Preservation

Everything is still going well on the home front.  LOVING this garden and what it means to be outside in it, working, harvesting, pulling weeds/grass, enjoying the sun.  Yes, it’s hard work, but how gratifying it has been.  I worked a lot yesterday, almost all day, in the garden, re-installing bean poles that had fallen due to wind damage, fertilizing with fish emulsion, etc.  When I stepped back away from it yesterday after all the work I had done, I was so awestruck at where it is now from how it began.  I unfortunately don’t have pictures for you this post because I neglected to take my camera with me yesterday, but things are moving right along.  No more trouble with bugs really.  I’ve had a few tomato worms, but none to cause a lot of damage.

This has definitely been a learning experience in my first organic garden.  When you don’t use chemicals or fertilizers, it does take a little more thought and effort to prevent things from happening to your plants, or on the flip side, to get them to flourish.  The soil where my garden is not the best.  I really should’ve tested it before we planted to see what nutrients it was lacking because it’s obvious to me now that something is missing.  I’ve added fish emulsion twice now (you apply it once a month) and I have seen a difference in my pepper plants, which have not done as well as I would have hoped.  Two just stopped producing all together, one of which came from Tune Farm.  It was the healthiest plant when I bought it because of the rich soil it had grown in.  After a few weeks after transplanting it to my garden, it started to weaken.  This was my first clue that my garden is lacking some key nutrient.  It produced one bell pepper and hasn’t produced since.  My others are now producing and I think it’s because of the fish emulsion.  The peppers are not big, but at least it’s putting out.  Same with my jalapeno plant – it just halted a while back.  I’m finally getting two or three peppers at a time now, but it should be producing in large amounts.  If anyone has had a similar experience, I would love to know what you did to improve the situation.  I already know some things that need to be done differently, like fertilizing from the get-go with the fish emulsion, making sure at the beginning after transplanting that they get plenty of water (because it was SO, SO, SO hot here shortly after planting them with no rain) and preparing the soil with compost and good stuff for it to absorb before planting ANYTHING.  This was a learning experience this time and I’ve learned so much!  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…HEALTHY SOIL EQUALS HEALTHY PLANTS!  Treat the soil with care and you’ll have healthy, nutritious food!

I am now preparing to attempt four season gardening.  I have begun my search for the organic seeds I want to purchase to plant.  So far I have settled on romaine lettuce, carrots, broccoli and garlic.  I don’t want to over-do it since this will be my first time planting for fall/winter.  When the spring/summer stuff is finished, I plan on pulling all of it and adding it to our new compost pile, which I will be starting ASAP.  The compost tumbler did not work out for me, so I’ve had no compost to add to the garden all summer.  I’m thinking of using chicken wire and shaping it into a square or circle and putting all of our scraps and compostable materials in there, turning it with a pitch fork.  Others seem to have had more success with an open air compost bin.  I’ll keep you updated on this.  Once the spring/summer stuff is pulled, I want to till the garden using what little compost I was able to get out of the tumbler and cover it with hay for the fall/winter.  I’m going to plant my fall/winter crops within the hay and see how that works.  Just leave a little open space for it to sprout.  I have got to get this grass under control for next year and I’m hoping this will smother it out or at least lessen it.  We’ve got a while before this will happen, but since about a 1/4 of the garden is just about empty, I thought I might experiment with using this method.

I have tried my hand at preserving this summer, as well.  Just one more thing I’ve found that I thoroughly enjoy.  I have mostly canned salsa, but I’ve also canned dill pickles, tomatillo salsa, diced tomatoes and spaghetti sauce.  My husband even learned how to dry basil, so we have a lot of that now!  I thought I might share my salsa recipe and canning method for those that have never tried to do this before.  It is certainly not as hard as I thought it would be, but it does take prep work and time.

This is a mild salsa recipe using fresh ingredients from my garden and some grocery store ingredients, preferably organic.  I will not include numbers of ingredients because I have had to vary this on how much I get out of the garden that day.  However much you have, cook it up and can it.  I mostly do half-pints to make sure I have enough to make at least one jar.

You will need:

Tomatoes (I’ve been using mostly my San Marzano tomatoes…yummy canning tomatoes)

Bell Pepper

Onion

1 jalapeno with seeds (mine are not that hot)

Cilantro (1 bunch will typically do you)

Lime (just need the juice)

Vinegar (1 tsp for a pint; I use white or apple cider vinegar, whatever you like best)

Before you prep any ingredients, boil water on the stove in a pot to 180 degrees and place your jars, bands and lids in the hot water.  I use a candy thermometer to test the temperature of the water.  Let them stay there until you’re ready to start actually canning.  Everything must be hot.  I go ahead and have my funnel and  magnetic wand to lift lids out of the water ready by the stove for when I’m ready to start canning.  You can purchase these things in a kit at Wal-Mart for around $7.00 by Ball.  I also go ahead and get my water bath pot ready, on the stove, preparing to boil.  The water must be boiling in the water bath to properly seal the lid.  I fill it with water, turn it on high and put the lid on the water bath.

Peel the skins off of all tomatoes and put skinned tomatoes in a bowl.  Dice your bell pepper, jalapeno and onion and place in your food processor.  Now put your skinned tomatoes in the food processor.  This allows the peppers and onion  to get chopped well without mushing up the tomatoes first.  Add your vinegar.  Pulse in the food processor until it is blended to the consistency you like.  Pour your salsa in a pot large enough to hold what you’ve made  On the stove, bring your salsa to a boil and reduce heat to simmer for 10 minutes.  While the salsa is still hot, take one jar at a time out of your 180 degree water and pour salsa into the jar using a funnel to about 1/4 inch away from the lid.  Do not overfill.  Clean the rim of the jar removing any drips.  Place a lid securely on the top of the jar and then screw on the band very tight.  Continue this until you have filled as many jars as you can fill with what you’ve made.  Put the hot jars into the water bath using jar tongs (also in this Ball kit at Wal-Mart).  Make sure the boiling water is covering the tops of the jars completely.  Leave jars in the boiling water bath for 10 minutes each.  Remove with jar tongs and place upright on a towel.  Leave there for at least 24 hours.  After 24 hours, you can remove the band and test the seal of the lid by pushing up on the lid to make sure it isn’t loose or coming off easily.  Also make sure the button in the middle of the lid is concave (pushed down).  Just test for a proper seal.  Your salsa is now finished!  I store mine in a cabinet.  I also label on the lid (because you can only use the lids one time) what is in the jar and the date I made it.  Typically you want to eat what you’ve canned within a year, so this helps you keep up with when you made it.

I’m looking at a bag full of tomatoes ready for canning tomorrow!  Looks like I’ll be making some tomato sauce and diced tomatoes tomorrow!

Bad bugs, bad bugs, whatcha gonna do?

Well, it’s been too long since my last post.  I have been super busy with lots of different things since I last posted.  The garden has consumed a lot of my time because we have suddenly been blessed with a large amount of rain, thank goodness!  I’ve only had to water maybe twice in several weeks.  I have raked and laid hay and grass clippings around my plants, which was very time consuming.  The hay was prompted by all the grass and weeds growing in the garden from all this rain we’ve gotten.  It has definitely helped to cut down on the amount of grass and weeds and makes it much easier to pull when it’s needed too.  Plus, it keeps moisture around the plant too instead of the sun just instantly evaporating it after it rains.  And, a LARGE amount of my time has

This squash did not get sprayed with the tobacco water. This is solely the result of aphids and stink bugs alone.

been used trying to get rid of these crazy aphids and stink bugs all over my squash.  It only got worse after I wrote about this weeks ago.  I’m sad to say the bugs devoured every squash and zucchini plant I had down to brown nothingness.  After all the work I put in to prevent this from happening, ugly words nearly crossed my lips when I found they had killed it altogether.  I’ll elaborate later on my methods for removal because they did work temporarily and might have worked if I had reapplied a second time.

I have also been spending my time learning to play the banjo.  It has been a dream of mine to learn to play for a very long time and my mother-in-law kindly gave me 2 months of lessons for Christmas this last year.  I’m just now getting around to taking them!  Robert Montgomery from Moulton is my teacher and boy, is he awesome!  I’ve been pretty awful and he has been super patient.  So far, I’ve learned to play G, C and D chords, an alternating roll and a slide.  All of this has been gradual using the song “Bile (or Boil) them Cabbage Down” (appropriate, right?).  I am thoroughly enjoying learning and practicing.  Maybe one day when I get a little better, I can share my talents with you all with a little video.  For now, I will only hurt my husband’s and my daughter’s ears. 

This is the squash right after I sprayed it with the tobacco water, bug-free. They came back and destroyed this plant.

Back to the squash.  Lots of people have been curious about this concoction I mixed up to spray on my plants to kill the aphids and stink bugs.  I thought I would include the recipe here with some advice from my experience using it.  I made a tobacco and organic dish soap mixture.  I used Copenhagen 100% pure tobacco (no Skoal or tobacco with additives) and Method Clementine-scented dish soap from Target.  I scooped maybe 2 tsp of tobacco into half of a small pot of water.  I let the water boil with the tobacco for 3-4 minutes.  The water will turn an amber color.  Since you’ve got tobacco leaves in the water, I had to find a way to remove the leaves before putting it in with the dish soap.  I put a coffee filter in the top of my coffee pot, put the coffee pot under the filter holder, poured the tobacco water over the filter so the leaves would go in the filter and the water would drain out of the hole from the holder and into the coffee pot.  I put about 5-6 squirts of the dish soap into the bottom of a spray bottle, then poured the tobacco water over the dish soap.  I screwed the lid on and shook the soap and tobacco water together.  I chose the Clementine-scented soap because bugs don’t usually like citrus-scented anything and I thought it would just add to the effect.  I sprayed the soap/tobacco water mixture on the leaves of the affected plant, on top of the leaves and the underside of leaves.  The bugs INSTANTLY died, right where they were sitting.  The larger stink bugs took a little big longer, but the small aphids died as soon as I sprayed them.  It was the craziest thing!  It is very important that after you let the spray sit on the plant for a few minutes, you need to spray it off thoroughly with clean water.  

Now, for the advice from my experience…my plants were not very well established when the bugs took over.  As a matter of fact, the bugs stunted the growth of the plant.  So I think the reason that my plants died anyway is because they weren’t very big to begin with and were weak from all the bugs and the damage they had done for so long.  I don’t think the spray killed my plants.  My mother-in-law’s squash was bigger when I sprayed it and it did fine until two days ago.  The bugs came back and finished it off after the initial spray.  Using this knowledge, I would say it is important to reapply at least the dish soap and water mixture (minus the tobacco) a second time and try some companion planting to ward them off.  I have read that aphids don’t like dill and that nasturtiums are also a good choice.  Another interesting one was to plant nettle near your squash and the aphids will cover the nettle and not go to your squash.  Others have said they intentionally put ladybugs in their garden when the bugs started to show up and the ladybugs will have a feast!  Also, the area where our squash was is not a well-drained area and I think it has gotten too much water, which in turn, drew the bugs in.  Cucumbers and watermelon are right beside where these plants were and they have both gone untouched.  I am planning on replanting at some point and will try some different methods to ward off bugs.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

I have gotten lots of tomatoes out of my garden of several varieties.  I’ve gotten lots of “Sweeties” (cherry tomatoes), Cherokee Purple, Stupice (pronouncedstew-pee-chay) and my favorite, San Marzano.  I was able to start canning today and made three half-pints of salsa using tomatoes, jalapenos and green peppers from my garden.  I bought the cilantro and onion.  I also made pesto today using the parsley, sweet basil and Genovese basil from my garden.  I bought the olive oil, pine nuts, garlic and parmesan cheese.  I found out that you can not can, or rather water bath, jars of pesto.  You can use a pressure cooker using certain recipes, but no water bath because there is no acid in the recipe to preserve it in a jar.  The only recommendation I could find was to freeze it.  I made lots of pesto in my food processor and scooped it into my daughter’s popsicle molds.  Others suggested ice cube trays.  I put it in the freezer, removed them from the molds and put them in Ziploc freezer bags.  Now I have individual servings of pesto!  I’ll just have to plan ahead and thaw it out.  As the season continues, I’ll be canning other things as well, such as spaghetti sauce and tomatillo salsa.

My husband has also been learning to dry basil.  We have quite a collection of dried basil from my garden now!  I’ll include these directions in a later post on how to do this since I’ve rambled on quite a bit in this post!

Rain, rain…please come again TODAY!

I’m sure it is no surprise to read this post if you live in the AL or surrounding areas that we are desperate for rain!  My garden looks sad, except for my tomatoes surprisingly.  They have continued to grow and produce, especially my tomatillo plant.  It must really like dry weather!   I am now watering my plants once a week with tap water in buckets just so they won’t die.  And, a little tip I gathered from a much more experienced organic gardener…fill your buckets with tap water and leave them sitting out in the sun for 2-3 days.  Fill several buckets so you’ll have plenty to use later on.  The heat from the sun will help kill anything in the water you might not want added to your plants.  By the way, this whole idea has really gotten me thinking about what IS in our water if this person would find this necessary.  I drink tap water all the time and don’t usually give it a second thought, but this has gotten me thinking if I need to start buying distilled or filtered water, or filtering my own water.  Will probably do some more research on this thought.

Since my last post, I picked three more Cherokee Purple tomatoes and four Sungold tomatoes.  The Sungold’s turned out to be very small!  I was not expecting that, so if this is not normal, please someone let me know.  I ate the Sungold’s tonight and they were not anything super impressive.  I am growing a lot of different varieties of tomatoes this year to experiment with what I like and what I don’t, so I don’t know if this will be one that I’ll try again next year.  The Cherokee Purple on the other hand have been delicious!  So  juicy and sweet!  They do, however, have a very thin skin and I have had trouble with the skin splitting during growth, thus ruining the tomato at harvesting time.  Out of the last three that I picked, two of them had split open.  As I picked them, I had to squeeze them a bit to get them off of the vine, and as I did, juice came out of the cracks and ants came out with it!  Not pretty.  Apparently raccoons and ants thoroughly enjoy my tomatoes!  Any tips?

I also discovered a few days ago that my once healthy zucchini, squash and cucumber plants have been infested with stink bugs, squash bugs and aphids.  They had laid eggs all over the leaves too.  I thought about trying some more companion planting ideas, but I knew that wasn’t going to fix what damage had already been done, so I needed to act quickly before these bugs totally destroyed my plants.  I felt like somewhere around here would sell organic insecticide, so I first checked Home Depot and found two things.  One didn’t appeal to me at all and really didn’t even look like it was natural.  I settled on, I believe the brand was, EcoSolutions Insecticide.  It consists of herbal oils and white mineral oil to kill the insects.  It has to be sprayed early morning or late evening to work, so I left it with my mom-in-law to do for me.  She sprayed it the next morning and said the bugs were already scattering.  Now, time will tell if this works or not, but I’ll let you know if it does.  I thought I would give it a few days to see.

On a separate note, I was watching “Jaime Oliver’s Food Revolution” tonight on ABC and thought it was worth mentioning here.  He was kicked out of a school district for questioning the food they were serving in their cafeterias.  The superintendent was basically, in my opinion, too lazy to consider that there could even be healthier options for the students at an affordable price.  Yes, probably a little more expensive than what they currently serve, but my theory is “pay now, or pay later”.  What got me started on this whole organic kick, and now, learning about all things natural, was my child and her health.  I am responsible for what goes into her body at this stage in her life.  I am creating habits for her life now and what kinds of foods she will choose for herself later in life.  (I am proud to say that when we go out to restaurants, my daughter almost always chooses broccoli or pineapple or applesauce over the greasy, fried options.)  As she grows and will go to public school, I worry about what choices will be offered to her because before I stayed home with her, I was a public school teacher.  I know the school systems think they are offering “healthier choices”, but where did that healthier choice come from?  The milk has most likely been treated with hormones, the veggies were probably treated with chemicals as they were being grown and the meat is most likely grown with the use of growth hormones, processed and filled with all kinds of additives and preservatives.  She’ll probably be one of those kids who nearly every day comes to school with a lunch box, and I’m ok with that.  Hopefully she will be too.  It made me sad to see tonight on this show that someone who is actively trying to make a difference one school at a time is being shut down.  I’ve seen enough of this show to know that what he is doing is only for the good of the health of young people.  He not only pushes healthier eating, but teaches students about the dangers of what can happen to you long-term from eating bad-for-you foods.  It is an education program.  Again, I say, the powers-that-be and the financial ties to companies who provide items for us that are BAD control our country and decisions that are made for ALL OF US.  If I can encourage anything at all through this blog, it would be to KNOW where your food comes from and what is in it and THINK before you buy, read labels and pay the little bit extra for what’s better for you…when you’re 60, you’ll be glad you did!  Small changes can make big impacts on our world and our personal health.

Darn wild animals.

I went to work in my garden yesterday and to check on the compost bin.  I had many a surprise due to these crazy wild animals that roam through the countryside where my mom-in-law lives.  She has 80 acres total, so you can imagine what might come through her yard at some point or the other.

I knew I was going to have at least one tomato on my Cherokee Purple that would be ready to pick and oh, how excited I was to enjoy this FIRST tomato from my garden!  I was dreaming of what I would do with it and I had decided I would slice it and serve it with fresh mozzarella cheese and basil from my garden.  UNTIL, I got there and found my blessed tomato lying on the ground half eaten!  I was devastated.  We think it was probably a raccoon.  It was very gently plucked off of the vine as if I did it myself.  It didn’t touch another tomato; only the one that was ready to be eaten.  I guess raccoons have good taste too.  There are 2-3 more that are just about ready to be picked, so I’ll be heading out there probably tomorrow to get those before another animal decides to have another treat at my expense.

Then I find that my mom-in-law has not cleaned out this flower bed on the corner of her property that was covered in dried fall leaves I wanted her to put in my compost bin.  Thanks to a post on here for that advice, by the way!  So I decided to go and clean it myself and get those leaves in the bin so I can FINALLY use that stuff on my garden.  I noticed as I was cleaning that my foot was hurting (I was wearing Chaco’s…DUMB!), but the pain went away after a few minutes and I ignored it.  This morning I get up and I have two very distinct bite marks on my foot.  A spider of some sort has bitten me as I’m cleaning out that flower bed!  Note to self: wear tennis shoes and socks when working outside, especially in dried leaves that have been there for almost a year.  Thank goodness I don’t think it was a poisonous spider because nothing drastic has happened to the area bitten.  Hopefully it stays that way and alcohol and ointment continue to work.

Then I walk over to check on my corn that I thinned last week and find that MORE corn has been trampled by some sort of animal and has broken at the root.  This is part of what I thinned last week were stalks that looked just like this, and now I find more.  Soon I won’t have any corn left!  We think it’s probably a neighbor’s dog.  I love animals, but they are ruining my precious garden.  I know, I know.  I could put a fence around the garden to cut down on these problems, but I really don’t want to.  We’ll see how I feel though if I lose much more crop due to wandering animals.

The plants that are out there look great though.  Take a look at pictures I took of my plants.  They are so healthy and green, no bug bites or disease.  As you know, this is a purely organic garden, so all I’ve added other than the dirt already there are worm castings at planting time and I’ve added the castings once more 2 weeks ago to the base of each plant.  My bell peppers have many more flowers on them right now, so we’ll see if these peppers make it.  If not, I’m gonna need some advice about what to do with these.  My tomatillo plant has got tons more growth coming off the bottom of  it and LOTS of flowers that will sprout tomatillos soon.  For those that don’t know, tomatillos are what green salsa is made out of.  They look like little green tomatoes, but they are not tomatoes; tomatillos are their own family.  Picking my basil so frequently has really helped it grow.  It is much more full and producing much more quickly now.  I have sweet basil and Genovese basil; they are both producing equally well.  The lime basil is not picked as frequently, thus not producing as much.  I need to pick it more.  My flat leaf parsley was picked to the bone last week and yesterday had totally resprouted even more green, healthy parsley.  All my tomato plants have now had to be staked or caged because they’ve grown so much.  I think every tomato plant out there currently has either blooms or actual tomatoes on it.  I started 4 Roma tomato plants at home a few weeks ago and they are ready to be transplanted to the garden.  They’ve halted growth in the little containers I have them in, so I guess that means it’s time to move them.  My jalapeno plant is getting ready to flower, so maybe by mid-to-late June, I can start making salsa!  Later on you’ll see many more posts about canning as I start to save some of this yummy garden for the winter.  I canned 9 jars of salsa last summer with store bought ingredients and am down to my last jar, so I need some more!  I neglected to label my watermelons, cucumbers, zucchini and squash, so I’m not sure what is doing well and what’s not.  These plants are some that the seeds washed away and had to be replanted, so the  growth is different for each one.  One that washed away and had to replanted still hasn’t come up and won’t.  That spot in the garden just doesn’t want anything growing on it!  One of my pictures here is of one of these 4 plants mentioned, but which one I won’t know until it starts to bear fruit.  It’s doing well though and has a few flowers at the base.

Update on the compost bin: I added the dried leaves to the compost bin yesterday and I could tell it already made a difference.  I figure that the longer those stay in there, it will balance out all the nitrogen-rich ingredients I already had in there.  It was so mushy and liquid, so I can see how something dry and dead would help.  I like how the person who commented here referred to it as “green” and “brown” ingredients and that they need to be balanced.  It creeps me out though after I turn it and open the lid and I hear things crawling around and see leaves moving…yuck!  Updates to come on how it looks after this week.

This post can be linked back to Kelly the Kitchen Kop’s Real Food Wednesday blog carnival.

This organic thing might actually work!

So, in the past week I have worked in the garden twice, weeding and thinning and replanting some things that washed away the first time.  Whew…weeding.  It makes me tired just typing the word.  I have been on my hands and knees pulling weeds by hand, but I know it will pay off in the end.  My Cherokee Purple tomato plant looks great!  I have two tomatoes that are ripening and will be ready for me to enjoy very soon.  My Sungold tomato plant has somewhere around 7-8 tomatoes on it now, as do several of my other heirloom plants.  Looks like this garden will be fruitful after all!

I picked lots of basil today, three different kinds, and some flat leaf parsley.  I’m super excited about this Lime Basil that I picked today for the first time.  I got it at Tune Farm when I went a few weeks ago.  They said they used it to make this delicious limeade which they infused with lime basil…they said it was delicious!  I’m anxious to try out this recipe, and if it works out, I’ll share it on here.  Enjoy looking at how beautiful this stuff is.  It looks good and it’s good for you!

I thinned out my corn today, meaning that I removed some of the stalks from my intended overplanting.  I wanted to be sure something sprouted up, so I planted too much, which means some of it had to go.  I have planted Silver Queen corn, which is supposed to be super sweet.  A dog, or some other type of animal, has trampled some of my corn, so in some spots, I had to pull all of it because it had become completely uprooted.  Bummer.

If anyone knows anything about bell pepper plants, I need some advice.  Last year, I unsuccessfully attempted to plant bell peppers in pots.  Bad idea.  They failed miserably.  So my thinking is that if I get bell pepper plants in healthy soil and feed them with the worm castings that they will produce.  They’ve had the same effects as if they were in pots.  One of my plants sprouted a bell pepper and I have tended to that thing like a baby.  I go out there the other day and the pepper has fallen off and was starting to rot prior to falling off.  So discouraging!  What can I do to have these bell pepper plants be successful?  Advice, anyone!

More advice…composting.  I have a compost tumbler that I and my mother-in-law have been adding to for about a month and a half.  We only put fruits and vegetables in there, and I have added a good deal of grass clippings from mowing our lawn.  I have also added a compost starter to the bin, which supposedly was going to help the compost get going a lot quicker and I could apply it sooner than with normal decomposition.  What is in there now is the most disgusting, goopy glob mess I have ever seen.  It does not look even close to anything that should go on plants to make them healthy or improve the soil.  It is slimy and black and full of bugs, which I guess isn’t a bad thing.  My mother-in-law read somewhere that if it is goopy like it is now, it means there have been too many nitrogen-rich ingredients added to it and to add newspaper or leaves to the bin to balance it out.  Anyone have this experience or know of a remedy?  I want to add this compost to the garden, but not how it is now.  It just doesn’t look normal.

I walked through the garden today feeling so proud of the state that it’s in now.  I feel so accomplished that this is working out…that I’ll get to eat what I grew.  I wanted this chemical-free way to work so badly, and it looks like it just might.  I’m hoping to add some more flowering plants to the garden next month to ward off any bugs that might try to make their way in now that it’s getting so hot outside.  The marigolds are working well so far, but it’s not summer yet.  Any other advice anyone can offer on companion planting is welcomed.

This crazy girl right here is gonna be drinking my raw milk and eating my organic tomatoes and will be all the better for it!

Mooshining

Well, I warned you that I might get off-topic from gardening.  Might as well start now.

My family has been drinking raw milk for a little over 2 weeks now.  We are sold on it.  “S” put it perfectly when she said “It tastes like ice cream, Mommy!”.  Melted vanilla ice cream.  It’s wonderful.  Why am I just now learning about this? I can answer that myself.  It is illegal to purchase raw milk in the state of Alabama, or pretty much anywhere for that matter.  Raw milk, for those that do not know, is milk bottled straight from the cow.  No homogenization or pasteurization.  The deeper I got into learning about organic food and gardening, the more I started to find out about this whole world of food sold in its natural state.  Raw milk is just one of those things.  When I read of the nutritional health benefits of drinking it long term, I thought what could it hurt to give this a try.  People who have drank raw milk for long periods of time have claimed that it cured skin allergies, stomach troubles, insomnia…someone I read claimed that it cured their child’s mild deafness.  These are just a few of the things I read of raw milk’s benefits.  So far, I have noticed a bit more energy in myself since drinking it.  Time will tell how it affects our health long-term.

So, I’ll get on my soapbox for a minute.  Since finding out about raw milk and how to purchase it, I have found a local farmer who sells it and I buy from him directly.  I have to meet him one day a week in a parking lot to pick up my milk.  I feel like I am buying crack or something crazy.  He doesn’t like for people to drive out to his farm to pick it up to cut down on traffic so things don’t look suspicious.  The local health department paid him a visit a while back thanks to one of his neighbors making a phone call.  Granted, the health department didn’t ask questions about the safety of the milk he had, just whether or not he was “selling” the milk.  Isn’t the health department’s job to ensure public HEALTH safety?  Anyway, meeting him somewhere just makes his life a little easier, and I’m happy to do that.  I’ve wondered since my first purchase what would happen if I was caught with this stuff, pulled over on my way home or something.  Isn’t that sad?  I mean, come on.  It’s milk, people!  But, this is a national issue now made public with a case concerning an Amish farmer in Pennsylvania.  He has been arrested for selling raw milk across state lines.  A protest was held in his support, and for the support of farmers everywhere selling raw milk, in Washington D.C. on Monday called Rally for Food and Farm Freedom.  It was also to bring awareness to the lack of the public’s ability to make decisions about their own personal health.  Congressman Ron Paul recently put forth a bill called HR 1830, the Unpasteurized Milk Bill, which would forbid the federal government from banning the sale of unpasteurized dairy in interstate commerce.  This is a start.  My problem is that we, as Americans, can make personal decisions to eat McDonald’s every day or to binge on alcoholic beverages, but we can’t make a legal decision to purchase raw milk?  Hopefully one day soon, our government will make changes to current policies and will not be  jaded by dollar signs from large dairy farmers wanting to monopolize the market.  I mean, if it was legal for purchase, it could be taxed, so you would think they’d be jumping on that.

Reasons for raw milk being illegal is that the FDA believes that it can cause illnesses from salmonella and other food-borne illnesses.  We can purchase raw chicken, and I’m gonna bet that more people get a food-borne illness from raw chicken than raw milk every year.  Eating or preparing any raw food enhances your chances of getting a food-borne illness, yet milk is the only one of those that is illegal to purchase.  One thing that I hear repeatedly is “know your farmer”.  If your farmer handles his/her milk properly as soon as they milk the cow, then the risk of getting a food-borne illness is low.  So, as long as you know exactly what your farmer is feeding his/her cows and how he/she is handling the cow and the milk, making sure the milk is refrigerated immediately, then you should be safe.  I know my farmer is doing these things.  I certainly wouldn’t be giving this stuff to my child if I thought it wasn’t safe!

As a believer in and follower of Jesus Christ, I feel like God knew what he was doing when he created cows.  I mean, He is a genius!  He designed cow’s milk to be beneficial to our health and provide us with specific vitamins that our bodies need.  I’m going to put my faith in the fact that it is pretty good for me without killing all the good stuff that He intended to be in there in the first place through pasteurizing it!  I’ve come across several farmers that have this same focus.  Treating God’s creatures and land with respect as a Biblical standard.  It has put a whole new spin on eating healthy and growing healthy.  I will certainly be posting at greater length about this idea at a later time because I think most people don’t view food in this light, just as I didn’t.  God has been working on me in this area.

Day One blogging…week 3 gardening

So…today begins my first day of blogging about this, what some would call, crazy venture into the world of organic gardening.  I have planted a home garden, along with my mother-in-law, of organic vegetables in her backyard.  Our move to Alabama has left us with a less than desirable yard, at least for gardening…or anything for that matter.  So for the time being, I must learn to share my gardening space.  I hope this blog becomes an outlet for all things good for you.  Along with organic gardening, my family has been trying raw milk and LOVE it and learning more about soy-free products, such as eggs.  So if I venture off of gardening sometimes, don’t be surprised!

I began planting about 3 weeks ago.  I started simply with one organic Cherokee Purple heirloom tomato plant that I bought at a farmers’ market.  I transplanted it into my mother-in-law’s garden, which I am sharing with her.  Now, I should say that I am in the process of making an organic convert out of my mother-in law.  She and her parents have gardened for years and have ALWAYS used fertilizer.  So, I am working with land that, up until this year, has had fertilizer applied to it yearly for at least the last 3 years.  However, I can’t help what’s been done in the past…only work with what I have now and try to improve the soil quality from here on  out.  So far, I have planted each transplant using worm castings (aka worm poop) and the soil that’s there.  Nothing else has been applied.  I am deep into learning about companion planting, so that has helped me with pest control without using a pesticide.  I am very interested in learning more about companion planting!  I have also started composting at home using a compost tumbler.  It’s not ready to apply to the garden yet, but when it is, that will be an additional layer of good stuff for my plants.

So, I told you what I started with, but now I have since added at least 15 other transplants that I bought from Tune Farm in Falkville, AL and started some other plants by seed in the garden.  I have SEVERAL different varieties of tomatoes now, bell peppers, basil, etc.  I started squash, watermelon, zucchini, cucumbers and corn by seed.  They have all sprouted and are doing well.  You can look at pictures to see what things look like at this stage.  Along with blogging, I want to share with you visuals of successes and failures as I go along, and also track the growth of things I planted.  So far, so good though.  I was able to pick some of my basil yesterday and made a yummy pesto tonight with dinner using it.

Tune Farm…what a wonderful place!  I visited there last week and was amazed at what they are doing there!  They have got this stuff down to a science.  I imagine I will be using them as a resource for my own garden as I go along.  I learned so much the day I was there.  One tidbit – they cover their garden plots completely with hay and then, by hand, make rows for planting seeds.  The hay prevents weeds from growing up around the plants.  They do most everything by hand, which reminds me that gardening is not supposed to be this “easy” thing, as most people have turned it into.  This whole idea of mass production using chemical fertilizers and pesticides, using machines to pick everything and process it…hands rarely touch the produce where mass production is involved.  That’s what most of us eat.  Home gardeners are just as bad, taking the easy route and sprinkling some fertilizer or spraying some pesticide when there’s a problem instead of learning about organic methods of companion planting and creating healthy soil.  Healthy soil equals healthy food.  People often forget that what you put in the ground goes into your food, which goes into your body.  No wonder people are so sick!  I’ve been naive for too long and am ready to take my own family’s health into my own hands and become more self-sufficient as well.  Hopefully this garden will be a success, but if not, I hope to have fun learning along the way and try again next year.