Thursday, December 31, 2015

Controlling bugs the natural, organic way

Stink bug
Thursday, December 31, 2015

There are good bugs and then there are the bugs that eat up your harvest or give your plants diseases.  You have to be extremely careful in applying any insecticides (bug killers) as they will kill off the beneficial insects (like bees) that pollinate your veggies and increase your harvests.

The best approach is to let nature take its course.  If you have bad bugs, the good bugs will quickly follow and provide equilibrium in the garden.   It took a couple of years after going all natural and organic (no bug sprays) for my garden to come into equilibrium.  First come the bad bugs, these then attract the good bugs who come looking for dinner!

 I purchased beneficial insects to speed up the process.  If you go the route of mail order, be sure that you will be at home when they are delivered so that you can get them released as quickly as possible.  Check your local nurseries for beneficial insects as they will be acclimated to your area.

You can encourage good bugs by planting flowers either around your vegetable patch or actually with your vegetables.  Marigolds are a great bad bug (and deer) deterrent.  I plant these all around my flower garden.

You can also encourage birds to your yard by having trees, shrubs and flowers that attract birds.  Keeping a bird bath with shrubs nearby so the birds can hide in the shrubs is a great way to get birds into your yard.  Adding a bird feeder is helpful as well.  If you do, be sure that you feed all through the winter as the birds have come to depend on you.

Using a garden hose to dose down the insects can be a good strategy; just make sure that you are not watering a plant’s leaves that are susceptible to fungal diseases such as tomatoes, cucumbers or zucchinis.  Cucumber beetles look a lot like lady bugs (the good guys), but are yellow or green versus red.  They also spread fungal diseases.
Cucumber beetle

You can also go insect hunting and pull off the insects and throw them into a bowl with soap and water or simply don gloves and squish them and feed to the birds.

For Japanese beetles, I use an attractor that is quite a distance from the vegetable garden.  They also love roses so I go hunting for them on our roses every day.  We also apply Milky Spore to keep the grub population down around the roses so we have fewer adults in the summer.

For ants, you have to control the aphids.  A recipe for catching the ants and aphids:  2 cups of vinegar, 2 cups of sugar, 2 cups of water in a gallon jug with a lid.  Drill 3 small holes in the lid, large enough for the ants and aphids, but too small for a little bee.  Place in trouble areas.

Diatomaceous earth sprinkled on the plants that the grasshoppers or other insects love will kill them, as it will kill any insect that crawls on the leaves that DE is sprinkled on.  It scratches their exoskeleton causing them to get dehydrated and die.  DE is safe for humans and is even eaten by some for health benefits.  Just realize good insects like bees will also be killed.

Here are some make your own insect deterrents.  Make sure you test on a few leaves to insure that it won’t adversely affect the plant you are trying to protect.
All purpose spray.  1 garlic bulb, 1 onion, 1 teas dry cayenne pepper, 1 teas liquid soap, 1 quart of water.  Mix water, garlic, pepper and onion together in a food processer, let steep an hour or so, drain through cheesecloth, add liquid soap and you are ready to spray away!
Hot pepper spray.  Good for repelling insects, squirrels, rabbits, and other curious mammals.  1 cup of hot peppers in a quart of water.  Mix in food processor, strain through a cheesecloth and you are ready to use.  Be careful to not get the liquid on your hands and then touch your eyes or mouth.  It will burn.
Tomato-leaf spray.  This is toxic to soft bodied insects like aphids.  It also attracts beneficial wasps.  Take the leaves off the bottom of your tomato plant, 2 cups.  Put in food processor with 1.5 quarts of water.  Let steep overnight, strain out leaves.  Spray on affected leaves, especially the undersides where they like to hide.

If you are just overrun with the bad bugs, you can look on OMRI web site to see what the organic insecticides are:  I use Safer Insecticidal Soap and Neem Oil for my indoor plants.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

How to use dried beans in place of canned

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Through asking my mother-in-law, reading some cookbooks and trial and error, I think we have finally figured out how to use dried beans in place of canned beans!

The older the bean, the harder they are to rehydrate.  You can order them on-line (Amazon has them), buy them from your local co-op, or some grocery stores (like Whole Foods) have bulk bins with many varieties of beans available.

For a crockpot of chili, I use a half pound each of 3 different types of beans.  My husband always wants red kidney beans so that is a given.  Then, you can use pinto beans, black turtle beans, chili beans, great northern beans, there are many to choose from!

I soak the beans overnight.  This allows them to sprout, taking them from a seed to a plant with more nutrients.  In the morning, I rinse them well and put them on the stove.  Continue to cook them until they are just slightly crunchy.  Rinse well, then they are ready for the crockpot! 

Cook them up in the crock, just like you would canned beans.  It is a lot cheaper (about 70% less), you avoid BPA from cans (Eden has BPA free canned beans), and you get to rinse them multiple times which decreases tummy gas.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Make your own flavored vinegars

Wine fermenting into vinegar

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Vinegar is easy to make.  If you open a bottle of wine and let it sit too long, it will begin to ferment into vinegar.  You can take any leftover wine and add herbs to make your own flavored vinegars.

Fermentation is an aerobic process which means it needs oxygen.  To help the fermentation, you would put the wine in an open mouth jar and cover with cheesecloth.  Taste occasionally until it becomes to your liking.  The more alcohol in the wine, the more acid the vinegar will be.  If you see a film on the top of the liquid, this is normal.  It is a colony of vinegar making organisms.  It is called a “mother.”  It is edible and nutritious.  You can eat it or save it to jump start your next batch of vinegar.

Apple cider vinegar in the making
If you have a surplus of apples, you can make apple cider vinegar.  Many swear by its health benefits.  Just press the juice from the apples with an apple press.  Let sit in a wide mouth jar or jug with the lid off, covered with a cheese cloth.  It will begin to ferment all by itself.  Yeast is everywhere.  Taste it daily.  It will be bubbly in a few days, sweet and mildly alcoholic (a light cider).  It will get drier and then sour into vinegar within a couple of weeks.  It is that simple!

Apple presses
Or you can just buy apple cider when in season, let sit in a wide mouth jar, covered in cheesecloth, and it will ferment into vinegar as well.

You can infuse your vinegar with herbs or fruits.  Just add, seal tightly, let sit in cool dark place for 3-4 days, strain out solids and you have a fancy herbal or fruit vinegar!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

December garden planner

Cold weather salad fixings-corn salad and cultivated dandelions
Sunday, December 6, 2015

December is a time of digging in and staying warm.  It may appear that everything is dead outside, but there is still life in the garden.  In the beds, kale, cabbage, salad burnet, sorrel, rosemary, oregano, garlic, onions, lettuce, leeks, chard, dill, celery, sage, carrots, spinach are all still green in December.

Fresh herbs are just steps away from the back door.  Most Mediterranean herbs are perennials so you get to enjoy them almost year round.  You can also grow many herbs indoors as well like chives, oregano, rosemary, parsley, chervil, and basil.  Just place your potted herbs in a sunny window.  Growing herbs indoors for winter

If you are using a greenhouse, your kale, celery, mustard, lettuce, chard, spinach, cabbage, broccoli are still happy under cover.  They will not grow much until sunlight gets back to 10 hours per day in late January.  Be sure on sunny, warm days to pop the top on your greenhouse or you will scorch your greens.    Homegrown, organic salads in a Midwest winter

All cold crops are at their sweetest during the cold weather.  Hardy greens like chard, kale, spinach, mustard greens and collard greens make great salads and are tasty steamed or braised.

Make sure if you have any potted veggies to put them on the ground if they are on coasters and move them to a sheltered area on the south side of the house.  I also move them up against the wall.  This does double duty-southern exposure gets the most sun and warmth.

Veggies like your favorite tomato, pepper, eggplant, or celery that you potted and moved indoors will continue to produce indoors if provided warmth and sunlight.  When you move them out in spring, they will have a jump start on fruiting and you won't lose your favorite plant!

Chives in front, sage and rosemary in back
The Fresh Produce Buying Local Option
You can check on line to see if you have a farmers market in your area.  Many have farmers markets year round where you can get fresh produce, canned, baked goods, and meats locally grown.  A great place for finding what is near you is the on line resource at

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  It is where you invest in a local farmer in January when they have to purchase their seeds and supplies for the upcoming gardening season.  You then get a weekly share of the farmers harvest from May through October.

Before I started our own garden, we joined a CSA.  It was great.  We got lots of super fresh produce, our weekly grocery bill was significantly reduced as our meals were planned around the vegetables, and it was an adventure getting to try new recipes with veggies we had never ate before. 

A CSA shows you what grows well in your area.  You can find out the varieties you like and when they come into season.  You can even save the seeds from the varieties that you want to grow in your future garden if you partner with an organic CSA that grows open pollinated or heirloom vegetables and fruits.

To advertise as “organic” you have to be certified.  Many farmers cannot afford to do this.  If you are interested in produce grown without pesticides, herbicides or other chemicals, ask if the farmer uses organic practices.  Go visit them to see the garden for yourself before you commit.  You can also check out reviews on line.

Where to find a CSA?  Again, a great resource is the web site at www.localharvest,org 

Many sell out so don’t delay if you want to join!

Preserving the harvest
It is easy to store winter squash in your pantry to pull out anytime.  We have eaten butternut squash from the garden all the way into June of the following year.

If you put garlic in your pantry and some have dried out, make garlic powder.  Just process the dried garlic in a coffee or spice grinder.  Now you have great flavor to add to burgers, sauces, or steaks. Quick tip-make dried garlic into garlic powder 

I take the herbs I had drying in paper bags and remove all leafs.  I store my herbs in quart canning jars.  I mix them all together for a homemade “Herbes de Provence”.  Make your own "Herbes de Provence"  I used it on everything!  It is great in sauces, on meats, in dressings.  

Tarragon, thyme, sage, rosemary and chives
If you threw your extra tomatoes into the freezer and are now thinking it would be nice to have tomato sauce, canning tomato sauce is simple and easy to do.  I use Weck’s canning jars.  They are all glass so no worries about what is lining the lid.  And they are a really pretty shape.  Easy, low tox canning of summer's bounty

All you need to can tomato sauce is a large pot, canning jars, a metal funnel, and canning tongs.  A pressure canner is not needed for acidic foods like tomatoes.  Always follow the recipe as written to insure food safety.

I throw the entire tomato (de-stemmed) into the food processor.  Most recipes say to remove the peel and seeds so you don’t have a bitter taste, but I have not noticed any issue with bitterness.

Here is the recipe from Ball’s “Complete Book of Home Preserving” for tomato paste:
9 cups of pureed tomatoes, 1½ cups of chopped sweet bell peppers, 2 bay leaves, 1 teas salt, 1 clove of garlic.

I put it all into a large pot and let simmer until it is the consistency and taste I like, about 2.5 hours.  Remove the bay leaves and garlic.  Boil the jars, lids, and seals as the sauce is close to done.

Add 3 teas of lemon juice to each hot pint jar, fill with the hot tomato sauce to within ½ inch of the top, and seal the lid, following the instructions for the type of jar you are using.  Place all the filled jars in a large pot, insuring they are fully covered with water.  Bring to a boil and process for 45 minutes.  Remove from canner.  Let cool.  Test the seal after the jar is completely cool.  It should not lift off.  That’s it!  

Other high acid foods you can using a water bath are jams, jellies, condiments, salsas, pickles, and relishes.  Consult with a canning book for more tips.

Winter is time to savor the fresh herbs from the garden along with what you have preserved, browsing for canning ideas, and planning next year's garden.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Homemade perfume and deodorant

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Read these recipes in Mother Earth Living that I thought were good to pass on.  How to make your own perfume and deodorant!

1/4 cup natural alcohol (vodka or witch hazel)
1/4 cup distilled or boiled water
2-3 drops each of desired essential oils
Just mix together and put in dispensing bottle.  I prefer always using glass.

Possible scents to add:
Floral-rose, frangipani, jasmine, violet, lilac
Spicy-cinnamon, ginger, clove, allspice
Woody-pine, cedar, sandalwood
Fruity-lemon, orange, peach, coconut
Herbal-lavender, chamomile, sage
Exotic-herbal musk, ylang ylang, vanilla

You can also use the same idea for a room spritzer.  My favorite is geranium, lavender, and eucalyptus.  I put 10 drops each in a spray bottle filled with water and spritz liberally.

Deodorant Cream or Powder
The concern with any antiperspirant is that they block sweat.  Sweat is your body’s way of cooling itself and ridding itself of toxins.  Natural deodorants exclude aluminum which may be linked to Alzheimer’s, respiratory disorders and breast cancer.

By sticking with a homemade deodorant, you are allowing your body to sweat and remove the toxins.

For a cream:
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoon baking soda
Blend together and put in a clean container.  Rub a small amount under your arms.  If you prefer a powder, omit the vegetable shortening.  If you like fragrance, add an essential oil like lavender, tea tree, lemon, eucalyptus, peppermint or pine known for their antibacterial or antifungal properties.