Arcadia Farms

  (Portage, Michigan)
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Homemade Pure Maple Syrup Part 2

Last week I shared that we’ve been collecting maple sap for making our own maple syrup. It has been a great family-time endeavor and the first step – collecting maple sap – couldn’t be simpler. To learn how to collect your own maple sap, click here.

Our first batch of sap (10 gallons) has already been turned into 3 pints of golden, delicious maple syrup. (And a pint of that maple syrup has already found its way into a batch of oatmeal cookies!)

DSC03770

The first batch of syrup from Arcadia Farms!

From my perspective, the second part of the process (boiling sap to convert it to maple syrup) has been pretty easy too. That’s because my father-in-law (hereafter lovingly referred to as “Papa”) did all the work. This is Papa’s third year making homemade maple syrup and he’s figure out a thing or two about how to make it work. You can learn from his experience (along with other tidbits I’ve gathered from the web and a book called Backyard Sugarin’: A Complete How-To Guide by Rink Mann) to discover how to make your own syrup too.

To start, I’d like to give you a general overview of how the sap-to-syrup process works. Put simply, you need to:

  1. Collect sap from maple trees.
  2. Boil sap so that the water evaporates and the sugary syrup remains.

Easy-peasy, right? Essentially, it is. But there are nuances to boiling sap that are critical to understand if you’re going to end up with maple syrup instead of a gooey, burned mess. As Rink Mann puts it:

“the process involves boiling the sap so that the water in the sap evaporates off in the form of steam, leaving the sugar behind in the boiling pan. Sounds simple, doesn’t it, and it really is, although at certain stages of the process , particularly as you’re getting your brew close to being syrup, there can be terrifying moments. Remember, we’re talking about starting with, say, 33 gallons of sap and ending with 1 gallon of syrup.”

 Click here for the rest of this article, which includes the following info:

 
 

10 Ways to Save Money on Food

pie chart

If your household is similar to ours, the grocery slice of the budget pie is sizable enough to get your attention. Most “experts” recommend budgeting 14-20% of your take home pay for food (groceries, lattes, eating at restaurants, etc.). A recent study shows however that Americans are spending less on average than ever before on groceries – 11% of income. That might sound like good news, but consider the story behind the numbers.

A separate study from 2012 shows that while prices – for meat in particular – have gone down, American consumption has in fact gone up or remained the same. What happened? The advent of the factory-farm has succeeded in pushing the price of meat way down. A 2012 article by Tom Philpott (The American Diet in 1 Chart) explains the phenomenon well:

“American eaters have gotten a windfall from the the era of cheap meat that dawned in the early ’80s. Meat prices tumbled as small farms shuttered, to be replaced by massive factory-scale farms that stuffed animals with cheap, subsidized corn and soy and kept them alive and growing to slaughter weight with daily doses of antibiotics. Regulators looked the other way as these gigantic facilities created messes they didn’t have to pay to clean up. Meanwhile, as Mother Jones’ Ted Genoways showed in his blockbuster piece last year on Hormel, corporate meatpackers managed to bust unions, speed up kill lines, and drive down employee wages. It all added up to bargain-priced meat.”

What America Spends On Groceries

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Credit: Lam Thuy Vo / NPR

Consequently, our consumption of processed (read: cheap) food has skyrocketed. In 1982, 11.6% of a family’s budget was spent on processed food and sweets. Today processed food tops the budget break down at 22.9% of the budget, followed by meat (21.5%), fruits and veggies (14.6%), Grains and Baked goods (14.4%), beverages (11.1%) and dairy products (10.6%). So in layman’s terms, we spend less money on food now because the bulk of our diet is ‘food’ processed and engineered with more regard to its cost than its quality.

Save Money, Eat Healthy

So what do you do if you’re interested in saving money AND eating healthy? Don’t despair  – here are some tips.

Cook at Home

When you buy pre-packaged food or eat at a restaurant, you’re paying for more than just the ingredients you consume. (Someone has to pay to keep the lights on, right?) With practice, cooking at home can be just as delicious (sometimes more delicious!) than eating out. Eating at home can save you up to $2,600 a year! And with some savvy, budget-friendly tips (like the tips you’re about to read) you can save even more money! If you’ve never been much of a cook, don’t let that stop you. (Everyone has to start somewhere, right?) I recommend beginning your journey into homemade meals by using a crock pot. It’s so easy – I promise – and the great-tasting meals you produce will give you a boost of confidence to try something new!

Make a Plan

Like a lot of things in life, it’s hard to win without a plan. Your grocery plan starts long before you jump in the car to head to Meijer. Here are some tips. First, keep a pad of paper in an accessible area (on the side of the fridge?) so that you can keep track of grocery needs on an ongoing basis. Did you use the last of the olive oil? Write it down now so you don’t forget it later. The next two tips go hand-in-hand – make a menu and check for sales. Making a menu (meal planning) helps you make purchases that will form complete meals rather than buying a bunch of things that sound good but don’t add up to a complete meal. Having a pre-made meal plan saves time as well because you don’t have to figure out what to make each night. Planning a menu around what’s on sale will naturally save you money. The next tip is to take stock of what you already have so you don’t buy unnecessary duplicates. All of this should be complete by the night before you’re going shopping: Menu created (check!); Inventory taken (check!); List created (check!). Now when you get to the store, you’ll be able to stick to your list without worrying that you’ve forgotten something, and perhaps with a little more resolve to skip over impulse buys! (You can also decrease impulse purchases – like a candy bar at the checkout aisle – by having a small snack before you go shopping).

grocery bag

Buy (and Preserve) Produce In-Season

There are lots of great reasons to buy produce when it is in-season. First of all, the taste is so much better than out-of-season veggies that you may never want to go back! Second, buying in-season, local produce (check out your local farmers market) is great for your community and area farmers. And third of all, it costs less to buy food in-season than it does to buy it when it has to be grown hundreds of miles away and shipped to you through the snow. And if you team up with tip #9 below, you could save even more money at the farmer’s market; Many sellers are willing to give you a discount for buying large amounts of produce if you ask politely. Worried about what you’ll do with all those [fill in the blank here]? If you can’t eat it all now, preserve some of it! Can it, freeze it, dry it. Don’t be intimidated – you can find tons of how-to help on the web (or by asking your Grandma). Then in January when you want wholesome [fill in the blank here] you can skip the trucked-in-from-California produce section of your grocery store and turn to your pantry instead.

Use Sales and Coupons

I confess – I missed the Extreme Couponing movement. I’m not coupon-wielding expert, but I do know that the Sunday paper is full of coupons. As long as those coupons are for things you will actually use, you can save money by using them. Consider taking advantage of frequency type clubs for items you usually buy or places you usually shop (i.e. “buy 10 get the 11th free”). Meijer has a great website (and a great app for your mobile device) for looking up sales. Planning meals around what’s on sale can save you big bucks. If you can swing it, try keeping a “Sale Fund” set aside (perhaps $50 or $100) so that when a great sale comes up, you can stock up and fill your freezer. (Earlier this year we scored some unbelievable Buy One, Get Two type deals at Harding’s… our freezer has never been so full of meat!) Just remember – using a coupon to buy something you otherwise wouldn’t buy doesn’t save you money, even if you get 10% off.

Buy in Bulk

Our favorite place to buy in bulk is from Country Life Natural Foods in Pullman, MI. It’s quite a drive (about an hour) from our home in South Portage, but if you buy several things at once, the trip is worthwhile. We’ve saved money on organic Quinoa (a year’s supply for $30), a year’s worth of honey (1 gallon for $38.50) and 7 pounds of coconut oil ($12.90). They have practically everything you can think of and some of it is Michigan-made. Check out their catalog here. To save even more money, carpool with a friend (thanks Darci!) or take orders from each other and take turns doing the pick up. I’ve never tried it but apparently they also deliver for certain order sizes. We also now save money by buying our herbs and spices in bulk at Sawall Health Foods in Kalamazoo.

Leftovers? What Leftovers?

A great way to save on food is to avoid wasting it. Plan your meals to make the most of leftovers. Here’s an example from our life: Every other Sunday we have a roasted chicken for dinner with carrots, potatoes, peas, beans, onions or other in-season veggies. Monday I use the leftover chicken and veggies in a meal like chicken salad over spinach or a chicken pot pie. After that, I turn the chicken carcass into stock and make soup with it (sometimes using remaining veggies from Sunday’s roast). Even sour milk can be saved from going to waste! You can’t stretch everything that far, but there are lots of leftovers that would go great in an omelet, a salad or soup. If all else fails, send unwanted leftovers to the compost bin rather than the garbage can.

Brown Bag Lunch

lunch bag

A great way to bloat your food budget is to eat out for lunch every day. When my day job involved working from an office instead of working from my living room I discovered some tips to making the brown bag lunch work. I don’t know about you, but there were typically three reasons why I ate lunch at a restaurant instead of from a lunch bag. The biggest hurdle to jump is just remembering to bring a lunch. If you’re serious about saving money, taking a few minutes the night before to pack tomorrow’s lunch is key. Another issue: What’s in the bag just doesn’t sound appetizing. The simplest way to avoid that conundrum is to bring food you’ll look forward to eating! My main way of addressing this was to make fabulous dinners and make sure there were always leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch.  The other reason I skipped a bagged lunch was because I just needed to get out of the office! In warm weather, you can accomplish the same thing by taking your lunch to a nearby park. In yucky weather, sometimes just sitting in your car provides enough peace and quiet to count as “getting away.” I also made sure to bring or keep healthy snacks at work to curb my desire to buy a little something in the afternoon. I always had something sweet (yogurt, a cucumber, dried fruit, etc.) and something salty (crackers, mixed nuts, etc.) on hand to keep my snacking healthy and cheap.You could save more money by stashing homemade snacks like granola.

Frozen and Dried

Frozen and dried fruits and vegetables are less expensive than fresh and in some cases contain the same amount of nutrients. Resealable packaging helps you avoid waste. For tips on how to store frozen vegetables so they keep as long as possible, click here.

Use Cheaper Protein

Meat is expensive. If beef and chicken are choking your budget, try getting your protein in other ways such as beans, eggs, quinoa or legumes. If you grow your own (including raising backyard chickens for eggs) think of all the money you could save by opting for non-meat alternatives. For fabulous egg recipes, click here.

Shop at Home

Overhead of Gardening Woman

Starting this spring, we hope to transition to a family that produces more of our food rather than buying it elsewhere. What if you could remove vegetables, fruit and herbs from your grocery list because you’re shopping in the backyard? Now think about what a difference it would make to take eggs, milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, bread and maybe even meat off the list? We may not all be able to raise our own meat birds or raise goats for milk, but almost everyone (even apartment dwellers) can grow fresh herbs and vegetables. By using an intensive planting method (like Square Foot Gardening) you can grow a surprising amount of food in a small space. Start small with a garden size you’ll be able to easily manage. I think you’ll be amazed at how much you get – and how much you’ll save!

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

 
 

Benefits of Gardening

If you’re a gardener, you know that gardening brings more than just fresh veggies into your life. Spending some time outdoors, digging in the dirt and tending to your plants can merit health, mental, financial and communitybenefits. Here’s a ‘lil infographic to illustrate the point. (Click on the image below to enlarge it)

{Image Credit} www.lochnesswatergardens.com

{Image Credit}
www.lochnesswatergardens.com

 
 

Celebrate Easter Without Sugar

Sunbeams Backlighting Cross

Easter is coming! On Sunday March 31 our family will be celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. While the Easter Bunny doesn’t make an appearance during our celebration (we prefer to shoot any giant rodents found sneaking into the house) we do incorporate things like Easter baskets, dyed eggs and getting all dressed up to have breakfast with our friends and family at church. Since we’re focused on avoiding processed food and artificial dyes, I spent some time looking for more natural ways to fill Owen’s basket this year. Here are some celebration ideas your family can use as well.

{P.S. I hope to make Owen’s basket as local as possible. If I have time, I’ll post pictures and sources for Owen’s local-centric Easter basket before the big day!}

Naturally Dyed Easter Eggs

Artificial dye is poison. Did you know that some artificial dyes are banned from inclusion in our cosmetics and medicines, yet food manufacturers are permitted to include them in our food? Many of these same substances are banned in other countries. Why? Because they have been linked to health issues like cancer and hyperactivity in children. For more info on the hazards of artificial dyes (and ideas for natural food dyes) click here. For more on how to dye your Easter eggs naturally, check out the video below.

 

Cake (Pancake?) Filled Eggs

Another fun surprise you could put together would be baking cupcakes inside real egg shells. I love this idea! Owen and I enjoyed doing this project together. We tried a little variation – first we dyed the eggs, then we baked the cupcakes inside them. We learned that natural dyes don’t withstand the heat of baking quite as beautifully as artificial ones. (That’s why this post doesn’t feature any of our ultimately brownish-greenish cupcake eggs!) I’m going to try filling some eggs with pancakes to eat on Easter morning… we’ll see how that turns out.

We also tried a slight variation of the recipe included in the tutorial you see below. Here’s our own twist on the recipe created by the Cupcake Project.

What you’ll need:

  • 9 large eggs (Only one will get used in the cake.  The rest are just used for the shells.)
  • 1/2 C flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1/3 C real maple syrup
  • 1/4 C unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp homemade vanilla extract
  • 1/4 C vanilla or plain yogurt

We mixed the dry and wet ingredients separately and then mixed them together with an electric mixer. Also, if you have trouble getting the egg to come out of the shell, try poking a teeny-tiny hole at the other end and blowing it out (Owen loved this… despite thinking it was disgusting). Also, my skills with a piping bag are about as great as Kanye West’s public speaking abilities, so I opted to use a medicine syringe (the kind you use for giving a toddler pain medicine) instead – worked beautifully!

Easter Cupcakes 11

{Photo Credit}
www.cupcakeproject.com

Non-Candy Easter Basket Prizes

A chocolate bunny and jelly beans are usually staple candies in an Easter basket. Here are some basket ideas that will make your kids “hoppy” without the sugar buzz-and-crash routine following typical sweets.

Sidewalk Chalk

Source: etsy.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

Homemade Bubbles

Sealed container + cute label + bubble wand (check the party store) = tons of fun for little ones! What if it’s cold outside? Are you kidding – have you ever experienced the fun of frozen bubbles? Regardless of what the weather’s doing, this one is a total win!

 

All-Natural, Chocolate-Covered Sunflower Seeds

As yummy as they are colorful!

Source: nuts.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

Homemade Treats

What kid wouldn’t like to get a stack of cookies as a gift? Try our own minimally processed (no processed sugar) cookies or perhaps some homemade granola.

 

Source: babble.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

Seeds

Some plants are super easy to grow. Owen has his own garden (4 x 8 raised bed) and loves sharing cucumbers with his friends during the summer. Give your little one some cucumber, watermelon or sunflower seeds and initiate them into the wonder of spring.

 

Dinosaur Egg Cucumbers… What kid wouldn’t want to go dinosaur egg hunting in his own backyard??

 

[pin]

Stuffed Animals

Source: etsy.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

Turn your child’s drawing (no matter how wild!) into a stuffed animal. So cool!

 

Jump Rope

This jump rope (found on Etsy.com) is personalized.

Source: etsy.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

Sports Balls

Warmer weather is coming, so give your little one something to play with outdoors. A frisbee or a kites are great too!

Source: meijer.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

Books

Source: amazon.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

Crayons

These crayons are all natural. You can find more natural crayons on Etsy.com in many shapes, sizes and colors.

Source: etsy.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

Source: etsy.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

Craft Supplies

Source: etsy.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

All Natural Candy

Ok. It’s candy, I know. But if you absolutely can’t manage to go without giving your child sweets for Easter, why not buy allergy-sensitive, all-natural treats? Here’s a source.

 

Resurrection Cookies

We’ve never made resurrection cookies before, but it’s a tradition I’ve heard about from family and friends. The recipe and baking process are used as an illustration for the story of Jesus sacrifice and resurrection. Pretty straight-forward, family-friendly stuff. We may give it a whirl this year to see if there’s a way to make it with less (or no!) sugar. For a pictures and instructions, click on the image below.

{Photo Credit} www.motherhoodonadime.com

{Photo Credit}
www.motherhoodonadime.com

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

 
 

Wish List Wednesday | Raised Garden Bed Ideas

Wish List Wednesday | Raised Garden Beds

Welcome to another Wish List Wednesday! On the third Wednesday of every month I’m sharing about all sorts of things I’d like to have, try or know more about. So far I’ve brought you lists on things from solar-powered garden gadgets to garden apps for your mobile device. To see all of my Wish List Wednesday posts so far, click here.

Today’s wish list is all about raised garden beds – various ways to build them, along with some snazzy accessories to make garden more enjoyable. I’m a big fan of raised beds. To learn more about the advantages of gardening in raised beds, read the Try Square Foot Gardening section of this article.

Raised Bed Ideas

Herb Spiral Made with 2 x 4?s

raised bed herb spiral

Use a Living Hedge

For those of us who grew up in the 80?s – LOOK – we can now have a grown-up cabbage patch!

living hedge

$10 Raised Beds – Made from Cedar!!

10 dollar cedar bed

Straw-Bale Raised Beds Have Unique Advantages

straw bale raised bed

We’ve got more! Click here to see 19 additional pictures of raised garden beds. Our collection includes unique, beautiful and practical solutions to get your creativity flowing!

 
 

You Can Make Washing Soda at Home

convert baking soda to washing soda

About a month ago I shared info on how to create your own homemade laundry detergent and fabric softener. We’ve been using this detergent since mid-February and it works great! Even though we won’t run out for months, I recently bought supplies to make another batch. This time I’m going to try making detergent with Fels Naptha soap. (I already had three bars of soap so I just needed to buy borax and washing soda).

To have a full year’s supply of homemade laundry detergent, I’m going to need to make a third batch. When I get there I’m gonna break all the rules {BWAHAHAHAHA!} and use baking soda… well… kind of…

While meandering around the world wide web checking out detergent “recipes”, I happened upon this little gem: A tutorial for making your own washing soda!

Click here for the tutorial.

 
 

Great News!

apple boy

At the beginning of this year Arcadia Farms teamed up with two other local growers to respond to a proposal for providing fresh, naturally and locally grown veggies to a local childcare facility. We’re so excited to let you know that our growers group will be providing fresh veggies to the precious little ones of Adventures Learning Centers (in Portage) as part of their Encouraging Adventurous Eaters Project! I’m really excited about veggie brokering (helping other growers sell their produce) and expect that this will be a great partnership!

 
 

Homemade Pure Maple Syrup

drilling holes for maple sap syrup tapMy father-in-law (hereafter lovingly referred to as “Papa”) is currently in his third year of making homemade maple syrup from his own trees. Last year he made an abundance and we’ve been blessed with as much free, pure maple syrup as our little pancakes hearts can handle. I’ve been eager to try making our own syrup ever since it dawned on me that we have some maple trees of our own (four of them, in fact). I’m especially interested in making my own maple sugar. Since this is my first year and I’m getting a late start, I doubt I’ll end up with a large volume of finished product. But just like everything else, you’ve got to start somewhere! I’m hoping I’ll get enough experience this year to be able to make a decent supply (maybe a whole year’s worth?) of maple sugar next year. Next year maybe I’ll even wear this t-shirt while I work.

Why would I want to make that much maple sugar? Namely because I think it would be a fabulous, “healthier” alternative to highly-processed, non-local cane sugar. Pure maple syrup is also way better than a bottle of anything Aunt Jemima can cook up. Have you ever read the label on store-bought syrup? Here’s the label from a bottle I found lingering in the disarray of our fridge (soon to meet its destiny in the garbage can):

Take a peak at what's in store-bought syrup.

Take a peak at what’s in store-bought syrup.

Boo. My maple syrup will contain only two ingredients: Maple syrup and love.

So far, maple sugarin’ (<– said with my best hick accent) has been pretty easy. Here’s the skinny on what we’ve done so far and how you can make your own pure maple syrup too!

How to Make Maple Syrup and Sugar

The basic concept of making maple syrup is easy. First, you gather sap from maple trees. Next, you boil the sap down until the water evaporates and the sugary-sweet syrup remains. To make maple sugar, you continue to boil the syrup until it crystallizes. The general rule is that you’ll need about 40 gallons of sap to get 1 gallon of syrup. That 1 gallon of syrup will net you about 8 pounds of sugar. Of course there are details and nuances to the process that you’ll need to know, but that’s the process in a nutshell.

Papa lent me a book called Backyard Sugarin’: A Complete How-To Guide (by Rink Mann) to help me get started. The book is short, to-the-point and a good practical guide. I spent about 15 minutes reading before our tree-tapping adventure yesterday and felt fully equipped. Most of the information I’m going to share with you in the rest of this post either came from Papa’s advice or this book.

Click here to read the rest of this article, which includes the following headings:

 
 

Keeping a Garden Journal

Stack of Notebooks

I’m not a scientist by trade or education, but I have to say that I nerdishly enjoy experiments. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I enjoy continuous improvement and believe that trail-and-error lessons are one of the best ways to make things better.

Gardening is no exception to the “learn from your mistakes” rule. In fact, some of the best gardeners I’ve met tell me that their ‘secret’ is to simply observe nature and do their best to follow it. Observation is key to good gardening.

All the same, if you’re like me you’re likely to forget next year what you observed this year. Enter the garden journal!

Why Keep a Garden Journal

A garden journal is a tool you can use to keep track of important garden stats and observations such as temperatures, rainfall, planting dates, fertilizer applications, pest control measures and more. Being able to look back on this information will help you to plan for next year (“Did our pest-control methods work or not?”) and it 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.

How to Keep a Garden Journal

There are many ways to keep a garden journal. Your journal can be as simple as a notebook you make daily observations in or a complex binder with sections for different topics. The main purpose is to provide you with relevant data that you can use to plan (and improve!) next year’s garden. Start simple. That way, you’ll be more likely to stick with it. And after you discover the value in garden journaling, you can always add more detail later.

Click here to read the rest of this article, including links to free garden journals.

 
 

Shady Vegetable Garden Plans

A few weeks ago I shared on our Facebook page that I was getting excited about ordering seeds for 2013. Our friend and CSA customer Joli Lorion-Fytczyk commented asking about what sorts of plants to grow in a shaded yard. What a wonderful question! She got me thinking about what types of things they could grow at home. If you have a heavily shaded yard, these tips could help you too.

So what can you grow in shade? Here are ten veggies that can grow in 3 to 6 hours of sun.

  1. Salad Greens (leaf lettuce, arugula, endive, cress, and radicchio)
  2. Leafy Greens (collards, mustard greens, spinach, and kale)
  3. Broccoli
  4. Cauliflower
  5. Peas
  6. Beets
  7. Brussels Sprouts
  8. Radishes
  9. Swiss Chard
  10. Beans

After talking with Joli about factors that influence her garden space, I’ve put together a few Shaded Vegetable Garden Plans that with any luck (fingers crossed!) will bring her and her husband Josh some veggies this season. (Because they are also our CSA customers I tried to choose plants that we are either not growing at all or are growing in limited quantities. That way, they’ll get more variety out of their summer rather than heaping amounts of the same thing.) The varieties I selected were chosen either because they are especially shade-tolerant or because of their beautiful color. Here are some of the factors we discussed and that you should consider for your garden.

Click here to read the rest of this article, including 6 tips for a healthy, shaded vegetable garden and free, printable pre-made garden plans.

 
 

Sourdough Bread for Gluten Intolerance?

SAMSUNG

Last week I shared that I brought home two large boxes of frozen grass-fed beef only to find that our second freezer wasn’t working. Our best guess – thanks to input from a friend and reader – is that the garage freezer stopped working because it is attached to a refrigerator which also stops working when the temperature outside is colder than the temperature inside the appliance. We expect it to start working again once the weather warms up. I wasn’t about to let hundreds of dollars of meat go to waste so I got busy clearing space in the kitchen freezer. (Our neighbor graciously offered to store half of the beef.)

My kitchen adventures that day included dehydrating veggies, toasting hot dog buns into breadcrumbs and stumbling upon a sourdough starter lingering in the back of the fridge. The starter had been there since September… obviously I forgot about it. No worries though – the flavor of sourdough just gets better with age.

Click here to read the rest of this article, including info on:

 
 

Heating the Greenhouse

When I was growing up my mom always had a countdown to spring. I’m not a fan of cold weather, or snow, or the cold-meets-muddy mess that is early spring in Michigan. For all those reasons I always joyfully joined into the countdown. And for all of those reasons I was always sorely disappointed. Here’s why: Mom counted down to The First Day of Spring… as in the little square on the calendar that tells us the day of the astronomical vernal equinox has arrived (March 20 this year). In Michigan, that usually means it is still cold, possibly snowy and muddy beyond belief. Once I became a teenager and wised up to all of this, I vehemently refused to participate in the countdown to avoid the imminent disappointment. I’ve learned that it’s best not to expect spring until May.

Expecting that warm weather won’t be here until May has implications for our greenhouse. In order to plant by the phases of the moon and have my transplants ready for the garden by the time our last frost date passes I have to start seeds as early as next Monday (March 11). We don’t have room in our tiny house to store the thousands of seeds I plan to start in March and April so they need to go elsewhere. The greenhouse is naturally a good candidate. This time of year there should be plenty of light to keep my seedlings happy during the day, however, the temperature is still well below freezing most days. We need a heater.

Sustainable Heater?

Enter my desire for low-cost, sustainable processes. We have an electric space heater in the greenhouse which did a fine job of heating our 6’ x 6’ space this fall. I was hoping to find something a little more sustainable – or at least less expensive – to do the job. Here are some of the things I considered (solar powered heater, terracotta pot heater and rocket stove) :

[pin here]

Source: youtube.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

Choices, Choices

Of all the options I decided to try the terracotta pot heater. Online reviews from other users seemed to indicate that the heater didn’t give off as much heat as they had hoped but it still “worked.” One person said it could be used to heat a small room. A 6’ x 6’ greenhouse is a pretty small room so I felt optimistic. Plus I already have plenty of pots so materials wouldn’t’ be very costly. Materials include:

  • Two terracotta pots (10? and 12?)
  • Lamp
  • Heat bulb
  • 2” threaded bolt (1/2 inch diameter)
  • 8 washers
  • 4 bolts

I decided to use a light bulb instead of a candle because I felt the energy would be more consistent and then I wouldn’t have to buy a supply of candles. (If I ever needed to use the heater with a candle instead of a light bulb, that would still be an option.) We’re preparing for chickens so I recently bought a pack of two 250W heat bulbs. Using a lamp I already own, I tested the heater by placing a large pot over the bulb. Presto – heat!

Next I went to Home Depot and bought the bolt and a handful of washers and nuts.  I used the bolt to thread the 10” pot inside the 12” pot.

terra cotta pots threaded together

Then I setup the lamp (used an extension cord from the garage), surrounded it by 6” pots placed upside down (like a tripod) and set the threaded pots over the lamp (resting on the 6” pots).

terra cotta pot heater with heat lamp

terra cotta pot heater

In very little time the pots began to heat up – a lot!! I even burned myself on the bolt once. But alas, after several tests I determined that the heater at best was making a 1-3* difference in the air temperature of the greenhouse. And that at best difference was happening in the afternoon when I need it least. At night time (when I need it most) there was no measurable difference at all. Even if I had two or three of these bad boys, I don’t think it would help.

Bummer.

Oh Mr. Sun

The good news is that since I was monitoring the greenhouse temperature closely for several days I noticed that the sun has reached a point in the sky where it is adequately heating the greenhouse during the day. Today it is 100+ degrees in there with just solar heating! So long as we continue to have moderately sunny days, I think I’ll be able to get away with letting the sun keep my plants warm (above 60*) during the day and using the electric heater at night. If time allows, I’d like to try making a small rocket stove to use at night. No promises there, but if it happens, you can be sure that I’ll share my findings with you.

Does anyone have tips for how they heat their greenhouse? Any creative ideas you’d like me to try?

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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