Category Archives: In the Garden

Herbal Teas to Grow or Forage Yourself

Most of us are familiar with vegetable gardens and herb gardens- but what about your own tea garden?

Delicious herbal teas that you can grow or forage!

(Catnip tea brewing in our Tea Posy pot.)

I love a good black tea in the afternoon, but herbal teas are my friends for various health benefits. I have paid premium prices for a small bit of tea ($9 for 15 tea bags?!?)- and would continue to buy said tea if it was something we couldn’t easily access at home- but there are so many home-grown and wild options to try first!

You can either plant a specific area as a tea garden, or you can simply look around your yard to forage for flowers, plants, herbs, and weeds that can easily be turned into teas.

As always, make sure you double and triple check the identification of any wild plant you find before consuming it, and consider consulting with a local foraging expert. It’s also not a bad idea to try a new plant in small amounts to see how you tolerate it before overdoing it.

Here’s my list to get you started- though it will likely continue growing. 😉 (This post contains some affiliate links.)

Online Herbalism Courses for all levels

  1. Mint– Prolific, easy to grow, hard to take out of the ground. Make sure it’s where you want it. 😉 Here’s some inspiration for various mint tea recipes, and here’s some info on the health benefits of peppermint.
  2. Lemon Balm– This iced tea recipe is good for anxiety, wounds, and sleep disorders. You could also try this recipe for lemon balm-green tea and learn about why lemon balm is just a great plant to cultivate in your yard. Plus, it tastes and smells good. (It’s also a member of the mint family.)
  3. Chamomile – This flower makes a relaxing tea that is also renowned for many health benefits.
  4. Plantain– Known as a medicinal plant used for many purposes (treating insect bites and stings being one of them), it can also be made into a tea for when you’re feeling ill.
  5. Stinging Nettle– I first tried dried nettle tea from a local bulk tea and spice boutique. I had a light bulb moment when my husband suggested drying the stuff in our yard (or boiling fresh leaves) instead of continuing to buy it!
  6. Dandelion Root– I actually haven’t tried making this one at home yet, but I’ve got some dried dandelion roots sitting under my spice cabinet, waiting to be tasted. I’ll have to give these instructions a whirl.
  7. Red Raspberry Leaf– This tea is famous for uterine health. I’ve been enjoying a daily cup of homemade “Mama-to-be-tea” from a local boutique that features raspberry leaf.
  8. Carrot Greens– This is one that you’ll have to do your own research on. Some say that carrot greens are toxic, others say that they’re a market vegetable in many countries. This article pulls in favor of consuming carrot tops, and references several other discussions on the topic. I won’t tell you that you should consume carrot greens. I’ll just say that we’ve made iced tea out of fresh carrot greens several times and haven’t died (or gotten sick) yet.
  9. Echinacea– I didn’t realize for a long time that those gorgeous summer purple cone flowers are actually echinacea! Known for immunity benefits, echinacea is easy to harvest and prepare for tea.
  10. Basil– Apparently, this tasty herb works well for sore throats, headaches, and upset stomachs! I didn’t know that before reading this!
  11. Wintergreen– Here’s the secret to enjoying foraged wintergreen tea that’s full of flavor.
  12. Catnip– We drank catnip tea all winter long to help get over colds faster. Between that, homemade stock, elderberry syrup, and raw honey, none of us stayed sick more than a couple of days. Here’s how to identify catnip.
  13. Red Clover– This medicinal plant grows wild all over the place! Just look down!
  14. Drink your fruitsThis post covers instructions for blackberry, raspberry, strawberry leaf, elderflower, and orange peel teas. How exciting is that?
  15. Winter teasThis blogger details how to make teas out of four forage-able wild winter plants. How cool! (No pun intended.) Who says you have to grow and dry tea in the summer months?

Stinging Nettle- perfect to harvest for herbal tea!

A patch of stinging nettle- perfect for brewing a cup of tea!

You can also check out Herbal Academy’s post on homemade tea recipes for cold and flu season. Gather and dry your ingredients now, then mix and use them all winter!

(If you live in a warm area, you can grow regular “black tea” as well. Our northeastern area isn’t well suited to this warm weather plant, so that’s one tea I’ll keep buying.)

To enjoy your teas fresh, simply pour boiling water over the herbs. (It helps to have a tea ball of some sort to contain them.) You’ll learn over time to adjust the amount and steeping time to your liking. If you prefer to dry them first, you can hang them up, use a dehydrator (I have and love this one), or look up instructions for drying individual herbs in your oven. Then store and use as you would dried tea throughout the year.

What’s your favorite herbal tea?

Learn how to grow or forage for these delicious herbal teas!

The Art of Gardening (Book Review)

Susan Vinskofski, author and gardening genius behind the blog Learning and Yearning, generously gave me a free copy of her ebook, The Art of Gardening, in exchange for my honest review. I liked the book so much that I decided to become an affiliate for it as well. Please be assured that I only endorse products I know and love on this blog-and this book definitely fit the bill!

I first met Susan through a mutual friend who thought that we would get along since we both grew and preserved so much of our own food. Our friend was right- my husband and Susan both had an affinity for lasagna gardening, she and I both had a blogging history, and we all had a passion for eating fresh, nutritious, well-sourced food. It turns out that Susan is also a master gardener (something my hubby has wanted to do for a long time) and the author of this fabulous book: The Art of Gardening.

The Art of Gardening Building Your Soil

What will you find inside Susan’s ebook? Easy-to-follow advice for building rich, healthy soil, a clear, helpful guide to understanding seeds (and some of the most common garden crops), and creative ways to enjoy the harvest in your real-food kitchen. The information is accompanied by Deb Hamby’s gorgeous oil paintings, which is enough in and of itself to make you want to grow all kinds of appealing plants.

Susan covers the basic aspects of building soil- composting, lasagna gardening, soil components, and mulching. She discusses controversial practices like the use of peat moss and rototilling with precision and grace. And consistently, she encourages the use of whatever sustainable, inexpensive local resources you can get your hands on.

For example, when sourcing wood chips to mulch your garden, Susan discourages the use of bark- or recycled wood-based (and expensive) commercial chips. Instead she recommends wood chips that are full of the good stuff- branches, leaves, needles- i.e., food for your soil. Does she send you to a specialty site to order pricey 5 lb bags of the stuff? No. She gives you a local, friendly solution that won’t cost you a dime : “Call a local tree service and ask if they would be willing to deliver a load of these chips to your garden. They often have to pay a fee to dispose of the chips and are more than willing to drop them off if they are in your area. Be kind, and offer them some of your garden produce; you never know, you may make a new friend.”

Susan covers all things seeds- seed types, sources, and why plant diversity is so important. She reviews GMO and organic seed issues, but doesn’t muddy the waters too much with the muck of the controversy. Instead, she gets right down to business by walking the reader through the how-to of seed starting, planting, and saving. And of course, Susan discusses how to care for your garden. (Ah, the fun part!)

But the section that plays most to my belly and taste buds is the A-Z veggie guide at the end of the book… with accompanying creative recipes! Whether I was drooling over the idea of grass-fed burgers topped with sweet onion butter, or dreaming of parsnip cake with orange-infused whipped cream, Susan’s book made me inspired to make use of my garden produce in new and delicious ways. I can hardly wait for our harvest so I can cook some of these!

The Art of Gardening is a great starter’s guide for beginners, and is full of sound advice for experienced gardeners. My hubby and I are somewhere in the middle, as we’ve been gardening together for about six years now, and starting our own seeds for the past three years. However, we’ve always said that you make mistakes and learn something new every year. Well, I learned a lot of new things from this book! Every chapter in The Art of Gardening offered some knowledge previously unbeknownst to me. I bet that implementing some of Susan’s tricks will save us a lot of trouble in the years to come.

Susan empowers ALL prospective gardeners to be successful- not just those with a gorgeous plot and fancy amendments. She says in her first chapter that she wants “to teach you to build a garden in such a way that the original soil you have to work with will not be what determines your end result.” And that is exactly what she does.

Want to get your own copy? Susan is currently offering 25% off the price of The Art of Gardening through May 31st, 2015, with the code SPRING entered at checkout. You won’t regret this wholesome , inspiring read! Click here for more details.

Learn to Create A Healthy Garden

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Low Tunnel Log Planters

 

Low Tunnel Log PlantersMy hubby recently came up with an idea combining a traditional low-tunnel with loose hugelkultur principles: a low tunnel log planter. I waited a couple of weeks to post this on the blog, because it is still a bit of an experiment!  However, our seeds have sprouted now, so I take that as a good sign.

April low tunnels 001Normally, a low tunnel system is used to extend the growing season into the fall or for overwintering plants. We used it to start our cool-weather greens in the early spring and protect them from late frosts. Of course, now that it’s getting warmer, the plastic can come off to let those babies see the sun. (If you want some low-tunnel inspiration, Mother of a Hubbard is famous for her low-tunnels that grew greens through the winter under 15″ of snow, additional ice, and subzero temperatures.)

In typical hugelkultur, logs are buried under soil and rich organic material to create a nutritious place for your plants to grow. This bed doesn’t really fit the hugelkultur model, but it does nod to the same idea: taking advantage of old wood’s decomposition to provide food for the plants. Think of it as a planter box with benefits.

To make this bed, Tim cut down an old rotting tree at the edge of our yard (a hazard, to say the least) and carved out a deep groove down the middle with a chainsaw. He then filled it with soil and planted the seeds. Next, he made little hoops out of wire to stick in the wood (you can drill little holes if needed), and covered it with plastic.

April 2015 (Easter) 030I just love seeing new life pop up:

April low tunnels 006So far, so good. I’ll let you know if the plants grow well through the warmer weather, and I’ll try to update in the fall if we use the planter for overwintering greens.

Good Pickins # 19 (Seed & Garden Edition)

It’s the most wonderful time of the year- almost springtime! We still haven’t officially planned out our garden, but by golly, we had better do it soon. We have a lot of saved seeds from last year, but will be ordering some new ones from Johnny’s. And in just a couple of short weeks, it will be time for us to start our seeds indoors!

Summer '13--March '14 022(It won’t be long, it won’t be long, it won’t be long…)

Today, my “pickins'” will be focused on seed starting and garden planning. This is partially because we need to be doing it ASAP, and partially because I think it goes along with my $25 grocery challenge. Chances are, we couldn’t eat on that little a week without having our own preserved garden food. Planning ahead for a successful garden will help to keep us well-fed next year too!

Find Your Hardiness Zone– Find out what you can plant depending on where you live. All seed packets are labeled with a “Zone,” so do make sure you’re buying plants that match your official zone!

Seed Library with Origami Seed Envelopes– It’s a little late for me this year, but this would have been a smart, pretty, and functional way for me to store my seeds over winter. Let’s just say I put various mystery squash seeds into plastic ziplocs and didn’t label them. Oops.

Simple Seed Germination Test– If you have saved seeds from last year’s garden (or old purchased seeds), you can find out if they’re viable with this simple test. No need to waste a bunch of starting medium and grow space on your seed-starting shelf.

A 10 Step Guide to Starting Seeds Indoors– From Backyard Roots. This series is super helpful for the newbie who wants to start seeds inside rather than waiting to buy a plant at the local nursery. Kellie breaks down each part of seed starting into super simple steps, and helps you to avoid common problems along the way.

Planning Your Vegetable Garden– Grow a Good Life shares how she goes about planning and mapping her vegetable garden each spring. I like her approach. She is sure to consider crop rotation and succession planting, and gives priority space to her “necessity” crops first.

If you want to use technology to plan out your garden space, try Mother Earth’s vegetable garden planner, or The Old Farmer’s Almanac garden planner. While you can try them both for free for 30 days, they do eventually have a fee. My husband was so impressed with the Old Farmer’s Almanac version that we considered paying the annual subscription cost— but didn’t! Just having printable plans made up was helpful enough for us.

Do you plant a garden? Do you have any favorite resources or tips to share? Link them below so I can learn from you!

16 Reasons to Grow (At Least Some of) Your Own Food

As a follow up to a couple of recent posts (namely, Can Organics Feed the World? and 30 Reasons to Own Chickens), I want to give you some reasons (in no particular order) why you should consider growing at least some of your own food this spring.

16 Reasons to Grow Your Own Food

  1. You can get extremely local food at a fraction of the cost you would pay at specialty markets.
  2. Your produce is as fresh as it can get when you grow it yourself.
  3. You can purchase organic seeds at a fraction of the cost for organic produce.
  4. You can use inexpensive organic pest control methods to avoid the risks of pesticides on your plants.
  5. You can buy (or trade)  “open-sourced” seeds and avoid GMO products.
  6. You can build healthy soil and have far more nutrients in your homegrown veggies than your store-bought ones.
  7. You get a LOT of yield off of one plant.
  8. You can preserve your homegrown food, allowing you to save on future grocery trips.
  9. You get to find out what grows well in your area- you would be surprised at how even “bad growing” areas can be perfectly suited for some types of plants. Here’s a post on edibles that do well in full shade, and here’s a whole blog devoted to homesteading in the desert. Think you can’t grow anything? Do some research first! You just may be able to!
  10. You get to learn how different plants grow and thrive.
  11. You appreciate your food a lot more when you grow it yourself.
  12. Your kids are more likely to eat what they helped to grow. (My son loves to pick a fresh pepper or tomato off our plants. In fact, our first year, he ate every. single. tomato. that was on our plants. We obviously chose to plant more of them the following year.)
  13. When you plan your garden carefully, it can save you a lot of money. (We spend between $100-$200 a year on our garden, seeds, soil, etc., but we have saved hundreds a month on groceries because we have our preserved food to use throughout winter.
  14. It builds your self-sufficiency.
  15. You learn new skills.
  16. It is immensely satisfying.

I challenge you. Look up one plant- just one!- that will grow well in the conditions in your yard- or patio- or windowsill. Find something, or someplace to plant it in that is free. (You don’t need a designer pot.) Give it a whirl. If you succeed, great! Try a few more plants next year! Figure out how to build healthy soil as you continue gardening year by year. If you fail, find out why. Go ahead and try, try again! (This is what Google is for, people!)

There is not much more satisfying than seeing food grow from start to finish, by the work of your own hands. We still get a thrill every time we are able to eat a dinner that is primarily sourced from our own garden. What a joy to cultivate and make use of what grows in the earth!

“Who loves a garden still his Eden keeps, perennial pleasures plants, and wholesome harvest reaps.” ~Amos Bronson Alcott

This post contains affiliate links.

Chickens, Gardens, & The Circle of Life

Have you ever wondered how chickens and gardens can help each other out? If you’re a seasoned chicken keeper, I’m sure you already know. If you’re not, now you can learn how chickens and gardens join hands (er, wings?) in the “circle of life.” Yes, I did intend to get the song stuck in your head. You’re welcome.

All cheesiness aside, chickens and gardens can be a wonderful pair. The garden has been our birds’ autumn home, and they each provide some give and take for each other.

Nov 2014 041

When the first frost was inevitable, we harvested the last of our crops and opened the chicken coop up inside the fenced garden area. In the weeks that followed, our birds took to pecking, scratching, and trampling through the remainder of the plants that stayed in the garden. They got the benefit of the garden scraps while they performed the labor of post-season soil aeration and fertilization for us. Thank you, gentle fowl.

After the leaves fell from our tress, the hubby took great loads of them to the garden and spread them about. Hello, rich compost! Plus the birds get to enjoy all of those little bugs that thrive in dying organic material. Both the birds and the dirt get nourishment for the winter.

Remember all of those garden goods we preserved? Now, when we take them out to prepare them, we put the scraps into our compost buckets. The compost buckets get tossed to the chickens. The birds pick through what they like of that, and work the remains into the soil as well.

And what will become of all of it? Our garden will be chock full of nutrients to help our plants grow big and strong. Our chickens will give us healthy, free-range eggs for our family. Perhaps we’ll even get some chicks in the future if they decide to be broody! And eventually, our current birds will become a wholesome food source for our family as well.

And the joy of it? It can start over again each year. New plants for the chickens in the spring to eat, new chicks to grow happy and healthy, new food for the soil, and new food for us, from both the garden and the birds. The giving is cyclical, and the cycle fosters gratitude.

We are thankful for the provision these birds can give. Nothing will be wasted, and all will be appreciated.

Nov 2014 040

 

 

 

 

Top Preservation Picks for 2014

I’m not really into zombie-apocalypse style survival preparation. But I am into saving as much of our own food as possible for the winter. Why?

  • It saves us on grocery bills through winter. A LOT.
  • It’s really satisfying to eat the food you grew yourself in the middle of the winter.
  • It tastes way better. (Ever compared home canned tomatoes to store canned tomatoes come February? Hardly a comparison to talk about.)

There are certain foods I’m really excited about preserving, and others that I find either impractical for us. Things that have to stay in the fridge, for example, are rather difficult to keep long term because we just don’t have a lot of fridge space. (What we need, my friends, is a real root cellar… building project???)

We try to save every last scrap of food from the garden that we can. But the top preservation items for us this year have been… drum roll please…

top preservation picks

1) Tomatoes. Canned whole tomatoes, canned sauce, canned salsa, sun-dried tomatoes, frozen chopped green tomatoes. That’s my list for this year. My husband planted about 40 tomato plants last spring, mostly Brandywine and Amish Paste. While several of them fell prey to blight, the rest are producing a lot of scrumptiousness that should really be saved for when the snow flies.

2) Squash. For zucchini and yellow squash, I chop, grate, and freeze. Winter squash actually keeps a good long while just sitting someplace cool and dry, but you can also freeze purees or mashes (such as those from pumpkin, Turk’s turban, or acorn squash). You can safely can cubed winter squash at home, but not pureed squash (read why here– we actually canned pureed pumpkin for about 3 years before hearing that we shouldn’t, so I guess we were in the safe zone, but it turns out we were taking a risk!)

3) Cooking Greens. Cauliflower greens, broccoli greens, turnip greens, spinach, chard, etc. Collect them, wash them, blanch them, freeze them. Then they’re all ready for side dishes, casseroles, sauce, soups, eggs- you name it- they’re an easy and super nutritious add-in.

4) Broccoli & Cauliflower. Why should the greens have all the fun? I’m blanching and freezing florets as well, since in the past I bought the frozen versions on a very regular  basis all year round.

5) Berries. We live near a couple of pick-yer-own farms around here, so we turned somewhere in the neighborhood of 31 lbs of strawberries and blueberries into frozen food and home-canned jam. We also made this elderberry syrup recipe. (Thanks mom & dad, for all of your help picking and preserving those berries!)

June 2014 142

6) Apples. We have 3 old apple trees on our property that were not very well cared for before we arrived. While Tim is working on pruning them back to reasonable size, we do still get some good tart green apples. I do pick out what I am able to salvage and make apple sauce, apple butter, etc. to put away for winter. It’s more of a pain than orchard apples, for sure, but hey, they’re free!

7) Peppers. I try to pick my peppers and freeze them at different stages so we have green & red. I also add them to canning recipes (salsa, for example). I would like to try preserved roasted red peppers… has anyone else done this?

7) Fish. These aren’t home-grown, but they are fresh-caught close to home. We live just above a creek full of bass, sunnies, and trout. My hubby catches them, guts them, and we freeze them. We don’t have the right type of equipment or a lot of experience to do a really good job of this yet. However, we try to eat them fairly quickly (within a couple months), and it’s always been tasty, almost-free meat for our family.

While there are certainly other things we are working on preserving for winter (black walnuts, beets, etc.) the ones listed above have been our biggest producers and best savers so far this year. What is easiest to preserve in your area? What do you use most frequently throughout the winter?

 

 

Keeping Up with Your Garden on a Real-Life Schedule

harvest2

Ah, summertime, when all the literal fruits of your gardening efforts come to maturity. When your plants are bursting with bumper crops of zucchini, yellow squash, and tomatoes. When you’re up to your ears in all that fresh-produce goodness. When you suddenly realize that you’re going to have to do something with all these veggies so they don’t go bad!

Here are a few tips I learned last summer- the year that I had a beautiful garden (mostly cared for by my husband up to this point), a newborn baby girl, and a healthy (read: energetic) almost 3 year old boy.

1) Harvest Regularly. Go out for 10 minutes each morning and collect your fresh crops. This way it will never take you too long on any one day. You will also ensure that the produce makes it into your kitchen instead of rotting on the ground or being eaten up by neighborhood bunnies.

2) Multi-task Weeding. This may not apply to everyone, but I often try to weed here and there for 5 minutes while I give my kids outdoor play time. It’s never perfect in any of my beds, but I manage to keep the overgrowth down while supervising my little man.

3) Keep an Eye on What’s Coming. Watch to see what will be ripe over the next few days. This will help you to plan when you will have to preserve or cook your crops. It will minimize waste and maximize your time management.

4) Plan Your Meals Plan a few days in advance to use your freshest crops. There’s something extremely satisfying about running out for that bell pepper you need to dress your steak. In the summertime, I often do my meal planning while collecting from the garden, rather than looking through store ads.

5) Don’t Wait to Preserve
I know that if I don’t purposefully schedule in my canning & freezing, I’ll keep procrastinating until I end up having to scramble at the last minute to prevent spoilage. This negates one of the main reasons for growing your own food: eating it in the wintertime! If you collect a big batch of radishes one day, plan on whipping up a batch of radish butter that evening. If you have 3 grocery bags full of tomatoes sitting in your refrigerator right now (nope, I’ve never done that, nuh-uh…), get yourself in gear and can them tomorrow morning!

Since I have young kids in the picture I often have to enlist the help of my mother or friends to make this possible without too many interruptions. Don’t let your crops pile up on you, because then it will be even harder to get it all done and you’ll be tempted to give up and let some go to compost. Fear not! Take an hour here and there and get it done!

“Little bits at a time” is my motto right now for a lot of different chores, and the garden is no different. Once my kiddos are bigger you better believe I’ll be enlisting their help- but until then, it’s up to us to get the job done. 10 minutes when I’m able can make the task a lot more manageable. (I’m preaching this to myself right now too!) Are you with me? Go get harvesting!