Monday, November 9, 2015

Raising Goats Naturally webinar Wednesday night

After taking off a few months during the busy time on the homestead, we will be holding webinars again during November. The garden is mostly dead here in Illinois after a couple of freezing nights, and we are not into the holiday season quite yet, so it seems like a good time to chat about goats and other things homesteading.

Raising Goats Naturally will be presented this Wednesday night at 8 p.m. central time. Raising goats naturally does NOT mean simply letting nature take its course. In this webinar, you will learn how to raise healthy goats without routine reliance on drugs. We'll talk about personalizing your management and nutrition plan for your farm. If you get confused by hearing one person say that X works on their farm, and another person says Y works on their farm, you'll be happy to hear that there is no one-size-fits-all way to raise goats. It varies from one farm to another and from one herd to another, so if you try to follow someone else's management plan, it may not work for your goats. By learning what your goats need and how to recognize deficiencies, you can raise healthier, more productive animals. Only you can become the expert on your farm.

The webinar is $19, and it will be recorded, so you can listen to the recording again later to pick up anything you missed. During the live webinar, you can ask questions via chat. There is a 100% satisfaction guarantee, so if you decide for any reason it wasn't for you, you can get a full refund. Just drop us an email to let us know within a week. To see our list of frequently asked questions, click here.

To register, click here.

Monday, October 26, 2015

6 reasons homesteaders need a kitchen scale

When I started reading about how to make soap, I noticed that everyone said I needed to have a digital scale. Why do I need a scale to make soap when people have been making soap for thousands of years? Eventually I learned that when people made soap historically, they used whatever oil was available locally, which usually meant lard or tallow in the U.S., coconut or palm oil in tropical countries, olive oil in Mediterranean countries, and so on. When you are using only one oil, and you use the same oil every time, you know exactly how much lye you need based upon recipes and measuring devices passed down through the generations.

However, today we know about the different qualities of the oils and want to use blends with coconut for cleansing and olive for moisturizing, etc, and all oils have a slightly different saponification value, which means we need a precise way to measure the oils and lye. So, I bought a cheap digital kitchen scale at the local discount store and have been soaping happily ever after.

Once I finally bought a digital kitchen scale, I found myself using it for a variety of uses:
  • weighing mail so that I can save time and money by using Click-n-Ship online instead of driving to the post office, which is five miles away
  • weighing produce for canning because weighing tomatoes or apples is far more accurate than volume measurements
  • weighing newborn baby goats (put a cardbox box on the scale and hit "tare" so that it zeros, before adding kid to box)
  • weighing daily milk to keep track of our goats' and cow's production
  • weighing eggs for sale (a dozen Grade A eggs should weigh 24 ounces or more) or yarn or roving or anything else that's sold by weight
  • and of course, making soap
Unfortunately, cheap kitchen scales don't last! About every three to five years, I'd have to buy a new one. Most of the time they'd just die, but one time, it started weighing incorrectly, which I didn't realized until I'd made several batches of soap. Luckily we realized the problem and were able to discard the soap so that none of it was ever sold. Whew!

I decided it was time to give up on the cheap battery-powered scales and buy a good one with a good warranty. After a bit of online searching, I discovered the KD8000 Scale by My Weight. That was several years ago, and it's still going strong! I don't recommend anything unless I feel confident that it's really good, and this scale is great. Even better, it only costs about 50% more than the cheap scales that kept breaking. It also allows you to switch between ounces, pounds and ounces, pounds and tenths of pounds, kilograms, and grams, which is great because I need different weights for different applications. You can also purchase a power supply adaptor so that you can plug the scale into the wall and not burn through batteries. But if I need to weigh baby goats in the barn, I just unplug it and take it outside, and it runs on batteries. Although the cheap scales only weighed up to 10 pounds, this one goes up to 17 pounds, which is especially useful when weighing fruits and vegetables.

A few years ago when I was interviewed for a magazine article in which they were asking homesteaders, "what is the one thing you think every homestead should have?" I responded, "a digital kitchen scale!" And after having a few years to ponder that question, I'd still give the same answer.

This post contains affiliate links.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Q&A with market gardener and author Pam Dawling

Today we're visiting with Pam Dawling, author of Sustainable Market Farming: Intensive Vegetable Production on a Few Acres. Pam was born and raised in England and moved to the U.S. when she was 39.

"In England I lived as part of rural intentional communities, and I heard about Twin Oaks in Virginia," Pam says. "I came to visit and stayed. I've been drawn to growing vegetables since I was 20. Since I moved to Twin Oaks I've been able to make it my main work."

Why did you write this book and how is it different from what was already available?

Pam: I had gathered a lot of information to help us with our gardens, and the ring binders were getting cumbersome. Twin Oaks was looking for proposals from members on new income-earning projects. (I did overestimate the income-earning potential!) I was already established as a writer with Growing for Market magazine, and I'd done some infosheets for the Virginia Association for Biological Farming. I thought I could sort my store of information into book form and if it didn't sell it would at least be useful to the garden crew here. There was a shortage of books about growing vegetables in the south, especially at the small farm scale. Recent books had been focused on going organic, or buying land, or running a CSA, or looking at the business side of farming. There hadn't been a new book about actually growing food for quite a while.

Should someone attempt a market garden if they have no experience with backyard gardening?

Well, never say never! Someone drawn to market gardening with no experience could go as an intern at a few different farms over a couple of seasons. Or they could grow a small garden first. I don't think they should sink blood, sweat and tears into a commercial operation with zero knowledge. No, that would be a mistake!

What's your favorite vegetable for market gardening and why?

I've been on a mission to produce lettuce year round in Virginia. It's been challenging and satisfying to succeed.

What is the toughest vegetable to grow for market, and what's your secret to do it?

In our climate, and at our latitude, bulb onions are very hard. We're too far south to grow hard onions, the pungent storers. The day-length is all wrong. I found we could grow good bulb onions by starting them in the ground in the hoophouse in November, and then setting out the bare-root transplants early in March. But they're not storers, so we don't want to grow too many.

Is there something that more market gardeners should be doing?

Take one hour a week to work on your own (no helpers!) on a work project that isn't urgent, but you really want to do.

Or is there something that you think more market gardeners will be doing in the future?

No doubt about it - working to be more resilient in the face of climate change. I recommend Resilient Agriculture: Cultivating Food Systems for a Changing Climate by Laura Lengnick.

If you want to see our review of Pam's book or enter a giveaway to win a copy, click here!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Book review: Sustainable Market Farming

Sustainable Market Farming: Intensive Vegetable Production on a Few Acres by Pam Dawling answers most of the questions I've heard from aspiring market gardeners and even some established market gardeners. Whether you are hoping to sell at the farmer's market or start a CSA or just get a better handle on your own kitchen garden, the 400+ pages in this book provide practical answers.

I especially like the individual chapters on growing specific vegetables. For example, there is a 15 page chapter on growing tomatoes and a 10 page chapter on growing potatoes. The shortest chapters on individual vegetables is five pages, which is still a lot of information about growing a single vegetable, and it is not something I have ever seen in another book!

Here are just a few of the topics covered ...
  • year-round production
  • crop rotations for vegetables
  • cover crops
  • how much to grow
  • succession planting 
  • soil fertility
  • disease, weed, and pest management
  • harvesting techniques
  • winter vegetable storage without refrigeration
The book also includes excellent photos and practical charts and graphs. For example, her lettuce log from 2012 provides a real-life example, so you can see how the days to transplant decreases as the weather warms up and then increases again as the weather cools down in fall. She could have just written that sentence in her book, but by providing an actual record from her garden, we are able to really understand how it transpires.

Pam's 38 years of gardening experience truly shines through the pages of her book, and whether you are a complete novice or a seasons pro, you'll find lots of practical information in here. I definitely give it two thumbs up, and I'll be reading over it again this winter when preparing for next year's garden.

Pam's publisher has agreed to give away a copy of Sustainable Market Farming to one lucky reader of this blog, so follow the instructions for entering below. Be sure to comment using your name (so I can match it up with the name on your entry) because my mind reading skills are terrible, and I can't tell one anonymous person from another!

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I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This blog post contains affiliate links.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Don't want toxins on your skin?

But you don't want to make your own body care products?

I get it. Really, I do. There are dozens of reasons why most people don't want to make their own soap, moisturizer, sugar scrub, toothpaste, and so on. Even I don't want to make all of those things all the time. But I don't want to put toxins into my body. That is non-negotiable!

Before I wrote Ecothrifty, I thought that the FDA made sure cosmetics and personal care products were safe, but when researching that book, I learned that it's not part of their job description. As long as mascara doesn't blind someone and they aren't claiming that their face cream is better than a facelift (a medical procedure), companies can make whatever claims they want, and they can put whatever ingredients they want into their products.

In my book, Ecothrifty, I wrote,
The Cosmetic Ingredient Review was created 36 years ago to "review and assess the safety of ingredients used in cosmetics." As of August 2011, however, they had reviewed only 2,300 of the 6,000 cosmetic ingredients voluntarily registered with the FDA. The FDA has banned the use of 14 chemicals in cosmetics. Even if there are only 6,000 chemicals used in cosmetics, it is more than enough to make some of us more than a wee bit concerned about safety.
I just visited the CIR's website to see the updated list, and in the last four years, the FDA has not banned another chemical, although the CIR has added 12 more to their unsafe list, including several carcinogens! That means those products are on store shelves, and people are buying them and using them.

Unfortunately, there are consumer groups that say there are tens of thousands of different chemicals in cosmetics and body care products. Companies have only admitted to using 6,000. Because companies are not required to submit those chemicals for any type of safety review or government approval, no one really knows how many are in personal care products. And we can assume they'd only admit to using the 6,000 that they thought were safe.

So, what do you do to avoid being slowly poisoned? You find products that are safe. However, that's tough to do because words like "natural" and "safe" have no legal meaning, so companies can use those words in advertising as much as they want, even if they have the most unnatural product on the market. I have been looking for toxin-free cosmetics for a very long time, because even I am not motivated to make my own make-up! Although there are plenty of companies out there that claim to be natural and even organic, they are not. Unlike the rules on organic food, cosmetic companies can use the word "organic" even if they are not certified. But there is an answer!

You can look up companies and individual products on the Environmental Working Group's website Skin Deep, and you can get information about whether or not ingredients and products are truly safe. I've looked up many companies that are trying to greenwash their labels only to discover that their products are in the yellow and red zone, which is obviously not good.

I was really excited to discover Poofy Organics, which has products that all rank in the green zone on Skin Deep, and most are USDA certified organic, which is almost unheard of in personal care products. They are also certified cruelty free because they do no testing on animals -- and why would they need to? They are using ingredients that we all know are safe, such as natural oils. Their products are also all made in the U.S., which means we don't have to worry about unsafe working conditions in a third world sweat shop or rules being broken across the ocean that could wind up compromising the safety of the final products. And the icing on the cake for those with gluten intolerance is that all of the products are gluten free.

I especially love their soaps, lotions, and deodorants because I can understand the ingredient labels without grabbing the dictionary. And I could make similar products in my own kitchen, if only I had the time! I also like their nail polish because it contains no formaldehyde, no toluene, and no DBP, all of which are ranked 10 on Skin Deep, which is the worst possible rating and very unsafe, yet one or more of them is in most nail polish. Poofy's nail polish remover is a real cosmetic rock star with no odor whatsoever, and the ingredients all rank 0 on the Skin Deep database, which is as good as it gets! Unlike acetone removers, which tend to dry out your skin, this one is actually a bit oily. I just recently painted my fingernails for the first time in many years!

I'm so excited about Poofy Organics that I signed up to sell their products. I will still encourage people to make their own stuff, and I'll even give you recipes, but if you don't want to do that, then I've done the research to help you make safer choices for yourself and your family. Remember, your skin is the largest organ in your body, and everything you put on it will be absorbed into your blood stream. You should be as careful about what you put on your skin as you are with the food you eat. If you'd like to know more about Poofy's products, click here. If you find that you really love their products, you can host an online party or even become a GUIDE, which is what Poofy calls the people who sell their products.

And I almost forgot to mention it -- in addition to a great selection of products for women, Poofy also has products specifically for babies, children, and men.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Addicted to the Internet? or just a casual user?

Do you think you spend too much time online or on some websites? Do you check your email every ten or fifteen minutes? Is your smart phone within three feet of your body 24/7? Does your two-year-old play with your smart phone? Do you worry that you might be addicted to the Internet? If you answered yes to any (or all) of these questions, you are not alone. Although you might be relieved to hear that, it is not good news!

While reading Christina Crook's The Joy of Missing Out: Finding Balance in a Wired World, I was frequently horrified. Overusing the Internet is not simply a bad habit. It is physically addicting. It causes our bodies to release dopamine, which is a feel-good hormone and explains why we keep checking our inbox over and over again. But just as addictive drugs only keep us happy for a short time, so too does the Internet, which is why we keep going back again and again for another hit. One study found "that for every additional hour kids spend online, their happiness decreases eight percent." She cites one study that found that one in ten North Americans have admitted to texting during sex, and in the 18 to 24 year age group, that number is one in five! And things in the U.S. are not nearly as bad as in many Asian countries. Crook tells us, "more than half a million of Japan's children ages 12 to 18 are addicted to the Internet."

If you think that calling this an addiction is an exaggeration, check out this quote:
"We (as app makers) want them to be addicting. Like a potato chip manufacturer, we try to put just the right crunch and the perfect amount of salt so you can't help but have just one more. We want you to get addicted. It puts the potato chips on our table," says mobile app developer Jeremy Vandehey.
Don't assume that Crook is a luddite who has shunned technology. On the contrary, she says she was as addicted as anyone back when she decided to go on a 31-day Internet fast. A small part of the book is devoted to what she learned during the month, but most of it tells us about the overall problem and how it is affecting us, along with some ideas on how to curb our use.

Many chapters end with a set of questions to get you thinking, such as,
  • What do I long for?
  • What can I create out of that longing?
  • How can the Internet be a wisely used tool for me in creating this?
  • What limits will I give myself while using the Internet as a creative resource?
Overall, this is a great book for helping us to re-examine our use of technology and keep it in check.

In addition to sending me a copy of the book to review, the publisher has agreed to give a copy to one of my blog readers. If you'd like to sign up, just follow the directions below, and be sure to use a name other than "Anonymous" when commenting, as my mind reading skills are terrible.

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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Make your own mayonnaise!

Not only can you use mayonnaise on salads and in pasta salads or potato salad, it also is a necessary ingredient for ranch dressing, which you can make with homemade buttermilk. Mayonnaise falls into the “you can make that at home?” category because most people have never eaten homemade mayonnaise. Yes, in less than five minutes, with only four ingredients, you can make mayonnaise with either a blender or food processor.

  • 2 fresh eggs (or one egg and two egg yolks)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice or wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups oil
  • optional spices: 1 teaspoon dry mustard, 1 tablespoon parsley, 1 teaspoon dill weed, 1 to 3 teaspoons chili powder, 1 teaspoon paprika

I made mayonnaise for twenty years using two eggs and then learned that the yolk really does most of the work, so if you are using egg whites for something else (like quiche), you can use one whole egg and two yolks. Put the eggs in a food processor or blender and blend for 30 seconds. Add the salt and lemon juice or vinegar and blend until mixed, maybe another 15 seconds, and then slowly add the oil in a little dribble with the blender still on high.

Most traditional mayonnaise recipes include the dry mustard as a standard ingredient, but I often don’t use it, and I don’t see much difference in flavor. If you are planning to use the mayonnaise in a pasta salad or potato salad, you can add the spices from your recipe while the mix is still in the blender. About once a year for variety, I’ll make a Cajun mayonnaise by adding 1 tablespoon of chili powder and 1 teaspoon of paprika.

The is an excerpt from Homegrown and Handmade: A Practical Guide to More Self-Reliant Living by Deborah Niemann.
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