Monday, May 29, 2017

Soil Amendments and Pesticides in my Organic Garden

I have two best friends in the garden.

OK, I have many best friends in the garden. The garden is like da club and I'm chilling with all my bffs popping bottles and whateva and bees and buzzing and all that BUT when my girls Neem Oil and Fish Emulsion come in we know it's finna go down.

Neem Oil is pressed from the seed of the Neem tree, which is indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. Neem oil is typically used as an insecticide and is especially useful against aphid infestations but is also useful as an antifungal and antibacterial agent in the garden. The active ingredient is azadirachtin, so when purchasing be sure to check the label that it has that in it. Some products available in your big box stores that are advertised as neem oil sprays or extracts do not contain this or do not explicitly state that they contain it. I've found a few bottles that list "Clarified Hydrophobic Extract of Neem Oil" as the active ingredient and since they don't say azadirachtin I don't typically trust them. Instead, I purchase unrefined, organic, straight neem oil that I dilute myself. Because we are using an oil, we need to add an emulsifier so that it will dissolve in to water so that it can be distributed in to water. Neem oil tends to be solid at room temperature so might benefit from a dip in a warm bath first, followed by a good shake. I use it at a 1% dilution along with a good squirt of Dr. Bonners or another biodegradable soap and spray on foliage, stems and branches, and the dirt around the base of the plant. It works as an insecticide by inhibiting reproduction and eating and injuring soft bodied insects. I discovered neem oil in a fight against aphids and now spray regularly on all of my plants, including my apple trees.

Fish Emulsion is a broad spectrum, gentle fertilizer that is known to not burn. Fish oil is made from scrap fish parts and may be fermented. Typically available in a 5-1-1 NPK ratio (meaning it contains 5 parts nitrogen to 1 part phosphorus to 1 part potassium), fish emulsion is beneficial to almost everything in the garden but weak enough that it must be reapplied twice a week for optimal growth. In addition  to NPK, it contains valuable trace nutrients that are great for root growth and soil building. Different plants are going to need different amount of fish emulsion but I typically to 2-3T per gallon. Beware though, fish emulsion smells exactly like you think it would. Be careful with spraying it on your indoor plants.

maybe weed first?
How do I use these two rockstars in my garden?
Twice a week I mix up 2-3T of fish emulsion in to my little 1 gallon sprayer and spray all over the everything, focusing on the ground around my plants. As I want this to get soaked in to the earth, it doesn't matter if it should be raining soon. It won't run off and be ineffective as pesticides do.
Neem oil is used less often. Every other week, in addition to my fish emulsion I add about an oz and a half of neem oil and a good squirt of soap to my sprayer. As I mentioned above, you're aiming for a 1% ratio and need to add the soap to act as an emulsifier. Since we're trying to keep an oil suspended in a water, we also need to shake it up as we're using it. While we're spraying the neem oil we want to be sure to spray every surface of the plant. We're spraying the leaves, especially the underside of the leaves, the stem, and the ground around the plant, so that the whole antifungal, antibacterial, pesticidal actions can get flowing.

These two, along with a healthy side dressing with compost midseason, are pretty much all I use in my garden after my initial soil amendments. As always, before using any soil amendments or fertilizers an initial soil test is important.

How are things growing with you??

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Client Garden Installation 5-1-17

Hey Friends!!

I am beyond excited about what I got to do this weekend. I got to go and play in someone else's dirt!
On Saturday I worked with a client (OK, my grandmother) to get her garden going this year. She hadn't done anything the past two years and so the whole area had gotten quite over run.

The yard itself isn't fenced in and is frequently visited by deer and groundhogs so the garden area is enclosed in an outdoor dog kennel with a gate that is roughly 7 feet tall.
I wish I could claim it as my own but it was like that when I got there.

Install day was Saturday so we met up Thursday and talked abut our goals. We established two main goals:
She wanted tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and beans.
She needed to be able to maintain it mostly by herself but has family close that can help if needed.
Easy peasy!
Then we talked and talked about food she ate growing up in the country and foraging and herbs. I could have stayed much longer but had to go pick up a kid. Story of my life.

 So once Saturday rolled around I recruited some hands and we got to work!
It was a beautiful day to garden but HOT! It was our first over 90 degree day and we made it through with lots of water and with my helpers working in shifts.

Our first task was to clear out the debris and materials that were in the space. The beautiful apple tree in the middle had dropped loads of leaves that totally covered the ground. I'd initially planned to leave them in place and work them in to the soil as compost but there was just way too much in there for that to be feasible. Instead we raked most of it out and added it to the compost. With the leaves out of the way we were able to pull the plants that were coming up underneath. There was a lovely nettle plant in the corner that was to make her way home with me but alas, she was discarded accidentally. I was so excited to find nettle growing but now I know what she looks like and can find her easily again!
Once we were able to get down to bare earth, the real fun began. I wanted to keep the plants to the perimeter of the space so that the walls would be support and she would have clear space to walk without having to step on rows. The ground was prepared initially by turning over by the shovelfull to loosen and then compost was added and incorporated by hand with rotary cultivators.
After that, it was just planting!  We put in two jalapeno plants, 5 tomato plants and direct seeded some pole beans and cucumbers. To finish the job, we created a border out of some materials left from another project for around the apple tree and filled it with mulch, leaving an inch of space around the trunk. Tomato cages were placed around the jalapenos for support and individual poles are installed next to each tomato plant to tie them to. 

While small, this little garden will provide tons of food and fun for my grandmother. I know she'll love it and I look forward to talk to her about what she's growing!

Thursday, April 20, 2017



I'm hoping this spring season is finding you well and your gardens flourishing.

Here's what's happening in mine:

Seedlings are beautiful and mostly ready for transplanting.  

Of the 72 plants I started, very few didn't make it. My onions were from old seed and mostly an experiment that just never germinated, I killed my one okra seedling in potting up, and my Aji Dulce peppers are not growing as well as I'd like but overall I'm really really happy with my seedlings this year. I didn't forget about any of them! The curcubits (squash, zucchini) and herbs will get transplanted out this weekend and the tomatoes, peppers and eggplant will stay on the porch a bit longer.

Flowers go in next
I'm trying something new this year! I'm going to be starting some flower seeds for my front beds in addition to my veggies. Can't eat them and they're not anything useful but they'll be pretty! I have zinnias, impatiens and snapdragons.

Pretty sure my dang apple tree is dead
Georgia said it's just growing sticks. The one that is still alive is BEAUTIFUL though. Probably won't get any apples off of her for another year but the blooms are just gorgeous. I've since cleared all the weeds, fertilized and conditioned with neem oil and fish emulsion, and laid fresh mulch since these pictures were taken. Sadly, the tree is just as dead.

Direct seeded plants are popping off nicely!
Cruciferous bed of broccoli, kale, brussel sprouts, and cabbage is growing well. I have some radishes and beets mixed in there too. I'm hoping to get something out of it before it all bolts. The weather in Maryland changes so quickly. Winter drags on forever and then suddenly it's summer. I did an earlier planting that all washed away before it germinated so I fear I didn't get anything in early enough for cool weather. I've also planted a few rows of cucumber and okra that is coming along nicely.
pickles loading...

My strawberry bed is my moon and stars
FINALLY I get to enjoy strawberries. Last year I reluctantly pinched off flowers, knowing that doing so would force the plants to put out more runners and lead to larger yields later. I enjoyed the few berries that I missed. This year by strawberry bed is huge is popping off and I can't wait to dig in! It's full of pretty white flowers that will turn into tasty strawberries!
I'll soon top the bed off with more compost and plant my beans along the edges. They'll share nitrogen love with the strawberries and provide shade, possibly prolonging their growth in the hot hot heat.
My chickens are still dumb
not pictured is the dummy that flew over the fence
I currently have 3 and I'm getting an egg a day from each girl that they typically hide under the deck. It seems to be either feast or famine around here on the eggs. Either we have none or we have dozen or so just hanging out. I want to have more to be able to barter/give away to friends so we're adding 3-4 more to our flock.

I'm thrilled with what this season has to hold for us.
What's going on for you??

Monday, April 17, 2017

Allergy Protocol

This time of year in the DMV is notorious. I constantly hear from folks that never suffered from allergies until they come here and suddenly they're itchy, stuffy, sneezy messes.

So what do we do?

Do we treat with conventional medications?
I'm not one to judge. If that's what works for you and your body chemistry, great.
For me I prefer to avoid conventional medications as a first step and the side effect "medicine head" is worse than the allergies I'm treating. I get a headache and just feel out of it for days. Also, as a nursing mother, I need to be careful with what I ingest.

Do we seek help from herbal allies?
This is the route I go. I use mechanical and herbal interventions to alleviate my allergy symptoms.
This is what works for me.

Step one is to remove regularly whatever you're reacting to. Washing your face nightly, including warm compresses to your lids and lashes, gets the irritants away so they're not just sitting there bugging you. Cleaning your lids and lashes (either with just warm water or with something sold for this purpose) will help a lot with managing itchy, teary eyes.
Now that you've got it off your face, you need to get it out of your sinuses where is really messing you up. When my allergies are bugging me it feels like there's ants inside my nose. Use your neti pot to rinse those ants out! Look it. Using a neti pot, for me, is miserable. I hate doing it. I'm convinced I'm going to drown or that I'm going to get brain amoeba. I'm calmly pouring water in my nose but inside my head I'm screaming. BUT y'all. It works. I hate doing it so much and put it off but when I do it I feel so much better. I use the little packets that come with it because I'm afraid I'll get brain amoeba otherwise and ALWAYS use distilled water.

This is what I do and what works for me. What works for you and your allergens might be different.
Twice a day I ingest nettle and Centro Ashe's Aller-Support (with nettle, eyebright, and goldenrod) tinctures along with my usual skullcap. I ingest tinctures by adding to a small amount of water in a shot glass and taking it like a shot. Sometimes I'll take my shirt off and yell SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS for old times' sake while I'm at it.
 My daily tinctures vary but almost always include skullcap and nettle.
Along with my tinctures, I also consume 1/2 teaspoon bee pollen twice a day. Local is ideal and I have had great success with the brand pictured above. To consume the bee pollen I either just throw it in my mouth and swish it around with some water or I'll mix it in with yogurt or a smoothie. The difficulty with the latter is that you then have to make sure you consume the entire smoothie/yogurt so that you know you got it all.

I know that for me, this works. If I do this I will not be miserable. There will not be ants inside my nose and my eyeballs won't itch and I won't have a constant throbbing sinus headache.
I'm dying to know what works for other folks.
What's your allergy protocol?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Garden Planning Services

I recently met with my first garden planning client and it was fantastic. While it took me a moment to get my bearings, once we got rolling I LOVED it.
I met with my client in her beautiful home last week. We discussed what she'd done before, where her knowledge currently lay and what I could help her with. For this client, she'd grown up on a farm and knew how to accomplish tasks but had never been in charge of deciding when what tasks needed to be done or sourcing the necessary tools for that task. I was able to help her map out what she wanted to grow, where to source her seeds and dirt, and how to put it all together. We accomplished this in about 2 hours together and I left her with a drawn out garden plan and a seed catalogue.
I'm going to follow up with her with reminders (start your seeds! get your dirt! transplant!) and handy articles and information I think she'd enjoy.

Does this sound like something you can use?
I'm formulating how this can all work out but my current plan is:
-Initial 2 hour visit and garden site visit
-Sourcing assistance
-Rough sketch/plan of garden space
-Upkeep reminders 
-Troubleshooting and pest control advice

I'm still working this out and am looking for TWO more clients in SOMD for this season. Cost is negotiable and I am open to bartering/work trades. Comment if interested!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Amazon Fresh Review

By now I'm sure you've probably heard of Amazon Fresh. If not hold on to your butts cus I'm finna blow your mind. Amazon Fresh is grocery shopping via Amazon. You can purchase anything you would normally purchase in the grocery store - meat, veggies, cereal, dog food - and have it delivered to your home in a time frame you choose. I've just received my third order yesterday and while I'm still not completely sold I am getting there.

How it Works -

With Prime membership, Amazon Fresh is an additional $14.99/month with a free trial month. You simply go to the Amazon website and select Amazon Fresh from the drop down menu on the left. Fresh is also available via the app. You first select the window in which you want your order to arrive. For me it typically shows as 7-10am or 10am-1pm starting the next day.  Once you've selected your window you have a set amount of time to finish shopping the site.

Pros -
Bruh. I don't have to take my kids to the grocery store. What else is there? Do you know how many times we've had "Whatever Mama can find to eat" for dinner because I couldn't imagine taking them anywhere?? It comes TO MY HOUSE. I don't even have to put on pants. It's fantastic.
I live in what the USDA has determined is a Food Desert. We have two dollar stores, two liquor stores, a bunch of churches, and no place I can purchase a banana. Up the road in either direction I have a few grocery stores but to get all the things I want it typically requires a few trips to a few different stores. I need to go to MOMs for my organic stuff, Food Lion for staples, Target for household goods etc. My kids love a particular granola bar that might not be available. Amazon Prime has all the things I need in one place.
Local merchants are highlighted. There is a Local Market option from which small businesses can sell their wares. I've purchased from CakeLove and Sweet Farm in the DC area and have been very very happy with both purchases. I wouldn't have known either existed otherwise. Sweet Farm sells locally made fermented foods which are, as you know, my jammy jam.
Packaging. Everything is well packaged. Ice cream is frozen, bread is fluffy, eggs are uncrushed (so I hear).

Cons -
Ease of use. It's your typical Amazon page and you can search as you would anything else on Amazon. However, similar things don't always pop up together and your least expensive option is never going to show up first. Just like in the grocery store, your eye level things are what they want you to buy. For example, I want to purchase 1 lb of turkey lunch meat. I search "1 lb Turkey Lunch Meat" and come up with a tube of ground turkey from Amazon, not Amazon Fresh. Not what I want. To get what I want, I have to search "Turkey Lunch Meat" and scroll through the 56 results to find the 1lb size. These 56 results also include frozen TV dinners and sausage links.

PACKAGING - Your food comes in huge Amazon Fresh totes that have insulation and ice packs or dry ice. This insures that your food gets to you whole but takes up a lot of space. The totes all fold down and fit into each other, the ice packs gets pitched and the insulation gets shoved in a bag. Insulation and totes are to be picked up on your next delivery but they were not on my last delivery. I contacted customer service and was told to leave them outside, they were picked up the next day.
Produce. They have an amazing produce selection including both organic and conventional foods. By shopping only you're obviously unable to squeeze and sniff. Are you comfortable with that?
Price - Whole chickens for $21. $14.99/month. No coupons. It's definitely pricier than the grocery store but how much does convenience cost? How much are you spending on impulse buys that you won't be getting here? For me it's worth the added cost for now. When warmer months come and I'm growing my own food and my meat source reopens I'll re-evaluate.

Thoughts? Have you tried Amazon Fresh? Is there another home delivery service that works better for you? Let me know in the comments!!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Five Ways to Start Your Homestead

You have that itch. Not THAT itch, the other one. You want to be more sustainable. You want to grow your own food or reduce your carbon footprint or just stop having to buy that same stuff over and over and over again at the grocery store. Maybe the idea of dragging your kids to the Food Lion another time is enough to make you want to never ever leave the house again. Regardless of your reasons, you're interested in making a more sustainable home.

Today I'm going to go over FIVE fantastic ways to start your homestead. 

Managing your homestead, especially on a suburban scale, is really about reducing your input and your output. How can you eliminate unneeded things on both ends? I prefer to begin at the beginning. 

1. Use reusable items whenever possible.
This is paramount in controlling out input and output.The less you bring in means the less you send out and the more independent your home can be. From diapers to napkins to toilet paper - if it's reusable it comes in and doesn't go anywhere. In my home the disposable items we use are paper towels and toilet paper. Paper towels are strictly for cat puke and turkey bacon (how do you make turkey bacon without paper towels?!).
2. Food sources
Being able to produce your own food is huge towards being self reliant. The key thing is to ask yourself what you eat and if you can produce it yourself in the room that you have. Beets are fairly easy to grow but if no one in your house will eat them I wouldn't suggest putting them in. If you're an omnivore, producing your own food can involve gardening, chickens and meat production.
There is always room to grow something. My love of growing my own food started with two herb pots in my kitchen window. Putting small seeds into dirt and producing something tasty ignited a drive in me. No matter what your space is - whether it be a window or a fire escape or a corner of your yard - you can grow something.
Do you have room for chickens? I love my chickens so much I recommend everyone that can have them run out and get them right now. They're pets that make you breakfast. Reliable, low maintenance, relatively quiet and incredibly entertaining. While helpful, a rooster is not necessary for egg production and has many drawbacks in a suburban setting. They're incredibly loud and don't just crow in the morning. They crow ALL THE TIME. I just rehomed one because he was so loud. He would also walk along my fence line pestering people as they walked past my house. As keeping chickens regains popularity, it's becoming more common for them to be allowed in suburban settings. Check with your locality to see if they're allowed where you are.
Raising your own meat in your backyard is not as crazy as it sounds. The chickens we use for eggs can also be eventually processed for meat and rabbits are a solid option to also.

According to the Residential Energy Consumption Survey done by the US Energy Information Administration, 48% of energy consumer by homes in the US in 2009 was for heating or cooling. You can make huge cuts in your home's energy consumption by taking small steps like adjusting your thermostat either higher or lower as the season allows, applying extra insulation to your windows or doors, and changing your air filters regularly. Appliances, lights, and water heating make up the rest of your energy usage. Making sure the lights get turned off and unplugging unused appliances may seem small but can add up big.
In addition to the simple steps, alternative forms of energy are becoming more available. There are now solar companies that will lease your roof. While you don't own your panels (at least initially) you may have the option to purchase them later and it still reduces your dependence on the grid. We have panels installed through Solar City and are planning to purchase our panels (at whatever their current market value is) in five years. There are also likely local companies that specialize in alternative energy or solar panels. Most states even offer tax breaks or grants to establish alterntive energy or heating/cooling systems residentially. For more information about Solar City and to find out if you qualify, click here. (this links to my referral page with Solar City. If you sign up from there I may receive a credit)
4. Find your people
You can't produce everything. You just can't. But you can produce some things and your neighbor can produce some things and yall can trade. Or you can find an awesome local farm that grows and mills wheat (because you sure can't grow that in your yard) and either buy it to support your local economy or barter some volunteer hours. Chances are there are people local to you that are also interested in living more independently and, as the saying goes, many hands make light the work.

5. Find your Mister.
I hate to use gendered pronouns but honestly, it's what I call him. He's my partner and my cheerleader. He's my, "Sure. Why not, babe?' Most importantly, he can build stuff. A partner, whether it be your significant other or just a friend that's also into this kind of crazy stuff, is so important. He's my sounding board and his skills complement mine so much. While us homesteader types tend to want to do everything ourselves (that's why we're here to begin with, right?) it's incredibly sanity saving to have someone to be in this with.

These are my five steps towards starting your homestead. These can be daunting but think of it as baby steps. This year you plant a few things in pots and cut out most paper products. Next year you look into solar panels. Start small so as not to get overwhelmed and once one thing is habit add something else on.
Where are you in your journey towards self reliance? What are your next steps? This year we got back into the chicken game with a new flock of laying hens. Next year we hope to branch into meat production with a few meat birds and maybe a rabbitry.