Arcadia Farms

  (Portage, Michigan)
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Planting in Newspaper Pots

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Some of the 450-or-so onion seedlings I’ve sown already are starting to come up! They’re just tiny twigs of green but they remind me that spring will be here soon! In March I’ll really be into starting seeds as I shared in this post about planting by moon phases. In that same post I shared that even though I already had  a detailed seed-starting plan (including my Seed Starting Planner, you can download it for FREE right here!) several things have made me reconsider. The first thing being a desire to try planting by moon phases and the second being second-guessing the medium in which I plant my seeds.

Last year I started some of my seeds in potting soil (soilless mix) in upcycled yogurt containers and some of them in Jiffy pellets. Both have their pros and cons… and I’m pretty disappointed with the cons. Here’s why.

Upcycled Yogurt Containers

Pros

  • They’re free!
  • Recycling them reduces waste.
  • I can plant multiple seedlings in each container (depending on seed/plant size)
  • They are sustainable. Once I have the containers, I never have to buy new ones.

Cons

  • Seedlings get rootbound in them.
  • They are hard to move from one place to another.
  • Their round shape means they don’t fit well into trays.
  • Because they don’t fit well in square spaces, they are not an efficient use of my limited greenhouse space.
Jiffy Pellets

Pros

  • They are a seedling-friendly medium (have the right ingredients)
  • They fit well into trays which makes them easy to transport from greenhouse to garden. (Or move to a new place in the greenhouse).
  • Because they fit well into trays, they are a more efficient use of my limited greenhouse space.

Cons

  • Seedlings outgrow them quickly.
  • Seedlings can get rootbound in them.
  • Though they are relatively cheap, buying enough to start as many seeds as I need to (3,000+) makes them expensive.

Comparing the Options

Aside from obviously wanting to provide a quality growing medium for my plants, my two main concerns are space and money. The right solution can’t cost a ton (taking Jiffy Pellets out of the running) and it has to be an efficient use of my tiny (6? x 6?) greenhouse (farewell yogurt containers). What’s a nerd girl to do? Make a spreadsheet, of course!

That’s just what I did. I created a spreadsheet of reasonable seed starting mediums so I could compare their pros and cons to find the best one. Here are a few points to go with this analysis:

  1. Some of these seed starting mediums are things I’ve heard about but not actually tried. My assessment is based on my best guess.
  2. I did not include hydroponics in this assessment. For more info on hydroponics (which I know bupkiss about) click here.
  3. Soil blocks are… well… blocks made of soil. They’re somewhat like Jiffy pellets only they don’t have a netting around them, are (typically) larger and can be created from a soil mixture you create. Their most frequently touted advantage is that plants don’t get rootbound in them – when the roots meet air at the edge of the block, they simply stop growing. They can be planted directly into the garden.
  4. Newspaper cups are also similar to Jiffy pellets except that they are made from newspaper mulch. Because the newspaper is biodegradable, they can be planted directly into the ground. Black and white ink is no problem for natural growing because the ink is soy based. (Stay away from colored inks.)
  5. Newspaper pots are square-shaped, origami-like containers folded from newspaper. Like newspaper cups they are biodegradable and made from natural materials so they can be planted directly into the ground. They hold potting mix just like a plastic yogurt cup would.
  6. Potting soil in trays is my way of saying just spreading potting soil in a tray and planting seedlings like I would when I direct-seed them. To transplant them I’d have to dig them up, exposing the roots in the process.
  7. Paper cups can also be used for planting. These are the tiny dixie cups sometimes used in bathrooms. I’ve used these before and found that, even if you poke several holes in the bottom, moisture tends to close those holes back up and they don’t drain well. Also some have a waxy covering which may cause them to take longer to breakdown in soil.

To do the analysis I rated each medium in cost, sustainability, drainage, portability, space-saving and transplanting. Rates were poor (1), fair (2), good (3) and great (4). After rating each option I found the final score by averaging all of that medium’s rates.

Chart

The Results

After making all of my assessments, it turned out that soil blocks would be the best choice for my needs with newspaper pots as a close second. I gave newspaper pots a 2 for sustainability and here’s why: If our culture continues as it is right now, there will be plenty of free newspapers for me to use. However, if something changes, newspapers will not be a naturally recurring resource for me to utilize. I also gave them a 2 for drainage… that was before I noticed that a small hole can easily be made in the bottom during the folding process. When assessing cost, I considered the ongoing expense rather than the initial expense. Turns out that the startup expenses for soil blocks and newspaper pots are very similar: Potting soil and trays to hold them. Soil blocks require purchasing a soil block maker and newspaper pots require purchasing (or getting) newspapers. Since they have so many of the same benefits, I decided that this year I’d save the expense of buying a soil block maker and just go with newspaper pots. My sister-in-law is a couponing queen so I’ll have access to plenty of desinted-for-the-recyling-bin-anyway newspapers (FREE!). Not only that, but if I’m going to use soil blocks, I want to invest in one that makes lots of them at once. Those run upwards of $200, so before I make that kind of investment, I want to try soil blocks out first. You know, just to make sure they’re as wonderful as everyone says they are.

So there you have it. I’m going to be starting my seeds in newspaper pots this year. I’d give you a tutorial on how to make them, but Tina at Happy Hobby Habit (winner of our Reader Tip Contest) has already done a great job of making one for you! You can find it by clicking here.

Well. I’ve got lots of folding to do if I’m going to use 3,000 of these in the next few weeks.

 

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

 
 

Planting by Moon Phases

full moon

Guess what? I started planting this past week! Nearly all of my onion seeds have met their soil! I’m planning to start more onions this weekend (scallions), rhubarb the following weekend (Glaskins Perpetual) and the in early March then I’ll be sowing all kinds of things: Cabbage, cauliflower, kale, chard, broccoli and lettuce to name a few! If you’ve been following this blog you know that I posted my detailed seed-starting plan here, including a spreadsheet showing my start dates. (If you would like to use my Seed Starting Planner, you can download it for FREE right here!)

As wonderful as that all is, I’ve already run across some… things… that have made me reconsider my plans. One of those things has to do with seed starting medium (what I’m growing my seedlings in) and space. Last year I started some of my seeds in potting soil (soilless mix) in upcycled yogurt containers and some of them in Jiffy pellets. Both have their pros and cons… and I’m pretty disappointed with the cons. But with so many options for seed starting, I started to wonder if I could find something better. Next week I’ll share with you what I found and what I decided.

The second thing that has me reconsidering my original seed starting plan is this: The moon.

Yes, you read that right. I said the moon. As I was doing research on the best times to plant certain seeds I ran across information from The Old Farmer’s Almanac explaining that for generations farmers have had “an age-old practice that suggests that the Moon in its cycles affects plant growth.

I made a mental note to look into it. Before it could get far from my mind the topic came up during a conversation with another farmer who is planning to try planting by the moon this season. I decided to dig a little further and found this gem of an article on planting by moon phases.

Click here to read the rest of this article, including a straight-forward chart to planting by moon phases and a video providing more information.

 
 

Urban Farm Heirloom Seed Company

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Seeds are a hot topic at Arcadia Farms these days. We just wrapped up an heirloom seed giveaway this past week. The week before that I shared a Seed Starting Spreadsheet with you that can help you determine when to plant seeds and approximately when your harvest will be ready. That same week I also shared a list of seed sources with you. It wasn’t until after I created that list of seed sources that I realized I had forgotten someone! I want to share information with you about a new heirloom seed company founded by some of our family friends. But first a little background…

Around the time I left my full-time job to become a suburban farmer, an article came out that discussed a movement of young people (20’s and 30’s) flocking to farming. The article cites several reasons why young entrepreneurs are turning to agriculture rather than corporate jobs. Some of the major reasons include the stifling nature of corporate America, a strong demand for local and organic foods, the opportunity to be self-employed and the intangible rewards of doing work you love. The article is endearing to me because I am part of that movement of entrepreneurs who’ve (passionately!) traded desks for dirt.

The Urban Farm Heirloom Seed Company Story

Jarrod and Kendra Tishhouse are part of that movement as well as co-founders of Urban Farm Heirloom Seed Company (located in Lancaster County, PA). I recently had an opportunity ask Jarrod some questions about Urban Farm HSC. If you’re interested in supporting creative entrepreneurs who are investing in the future of sustainable agriculture, you’ll want to read on to hear their story!

Q: What inspired you to start Urban Farm Heirloom Seed Company?

A: Kendra (my wife) and I really feel called to sustainable living and we feel that one way to preserve sustainable living is in the preservation of heirloom seeds (non-hybridized non-genetically modified varieties of seeds that produce true-to-form generation after generation). In light of big agriculture and chemical companies stream-lining “perfect” tasteless vegetables, we want to make sure that people continue to have access to heirloom varieties of seeds, and also invest in their food future!

Q: Please share a little bit about how Kickstarter played a role in the startup of your company. [Kickstarter is a funding platform for creative projects.]

A: Kickstarter is an invaluable resource to us. Not only does it provide all the start-up costs for your business, it single-handedly proves that you have an idea worth selling and helps you access people out of your immediate circle who would be interested in your project. Heck, we sent seed capsules as far as Portugal, Taiwan, and Australia among others!

To visit Jarrod and Kendra’s Kickstarter page for Urban Farm HSC, click here.

Q: What surprised you most about the startup process?

A: It is definitely a lot of work getting all of your ducks in a row! You have to know all your costs from A-Z, and you have to connect with the people that you want to support your project – let them know that you’re a real person with a real beating heart who believes in what they are doing.

Q: Please tell us about the products you offer.

A: We currently offer seed “capsules” in a couple of different options – a standard Survival Capsule with everything you need to plant a well-rounded garden, and a completely Customized Capsule where you choose all 25 varieties. We also just launched a new, “Ready-to-Start” garden that comes unsealed and non-capsulated for those looking to get started right away at a cheaper price! Now’s a great time to get your garden kit for the Spring season, and all of our kits come with included planting-times and seed-saving instructions! We are also looking to the future with other sustainable garden capsules and new projects.

These capsules contain heirloom seeds sealed in mylar bags for safe-keeping!

These capsules contain heirloom seeds sealed in mylar bags for safe-keeping!

Q: Some of your products are designed for long-term storage. What measures do you take to keep seeds from becoming sterile over time?

A: There are three specific factors that harm a seed over time: Light, oxygen, and temperature. Our Urban Farm capsules aim to keep the first two intact, but unfortunately we have no control over the last. (We put a suggestion on all of our capsules to store them in a cool place). Our seeds are sealed in mylar bags which are then encapsulated. You can literally bury your capsule in the ground if you want to (we keep ours in the freezer)!

Q: What can customers do to help maintain the viability of their seeds?

A: You’ll want to keep your capsule in a cool place. I suggest a fridge or freezer, a cool basement or cellar, or just burying it straight in the ground. The mylar bag has a zip-lock enclosure, so you can re-seal your bag after you’ve opened it. (It comes heat-sealed, however, and once you do unseal it initially the oxygen absorber inside can be spent rather quickly if you leave it open).

Q: Why did you select the seed varieties that you offer?

A: We wanted to offer the standard varieties, but I really like fun varieties too. We are constantly going to be updating the different kinds of seeds available for our custom gardens. I’m a big fan of purple and red carrots, yellow lemon tomatoes, and banana melons! When we started on this journey, we had no idea how many varieties there are out there that you would NEVER find in a supermarket!

Q: What are some of your future plans for Urban Farm Heirloom Seed Company?

A: I have been thinking about this since day one! The seed capsules and gardens are only a start for us. We are looking to the future for other sustainable methods that we can apply not only to our lives, but to those around us! Our next step is to start a full local CSA in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, transforming our yard-space into a literal “urban farm.” I am in the midst of planning out the details right now, and we are VERY excited about this! Look forward to a new Kickstarter project within the next week or two!

Q: What advice would you give to new gardeners?

A: I would suggest doing research. Organic gardening is the only gardening worth doing and many people frown at the amount of work they think is involved. I suggest Googling a film called “Back to Eden” as a good starting place, as that revolutionized the way my wife and I did our garden this year. Gardening can be far easier than people make it out to be, you just need the right resources at your fingertips!

Q: Is there anything else you’d like Arcadia Farms’ readers to know?

A: We are so grateful for people investing in a young company like ours! Many people don’t realize the amount of work that goes into running a personal business – it’s a lot of work with little pay, but for me it’s a labor of love. We enjoy what we do. Sure, gardening, canning, dehydrating, and all the other facets of sustainable living definitely are a lot of work, but I can tell you one thing for sure: Every night at dinner time I am SO glad we do what we do. Our food is fresh and delicious, not stale and filled with preservatives and chemicals. It’s an ongoing transformation, and Urban Farm HSC is just one way to help us live the way we do, while helping others too!

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Your Part of the Story

If you live in the Lancaster County area of Pennsylvania and would like to join the Tishhouse’s CSA – or if you love what they’re doing and would like to support their newest endeavor through Kickstarter – check them out here:

Cinderblock Gardens CSA Kicstater Campaign

Urban Farm Heirloom Seed Company Website

Another Annie’s Heirloom Seed Winner

Last week we ended a great giveaway for heirloom, non-GMO seeds from Annie’s Heirloom Seeds. Thanks again to everyone who entered! We had such great participation. Even though I was very happy for our winner, I wished I could do more for the rest of you. So I gave an open invitation for our readers to comment here on 1) What one thing they’d love to have from Annie’s catalog and 2) one garden tip. We planned to  pick our favorite reader tip and give the winner the seeds they desire courtesy of the farm! And that’s just what we did…

Everyone had great tips (and I wish I could have picked more than one “winner”)! But at the end of the day, Tina’s Folded Newspaper Pot Pictoral takes the cake seeds. Congrats, Tina! She’ll be receiving the purple Falstaff Brussels Sprouts she desires. Thanks to everyone for their tips!

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

 
 

Garden Apps Wish List

Wish List Wednesday | Garden Apps (from seed to table!)

I’ll be the first to admit that there’s nothing organic or sustainable about apps for your mobile device. At first glance it may seem a little off-center that a website about living sustainably is featuring a Wish List of Android and iPhone apps, but please, hold the phone! Our take on sustainable living is a wee bit different than you might expect. In this recent post about the topic of sustainable living I mentioned that “the beauty of sustainable living is that we can (responsibly) enjoy the comforts of modern resources without worry for what we’ll do if or when they’re gone. Living sustainably does not mean utterly forsaking modern resources, but it does mean that we have a plan for living well should we need to live without them.”

So in the spirit of smoke ‘em if you got ‘em, I give you this month’s Wish List Wednesday! There’s a whole world of nifty apps out there just waiting for you to discover them! Check out these neat programs that can be accessed from your mobile device and can make garden planning, planting, watering, harvesting, local eating, cooking and recordkeeping one step easier.

Square Foot Gardening Spacing

Square Foot Gardening Plant Spacing Cheat Sheet. Its written to be easy to read from your mobile device so you can check it on your phone while you’re in the garden. {Arcadia Farms}

 

Gardening Toolkit
The Gardening Toolkit – The app that loves to grow! Organize your plants in multiple gardens. Advice on what to grow and when to grow it. Data and photos for 1000 plants and vegetables.

 

Gardenate
The garden calendar shows the vegetables and herbs you can plant every month. A detailed guide to growing the most popular garden vegetables, with local planting information for the USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and the UK.

 

Green Drop
Green Drop is a full featured garden/plant manager. – Organize your plants into gardens with locations – Monitor and get reminders when plants need water, food, or are ready for harvest. – Keep notes on your plants. – Manually adjust watering, feeding, and harvest dates if needed. – Keep a gallery of pictures of each plant with notes and date picture was taken (to track growth).

 

Herbs+
Herbs+ gives you images and information on the most popular herbs in an elegant, fun-to-use application. Each herb offers gardening tips, culinary ideas, medicinal uses and a crisp image to help you identify the herb.

 

Bugs in the Garden
Quickly ID common North American insects in your vegetable garden. Includes realistic illustrations and photos of both adults and larva (caterpillars and grubs). Gives basic advice on management and damage assessment. If you have seen while gardening: * Beetles * Moths * Aphids * Caterpillars * Grubs This app will help identify them. 33 pictures of 23 bugs all on one page to swiftly pinpoint the bugs in your garden.

 

Mother Earth News
The new MOTHER EARTH NEWS app acts as a virtual library of our electronic resources, conveniently bringing them all together in one handy tool. You can browse through our resources and download those that most interest you. Our How to Can and Food Garden Guide tools, previously available only as separate apps, are offered for free within the MOTHER EARTH NEWS app and together will guide you through growing a great organic garden and preserving your fresh harvests.

 

Garden  Guide (Mother Earth News)
The Food Gardening Guide from Mother Earth News is a one-stop gardening app from America’s leading magazine on organic gardening. The app provides expert advice on Crops and Techniques, plus a Resources section to find even more helpful information. Shown with beautiful illustrations, the Crops section includes planting and harvesting instructions along with recommended varieties, pest control advice and extra tips to improve your garden’s yields.

 

How to Can (Mother Earth News)
This app explains how to can fresh produce using both water bath and pressure canners. Complete basic instructions plus timing details for over 20 crops make this free app a must-have for anyone who cans or wants to learn how to can. Incorporates advice from the United States Department of Agriculture and the Ball brand home canning products company. The Basics section will fully equip even the most novice of canners with all the information needed to get started.

 

Harvest Plan
Harvest Plan is a neat little application for your mobile device that lets you keep tabs on your garden. With a library of more than 200 popular plants at the start, harvest plan will keep you abreast of what’s where and when it’s going to be ready. Keep track of plantings, losses, and yields – even attach a picture of your plants to the entry. When it’s time to check on your plants, Harvest Plan will post a notification to your device’s notification panel so you won’t miss it.

 

Taste of Home Recipe App
Taste of Home’s recipe app brings provides tons of recipes featuring the season’s freshest flavors right to your phone. Each season brings a new collection of recipes for fresh fruits and veggies. Recipes have photos. Allows you to browse by course, cooking style, cuisine, ingredients or holidays. My favorite part: You can find which locally-grown ingredients are available in your state this season—just choose your location, browse the ingredients, and find hundreds of recipes!

 

AmpleHarvest
While America has more than 50 million people who are hungry or are at real risk of being hungry (“food insecure people”), more than 40 million Americans grow food in home gardens – often more than they can use, preserve or give to friends. It doesn’t have to be this way. Whether you deliberately planted an extra row of food or just harvested more zucchini (or any other fruit, vegetables, herbs or nuts) than you can possibly use, AmpleHarvest.

 

Honorable Mentions

Fooducate
Don’t Diet – Eat Healthy with Fooducate! Featured App on Android Market Dec 2011. Scan and choose healthy groceries. Over 200,000 unique UPCs! As featured in Oprah’s O Magazine, USAToday, NYTimes, WSJ, Lifehacker, Gizmodo and on ABC, FOX, NBC and more… Instead of trying to decode nutrition facts labels and ingredient lists… …use your Android phone to: ? Automatically scan a product barcode ? See product highlights (both good & bad) ? Select better alternatives

 

Locavore
LOCAVORE: It’s your seasonal, local food network. Locavore makes searching & sharing in-season, local food a breeze by mapping farms and farmers’ markets, and what is in season based off your location. Features: 1 – Share photos about local, in season food & sellers 2 – Locate farms and farmers’ markets near you 3 – Browse what’s in-season and soon to come 4 – Find who is selling it and where 5 – Get details about your local farmers’ market 6 – Post what you ate locally to Facebook

 
 

Natural, Cheap Fabric Softener

In this previous post I shared with you how you can make natural laundry soap that costs about half as much as store-bought, chemical-ridden detergent. (Could be even cheaper if you do fewer than 365 loads per year!). Today I want to give you a similar ‘recipe’ for natural, inexpensive fabric softener:

Natural, Cheap Fabric Softener

Ingredients:

White Vinegar

Instructions:

Add ½ cup to the rinse cycle. (If you have a fabric softener dispenser, add the vinegar as you would normally add fabric softener. Or you could use a Downy Ball.)

The Details

Right now you’re thinking one of three things:

  1. Cool!
  2. Yuck!
  3. Really?

(If you had a reaction other than those three…  just… don’t tell me, ok?) Let’s address each reaction.

Really?

Really. According to an article on Mother Nature Network:

“Vinegar is cheap and nontoxic, effective and antimicrobial. It naturally softens and as a bonus, it helps to remove soap residue. Finally, vinegar aids in static reduction during drying.”

I’m no scientist so I can’t tell you how it does all those great things, but I can tell you from experience that it works! And not only is the vinegar good for your clothes but it also helps to clean the inside of your washing machine.

I also saw a tip that if you pin a couple of safety pins to clothes in the dryer it helps to reduce static cling.

Yuck!

Plain old white vinegar is not the tastiest or best smelling stuff on Earth. So maybe the thought of it touching your clothes grosses you out a smidge. Don’t worry, friends! Your clothes won’t smell like vinegar, I promise! However, if you use an automatic fabric softener dispenser that may retain a (small!) bit of vinegar smell. If you’re freaked out by the idea of putting something less than rosy-smelling in with your laundry, you could amend your vinegar fabric softener with a tablespoon of aromatic hair conditioner. A natural hair conditioner would be best if you’re going for, well, natural. If price is your main concern, go for something cheap like Suave.

Cool!

Yeah, it is cool! White vinegar is natural, it’s cheap (less than $2 for 1 gallon) and it works! Someday I intend to learn how to make my own vinegar at home, making it a sustainable solution as well.

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

 
 

Annie's Heirloom Seeds Giveaway Winner

Spring is on the way and at Arcadia Farms, we’ve been dreaming about what this year’s garden will look like. And thanks to our giveaway from Annie’s Heirloom Seeds (www.anniesheirloomseeds.com) many of you have been dreaming about what you’d do with $25-worth of free, heirloom, non-GMO seeds! One lucky winner gets to turn those dreams into reality.

To find out who the winner is, click here: http://www.arcadia-farms.net/2013/02/17/annies-heirloom-seeds-giveaway-winner/

Best wishes!

 
 

Chemical Cocktails & Clean Clothes

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Today I’m going to do something I’ve been wanting to do for a while – I’m making my own laundry soap. I’ve done this before, but only in small amounts. In fact, I’m going to show you how to make enough laundry detergent to last you a whole year* for less than $30. If you’re a cut-to-the-chase kind of person, you’ll want to scroll to the end of this post to find instructions for natural laundry detergent and fabric softener. If you’re like me and  you want to know more about how and why this is a better alternative to the processed soap you buy at the store (and how much you’re going to save!) read on.

Why Make Your Own Laundry Detergent?

You should make your own laundry detergent because it’s cheaper and more natural. In general, laundry detergent available on the grocery store shelf contains “a cocktail of potent cancer-causing chemicals, some of which the manufacturer doesn’t even have to list on the label. This loophole reduces the odds that you’ll ever discover what’s in there” according to an article at www.care2.com. (The article cites specific scientific research and can be found by clicking here.)

The article goes on to explain that “Not only are these chemicals potentially damaging to your health, but they are also contaminating waterways and harming the environment.”

When time permits I’d like to share with you what I learned about the laundry detergent we’ve been using (All Free & Clear). Until then, the general point is that commercially made laundry soap often contains harmful (and often unnecessary) chemicals.

Those unnecessary ingredients also make store-bought detergent unnecessarily expensive. As you’ll see at the end of this article, you could be washing your clothes for pennies a load without sacrificing cleaning power.

Liquid Detergent vs. Powdered Detergent

If you search the web you’ll find sundry articles on how to make your own laundry soap. Some instructions help you create liquid soap while others result in powdered detergent. I’m an advocate for powdered detergent. Why? Because it takes less space to store, less time/effort to make and cleans just as well as liquid detergent.

What’s In This Stuff?

If we’re doing to make a big deal about what’s in store-bought detergent, we should definitely talk about what’s in homemade detergent. As I mentioned above, a quick Google search will result in many different ‘recipes’ for homemade laundry soap, each of them just a smidge different.

What’s consistent? They all include borax and natural soap. Nearly all of them include washing soda. Some substitute baking soda for the washing soda. While substituting baking soda for washing soda might seem like a non-issue, washing soda is definitely more useful as a laundry detergent. Why? So glad you asked…

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Baking Soda vs. Washing Soda

According to Dr. Knowledge at The Boston Globe’s website, “Washing soda, or sodium carbonate, is two sodium atoms attached to a carbonate group (a carbon atom and three oxygens). Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate (and sometimes called sodium hydrogen carbonate) has one of the sodium atoms replaced by a hydrogen atom. Both occur naturally as minerals and are often prepared in factories from more commonly occurring minerals like calcium carbonate (chalk) and sodium chloride (salt)… Both sodas are alkaline, meaning they will neutralize acids, but washing soda is the stronger. Alkalis react with the chemicals in many stains, particularly those involving oil and grease, and help take them out. Washing soda is better at removing stains, but both can be used for this purpose.”

So while you certainly can use baking soda for your homemade laundry soap, you’ll get more cleaning power from washing soda. Very soon I plan to post about how you can easily and safely convert baking soda to washing soda right in your home. Come back for that!

Borax

Borax is not a short mythical mustached creature who speaks for the trees. Borax (according to Crunchy Betty, who is much more likely to speak for the trees) is “also known (most predominately in the way we’re talking about right now) as sodium tetraborate, is a boron mineral and salt that’s mined directly from the ground. Borax is not boric acid.”

Borax is used in laundry detergent to:

  • whiten your whites
  • soften hard water
  • remove soap residue from your clothing
  • neutralize any laundry odors
  • disinfect clothing
  • increase the stain removal ability of your detergent

How in the world does Borax do all of those things? If my educational background was in Chemistry rather than Human Resource Management I could tell you. Since it’s not, you’ll be better off looking for the answer here. (But if the Borax ever complains to you about workplace conditions, you know who to call!)

 Natural Soap

Part of what makes the world wide web of laundry detergent instructions so varied is the wide variety of soaps you can use. The key here is to look for something natural, especially if you have sensitive skin like me. Some soaps are marketed as “laundry soaps” like Fels Naptha and Zote. Other soaps I have seen as recommended for laundry detergent are Ivory (which I personally am allergic to), Dial Pure & Natural and castile soaps. I’ve also read that some people who make their own lye-based soaps at home use this in their detergent as well.

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Natural Laundry Soap/Detergent Instructions

Now that you’ve got the dirt (ha! I love puns) on natural laundry detergent, here’s how you make the stuff:

Homemade, Natural Laundry Soap

1 Box of Borax (76 oz)

1 Box of Washing Soda (55 oz)

3 Bars of Natural Soap, shaved

Optional (and not natural): 2 Containers of “Oxy Clean” (buy the off brand at the dollar store)

Mix all components together in a double-plastic garbage bag and then pour carefully into glass or plastic jar for storage.

{Psst! Check our blog again soon for information and instructions for creating your own natural fabric softener!}

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Penny-wise Washing

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that homemade laundry detergent costs less than the store-bought alternative. Here are the numbers to prove it.

All Free & Clear Detergent

  • 150 ounces (96 loads)
  • $11.97 ($0.12 per load)

Homemade Detergent

  • 143 ounces ( 143 loads)
  •  $9.90 ($0.07 per load)
    • Borax $3.38 for 76 ounces
    • Washing Soda $3.24 for 55 ounces
    • Kirk’s Castile Soap $3.28 for three bars

This cost could be slightly reduce by using Fels Naptha soap (instead of the Kirks Castile soap I used) and by converting baking soda to washing soda at home ($0.06 per load).

Even though there are only three of us, I average about 1 load of laundry per day. Three batches of this detergent would get me through the year with 64 loads left over. *So for $29.70 and about 15 minutes of work, I can have natural laundry detergent set for an entire year. Not too shabby…

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

 
 

Minimally Process Cookies

cookies on plate

Earlier this month I shared this post about how to make natural, homemade vanilla extract. I had no idea it would be such a hit! After posting it, one reader emailed me with the following question:

“I have a question for you in regard to a comment you made about getting rid of all your artificial stuff. I was wondering the cookie recipe you used and if you would share it? My desire is to get rid of the artificial and harmful and make as much as possible from scratch. Thanks for the help.”

First of all, I was pretty excited to get this email because it was my first reader-I’ve-never-met-responding-to-a-blog-post email I’ve ever received. Second, I’m afraid I had to respond and let this dear lady know that the cookies I referenced in my vanilla post were… in fact… deliciously filled with processed food. I did get rid of all of my artificial “baking stuff” but the way I got rid of my white chocolate chips was by making (delicious) cookies with them. The cookies I made that day tasted unbelievably amazing! Besides highly processed white candy chips, they also contained processed white flour and processed sugar (both white and brown sugar). Here’s the original recipe:

Chocolate Chip Cookies

(These are NOT minimally processed – keep reading for the minimally processed recipe)

2 ¼ Cups Flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup butter

¾ cup sugar

¾ cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon water

2 eggs

12 ounces chocolate chips

 Instructions

  1. Combine sugars and margarine with handmixer
  2. Add vanilla and water then beat until creamy
  3. Beat in eggs
  4. Add flour mixture (all dry ingredients)
  5. Stir in chocolate chips
  6. Bake at 375* for 10-12 minutes

Make Them Healthier

Despite the fact that the original recipe tastes amazing, this reader’s question sparked a desire in me to develop a less-processed recipe. To make the cookies healthier, I thought I would:

  • Substitute natural/organic whole wheat flour for white, processed flour
  • Use organic butter (I did this originally)
  • Use farm-fresh eggs (I did this originally)
  • Use natural/organic, minimally processed chocolate chips
  • Find a substitute sweetener to replaced the processed sugar

Possible contenders for sugar substitutes included:

  • Stevia
  • Honey
  • Pure maple sugar
  • Pure maple syrup

I decided not to use stevia because I frankly don’t care for the aftertaste it leaves. I don’t have any maple sugar and it’s a wee bit expensive, so I skipped on that one too. Because I have a plethora of both honey and pure (made by my father-in-law) maple syrup at home, I decided to use these as substitutes for the white and brown sugars, respectively. But then riiiight before I mixed the cookie dough I remembered that I’m also not a huge fan of the aftertaste honey sometimes leaves when baked so I decided to go all in with the maple syrup.

When I was planning to use honey I did some research on baking with honey and found the following common tips:

  • Substitute 2/3 cup of honey for each cup of sugar in the recipe
  • Reduce the amount of liquid (i.e. milk) by ¼ cup for each cup of honey used
  • Add ½ teaspoon baking soda to the recipe for every cup of honey used
  • Bake at about 25 degrees lower than called for to prevent over-browning

Maple syrup is obviously different than honey, but I decided to follow these guidelines all the same. They seem to have paid off, although you may be able to get away with just 1 teaspoon of baking soda. (Git it a try and let me know what you think.) With all that in mind, I put together the following recipe. Is it good? Yes!! Is it as delicious as the first recipe? Not so much. But if you’d like something sweet and are eager to eat minimally processed foods, they will be very satisfying. The sweetness of the cookies is very subtle while still readily satisfying that sweet-tooth desire for something sugary.

I used Semi-sweet Chocolate Mega Chunks from Enjoy Life Foods and I purchased them at Sawall Health Foods for $5.19 (10 ounces). They are dairy, nut and soy free, are certified gluten free and are also vegan. The mega chunks of chocolate contain no artificial colors, preservatives or additives. (And they’re delicious!)

Minimally Processed Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 ¼ organic whole wheat flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup organic butter, slightly softened

1 ¼ cups real maple syrup

1 teaspoon homemade vanilla extract

2 natural, homegrown eggs

10 oz natural or organic chocolate chips

Instructions

  1. Use a hand mixer to cream the butter
  2. Mix maple syrup, vanilla and eggs together on low speed
  3. Add liquids to butter and mix for about 1 minute on medium speed (be careful!) or until well blended
  4. Stir together flour, baking soda and salt
  5. Add dry ingredients to liquid and mix (with hand mixer) until smooth
  6. Stir in chocolate chips
  7. Spoon cookies onto un-greased baking sheet and bake at 350* for 10-13 minutes

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

 
 

2013 Seed Starting Plan

I’m getting giddy about spring now that I’ve purchased seeds for our 2013 gardens! I spent a lot of time looking through websites and catalogs last week to make my selections. I started my seed search having a general idea of what I wanted to grow (thanks to our members!) but I needed to explore all the available varieties for crops that have just the right qualities for our gardens. I considered things like:
  • Drought-tolerance (what if this year is like last year?)
  • Yield (plants with ‘heavy production’ sound like a winner for market gardening)
  • Days to maturity (how long it takes a crop to grow from seed to harvest time)
  • Uniqueness (it’s fun to have something special in the garden)

Once I found varieties I liked, I tried to find the best deal, which involved comparing price to the number of seeds per packet. My seed sources are listed in this blog post.

By the end of last week all of my selections were set and I was ready to order. Fortunately for me, a friend came over to swap seeds and I discovered that I had a whole heapin’ mess-o-seeds hiding out. I decided to be frugal (part of sustainability is using what you have to make the most of it) and incorporated the seeds I already owned. That meant I had to make the decision to forgo some of the more “Oh-that’s-cool!” crops I was going to buy in exchange for some of the “Well-these-are-nice…” seeds I already owned.

So now after all of that deliberation, the list of crops we’ll be growing for 2013 is complete. Click here if you’d like to see it. I won’t bore you by talking through each crop, but there are some I’m especially excited about and would like to highlight in a later post.

Starting and Transplanting Seeds

Now that it is ‘Garden Planning Season’ I’ve had many people ask me about when to start their seeds. Here’s the deal: I’m not an expert. Remember, the whole point of Arcadia Farms is to provide an opportunity for our family to develop a sustainable lifestyle and to share what we learn with others. So while I can’t pretend to offer you an authoritative answer to the “When do I start my seeds?” question, I am happy to share my thoughts and experience. (As a matter of fact, I’m looking forward to talking with some other growers/farmers this week to get their advice on when and how they start their seeds. Look for that update soon!)

If you click here you’ll find a spreadsheet that shows when I plan to start all of my seeds. (Don’t hold me to it! I may make changes… especially if I find errors!) My start dates are based on a few different factors. First, I assessed which plants do best when they are sown directly into the garden and which plants can be transplanted.  Please note that there are some plants which can be transplanted that I am choosing to direct seed under row covers. (After a few years of gardening this is something I have a pretty firm handle on. If the concept is new to you, a quick Google search like “can radishes be transplanted” should yield the info you’re looking for.) For those that can be transplanted, I tried to find information on the best age for transplanting. Next, I determined which crops could be planted before the last frost date and which needed to wait until after. (The average last frost date is the projected date on which the last hard freeze is predicted to be on during the spring.  Cool-hardy plants can survive – sometimes thrive – through some frost, but more tender plants such as tomatoes will be damaged by extreme cold and need to be planted past any danger of frost.) This factor – before or after last frost date – will be fudged a little on my part because I intend to plant some crops under plastic row covers which will warm the air/soil and protect from frost, thus allowing me to plant earlier than recommended. And finally, I determined the days to maturity for each crop. This information is usually included on the seed packet and often can be found on the distributor’s website.

Using all of this information, I setup a spreadsheet that would allow me to enter the transplant date and days to maturity to find out both when I should start my seeds and approximately when I’d have a harvest.

Would you like to try a similar approach to starting seeds? If so, you can click on the image below to download a Seed Starting Plan template. Instructions are included on the first tab.

lettuce seedlings in seed starting medium

Click on the image above to download a spreadsheet that will help you determine when to start your seeds.

The average last frost date for the Kalamazoo/Portage area in 2013 is May 18 according to www.letsgrowveggies.com. To find the average last and first frost dates for your area, click here.

Companion Planting

I’ve also recently received questions about companion planting. What is companion planting? According to Wikipedia, companion planting is “The close planting of different plants that enhance each other’s growth or protect each other from pests.” Creation is pretty cool. All of the symbiotic relationships that exist in nature are astounding. The whole thing reminds me personally that God knew what he was doing when He made it and it emphasizes the value of interdependence in all creation (including humanity!). On a practical side, companion planting is very important for organic gardening. Done well, this method can help you to fight against plant disease and pests without the use of chemicals.

Again, I’m not expert in companion planting, but here are the resources I currently use:

Source: amazon.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

thorns in the garden

Click the image above for a list of companion plants found at
http://en.wikipedia.org

Planning Your Garden

If you’re new to gardening or just have questions about how to plan yours, I would love to help (FREE)! I can help you select crops that will work well for your land, climate, family, etc. and to select a layout. Feel free to email me with any questions or garden-design requests: Katie@arcadia-farms.net.

Want Free Seeds?

Did you know that right now we’re in the process of giving away $25-worth of FREE heirloom, non-GMO seeds from Annie’s Heirloom Seeds (a Michigan-based company)? Click here to enter – it only takes 1 minute! Giveaway ends on February 16, 2013.

 
 

FREE Heirloom, Non-GMO Seeds

I am so grateful for Local Harvest. They provide an amazing interface for consumers to connect with local farmers, and if you're reading this post you're probably already convinced about the myriad reasons why that's healthy for our communities. The Local Harvest blog rules request that bloggers don't get "spammy" in their entries and out of respect for the organization, I want to be sure to abide by that request. 

However (you saw that coming, right?) Arcadia Farms (that's us!) is currently partnering with Annie's Heirloom Seeds (a Michigan-based company) to offer $25 in FREE heirloom, non-GMO seeds to one lucky winner. Since many of our Local Harvest readers are gardeners and small-scale farmers who could benefit from free seeds, I didn't want to hold out on sharing this awesome opportunity with you.  To avoid being "spammy" about it, I'll refrain from posting the giveaway app directly on this page. If you're interested in entering the giveaway, you can do so by clicking on this link: Win $25 in Heirloom, Non-GMO Seeds!

Thanks for reading our blog! Spring will be here soon! :)

 
 
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