Nourishing One Another

Do you read the sidebars in Nourishing Traditions? This one gave me a chuckle. First, Sally Fallon quotes Jacques DeLangre, founder of the Celtic Sea Salt Company:

When a woman stays at home and cooks with good judgement and understanding, peace and happiness result. She thus controls the family’s health and destiny, also her husband’s mood, disposition and feeling, and assures the futures of her children.

Sally then goes on to re-write the quote:

When a woman stays at home and cooks with good judgement and understanding, she watches with satisfaction as her children grow up capable and strong and her husband maintains the good health and disposition that allow him to succeed in his work. She also maintains her own good health into middle age, the period of her life when, her family duties accomplished, she can plunge vigorously into meaningful work and community service in order to bring peace and happiness to the world, while her husband, retired with satisfaction from a successful career, supports her endeavors and cooks with good judgement for her.

What stage in life are you at? Who is doing the cooking in your home?

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Using Hay vs. Straw in the Garden

Search the internet for info on using hay vs. straw as mulch and you’ll see statements like these: “I’ve never made the mistake of using hay”, or “Straw makes great mulch — or, for that matter, a great addition to your compost pile; hay does not”,  and “I inadvertently asked for hay instead of straw one year and that slip of the tongue turned into a nightmare.”

First, let me tell you the difference between straw and hay. Straw is the stalks or stems of grains like wheat, barley, or oats after the grain has been harvested. Hay is grass or legumes that have been cut and dried and is generally used as animal feed. Hay often contains seeds which sprout when used as mulch, which is why there are so many warnings against using it. Straw can also contain seeds if all of the grain was not removed, but in general it is less of a problem.

So, what do I do? I use hay! Here’s why: Hay is mineral rich; straw has little nutrition. My main concern as a gardener is to build my soil. As hay decomposes, it adds many more nutrients to the soil than straw. I also prefer to work with hay finding it much less stiff. I use it as mulch and as I build lasagna gardening beds. Alfalfa hay is particularly rich and I use it often.

So how do I get away with using hay, when there are so many warnings against it? What I do is try to anticipate how many bales I will need next year, and purchase them this year. I leave them out where they will receive rain and snow. Most of the seeds sprout, and the bales begin to decompose. By the time I use them as mulch, or to build a new bed, they already contain worms and other beneficial soil organisms. And weeds are a minor problem, if at all. If you have access to a farmer who has old bales around that he can no longer use to feed his animals, he may just give you the hay. It’s a treasure; take it!

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Back to Eden

I absolutely love finding out about gardeners/farmers who are innovative and creative. They help me to realize that after almost 40 years of gardening, I’ve only begun to scratch the surface. I find that exciting! Our infinite God has created our world to reflect His character and because of that there will always be something new to learn.

I recently found a documentary that may be viewed for free called Back to Eden. Paul Gautshci’s methods are extremely productive without a lot of back breaking work. He grows in wood chips! Sit back tonight, relax and be prepared to be amazed. You may view the DVD for free here: or purchase it here (yeah, that would help me a little).

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Why Rototillers May be More Harmful than Helpful in an Organic Garden

One of my "no-dig" garden beds.

The most important thing you can do, in my opinion, to grow a healthy, disease and pest-free garden is to build your soil. Therefore, the most important thing you can do to keep your garden pesticide and chemical fertilizer free is build your soil. And unfortunately, rototillers destroy soil rather than build it.

Soil is amazing and reflects the complexity of its Creator. It is so much more than weathered rock. Healthy soil also contains the decaying remains of dead plants and soil organisms, air, water and living organisms. It is these living organisms in particular that bring health to your soil and are destroyed by roto-tilling. It is said that a teaspoon of soil can contain billions of organisms! These organisms include fungi, bacteria, earthworms and anthropods. Listen to some of what these organisms do for your soil: they fix nitrogen from the atmosphere so that your plants can now use it, they aerate the soil, they break down toxins, suppress soil-borne diseases, and decompose organic matter. Some fungus even form symbiotic relationships with plant roots where each benefit from the other.

Ironically, we till to break up compacted soil, and in the end we compact it by tilling. Rototillers finely grind the soil killing the living organisms that are vital to soil health. Because the particles are so fine, aeration is diminished and soil structure is destroyed. The nutrient content of the soil is now compromised making  fertilization necessary. Plants will be less healthy making them more prone to disease and pests. You can see how this downward spiral would make growing a garden organically more difficult.

If you are clearing a large area for a new garden and find it necessary to use a rototiller, try to make this the one and only time. Hand digging is preferred; although it may disrupt the soil organisms, it does not destroy them. I prefer no dig methods of gardening such as lasagna gardening. This is a wonderful way to build a garden that builds soil, and eliminates the back breaking task of digging a garden.

A good resource is Healthy Soils for Sustainable Gardens, a Brooklyn Botanical Garden Guide edited by Niall Dunne. Also recommended is Lasagna Gardening by Patricia Lanza.

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Sprouted Wheat Flour

Grass-fed burger on a beautiful sprouted wheat hamburger bun with pan-fried parsnips.

I first began to use sprouted wheat flour when I heard that it digests like a vegetable. Wow! But, the price is a bit steep, and digesting like a vegetable was not enough to motivate me to continue purchasing it. But, as I have learned more about grains, I have become committed to only using flour that has been sprouted, or otherwise properly prepared.

Grains contain phytic acid, and phytic acid blocks the absorption of several minerals in our bodies. In addition, grains contain enzyme inhibitors which prevent our own digestive enzymes from properly digesting the grain. Soaking, sprouting, or fermenting the grain breaks down and neutralizes much of the phytic acid and inactivates the enzyme inhibitors making the grain digestible.

Soaking whole wheat flour in an acid medium and liquid is one option for making the flour digestible. However, only freshly milled flour should be used since nutrients are very quickly lost and the germ becomes rancid after grinding.   Fermentation, or sourdough, is another option. Again, only freshly ground flour should be used. Wheat berries may be sprouted at home, dehydrated, and then ground into flour. At least for now, I prefer the convenience of purchasing sprouted wheat flour. When wheat is sprouted, the germ is consumed in the process and cannot become rancid. It is now a stable food able to maintain freshness and a shelf life of up to 6 months. Although purchasing sprouted wheat flour is the most expensive option, for me, it is one area where I choose convenience over price. I prefer Shiloh Farms brand; I’ve tried  one other brand that was less expensive, but my bread did not rise as nicely.

Here is the recipe I use for bread, taken from the Essential Eating blog:

Sprouted Flour Sandwich Bread
4 tablespoons room-temperature butter
4 tablespoons  maple syrup
1 1/2 cups room-temperature water
4 cups Shiloh Farms Organic Sprouted Flour (wheat or spelt)
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
2 teaspoons yeast

Place the wet ingredients in the bottom of a bread machine, and then add the dry ingredients, ending with the yeast. Use the basic cycle on your bread machine.

By the way, be sure to enjoy your homemade bread with butter. The vitamins A and D it contains help to absorb the minerals and B vitamins in the bread!

Sources of good information on properly preparing foods for best digestion are the books Nourishing Traditions and Essential Eating.

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Rodale Institute

Rain water from the gutter runs down a chain and into a rain barrel.

J.I. Rodale is considered the father of the organic farming movement in the U.S. I’ve read Organic Gardening Magazine for many years and many Rodale Press books are included in my library. But I had never visited the Rodale Institute until recently, despite the fact that it is only an hour and a half away in Kutztown, PA. While there, Mike and I took a 2 hour workshop on growing apples organically. And we spent several hours roaming the apple orchards, fields, and gardens. Despite the fact that spring has not yet arrived, we found the farm to be interesting and inspiring.

All the "black gold" a girl could ever dream of!

For over 60 years, the Rodale Institute has been researching the best practices of organic agriculture. A thirty year “Farming Systems Trial” compared conventional, chemical agriculture with organic methods and found that organic farming yields match conventional methods. And in years of drought, organic farming outperforms conventional methods since organic methods build, rather than deplete the soil. This is encouraging news, as I often hear that “organic farming cannot feed the world”. I do not believe this to be true, and research is now supporting that. In addition, the trial showed that organic systems are more profitable than conventional systems!

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Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture

As a Penn State Master Gardener, I am required to take 8 hours of continuing education each year.  I wanted to take the opportunity to visit a farm just outside of NYC called Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, so I chose a day that a class that interested me was being held. I traveled with my husband, Mike, and my daughter, Jessi, on a cold, winter day through the beautiful Hudson River Valley and over the 3+ mile long Tappan Zee Bridge to the former Rockefeller estate.

We took the class Intensive Home Growing Techniques for Homegrown Edibles taught by James Carr of the NY Botanical Gardens and author of Gardening and Landscaping the Natural Way. The 3 hour class was informative and inspiring and I am especially anxious to begin using what I learned to extend the gardening season in my PA garden. I’ll try to keep you up to date in future posts.

Both before and after the class we enjoyed the 80 acre, four-season farm. We found much life for the middle of winter. Stone Barns raises over 200 varieties of organic crops in their fields and greenhouse beds. Many of those crops are growing right now, and not just in the greenhouses. It is also home to cows, pigs, chickens, sheep, ducks and turkeys – all pasture raised. The farm also maintains  a number of bee hives. One of the most exciting things we found are a cafe and a restaurant which are sourced from the surrounding fields and pasture, as well as other local farms. We enjoyed a fabulous lunch at the cafe which included parsnip soup, homemade bologna sandwiches on freshly baked bread (I could genuinely learn to like bologna if this is what it’s meant to be like), and parsnip cake with cream cheese icing (not surprisingly, they harvested parsnips this week).  The cake tasted very much like carrot cake and inspired me to consider growing parsnips.

Here are a few more shots from the day:

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