Simply Resourceful

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

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.

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.  

How to Make Ginger Ale

Ginger Ale is so refreshing in the sweltering heat of summer!  Ginger ale was never my beverage of choice growing up, but now that we make our own, I am sold on it's tart flavor.  Since we use the actual ginger root in our recipe, every bottle is packed with health boosting properties ginger is known for including: soothing stomach upset, respiratory coughs, fevers, and more.  Knowing ginger is good for my body, I don't feel guilty sitting back and enjoying a bottle of our homemade ginger ale.

To make ginger ale, you first have to ferment the ginger root by making a Ginger Bug.  Unlike  berry and sarsaparilla soda that requires champagne yeast, ginger ale uses the natural yeast created from a ginger bug for its fizzy carbonation.

With a wooden spoon, stir the following ingredients into a pint mason jar:
-2T fresh ginger (Skin and grate - I use a micro-plane grater)
-2T unrefined cane juice sugar
-2T non-chlorinated water

Cover jar with a coffee filter secured with a rubber band.

Every day for at least five days, stir in 2T each of grated ginger, sugar, and water.  It should get bubbly and foamy. On the sixth day use what you need and refrigerate the rest adding 2T each of everything (ginger, sugar and water) once each week.  Cap jar loosely when refrigerated.

Once your ginger bug has fermented for six days, you can make ginger ale.

2-4 inch piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and minced
1 cup evaporated cane juice sugar
1 cup fresh lemon or lime juice (~ 4 lemons)
1 tsp. sea salt
16 cups non-chlorinated water
1 cup homemade ginger bug

*makes 8.5 grolsch bottles

In a saucepan, add  6 cups water, minced ginger root, sugar, and salt.  Bring to a boil and simmer for about 5 minutes until sugar is dissolved and mixture starts to smell like ginger.

Remove from heat and add remaining water.  Cool mixture to room temperature.

Add fresh lemon or lime juice and ginger bug.  Stir.

Fill grolsch bottles.

Store bottles in cooler or cover bottles for several days until carbonated, and then transfer to fridge to drastically slow down the carbonation.  The reason we place the bottles in a cooler is to contain any liquid and glass that may explode in case the bottles carbonate too long.  When we first started making soda, we had a bottle explode all over the kitchen and freshly painted ceiling...a very sticky mess to clean up!

Besides water, there are only five ingredients in ginger ale.

Even though we use organic ginger, we grate it before dicing.

If you have a pirate on the premise, they should help juice the lemons to help fight scurvy!

When adding the lemon juice and ginger bug, make sure the water is not too hot (below 100 degrees Fahrenheit), otherwise you will kill the natural yeast in the ginger bug.

Using a fine mesh strainer helps produce a cleaner product. Then cap and vigorously shake the gallon jug for 20 seconds or so.

Use a funnel with a slight indent at the bottom so air can escape when filling the grolsch bottles. 

Almost capping of the bottles. 

To be on the safe side, we recommend storing the bottles in a cooler in case a bottle bursts. Check daily for carbonation.  Small bubbles forming on top of the beverage indicate carbonation is taking place.  If a quick rush of air escapes when you slightly loosen the wire barrel, then it's probably time to place the bottles in the refrigerator maybe slightly before then. We recommend that until you get used to how fast carbonation takes place (which is highly dependent on the ambient air temperature), that you have a test plastic soda bottle as a control bottle just so you know how fast they are carbonating.

Some sources I referenced when perfecting our recipe include: Wellness Mama and Nourished Kitchen.

Baker Creek Spring Planting Festival Expedition

My family just returned from a cross country vacation last week.  We saw many sites in several states, one being the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company in Mansfield, MO.  Attending the Spring Festival was our first visit to Baker Creek. This company has the largest selection of heirloom seeds in the country. At Baker Creek you can see the farm and pioneer village.  The village includes a seed store, herbal apothecary, bakery, an old-time mercantile, blacksmith shop, music barns, and much more.

Jon was in his element surrounded by nearly 1,800 different varieties of seeds!

The festival had thousands of attendees which made for some crowded situations.  At times it became a bit claustrophobic and nerve-racking keeping track of Paul in the crowds of people (thus the bright orange shirt to easily locate him).  This was the only down-side of the festival.  It's great that so many people want to join the festivities, but it makes it difficult to see everything. 

Paul really enjoyed watching the Blacksmith.

Crowds of people in Pioneer Village.  I like the windmill in the background next to the Livery Stable.

I took a picture of the lemonade stand next to the music stage because it was just too cute seeing the owner's daughter in a sundress serving customers fresh squeezed lemonade.  She is seen in several pages of the Baker Creek Catalog biting into delicious fruit and is the envy of Jon and Paul when they are perusing the catalog.  In the picture you can see Paul waiting to purchase a glass of lemonade. 

The Kids' Tent was bustling with activity the entire time with sack races, seed planting, games, and digging in a giant pile of sand. 

One aspect we thoroughly enjoyed at the festival was free camping on-site. We were very thankful that Baker Creek allowed attendees to set up camp in the cow pasture right across from the festival grounds.  There were even bathrooms with flushing toilets and showers!  Camping introduced us to some amazing people who shared common interests in gardening, essential oils, off-grid living, etc.  Campers were respectful of each other's space and quiet time and shared meals.  Bluegrass music filled the night air when falling asleep.  Overall we had a great time at the festival and will return again.

Planting the garden was our first priority after returning from our trip!  Using cattle panels as a trellis, Jon and Paul planted Asparagus Beans from Baker Creek.  This is our first year growing these beans and the pods grow to about 24 inches long!

This picture was taken from our second story bedroom window.  The little plot on the left is for sweet corn.  We are using row covers again this year to protect our brassicas from the cabbage worms, melons from the cucumber beetles, and eggplants from the flea beetles.  

Berry Scones Made With Oat Flour

We really love our grain mill and have been experimenting with different grains in our recipes lately.  One recipe that turned out perfectly with an alternative grain was scones.  In general, my scones are very moist and puffy like biscuits, but when I use frozen berries, the batter tends to be really wet and runny creating some unpleasant smokey smells from the oven from liquid dripping off the baking stone.  What a mess this creates and the scones are then over-baked.  To solve this problem, I discovered ground oat groats help absorb the excess moisture in the batter creating the perfect berry scones.  You have to try them!

Berry Scones:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup wheat germ or flax seed meal
1 cup ground oat groats
1/4 c sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
5 T frozen butter, grated
1/2 cup berries (frozen or fresh)
1/2 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
1 egg

Mix together flours, sugar, baking powder, and baking soda. 
Add grated butter to dry mixture using a pastry blender until it has a crumb-like texture.
In a small bowl, mix sour cream and egg together, add to above mixture.  Batter will be wet. 
Add berries and mix thoroughly.
Place mounds of dough onto baking stone, flatten the tops. 
Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until golden.
Optional: sprinkle sugar on top before baking.  

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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