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Monday, February 9, 2015

Soil Information for Gardeners

I have notebooks full of information I have gleaned from different resources over the years.  I also have index cards with information I consider pretty important to remember from year to year.  I do this for different areas of our lives.  For example, I write information on recipes and nutrition information, animal keeping and feeding, herbal information, and gardening information which is what I am going to write about today.  I hope it will be of use to you all.  It has helped us to have healthier crops and I like the fact that I am adding more nutrients and sugars into the plants we grow.  Hopefully this is helping to improve the health of our animals and ourselves.  I am still learning in all these areas so know what you are reading is a work in progress for me and is not intended to be complete or authoritative but maybe just helpful........ Oh, and a lot of this information has been taken from a great book called  Mainline Farming for Century 21 by Dan Skow D.V.M & Charles Walters.  Love, love, love this book.

Lets talk a bout soil and amendments, but first a little science lesson on how plants grow

~Nitrogen is the catalyst for all of the plants cell growth, without nitrogen there will be no growth.
~All energy comes from the sun, without the sun there is no growth both for plants and for animals.  This is where photosynthesis comes into play, this sun-energy is made into sugar for the plant. The cells use this to grow by using sugar, water, and earth minerals as building blocks and produce oxygen and carbon dioxide.
~Enzymes (small proteins) are in plants. They take raw materials (earth minerals) and make sure they are transported where the plant needs them. By the way, protein contains nitrogen so you can see how nitrogen is essential to plant growth.
~Low nitrogen leads to inability of the plant (at the cell level) to grow and be strong thus low nitrogen leads to disease and low yields.

But there is more to it than just Nitrogen!!!!
Plants and microbes synthesize amino acids that make up proteins and Calcium, Nitrogen, and Phosphorus (as well as a long list of trace elements).  These are required to  synthesize amino acids, acids, etc. for construction of plant life.  So Calcium, Nitrogen, and Phosphorus are very important.

Lets talk essentials........................

Number one essential is water.  No matter how much plant food is in the soil, if you don't have water it can't be transported to where it needs to go.

Number two is carbon which plants get out of the air. You also have to have a good amount of carbon content in the soil.  So always be asking yourself where to add more carbon to your garden.  Carbon is important because it holds water (4 times it's weight) and helps your plants with transporting those valuable nutrients in the soil. If you have a garden high in carbon, you won't have to water as often and your plants aren't as stressed by dry periods. The way this works is that moisture moves up and down in the soil in a 24 hour period (moon creates magnetic pull, think tides) if water moves up into a carbon rich soil which holds 4 time it's weight in water, it stays in the soil better than a non-carbon rich soil. Carbon also helps with the depth/quality of the magnetic field which helps with plant growth.  The bigger the magnetic field the better plant growth. Carbon controls the release of energy in the soil.  If carbon content is low in your soil your need to fertilize during the growing season increases.

We add carbon in the form of leaves in the fall and barn litter in the spring.

Number three essential is Calcium.  Calcium is the "king" of nutrients but you have to have biologically alive (full of organic) soil for it to be utilized by the plants.  Since calcium doesn't come from the air, it has to come from the soil. Calcium feeds the micro-organisms in your soil and help it come alive with the addition of water.  To feed soil you need to have water and calcium in the top 6 inches of soil.  Calcium is needed for plant health and energy creation potential in your soil.  Thus energy releases other element that cause plants to grow.  The ratio of calcium to magnesium in soil should be 7:1 if 5:1 or less,you have problems.  By weight and volume, calcium is needed more that any other element.

We dump extra milk on our garden to increase the calcium content and to help create an environment that is food for microorganisms to flouish.  We also add calcium in the form of aragonite or gypsum.  I prefer the aragonite.

Number four essential is Phosphate.  Phosphate is a catalyst for photosynthesis.  It takes phosphate to combine carbon dioxide  and water to from sugars in plants.... sugars are carbon, hydrogen, and water.  Good sugar and nutrient levels in a plant are produced by adequate phosphate.  Do not use acid treated phosphate but use soft or hard rock phosphate for your gardens.  Soft is better unless you know you have a super-alive bacterial system in your soil.  However, you must have some type of alive soil in place for the phosphate to work whether it is soft or hard.

We are using soft rock phosphate on garden beds that are alive

Number five essential is potassium.  There is a fine balance with potassium because if you get too much in the soil it takes the place of calcium and will produce crops but they won't be as nutrient/sugar rich and will launch disease.  This can be seen as brown/black spots on the leaves and stems.  As a matter of fact most crops bought from our stores have an imbalance of potassium, kind of explains some of our mineral deficits and disease.  Potassium is important because it determines three basic thing in plant growth.  Thickness of the leaf, the stem and the caliber of the stalk or stem.  It also determines the number of fruit that sets on a plant and helps hold the fruit to the stem as well as determining the size of the fruit.  Phosphate to potassium has to be a 2:1 ratio.

Sources of potassium (potash): nitrate of potash, hardwood ashes, sawdust, chicken manure, wheat or oatstraw...... sawdust being the best source but may take up to 90 days to be available in the soil.  We use the ashes from our wood burner and sawdust or wood chips.

Lets talk about Nitrogen now.  Nitrogen is important but too much just gives the idea you are getting a healthy vegetable.  Too much nitrogen adds water but not nutrients and minerals to a plant especially if the soil is depleted of calcium and phosphate.  Remember everything in balance?  Have you ever heard of shrinkage in hay production?  The more shrinkage in hay production, the more Nitrogen was out of balance with calcium and phosphate.  You get more water but not more cell growth and nutrients.  A good source of Nitrogen for foliar spray is household ammonia.

So much more information but this post was on soil and nutrients.  I have barely scratched the surface but this information has been very helpful to us.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Foods for Immunity~Guest blog post from Well Fed Family

 I am so excited to have Amy from Well Fed Family discuss her journey with food and give us all some ideas on foods that help with immunity.  Not only are Amy and her sister Lee passionate about health, with good food being a cornerstone of their philosophy, they are also passionate about teaching others how to eat healthy on a budget.  They have  DVD's, U-tube videos, and tons of great information on their website.  If you have not been there, go on over and check them out.

Now, on to the article:

A little more than ten years ago my family began making major dietary changes that have resulted in much better health for all of us.  Up to that time my children were prescribed antibiotics several times every year for ear infections and upper respiratory infections, I had my share of bad colds that seemed to last forever, and one of my children had chronic constipation that disrupted our family life for three years. Today, more than a decade and two children later, we are free from medications and sicknesses are no longer the rule.  My youngest, born about 7 years after our diet changes, has never had medication of any kind, nor has she ever been to the doctor for a sick visit.

Our food philosophy stems from our faith in God and our trust that since He is our creator, He knows better than anyone else what we should eat for good health.  We try to eat only foods that He created, and to eat them as close as possible to the way He created them.  Modern research continues to prove that whole, unprocessed foods contain an abundance of life-giving nutrients which are exactly what our bodies need for good health.  Processing strips away essential nutrients leaving us with nutrition-less food that is difficult to digest.  This eventually wears down our digestive system, making us susceptible to sickness and disease.  But the foods that God created, eaten the way He created them, will support all the functions of our bodies so they can operate the way He intended.  The food that God created will actually build up your immune system rather than tear it down.

Following is a list of specific foods that are well documented to boost and support our immune systems.  These are all foods that have been consumed by healthy cultures throughout history for the specific purpose of supporting good health.  They are easy to digest and even have positive synergistic effects when eaten together.

Fermented Cod Liver Oil (FCLO)
Cod liver oil is an old fashioned, traditional food that wise and healthy people have been consuming for generations.  When consumed daily, FCLO could be the number one immunity boosting food out there.  FCLO has the proper ratio of important vitamins in just the right amount, therefore it supplies our body with superior nutrition that is easily digested.  For more information about this amazing super food and its benefits, visit this website: http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/fermented-cod-liver-oil-best-supplement/

Fermented Foods
Cultures worldwide have relied on fermented foods for generations to support good health.  Fermenting increases a food’s nutrition and causes it to become rich in probiotics.  This combination creates an easy to digest food that fights bad bacteria in your gut.  The result is a healthier gut and therefore stronger immune system. Read this excellent article by Dr. Joseph Mercola for a detailed discussion on the benefits of fermented foods, including a demonstration video: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/06/01/fermented-vegetables.aspx.  My family especially loves to make fermented salsa.  We eat it with more than just chips (as a topping for most anything!).  Visit this link for the recipe: http://wellfedfamily.net/delicious-homemade-fermented-salsa/

Kefir, a form of fermented dairy, is economical and simple to make:  pour whole milk (from pastured cows) into a jar with the kefir grains, cover it with a paper towel or cheesecloth, and leave it to sit on the counter for approximately 12 hours. For detailed directions, visit this site:  http://wellfedfamily.net/milk-kefir/  Because the fermentation process neutralizes the allergenic properties of the milk, kefir can often be consumed by those with milk allergies.  However, for more severe dairy allergies, coconut milk will work.

Stock is probably the quintessential traditional food.  Grandmas for generations intuitively knew that, used daily, stock would provide continuous protection from many infectious diseases.  Today the research proves it. Stock provides easily assimilated minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Stock is also rich in gelatin, which is especially healing and soothing to your gut.  A tired, stressed body doesn’t have to work hard in order to reap these benefits.  The key to good stock is to make it yourself, using plenty of bony, meaty pieces (such as the leftover carcass from your Thanksgiving turkey or roast chicken; chicken necks, backs, and wings; chicken feet; beef marrow bones, knuckle bones, and traditional soup bones); add a tablespoon or so of vinegar to help leach the minerals from the bones; and simmer the stock for at least 24 hours.  For a detailed how-to video with more information about the benefits of stock, visit this site: http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/video-traditional-stocks-and-soups/  

Old Fashioned Animal FAT
Saturated fat, demonized for the past century, is actually very good for you. Historically, fat was crucial for good health; all cultures consumed a high fat diet in one form or another.  In fact, when God commanded the Israelites to offer sacrifices to Him, it was the fat of animals that He desired.  The Israelites sacrificed the healthiest portions of their best animals as atonement for their sins.  Their sacrifices were a pleasing aroma to God.  God would not accept anything but the very best, and it would not have been a sacrifice to offer any other part of the animal but the fat, because the fat was most valuable.  For a more in-depth discussion on this topic, please refer to this Well Fed Family post, “Sacred Fat.” http://wellfedfamily.net/sacred-fat/

Modern research has proven what the Israelites knew:  we cannot be healthy without adequate consumption of animal fat from animals living outside in the sunshine on pasture.  The fat-soluble vitamins in healthy animal fat (vitamins A, D, and K) make your diet more nutritious because they increase mineral absorption of the other foods you consume with them.  Even the cholesterol in fat plays an important role in your immunities by helping to build a healthy intestinal tract, repairing damaged tissues, helping you deal with stress, and boosting brain function. 

Examples of animal fats include butter, beef tallow, lard, goose/duck/chicken fat, cream, and even bacon fat – all from pastured animals.  It is critical to understand that you could be eating a wonderful diet, but still be mineral deficient if you are not consuming enough animal fats because it is the animal fats that make it possible for you to digest and absorb the nutrition from your other foods.  Cook your vegetables in some type of animal fat, and then spread them liberally with butter.  When you go to the trouble to make wonderful homemade whole wheat bread, be sure to spread each slice thick with butter.  When you eat oatmeal, stir in butter and pour on cream.  God created many foods to have saturated fat; never strip it away!  Without the fat, the food loses its synergistic properties that make it nutritious for you. 

To learn more about the role of traditional fats in a healthy diet, watch this 15 minute video:  http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/1-key-to-health-traditional-fats-and-sacred-foods/

Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is very high in saturated fats, primarily medium chain fatty acids.
Because these medium chain fatty acids don’t require bile or enzymes for digestion, you get a lot of benefit with little work.  Additionally, these medium chain fatty acids give coconut oil very unique anti-microbial properties that make it an especially effective cold, flu, and virus fighter.  Coconut oil’s unique and beneficial qualities make it an excellent addition to your diet as well as your skin care regime.

Vegetables for juicing
Fresh, Seasonal, Colorful Fruits and Vegetables
God has blessed us with a wide array of fruits and vegetables that are loaded with nutrition, particularly during the cold and flu season when we especially need our vitamins.  So be sure to enjoy the cornucopia of vegetables available in fall and winter, from sweet potatoes and winter squashes to dark leafy greens of all kinds.  Winter is also the time of year when citrus is ready – oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes.  Of course these delicious fruits are full of infection fighting vitamin C.  And don’t forget about apples!  Eat them fresh, baked, or as applesauce.  All of these fruits and vegetables are great on their own, but juicing is an excellent way to maximize their nutrition because it is so easily digested and also medicinal due to its high concentration of vitamins.

Sauteed Greens

Loaded with vitamins, minerals, cancer-fighting and detoxifying agents, all berries are powerhouses of nutrition.  But cranberries, seasonal in the fall and winter, have very effective anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-biotic properties.  They are one of our most potent antioxidant foods.  A wonderful way to consume berries any time of year is in a fruit smoothie made with kefir.  Here are directions for customizing your own seasonal fruit smoothie: http://wellfedfamily.net/smoothies-with-kefir-or-yogurt/

Don’t forget the seasonings!  They are an effective tool for building immunities. Unrefined salt is very important to add liberally to your diet because it contains many essential minerals.  Spices of all kinds are extremely beneficial; each one has its own wealth of nutrition.  Learn to use a variety of spices, not just to make your food taste better but to also help boost your health.  Spices can help with ailments from arthritis to flu and beyond.  Many of the herbs and spices used for seasonings are adaptogens, which are natural substances that improve the ability to overcome stressful conditions such as disease, fatigue, allergies, and also accelerate healing, slow aging and boost metabolism - without side effects.

Garlic, onions, ginger, and turmeric are four very important foods for your flu and virus-fighting arsenal.  Garlic is another anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal food.  Onions are believed to have many of the same qualities. Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, ginger is effective against E. coli and Staph; it is also very beneficial for gastro-intestinal problems and is in general very supportive to your immune system.  Turmeric is also an adaptogen and anti-inflammatory, making it especially beneficial for achy joints and arthritis.  A quick internet search will provide a wealth of recipes for tried and true home remedies using these foods.  But don’t save them for when you are sick; eat them liberally and frequently to help you stay well! 

Putting It All Together
I will leave you with a few recipes my family loves that will help you put it all together. I hope that you can clearly see how perfectly God has provided for your good health through His creation.  Some of what I have shared contradicts modern dietary advice.  This is where I believe that faith comes into play.  As I trust God for something so important as my salvation, I also trust that all of His creation is good.  He told me so in Genesis 1:31.   ~Amy

The following soup is just right for a quick immunity boost, and it’s also soothing and healing when you’re under the weather.

Dr. Amy’s Super Soup – serves 4-6
2 quarts homemade chicken stock
bits of cooked chicken, finely chopped (be sure to include the fatty dark meat)
½ cup brown rice, uncooked
2T coconut oil
½ onion (or more), very finely chopped
2-3 carrots, finely chopped
1-2 ribs celery, finely chopped (optional)
2-3 (or more) cloves garlic, very finely chopped
1” piece fresh ginger, peeled, very finely chopped
sea salt to taste

In soup pot, bring stock to a boil, add rice, lower to a simmer, and cover.  In a medium skillet sauté onion, carrots, and celery in coconut oil until tender.  Meanwhile, chop garlic and ginger and set aside.  Be sure to chop them as finely as possible.  When rice is nearly done, add chicken and sautéed vegetables.  Simmer til vegetables are tender. Just a few minutes before serving, stir in the garlic and ginger.  This will help preserve their healing properties.  Ladle into soup bowls and let the healing begin!  *note: I never measure anything for this soup; tweak these proportions to meet your own tastes.

Well Fed Family Pumpkin Smoothie
Smoothies are a great way to get immediate gut-protecting nutrition.  We eat them year round.  My children especially love them made into popsicles.  This recipe will help you enjoy the flavors of fall!

1 cup milk kefir/yogurt/coconut milk combination (I prefer 1/3 cup kefir, 2/3 cup coconut milk)
¾ cup pumpkin puree, frozen (preferably from fresh pumpkin, but canned will do)
1 frozen banana
2 egg yolks (from healthy, pastured hens; wash and dry egg shells before cracking)
1 T grassfed gelatin (optional)
heaping ¼ t cinnamon
level ¼ t ground ginger
up to ¼ t nutmeg

If using gelatin, combine gelatin with liquids.  Mix well and set aside while you prepare the other ingredients.  Put everything into a blender, adding the liquid last (if using gelatin this gives it time to dissolve in the liquid).  Puree and enjoy! Makes one large smoothie, two small smoothies, or quite a few popsicles.

*You may add maple syrup to taste if you need more sweetness
**If you don’t like pumpkin, omit the pumpkin and spices and add a handful of berries of your choice for a basic fruit smoothie.

Traditional Popcorn
Popcorn is a nutritious and healthy snack when it’s popped on the stove top using traditional fats! 

First: in a small pot, very gently melt 8-12 tablespoons butter over low heat. Be careful not to let it boil or burn.  Meanwhile, in a large, heavy bottomed pot with a lid and handle, melt a tablespoon or two of coconut oil over high heat (use medium high heat if you prefer).  **Use great caution – do not drip the oil on the burner, and never leave the pot unattended!**  When melted, pour in one cup of non-GMO popcorn (organic popcorn will meet this criteria).  Quickly and gently, shake the pot to evenly distribute the popcorn all around the bottom.  Add sea salt and cover.  Listen carefully for popping (if your lid is glass, you can watch it).  Gently shake the pot now and then.  *Do not lift the lid* Once popping starts, continuously and gently shake the pot over the heat until popping slows.  When popping slows, lift the pot an inch or two from the burner until popping stops completely.  Turn off heat.  Pour into a large bowl, salt generously as desired with sea salt, and pour butter over popped corn.  Carefully stir from the bottom up to incorporate the butter throughout the popped corn.

A 1990 graduate of Auburn University, Amy worked with a christian social services agency as a foster care and adoption social worker until she and her husband started their family in 1997.   They began homeschooling in 2002.  Health concerns led Amy to begin researching nutrition, which led her to a better understanding and clearer realization that all of life mirrors the Son - even food.  Ever since then Amy has been passionate and vocal about God's goodness and love for people by providing the perfect foods for good health.  Amy has enjoyed watching little seeds she has planted spring up all around the southeast as people hear, eventually listen, and soon experience that God's foods are life giving.  In 2010 Amy partnered with her sister, Lee Burdett of Florida, to begin Well Fed Family and to produce the Well Fed Family Breads dvd.  Currently, Amy lives on 23 acres in rural Tennessee where she homeschools her four children.  For healthy recipes and solid nutrition information, follow Well Fed Family on Facebook  Twitter, Pinterest, or check out our videos on our Well Fed Family YouTube channel.



Saturday, September 27, 2014

Blog moving to website

I am moving the blog to our Raisin' Acres website.  Click here to go there.

Carrots (Daucus carota)

Peter Rabbit was one of my favorite stories as a child. He was such a naughty little rabbit. He disobeyed his Momma and went to Mr. McGregor's garden.  I think he saw the beautiful carrots growing there and  couldn't help himself.

We have been digging carrots and cleaning up the garden for fall.   I like to grow a couple of different varieties, it was kind of fun uncovering them and seeing the color and how big they grew this year.  

Why not leave them in the ground, you ask? I noticed some of them had rust fly damage and I wanted to preserve some of our hard work before the bugs got to all of them.

I did something a little different this year and I think it helped them grow bigger.  I used a rake and pulled the soil up into a bed in the garden before planting the seeds. 

 Once dug up we twisted the tops off and washed them. Can you see the orange, red, and yellow (sometimes white) carrots in the wheel barrow?

Here are some clean, sorted carrots for the house.  I sort out the smaller ones to eat, the larger ones go in the garage fridge for juice, cooking, or the animals.  Carrots are great food for livestock.

Carrots are considered bi-annuals.  This means that they produce greens and roots the first year, then if not pulled up (and not killed by frost) they will bloom and produce seeds the next year. 

Weird thing, some of our carrots actually bloomed this year............I'm still trying to figure that out.  The flowers of a carrot look a lot like Queen Annes Lace.  Most likely because the two plants are in the same family.

This is one of the plants in bloom. If you are wanting to save seed and live in a temperate climate, you can leave the carrots in the ground and collect the seed the second year.  Gardeners that get enough frost to kill the carrots have to bring them in and over-winter them.  In the spring they re-plant the carrots they want seed from. 

I was going to let this guy go to seed but went out a couple of days later and my husband had pulled it.  Guess I will be ordering more carrots from Baker Creek Seeds this winter ;-)

Showing off the "big" one.

Here's a pail for the crisper.  I place them in the crisper and cover them with a damp towel. They will keep forever like this..ok, not forever, but a very long time.  They won't last that long though since the family really likes carrots. 

Getting back to Peter Rabbit, I watched a movie about Beatrix Potter called Miss Potter that was an excellent story about her life. If you get a chance and you liked Peter Rabbit as a child, you should watch it.

Do you have any carrot stories to share?                                                                                               

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Water Kefir- aka healthy, homemade soda

Water kefir much like Kombucha and milk Kefir is another form of friendly bacterial and yeast in a symbiotic relationship.  This matrix feeds on sugar and produces lactic acid, carbon dioxide, and alcohol.  These three things form a fermented beverage with carbonation, much like we notice when we are drinking a soda....or pop...or coke.  Depends on what part of the country your from what you call it ;-) You also get probiotics that are good for gut health.  Did you notice that alcohol is also a by-product?  Not to worry, it is usually less than 1% of the total.
To learn more about the origins of water kefir you can go to Cultures for Health, they also sell cultures. However, if you know someone that makes water kefir, they may have some grains to share.  Mine re-produces like crazy so I always have extra.

I have switched from kombucha to water kefir because the kombucha was taking longer to "brew" and we would run out before the next batch was ready. Kombucha took 5-14 days, water kefir takes 2 days if you add fruit juice, one if you are of the stout variety of "crunchy person" and can consume it straight up.

If you want to make kefir the way we do here you will need:

(2) 1/2 gallon glass jars
sucanat (1/3-1/2 cup)
water kefir grains (I started with 1 tbsp)
well/spring water
fruit juice (concentrated is nice) 

A note about water and liquid minerals.  You will have to experiment with your water to see if you get good re-production of the grains.  Generally a water that has a lot of naturally occurring minerals makes lots of grains and fermentation is faster.  If you aren't getting good fermentation you may need to find another water source or add some liquid minerals to your batches.  

**never use chlorinated or floridated water in your batch and never rinse your grains with it since you may kill them.**

Place 1/3 to 1/2 cup sucanat in bottom of half gallon jar, fill with spring water and add kefir grains.  I use a coffee filter and rubber band to cover. 

I know many recipes tell you to heat the sugar and some water and add to cool water and etc.  I'm all about saving time and since I get good kefir water and don't do this, why bother.  Don't tell anyone but sometimes when I am in a hurry I don't even stir the sugar in...

The next day, strain the grains out and place grains back in jar with a cup of leftover kefir water, add 1/3 cup sucanat, and fill with spring water to start the new batch. 

 Shh! Don't tell anyone, I'm using a metal strainer. Some sites claim that metal kills the grains......I've been using this because that's what we have and have not killed them yet.

Here are the water kefir grains before I add them back to a half gallon jar.

Next, add the strained kefir water to the other 1/2 gallon jar and put 1-2 cups of fruit juice in.  Cover and let sit on counter until the next day.  I place this in a picture and put in the fridge for consumption at this point.  It should be fizzy.

I cheated here and added the water kefir to my picture......I let it sit out in that and place in fridge the next day. This works if you don't have fruit flies.

We like concord grape juice.

You can play around with the time and amount and type of fruit juice your family likes.  Generally the longer it ferments the less sweet it gets since the grains consume the sugars.

If you need it to be a little sweeter, you can add the fruit juice and refrigerate the same day but you won't have as much carbonation.  In my experience, the second day with the fruit juice really bumps up the carbonation and makes it most like a soda.

Do you have a recipe or special juice that you like?  Let me know so I can give it a try.