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HOMEGROWN Life: Household Items You Can Use in the Garden

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

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The following tips for frugal gardeners are not only quick, safe, and easy, but also involve using items you probably already have in your house.

ASPIRIN: Dissolve ¾ of an uncoated aspirin tablet in 1 gallon of water. Spray plants every 2-3 weeks with the mixture to prevent fungus problems, including powdery mildew and black spot. It’s also been found to help some plants yield more fruit than using commercial fertilizers.

baking-sodaBAKING SODA: Mix 1 Tbsp of baking soda and a ½ tsp liquid soap into 1 gallon of water. Spray this weekly on plants that are prone to powdery mildew. This works as more of a preventative, as it won’t do much after the powdery mildew has taken hold. Make sure to spray the undersides of leaves. Also, apply it in the evening if you can, as it can burn some leaves.

BEER: Put beer (or water with yeast in it) in a shallow container. Sink the container so that the lip is at ground level in the garden. The beer attracts snails and slugs. They’ll fall into it and drown.

BORAX: This is a common laundry additive (20 Mule Team is a popular brand), especially for those of us with hard water. But it also works as a nontoxic ant killer. Ants are a huge problem for us as they “farm” aphids and mealy bugs for their honeydew. We have tons of ladybugs but they are useless if the ants are protecting the pests.

CORNMEAL: Corn Gluten Meal can be used as an effective pre-emergent herbicide, but most of us don’t have that just laying around. Cornmeal, however, is an effective soil fungicide. For every 100 square feet, work 2 pounds of cornmeal into the soil. Water well. One application per season is all that is needed.

DRYER SHEETS: If you’re having a picnic or BBQ and are being plagued by yellow jackets, aka meat bees, and mosquitoes, place dryer sheets around the area to deter them.

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EGGSHELLS: Save all of your eggshells! Rinse them and then crush them when they are dry. When preparing a planting bed for tomatoes or peppers add the eggshells (approximately the shells from 1 dozen eggs per plant) to the planting hole to avoid blossom end rot.

 

 

EPSOM SALTS: Epsom salts contain sulfur and magnesium and are good for using as a foliar fertilizer. Dissolve 2 Tbsp Epsom Salts in 1 gallon of water. Mist plants as a foliar feeding.

MILK: Dilute milk in a 1:1 ratio with water. Spray your tomato and pepper plants weekly to avoid blossom end rot.

RUBBING ALCOHOL: Apply 70% isopropyl alcohol to a cotton ball and apply to scale insects. The alcohol desiccates them. Rub them off when they’re dead so you can continue to monitor their levels.

SHAMPOO: Mix 2.5 Tbsp Shampoo and 2.5 Tbsp cooking oil with 1 gallon of water. Spray insect pests with the mixture to control them. Do not use in full sun, and a few hours after application, rinse the plant off to reduce injury.

If you have other tips on using household items in your garden, please share them!

MORE HOMEGROWN GARDEN HELP:

Rachel-Dog-Island-FarmRachel’s friends in college used to call her a Renaissance woman. She was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. She still is. Instead of crafts, her focus these days has been farming as much of her urban quarter-acre as humanly possible. Along with her husband, she runs Dog Island Farm, in the San Francisco Bay Area. They raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. They’re always keeping busy. If Rachel isn’t out in the yard, she’s in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better!

PHOTOS: (BAKING SODA) RACHEL; (HOMEGROWN EGGS) PETE & IZZY’S MOM

HOMEGROWN Life: A Farmer’s Advice for Dealing with Climate Change and the Urgent Sense of Impending Doom

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

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Living an agricultural life provides a great deal of solitary time to wrestle with your thoughts. Sometimes that’s pleasant; other times it can be a mess. My own internal dialogue cranks through a steady stream of issues.

Today’s list has so far included:

  • Weather-related worries, including present and future climate concerns.
  • My increasing love for soccer (as a fan, soccer parent, and volunteer coach).
  • Interesting opportunities for farmers, such as whether or not it makes sense to harvest and shell pecans or just leave them for the squirrels. And, heck, can we tap those trees for pecan syrup while we’re at it?
  • Worries about when my next paycheck is going to hit the mailbox.
  • Continuous noise about the sorry state of affairs related to politics and American democracy, especially when it comes to the giant gap between the wealthiest Americans and the middle-to-working-to-poorest classes where most of us land.
  • Meandering nervousness about how the rest of us can step up to raise fresh vegetables, fruit, and nuts when California actually runs out of water.

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I suppose this is mostly normal behavior. At least that’s what I tell myself. But if you’re like me, hovering on the edge of day-to-day issues combined with a giant precipice of social and environmental depression, take some time and read a very thoughtful and intriguing piece by Jonathan Franzen in the New Yorker.

Franzen has some important things to say about the duality of dealing with the scientific knowledge of impending doom because of carbon emissions and climate change while trying to stay sane and address everyday challenges. Franzen also nails it when it comes to concerns for the poorest humans, who did very little to increase carbon emissions themselves but are going to bear the brunt of the damage as the climate continues its inevitable rise in temperature and unpredictability.

Mostly, though, I like Franzen’s thoughts related to the prospect that it might be a mistake to focus on climate change as an issue while neglecting “conservation” as a crucial social and cultural value to moderate the impacts of human greed, development, expansion, exploitation, etc.

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As a farmer and member of a rural community, I agree strongly that local concerns for how resources are developed, used, and conserved are the issues the ring true to most folks. I know many a conservative-gun-rights-anti-Obama local who equally hates the trend toward bulldozing hedgerows and woodlots to make more room for very marginal farmland here in West Missouri. Maybe that’s because of a populist sentiment for watching as the handful of big row croppers gets bigger; maybe it’s because they’ve seen wildlife like whitetail deer and blue herons and songbirds recover as a conservation ethic has taken increasing hold over the past century or so.

The only real supplement I’d add to Franzen’s article has to do with the concept that we all live in a working landscape. Perhaps it appears more direct to those of us that work daily with the animals around us, the soil we walk on, the water that falls and runs through the low spots as the seasons push and pull. Still, the fact is we are all made up of the prairies and orchards we eat. We borrow and impact the water with our drinking and cleaning and flushing. No matter how thoroughly our minds try to separate us from the nonhuman world, we all live in a real place where we serve the role of collective ecosystem engineers. We’re the apex predator; the social megafauna who determines nutrient and resource flows. We produce abundance and scarcity at the same time, depending on whether you’re a plant, animal, or member of the fungi community.

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Realizing this impact and role can be both scary and incredibly empowering. Sure, we can squander the chance to make things better over time. But we can also make progress, even if that’s a strange human concept to the rest of the creatures we live around. We can take action to restore the bald eagle to some degree of thriving. Heck, I didn’t grow up seeing bald eagles soar over the pastures and ponds of Western Missouri farm country. Now every December through February I see them regularly.

Taking collective action to leave some room for (and to stop poisoning) eagles might be a more trivial accomplishment than trying to minimize global climate change by cutting carbon pollution. That said, we can see our efforts in person or through photos or video paying off with conservation. We can watch as our actions either create better or worse conditions for the living things around us.

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I suppose I’m going down this line of reasoning since it reflects a bit of personal therapy. I have been dealing with some serious situational depression, and like many people, am trying to focus on the things in my life that I can actually have some degree of control over versus just accepting the things outside of my realm of influence. Coming to terms with the difference between those two poles is a difficult thing, but it’s something we humans need to mind carefully as a society and culture and global community.

Do we have the courage, strength, and self-awareness it takes to create livelihoods that take into account clear boundaries, minding conservation and impacts on local ecosystems? Do we have the honesty to say so when we take too much and create a problematic future? Do we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear that it’s completely possible to share the world with other people, other animals and other plants?

Clearly, we are going to be living the questions. I’ll be there with you, asking away the day.

MORE FROM BRYCE:

HOMEGROWN-bryce-oates-150x150Bryce Oates is a farmer, a father, a writer, and a conservationist in western Missouri. He lives and works on his family’s multi-generational farm, tending cattle, sheep, goats, and organic vegetables. His goals in life are simple: wake up before the sun, catch a couple of fish, turn the compost pile, dig potatoes, and sit by the fire in the evening, watching the fireflies mimic the stars.

PHOTOS: (HIGH TUNNEL RASPBERRIES) RICHARD MAXWELL; (FIELD) RICHARD MAXWELL; (BATTERED BUTTERFLY) TERRESSA ZOOK; (GOATS) ERIC MARSHALL

HOMEGROWN Life: Raising Romeo, a Love Story

Thursday, March 26th, 2015

 

HOMEGROWN LifeI love how just walking into a barn can be inspiring.

“What?!” you might respond. You may have to be a farmer to understand what I mean, but my guess is anyone who loves his or her job sees inspiration all around, every day.

My latest inspiration came to me in the form of a lamb. If you’ve been following the Bittersweet blog, you already know Romeo. If not, Romeo is a lamb who came to live with me on Valentine’s Day.

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I had never raised a lamb in the house with me. Goat kids come every spring, and I always start them inside. I’m used to goat kids romping across the floor and chasing the cat in circles around the house. I’m used to lining up bottles on the kitchen counter for feedings. But I was not prepared for the complete joy I would experience with a lamb.

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Brian, my farming mentor, told me, “It’s a whole different thing with raising lambs.” He wasn’t kidding. And that whole different thing has inspired me to write a children’s book about it. The difference is that lambs—or maybe just some lambs, but certainly Romeo—couldn’t be more of a joy to have around. Easy going, content, totally loveable, and constantly surprising. These are just some of the words I use to describe the experience.

The other way I describe it is a complete life lesson. As a farmer/amateur anthropologist, I am in the habit of observing behavior. It’s what makes us tick and defines our unique personalities. Within a few days of Romeo coming to live with me, I knew he was here to teach me how to teach him how to become a confident, well-adjusted creature. I saw I had the opportunity to guide him in finding his way in the world. “WHOA!” you might say! How is that fun?

All I can say is, it is. You should try raising lambs sometime. Beyond the bottles every six hours, beyond changing puppy pads in the playpen (I think I lost count at 150), beyond worrying about whether you’re getting it right, beyond laundering and replacing warm blankets so Romeo has something to snuggle up to since he doesn’t have his birth mom and I’m not always available, beyond all that comes the satisfaction of watching him grow into a healthy and confident little lamb.

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I realized I had the opportunity to “make or break” this little guy, not unlike raising children. We hear a lot about different methods for raising animals. I have found that, no matter if you’re rearing these animals to end up knitted into a warming sweater or to provide a meal for your table, fostering their existence along the way makes a difference—the difference between that fiber becoming soft yarn or a tough-as-shoe-leather piece of meat on your table.

How does that translate into a children’s book? For me, easily. And thus the story of Romeo was born. The theme of the book is building confidence in a lamb by treating him humanely, letting him make mistakes along the way, watching him fall so he can get back up, and, ultimately, loving him just for him. It’s a tiny book, small enough to fit into a child’s palm. It’s a book for kids to carry around as a reminder they’ll always have a soft little lamb in their pocket. Maybe they can relate to that lamb. Maybe they know that lamb. Maybe that lamb is someone they want to become. It’s their story. They’ll know which version is theirs when they read it.

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My hope is that moms and dads will love Romeo, too, and see him in their own little lambs. We get one chance to bring them along. We can be there to guide them, to pick them up and hold them when they fall, and ultimately to love the precious individuals they are. We’re their touchpoint, their harbor, their source of comfort. They’re here to teach us how to guide them. “That’s how lambs learn.”

I’ve come to realize farming is about so much more than just backbreaking work and muck. I’ve had some excellent teachers, with any number of legs, who remind me each day what a gift it is.

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The book will be available on Bittersweet’s website as soon as it’s in print, and I’m also hoping to have it available online for e-readers and other devices. All proceeds will go toward maintaining the animals of Bittersweet Heritage Farm.

MORE FROM DYAN:

HOMEGROWN-life-dyanDyan Redick calls herself “an accidental farmer with a purpose.” Bittersweet Heritage Farm, located on the St. George peninsula of Maine, is a certified Maine State Dairy offering cheeses made with milk from a registered Saanen goat herd, a seasonal farm stand full of wool from a Romney cross flock, goat milk soap, lavender woolens, and whatever else strikes Dyan’s fancy. Her farm is also an extension of her belief that we should all gain a better understanding of our food sources, our connection to where we live, and to the animals with whom we share the earth.

PHOTOS: DYAN REDICK