipal source it would have bleach in it, too.

barrel-drainageAfter 18 to 24 hours, I drain the barrel. The barrels have slits on one side and not the other, so they have “drain” and “soak” positions. For the next 3 days, I will water the barrel 4 times a day, stirring the sprouts well each time. On the fourth day, I fill a fodder tray and feed the rest to the chickens 5 pounds at a time (we have over 40 chickens now). The chickens would eat the fodder also, but I have limited tray space so they get sprouts for now. The trays are also watered 4 times a day for 4 more days, then fed to the cows, half a tray morning and night.

If you decide to try this for grazing animals, let me help you avoid some aggravation. Do not try this in the spring. My cows run to get their fodder, they race each other to the trough. They love, love, love their fodder! Then one lovely spring day, 3 years in a row now, I will show up with my bucket of fodder and Bessie will look at me, look at the bucket, look at the pasture busting out in vibrant, fresh grass, then look at me again and with those big cow eyes she says “You’re kidding, right?” When that day hits, I shut down the fodder trays and double my sprouting, and the cows get sprouts until fall when the pasture is dry again.

sprout-guardA few other tips to help you get you started: First of all, this is not a recipe to follow. This is gardening. When I say “20 pounds” I mean somewhere between 15 and 40, depending on weather and pasture conditions. There are seed quality issues, weather issues, water quality issues, every different type of tray I tried had different pluses and minuses. If you see something here and think “Hey, this would work better than that for me,” then by all means, customize your system. You will note I am not supplying technical details or parts suppliers because I have used just about everything under the sun at this point and if you give it enough “farmer’s shadow,” it will probably work. If you neglect it, you will probably grow mold.

The best way to sprout small scale that I have found is to use paint strainer bags and 5 gallon buckets. You soak the bag of grain in a bucket, then pull out the strainer to drain. I hung the bags on the corners of my grow racks in my shower system until they were ready to put on trays. The sprouts respond well to darkness and pressure. I used to put skillets and such on top of my sprouts, the hanging bags provided the pressure naturally. My current system does not use pressure application and I suspect that is one reason why my volume is down.

Do not let the grain cook itself. If you do not keep it well stirred it will clump up, making it harder to spread onto trays. Worse, it starts to generate heat. Not just a little, a ridiculous amount, adequate to make your grains spoil. Spoiled grain needs to be discarded. Fermented grain is fine, and in the heat of summer I often serve fermented sprouts. There are additional health benefits when sprouts are fermented, actually. If it smells like salad, bread, or beer, you are good to go. If it smells unpleasant, something is wrong.

The best material for fodder trays that I have found so far is a very fine mesh, food grade, black plastic. The roots like a little darkness, so black is better. The roots will grow aggressively through wide holes and become a nightmare to harvest, so stick to very fine mesh size. There must be excellent drainage, so I like net more than solid trays with drain holes. I use only food grade because these are my groceries’ groceries!


Thanks to Claire Cox for participating in the [Grow] Network Writing Contest.

We have over $2,097 in prizes lined up for the Fall 2015 Writing Contest, including all of the following:

– A 21.5 quart pressure canner from All American, a $382 value
– A Survival Still emergency water purification still, a $288 value
– 1 free 1 year membership in the [Grow] Network Core Community, a $239 value
– A Worm Factory 360 vermicomposting system from Nature’s Footprint, a $128 value
– 2 large heirloom seed collections from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, valued at $103 each
– A Metro-Grower Elite sub-irrigation growing container from Nature’s Footprint, a $69 value
– 2 copies of the complete Home Grown Food Summit, valued at $67 each
– 3 free 3 month memberships in the [Grow] Network Core Community, valued at $59 each
– 4 copies of the Grow Your Own Groceries DVD video set, valued at $43 each
– A Bug Out Seed Kit from the Sustainable Seed Company, a $46 value
– 4 copies of the Alternatives To Dentists DVD video, valued at $33 each
– 4 copies of the Greenhouse of the Future DVD and eBook, valued at $31 each