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  (Portage, Michigan)
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7 Natural Ways to Control Cucumber Beetles

So far the 2014 garden is off to a great start! At the end of May I shared a summary of what’s going well and what’s not-so-swell. At that time, the garden remained relatively pest-free. However in the short time since that post I’ve encountered to more prevalent invaders. The first pest is a mysterious, large, picky eater. The invader may be a deer, although there are no signs of jumping our 8-foot tall fence and the tracks left in a few places seem a bit large for a deer. (Unfortunately between rain and very soft soil the shape has been difficult to determine.) Whoever has been helping themselves has passed over scores of deer-favorite veggies in favor of our kale and pepper plants, exclusively.

Meanwhile, our other main invader is not nearly as elusive or picky. This year I’ve experienced the earliest and most prolific invasion of cucumber beetles ever. They have recently backed off without intervention from me, so I’m hoping the garden will be able to weather their presence without any (natural) chemical or other intervention from me. Though they have impacted several different crops, so far the only casualty has been my acorn squash (wiped out almost entirely). Fortunately there’s plenty of time left in the Michigan growing season to reseed squash. Just in case you’ve also encountered a cucumber beetle invasion, here’s some information and a few tips for letting them know who’s boss!

Cucubmer Bugs 7 Natural Ways to Control Cucumber Beetles

What Are Cucumber Beetles?

According to our buddies at Wikipedia:

“Cucumber beetle is a common name given to members of two genera of beetles, Diabrotica and Acalymma, both in the family Chrysomelidae. The adults can be found on cucurbits such as cucumbers and a variety of other plants. Many are notorious pests of agricultural crops. The larvae of several cucumber beetles are known as corn rootworms.”

Cucumber beetles actually look like cute little yellow lady bugs. (They had me completely fooled during my first year as a CSA grower!) Don’t be fooled. These little guys want to eat your cucurbits to oblivion. That means they’ll feast on cucumber, pumpkin, zucchini and hard squash plants, to name a few. They also appear to be nibbling on my beans and possibly my ground cherries.

Here is a description from the Farmers’ Almanac to help you identify cucumber beetles:

“Adults are about ¼ inch long and have a yellow and black striped abdomen and a dark colored head and antennae. Look for holes and yellowing and wilting leaves. Crop yield will be low; and plants will produce yellow and stunted fruits. The larvae are worm-like, white, dark-headed, a have three pairs of legs on the thorax.”

Transforming leaves into swiss cheese (or gobbling them up entirely) aren’t the only ways cucumber beetles wreak havoc in a garden. They are also carriers for diseases such as bacterial wilt and cucumber mosaic virus.

Cucumber beetles overwinter in plant debris and wooded areas near your garden. Once temperatures warm, they can move into the garden to begin feasting on your newly transplanted seedlings. While the adults can eat leaves, stems and blossoms, the larva will also feast on the plant’s root system.

How to Control Cucumber Beetles

Here are some natural (or at least, free from synthetic chemicals) methods you can use to address cucumber beetles in your garden.

Click here to read all seven tips on our website.

 
 

2014 Maple Syrup Season Part 2

I was sad when I realized that the best thing for our family was the discontinuance of our CSA. All the same, it was a peace-filled realization.

However…

I recently had an experience that was easily the saddest, most disheartening experience of my homesteading life to date. Imagine my dismay when – three days before I was to process it – I discovered that 50 gallons of pure maple sap stored in my garage was… spoiled. Sour. Unusable for syrup.

Saddest. Moment. Ever.

All of my sweet (literally) self-sufficient dreams drowned in a 5-gallon food-grade bucket of sour-smelling, cloudy liquid. Last year we had syrup from our sap but processed by Papa. This year I was really looking forward to the self-affirming experience of collecting and processing my own syrup.

Fortunately, Papa always has an abundance of syrup (he still has a ton left over from two years ago) so hopefully he’ll pity us enough to donate this year’s syrup.

Meanwhile, the thought of letting 50 gallons of maple sap go to waste made me want to vomit. I came inside… sat with my head in my hands and thought…

Maybe I could turn it into vinegar?

After an evening of frantic internet research, that’s just what I did. (Or, at least, what I made a plan to do.) Although the web is light on details about making maple vinegar, I did find enough direction to develop a plan for several different approaches. In a nutshell, they include…

Method 1: Diluted maple syrup mixed with wine-making yeast

Method 2: Maple sap with a Mother of Vinegar added

Method 3: Au natural (nothing added)

Because Method 1 involves diluted maple syrup, I decided to go ahead and process some of our sour sap all the way down to syrup. That way I could still experience (and show you) the process. What I didn’t expect is that as we got started, the batch really didn’t look (or smell) that bad. Coincidentally, Papa and I decided to process all but the 3 cloudiest buckets (15 gallons) down to maple syrup. The result is a very dark syrup that initially tastes just fine but leaves a strange after-taste. I’ve not yet dared to try it on pancakes.

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I promise I’ll share all the details of my maple vinegar-making plan with you in a future post. Meanwhile, this post is dedicated to explaining and showing the process of taking sap to syrup.

Processing Maple Syrup 2014

As a refresher, maple sap becomes syrup when you remove the high water content, leaving behind the concentrated sugary content. The most popular way to do this is by boiling the sap to evaporate the water. The sugar content of sap varies based on many factors, but in general it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup. For the homesteading maple syrup maker, a backyard evaporator is used to boil off all of that water. The evaporator can be as simple as a gas grill or it can take on a much more complicated form. For all the finer details on how an evaporator should function and how you can make one (along with how-to videos for several options) check out this post.

I was fortunate to be able to use Papa’s evaporator, featured in a post from 2013 that you can find here.

Click here for the step-by-step process, along with pictures and links to resources.

 
 

How to Keep Deer out of the Garden

One of the farm’s Facebook friends recently asked about keeping deer out of the garden. I don’t know what kinds of pests you deal with in your neck of the woods, but in Southwest Michigan this is a very poignant question! There are lots of supposedly repellent chemicals and plants you can purchase to protect your plot of veggies from deer. However, most gardeners I’ve spoken with find these don’t do an adequate job of keeping deer at bay. I’ve never personally tried chemical repellents, but have yet to hear a favorable review and am frankly not interested in using them for residual reasons. The problem with deer-resistant plants (such as marigolds) is that a deer’s diet is a fickle thing. There are several plants that deer tend to avoid, but if Bambi’s hungry enough, nearly anything is fair game. Shorter repellant plants such as marigolds and onions might not be eaten but can be easily stepped over to get to the good stuff!

In my personal experience, and that of many other gardeners, the most effective way to keep deer out of the garden is with a barrier. The kind of barrier you used depends on many factors, including space and budget. Here are some chemical-free ideas that should help you out.

For all 11 ideas, including photos and links to additional resources, click here.

DSC03023 768x1024 Keeping Deer out of the Gardengrow it eat it fishing line deer fence Keeping Deer out of the Garden

{Image Credit}
Grow It Eat It

deer netting Keeping Deer out of the Garden

{Image Credit}
Collections Etc

 
 

Gatlinburg Trip & Farm Updates

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It appears that spring has finally sprung in Southwest Michigan! There’s still a cool nip in the windy air, but the sun is shining and temperatures are reaching up into the sixties at midday. It’s a welcome sight!

I’m so glad that things have warmed up around here because after returning from a trip to sunny, spring-has-sprung Tennessee, I don’t think my heart could have handled super-cold and snow. We had a fabulous time on our family vacation to Gatlinburg and the highlight was our time spent enjoying nature at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We hiked a couple of relatively easy trails (with an eight-year-old and two-year-old in tow) to see some gorgeous waterfalls and scenic forests. I’ve been studying permaculture a lot lately so I couldn’t help but make observations about the climates and microclimates we encountered. (Did I just hear you snore? Hang in there, I’m not going to get too scientific on you!) It was a pleasure to be there just at the cusp of spring because we were able to watch buds and leaves and flowers unfold as the week went on.

I felt like I had a front-row seat to watching the mountains wake up from a winter nap. What a joy to watch the ground go from nothing but moss and leaves to a sea dotted with opening spring flowers. And to see trees transform from barren sticks to branches of blossoms and tiny green, budding leaves. The intermittent rain showers came at just the right time so as to avoid ruining our plans while simultaneously stocking up the mountain streams for fantastic, fast-flowing water shows. I loved it!

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Another thing I enjoyed was encountering familiar or edible plants in the wild. I guess it’s a nerdy gardener thing, but it was fun for me to find a plant and know just by looking at it that it must be related to a strawberry, or a carrot or a sweet violet. I wished I’d remembered to take pictures of all these sightings, but here are a couple I did manage to snap.

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What a bright, sunny dandelion growing amidst the rocks!
Did you know that all parts of the dandelion are edible?

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We saw lots of wild onions throughout the forest.

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These were some of the largest onions I saw. I hope my leeks can rival these!

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I don’t know if these are violets or if they are edible, but they were so beautiful and they reminded me of the sweet violets that should be popping up at our farm sometime soon!

We enjoyed several of the area attractions, including Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, the Guinness World Records Museum, Ripley’s Marvelous Mirror Maze, the shops in downtown Gatlinburg, Wild Bear Falls Waterpark, Forbidden Caverns and the Arts & Crafts District near Gatlinburg. Even with all there was to do in the area, one of our favorite experiences was simply relaxing at our very private cabin.

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Staying here was an enlightening experience for us. It inspired us to live more simply. To be more specific, we realized that we could thoroughly enjoy ourselves with minimal “stuff.” Packing a Toyota Camry with everything four people need for a week (including a toddler’s stroller, pack-n-play and other bulky items) meant being nominal and creative about what we brought along. Our cabin had everything we needed, plus a few extras (like board games). We didn’t and don’t need the gobs of “stuff” we have at our home. Maybe this seems strange or like a common sense revelation I should have had years ago, but it was liberating to not have to pick up mountains of toys or wash billions of dishes or sort bundles of magazines and papers. On our first full day back from the trip, we started purging. I can’t wait to share that journey with you as it unfolds.

Meanwhile, Back at the Farm

Despite our absence, the farm chugged along. Fortunately our micro-farm means micro-sized-farm-sitter-duties. I’m so thankful that Papa (my father-in-law) was able and willing to feed our chickens, gather eggs, care for our bunny, gather our maple sap, take care of our dogs and miscellaneous other things while we were gone.

Maple Syrup Update

By the time we returned, our maple sap count had risen to just under 60 gallons. That’s about half of what I was hoping for… apparently my hopes were set a bit high. That makes sense since 20 gallons per tree in a season is pushing the upper end of the scale and we only have four trees. With all of the tiny-thaw/long-freeze weather we had this March, there were very few days where sap was actually running at our house. Oh well… I may not have a ton of maple syrup, but I’m still pleased to be producing my own!

The current plan is to utilize Papa’s evaporator early this next week to process our liquid gold pronto. The weather is warming up and since sap can spoil at warm temperatures, I need to get to it as soon as possible. Unfortunately I don’t have space to refrigerate 12 five-gallon buckets, so they’re hanging out in the shady, cool garage for now. Because I love a good experiment, and I want some insurance against spoiled sap, I am also considering an experiment: Freezing the sap. There’s a generally held principle that the water in sap freezes but the sugar content does not. When you freeze a container of sap, supposedly the ice can be discarded because it has no (or minimal) sugar content and would just have to be boiled off in the evaporation process anyway. If this is true, freezing sap, discarding the ice and then boiling what’s left should significantly reduce the amount of fuel and time needed to make syrup. I’m going to give it a whirl – but only with a portion of our supply. I love a good experiment, but I love maple syrup more!

Seedlings Update

While we were gone I also did a hands-off experiment. The moon-favorable time to plant many of our seeds (such as broccoli, kale, lettuce and chard) would have expired by the time we returned home from vacation. I didn’t want to wait a full month before starting these seeds so I started them the night before we left. Most seeds take 3-5 days to germinate any way so I knew my seedlings would be very small by the time I returned, if they existed at all. I planted my seeds in trays of garden soil and made sure they were very (very) moist. Then in each tray I created a make-shift olla using a small clay pot. I placed the pot down into the soil and filled it with water. Because the soil around it was already saturated, the pot did not leak water from the hole or the sides. Like with real ollas, the idea here is that as the moisture level in the surrounding soil is reduced, the moisture inside the terra cotta pot (or through the hole in the bottom in this case) will be wicked out by the soil and used by the plants. I used ollas both for my newly-planted seedlings and for existing green babies that needed to survive a week without me.

I’m pleased to report that everything survived! A couple of newly planted seeds had not yet germinated by the time we arrived home. Hopefully they will emerge soon and are just slow (perhaps not enough warmth?) and not drowned.

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This tiny clay pot worked perfectly as a mini olla to keep our seedlings watered while we were on vacation.

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The mini-olla also worked to water emerging seedlings that were germinating while we were away.

I was also pleased to see that our gingerroot also decided to start sprouting while we were away!

Chitting (Sprouting) Potatoes

The last little update I want to share with you has to do with our potato seeds. While we were away I laid the seed potatoes out in trays beneath a semi-sunny window. (I was fearful that if I left them in some of the sunniest locations the dogs would eat them. This window was in a closed bedroom.) The ideas behind chitting potatoes is that exposure to sunlight causes them to begin sprouting and that pre-planting sprouting results in a faster harvest. I had a good success with the process last year.

Here’s what he potatoes looked like when we left. (Pardon the poor lighting… it was very early in the morning).

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Here are our seed potatoes at the beginning of the chitting (sprouting) process.

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We left them near a sunny window while we were gone on vacation.

And here’s what they looked like when we returned.

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These are Desiree Red seed potatoes from Seed Savers Exchange.

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These red (new) potatoes didn’t sprout as much as I’d hoped, but they did better than the yellow potatoes.

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These German Butterball seed potatoes from Seed Savers Exchange hardly sprouted at all while we were gone!

They didn’t progress along as far as I was hoping, but this is still good. I gave them a couple more days of sunlight before planting them.

Now that we’re home and the weather is warm, I’m up to my eyeballs in chores and impending projects. There’s so much to share, but I’ve already blathered on enough for one post. Stay tuned – there’s more coming soon!

 
 

How to Freeze Eggs

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The winter of 2013/2014 was our first snowy season as chicken owners. I say was with a small amount of sarcasm since the snow just doesn’t seem to want to let go. (The three-foot-deep mounds in our backyard have melted to nothing in some places, but every few days it snows it again. Meanwhile Easter is only weeks away…) We were prepared for a reduction in egg production and made a plan for getting as many winter eggs as possible without causing too much stress to our hens. What we didn’t prepare was the most abysmally, blisteringly cold and long winter in the last thirty years. Though our egg production was decent for the conditions, it’s understanding that we went 8-10 weeks with nothing but hungry, cold hens.

It was a far cry from September days when I looked in the cupboard at three dozen eggs and thought “Well, it looks like quiche again for dinner!”

So you can imagine my delight in early March when I optimistically checked the nesting box and found… wait for it… an egg! A glorious, brown egg. (Though at the moment it looked more golden than brown. I’m pretty sure angels were ascending and descending on the coop and I heard the faint sound of harps surrounding me. At least I think…)

Double my delight when two eggs began showing up… then four… and now for the last week, we’re back up to one egg per hen – six eggs a day!

Now that I understand the feast or famine reality of owning a laying flock, I’m all the more interested in preserving our excess for use in our lean days. Otherwise stated, I want to purposefully preserve our extra eggs during warm weather to use next winter. After some research there are two options I want to explore: Dehydrating and freezing eggs.

We’ll save dehydrating for another day. Today, I want to teach you how to freeze eggs. You might not have laying hens to keep up with, but if you find a great deal on eggs, you can stock up to save now without worrying about them going bad. Here’s how it works.

How to Freeze Eggs

Visit our website for complete instructions and lots of photos. Click here!
 
 

How to Make Homemade Butter

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When we first learned about the benefits of raw milk (and the harm of pasteurized milk from non-A2 cows) we decided it was worth switching to healthier dairy products. Buying a herd share was a no-brainer first step. Our herd share enables us to obtain raw milk from the cow we lease and yogurt and cheese made from her milk. We’re not big milk drinkers so keeping our consumption (both for straight drinking and baking) to 1 gallon a week works fine for us. Unfortunately we’re not able to purchase pre-made butter at the same time.

That’s too bad because though we don’t drink much milk, we do use a lot of butter. A lot. I seriously considered purchasing a second herd share just to have a enough cream for butter making. Unfortunately that’s not in the budget at this time. So instead, I’ve been making a habit of skimming the cream off our weekly gallon of milk and freezing it. I skimmed the milk by pouring it out of a gallon milk jug and into a gallon container with a wide mouth and lid. After a day or so the cream rises to the top and easy to scoop off. (You can see the cream line in the picture below).

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After four weeks of skimming I ended up with about 7 cups of cream. These jars look very full, and they are, because of course the cream expands as it freezes. I want to be sure to say that I only filled them about ¾ full before placing them in the freezer. Filling them to the top would cause them to burst.

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After collecting to jars’ worth of cream, I decided it was time for my maiden voyage into butter-making.

First I put the frozen jars into the fridge (on the bottom shelf because it is the warmest place in my refrigerator). I couldn’t tell you exactly how long it took the cream to thaw, but it was somewhere between one-and-a-half and two days.  With thawed cream on hand, I was ready to begin.

How to Make Butter from Scratch

These are the tools and ingredients I used:

  • 3.5 cups of cream (approximate)
  • A blender or food processor
  • 1 cup of ice water
  • A strainer
  • A medium to large sized bowl
  • A spatula
  • Paper towel or a cheesecloth
  • Wax or parchment paper
  • Bakers twine
  • Salt (optional)
For instructions and pictures, please visit our website by clicking here.
 
 

Let it Grow! Singing to Your Plants

So you’ve been singing Let it Go from Disney’s movie Frozen all day, every day? Yeah… me too.

It’s not just because it’s a catchy song that is bombarding us from everywhere (although that helps). I personally suffer from a syndrome called can’t-stop-singing-and-don’t-even-realize-I’m-doing-it. Just ask my husband and former co-workers… they’ll tell you. My condition often manifests itself in a rare condition I refer to as Disney-Tourettes. It’s the best way I can think of to describe my inclination to randomly, frequently, loudly burst into Disney song (and sometimes dance). A Whole New World (Aladdin), Part of Your World (The Little Mermaid) and I Just Can’t Wait to be King (The Lion King) frequently worm their way out of my mouth. It has proven embarrassing a time or two, but at this point my life I just choose to embrace it.

That being said, it can still be really (really) annoying personally to have songs stuck in your head. They just go on and on, don’t they my friend?

Further compounding the situation is this: If you’re not sick of the sound of your voice warbling ala Queen Elsa, someone else in your life probably is. Regardless of the quality or quantity of your singing, I’m happy to share with you that an audience exists that will never tire of hearing you bellow Disney tunes!

Your plants.

Seriously.

Singing to Plants

I first heard about this idea in high school. I haven’t been lying to you when I’ve shared that I love a good experiment, as further evidenced by my teenage (but admittedly not scientific) test to see if singing to plants really works. First I just sang while I cleaned my room. I experienced early onset of can’t-stop-singing-and-don’t-even-realize-I’m-doing-it syndrome, so it was pretty convenient. I observed that singing near my plant caused it to noticeably perk up! Cool!

Next I tried playing this archaic thing called a Compact Disc (otherwise called a CD for those of you who aren’t historians) while I was away. I couldn’t tell you how long I played it or exactly what it was (although at that point in my life it was likely either the soundtrack to Titanic or something by Boyz II Men). What I can tell you is that when I returned my spider plant was noticeably learning toward the radio. Well isn’t that neat!?

Naturally my next step was to move the radio to the other side of the plant. Sure enough when I returned the plant was leaning toward the radio again – the opposite direction from its lean the previous attempt.

I’d like to cite this little experiment from my childhood as the reason why I shamelessly sing while gardening, but you and I both know that’s just not the case. (Couldn’t keep it in, Heaven knows I’ve tried.) My constant crooning isn’t going to work like Miracle Grow, but it’s probably having a positive effect. The question is – how?

Carbon Dioxide or Vibration

I’m familiar with two different theories about why singing to your plants could be beneficial. The first theory is that the carbon dioxide emitted as humans sing helps plants to photosynthesize more efficiently, thus making them stronger and helping them to grow faster.

That’s a reasonable theory, but consider this: My plant showed noticeable change listening to Celine Dion declare “My heart will go on and on!” through a machine and not in my bedroom. No humans present. No carbon dioxide emitted. Yet the fact that the music had an effect on the plant, whether beneficial or not, was undeniable. Fortunately those crazy kids at MythBusters took a much more scientific approach to this question and yielded an interesting result. Their findings suggest that the effect of singing (or talking) on plants may have much more to do with vibration than breathing.

Myth Busters Experiment

In this experiment, two soundtracks of spoken words (not singing) were used.

“The skeptical MythBusters procured 60 pea plants and divided them into three greenhouse groups. Then, they recorded two soundtracks — one of loving praise and one of cruel insults — and played them on repeat in two separate greenhouses. A third greenhouse remained mum as an experimental control.

To give the myth a fighting chance of flourishing, the team charted the plants’ growth over 60 days. Afterward, the MythBusters determined the winning greenhouse by comparing plant masses from the three groups. To their surprise, the silent greenhouse performed poorest, producing lower biomass and smaller pea pods than the other two. Although there was no difference in plant quality between the nice greenhouse and the mean greenhouse, the soundtracks seemed to produce a positive effect in both.

Based on the plausible myth, botanists might want to chat with their plants more often, even if what they have to say isn’t all-too friendly.”

Other Experiments

The folks at MythBusters aren’t the only researchers who’ve looked into this idea. Several studies, some scientific and some more general, have been done. There’s no point in recounting gobs of them in this brief article, but I did want to share one I found very interesting. The authors of the blog Dry Stone Garden write:

“A 2007 paper from scientists at South Korea’s National Institute of Agricultural Biotechnology proposed that two genes involved in a plant’s response to light—known as rbcS and Ald—are turned on by music played at 70 decibels. ‘This is about the level of a normal conversation,’ says Marini. The Korean researchers found differing responses depending on the frequency of the sound. The higher the frequency, the more active was the gene response.”

To my knowledge no one has conclusively determined why or how well singing (or talking) to plants helps them grow, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. The next time you feel like channeling your inner Elsa, wander out to your garden. Your neighbors might not thank you, but your tomatoes will.

Did you like this article? Find more just like it at our website www.arcadia-farms.net!

 
 

Last Frost Dates for West Michigan

Wondering when it will be safe to transplant your seedlings out into the garden? Here’s a handy chart to give you a guideline for the Last Frost Date in your area.

The Last Frost Date is the date after which it is generally safe to plant outdoors without fear of frost. Some plants can handle (and maybe even benefit from) a smidge of frost, such as broccoli, peas and chard. Warm season plants such as tomatoes, squash and peppers will be damaged, possibly beyond recovery, by frost.

If you live in Michigan you already know that the weather can be fickle, so treat these dates as a guideline only and be sure to check the weather forecast before transplanting your precious plants out into the wide world!

 

Last Frost Dates West Michigan Last Frost Dates for West Michigan

 

 

 
 

Give that farmer a tip!

moonique dairy cows kriannmon Give that farmer a tip!

Dairy cows from Moo-nique
{Image Credit}
Kriannmon on Flickr

Today I wanted give you a brief peek into a sweet conversation that recently happened at our house.

Owen has been experiencing some growing pains lately. I heard once that a dose of extra calcium can help to soothe growing pains, so I always offer him a glass of milk. Maybe it’s an old wives tale… maybe it’s all in his head… but he usually calms down and goes to sleep afterwards.

The other night at bedtime I was laying down with him and he said “Mom, can I have a glass of milk?”

“We’re all out” I replied.

“Can’t you just go to the store and get some?” he asked.

“No, because in a couple of days we’re going to get more and it would be wasteful to spend extra money on milk from the store when we’re already paying for milk from the farm, especially since it’s kind of expensive.”

He paused for a moment.

“Umm… Mom? Wouldn’t it make more sense to buy milk from the store?”

“What do you mean?” I asked. “Do you mean ‘Wouldn’t it cost less money?’”

“Yeah!” he replied “Couldn’t you save money and just get our milk from the store? Wouldn’t that be better?”

“Well, yes, it would cost less money” I said, “but it wouldn’t be better. Here are a couple of things...

Click here to read the rest of the conversation. (It's cute... I promise!)

 
 

2014 Maple Syrup Season Part 1

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It’s maple sugarin’ season in Michigan! If I had been on my toes I would have tapped my trees on Thursday, March 6 as the weather conditions were just right for running sap – cold nights and above-freezing, sunny days. But alas, I’m a busy mom and I didn’t get to it until Tuesday, March 11. It was a beautiful, relatively warm, sunny day… and then that evening our lovely Michigan weather crashed from 40 degrees and sun to windchills below zero. (Hey, Old Man Winter – take your prozac, ok!?) Today the temperature has climbed to 22 degrees and tomorrow’s forecast currently calls for a high near 50. All of this up and down cold creates some serious weather-whiplash for us humans, butt the cold nights and warm days are great weather for collecting maple sap.

I won’t go into a ton of detail about how, when and why to collect maple sap because I wrote a pretty comprehensive post about it last year. (Click here to check it out!). This year I just wanted to give you quick update and to let you know that we’re trying something a wee bit different.

Click here to read the rest of this article.
 
 

Green Eggs & Ham Popovers Recipe

dye free green eggs and ham popover recipe

St. Patrick’s Day is one week away. And earlier this month some of us celebrated the birthday of children’s author Dr. Seuss. To celebrate both I’ve created a green eggs and ham pop-over recipe that’s family friendly and dye-free. Our kids loved them! Consider adding these tasty green egg pastries to a St. Paddy’s day brunch or even dinner.

You could eat them here… or there… or anywhere!

Click here for the recipe!

dye free green eggs and ham popover recipe

st. patrick's day recipe

Here’s our spinach-only version!

 
 

Carrot Butter Recipe

carrot butter recipe

Earlier this winter I made crock-pot apple butter. We’ve used it on toast and to sweeten our plain yogurt. Our foster-daughter seems to especially like it this way (in yogurt). Since she’s a bit of a picky eater when it comes to vegetables, I’ve had to find some creative ways to sneak them into her food. One day while slipping some pureed carrots into her bowl of apple-butter-and-yogurt I had an epiphany moment: What if I made vegetable butter?

I considered several veggies: Turnips, sweet potatoes, parsnips. At the end of the day I decided to start by experimenting with carrots. The result is good. The recipe below calls for apple juice or cider at two different stages of the process. I personally used apple cider vinegar during the second stage. Because of this, the carrot butter turned out a wee-bit tart (only a wee-bit!). I still like it – and I think it’s heavenly in yogurt – but I would  probably enjoy it more with bread and butter if I had used juice instead of vinegar.

At any rate, here is the recipe for carrot butter. Even as I type this I’m working on a crock-pot version of parsnip butter (or rather, the crock pot is working on it!). I can’t wait to share the results with you soon!

carrot butter recipe

carrot butter recipe

carrot butter recipe

carrot butter recipe

Click here for the recipe and more photos!
 
 

Introduction to Gardening Workshop

introduction to gardening workshop

I’m thrilled to announce that Arcadia Farms will be hosting an Introduction to Gardening Workshop on Saturday, March 22 from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm at the Holiday Inn West in Kalamazoo! Participants must pre-register at www.arcadia-farms.net/classes.

If you’re a new gardener who’s had a difficult time getting started, or if you’ve always wanted a garden but don’t know where to start, this class is for you!

Participants will learn…

  • Basic gardening terms
  • The best place and method for gardening at their location
  • Plant combinations to avoid or to encourage
  • Organic methods for growing, fertilizing and protecting their crops
  • How and when to both select and start seeds
  • How to transplant seedlings into the garden
  • How and when to water, weed, fertilize and apply pest control
  • How to make compost and use it in the garden
  • Resources for further study and support

We’ll have hands-on exercises to increase your comfort level. You’ll go home not only with one or two starter seedlings, but also with the inspiration and confidence you need to make this year’s garden a success! I hope you’ll consider joining us or passing this information on to a friend who may be interested.

The cost is $38 per person and space is limited. For a printable flyer, click here.

 
 

Thinking about African Americans in Agriculture

black farmer in corn field

By definition, being a minority means that in most circles and situations I’m among people who are different than me. I don’t mind. In fact someday I’d like to write about how being a multi-racial person has helped (and in some ways necessitated) me to appreciate and be comfortable with people from different racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds. That’s for another day. Today’s post is much simpler.

February is Black History Month, but the idea behind this post first came to me this past summer. At the time I was looking for stock images to use in promotional materials and I wanted them to be diverse, showing people from all sorts of ethnic backgrounds. That was the first time it dawned on me that, in our culture, the title “Farmer” usually means “White guy.” Think about it – when I say “farmer” to you, my guess is that the first image that comes to your mind is a middle-aged white man with a straw hat… maybe sitting on a tractor. There were no farmer stock-images of female farmers. And there were no stock-images of minority farmers of any color.

That brief experience got me thinking about all of the farmers I’ve met in real life and it dawned on me for the first time that none of them are minorities. (It’s not that I’m slow – I promise – it’s just that racial surveying is not high on my priority list when meeting new people.) I could think of one farmer’s market employee who was Hispanic. But as I mentally surveyed the faces of all my new agriculture friends and acquaintances, there was only one face of African American descent in the bunch: Me.

I wondered about whether this trend was consistent throughout the nation. Is our stereotypical idea that a farmer is a white guy based on real probability? And if so, why? Why wouldn’t a career in agriculture be just as appealing to black people as it is to white people?

Some Statistics

african american farmer

So I started doing some research. What I discovered is that agriculture used to be a very significant occupation for the black community in America but as of today (2010 census) black farmers aren’t even statistically on the map. Here are some numbers to paint the picture.

In 1862 when the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) was established, 90% of all American were farmers. By 1920 (nearly sixty years after emancipation) just over 14% of all farmers were black. Fast forward to 1987 and you can reduce that statistic to about 1.5%. Today less than 1% of all US citizens (regardless of race) are farmers. Compared to the entire US population, African American farmers comprise a teeny, tiny .01% of all Americans.

The decline in American farmers overall is shocking – and the numbers for African American participation in that small subset are abysmal. I wanted to get a better feel on the percentage change of farming within the black community itself. Since I can’t find hard-and-fast statistics on a portion of this, let’s make a reasonable assumption. Given the educational, economic and prejudicial hardships newly-freed slaves faced as they attempted to create a living for themselves, let’s assume that half (50%) of the nearly 4 million black Americans emancipated turned to something they had significant experience in: Agriculture. This number obviously could be significantly higher or lower, but it isn’t unreasonable.

By that statistic, nearly 2 million black citizens (50% of African Americans) would be employed in agriculture. According to the 2010 census, today there are approximately 47,000 African Americans employed in agriculture – an unbelievable .1% of the black population, representing a 49.9% reduction in 150 years.

Voices of Agriculture Video

Those numbers certainly paint a picture, but they don’t really answer why. Based on the numbers I think it’s safe to say that agriculture was once an important occupation for all Americans – regardless of race – and is a dwindling group of people – regardless of race. Still, I wanted to know more specifically about the African American agriculture experience. This post doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the African American contribution to and historical impact on agriculture. I have a lot more to learn and investigate. I’m still researching, but I found this documentary that fills in some of the narrative outside of statistics, and I wanted to share it with you. (Interestingly, almost all of the useful information I found on present-day African American farming came from a source related to South Carolina in some way or another.)

  To watch the video, please visit our site: http://www.arcadia-farms.net/thinking-about-african-americans-in-agriculture

 
 

Seed Starting Resources

Those of us who live in cooler climates and who want to get a jump-start on the growing season have been thinking about seed-starting recently. Last winter I shared several informative posts about how and when to start seeds. This winter I thought it would be beneficial to present all of those resources to you in one easy-access post. So without further ado – here are some of my favorite resources for seed starting.

Arcadia Farms Seed Starting Plans

Here’s a peek into how we’ve put all of the advice below together to create our own seed starting plan.

2013 Seed Starting Plan

2014 Seed Starting Plan

Resources

soaking onion seeds in water

Seed Starting Spreadsheet Template

Instructions for how to use this spreadsheet are included on the first tab.

Seed Sources

Here are my favorite sources for seeds (heirloom and open-pollinated).

Soaking Seeds

Soaking seeds before planting speeds up germination by stirring up the process of the dormant baby plant inside the seed’s hull coming to life.

Optimum Transplant Age

Starting seeds indoors helps gardeners in cooler climates to get a jump start on the growing season. But how soon should you start your seeds? This chart provides guidelines for optimum transplant ages of select crops.

Square Foot Gardening Plant Spacing

Here’s a cheat sheet chart to let you know how many plants to sow per square foot. It’s easy to read on your mobile device so that you can use it in the garden.

Planting by Moon Phases

Did you know that the gravitational pull of the moon actually impacts the success rate of seedlings? Check this article out to learn more about the phenomenon and how you can use it to your advantage in the garden.

kale seedling in newspaper pot

Planting in Newspaper Pots

When you start seeds indoors, you need media – a substance to start your seeds in. I’m now using potting soil in plastic trays, but there are several options. Here’s an analysis of them all, along with details on how to make your own newspaper pots.

Keeping a Garden Journal

A garden journal is a tool you can use to keep track of important garden stats and observations. Being able to look back on this information will help you to plan for next year and will help you to identify patterns in your garden that you otherwise wouldn’t detect. In general, a garden journal allows you to record your successes and failures and details that may have impacted the outcome.

Square Foot Garden Seed Tape

Here’s an easy way to prepare for your spring garden while the snow is still on the ground. Seed tape helps you evenly space your seeds for maximization of resources.

Setting Up Your Garden for Seed-Saving

Here is a fabulous webinar video by Seed Savers Exchange on how to design your garden for seed saving. The post includes my summary notes to highlight the key concepts for those of you who don’t have time to watch the whole thing.

Container Gardening Tips

Everyone can have a garden, including renters and apartment dwellers. Here are some tips on container gardening to make yours a success.

Chitting (Sprouting) Potatoes

Chitting potatoes is the act of sprouting them before they are planted. It speeds up the maturity process and it’s super easy. This guide will show you how.

bean seedling

Planting Garlic

Garlic is a staple in the kitchen for many of us. The fact that it’s so easy and inexpensive to grow means it would also be a great staple in your garden. Here are tips for the best type of garlic for your garden, when to plant it and how to plant.

Garden Apps Wish List

For the technologically inclined among us, here are some apps that can streamline the gardening process.

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.

 
 
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