Arcadia Farms

  (Portage, Michigan)
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How to Make Homemade Butter

wpid CAM03139 1024x759 How to Make Homemade Butter

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).

wpid PicsArt 1395688899006 1024x759 How to Make Homemade Butter

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.

wpid CYMERA 20140324 135231 How to Make Homemade Butter

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.
 
 

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!)

 
 

Where to Find Raw Milk

7.9milk

{Image Credit}
www.mercola.com

Last week I wrote about the benefits of raw milk (and the irony of the corresponding dangers of pasteurized milk.) In that post I said that I would be bringing you answers to the following questions:

  1. If it’s illegal to sell raw milk in Michigan, how am I going to (legally) get it?
  2. Where can I get raw milk?
  3. Show me the numbers – how much is it really going to cost me?
  4. What about milk from animals other than cows, like sheep and goats?

In this post I’ll be answering the first three questions. The fourth question regarding milk from animals other than cows will wait until next week. Despite the fact that raw goat’s milk has lots of health benefits and I personally like the taste, I can’t convince my family to go that route. That’s a bummer because many of my farming friends and acquaintances are goat farmers. Just because we won’t be enjoying milk from a goat share doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have the opportunity – more on that next week!

How to Legally Buy Raw Milk in Michigan

Did you know that Michigan was the first state in the U.S. to ban the sale of raw milk? Silly Mitten… Despite the ban on milk in its healthiest form, farmers and attorneys have discovered a way to get around this legal hurdle. It may be illegal to sell raw milk but it is still legal to drink raw milk from a cow that you own. Don’t worry – you don’t have to run out and buy a cow (and hope your neighbors won’t notice the mooing from your garage). Instead, you can lease a cow from a local farmer. This arrangement is called a herdshare and it typically involves a boarding fee (for the care of your cow) and share fees (which cover the cost of milk).

Where to Find Raw Milk in Southwest Michigan

I found this fabulous website called www.realmilk.com that provided information about raw milk farmers in Michigan as well as an overview of each farm. Using this list, I narrowed my research down to a few farms within 100 miles of us which sell cow’s milk. You may want to look into some of the other farms listed, but here are the farms I researched.

Hickory Creek Dairy


 http://www.hickorycreekdairy.com

Location: Baroda, Michigan

Delivery: Delivers to Benton Harbor; On-farm pick up available; Willing to deliver to Kalamazoo/Portage Area (see Other Notes)

Type of Milk: Cow

Type of Herd: Unknown

Farming Practices: Raised on pasture from early spring to late fall (grass-fed); Hay in winter; Non-GMO grain only when milking; No hormones; Antibiotics only as necessary for infections but never as a pre-treatment; If antibiotics are used, that cow’s milk is withheld for 96 hours (double the recommended withhold time).

Herd Lease (Annual): $57

Share Fee (Monthly): N/A

Price Per Gallon: $6.50

Annual Cost (1 Gallon/Week): $395

Half Shares Available: Unknown

Other Notes: A share of Hickory Creek Dairy allows you to purchase up to three gallons of milk per week – an excellent option for those who want additional milk for cheese, butter and yogurt making! Hickory Creek also sells cheese, butter and cream.

Also, Hickory Creek Dairy is willing to deliver to the Kalamazoo/Portage area if there is a standing order of at least 12 gallons of milk from herdshare owners. If you are interested in purchasing milk from Shafer’s, please contact me as soon as possible to make arrangements: katie@arcadia-farms.net. This is an excellent opportunity to help a Southwest Michigan farmer increase business with mutual benefit to those of us who want convenient access to healthier milk.

Moo-nique Dairy



http://www.mooniquedairy.com

Location: Vandalia, Michigan

Delivery: Monday deliveries to Portage and Thursday deliverers to Kalamazoo; on-farm pick-up available

Type of Milk: Cow

Type of Herd: A2 Jersey

Farming Practices: Raised on pasture (intensively, rotationally grazed) from early spring to late fall (grass-fed); Hay in winter and as a free-choice (they eat it if they want it) feed year-round; Free-choice non-GMO minerals and molasses lick available to herd; Non-GMO grain only when milking; No hormones; Antibiotics if necessary to save a cow’s life but never as a pre-treatment; If antibiotics are used, that cow’s milk is withheld for “a very long time.”

Herd Lease (Annual): $10

Share Fee (Monthly): $27

Annualized Price Per Gallon: $6.23

Annual Cost (1 Gallon/Week): $334

Half Shares Available: Yes

Other Notes: A share of Moo-nique Dairy entitles you to one gallon of milk per week – since some months have five weeks it brings the cost per gallon down slightly. Moo-nique also provides raw milk cheese (aged appropriately so that it is legal) and Greek yogurt made from their milk. Both are available to herdshare owners only. Cheese: $8.50/pound. Yogurt: $5.99/quart.

Bluebird Farm


http://www.bluebirdfarmandorchard.com

Location: Three Rivers, Michigan

Delivery: None currently; Delivery to Portage or Three Rivers may be negotiable

Type of Milk: Cow

Type of Herd: A2 Jersey

Farming Practices: Raised on pasture April to October, weather permitting (grass-fed); Hay in winter (alfalfa, grass); Non-GMO grain only when milking; No hormones; Antibiotics only as necessary for infections but never as a pre-treatment; If antibiotics are used, that cow’s milk is withheld for several days

Herd Lease (Annual): $25

Share Fee (Monthly): $35

Annualized Price Per Gallon: $8.56

Annual Cost (1 Gallon/Week): $445

Half Shares Available: Yes

Other Notes: Bluebird Farm is a low-carbon farm. For example, they use a team of draft horses for haymaking operations, clipping pastures, logging, plowing, and cultivation. This commitment to sustainable farming may mean more time and expense than conventional practices, however the result is as natural a product as you can find. For those who are willing to pay a little extra for dramatically reduced impact on the environment, I encourage you to read more about their farm philosophy by clicking here.

Step-N-Thyme Farm


http://www.localharvest.org/step-n-tyme-farm-M8862

NOTE: I was not able to connect with this farm so all information listed is simply that which I was able to glean from the internet. Click on the link above for contact info.

Location: Scotts, Michigan

Delivery: Unknown

Type of Milk: Cow

Type of Herd: Unknown

Farming Practices: Pasture-grazed cows. No hormones or antibiotics used with any animal on the farm.

What Will It Cost Me?

While I’m sure you’ve already taken stock of the prices listed above, I thought I’d provide a quick-references summary of prices for these farms as compared to the cost of store-bought milk, namely Meijer Organic milk.

Milk Price Chart Organic

In addition to the costs of milk for drinking and baking, I’m working out comparisons for the cost of other dairy products such as cheese, butter and yogurt. Stay tuned! And don’t forget to check back next week to learn more about the benefits and costs of local goat’s milk!

 
 

Why Raw Milk?

Why Raw Milk?One of the commitments our family made as part of the Locavore90 challenge is to find local sources for our meat, eggs and dairy. This week I had the privilege of speaking with several local dairy farmers as part of my search for the right source of our family’s milk. As I began thinking through our personal dairy needs I started asking myself a bunch of questions, like…
  • Should we even be drinking milk?
  • Why is it again that I want to drink raw milk?
  • How much am I willing to pay for local, raw milk?
  • How am I going to find a way to purchase enough milk to drink and make our own butter and cheese?

That’s when it occurred to me that before I can share information with you about where to find local, raw milk, first I should share about why you should find local, raw milk.

Local and Raw

Yes, I said local. If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, that shouldn’t be a surprise to you. After all, the mission of our farm revolves around buying local and Locavore90 is all about incorporating more local foods into the diets of families in Southwest Michigan. (If you’ve not yet become convinced that buying your food locally is beneficial to the health of your wallet, your body and your community, click here.)

I also said raw. This post may be a little long, but it will explain to you why during our Locavore90 conversations about dairy I will be talking exclusively about milk that is:

  • Local (see above)
  • Raw (unpasteurized)
  • From grass-fed animals
  • For cow’s milk, from A2 cows only

 

Raw Milk

Research – both scientific and anecdotal – suggests that raw milk has several health benefits not retained by its pasteurized counterpart. Or perhaps a more accurate way to say it is that pasteurized milk has been altered in ways that reduce its health benefits and, in some cases, actually cause the milk to be more harmful than healthful.

The general premise is that raw milk contains proteins, antibodies, a perfect balance of minerals and good bacteria that are destroyed, altered or diminished during the heating process of pasteurization.

Pasteurization

According to Wikipedia:

“Pasteurization… is a process of heating a food, which is usually a liquid, to a specific temperature for a predefined length of time and then immediately cooling it after it is removed from the heat. This process slows spoilage caused by microbial growth in the food.

Unlike sterilization, pasteurization is not intended to kill all micro-organisms in the food. Instead, it aims to reduce the number of viable pathogens so they are unlikely to cause disease (assuming the pasteurized product is stored as indicated and is consumed before its expiration date). Commercial-scale sterilization of food is not common because it adversely affects the taste and quality of the product. Certain foods, such as dairy products, may be superheated to ensure pathogenic microbes are destroyed.”

In general terms, Americans pasteurize milk to reduce the possibility of “viable pathogens” causing disease or spoilage in the milk. Sounds good, right? But in reality “some research suggests that unpasteurized milk contains antimicrobial components absent in pasteurized milk. These studies found that pathogens grow more slowly or die more quickly when added to raw milk than when added to heat-treated milk. This does not mean that raw milk cannot be contaminated with bacteria, nor does it mean that raw milk ‘kills pathogens’. Rather, unpasteurized milk may be somewhat less susceptible to contamination than pasteurized milk due to its probiotic bacteria and antimicrobial enzymes.”

Natural News provided an excellent overview of the health benefits of raw milk – all of the things we’re missing out on when we drink commercially pasteurized milk from feed-lot cows. Here is a verbatim copy of the info they shared here.

Proteins

Raw cow’s milk has all 20 of the standard amino acids, which saves our bodies the work of having to convert any into usable form. About 80% of the proteins in milk are caseins (reasonably heat stable but easy to digest). The other 20% fall into the class of whey proteins. These are also easy to digest, but also very heat sensitive.

The immunoglobulins are an extremely complex class of milk proteins also known as antibodies. These provide resistance to many viruses, bacteria and bacterial toxins and may also help reduce the severity of asthma symptoms. Research has shown a significant loss of these important disease fighters when milk is pasteurized.

Carbohydrates

Lactose is the primary carbohydrate in cow’s milk. It is made from one molecule each of the simple sugars glucose and galactose. People with lactose intolerance do not make the enzyme lactase and so cannot digest milk sugar. Raw milk has its lactose-digesting Lactobacilli bacteria intact. This may allow people who traditionally have avoided milk to drink raw milk.

Fats

about two thirds of the fat in milk is saturated. Saturated fats play a number of important roles in our bodies. They construct cell membranes and key hormones, they provide energy storage and padding for delicate organs, and they serve as a vehicle for important fat-soluble vitamins.

Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) is abundant in milk from pastured cows. This is a heavily studied, polyunsaturated Omega-6 fatty acid that has promising health benefits. Some of CLA’s many possible benefits are (1) it raises metabolic rates; (2) it helps remove abdominal fat; (3) it boosts muscle growth; (4) it reduces resistance to insulin; and (5) it strengthens the immune system and lowers food allergy reactions. Grass-fed raw milk has 3-5 times more CLAs than the milk from feed-lot cows.

Vitamins

Whole raw milk has both water and fat soluble vitamins. No enriching is necessary. It’s a complete food. Pasteurized milk must have the destroyed components added back in, especially the fat soluble vitamins A and D.

Minerals

Raw milk contains a broad selection of minerals ranging from calcium and phosphorus to trace elements.

Calcium is abundant in raw milk. Its benefits include a reduction of some cancers, particularly colon; higher bone density in people of all ages; lower risk of osteoporosis in older adults; lowered risk of kidney stones; the formation of strong teeth; as well as a reduction of dental cavities.

An interesting fact about minerals as nutrients is the special balance they require with other minerals to function properly. For example, calcium needs a proper ratio of phosphorus and magnesium to be properly utilized by our bodies. Raw milk is in perfect balance.

Enzymes

The 60 functional enzymes in raw milk have an amazing assortment of jobs to perform. Some of them are native to milk and some come from beneficial bacteria growing in raw milk. When we eat food that contains enzymes devoted to its own digestion, it’s less work for our pancreas. Other enzymes, like catalase, lysozyme and lactoperoxidase help to protect milk from unwanted bacterial infection, making it safer for us to drink.

Cholesterol

Milk contains about 3mg of cholesterol per gram. Our bodies make most of the cholesterol we need. This amount fluctuates by what we get from our food. Cholesterol is a repair substance. It is a waxy plant steroid that our body uses as a form of water-proofing and as a building block for key hormones.

Beneficial Bacteria

Raw milk is a living food with amazing self-protective properties. As most food goes bad as it ages, raw milk gets better. From helpful bacterial fermentation, the digestibility of enzymes, vitamins, and minerals all increases.

Flavor

In addition to all of these health benefits, many people think that raw milk has a superior flavor and texture to pasteurized, homogenized milk. Here is a quote from Emily Weinstein who blogs for The New York Times. She describes her first raw milk experience in this way:

“The milk — oh man, the milk! — was creamy and full of flavors, not white like supermarket milk, but yellow-tinged. It was milk with a taste that wasn’t just defined by it texture — it was distinct, satisfying, delicious. All food should be like this, I thought, so natural it seems to redefine the word.”

With all of this fabulous info in mind, it’s difficult to believe that selling raw milk is illegal in all but 1 of the United States, isn’t it? More on that later (don’t worry – there is a legal way to still get it.)

Who cares what the cow eats?

Dairy From Grass-Fed Animals

For optimal health (and conversely, to avoid health detriments) it’s important for raw milk to come from humanely raised, grass-fed animals. Why? Because dairy animals (we’ll focus on cows and goats) have a digestive system that includes a rumen. The rumen is the first chamber of the digestive system of animals that graze (including cows and goats). It serves as the primary site for microbial fermentation of ingested feed. The rumen was not designed to digest grains such as corn – it was designed to digest grasses. When we feed grain to cows (the majority of US dairy cows are not pasture raised but eat corn and soy) we are feeding them an unnatural food and their bodies react in unnatural ways. Add on top of that unsanitary, inhumane and anti-biotic laden food-factory practices and you have a recipe for ‘milk’ that is not the same product as the milk our grandparents and great grandparents used to drink.

Here are a couple of videos that do a much better job of informing you about the consequences of feeding grain to dairy cows than I ever could.


This video may seem a bit long and off topic at first, but hang in there! You need the corn explanation to get to the cow-pertinent part at the end.

 

Devil in the Milk

What is an A2 Cow?

While talking to a local dairy farmer this week I learned about the important difference between an A1 cow and an A2 cow. I’m no expert, but let me do my best to piece together resources from those who are experts and provide you with an introduction. The most direct way I know to give you a solid overview is to share this article at www.mercola.com verbatim:

“Prominent food researcher Dr. Thomas Cowan has been involved in thinking about the medicinal aspects of cow’s milk virtually his entire career.

His studies on the subject started in earnest when he read the book The Milk of Human Kindness Is Not Pasteurized, by maverick physician, William Campbell Douglass, MD.

Cowan became convinced that a large part of the disease in this country is related to the way we handle, or rather mishandle, milk and milk products.

However, he still felt that a piece of the puzzle was missing. Many of his patients, in spite of eating only the proper dairy products, still had illness and still seemed not to tolerate milk. Recently, he was asked to consider writing the foreword to a book called The Devil in the Milk, written by Dr. Keith Woodford, which was again an eye-opener for him.

All proteins are long chains of amino acids. Beta casein is a chain 229 amino acids in length. Cows who produce this protein in their milk with a proline at number 67 are called A2 cows, and are the older breeds of cows (e.g. Jerseys, Asian and African cows). But some 5,000 years ago, a mutation occurred in this proline amino acid, converting it to histidine. Cows that have this mutated beta casein are called A1 cows, and include breeds like Holstein.

Proline has a strong bond to a small protein called BCM 7, which helps keep it from getting into the milk, so that essentially no BCM 7 is found in the urine, blood or GI tract of old-fashioned A2 cows. On the other hand, histidine, the mutated protein, only weakly holds on to BCM 7, so it is liberated in the GI tract of animals and humans who drink A1 cow milk.

BCM 7 has been shown to cause neurological impairment in animals and people exposed to it, especially autistic and schizophrenic changes. BCM 7 interferes with the immune response, and injecting BCM 7 in animal models has been shown to provoke type 1 diabetes. Dr. Woodford’s book presents research showing a direct correlation between a population’s exposure to A1 cow’s milk and incidence of autoimmune disease, heart disease, type 1 diabetes, autism, and schizophrenia.

Simply switching breeds of cows could result in amazing health benefits.”

Conclusion

At the beginning of this post I shared some questions with you – questions I’ve been asking myself about the dairy products I feed my family. You may be asking some of the same questions, so I thought I’d conclude with some answers.

Should we even be drinking milk?

There are some schools of thought out there that milk should be avoided completely because of the (substantiated) negative consequences milk has on health. I do not refute in any way that milk consumption has caused health issues in our society, but after learning more about the negative health consequences of pasteurizing milk, it stands to reason that the issue may not be milk itself but the unintended consequences of our attempts to improve upon nature. How ironic that the same food which has been discounted as dangerous to your health actually has medicinal value when consume the right (natural) way! Our family will continue to consume dairy – the right way.

Why is it again that I want to drink raw milk?

In short, because raw milk contains numerous health benefits while, conversely, processed milk can be damaging to health. The significant benefits of raw milk and the significant risks of processed milk make it a clear choice. Some would argue that raw milk is actually dangerous to drink because there is an increased chance of pathogens (it hasn’t been boiled at high temperatures like pasteurized milk). Click here for more scientific data to address that claim.

How much am I willing to pay for local, raw milk?

The reality is, buying local, raw milk will cost you more than buying a gallon of pasteurized milk at Meijer. Local, raw milk costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $6 per gallon but, depending on the farm, can be as high as $8. That number comes with some sticker shock when you’re used to spending $2.99 per gallon! We personally drink about 1 gallon of milk a week. Your family may drink more, but let’s use the 1 gallon per week rule as an example. Before you decide that you can’t afford to buy raw milk, please consider that there are very reasonable ways to save an extra $3 per week on other items (i.e., drink one less latte a week; grow your own spinach; conserve gas so you buy one less gallon, etc.). On the flip side, the real cost to you in allergy medication, over-the-counter gas treatments and other potential side effects of pasteurized milk cost more than $3 per week. In some cases, the difference between your life drinking raw milk verses pasteurized may be the kind of difference that a price tag cannot depict.

How will you know if you don’t try?

Now What?

I hope you’ll review this information carefully and talk with your family about it. For those of you who’ve decided that local, raw milk is worth serious consideration, I’m going to be sharing info next week that answers these questions:

  • If it’s illegal to sell raw milk in Michigan, how am I going to (legally) get it?
  • Where can I get raw milk?
  • Show me the numbers – how much is it really going to cost me?
  • What about milk from animals other than cows, like sheep and goats

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

 
 

Container Gardening Tips

Plants in a WindowThe more I learn about sustainable living, the more convinced I become that everyone can grow fresh food at home. Not everyone can have the same 1,500 square feet of garden space that we have here at Arcadia Farms, but even renters and apartment dwellers can grow a significant amount of food in a container garden. Container gardening is also a great place for reluctant homeowners to start. If you’re convinced that growing some of your own food would be beneficial but are hesitant to rent a rototiller and start digging up your backyard, consider starting with a container garden. Today I want to share some tips with you on how to make your container garden a successful one.

For the most part, growing veggies in containers is the same as growing them directly in the ground or a raised bed. One obvious difference is that you have less soil to work with. With less soil, you’ll need to pay close attention to your plants nutritional needs (small space means soil nutrients can be used up more readily). You’ll also need to keep a close eye on moisture (it’s easy to over or underwater a container garden). Let’s talk about those two factors – and a few other things you should keep in mind.

1. Give Your Plants Nutrients

raw egg fertilizer

{image Credit}
www.redbookmag.com

To make sure your plants get the nutrients they need, I recommend starting with good quality compost. Because the soil in your container is more likely to become compacted over time, mixing in some vermiculite would also be preferable. There are also many ready-mixed organic garden soils that provide a good supply of nutrients while still being lightweight.

After your plants are established (are showing their true leaves), you’ll want to give them with a natural fertilizer. Good choices are fish emulsion (diluted in water per the bottle’s directions) or an organic soil amendment (such as Jobes organic tomato and vegetable fertilizer.) Fertilize every 1 to 2 weeks after your plants begin to show their true leaves. Here’s another idea for fertilizing your container: A whole, in-shell, raw egg. Warning: I’ve never actually tried this myself, rather, I found the idea on Pinterest. The idea is that the egg will decompose slowly and add nutrients to the soil as it does.

If you intend to use the same containers over and over again, there are a couple of things to keep in mind when it comes to soil fertility. First, you should add new organic matter every year. Fall is a good time to do this so that the materials have time to breakdown over the winter. You can accomplish this by adding grass clippings, shredded leaves, table scraps, store-bought or homemade compost. The second thing to keep in mind has to do with crop rotation. Just like an in-ground garden, plants of the same family ‘eat’ certain nutrients in the soil. If you continue to plant the same type of plant in the same container, over time the nutrients necessary for the healthy growth of that plant will be depleted. To avoid this issue, rotate similarly sized containers through various crops of different plant families. If your season and container are conducive to this, consider sowing some manner of nitrogen-fixing crop after your summer veggies are spent. This cover crop will keep weeds from inhabiting your container over the cooler months and will also add nitrogen to the soil. For a list of nitrogen-fixing cover crops, click here. In general, any legume will do the trick, such as peas and beans.

You can also add nutrients to your container by adding a layer of woody debris – such as broken branches, twigs or even small logs – to the bottom of your container. As the wood breaks down it adds nutrients to the soil, among other benefits.

2. Manage Moisture

{Image Credit} www.amazon.com

{Image Credit}
www.amazon.com

Another benefit of adding woody debris to your container is that it helps to retain moisture. As wood breaks down it acts like a sponge, attracting water and then releasing it slowly into the surrounding soil as needed. This is the primary function of wood in hugelkultur – a system where raised bed gardens are built over piles of well-rotted (spongy) wood to help retain moisture and reduce (or eliminate) the need for irrigation. You can put this hugelkultur benefit to work for you on a container-sized scale. I even read that one blogger found better success with logs placed vertically than horizontally, essentially because the grain of the log acted like a straw for moisture to move up and down. (As soon as I can re-find his post I will link to it here!).  Keep the following tips in mind when selecting wood for your container:

  • Avoid wood so large that will interfere with the growth of root crops (i.e. carrots)
  • Avoid treated lumber
  • Avoid wood from plants that contain natural herbicides, such as black walnut
  • The more rotten the wood, the better
  • Fresh wood that contains a significant amount of tannin (i.e. pine) should be avoided until the wood is older (6 months old at earliest, just my opinion)

Don’t feel like you need to use a giant log in your 12” pot – just a handful of fallen sticks from the yard will help! These sticks will also help provide some air pockets for drainage at the bottom of the container which is of critical importance in container planting. (You don’t want to drown the roots of your plant – they need air too!)

Because containers can dry out easily, try mulching the top to keep the soil cool and water from evaporating. If your container is large enough, you may consider using an olla to reduce the amount of time you spend on watering.

And lastly, because moisture management is so important in container gardening, you’ll want to invest in a moisture meter. For $5-$10 you can find something like this (image above) which takes the guesswork out of whether or not to water – just stick the probes into the soil and you’ll find out how much moisture is already present.

3. Choose the Right Container (Size, Shape & Materials)

When it comes to container gardening, bigger is generally better. That’s because you have more moisture-retaining, nutrient-rich soil to work with. But that doesn’t mean a small container can’t be just as successful! In Mel Brook’s Square Foot Gardening method, nearly everything can be grown in soil that is just 6” deep.  (Root crops will need a minimum of 12”.) The necessary width of your container will depend on what you’re growing – tomato plants do best with at least 2 square feet of space while one head of lettuce requires only 12.5% of a single square foot. Use these plant spacing rules as a guideline for container planting.

Tall or vining crops (such as cucumbers and tomatoes) will need a trellis. Does your container have enough space to hold both your plant and your trellis? Or will you use an external trellis near the container such as a fence or a porch railing? Here are some ideas for container-gardening trellises. Click on the image for more info and image sources.

outdoor trellis string trellis simple diy copper trellis raspberries trellis sapling green ladder trellis

Also consider the material makeup of your container. You’ll want to avoid containers from treated materials, ones that may leach chemicals into your soil or that previously held harmful chemicals/materials.

4. Location, Location, Location

This isn’t real estate, but location is still pretty darn important! The closer your containers are to the house, the less likely you’ll be to neglect them. Plus if you have easy access to your cherry tomatoes and snap beans, you (and your family) will be more likely to grab a few for a snack or dinner than if you have to wander far from the back door.

When choosing a location for your container garden, sunlight is another huge consideration. In general, you’re looking for a location with as much sun as possible. However some plants benefit from a little shade. To determine the best location for each crop, check out the info on the back of the seed packet. Once you’ve identified your shade-loving plants and your sun-loving plants, you can devise a plan for each group. You may even be able to use your large sun-loving plants to provide shade to your shade-loving plants. Shade-lovers staged on the east side of sun-lovers will get plenty of morning sun but will be shielded from harsher afternoon rays.

And when you place your containers, keep pests in mind! Do you have deer nearby? You may want to keep your containers in a fenced area. Is the sunniest spot in the yard also in the path of your pets and kids – you’ll need a plan to keep them from being toppled over. Another way to keep bunnies and other critters away from your veggies is to interplant smelly things to deter them – chives, garlic, marigolds and rosemary are good options.

Inspiration

As you ponder how to incorporate these tips into your own container garden, click here to take a peep at some of these neato ideas for inspiration.

I’m working right now on a custom container gardening plan for growing lots of things like tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, carrots, potatoes and herbs. I hope to share that with you soon!

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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