Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Homemade Laundry Detergent

Found a great tutorial on how to make your own laundry detergent.  Wow, it's easy, and the cost savings are unbelievable!

Click here to check out the tutorial.

Seed Viability Chart

Did you know that seeds vary highly with how long they'll keep before becoming unreliable to plant?  Some seeds, like cucumbers and melons, can keep for up to 5 years, while others, such as onions and chives, will only keep for one year.  How you store them also plays a role in their ability to sprout over time.  Cool and dark is the rule of thumb.  Here's a link to a handy chart listing storage viability for different seeds.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Seed Potatoes vs. Store Bought Potatoes for Planting

I noticed seed potatoes for the first time last spring at a local outdoor store. I asked the lady at the register what the difference was between a seed potato and one just grown from the potatoes you bought at the grocery store to eat. She truthfully told me that she had no idea. Well, some folks might rush right home to look it up, but not me. It was springtime and I was busy! When fall rolled around and I was ready to plant the fall garden, I noticed that a few of potatoes I purchased to feed the family had sprouted eyes so I went ahead and decided to plant them and see what happened.

We got them in the ground a little late and the frost killed the top of the plants a few days ago. After digging around a bit this morning, here is what I found.

Obviously, we got potatoes! I know they would have been bigger given a few more weeks to grow, but still, we’ll enjoy them for dinner. Ok, so once again, I pondered the seed potato and this time decided to do my research. It turns out that there really is a difference!

It seems that ‘eating’ potatoes are grown specifically to eat. They are treated with inhibitors that will delay sprouting. This gives the growers longer to get the potatoes to market (grocery store) and it allows us to keep them stored longer before they sprout. ‘ Hmmm, so what’s the big deal if they sprout’, I asked myself. The good people at the Idaho Cooperative Extension say that after the potato has sprouted, airflow is decreased which increases the temperature which, in turn, increases the risk of diseased potatoes. Doesn’t sound appetizing, but the risk of disease is actually greater to future potatoes and nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, etc.), if you choose to plant the eyes, than it is to you from eating them. The soil can become contaminated and affect crops for years to come. That being said, when I was small my family grew potatoes from the store bought variety in our small garden for years with no problems. I wonder if inhibitors were used all those years ago…

Seed potatoes are specially cultivated to be disease free and are inspected before they can be sold. They are not treated with any inhibitors so will sprout in a timely manner and are much more likely to produce viable plants. Both organic and non-organic varieties are available for purchase. It was also noted that a greater variety of potato choices exist with seed potatoes and you know for sure which variety you are getting. I buy ‘baking’ potatoes and red potatoes at the supermarket without really knowing the variety.

So there you have it. It seems that maybe the seed potato is more than a marketing gimmick aimed at getting you to spend money on something that is waiting for you in your pantry.  If you decide to use regular potatoes, planting them in an isolated (raised) bed will lessen the risk of contaminating the rest of the garden in the unfortunate event of disease.   I learn something new every day!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Morning Glory Update

Goodbye morning glories.  The cold finally did them in.  They'll have to be pulled down today, as they're an eyesore now, but I'll be grabbing up some of the seeds that will fall copiously from them.  I'll probably even have enough to share.  If you're pulling your glories, down, take a moment to collect seed as well.  They make nice gifts if you tie them up in a pretty bag and add them to a gardening basket.  Click here for a previous post of mine on these prolific beauties.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Garden Chat on Twitter

GardenChat is hosting a special chat event tonight over at Twitter.  Join me there if you like!  7pm Central time.  use hashtag #gardenchat.  It'll be my second time participating.  Jury is still out on what I think of Twitter chats, but I do love to talk about gardening!

It amazes me how well chickens insulate themselves against the cold. I couldn't get back in the house fast enough this morning after letting them out and throwing them feed. They couldn't have cared less!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

All Things Plants

Checking out All Things Plants, a forum based site for gardeners and homesteaders, created by the same guy who started  This is a new venture for him now that he has split off from Dave's Garden.  Looks pretty good so far!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Heading out to the backyard to see if I can hunt down some tomatoes for tomorrow's veggie tray. Beats going to the store, that's for sure!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fermentation Update: Sauerkraut

Update on my fermentation journey:  I checked on my second ever batch of sauerkraut today.  It has been steeping for about two weeks.  I had to skim some icky white mold stuff off the top, but I was warned that this is okay.  Tried some afterwards, and it tastes like sauerkraut!  Way better than the first batch.  Yay!  I think it needs to sit a bit longer, but all in all, I'm impressed.  I'd be proud of myself if it wasn't so easy!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Keeping Chickens

I've just added the Chicken Keeping website to our list of useful links.  I thought it had some great information on keeping chickens in your backyard.  Terry Golson, the brain behind the site, offers a lot of information on care, feeding, housing, troubleshooting, and more.  We just recently lost our rooster, Mac, to an illness that we didn't recognize until it was too late.  I wish I had found Terry's site sooner.  Her information on what can be done for sick chickens may have helped.
In spite of losing Mac, let me say that chickens really are not hard to keep.  We use a movable chicken tractor constructed of wood, PVC, chicken wire, and tarp (for weather protection).  We scouted out a friend's tractor for building ideas, and there are loads of plans available online.  Just Google it.
The tractor gets dragged to a new location every two weeks.  Inside are nesting crates that we fill with hay for them to bed down in and keep warm.  They've been mowing the backyard for us! What's more, the dirt left behind is fertilized, scratched up, covered with hay remnants, and ready for seeding.  Since we let them have the run of the backyard during the day, the hens don't always lay their eggs in the coop.  After taking the time to make up nesting crates that looked lovely to me, the hens gently let me know that those crates weren't so hot.  They made their own nesting sites in various spots throughout the yard.  Everyday is an egg hunt for us, and that's fine.  Whatever makes them happy.
Chickens are a great small livestock to keep in your backyard.  They bring a whole new dimension to your gardening efforts by giving you nitrogen rich fertilizer with their manure.  The eggshells are also great for the compost pile.  Chickens don't need a lot of space, and in return for shelter, food, and water, they offer eggs, meat, fertilizer, and entertainment.  Now that's an unbeatable return on investment!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Which seed is right for you – Open Pollinated, Heirloom, Hybrid, GM

Hello everyone. Now that fall is here it’s time to start thinking about next year’s garden! One of the big decisions to make is what to plant. Once you decide what to plant, you must decide the best source of seeds. Many gardeners will simply go to their local nursery and pick up a variety of seed packs. Others will order their seeds online. Still others will save their seeds from previous crops. There are even people who save the seeds from fruits and vegetables they buy in the store. Whatever your decision, you should be aware of the different types of seeds available.

Heirloom seeds are non-hybrid. The name comes from the fact that they have been passed down for many generations, mostly unchanged. If you find a variety of vegetable you are very happy with, save the seed, regrow it, and continue this cycle, getting the same quality of produce year after year, you will most likely have an heirloom seed. Heirloom seeds are open-pollinated. This means that they are pollinated by insects, birds or the wind. Over years of growing the same variety in one region, the seeds may adjust and become more tolerant of growing conditions in that region.

Hybrid seed are the result of cross pollinating plants. Growers look for certain qualities and will cross breed plants to enhance those qualities. This can be done to produce larger vegetables or a higher yield. While this is certainly commendable, it must be noted that if seeds from a hybrid plant are saved and regrown the next season, the crop will not necessarily be the same as the previous hybrid plant. This can lead to dependency as you will have to continue to purchase new seeds each year if you want to guarantee the same type or yield under similar growing conditions. Seeds seem to vary in this respect with some species growing very well season after season and some producing smaller, unsavory fruit.

Genetically modified (GM) seeds are usually only purchased by large commercial farms and are designed for a specific purpose. These seeds may be resistant to pests, and therefore curb the need for some pesticides or resistant to herbicides, allowing the grower to spray weeds without affecting the crop. These seeds are produced by modifying the actual DNA of the seed. They are often equipped with a terminator gene that will make it impossible (or nearly so) to save and successfully replant the seeds from one season to the next. This is done to ensure that you have to continue to purchase your seeds each year. It makes a certain amount of sense, if you think about how much it cost the companies to initially develop the seeds.

Another thing to consider is saving seeds from the vegetables and fruit you buy in the grocery store. I had always figured that this just wouldn’t work. In doing some research on the subject, though, I have found that, similar to purchased hybrid seeds, some people have had a lot of success growing vegetables from the seeds they saved from their grocery store purchases. There is a lot of discussion on forums online, with people arguing both sides of the coin on this one. My take on it is that if I have the seeds anyway, it won’t take much effort to save them for next year. My garden is big enough to add and ‘experimental’ section. I plan on saving a few, planting them and seeing what happens! I’ll make sure to keep them separate from my other seeds so that I know for sure what seed yielded what plant. It is worth noting here that if you decide this method is worth a try, it may be a good idea to try to find produce from someplace local, or at least where the climate is similar.  Remember that plants will sometimes adapt to an environment so seeds from vegetables initially grown in South America might not fare as well as seeds from those grown right here in TX or a nearby state.  Fruit trees seem to be another subject altogether here. Many are in agreement that the seeds will grow, but it seems that since so many of our fruit trees today are crossed with other trees that the fruit on these trees will not be the quality you may be expecting. Consensus seems to be that trees sprouted from grocery store will make excellent root stock for later grafting, but that allowing them to grow to maturity may yield disappointing results.

So, that’s a lot of talk and typing to say that it’s up to you what to decide what is best for your garden! I have been going the heirloom route for a couple of years and have been happy with the result. I have noticed subtle differences in the produce I get now compared with what I got when I used hybrid seeds, but have not been disappointed. The plants seem to be hardy and the yield on par with what I’ve seen in the past.

Whatever you decide, remember to have fun with it. Happy gardening!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Garden Bed Construction - Double Digging

Prepping out some more garden beds for spring planting is one of the projects that I'm tackling during these cooler months.  There are many ways to construct a garden bed.  This method, known as double digging, is what I'll be doing.  Here's a clip from a video that John Jeavons and his team put together to explain how this is done.  John Jeavons is author of How to Grow More Vegetables (and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops) Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine.  Long title.  Great book.  You can find it in our store.  I highly recommend that you grab a copy for your home library.  Click here to pick up a copy on Amazon.

A note on regions:  If you live in an area that gets a lot of bad weather at this time of year, then know that you can build garden beds up until the ground freezes.  It'll be too late to actually plant much in it, so I'd recommend covering it with mulch until spring planting.  For my part I'm very, very fond of hay.  Raked leaves or wood chips are also fine options.  Use what you've got.  Water it once in a while if the season proves to be dry.    

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Additive Free Seasoning Blends

I'm always looking for ways to get the MSG, sand (silicon dioxide), and other unnecessary additives out of my seasonings. Click below to read an article I found on Natural News with some great recipes to create your own blends for popular seasonings like taco seasoning and beef bullion.

Article Link

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Vigilante or Guerrilla Gardening

Guerrilla gardening is when a person or group of people sneak onto a neglected, ugly spot, clean it up, and plant a garden in there. They essentially make an abandoned spot into a space that's useful for the surrounding community. Sounds nice, but technically such a group is breaking the law by trespassing onto property that they don't own and don't have permission to change. So it is possible to be arrested for this activity. Which brings me to my disclaimer: No, I am not recommending that you go out and start illegally planting tomatoes all over the place. I am not suggesting that you do anything at all. Your life is your own responsibility. Do as you will with it.
In the case of these videos, however, all turned out ideally. Todd Bieber and his gardening vigilantes grew a bountiful little garden, helped build community in an urban environment where people are notorious for keeping to themselves, and inspired the owners of the plot to continue keeping the space pretty and productive.

Unless you live in a more urban area, these videos will probably not seem applicable to your life. But before you write this off as something useless to your country life, give some thought to how Todd increased the sense of community in his neighborhood. It's a strange paradox that for all the people living piled on top of each other in cities, there is usually very little real community. Most barely know their neighbors.
Oh, but now wait a moment. Barely knowing our neighbors pretty much sums up all the rest of our neighborhoods too, doesn't it? Urban, suburban, rural, sub-rural. It doesn't matter. A lack of community is prevalent in them all, and our lives are less rich for this sad state.  Todd and his crew helped reverse that in one growing season!  That's the kind of success that we can all learn from.

I want to give an honorable mention to Steve Howard over at, whose Grow Your Grub podcast turned me to these videos in the first place.  Check out Steve's podcasts and YouTube videos!  He's a great old guy, and shares his gardening experience freely.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Texoma Gardening is on Facebook

We're finally on Facebook.  Please click over and like us!

Sweet Potatoes

Here's a link to an article I found extolling the virtues of the humble sweet potato.  Sweet potatoes are easy to grow, and a great calorie crop.  I've even seen them growing happily in those 5 gallon buckets that you find in the home improvement stores!

So far as growing them is concerned, now is probably too late in the season to try.  They need about 100 no-frost days to grow, but as soon as the danger of frost is over, you can sow them directly into your beds.  What's more, you can grow them again in late summer for a fall harvest.  If you're starting with a full size sweet potato that you've allowed to vine out (and good luck with that by the way if your potatoes have been treated with a bud preventer), don't just plunk the whole thing into the ground.  Nip off each vine with a chunk of the potato still attached, and plant each separately.  You'll get a bigger harvest that way.  You can use cuttings of the vine as well, but I admit, I have not tested this method yet.  The vines tend to be amazingly prolific, and will creep over your whole garden bed if you let them, so keep an eye on them.  Redirect as necessary.  I wouldn't get too carried away with fertilizer, and never use a nitrogen based commerical fertilizer.  Tubers in general often do better when you don't feed them too much.  Otherwise, you get lots of pretty leaf growth, and very little tuber.  They are not picky about soil, but, as usual with annuals, well-draining is preferred.  If you've got nothing but gumbo, then you'd better break it up or mix in some compost.  Root choker, that stuff is.  Finally, since the actual sweet potato tubers will grow out underneath the base plant, make sure your garden bed is nice and deep to allow lots of grow room.

Harvest & Storage
After about 4 months or so, you can harvest them!  Pull up the plant gently, and you'll see up to a handful of yummy sweet potatoes growing under the base.  Only they're not so yummy just yet.  Sweet potatoes don't quite live up to the "sweet" in their name fresh out of the ground, though they won't taste gross either.  If you want the sweetness and texture that you get out of the store bought versions, then you have to cure them.  You do this by keeping them in a warm, humid place for about a week.  If you've got warm, but not humid (Texoma, anyone?), then rig something up with row cover fabric, or anything else that will hold humidity.  The ideal temperature for this will be about 80-85 degrees.  After that, you can store them in a dark, cool spot (not your fridge, that's too cool), and they'll usually keep for at least two weeks minimum.  The ideal storage temperature is about 55 degrees.  The extent to which your sweet potatoes stay fresh is directly related to how closely you reach that temperature.  Here's a link I found with additional information on curing and storing sweet potatoes.

After that, you can enjoy your super healthy sweet potatoes.  Happy gardening!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Stay in the pink with greens

Ok, after you quit rolling your eyes over the title of this post, let’s talk about greens. We all know about spinach greens and collard greens, but what about all those greens we grow that many of us never think about. Did you know that radish, red beet and turnip greens are all edible? They’re not only edible, they’re very nutritious and very tasty! Want to hear the best part? They grow great in NE Texas in the fall! I struggle to get some things to grow in my garden, but I have never planted a batch of radishes that disappointed me. They go from seed to harvest in only a few weeks and can be a nutritious part of a meal. I have eaten radishes as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago that I realized you could eat the greens. The more reading I did on the subject, the more I came to realize that not only can you eat the greens, but they are actually healthier for you than the already healthy root. ‘Ok, good for me’, I thought, ‘so how about the turnips I planted this year? Their tops are beautiful. Can I eat those too’? Absolutely! Radish and turnip greens have an abundant supply of calcium, and vitamins A and C. They also contain fiber, iron, and magnesium. Like most vegetables, they’re healthy to eat. I read one account that said the greens are up to six times more nutritious than the actual root. That’s saying something, because the roots are pretty good!

I washed the radish roots up, diced them, and added them to my salad. They had a subtle peppery taste that the kids and I enjoyed. (My husband won’t touch a leafy green of any kind with a ten foot pole, so he didn’t get to join in our taste test). It seems that many people who enjoy the greens from the root vegetables cook them like you would spinach. They sauté them in butter or a little bit of oil. I have never eaten cooked spinach (more eye rolling, anyone?) but love it raw, so I can’t compare the taste for you. I may have mentioned in an earlier post the delight we took in eating the red beet greens. Once again, we washed them up and added them raw to our salad.

So, just what do all these vitamins and other nutrients mean as far as your health goes? I love this quote I found online: A Chinese proverb says, "Eating pungent radish and drinking hot tea, let the starved doctors beg on their knees". I want to give credit to the web site, so follow this link to a very good overall nutrition page:    Aside from the old Chinese proverb, it seems that beets, radishes and turnips – both the root and the greens - are good anti-toxins and cleansers. They can aid in digestion and aid the liver, kidney and urinary tract. Some researchers believe they have anti-carcinogenic properties, and they can help you lose weight. There are many other purported health benefits. Just do a little research and see what you can find.

Enough of my prattling on.  Eat your greens and stay in the pink!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tomato Hornworm Alert!

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons
Tomato hornworm alert!  We just pulled about six of them off of the tomato plants that we have lingering in one of our raised beds.  If you have tomato plants that are still performing like mine, run out and scout around for any hornworms.  At this late stage in the season, there's no point in trying to plant in a deterrent companion plant like marigolds, so just pull them off.  Squish them, or feed them to the chickens.  If you're me, you'll try to do this with minimal screaming.  Good grief.  I hate these fat little pests!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Terra Cotta Pot Irrigation Advisement - Rain

Yay, it's finally raining out!  If you have any olla pots, or have rigged out some terra cotta pots as this YouTube video suggests, then run out and take off the lids.  The rainwater will fill them up for you.  Rainwater is the best kind of water for your garden.  Take this moment to let nature fill your water collection systems for you!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Chasing an annoying rooster back into the coop.  That'll keep you in shape.  Good grief!

Speaking of chickens, we've just added The Chicken Health Handbook to our store as a recommended book for troubleshooting the health of your small flock.  Please visit our shop, and check out the various books on gardening, health, and homesteading that we have found helpful.  Winter is a great time to increase your gardening knowledge, as there's less work to do outside.  Happy reading!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Frost Protection

For more on protecting your fall plants from frost and cold temperatures, check out this video of master gardener Jerry Baker. He brings us some good visuals on what we can do to prolong our fall harvest.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Protect your garden from frost

The winds are whipping out there today and the temperature dipped overnight. I checked out the weather forecast and was surprised to see that the temps may dip as low as 32° tonight. Hey, my squash is looking great, I’m not ready for it to freeze yet! I bet I’m not alone in this thinking. The temps are getting lower at night and flirting with frost, so maybe it’s time to look at how to protect your fall garden.

We talked about how to prepare the unused portion of your garden for the winter, but how can you prepare the plants still in your garden for the coming frost? The first thing that comes to mind is to simply cover your plants. This will work as long as it doesn’t get too cold, and it is simple to do. Get a lightweight plastic tarp, sheets, newspaper, or whatever you can come up with and put it over the plants in early evening. The idea is to cover the plants before the heat of the day escapes. Trap the warmth under the cover to protect the plants overnight. Be careful to keep the covering from squashing the plant! It’s important not to forget to remove the cover in the morning, or as soon as the temperatures rise. The plants can suffocate if you don’t! This is probably the easiest method in a raised bed, but not too tough in a conventional garden either.

Ready for some not quite as obvious ideas? Well, at least not quite as obvious to me… The first thing you can do is keep an eye on the forecast and water the garden a day or two before the frost is predicted. The moisture in the air around the plant will help keep it warmer. If you don’t mind the water bill, you can also put the sprinkler on and lightly spray the plants all night. The running water will take a lot longer to freeze. Another idea is to hang small lights, like Christmas lights, around the garden. Come on, we’ve all seen Christmas lights out already, so put yours to good use – decorate your garden! The heat coming off of the lights will suffice to keep the frost off of the plants. Another suggestion is to mulch. It seems I can’t get through a blog post without suggesting mulch, but there it is. Protect the plants and their roots with a layer of mulch. A couple of inches should do!

I am interested to hear any other ideas to keep the frost at bay! Let us know if you have any.