Showing posts with label Gardening. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gardening. Show all 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.


Jan 29, 2019

Winter Sowing Q & A

Winter sowing is by far my favorite method of starting seeds for my vegetable or flower gardens. It's so easy, so cheap, and so effective, producing hardier seedlings than other seed-starting methods do. If you want to know the simple steps required for successful winter sowing (yes, even if it is snowing, you can start seeds right now!), either check out my ebook Starting Seeds (which covers multiple methods of seed sowing) or click over to this post that gives step-by-step winter sowing directions.

I've been touting winter sowing for many years, and over those years, I've consistently heard a handful of questions about the method. So I finally made a video to answer them!

Do you have other questions about winter sowing? Or gardening? Or homesteading? Or homekeeping? Please leave a comment with your question and I promise I'll answer.



Jan 2, 2019

Most Popular Posts from 2018

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

Another year come and gone. To me, it seems time speeds up each year! But now that Chritmas and New Year's are over, I need to hunker down and get to work. I'm currently finishing up a historical fashion book for Dover Publications. (Years ago, historical fashion books were my mainstay and I've enjoying getting back into that subject.) And as usual, this year I want to try to make this blog better than ever...meaning, I want to hear from you! What do you wish I'd blog more about? Let me know in the comments or through a social media message.

This is also the time of year I look at this blog's stats to see if I can understand my wonderful readers even better. It's always fasncinating to see which posts you like best.

1.
https://proverbsthirtyonewoman.blogspot.com/2018/12/deciding-what-to-plant-in-your.html

2.
https://proverbsthirtyonewoman.blogspot.com/2018/12/23-fun-practcal-ways-to-upcycle-feed.html
3.

https://proverbsthirtyonewoman.blogspot.com/2018/03/how-to-dehydrate-zoodles-other.html
4.

https://proverbsthirtyonewoman.blogspot.com/2018/01/why-and-how-to-prune-blueberries.html
5.
https://proverbsthirtyonewoman.blogspot.com/2018/06/the-biggest-lie-about-growing-tomatoes.html

6.
https://proverbsthirtyonewoman.blogspot.com/2018/05/can-you-grow-fruit-trees-from-seed.html

7.
https://proverbsthirtyonewoman.blogspot.com/2018/04/the-best-salsbury-steak-recipe-keto-low.html

8.
https://proverbsthirtyonewoman.blogspot.com/2018/11/the-ultimate-dandelion-medicine-book-is.html
 9.
10.

https://proverbsthirtyonewoman.blogspot.com/2018/11/his-grace-is-revealed-through-parenting.html


I also look at which posts are all-time favorites:



https://proverbsthirtyonewoman.blogspot.com/2014/09/how-to-easily-clean-ceilings-walls-even.html
4.
https://proverbsthirtyonewoman.blogspot.com/2014/09/how-to-easily-clean-ceilings-walls-even.html
5.
https://proverbsthirtyonewoman.blogspot.com/2011/05/the-best-free-apron-patterns-on-net.html
6.
https://proverbsthirtyonewoman.blogspot.com/2013/03/best-ideas-for-upcycling-jeans.html
7.
https://proverbsthirtyonewoman.blogspot.com/2017/09/50-low-carb-and-keto-thanksgiving.html
8.
https://proverbsthirtyonewoman.blogspot.com/2012/04/how-to-clean-really-dirty-stove-top.html
9.
https://proverbsthirtyonewoman.blogspot.com/2014/05/how-to-make-dandelion-wine-recipe-for.html
10.
https://proverbsthirtyonewoman.blogspot.com/2013/08/canning-pickled-green-beans-dilly-beans.html
Happy new year!

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.

Aug 30, 2018

August Homestead Life in Photos

It's been an overwhelming month...but I'm not complaining. Sure, my dad visited from out of state and we held our annual party celebrating my husband's and daughter's birthdays, but most of the overwhelmingness (I made up a word!) has come from our homestead bounty.
When we were homesteading in the suburbs, we dreamed of having every kind of fruit tree, bush, bramble, and vegetable growing on our property, all carefully preserved for the rest of the year. I knew it would be work, but...it's more work than you can imagine if you've never lived it! We still don't have many veggies (because I don't have an actual vegetable garden yet and the deer have been feasting on all the veggies I've planted here and there), but we are actually considering cutting down some of our fruit trees! What??? Yes!!! Because nobody can eat and preserve the fruit from, say, 5 Italian plum trees, all the same variety, that all ripen at the same time of year! Ha!

Anyway, we are plum wore out (both literally and figuratively), but so blessed. We've never given away so very many pounds of fruit as we have this year. Plus, I've been canning, dehydrating, freezing, and freeze drying. (Not sure what the difference between dehydrating and freezing is? Click here.)

I'm too tired to write a proper article this week, so I'm doing something a little different: A photo essay of August life on our mountaintop homestead.

This hasn't been a great year for tomatoes...too weirdly cool, even for the greenhouse tomatoes. So I've been tossing fresh tomatoes into a freezer bag as they become available, and come winter I'll can them. The tomatoes growing outside the greenhouse have lots of green fruit, so I imagine I'll have to ripen them indoors (learn how here). But this is the first year we've had more than two or three pears, so that's a happy thing!


Eating keto to reverse my diabetes, I don't consume potatoes anymore and I try to limit my family's intake of them. But the former owners had a few planted in the ground that I've ignored...and they keep producing! No worries; my family will eat them up. An unusual number of them have bloomed this year, including one with amazing purple flowers. I'm thinking it's from either a red or purple potato.
Because I didn't have a decent place to can last year, I had a lot of things in the freezer, including pounds of tomatoes. I'd wanted to can them before my surgery, but I ran out of time. So this month, I finally turned them into salsa. (I use this recipe.) So much chopping! So many onion tears! And such a mess! But worth it.
Our blueberry bushes were quite productive this year. Last year, I felt fortunate to dehydrate one jelly jar of berries...all the rest we ate fresh. This year, I've been freeze drying many trays of them. I always love the really huge berries we get off one bush. They taste terrific and are the size of a quarter.
We let a second hen hatch some eggs. Call me silly, but I felt sorry for her. It seemed to me she felt sad because she wanted babies, too. So we put her in the maternity ward (a separate cage) with seven eggs. One was a dud - probably never fertilized. She lost three before while they were done hatching. But the other three seem healthy and happy and she's having a blast bossing them around in the nursery (a bigger cage that we keep in the chicken run).

We got a few pounds of early figs this year, and I've mostly been freeze drying them. They turn out amazing; they taste like fresh but are crunchy. This is by far my favorite way to preserve figs, though my family is begging for fig jam. We'll see if the fall crop of figs gets a chance to ripen before the first frost.



One of our spoiled bunnies. Still no babies from them, which is disappointing. (And the female is always making nests as if she's about to give birth.) My son now wants a pet rabbit, too, so we will probably try breeding him or her with one of the existing bunnies.

We are still overwhelmed with Italian plums. These are our least favorite fruit on the homestead. (It's probably just the variety we have; it's not particularly flavorful.) Still, I freeze some in light syrup and use them for baking muffins and such. And this year, I've freeze-dried quite a few, which definitely improves them.


And now it's the beginning of apple season. The first tree to ripen is the oldest fruit tree on the homestead, and we use those apples mostly for applesauce (my recipe and method are here) because they are more tart than my husband cares for. I kicked off applesauce-making with plum applesauce, which combines my favorite red plums (sweet tart) with these apples. The result is divine! Now I'm on to regular applesauce, and soon I'll be canning apple quarters in light syrup (SO good!). I'll also freeze dry and dehydrate apple rings, and put some apple pie filling in the freezer. I might also make some apple juice or apple cider.
Ending with a smile! Our homestead dog has grown up a lot this year. He spent the summer mostly hanging out with us. He's also been herding the new pullets (young chickens) back into their run when they naughtily escape, digging up and killing voles, playing with garter snakes (they fascinate him), playing in the water, and getting stung by wasps. (He now knows the difference between "sky raisins" (flies) and "jalapeno sky raisins" (wasps and bees).

Aug 15, 2018

Why Rabbit Manure is the Best Fertilizer Ever

Using Bunny Manure in the Garden
Though we are considering adding meat rabbits to our homestead, our two Polish rabbits are strictly pets. Even so, they are a huge boon to our homestead for one simple reason: They poop. A lot. And their manure is gold for the garden.

When my daughter got her first pet rabbit, I didn't know this. I only knew that rabbit manure didn't have to be composted before use (unlike horse, steer, and chicken manure). That meant I could take the manure from the rabbit enclosure and put it directly into the garden without fear of damaging or killing plants. My garden loved it - and it was so easy!

This year is the first time I've turned our rabbit manure into "tea" - that is, liquid fertilizer. The process is exceedingly simple (learn how here), and by turning the manure into a liquid, the nutrients hit the plants much faster. I am not exaggerating when I say that within an hour of application, I've noticed plants fertilized with rabbit manure tea have noticeably grown.

This lead me to wonder why rabbit manure is so very effective in the garden. What makes it different from other animal manures?

NPK Rating for Rabbit Manure

As you may know, commercial fertilizers all contain an NPK rating. N stands for nitrogen, P stands for phosphorus, and K stands for potassium.

Nitrogen is used by plants to make leaves and green growth. That means it's essential for growing leafy greens, and helps crops like tomatoes get off to a good, strong start.

Phosphorus helps transform energy from the sun into chemical energy the plant uses to grow. In addition, phosphorus helps plants become stronger and more able to handle stresses like too little water or too much sun, plus it helps the plant grow roots and produce flowers and fruit.

Potassium aids in the prevention of disease and helps produce better-tasting fruit by controlling water content, protein, and sugars.

Aged horse manure, which is widely considered the gold standard for garden fertilizer, has an NPK rating of .70-.30-.60. Steer, another popular manure for gardens, is .70-.30-.40. Sheep manure is .70-.30-.60 and chicken is 1.1-.80-.50.

Rabbit manure is 2.4-1.4-.60...the best of them all. No wonder I see such a noticeable difference when I fertilize with rabbit manure!


How to Collect Rabbit Manure

If your rabbits are in any type of hutch or cage, they should have a manure tray beneath them. Alternatively, some homesteaders allow manure to fall directly into bins beneath their rabbits' cages. It's fine if the manure has a wee bit of hay in it.

My daughter regularly empties the rabbit manure trays into a large plastic tub. We keep the tub in a sheltered location because weather (especially rain) leeches nutrients from the manure. When I want to fertilize the garden, I scoop up whatever I need, as I need it.

If you don't own any rabbits, check local Facebook and Craigslist ads. Often, local rabbit owners sell or give away their bunny manure. And if you don't see any listings, don't despair; put up an "in search of" ad.







How to Apply Rabbit Manure

When installing a new plant, I always add a scoop or two of rabbit manure to the hole. You may also sprinkle manure around plants and gently dig it in, then water. I've also sprinkled bunny manure onto the surface of the soil and watered it in as a top dressing, though this is the least effective technique.

Rabbit manure tea may be applied once a week. Whole manure that's placed in a hole, dug around plants, or used as a top dressing may be applied about once or twice a month.

In addition, rabbit manure can go into your compost bin, to help make super-compost, along with kitchen scraps and garden debris. (Learn more about composting here.)



Jul 6, 2018

Why Apples are the Best Homestead Fruit Crop

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

I've already written about the perfect homestead vegetable crop; it's high time I write about what I believe is the perfect fruit crop, too. There are lots of easy to grow fruits out there, and all of them have their importance for urban and rural homesteaders, but as far as I'm concerned, there's a hands-down winner every homestead should have: Apples.

I can't take credit for being the first to  think apples are a must-have. If you've ever explored old homesteads, you know you can almost always find apple trees on them. This is, in part, because apple trees are hardier than most other fruit trees, tending to live longer, even with neglect. But it's also because apple trees were considered the fruit tree every family should have. Why is this? Let me count the ways:

* Apple trees are reliable and prolific. Many farmers and homesteaders will tell you fruit trees have a tendency to produce bi-annually, meaning one year you may get little to no crop, and the following year the harvest is abundant. Yet in my experience (both as a suburban homesteader foraging for apples in public areas and as a rural homesteader with an orchard) apples rarely have a bad year. And did you know that a
a single apple tree can provide 130 lbs. or more of food each year? Holy smokes! I'm so thankful for their heartiness and abundance.

* Apples are filling. In my opinion, apples are more filling than any other fruit (probably because of their water and fiber content). When times are hard, you can count on apples to fill bellies. It's the reason Johnny Appleseed gifted pioneers with apple seeds!

These beauties from our orchard are a meal unto themselves!
* Apples are nutritious and medicinal. According to the USDA, one apple contains 148 mg of potassium, 3.3 g fiber, and even a wee bit of protein. Apples are also high in antioxidants, polyphenols, iron, and vitamin C, while also containing vitamin K, copper, manganese, and magnesium. Some studies link apples to reduced risk of heart disease, Altzheimer's and dementia, and asthma. They also are a prebiotic, meaning they feed the good bacteria in your gut...plus, dentists say apples help clean your teeth. Herbalists use apples (especially wild or crab apples) to treat constipation, indigestion, stomach cramps, diarrhea, high cholesterol, and minor wounds. They also use apple leaves to treat minor wounds and act as an antibiotic - and the apple tree's bark as a treatment for fevers. Additionally, apple pectin is used to treat diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, cancer, and radiation exposure. (Click here for instruction on how to make and use apple pectin.)





Immature apples on our homestead.
* Apples can be preserved a myriad of ways. Many varieties store well in cold storage (in a cellar, garage, or refrigerator). Apples are easy to dehydrate; they freeze (and freeze dry) beautifully. You may also can apples to make halves in light or heavy syrup, jelly, jam, "butter," applesauce, cider and juice, apple pie filling, and more. You can easily use apples to make vinegar, too. (Click here for more tips on preserving apples.)

* Apples are versatile. Eat them by themselves, make them into a dessert, turn them into a savory dish, squish them to make something to drink, and use the scraps to make vinegar!
Homemade applesauce is healthy and delish.
* Apples are good nutrition for homestead animals. Pigs, cattle, goats, sheep, rabbits, and chickens all enjoy eating apples. Not only are they a natural, healthy food for animals, but it helps cut down on homestead feed costs, making critter-keeping more affordable.

So if I had to choose just one type of fruit to grow on our homestead, it would, without a doubt, be apples.

More Posts about Apples:

What to do with Crab Apples

Apple Peel and Core Jelly

Picking Unripe Apples for Making Apple Pectin

Apple Skillet Cake Recipe

Apple Spice Bread Recipe 

Apple Butter Oatmeal Crumb Bars Recipe

Old Fashioned Baked Apples Recipe

Canning Apple Pie Jam

Freezing Apples

Freezing Apple Pie Filling

The Best Tasting, Easiest Applesauce Ever

How to Make Apple Cider with an Electric Juicer

Making Dried Apple Rings in the Warmer Drawer

Wax Costing on (Store Bought) Apples: Is it Safe?