winter garden

10 Things to Do in Your Garden in the Winter

10 Things to Do in Your Garden in the Winter

I know. Trust me. The itch during that first mild winter day to get out there and start putting seeds in the ground, tilling, raking, etc. Here are a few things you can (and should) do to prepare your garden this winter. We are in garden zone 7a. 

1. Plan Your Garden

What worked last year? What didn't? If disease plagued one of your vegetables, consider moving it to a different bed this year. Typically, you'll want to rotate crops to confuse pests, but also to give the beds a break from heavy feeders, like kale. 

If you don't take notes during the season, you should start this year. Every year is an opportunity to learn and adjust based on your experiences. No two gardens are alike and no two seasons are alike. 

For the last five years, we've grown a huge garden for our CSA in order to feed over 50 families in the community fresh, locally grown produce. This will be my first year dialing it back to feeding our family. We relocated the garden, scaled down, so there will be a learning curve for me to get back in the groove with a small scale - but I'm excited for it! 

2. Purchase Seeds

Take a look at your seeds and make your order! I love Baker Creek Seeds. I'll always grab some fun new varieties. Johnny's Selected Seeds is also a great choice. Another fun opportunity is looking into community seed swaps. Personally, I love getting the seed catalogs and comparing the varieties with the full descriptions right there on paper.

There are so many different varieties of seeds these days, it's so easy to get lost in the mix. I find it easier to compare apples to apples on paper. 

3. Start Seeds Indoors

Most cool weather crop seeds can be started 8-12 weeks prior to your first frost date. At minimum to start seeds you'll need trays, seed starter, a watering can or spray bottle, and a south facing window or grow light - and seeds, of course. 

4. Learn

There are many different things to learn about gardening. Companion planting, pests, diseases, soil, raised beds, greenhouse hoops, composting, till, no till, fertilizers, heirloom, organic, natural and synthetic pesticides and herbicides. There are endless opportunities to learn a new facet of gardening. 

5. Add Compost/Mulch

If you have the itch to actually get into your garden, consider top dressing your beds or ground garden with compost, mulch, or leaves. Especially if you didn't do this in the fall. Don't till yet - even if you plan to in the future. Bugs and critters burrow into the ground during winter, you don't want to disturb them.

If you have raised beds with no bottom, you'll often lose a few inches of soil each season. This is a great opportunity to fill up those beds. 

6. Repair

This is the perfect time to get into the garden and make some repairs. During the busy growing and harvesting season, it can feel like you don't have enough time to make repairs or move things around. Use this time to reinforce your raised beds with braces or extra screws.

You could also take this time to replace and broken or rotted boards, and fix up garden fence. 

7. Weed and Clean Up

Maybe this one will make you reconsider your desire to get into the garden. If you've had a mild winter, like we've had, and your ground isn't frozen, consider pulling some weeds.

If you're anything like me, by the end of the growing season, you just want to rip everything out and be done with it. This often means tomato cages get left in, cucumber vines are still hanging on the trellis, and no weeding is done. 

You should hold off on pulling weeds inside your garden bed during this time to avoid disturbing any critters, but if you know that this is likely the only time you'll have to get to doing this before planting craziness starts, go for it. Typically, I'll take this time to weed the walkways at minimum. 

8. Take Stock of Tools & Equipment

Replace or fix anything that is broken. Consider new tools you may need that will make life easier during the growing season. It was a total game-changer when we added sprinklers with a timer. My favorite tool of all time is the Amazon Garden Weasel - it can loosen packed dirt, it can pull weeds, and it can make your shoulders look ripped. 

9. Prepare for the Pollinators

Attract pollinators and increase the yields and success of your garden by planting native flowers and herbs in and around your garden. Limit the use of pesticides. I am adding an insect hotel to my garden this winter! It touts to attract ladybugs, bees, and butterflies. We will see how it does! 

Want to go crazy? Add some bee hives! 

10. Remove and Replace Soil

Seems a little backwards, right? Here are some reasons you would remove and replace the soil in your garden this winter. 

  • Relentless plant disease
  • Garden pests with no resolution
  • Soil is completely lacking nutrients and is not remedying with adding nutrient-dense compost and soil. 

how to make an herbal tincture

How to Make an Herbal Tincture

How to Make Herbal Tincture

An herbal tincture is essentially herb-infused alcohol. While herbs and oil will eventually get you essential oils, herbs and alcohol will get you tinctures.

Herbal tinctures are an excellent way to benefit from medicinal herbs. They are easy to put together and are shelf-stable for years. The easiest way to make an herbal tincture is through the process of maceration. Maceration is the process of soaking herbs in liquid (water or alcohol) for several weeks; it is the go-to tincture method for at-home herbalists. 

What is Menstrum?

Menstrum is the liquid portion of a tincture. The menstrum will extract the properties from the herb. It can be water, alcohol, vinegar, or, sometimes, glycerine. Most folks use vodka or everclear. 

Calculating the amount and ratio of menstrum to herb can be as easy or as complicated as you'd like to make it. However, most herbalists use a 50% water and 50% alcohol as their menstrum and that will get you an effective tincture with no issues.

While there are plenty of resources for getting very specific with your menstrum ratios depending on the types of herbs and accounting for loss, we are going to keep it simple in this guide and use dependable ratios to get us a solid product each time. 

Menstrum to Herb Ratio

Most herbalists will use the following ratios: 

  • Fresh Plant Tinctures 1:2 ratio, with 95% ABV menstrum
  • Dry Plant Tinctures 1:5 ratio, with 50-65% ABV mentrum

When making fresh plant tinctures, each 1 gram of fresh herb is macerated (soaked) in 2 milliliters of almost pure alcohol (Everclear) for optimal extraction.

For tinctures made from dry plant materials, each 1 gram of herb is macerated in 5 milliliters of menstruum with an alcohol content of between 50 and 65% (double-proof vodka).

Herb Preparation

Dried Herbs

Chop your dried herbs into small pieces, they do not need to be powdered.

Kitchen shears are the best tool for this. When using barks, roots, berries, or mushrooms that are difficult to cut with shears, put them into the blender for a few seconds, just enough to break them up. 

Fresh Herbs

Typically, you'll only need the leaves. Be sure to wash and dry them before use. Roughly chop the herbs. Refer to ratios above. 

How to Make an Herbal Tincture - Lemon Balm

In this guide we will make a lemon balm tincture. Lemon balm is incredibly easy to grow, as it is in the mint family. It calms anxiety, promotes sleep, and aids in digestion. 

Lemon balm is an incredible tincture to have on hand postpartum. It eases the night-scaries and mild anxious feelings and belly discomfort that come with postpartum. Lord knows we need help with in the sleep department, too. 

how to make an herbal tincture

How to Make an Herbal Tincture

Ingredients

  • Half pint jar with lid
  • Measuring cups
  • Metal strainer
  • Cheesecloth
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon balm leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup everclear

Instructions

  1. Fill jar with herbs
  2. Pour in everclear, be sure alcohol is covering herbs completely
  3. That's it, put the lid on.
  4. Put in a cool dark place for four weeks, give a gentle shake once a week.
  5. Place cheesecloth inside metal strainer on top of a clean empty jar and strain out herb leaves.
  6. Label clearly and take one dropper as needed.

Disclaimer: This information is intended only as education and is not a replacement for professional health advice. 

 


herbs to grow

5 Medicinal Herbs to Grow in Your Garden

5 Medicinal Herbs to Grow in Your Garden

Here are some incredibly medicinal flowers and herbs to grow in your garden this spring to stock your home apothecary. This is a short list of five power house herbs that I'm growing in my garden this spring. One season of planting can provide years of benefits when turned into oils or tinctures. 

Echinacea

Echinacea is a well-known medicinal herb that is an immunity powerhouse. Grab this to prevent and treat colds and flus. Echinacea helps rebuild white blood cells and protect the body from infection. It can also relieve upper-respiratory issues and assist with lung health. 

Chamomile 

Reach for the chamomile to treat any bruises or swelling. To use topically, it can be made into a balm or salve. If I'm in a pinch, I will take a chamomile tea and use the tea bag on the bruise or add the tea and bag to a foot soak to reduce swelling. This medicinal herb can help with sore throat and cold symptoms. It also soothes toothaches. Chamomile is incredibly easy to grow in your garden! 

Hyssap

Hyssap is another medicinal herb that can help with lung health. Use it for a multitude of respiratory issues and as another overall immune booster. Aids in digestion and can be used topically to help with bruise discoloration. 

Borage

Great anti-inflammatory properties, making it great for swelling or an allergic reaction. Borage protects against oxidative cell damage and can even help treat asthma. Another immune booster that is packed with nutrients. Use borage topically in a balm or salve to help insect bites, eczema, and skin irritation. 

Yarrow

Reduces scars, helps the skin prevent infection. Yarrow has antiseptic and antispasmodic properties, meaning it can help with stomach cramping and aid in digestion. Make a tea to cleanse the skin and prevent any infections. Yarrow is an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant for the skin. 

Turn these herbs and flowers into a tea, tincture, oil, balm, or salve after harvesting them from your garden. You could even try a bath bomb after making any of these into an oil. 


canning mistakes

Top 10 Canning Mistakes

Top 10 Canning Mistakes

Even the most seasoned homemaker can make these common canning mistakes. Just starting out or need a refresh? Review these top canning mistakes to be sure you are getting the most out of your hard work and keeping everything safe for your family. 

1. Not Sterilizing Jars and Lids

Prior to placing any of your foodstuffs in jars, you'll want to be sure that all of your jars and lids are sterilized. To do this, take your canning pot, fill it with water and place your jars and lids inside. Get the water up to a boil and let the jars and lids boil for 5 to 10 minutes. 

2. Not Adjusting Canning Pressure Based on Altitude

The processing time for water bath canning and pounds of pressure for pressure canning needs to be increased at higher altitudes to destroy heat-resistant bacteria and to ensure home-preserved food products are safe to enjoy.

3. Using Incorrect Canning Method

For acidic foodstuffs like tomatoes, pickles, peaches, salsa, pickled peppers, and more of the like, you'll use the water bath method for canning. For non-acidic foodstuffs like broth, beans, meat, and more, you'll use the pressure canning method. 

4. Overfilling Jars

Always leave a 1/2 inch of headspace, minimum. Headspace is needed because foods expand as jars are heated. The air in a food, its starch content and the processing temperature determine how much a food will expand. Air expands greatly when heated to high temperatures; the higher the temperature, the greater the expansion.

5. Not Wiping Jar Rims

Any liquid, oils, or debris on the rim can prevent the lid from making an airtight seal. Use a clean rag to wipe the rim of all jars. 

6. Leaving Air Bubbles

Removing extra air and leaving only the proper headspace amount is important to ensuring a proper seal. As the hot air escapes the jar, it removes the oxygen from the jar and creates a vacuum seal. Too much headspace, due to trapped bubbles rising to the top, can reduce the seal's success. 

7. Reusing Canning Lids

Lids are only meant to be used once. Save used lids for dried goods like teas and herbs, ferments, oils, and storage. 

8. Overtightening Lids

When tightening your lids before dropping them in, be sure to only finger-tighten the rings. Overtightening the lids will prevent air from escaping through the top. This is how the bottom of the jar may pop off. 

9. Moving Jars Too Early

Once removed, let jars sit and rest, completely undisturbed, for a minimum of 12 hours. After 12 hours, check to see that lids sealed, remove bands, and place the jars in storage. 

10. Leaving Rings on Jars During Storage

By removing the rings, failed lids are easier to spot. Without the rings, you will be able to see mold and rust much easier. 


dehydrated tomatoes

Easy Dehydrated Tomatoes

Easy Dehydrated Tomatoes

These easy dehydrated tomatoes are perfect for summer tomato madness. Picture this: It's August. Your harvesting baskets are overflowing, it's too hot to break out the pot of water to scald, too hot to lug up the canning pot, too hot to stand over the stove. I'd just about give my left arm for someone to process my tomatoes during the summer.

This recipe for dehydrated tomatoes is incredibly easy and hands off. Use or oven, or make it even easier with a dehydrator. This is my favorite homestead-scale dehydrator. This is perfect for venison jerky, fruit and veg, herbs, and more. A good dehydrator is a staple for food preservation. 

Dehydrating food takes significantly less hands-on time and can store food indefinitely. Dehydrated herbs, fruit, vegetables, and meats can be great gifts. 

dehydrated tomatoes

Easy Dehydrated Tomatoes

Ingredients

  • As many tomatoes as your heart desires, or as many as your dehydrator can fit.
  • A dehydrator

Instructions

  1. Wash tomatoes and slice in thin, even pieces
  2. Place slices on tray and do not overlap
  3. Set the dehydrator to 135 degrees F, or use the veg/fruit setting if you have it, for 12-18 hours.
  4. Store in an airtight container
  5. To rehydrate: Soak in cold water for 30 minutes. In a time crunch? Use warm water.

Notes

Be sure the tomatoes are completely dehydrated before storing. Any moisture will cause the tomatoes to mold and spoil.

If you don't have a dehydrator, set your oven to the lowest temp it will go and follow the remainder of the instructions. Ideally, you want to put the tomatoes on a mesh rack. If you don't have one, be sure the tomatoes are completely dry, as noted above.


Benefits, Uses, and Selecting Compost Manure

Benefits, Uses, and Selecting Compost Manure

It's no secret that there are many benefits to compost manure in your vegetable garden, flower beds, hay fields, your yard, even those indoor plants that are always trying to die. 

Benefits

Aged compost manure provides an incredible amount of diversity into the soil. Bacteria, fungi, insects, worms, and micronutrients. All come together to support plant growth and defend against pests and disease. It greatly enriches and conditions the soil and allows sandy soils to retain moisture - hello less watering! It also gives taxed and depleted soils plenty of nutrients. Adding it generously to compacted soil will help loosen the soil. 

Uses In the Garden

The best time to place manure in the garden is in the fall and winter, each year. After a long growing season, soil in the garden is depleted of many nutrients as they are absorbed by plants. Replenishing the soil each year is critical to maintaining good soil health. While a neutral compost manure can be used in large amounts in the garden, it's important to consider your crops in determining where you will be more heavy handed with it. 

Some plants are high nitrogen feeders, while other plants are nitrogen producers. Vegetable plants like lettuce, kale, spinach, and cabbage are high nitrogen feeders, meaning they require soil with high nitrogen. Crops like green beans and peas are nitrogen producers, meaning they make their own nitrogen and don't need as much in the soil. 

Using compost manure in a larger amount in high nitrogen feeders will really make these leafy veggies thrive. Using compost manure sparingly in beds with high nitrogen producers will promote more "fruit growth" rather than producing bushy leaves. Alternatively, you could lay down a neutral compost manure, like aged and composted horse manure and top dress with poultry litter in your nitrogen feeder beds. 

compost manure garden

Selecting Compost

Compost manure that is fresh will be too "hot" and will burn plants. The term hot refers to the nitrogen. The higher the nitrogen, the "hotter" the compost. Poultry manure is very high in nitrogen. We choose horse manure, as it tends to be a little more neutral for the garden beds and customers. We use turkey and horse manure for our hay fields. The turkey litter, high in nitrogen, promotes dense pasture growth, where horse manure provides biodiversity. 

When purchasing compost manure, you want to look for an aging period of six months or longer. The composting process also breaks down the "hotness" of the nitrogen, making it more neutral and eliminates the possibility of burning plants. 

You can find compost manure at your local garden center or Home Depot/Lowes but more often than not, farmers (like us!) and horse farms will be happy to sell for a discounted price.