Simply Resourceful

Simple ways to be more conscious about how we use our resources.

Fighting Flea Beetles With Basil Flowers

A few weeks ago I blogged about fighting flea beetles with used coffee grounds and wormwood.  We have had good success with this method even with the rain diluting the strength of the coffee.  This week we found another quick way to keep flea beetles away: basil flowers!  We have 10 basil plants that keep trying to go to seed and we have found that placing the basil flowering heads on the eggplant leaves keep the flea beetles away.  We have never seen this mentioned as a flea beetle deterrent so we could just be lucky or there may be something to this strategy.  We won't think too hard about it though, we are just thrilled that it is working!

Picture above shows basil flower resting on the eggplant leaf.

Isn't this Listada De Gandia Eggplant so cute?! 

Casper Eggplant

Unknown eggplant variety given to us from a friend.

Harvesting Garlic and Onions Before They Rot

It has been a very wet summer for us in West Virginia.  In 3 weeks, we have received 14 inches of rain.  The garden has been so wet that we do the absolute minimum amount of work because wet plants spread disease when touched and we want to avoid soil compaction.  The weeds have definitely taken over and some of the plants are rotting in the ground.  Potatoes were harvested before they flowered and the brassicas rotted with a month left to grow.  We are not taking chances with the garlic and onions.  My family absolutely loves garlic and we never have enough onions for canning and cooking.  In fact, this week we are finishing up the last of the 85 bulbs of garlic that we harvested last year!

This year we planted both large cloves and bulbettes. The picture above shows the finished size difference between cloves and bulbettes. The bulbettes came from the flowering scapes that were picked and dried from last summer and planted last fall.  The bulbette that was harvested this summer will then be planted this fall for next year's garlic crop.  It's basically two years of growing before you receive a finished large bulb of garlic when you start with bulbettes.

Garlic bulbettes that are still on the plant.

Garlic bulbettes ready for drying that will be planted this fall for next year's crop.

Water-logged garlic picked early this year.

Zebrune Shallots picked early this year.
Some brassicas are still holding on but many have rotted.

Stack Exchange - The Perfect Organic Gardening Resource

This shows our tomato blight last year.  Stack Exchange has given us great tips on how to prevent it this year. 

Do you have a question about organic gardening and want some advice from fellow gardeners who have down-to-earth experience and practical solutions?  One resource my husband discovered this summer is Garden Stack Exchange.  It is an online forum where you can post questions and receive answers about organic gardening from a broad community of gardeners. The answers are then rated by the community and the question asker can select the best answer to a question. Each question that you ask or answer gives you more clout and thus you can build your reputation and your garden skills.  Here's an example of a question we asked:

There's even another one for baking/cooking which can prove useful too:

To make it easy, you can use your Facebook or Google account to login too.

Fighting Flea Beetles With Coffee Grounds

If you grow organically, flea beetles are probably one of the top five most peskiest bugs in your garden.  They are small black bugs about the size of a poppy seed.  They feed on the leaves of plants and jump when disturbed.  For young plants, it can kill them overnight.  In our garden, the flea beetles pose the biggest threat to eggplants, tomatillos, potatoes, and arugula.  We have found three ways to keep these pesky critters at bay: row covers, hot pepper spray, and used coffee grounds.  Jon collects coffee grounds at work so we have an abundance of them to use in the garden.  Simply spread the coffee grounds under the plant and reapply after it rains.  In the above picture, fresh coffee grounds were sprinkled underneath a young tomatillo plant.

The challenge with only using row covers is that flea beetles hatch from the soil each year so your plants can get infested with the beetles even though they are in an isolated bubble.  Row covers are the easiest form of pest control to use though  because you don't have to worry about rain washing the hot pepper spray off the leaves and dissolving the coffee grounds into the soil.  To give the fragile eggplants a head start we use both the row covers and coffee grounds.  This year we did plant wormwood with the eggplants because we learned that they are a great companion plant.  The problem with wormwood is that it emits a chemical that stunts plant growth, so we are not so sure how beneficial it is.  Perhaps growing the wormwood in containers and setting them within the eggplant patch would be the better option.

Go here for another post about flea beetle control!

Using Cattle Panels As a Tomato Trellis

Cattle panels seem to be a versatile item around the homestead.  Last year we used them for the greenhouse project and bean trellis.  This year we are using them as a tomato trellis.  I have seen gardeners cut the cattle panels into boxes or lay them parallel to the ground for supporting their tomatoes.  We decided to try a simpler approach of not cutting the panels and just staking them perpendicular to the ground.  The advantage to this approach is easy access to the weeds.  We will see how this method works and give an update later in the summer.

In between the tomatoes we alternated basil and borage.  Basil enhances the tomato flavors while tomatoes enhance basil flavors.  In the picture above you can see a small borage plant to the left of the tomato.  Borage is a companion plant that helps combat the tomato hornworms by attracting the parasitic wasp that lays its eggs on the hornworm.  The wasp larvae kill the worm by eating it.

Look closely...there is a large hornworm on the tomato stem.  If left alone, the hornworm will strip the entire plant of its leaves. 

Here is a dead hornworm after the wasp larvae killed it.

How To Keep Produce Fresh Longer

Years ago when we started growing our own vegetables, I remember harvesting a bunch of spinach and putting the excess in the refrigerator crisper for the next day.  Much to my disappointment, the spinach turned into a limp pile of rubbery leaves the next day.  From this experience I learned that farms treat spinach and lettuce with chemicals so they stay crisp and fresh for several weeks at the grocery store.  I quickly figured out how to keep our produce just as fresh for weeks at a time without the use of chemicals by storing the produce in a damp cloth bag.  Simple!  Basically I place washed produce into the damp cloth bag and place the bag in the refrigerator crisper.  When the bag becomes dry, I run it under cold water again and wring out the excess water.  I use this damp bag method for all of our vegetables including: celery, spinach, lettuce, kale, asparagus and pea pods.  I have used this method for years and have kept celery crisp for 2 months easily!  This cloth bag has saved us a lot of money over the years.

How to Make a Cutting Board

Friends of ours recently announced they got married.  For a wedding gift we made them a cutting board using walnut and hickory wood.  The walnut was milled right here on our property.

The cutting boards were made from scrap pieces so the strips of wood are different widths.  And really, does it matter?  In the picture above, Jon is gluing the wood strips together. 

After clamping each cutting board overnight, the edges were squared off using the bandsaw.

To get a smooth, even surface, the cutting boards were put through the planer a few times. 

For a rounded edge, Jon used a router on all sides, top and bottom.

We used a scroll saw to remove the sharp corners and give them a rounded look. 

The bench sander allowed for easier sanding on the edges to get rid of irregularities from the router and scroll saw.

To seal the wood, I used spoon oil.  Spoon oil is made with beeswax and a neutral oil such as sunflower, safflower, soybean, flax, or canola.  Mineral oil is commonly used but it is a petroleum product.  I used safflower oil because it was in my cupboard.  I made a small batch of spoon oil with 2 ounces beeswax and 4 ounces safflower oil.  Each cutting board only needs about 2 teaspoons of the oil so the excess will be used on more cutting boards and wooden spoons.  This website gives step-by-step details for making spoon oil.

A little dab of spoon oil goes a long way.  I used a cotton cloth to massage it into the wood.

The above picture shows the difference before and after the spoon oil was applied.  The grain of the wood literally pops out at you!

The finished product!  Total time for this project took maybe 1.5 hours.  Cutting boards use up scraps and make excellent presents.  

About this blog

A weekly update on our adventures of trying to be more self-sufficient by using resources wisely. We explore a variety of topics that most broadly fit in the "Homesteading" category, i.e. beekeeping, organic gardening, edible landscaping/fruit forest, food preservation/canning, woodworking, soap-making, and environmental stewardship.

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