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

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,'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, 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?

Jun 26, 2018

The Biggest LIE About Growing Tomatoes

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

 Am I a tomato-growing expert? I'm not sure I'd give myself that title, even though I've successfully grown tomatoes for 16 or more years. But Craig LeHoullier? Yep, he's definitely an expert. He's trialed more than 1,200 varieties of tomatoes and introduced 100 new or "lost" tomatoes to the world. This guy knows his stuff. So when he says there's one big lie - a persistent myth - that haunts the gardening world, we should listen. Especially since it's something that wastes our time and reduces our tomato yields.

"I am most often asked about pruning and suckering of tomato plants," LeHoullier writes in his book Epic Tomatoes. Suckers are side-stems that grow at the junction between the plant's main stem and its leaf stems. Conventional wisdom says gardeners must remove all suckers from tomato plants - or end up with a smaller tomato harvest.

I've long wondered about this, because back in the days before I "knew better," I never did cut off suckers. When I finally read somewhere that I should, and began implementing my new found "wisdom," if anything I saw a reduction in the production of my tomato plants. Well, LeHoullier confirms my observation. "Contrary to pervasive urban legends, " he writes. "[suckers] do not sap energy from the main tomato plant."

Suckers grow between the plant's main stem and a leaf stem.
Further, LeHoullier maintains that removing suckers may result in a smaller tomato harvest. He explains:
"Picture a tomato plant that has all of its suckers removed, tied to an 8-foot stake. A blossom cluster is produced at 8- to 12-inch intervals, starting at 2 feet from the soil line. During the season, the majority of the flower clusters open a times when the temperature and/or humidity is not suitable for pollination, leading to blossom drop*. As a result, only a handful of fruit is produced on the 8-foot tall plant, with no mechanism available for producing additional flowers. If just one sucker would have been maintained, the number of flower clusters would have doubled, and it is highly likely that flowers on that additional growing shoot would have opened under more suitable conditions, thus significantly increasing the yield of the plant."

* "Blossom drop" is when a flower is produced, but is never pollinated and therefore cannot produce fruit.

Allowing suckers to stay on the plant also offers an additional bonus: giving the plant more leaves, which in turn helps reduce sunscald on fruit.

But LeHoullier doesn't just leave it at that. He goes on to further explain why you might want to prune your tomato plants, anyway:

* Snipping off some suckers helps control the size of the plant. You don't want the plant sprawling all over the ground, where it may pick up disease. Too many branches may lead to poor circulation, which also may cause disease.

* Removing some suckers prevents plants from becoming so big you have a tough time harvesting tomatoes that aren't on the edges of the plant.

* If you want additional tomato plants, and your growing season is long enough to allow younger plants to produce, removing suckers is a cheap and easy way to accomplish this. After snipping off suckers that are about 6 inches long, put each one in a jar of water. (Alternatively, push the cut ends into a pot filled with wet potting mix.) Keep out of direct sunlight and the suckers should begin producing roots within 2 weeks.  If you've started the rooting process in a jar (which better allows you to see how many roots each sucker has), transfer well-rooted suckers to a pot and keep in a shaded location for a few weeks before planting out with your other tomatoes.

* Topping plants also maintain control over the plant's size. This is an especially handy technique toward the end of the season: If frost is nearing and the plant is producing flowers that likely will never have a chance to turn into ripe fruit, topping puts the plant's energy into growing and ripening fruit already on the vine, instead of putting it into creating new flowers. This method also prevents large tomato plants from breaking or topping over. To top a tomato plant, snip off the top stem just above the final flower cluster you want to turn into fruit.
Staked tomatoes, courtesy of
However, do bear in mind that determinate varieties (which have a natural growing limit) should never have their suckers removed because this considerably decreases yeilds. (Indeterminate tomato plants lack this growing limit and will get bigger and bigger until frost kills the plant.)

So there you have it. Growing tomatoes is easier and less time consuming than some people would have you believe! Happy growing!

* Cover image courtesy of Jennifer C.

May 26, 2018

Can You Grow Fruit Trees From Seed?

Grafting vs. Seeds
Years ago, I saw a tv program that tried - and succeeded - making so-called "preppers" look as crazy as possible. I found myself freuently shaking my head at the families featured on the show - mostly when their mistakes could easily be avoided by educating themselves with a few books.  One thing I particularly remember was a family who saved seeds from their grocery store fruits and veggies, keeping them to plant a garden in case hard times fell upon them.

There was a lot wrong with their plan, including the fact that they were saving seeds not suited to their climate and that they had no gardening experience, but somehow thought they'd be successful gardeners if need arose. But today, I want to talk about why their seeds were, at a very basic level, not a good choice.

The Seed of Our Plum Tree

We have one plum tree on our homestead that we all adore. Unfortunately, while we have many plum trees, only one of them is this variety - deep red, with blood red flesh that's a wonderful mix of sweet and tart. We've been unsuccessful at researching what variety it might be, and cannot find anything that even looks similar at our local stores, where we believe all the newer fruit trees on our homestead were purchased by the previous owners. So the other day, my husband said he was going to save some of those plum's seed pits and plant them.

Unfortunately, that won't really work.

Our coveted red plums.
Yes, we can plant the plum's seed pits and trees will grow from them. But the resulting plant won't produce fruit that's exactly like the plums we adore. This is because fruit seeds aren't "true to seed."

Seeds vs. Grafting

At first blush, this may seem ridiculous, but it's all about genetics. Fruit seeds are produced via sexual reproduction - that is to say, they have a male parent and a female parent. Because they have genes from two different parents, the seeds won't produce a plant (or fruit) that's exactly like either parent. (Just like my kids don't look or act exactly like me; they are a mixture of my genes and their father's genes.)

So if you want an Elberta peach tree, how do nurseries ensure you get what we've come to know as an Elberta - a vigorous, sweet peach with classic, fuzzy skin? By grafting.

Grafting is an asexual form of reproduction; it does not require two parents, but instead uses genes from only one parent, creating a genetic clone.

In the grafting process, one tree branch (perhaps from that Elberta peach) is inserted into the trunk of another tree (which can be totally unrelated...say, an apple). The Elberta begins using the apple's sap, growing into its trunk until there's just a bump where the two meet.

All root stock for known fruit tree varieties is traced back to the original tree, which was created
Peach pit. Courtesy of
naturally, through seed. For example, if you have a Granny Smith apple tree, it has rootstock that's traced back to the original Granny Smith tree, which originated in Australia in 1868, from a pile of crabapples someone tossed into a pile. (Maria Ann Smith liked the fruit from the resulting tree and reproduced it via grafting.)

There is an exception to the grafting vs. seed rule: Most citrus trees are "true to seed" because their seeds contain more than one plant embryo. One of those embryos requires sexual reproduction, but the rest are clones. Citrus that doesn't grow "true to seed" are: Meyer lemon, Clementine mandarin, Pummelo, Marumi Kumquat, Nagami Kumquat, Trifoliate orange (a.k.a. Poncirus trifoliata, Citrus trifoliata, Japanese bitter-orange, or Chinese bitter orange), and Temple Tangor.

What About Vegetables?

Genetics are similar when it comes to seeds from grocery store (or hybrid) vegetables. You can save the seeds, and often they are fertile, but they will not produce food like what you originally purchased. (Please don't confuse hybrid plants and seeds with GMO seeds. Click here for further explanation.)

Hybrid veggies are made by crossing the pollen of two different varieties, either naturally (via wind, birds, etc.) or human interferance. The resulting "babies" have traits from both parent plants, and therefore produce food that has a different combination of genes from their genetic pool.

Granny Smith apples.
Does It Really Matter?

There are plenty of people who will tell you none of this matters and you should go ahead and plant fruit trees from seed and use the seed saved from hybrid plants in your garden. They may be right. It's all a matter of perspective.

If you don't mind waiting years for fruit trees to produce fruit - only to perhaps discover you don't like the taste of that fruit - then go for it! Have fun experimenting with planted fruit pits.

And if you don't mind not knowing exactly what you'll get when you plant seeds saved from hybrids - whether they will taste good (or be totally inedible), be productive, or be disease or pest resistent - then go ahead and use those, too.

But if you want a more reliable crop, you'll want to either buy or make grafted fruit trees. And  vegetable seeds? You'll either save open-pollinated varieties, or buy hybrid seeds, or a combo of both. There is nothing wrong with either way of gardening - so long as you understand the pros and cons of each.

Mar 12, 2018

Why You Shouldn't Worry About GMO Seeds in Your Garden

the difference between GMO seeds, hybrid seeds, heirloom seeds, open-pollinated seeds
It's that time of year when people are buying and starting seeds for their vegetable gardens, and it seems everywhere I go someone is asking "Where can I buy non-GMO seeds?" Trust me, friends; this is something you don't have to worry about.

It's not that I'm pro-GMO. I'm definitely not. (When humans play God it always ends badly. And where are the studies showing a lifetime of eating GMO food - or pesticide-ridden food, for that matter - is safe? Hint: No such studies exist.)

But here's the deal: GMO seeds are not available to home gardeners. That's right: You can't buy GMO seed unless you're a commercial farmer.

The reason for this is simple: Profit. The creators of GMO seed want to make a whole lot of money from them. Therefore, they don't want just anybody being about to grow GMO food. I know this because they regularly sue farmers who accidentally grow GMO food in their fields because the wind or a bird or some other natural thing makes GMO seed fall on their property. GMO seed costs more than traditional seed, and the makers of GMO seeds want to keep it that way.

No, little ol' backyard gardeners like you and me can't get our hands on GMO seed. worries!

What is the Difference Between GMO Seeds and Non-GMO Seeds?

To help clarify further, let's talk about the differences between GMO, hybrid, heirloom, and open-pollinated seeds...because this is where a lot of the confusion about GMOs sits.

GMO seed: Seeds that are created in a lab. These seeds could never be created in nature...never. GMO plants may have DNA from non-compatible plants, as well as from animals and bacteria. (Learn more about creating GMO seeds here.)

Hybrid: Hybrid seeds and plants have been around for a very long time. Hybridization often happens in nature, because wind or animals cross-pollinate plants. Hybrids can also be created by humans, when the process is used to bring out special traits in a plant. (For example, a human might cross a tomato that is particularly disease-resistant with a tomato that is especially tasty and, if she is lucky, come up with a tomato that is tasty and disease-resistant.) No laboratory is needed to make a hybrid. Instead, gardeners simply remove the male portion of a flower to create a "mother plant" and push the male portion of a different flower into it. (Learn more about cross-pollinating plants here.)

Hybrid plants are not the best for seed saving because hybrid seeds aren't usually true to the parent plant. For example, if you collect seed from that hybrid tomato I mentioned above, the offspring plants probably won't have all the good qualities of the parent plant - and may have some of the bad qualities from the hybrid tomato's ancestor plants.

Heirloom: Seed from an older variety of plant, handed down for generations. All heirlooms are open-pollinated.

Open-pollinated: A hybrid seed that was created by insects, birds, wind, humans, or any other natural process. Open-pollinated seeds are excellent for seed-saving because they tend to be true to the parent plant. While all heirlooms are open-pollinated, not all open-pollinated seeds are heirloom.

One Last Thing

Because someone will bring it up. GMO seeds might be a real concern if you live near commercial farms growing GMO crops - because the wind or animals could potentially drop GMO seed into your garden. If you're in this situation and you see seedlings where you didn't plant them - especially if they are GMO crops (corn, soy, sugar beets, papaya, zucchini, yellow summer squash, canola, or cottonseed) - pull them immediately and burn them.

Jan 17, 2018

Why and How to Prune Blueberries

Pruning Blueberry Bushes
This post may contain affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information. Thank you for supporting this site!

"He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful."

John 15:2

When we purchased our mountaintop homestead about a year and a half ago, we were blessed to discover four blueberry bushes. Not all of them are large, but they are an excellent addition to the potted blueberry plants we brought with us from suburbia. (Because if there's one thing I've learned about blueberries, it's this: I can't ever seem to grow enough of them for my family!) Last year, for the first time ever, I even had enough blueberries to preserve a few for winter...Happy dance!

Still, the blueberry bushes that came with our property hadn't been pruned in years, so last weekend, I gave them a good trimming. Why prune blueberry bushes? Well, pruning will eventually make your harvest bigger - and the individual berries will grow bigger, too. Pruning also helps keep the plant healthy, warding off disease. Plus, a well pruned plant is also considerably easier to harvest from.
My blueberry bushes were a tangled mess. Pruning was in order!

When to Prune Blueberry Bushes

The best time to prune is when the bushes begin forming buds. For me, that's right now. If your winters aren't as mild as ours, you probably won't see buds until early spring.

How to Prune Blueberry Bushes, Step by Step

1. Begin by removing all dead branches. This encourages new growth and keeps the plant productive and healthy.

2. Now remove any branches that cross each other, especially if they are touching. If you let crossing branches stay on the plant, it becomes harder to find fruit and may prevent (and will always slow) ripening of the berries.

3. Next, remove branches that point toward the center of the bush. Such branches reduce air circulation, which can cause disease. In addition, a more open bush gives more light to the fruit, which helps berries ripen.

The large buds are future blueberries. The small stubs are future leaves.
4. Finally, remove any branches that don't have new growth. They may not be dead, but if there are no buds on them, they are sucking energy from the plant without giving you the benefit of food.

What to Do with Blueberry Prunings

You may wish to burn or chip your blueberry prunings. Wood ash is a great addition to organic gardening soil, and chips are a wonderful mulch. But you might also want to keep at least some blueberry branches for homestead rabbits or pets like hamsters or guinea pigs. These creatures have teeth that continue to grow throughout their lifetime; chewing branches is absolutely necessary for them to keep in tip-top shape - and blueberry branches are safe chewing material.
I'm saving these prunings for our rabbits.

Fertilizing Blueberry Plants

After you're done pruning, take a few minutes to fertilize the plants. Blueberries love acidic soil, and very few of us have enough acid in our gardens to make them productive and happy. (Not sure what the acidity is in your soil? Use a simple home test kit; I use this one. For blueberries, the soil pH should be at least 5.5.) Coffee and tea grounds can help add acid to the soil. Even better is an inch or two of Sphagnum peat. You may also use commercial fertilizer that's made especially for blueberries and rhododendrons. I use Down to Earth's all natural acid fertilizer. Just sprinkle whatever fertilizer you're using around the base of the plant, then water it in well. (Don't dig it into the soil, or you risk damaging the plant's root system.) Having trouble getting your soil acidic enough? Plant blueberry bushes in very large pots, instead. We did this successfully for many years.

Related Posts
* How to Grow Honeyberries
* Mini Blueberry Pies

Aug 31, 2017

How to Grow Figs

When we moved to our homestead, I was pleased as punch there were fig trees. Of course, I'd never eaten figs before (unless you include Fig Newton cookies), but I was eager to try a new fruit.

Soon, I learned why you never see fresh figs in the grocery store: Truly ripe figs are delicate things that handling and transportation would turn to mush. That makes them quite a precious home grown food, then.

A lot of people are surprised to learn that figs grow in most areas of the United States. And they are easy to care for, too. To learn how you can grow figs, please click here to read my article over at Self-Reliance magazine's website.

May 30, 2017

How to Grow BIGGER Garlic

If you grow garlic, eventually it will send up "scapes" - long stalks with bulbs, and eventually, flower heads. You can leave them entirely alone. In fact, flowering garlic is really pretty in the garden.
Courtesy of Panegyrics of Granovetter
But if your main goal is to grow food, you'll want to cut them off. That's because scapes provide additional food - and removing them creates bigger garlic! Learn more in this short video:

And check out my posts on How to Cook with Scapes and Great Garlic Scape Recipes.