Nov 16, 2018

Weekend Links & Updates

A bear footprint I recently discovered on the homestead. This is just a baby!
In which I share my favorite posts from this blog's Facebook page.

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information. Thank you for supporting this site! 


I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength."

Phillipians 4:12-13


November is a significant month. Not only do we have Thanksgiving coming up (click here for my Thanksgiving posts), but it's also when we note two other important-to-me events: World Diabetes Day and Prematurity Awareness month.

Did you know my first child was born during my second trimester? She was supposed to be a Thanksgiving baby, but instead was born in early August. You can read all about that journey here, but here's the short version: We don't know why she was premature, but several times we came very close to losing her. (Prematurity is the leading cause of death in infants.) She spent four months in the NICU, and then many more months in physical and feeding therapy. (Yes, many preemies have to be coached to eat!) I hope and pray you never experience being the parent of a preemie, but I also hope and pray you will heartily support those who are. Trouble is, most people can't even fathom what that's like to live through and have NO IDEA what to do to help. So years ago, I wrote this short little piece on helping parents of preemies. I hope you'll read it.

Diabetes is also worthy of your attention. Experts say 8.1 million people have it and don't know it. Unfortunately, I'm convinced I was one of them. To learn some of the less common symptoms of diabetes, please read this post: 11 Ways We Should Have Known I Had Diabetes. I also hope that instead of following the American Diabetes Association's advice on how to treat your pre-diabetes or diabetes, you'll take a hard look at the facts and realize that way of eating only progresses the disease...which, by the way, ends in painful complications that often lead to dismemberment or death. (Diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death among American adults.)  Fortunately, my doctor told me to eat keto, which put my blood sugar back into the normal range. Many thousands of type 2 diabetics have also reversed their blood sugars to normal by eating this way, and type 1s use it to lower their need for insulin injections. For more information, please read Dr. Bernstein's Diabetes Solution (written by a type 1 doctor) and my post How I Reversed My Diabetes.

My diabetic journey has been a little more complicated than some people's...perhaps because I went undiagnosed for many years. Just recently, for example, caffeine began spiking my blood sugar. Though this is a real and true bummer, I also know that no food or drink is worth the horrible consequences of high blood sugar. It is SO DOABLE to treat your diabetes with food!

* On a lighter note, I suddenly realized I haven't introduced you to our new barn kittens: Neko and Holly. They are the sweetest things ever. Best part? Our 100 lb. English shepherd adores them...and they adore him!

   Asparagus recall due to Listeria. 
* Asparagus recall due to Listeria.

* Duncan Hines cake mix recall due to salmonella. 

* Free Thanksgiving Mad Libs printable.

* This is SO good! 9 Hard Truths to Fuel a Godly Marriage.

* Code word prevents child abduction in Arizona. 

* There's an awful lot of hype out there about tumeric. Here is a more rational article about what it might do for your health.

* An easy way to grow salad greens all year long...even without a garden.

* I'm seeing a lot of questions about canning game right now, but it's the same as canning any other meat. Treat deer and de-fatted bear like beef and rabbit like chicken. Here are all the details. 

* A GMO potato creator warns against GMOs.

* I taught my firstborn cursive using the Cursive First curriculum. But while I felt my second child was finally ready to learn cursive this year, we really didn't have the money to spend on curriculum. So I've been using the totally FREE cursive worksheets over at Kidzone. I think they are just as good!

* Sunshine helps kill germs, scientists say.

Oldies But Goodies:

* DIY Pumpkin Puree
* How to Roast Pumpkin and Squash Seeds
* Garden Like a Pilgrim
* What We Can Learn from the Pilgrims
* 20 Ways to Save Money this Christmas

Nov 7, 2018

His Grace is Revealed through Parenting

This post first appeared in June 2015.

The morning was like many recent mornings. My daughter seemed too tired to listen to my brief instructions about what she needed to do before we started school work. I had to repeat them at least six times. Then she took an hour to dress and brush her teeth and hair. Then, instead of doing school work, she chose to stare out the window, daydreaming. 
When I told my 6 year it was time to start school, he said "No!," then tried to run away from me. (Why did we ever move into a house with a circular floor plan??) When I finally caught him, disciplined him, and got him seated at the kitchen table, I marked the rows of handwriting practice I wanted him to do. He purposefully chose to do rows I didn't mark. When I made him come back to the table and do the rows I marked, he argued with me, saying, "You hate me! You're the worst Mommy ever!"

That was it. I broke into tears. Here I was trying to do right by my children, and all they could do was fight me and make everything more difficult.

My son's heart instantly softened and he gave me a big hug as I reminded him, "I do the things I do, and ask the things I ask of you, because I love you."

He patted my back and I wiped away my tears of frustration and hurt. Then he turned around and did the work I had asked him to do, this time without complaint.

Parenting isn't for the faint of heart, and there's nothing wrong with having one of those days when all you want to do is cry. In fact, crying makes you feel a wee bit better. And if you don't hide those tears from your children, wet cheeks can suddenly put things in perspective for them.

As for me, while my children took new interest in doing their school work, I took up some housework and prayed.

"God, thank you for reminding me how I look in your eyes. I know I often don't listen to you as well as I should. I often take too long to do the things you ask me to do. Sometimes my heart rebels and I say 'No!' Sometimes I wonder how a God who loves me can let certain things happen. I am a sinner, Lord. Thank you for showing me grace. And please help me to teach my children about your amazing grace, too."


...He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more: the first things are passed away.

Nov 3, 2018

Raising Chickens: It's SO Easy!

How Easy Is It to Raise Chickens Hens
This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information. Thank you for supporting this site! 

Once upon a time, not that long ago, most Americans grew a bit of food and raised some chickens...even if they lived in the city. (Yep, that's right!) We can argue about why that changed, but my point is simply that raising a little food has long been considered smart: more frugal and more self-sufficient.

Today, it's also perfectly possible to have egg-laying chickens in nearly any setting - though I doubt you'd get away with it in a modern city. (Ha!) I know a lot of people living in the suburbs and in rural areas who've thought about raising hens, yet are convinced it's just not worth the effort. But not only are home raised eggs cheaper than store bought, but they are also much healthier and better-tasting, too! (For more about the differences between store bought and backyard eggs, click here.) And, contrary to what many people believe, chickens are super easy keepers.

Day in the Life of a Chicken Keeper

I don't think there's a better way to explain how easy chicken-raising is than to give you a glimpse into our homestead chicken life.

1. In the morning, sometime after the sun is up, open up the hen house so the chickens can get out.

2. Take a quick peek at the chickens' waterers to make sure they have enough clean water for the day.

3. Go do other things.

4. After dinner, head back to the coop and feed the chickens and check their water again.

5. Collect eggs.

6. Go do other things.

7. When it gets dusky and the chickens are all back in the coop, close and lock the coop door to keep out predators.


Yes, it really is that easy! In all, I don't spend even 10 minutes a day caring for our hens. Check out the video below to SEE my chicken-keeping day for yourself.

Additional chores that need doing once in a while include removing manure from the hen house and adding fresh bedding. Tough stuff, there! (wink)

So if you've been thinking about getting chickens, I encourage you to do it right away. Fall and winter are great times to get set up, searching Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace for coops and gradually buying other chicken supplies online or at local feed stores. Then, come spring, you'll be all set to buy chicks or hens!

To learn more about keeping chickens, see these posts:

Setting Up the Hen House & Run

Buying Chickens & Caring for Chicks

Getting Ready for Chicks

Getting .06 Cent Eggs (or Feeding Chickens on the Cheap)

Oct 24, 2018

Surviving the Holidays While Eating Keto or Low Carb

Keto Christmas Thanksgiving
The modern holiday season is largely about months of eating sugary, fattening food, from mashed potatoes and stuffing to cookies, eggnog, and pie. As if this weren't difficult enough for those watching their health, our society tends to frown upon those who don't indulge. More than once, I've been pressed - sometimes not nicely - to eat food that would literally make me sick. "Lighten up! Moderation in everything!" is today's motto.

If you're eating keto or low carb simply to lose weight, you may not be as strict as I am about holiday eating. Maybe it's easier for me to stick to keto because as a diabetic, I know traditional holiday food will spike my blood sugar, making me feel almost immediately ill. But the truth is, cheating hurts every keto-eater. You've worked hard to improve your heart health, reduce inflammation in your body, get your body burning fat, and just generally make yourself feel better. When you cheat, you set all that back and allow carb cravings to grab a foot hold. Not worth it. No way, no how.
So how does one navigate food during the holiday season? Here's what works for me.

Surviving Holiday Dinners

I started the keto lifestyle right after Thanksgiving 2017. I was worried about surviving Christmas dinner...but it actually wasn't all that hard. The first thing I did was focus on the traditional star of the show: meat. This was the main part of my Christmas meal. (If your family expects honey ham during the holidays, try serving a small amount of meat, like a turkey breast, as an additional offering. If you aren't cooking Christmas dinner yourself, bring the turkey breast to "help the hostess.")

Sadly, most Thanksgiving and Christmas sides are unhealthy and definitely not keto. If you're the host (and assuming most people present are carbavores), serve a few keto sides that everyone can enjoy. If you're a guest, bring at least one side that's keto. Do remember, however, that even keto holiday sides have carbs; don't make the mistake I made my first keto Christmas: I whipped up 3 keto sides (mashed cauliflower, stuffing, and green beans), but still managed to spike my blood sugar because I simply ate too much of each.

Don't forget to bring a low carb dessert for everyone. Unless you sweeten the dish with Stevia (which many people taste as bitter), nobody will know it's keto. Need ideas? Check out my Keto Holiday Recipes board on Pinterest,

Surviving Holiday Parties

Personally, I find getting through holiday parties more difficult than surviving family dinners. Whereas most families are happy if you contribute food to a big meal, you won't always have the opportunity to bring food to a holiday party. Still, if you're given the opportunity, do bring keto food. There's no need to tell anyone it's keto unless you want to; keto food is so delicious, most people will never suspect they are eating "diet" food. Good choices include deviled eggs, dips with pork rinds, cheese balls, meatballs, veggie trays with keto Ranch dressing, strawberries with whipped cream, and jalapeno poppers.

If you're unable to bring food to a party, seek out keto-friendly offerings, even if it means dissecting your food a bit. For example, you might eat from a cheese or nut tray, or just the meat from a cracker tray. Sometimes you'll need to pick off what's not keto. For example, if there are breaded chicken tenders, peel off the coating. Eat slowly, and always have something uneaten in your hand so people are less likely to offer you unhealthy treats.

Above all, whenever possible, eat before you attend the party; it's so much easier to resist when you aren't hungry! I find it really helps to get in some fatty food before attending any event where I have no control over the food.Fat kills cravings and helps you feel full and satisfied.

I also recommend avoiding alcohol. Yes, some alcohol is low carb, but unless you have the nutritional information right in front of you, you might be surprised how many carbs are in that glass of wine. (Carb counts vary widely between brands!) Besides, alcohol reduces your will-power to stay away from carby "munchies."

Surviving Holiday Gifts

This holiday season, somebody is almost certain to give you a plate of cookies or fudge or some other sweet treat. What to do? My advice is to thank them kindly and sincerely, then move on with the conversation. I'd then dispose of the food or give it away to someone the gift-giver doesn't know. This allows the gift giver to know you appreciate their kindness in thinking of you, while also ensuring you don't hurt their feelings.

Surviving Nay-Sayers

You've probably already run into people who insist keto is unhealthy. (Yawn.) But it may prove especially difficult to navigate naysayers during the holidays. Hopefully, keto won't become the topic of conversation; politely declining non-keto food is usually sufficient - no explanations needed. If strangers or acquaintances push further, it's usually helpful to say, "My doctor has me on a weird diet." (I've yet to meet someone who questions this.) Or sometimes: "Unfortunately, those foods make me feel sick."

It can be trickier with people who know you well, since they often feel free to tell you what they really think...and sometimes people who are anti-keto are really strident. Arguing at the dinner table is, I'm sure, not on your holiday wish list, so consider now how you'll handle such situations.

My suggestion is to simply say, "I don't want to spoil everyone's Thanksgiving (or Christmas), so I don't wish to argue with you. But maybe after Thanksgiving, I can give you some information about why I eat this way." (This post may help with that.)

Staying Your Focus

Aside from keeping the reasons you eat keto at the forefront of your mind, the best way to survive the holiday food glut is to remember what the holidays are actually about. Thanksgiving isn't about rolling out the door because you're too full to walk. It's about being thankful for your blessings. Christmas isn't about eating sweets all day. It's about celebrating our Savor's birth. Similarly, Hanukkah is really about faith and family, not food.

Other good things to focus on are spending time with family, and any non-food traditions your family may have. (Don't have any good family traditions? Now's a great time to start some!)

Friends, you've got this. You know keto is good for you and that you'll regret it if you fall off the wagon. You also know you've never regretted not eating a food. (Right??) Keto on!

And coming soon: Keto Christmas Recipes

Oct 19, 2018

Weekend Links & Updates

I absolutely love how our gravel road looks this time of year.
In which I share my favorite posts from this blog's Facebook page.

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information. Thank you for supporting this site! 

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."
Matthew 6:33

I had to give up on apples. I'm not typically one to give up on things (i.e. I'm stubborn), but the apples got the better of me. We have 10 apple trees and they all produced like crazy this year.  I canned applesauce, apple juice and cider, apple halves in light syrup; I freeze dried apple rings; I dehydrated apple rings; I gave literal tons of apples away. I considered canning apple jam/jelly/butter, but looking at our larder, we already had too many sweet spreads. And then it was time to re-start homeschool. Preserving, homeschooling, working, being a home-keeper...something had to give. I am only one person. So I didn't preserve the rest of the apples. So. Hard. For. Me!

My family is still eating fresh apples and apples cooked into meals or baked into treats; I'm still giving apples away; I'm still feeding apples to the chickens. And someday, if I can manage to create an appropriate space, we can store whole apples in cold storage. But right now, the apples beat me. It's been a good reminder that I'm not superwoman and that priorities matter. Sigh.
Pork chops and apples is one of many recipes I've adopted since moving to our apple-rich homestead.

In other homestead news, it appears our first batch of chicks is entirely female. We are shocked by this, but since they are nearly fully grown, have shown zero signs of trying to crow, and the rooster is mating with them (haha!), we're pretty sure we have 5 new hens. Our second batch of chicks isn't fairing quite as well. We feel pretty sure one of them is a rooster, just by paying attention to its behavior. Time will tell. And we lost one of the other chicks. The possible rooster pecked it to death...and its mother and the rooster did nothing to prevent it. We did isolate the picked-on chick for a time, to allow it to heal from its wounds, but as soon as it was re-introduced to the flock, it was harshly attacked again. This is the hardest part about chickens, I think. They are pretty darn cruel - even the nicer breeds, like Australorpes. Experience tells us something was probably wrong with this chick...something we can't detect, but that the chickens somehow know. 

This book is SO good!
On a cheerier note, I've read two outstanding novels recently - both tough to put down. One is Sandra Byrd's Lady of a Thousand Treasures. It's one of the best historical romances I've ever read. (Actually, I pretty much love everything written by Sandra, so if you haven't checked out her historicals, her contemporaries, her kid's books, or her devotionals, I think you should! See all Sandra's books here.) The second novel of note is Legacy of Mercy by Lynn Austin. I love many of Lynn's historicals, and this one gave me tears of joy. (You do not need to have read book 1 in this series to completely understand and enjoy Mercy.)

* If you want a fun treat for your kiddos this fall, try these chocolate chip spider cookies. I made them a year or two ago, and they were a big hit. You can use your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe, if you prefer, and just borrow the technique for making spiders. It's easy!

* Can't afford organic? This study shows the best (and easiest and cheapest) method for removing pesticide residue from the surface of fruits. 

* How to hang onions for storage.
Blueberries just coming out of my freeze dryer.

* Check out my first-ever article for GRIT magazine. It's about winter squash on the homestead. 

* This article. Read it! It explains why you shouldn't do a ton of garden clean up this time of year - not if you want to help pollinators survive.

* This pie garland is so cute! It makes a fun Thanksgiving-ish activity for kids.

* Speaking of Thanksgiving, check out this Family Bible Reading Plan for Thanksgiving.

* Wanna be a hero this holiday season? Make a scrumptious pie (or 2 or 3...). In my book Easy as Pie, I show you how to make amazing and easy crusts, plus some of the best-tasting pies you'll ever eat! Some of my family's favorites that are included in the book are fresh (not from a can!) pumpkin pie, green tomato pie, zucchini pie, cookie dough pie, and shoofly pie.

Oldies But Goodies:

* Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Food Ideas
* How we get .06 cent eggs (Feeding Chickens on the Cheap)
* Best ideas for upcycling jeans

Oct 11, 2018

The Importance of Headspace in Canning

What is Headspace in Canning
This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information. Thank you for supporting this site!

 I cannot tell you how happy it makes me to see more and more people learning to can food at home. I have noticed, though, that many newbies proudly showing off their work online are making some mistakes. Totally normal! None of us knows everything about canning when we first start out. But one mistake I see a lot is ignoring headspace.

Headspace is the amount of unfilled space between the food in the jar and the rim (top) of the jar. Using the correct headspace not only ensures a good seal on your home canned foods, but it also prevents some potentially dangerous situations.

Why Correct Headspace Matters

Using too little headspace means the jarred food can't properly burp or expand during the canning process. This means the food is forced out of the jar, leaving particles behind on the jar rim. This, in turn, means the lid can't properly seal. From what I've seen, the most common occurrence of using too little headspace is in pie filling. Usually 1-inch headspace is called for - and while that might seem like a huge amount of "unused" jar, the truth is pie filling expands a lot once it's processed.

A much more common problem (and one I battled with when I was new to canning), is leaving too much headspace in the jar. This keeps air in the jar, making the food inside darken over time. Worse, it can potentially lead to food spoilage, even when the jars seal.

Whatever recipe you use should always indicate what headspace is required. (If it doesn't, it's a sure bet it's not a tested safe, "approved" recipe and therefore you shouldn't be using it.) Generally speaking, though, jams, jellies, and juices require 1/4-inch headspace, fruit requires 1/2-inch, and things that go into a pressure canner (low acid foods) need 1-inch headspace.

Bubbling is Vital

In home canning, "bubbling" refers to taking a plastic device (like a plastic spoon handle) or wooden skewer and running it between the jar and the food to remove air bubbles from the jar. (Never use metal for bubbling, since it could damage jars, causing them to break.)

If you don't bubble jars, you may end up with false headspace - that is, you may think you have the correct amount of headspace, but once air works out of the jars during processing, the contents will fall, leaving far more headspace than is ideal.

Courtesy Tom Head
By the by, if you discover air bubbles in your jars after processing, don't worry. You will never get all the air out of the jars. The idea is simply to remove as many air bubbles as possible.

What About After Processing?

Sometimes when you remove jars from the canner, you may find the headspace has changed. Usually, the headspace now looks bigger, but sometimes it may seem to have disappeared. This is nothing to worry about. If you start out with the correct headspace when the jars go into the canner - and the lids seal - the food is safe to eat and store on a shelf.

Sometimes you'll end up with increased headspace because hot food may shrink during the canning process. Other times the increased headspace is caused by "siphoning," or loss of liquid in the jars due to improper technique. Siphoning is generally caused by raw packing (not pre-heating) food that is canned in a heavy syrup; not allowing the jars to cool in the canner a full 5 minutes after processing; or simply running the canner at too high a boil. The end result may be food that discolors at the top, but this is not a safety issue.

If you neglected to bubble your jars and the headspace drops, you could end up with a poor seal on your jars - which could potentially release during storage and lead to spoiled food.

How to Measure Headspace Accurately

If you're just starting out, it's helpful to actually measure your jars' headspace, rather than eyeball things. Back when I was learning to can, I used an old fashioned ruler for this job, but nowadays, there's an even better tool, called (creatively) a headspace measuring tool. This is better than a standard ruler because  it latches onto the jar rim, making for more accurate measuring. (Most headspace measuring tools double as bubblers, too.) To use this type of ruler, hold it upright, with the tip inserted inside the jar. The food should just touch the tip of the correct measurement on the ruler. If you've over-filled your jar, spoon out some of the food. If you've under-filled the jar, add a little food and re-bubble.

Here's Ball's version of a headspace measuring tool.

And here's a less expensive version.

Once the jar is bubbled and the headspace is correct, wipe down the rim of the jar with a damp cloth. Better yet, wet the cloth with a little white vinegar; this helps remove sticky and oily substances better than just water. This step helps ensure a good seal.

Another option, though possibly not as accurate, is to use a canning funnel with headspace marks on it. (Here is a partially stainless steel version.)

When you become a more experienced canner, it's acceptable to eyeball headspace. To aid in this, use the jar's threads. Turn the jar so you can see all three threads. The first thread (the one closest to the jar rim) is where the 1/4 inch headspace mark is. The middle thread indicates 1/2 inch. Just below the last thread is the 1 inch mark.

By paying attention to headspace, you'll improve your canning tremendously, ensuring all the food you can is safe to eat. A little attention to this detail now, and you'll have home canned food that will last many years to come.
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Sep 19, 2018

How To Do Less Laundry

Americans are wasteful when it comes to a lot of things...and that includes laundry. The average American household wastes a huge amount of time, personal energy, water, electricity, detergent, dryer sheets or fabric softener, and clothes (due to wear and tear), all because they simply wash their clothing too often.

No, I'm not suggesting we all wander around in stinky or obviously dirty clothes. But there's no doubt that before automatic washing machines became popular people - including Americans - washed their clothes much less often. It was simply too much work to do laundry more than once a week. So how did the housewife of old - who probably had more kids than you do and whose work and life was messier because of lack of modern conveniences - manage to wash so infrequently?

Wardrobe Matters

The first important thing to note is that "in the old days," almost everyone had five different types of clothes:

* School or work clothes.
* Play clothes.
* Church or special occasion clothes.
* Nightclothes.
* Underwear.

The average middle-class family might have two or three outfits in each category, tops. So, obviously, there were fewer clothes to launder and therefore less laundry to do.

But it was the way they wore these clothes that saved the most labor and money. Kids wore school clothes only to school. When they came home from school, they removed their school clothes and hung them up to allow them to air out. Then they put on their play clothes.

They often had only one set of "good" church clothes, which were worn only while at church or during special occasions, like weddings. This outfit was washed infrequently since it was typically worn only a few hours per week.

Nightgowns or pajamas were worn every night for a week before they were washed. They weren't worn for lounging before bedtime or during morning play or breakfast. As soon as a child got out of bed, she took off her nightclothes and stored them for bedtime.

Adults handled their wardrobe similarly.

Now, I'm not necessarily suggesting you and your family have such limited wardrobes (although cutting back on clothes is probably a great idea that will save you time and money). I am suggesting we don't generally need to wash clothes that have been worn for only a few hours. To do so, frankly, shows how spoiled we are. What a waste of resources, time, energy, and money! I'm also suggesting that instead of wearing one set of clothes all day long, we adopt the practice of switching into work or play clothes, as needed to spare the laundry pile and our clothing budgets.

My Challenge to You
So here's my challenge for you this week: See how few clothes you can reasonably wash. Wear an apron while cooking - and perhaps even while housekeeping or doing garden chores. Change from good clothes into play clothes as soon as possible. If you know you'll be doing a particularly dirty job, change into some older clothes first. Wear your nightclothes repeatedly.

I think you'll find your life is less stressful and more simple. And you'll be a better steward.

Related Posts:

A version of this post first appeared in January of 2011.

Sep 13, 2018

Using Fall Leaves for Garden Mulch & Compost

How to Use Autumn Leaves for Mulch and Compost
When we lived in the suburbs, I was always amazed when my neighbors raked their autumn leaves and piled them along the street for the city to pick up and throw into a dump site. Nowadays, I see our rural neighbors blowing leaves into huge piles and lighting them off as a means of disposal. But it's no more difficult to use fall leaves as garden mulch and compost than it is to rake or blow them into piles. And if you look at nature, you'll see that leaves are God's perfect garden mulch - an easy way to richly enhance the soil and make plants healthier and happier.

How to Use Autumn Leaves as Mulch and Compost

* Add leaves to your compost bin. Leaves are one of nature's great plant foods. However, it's important to not dump a huge pile of leaves into the compost bin all at once (because they’ll turn into slimy mush that decomposes very slowly). So add a layer of leaves, then a layer of "green" (nitrogen-rich) things, like vegetable and fruit scraps, then another layer of leaves, and another layer of “greens,” and so on. Running the lawn mower over the leaves to shred them first speeds up their decomposition.

* Use leaves as mulch. Place a few inches of leaves on top of your garden soil, keeping the mulch a couple inches away from plant stems. Again, shredding the leaves first speeds their decomposition and helps keep them from blowing around. However, I don't bother to shred them; we get a lot of winter rain, and that keeps the leaves from blowing away. By spring, even leaves that weren’t shredded have decomposed (or nearly so). This type of leaf mulch not only feeds the soil, but it helps prevent weeds while retaining soil moisture.

* Throw leaves into a bare bed. If you have any bare garden beds, sprinkle autumn leaves over the ground in a thin layer, then lightly dig in. The leaves will rot over winter, feeding the soil and encouraging good-for-your-garden worms and micro-organisms.
* Make leaf mold. Leaf mold is a rich compost that builds up nutrients in the soil. To make your own, fill a black contractor's bag about three-quarters full with fall leaves; close the bag securely and poke small holes all over it. In about a year, you'll have leaf mold to apply to your garden beds.

* Start a lasagna garden. Lasagna gardening (also called "sheet mulching") is a simple way to turn bad soil into spectacular soil - and one main ingredient is leaves. Essentially, you're just layering "greens" (nitrogen-rich materials) and "browns" (carbon-rich materials) on top of the soil; you'll need about twice as many browns as greens, and you should stack everything two or three feet high. Read more about lasagna gardening here.

An important note: Not all leaves are created equal. Some are quicker to decompose than others, and some add more nutrients to the soil than others. Thick leaves (like those of holly) must be well shredded before you can use them in the garden. Most importantly, eucalyptus, walnut, and camphor- and cherry-laurel leaves actually inhibit plant growth, so feel free to rake those into the street for city pick up.

All other leaves, however, are designed to fall to the ground and enrich the soil. So follow nature’s lead this autumn and let leaves do the work God designed them to do.

A version of this article was originally published in December of 2009.