May 15, 2019

Pros and Cons of Walmart Pickup - Plus $10 off your first order!

Review of Walmart Pickup
This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information.

 I've heard a lot of people dis Walmart Pickup without ever even trying it. Some of this criticism comes from people who just flat hate Walmart and would never buy anything from them. The rest seems to come from folks who are concerned that our society is getting more and more screen-centric and that Pickup service is just another way to avoid socialization. I neither hate Walmart as an entity (and no, I'm not being compensated by them to write this or any other post*), nor do I feel their Pickup service hurts anyone's social life. I'm just a girl who loathes grocery shopping - so I decided to give Walmart Pickup a try.

Why I Use Walmart Pickup

When you live in a rural area, as we do, going to the grocery store is a much bigger deal than if you live in the city or suburbs. There are no "quick stops" to pick up one or two grocery items; a trip to the grocery store eats up more time and gas when you live in the sticks. I've also found the less we go inside the grocery store, the less money we spend - because we grab fewer impulse items.

So, for the above two economical reasons, I shop only twice a month. At this time, our homestead isn't producing meat on a regular basis, and while we eat a lot of homegrown veggies throughout much of the year, I'm still working toward total self-sufficiency in that department. So for my family of four, with two fast-growing kids who eat an awful lot (My 10-year-old has nothin' on most teenage boys!), I do buy quite a bit at the grocery store. Each trip results in an overflowing grocery cart...and pushing it through Walmart crowds is hard work, guys!

Other great reasons to use a pickup service like Walmart's include:

* You are ill...too ill to shop or just thoughtful enough you don't want to spread your germs around to everyone else.
* One or more of your kids are ill...Saving the world from germs and giving your and your family a break, too.
* You have preschoolers or babies and they are having a tough day...Enough said.
* You have mobility issues.
* Crowded places stress you out!!! (Ahem.)

How Walmart Pickup Works

Step 1: Set Up an Account

First ensure Walmart Pickup is available in your area by going here, clicking on "Walmart Grocery" (currently in the upper left of the screen), and entering your ZIP code. If it is available nearby, you'll also need to create a Walmart account, if you don't already have one for the Walmart website.

Step 2:  Order your groceries.

Start adding items to your online shopping cart. I like to do this on my laptop, because I'm an old fogy and I find it easier to use my computer than my phone for this task. But you can use the Walmart Grocery app, if you prefer.

I typically use the search feature to find the product I want. For example, I might type in: Cheddar Cheese Block. From there, I can choose the brand and size I desire. (By the by, the next time you place a Walmart Pickup order, you can either just reorder everything with the click of one button or select a few items to order again, making filling your cart even easier.)

Everything I've ordered on the Walmart Grocery site has had clear descriptions, including price, nutrition labels, ingredient lists, and sizes.

Speaking of which, the only real problem I've had with Walmart Pickup involves sizes. Apparently, I have no clue about them. For example, in my most recent order, I purchased 2 lbs. of flour to make my kids a (these days) rare treat of homemade bread (recipe here). The bag I received measured 4 x 6 inches. Who knew they even sold flour in a bag that small?! (What can you do with it? Make six cookies???) Obviously, I'm used to judging size by appearance next to other items, which is impossible to do online.

Step 2: Review your shopping cart.

This is just like reviewing your shopping cart for anything you buy online. At this point, I've changed quantities, deleted items from my cart, and added items to my cart. All of that is easy peasy.

Step 3: Tell Walmart when you want to pick up your groceries. 

They will offer a variety of days and times for you to choose from, and the times are relaxed; for example, 1 - 2 pm, not 1 pm sharp.

Step 4: Tell Walmart whether or not you'll accept substitutions on any or all of your items. 

In your online shopping cart, the default is a check (in a green box) beside every item you ordered; this indicates you'll accept a substitution if Walmart happens to be out of that specific item. (An example of a substitution: You ordered a 4 oz. jar of sweet pickles, but the store was out, so they give you a bigger jar of the same brand of sweet pickles or the same size jar of a different brand of sweet pickles.)

If you don't wish to accept substitutions for particular items, simply uncheck them. (If you prefer, you can also easily uncheck all items with the click of one button.)

I find this is a  great feature, by the way. I, for example, never want substitutions for the breakfast sausage I buy because there's only one brand in my local Walmart that doesn't contain sugar and is low enough in carbs to suit me. As a diabetic who doesn't consume sugar, a substitution would not work for me.

Do note that your Walmart shopper will never substitute cheaper items without charging you less. In my experience, he or she will always choose an item that's the same price or more expensive than what you ordered - but even if the substitution retails for more than what you originally ordered, Walmart won't charge you the difference.

Step 5: Pay with your credit or debit card.

There is NO FEE for the Walmart Pickup service. You pay for your groceries only, with no added charges.

Step 6: Wait for Walmart to say your groceries are ready.

A Walmart employee will shop for you, then the groceries will sit in a refrigerated or frozen area near the Pickup center, waiting for you. When all that's done, Walmart will send you an email or text - whichever you tell them you prefer.

Step 7: Let Walmart know you're on the way. 

This is easiest to do on your smartphone. If you have any technical difficulties with this step, the email or text also gives a phone number where you can call and tell a real person you're on the way.

By the way, this text or email also tells you exactly what substitutions, if any, were chosen. In the four times I've used Walmart Pickup, one order had one substitution and another order had two. How often you will see substitutions depends entirely upon your Walmart and how well stocked it is.

Step 8: Pull into the Pickup area of your local Walmart. 

The email mentioned in step 7 includes a map to show you where it is, if you don't already know. The grocery Pickup area is designated at the store by signs and orange paint, so it's easy to spot.

Park in a designated Pickup spot and a Walmart employee will come out to your car and verify any substitutions with you. If you decide you don't want the substitutes they chose, they will remove those items from your bags and you won't be charged for them.

The Walmart employee will then load your car with the groceries and have you sign that you received them. In my experience, they are careful about delicate items like bread and fruit, even putting special organge stickers on the bags containing them to remind everyone to use care.

Step 9: Take your groceries home and put them away!


What I Think about Walmart Pickup

I unabashedly love, love, LOVE this service! Grocery shopping used to be a 2.5 - 3-hour affair for me. Now I can quickly place my order online (in the comfort of my home) and pick it up in just a little over the time it takes to drive to Walmart. No fighting a crowded store. No waiting in line.

I've used Walmart Pickup four times now, and every time my order has been accurate, with no mistakes made. The produce has been in excellent shape, and so has the meat. (Walmart does have a policy that if you're unhappy with any item the Walmart shopper chose for you, they'll give you a full refund.)

Really my only complaint is that I no longer receive a traditional receipt that I can scan into apps like Ibotta, which give coupon-type rebates on certain items. Instead, Walmart emails me a receipt, which cannot be scanned into such apps. This is a bummer, but it's not enough to keep me from using Walmart Pickup.

Pros to Walmart Pickup:

* It's easy to order online (via your computer or your phone).

* You can order non-grocery items, too! I've ordered items found in the pharmacy and home goods sections, for example.

* Walmart remembers your preferred items and you can easily either re-order everything or just some things without having to add each item, one-by-one, to your cart.

* You get to choose the pickup time, which is flexible. (You don't have to be there at 9am sharp, for example. You have a window of one hour.)

* You can choose whether or not you'll accept substitutes, and before you accept your groceries, you can choose not to accept the particular substitutions, if any, your Walmart shopper picked for you.

* When a substitution is needed, if your Walmart shopper chooses a more expensive brand or a bigger size, you'll only be charged the price of the item you originally ordered. For instance, I recently ordered a small container of Great Value real maple syrup. My store was out of that size, so they substituted a larger container of the same product - but only charged me for the smaller size.

* You can change your order or add items to it within several hours of placing it. I've used this feature every time, because even though I make a shopping list ahead of time, I always seem to forget something!

* I've never had a long wait to get my groceries loaded. Usually, in a minute or two, someone comes out and starts loading my groceries. I'm sure as more and more people start using the service, this could potentially change. Hopefully, Walmart will be on top of demand. (And do remember that every Walmart has different management - some better than others.)

* The Walmart employees who bring my groceries out to me are friendly. In talking to them, I've learned they are excited about the new service, and love the variety they experience when shopping for other people. (It's got to be more fun than scanning items at checkout all day long.)

* Walmart has said they will never charge for this service. Walmart Pickup is FREE and is supposed to remain that way.

* Walmart does not allow employees to accept tips for this service. Depending upon your point of view, this can be a con, but if you're thinking in terms of expense, it's a bonus. (When I was in California caring for my father, I used Safeway's delivery service. It was easy, but there was a fee for delivery - plus I felt I should tip to the delivery guy. This was an added expense that under normal circumstances I could not justify at home.)

Cons to Walmart Pickup:

* There is a $30 minimum order.

* There's no "normal" print receipt that you can upload to coupon or rebate apps. Print coupons are also not accepted when you use Walmart Pickup. (Someone recently mentioned that if I go to eBates before hitting the Walmart Grocery site, I can earn money on my Pickup order that way. I'm going to try it next time I shop!)

* At this time, you can't use reusable grocery bags with Walmart Pickup.

* If you're like me, it might take time to learn what sizes to order!

* You have to place your order at least four hours before picking it up.


Overall, I'm blown away by how good the Walmart Pickup service is. The whole process is super easy, and it saves me tons of time and work. Although I plan to continue making a quick stop at Safeway for on-sale meat, I'll still use Walmart Pickup for most of my grocery shopping needs.


If you use this link, you'll get $10 off your first order with Walmart Pickup.

* Although no one is paying me to review Walmart Pickup or promote Walmart, some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means I earn a wee bit should you choose to purchase anything through them or use the sites mentioned. Please see the FCC disclosure for full information.

Apr 25, 2019

Grandma's Tips for Using a Clothesline

How to Use a Laundry Line
This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information.

When I was a kid, every summer my Dad and I went to a magical place called Missouri. Now, maybe you don't think Missouri is magical (though you might understandably think it's beautiful), but as a child, I sure did. It was the place where Grandma lived, and it was a radically different world from the suburban California where I spent my early years. It was a place with summers that lasted forever, sweet tea, a hand pump in the front yard, and Grandma's huge, musty basement with a huge musty bed for my cousins and I to sleep in. Plus cows in the nearby pasture. And a pond to fish in and a "crick" to play in. And my Grandma's clothesline.

It might seem strange that, at a tender age, I was fascinated by Grandma's clothesline. Certainly part of my interest was that I didn't know anyone else who used one. And I loved the way Grandma hummed as she pulled pins from her apron and hung my summer shorts on the line. In other words, clotheslines hold good memories and romantic notions for me.

But there are plenty of down-to-earth reasons to have and use a clothesline on the modern day homestead, whether that's in the city or in the country. I love that my clothesline takes my household chores outside. I also appreciate that it conserves electricity and saves money while eliminating static cling (and the need for fabric softeners or dryer sheets).

Today, the art of hanging clothes isn't known to many people. However, I still remember a few tips from Grandma.

Setting Up the Clothesline

At its simplest, a clothesline is just a rope connected to two poles. Those poles should be sturdy, though, because one load of wash that's been spin-dried in the washer weighs about 15 to18 pounds. There are three basic choices for the rope itself: Plastic, nylon, and cotton. Plastic clothesline  is stretch-resistant and inexpensive, but clothespins and fabric tend to slip from it. Nylon clothesline is mildew-resistant and strong, but again, it's quite slippery, making it harder to securely hang the laundry. Cotton clothesline is traditional, and although it might be counter-intuitive, seems easier to clean than synthetics. It's also not slippery.

How long should your line be? One load of laundry requires approximately 35 feet of clothesline. Don't make the line longer than this (unless you have a double pulley line) because it will sag significantly.

Where you put your clothesline matters, too. Don't place it near trees - because trees can have ticks and ticks can jump onto your laundry and then onto you. Trees may also leave debris (leaves, seeds, and so on) on your freshly washed laundry.

Generally speaking, you don't want the clothesline in full sun, either, because all that sunshine fades fabric and causes it to wear thin. Open shade is a better option. On the other hand, Grandma taught me that if your whites are looking dingy, a good hang in the sun will help brighten them.

Sometimes indoor drying is the only option. In cities and suburbs, for instance, there are sometimes ordinances against hanging laundry outdoors. Or maybe someone in your household is allergic to pollen - in which case an outdoor line may lead to clothes that cause misery. In rainy climates, indoor clotheslines may also be best.

Which brings up a good point: You don't have to use a clothesline to air dry clothes. For years,  I hung clothes on hangers and hooked them over the shower stall or on the edges of doors. It didn't look pretty, but it sure got the job done.

And while you're setting up, be sure to purchase some good clothespins (like Kevin's Quality Clothespins). There are an awful lot of cheap, China-made clothespins on the market. Many of them, such as those found at The Dollar Tree or Walmart, might be fine for crafts, but they just don't hold up well for laundry. They also tend to have rough edges that can snag fabric. It's smarter to buy clothespins that are a bit more expensive, but do a better job.

Prepping the Wash 

When I mention line drying clothes, people often remark how they hate stiff garments and linens. This is easily remedied, though. Just add about 1/2 cup white distilled vinegar to the wash and your clothes will dry softer. If you use a modern washing machine, pour the vinegar into the fabric softener chute and it will only enter the wash tub during the rinse cycle - perfect! If you have an older machine that doesn't have a softener chute, you can either catch the last rinse cycle and add the vinegar manually, or (less effectively) you may add the vinegar at the beginning of the wash.

Another cause of stiffly-dried clothes is using too much laundry detergent. I recommend using less detergent than suggested on the box; Consumer Reports claims that too much laundry detergent leaves behind lint and soap deposits, which can lead to mold and restricted filters, which in turn can result in mechanical failures.

Finally, the sooner you remove laundry from the washing machine, the better. Letting wet clothes sit not only makes them musty-smelling, but makes them a whole lot more wrinkled, too.

Hanging Up 

To prevent soiling freshly washed laundry, it's best to wipe down the clothesline before each use. Grandma kept an old washcloth handy for just this purpose.

When she hung the laundry, Grandma always gave each piece a good snap in the air to help remove wrinkles. She also took the time to un-crinkle wadded up clothing, like pant legs, shirt sleeves, and collars. Once again, this helps make wrinkle-free laundry (and if you're like me, the last thing you need to do is add another item - in this case, ironing - to your chore list).

It's helpful to hang like items together, since it saves time when you're folding and putting away the laundry. For example, I'll often hang all my son's clothing together on the line, followed by my daughter's clothing. Or I hang all the towels, then all the socks.

A little care in hanging clothes goes a long way toward having line-dried clothes that look wrinkle-free. Not everyone agrees on the best way to hang laundry, but Grandma taught me to hang shirts and pants from the hem. Other people tell me they prefer to hang shirts right side up with clothespins in the armhole seams. Another option I sometimes use is to place shirts on a hanger and hook the hanger onto the clothesline (which saves space, too).

You can also save space on the laundry line by hanging smaller towels on one another. For example, hang one washcloth on the line, then use clothespins to attach another washcloth to the first, and so on. In addition, I often overlap items. For instance, my placemats overlap each other slightly, so I can use three clothespins to hold up two placemats, instead of four. Some people also like using store-bought sock hangers (like this one) to save space; you can use them for washcloths, too.

Whatever you do, always hang items securely or they may end up on the ground, filthy. When in doubt, use more clothespins instead of fewer - especially with heavy items. When I hang bath towels, for instance, I fold them over the clothesline almost to the halfway point and use four clothespins to keep each in place. Yes, they take a bit longer to dry this way, but they don't fall off the line, either.

Removing Laundry 

Once the laundry is fully dry, Grandma removed each item, then snapped it in the air. This flicks off any little bugs that might cling to the laundry. Then she folded each item as she put it in her laundry basket. This - again - helps prevent wrinkles (do I seem preoccupied with that?) and saves time.

I'm thankful to Grandma for introducing me to her clothesline. Through experience, I've learned line-drying laundry isn't difficult - I even find it relaxing, as Grandma did. I hope you'll consider reaping the benefits of a clothesline, too.

Apr 12, 2019

69 Keto Easter Recipes

Low Carb, LCHF, Keto Easter Recipes
For many people, sticking to a healthy diet is most difficult during holidays. We Americans tend toward indulgence; we think, "Oh, I need to treat myself once in a while!" We also associate so many traditions and warm thoughts with special-occasion food. And while some people may be able to cheat on their diet come Easter, many of us who use keto therapeutically cannot. And that's okay - because keto food is delicious! And as I like to remind myself whenever I'm a little tempted to stray into carby things:

"No food is worth being ill for." 

So whether you choose keto to treat an autoimmune disorder (as I do), diabetes (also as I do), Parkinson's, heart disease, cancer...or simply because you feel so much better eating this way, let me offer up a few recipes to help you get through the Easter season without feeling deprived. I've even included links for creme-filled and peanut butter eggs!

For more tips on getting through social occasions and the holidays while eating keto, click here.

Bunny dip, courtesy of That's Low Carb?!

Low Carb Bunny Dip (serve with celery, slices of cucumber or zucchini; pork rinds; small chunks of cooked bacon; or the sour cream crackers, below.)

Keto Sour Cream & Chives Crackers

Keto Deviled Eggs with Avocado

Best Ever Deviled Eggs

Jalapeno Bacon Bombs

Edible Marbled Easter Eggs

Bacon Wrapped Avocado

Main Dishes

Low Carb Ham with Maple Glaze 

Rosemary & Mustard Baked Ham 

Pressure Cooker Ham

Rack of Lamb with Macadamia, Garlic, & Parsley Crust

Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb


Low Carb Hot Cross Buns

Hot Cross Buns II
Cauliflower "Fauxtato" Salad, courtesy of

Low-Carb Greek Tsoureki

Keto Easter Bubble Buns

Keto Bread Rolls

Keto Pull-Apart Rolls

Garlic Parmesan Knots

Low Carb Easter Pull-Apart Bread

Keto Cheddar Cheese Straws
Brussels Sprouts with Creamy Parmesean Sauce.

Other Sides

Skillet Brussels Sprouts with Parmesan Sauce

Cheesy Brussels Sprouts Bake 

Low Carb Green Bean Casserole

Low Carb Green Bean Casserole II 

Green Beans with Onions & Bacon

Creamy Good Cauliflower Mac and Cheese.
Cheesy Cauliflower Mash

Instant Pot Deviled Egg Salad

Low Carb Scalloped "Potatoes"

Turnip Fauxtato Salad

Radish Fauxtato Salad 

Cauliflower Fauxtato Salad

Cauliflower Au Gratin 

Bacon Cauliflower Salad (omit sugar or sub keto-friendly sweetener)
Asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce, courtesy of Low Carb Maven.

Cauliflower Mac & Cheese 

Creamy Broccoli & Cauliflower Rice

Low Carb Asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce 

Bacon Wrapped Asparagus

Crispy Asparagus Fries

Creamed Spinach

Desserts and Treats

Sugar-Free Marshmallows  

Sugar-Free Peeps

Keto Peanut Butter Eggs  (If the shape doesn't matter to you, this Reese's like recipe is even easier.)

Low Carb Creme Filled Chocolate Eggs 
Creme filled eggs, courtesy All Day I Dream About Food.

Buttercream Eggs

Almond Joy Easter Eggs

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Eggs

Keto Pound Cake

Low Carb Strawberry Shortcake Cake

Keto Individual Strawberry Shortcakes 

Low Carb Strawberry Trifle

Low Carb Strawberry Mousse Tartlettes
Individual strawberry shortcakes, courtesy of

Keto Strawberry Pie

Low Carb Strawberry Lemonade Pie

Low Carb Strawberry-Topped Cheesecake

Chocolate Strawberry Low Carb Cheesecake

Keto Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Low Carb Carrot Cake Bites 

Keto Carrot Cake 

Low Carb Carrot Cake

Keto Carrot Cake Cheesecake
Sugar Free Jello, courtesy of Maria Mind, Body, Health.

Keto Carrot Cake Ice Cream 

Low Carb Easter Egg Nest Cookies

Keto Banana Cream Pie

Low Carb Lemon Cream Pie

Keto Lemon Meringue Pie

Low Carb Lemon Cheesecake

Low Carb Berry Cheesecake

Healthy Sugar-Free Jello

Related Posts:

Mar 28, 2019

How to Test Garden Soil

How to Test Soil pH, NPK
This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information. Thank you for supporting this site!

When someone tells me they have a black thumb, one of the first things I ask is what type of soil they have in their garden. Almost inevitably, they either give me a blank stare or a shrug.

In the excitement of starting a new garden, it's easy to get caught up in seed catalogs and grand gardening dreams - but for any garden to succeed, you must first do two things: Determine what type of soil you have, then test it. That is the chief key to having a so-called green thumb.

This said, there's no need to test your garden soil every year. Most extension offices recommend testing every five years or so, unless you notice growth problems in your plants. The best time of year to test soil is in the fall, but it's acceptable to test in the winter (as long as your soil isn't frozen) or even in early spring. However, it takes time for soil amendments to do their work; the sooner you test, the sooner the amendments can do their thing and the sooner you can have a thriving garden.

Different Soil Types

Clay soil is made of tiny, densely packed particles. Clay is less than ideal for gardening because water won't drain well from it (which can lead to plant rot) and may also take too long to reach plant roots (making them die of thirst). In addition, clay can prevent plants from spreading their roots - and plants without strong root systems are plagued by ill-health.

Sandy soil has - you guessed it - lots of sand in it. This can be beneficial, except that pure sand has no nutrients to feed plants and, since water drains away quite quickly in sandy soil, plants may not get enough to drink, either. On the other hand, some sand in the soil helps keep plants from getting soggy and rotting.

Loamy soil is a mixture of silt (which is particles that are between the size of sand and clay), sand, and clay. It's ideal for gardening; it retains the right amount of moisture and nutrients for plants.

How do you know which category your soil falls into? The simplest test is to sprinkle water on the ground, making the soil moist, but not wet. Scoop up a handful, squeeze it, and open your hand. Does it crumble when gently poked? Then the soil is loamy. Does the soil retain its squeezed shape even after a gentle poke? It is clay. Does the soil crumble the moment you open your hand? It is sandy.

It can also be helpful to test the drainage of your garden's soil. To do this, dig a hole one foot deep and about 6 inches wide, then fill it with water. Allow the water to completely drain. Fill the hole with water again, but this time, pay attention to how long it takes for the water to completely drain from the hole. Well-draining soil drains 1 or 2 inches of water per hour. If the soil drains more slowly, it either has rocks blocking water drainage or is high in clay. If the latter is the case, work compost and other organic matter into the soil.

If the soil drains more quickly than an inch an hour, it's too sandy and adding organic matter will also help.

Testing pH

Next, you need to know the pH of your garden soil - how acidic or alkaline it is. If the pH is too high or too low, your plants will not be healthy. For example, potatoes grown in soil that's too alkaline tend to get scab and other diseases. And while potatoes do like slightly acidic soil, if they are grown in soil that's too acidic, they simply don't thrive and could potentially die.

A pH of 7.0 is considered neutral; 0 means the soil is highly acidic; 14 means it's highly alkaline. In general, food crops prefer soil that has a pH of 6.0 - 6.5, but a range of 6.0 - 7.5 is considered acceptable for most vegetables. Many berries prefer a range of 5.0 - 7.0 and acid-loving blueberries prefer the pH to be 4.0 - 5.3. See the chart at the end of this post for more specific guidelines for common food crops.

Other Tests to Run

In addition to knowing what type of soil you have and what its pH level is, you should test the soil for basic nutrients, commonly referred to as "NPK."

"N" stands for nitrogen, which is the nutrient that makes plants grow rapidly, putting on many leaves. Lack of nitrogen in the soil results in plants that grow slowly, turn yellow, and drop leaves. Too much nitrogen in the soil causes too-rapid growth that results in weak, spindly shoots.

"P" stands for phosphorus, which helps plants grow healthy root systems and is especially beneficial during blooming and seed setting periods. Too little phosphorus leads to purplish stems, dull green or yellow leaves, and potentially no blooms. Too much phosphorus reduces a plant's ability to use micronutrients (especially zinc and iron), which leads to poor growth and even plant death.

"K" stands for potassium (sometimes called potash). It helps plants form chlorophyll and can aid in fighting disease. If soil lacks adequate levels of potassium, plants may appear generally sick, have small fruit, and/or older leaves that turn yellow. Too much potassium in the soil reduces a plant's ability to use other nutrients.

How to Test Your Soil's pH and NPK 

There are a few ways to test your garden soil's pH and NPK. One is to purchase a soil meter (like this one). A huge benefit of buying this tool (which generally sells for around $30 - $60) is that it's reusable year after year. Just stick the prongs in the soil and BAM! you have a reading. However, to remain reliable, it should be recalibrated every year, which usually includes purchasing recalbration liquid.

Another way to get your soil tested is to send a sample off to a laboratory. This typically costs $40- $100; you can find regional labs that will do garden soil tests through your local extension office. (Find your local extension office here.)

Another method (and the one I currently use) is a home testing kit (like this one). For about $25, you can buy such a kit at a local garden center or online. Kits give you everything you need to test your soil multiple times.

Generally, professional laboratory testing is considered the most accurate, but for the average gardener, any of these methods is accurate enough to prove useful.

DIY Soil Testing with a Kit 

Although I keep meaning to buy a meter, I typically use a home test kit when I need to test my garden soil. To give you an idea of how easy it is to test your own soil, I'll walk you through the steps I took last fall when I tested the soil in my greenhouse. (When we moved to our homestead three years ago, I knew my small, unheated greenhouse had terrible soil, and while I've been adding lots of organic matter to it, I could tell by the state of my plants that I needed to test the soil to determine more precisely what the soil was lacking.)

I chose to use a RapidTest kit, which I've used in the past with good results. My directions and the photographs accompanying this post focus on this brand, but whatever test you choose to use, please read the instructions carefully - and follow them exactly.

I began with a pH test:

1. First, locate the tube or container used exclusively for pH testing. In my test kit, it is clearly marked and color-coded. Remove this testing container's lid.

2. In the garden soil, dig a hole that's about 4 inches deep. Remove a small amount of soil from the bottom of the hole. Throughout this process, be sure to never touch the soil with your hands.

3. Fill the testing container with soil to the fill line.

4. Find the bag that contains the color-coded capsules meant for pH testing. Carefully separate the two ends of the capsule and pour the powder that's inside into the testing container.
5. Using the dropper included in the kit, fill the testing container to the water line using distilled water. Do not use tap or well water, which may skew the results.

6. Put the lid on the testing container and shake well. Set the container aside for one minute, or until the soil fully settles.
7. Examine the container and compare the color of the water/soil mixture to the color chart on the side of the testing container. Find the color that's closest to your results and note the corresponding pH. When comparing colors, use natural daylight, but not direct sunlight. My test results show that my greenhouse soil is a bit acidic.

Next, I tested NPK:

1. In the garden soil, dig a hole that's about 4 inches deep. Remove soil from the bottom of that hole, never touching it with your hands.

2. Fill a freshly washed, large bowl or jar with 1 part soil and 5 parts distilled water. (Tap or well water may skew the test results.) Stir or shake thoroughly for at least one minute.

3. Allow the mixture to completely settle. This will take at least 10 minutes, but could take up to a day.

4. Find the testing containers that are marked N, P, and K. Remove their lids. Find the corresponding capsules and make sure you use the correct ones for each testing container. (With my kit, the color of the capsule matches each testing container's lid.)

5. Using the dropper included in the kit, fill each container with the water and soil mixture, to the marked line. For the most accurate test results, don't allow any sediment to get into the testing container and don't disturb the sediment in the bowl or jar you've used.

6. For each container, separate the ends of the corresponding capsule and pour the powder into the correct testing container.

7. Place the lids on the containers and shake well. Set aside for 10 minutes.

8. Compare the liquid portion in each container to the corresponding color chart to discover whether levels are good, deficient, or excessive. When comparing colors, use natural daylight, but not direct sunlight. As you can see from my test results, the soil in my greenhouse is depleted in everything!

What to Do About Imbalances 

If you send your soil to a lab for testing, your results should come back with recommendations for amending your soil to cure any imbalances. If you use a DIY kit or meter, it should also come with instructions on amending. But here are some general guidelines.

To make soil more acidic: Amend with sphagnum peat, iron sulfate, or elemental sulfur (a.k.a. "flowers of sulfur” or "micro-fine sulfur"). Do note that sulfur can kill beneficial microbes in the soil. After adding sulfur to the soil, re-test in 40 - 60 days. You may also wish to add the following, which will, if added over a period of time, add acidity to soil: pine needles, woodchips, and rotted leaves or leaf mold,

To make soil more alkaline: Amend with lime; after adding it to the soil, re-test in 40 - 60 days. Over time, if you periodically add them, the following will also help make soil more alkaline: bone meal, ground eggshells or clamshells, and small amounts of hardwood ashes. Note that making acidic soil more "sweet" for garden plants is a long-term project; you shouldn't expect just one treatment to do the trick.

To increase nitrogen: Amend with alfalfa meal, blood meal, shellfish meal, or ammonium sulfate.

To increase phosphate: Amend with bone meal or shellfish meal, or rock phosphate.

To increase potassium: Amend with greensand, rock phosphate, or potash-magnesia ("Sul-Po-Mag").

To improve clay soil: Amend with sphagnum peat, greensand, biochar, compost, and aged manure. To improve sandy soil: Amend with sphagnum peat, compost, and aged manure.

Always check your soil test instructions for details on how much of any given amendment you should apply to your garden soil. You can add too much of a good thing! When re-testing soil after adding amendments, expect only small changes in pH - typically, 0.5 to 1 unit, tops. Don't add more amendments to change pH without waiting 5 - 6 weeks between applications.

Optimal Soil pH for Some Common Edible Plants 

Apples 5.0 - 6.5
Blackberry 5.0 - 6.0
Blueberry 4.0 - 6.0
Lemon 6.0 - 7.5
Orange 6.0 - 7.5
Peach 6.0 -7.0
Pear 6.0 - 7.5
Pecan 6.4 - 8.0
Plum 6.0 - 8.0
Raspberry (red) 5.5 - 7.0
Asparagus 6.0 - 8.0
Bean, pole 6.0 -7.5
Beet 6.0 - 7.5
Broccoli 6.0 - 7.0
Brussels sprouts 6.0 - 7.5
Cabbage 6.0 - 7.0
Carrot 5.5 - 7.0
Cauliflower 5.5 - 7.5
Celery 5.8 - 7.0
Chives 6.0 - 7.0
Cucumbers 5.5 - 7.0
Garlic 5.5 - 8.0
Kale 6.0 - 7.5
Lettuce 6.0 - 7.0
Pea, sweet 6.0 - 7.5
Pepper, sweet 5.5 - 7.0
Potatoes 4.8 - 6.5
Pumpkins 5.5 - 7.5
Radishes 6.0 - 7.0
Spinach 6.0 - 7.5
Tomato 5.5 - 7.5

This post featured at Simple Life Mom's Homestead Blog Hop.

Feb 26, 2019

My Dad

I apologize for being so absent here and on social media. As those of you who follow this blog on Facebook know, last week my father came home on hospice. My husband and I spent six days taking caring of him, which was our great privilege. On Thursday, he passed away.

He did it on his own terms. He wanted to be at home, in his recliner, and he hoped he's pass in his sleep. All of that came true. Best of all, he accepted Christ as his Savior before passing.

Dad started life as a poor share cropper's son, living in Missouri. In fact, one of his great passions began when he was plowing the field with shoes so worn out, they were full of holes. Something sharp poked his foot, so he stopped plowing and discovered an arrowhead in his shoe. From then until his last year, he gathered a huge collection of Native American artifacts. We still have that original arrowhead.

He was smart as a whip, too. He went to a one-room schoolhouse, but skipped several grades. College was unaffordable and since he knew he'd be drafted, he joined the Army Reserves. Here, he seized the opportunity to get more schooling, choosing to become a surveyor. After the Army, he went into carpentry, and took night classes so he'd understand the stuff the boss knew, like how to read blueprints.

A job offer lured him away from Missouri all the way to California. The ocean didn't impress him, but he could live cheap near the beach. However, the company that had hired him was going bankrupt and couldn't finish a certain big job they were contracted for. The large construction company that had hired them allowed them to bow out, "but you'll need to give us your foreman," they said. That was dad. This lead to a decades-long career for that big construction company where he became the guy in charge of building shopping centers, hospitals, and a marine life center. When he finally retired, he was so beloved, the company said they'd send him on a trip anywhere he wanted to go.

Probably to their surprise, he told them he wanted a fishing trip in Russia. Off he went, along with a translator, bear hunter (just in case), cook, guide, and a Soviet-era helicopter to bring them in and out of the wilderness. He continued to travel to most of the national parks, Alaska, and Belize, despite the fact that he'd been diagnosed with leukemia and was given 7 to 8 years to live.

Over 20 years later, he was still going strong. Until the past two years. It was getting harder to control his leukemia, and he was suffering other illnesses, including a persistent, debilitating cough that made life difficult. And when all his sisters died, leaving him the only living sibling, he just felt ready to go.

Over and over and over again, his friends and acquaintances tell me how much they loved him, how he'd drop everything to help others, and how his quirky sense of humor had them rolling with laughter. (One couple told me their little girls - now grown - cherished the napkin fights he always started after dinner. They took to calling him "Uncle Too-Bad" because he liked to jokingly tell people "well, that's just too bad!")

Before he died, Dad told me he'd had a good life and felt at peace about passing to the next life.

I'm not sure when I'll be back to blogging, but it will happen eventually. While I'm gone, remember to tell everyone you love them, and to learn as much about your loved ones lives as you can. Someday, you will cherish those memories.

Feb 8, 2019

Weekend Links

We have snow!
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In which I share my favorite posts from this blog's Facebook page.

"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. "
James 1:17
* We finally got our share of the snow! Oh, it's nothing compared to what some of you are getting, but four inches of snow is a BIG DEAL where I live! My kids love it, of course, but I confess I'm having the best time watching the animals react. Our two male cats keep trying to come inside. (And yes, they have plenty of warm, cozy places to stay that are not our house.) Our female cat, ever the huntress, just sees it as a grand opportunity to find new prey. Our youngest hens have never seen snow before and they keep hopping around the snowy part of the chicken run. The older ladies hardly seem to notice the snow. And the rooster? He'd rather stay in the hen house all day. Most fun is the dog. He loves snow! He goes outside and plays all day and when he gets tired, he sits in the snow to rest. No way, no how is he coming in until we make him!

* Thank you to everyone who picked up a copy of The Ultimate Dandelion Medicine Book! It was #1 in Herbal Medicine and Alternative Medicine and #7 in Health on Amazon and has all 5-star reviews. Now I'm hoping you will all GO LEAVE A REVIEW! Hahaha! But reviews make all the difference in Amazon helping new readers find books! By the way, I also started a Facebook group that's entirely devoted to using dandelions as food and medicine. Join us!

* While the kittens were recovering from their spay and neuter, they lived in my canning kitchen. And since they got into and on everything, it was too unsanitary to use for food preservation. Now they are healed and living outside, so I fired up my canner and freeze dryer. First, I tackled some meat in the freezer. Around Christmastime, I bought ham and turkey for 99 cents a pound - about as cheap as they get around here. I cooked the ham and we ate two meals off it, then I made ham stock and canned it, along with some ham meat. Then my husband smoked the turkey, we ate two meals off it, I canned stock from the bones, and I freeze dried the rest of the meat. When reconstituted, it tastes just like it would fresh out of the smoker!

The turkey before freeze drying...
and the turkey after freeze drying.

I also had about 80 eggs from our hens in the fridge, so I decided to try freeze drying them. I whipped the eggs to combine the yolks and whites and popped them into the machine. Now they are shelf stable for over 20 years and can be used to cook scrambled eggs, or for baking. I love my freeze dryer! (Learn more about it here.)
Eggs going into the freeze dryer...
and eggs coming out of the freeze dryer.
* I recently finished this novel, Between Two Shores, by one of my favorite modern novelists, Jocelyn Green. It's a straight historical (not a romance) and I LOVED it! Totally refreshing and so moving, too. I highly recommend it.

* Recall on peaches, nectarines, and plums. 

* Tyson chicken nugget recall.

* Are measles making a come-back where you live? Do you know the signs and symptoms of measles? 

* This will be controversial, but it's worth reading. Why getting the measles vaccine may help prevent other childhood diseases.

* The beauty of God's creation is highlighted in these microscopic images of seeds.

* Love pickles? Then you probably should try dehydrated pickle chips!

* How to make garden fertilizer with comfrey "tea." 

* 6 fruit crops you can propagate from cuttings.

Oldies But Goodies:

* Foraging for Chickweed

* Why & How to Prune Blueberries for a Better Harvest
* Why I Don't Watch HGTV (and Maybe You Shouldn't Either)