Buckwheat – Your Garden’s New Best Friend.

We try new things in our garden each year. This year we have been experimenting with using buckwheat as a cover crop. It’s super cool because it chokes out weeds, adds nitrogen back to the soil, is quick to bloom (so loved by pollinators), self seeding, and creates the perfect habitat for beneficial and pest insects — you can also harvest it and make your very own buckwheat flour. You might even get froggy and make some tasty buckwheat pancakes on a rainy Saturday morning which happens to be my Papa’s favorite.

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If you’re struggling with pesky insects like aphids or caterpillars, planting some buckwheat nearby or amongst your garden might be a life saver. Buckwheat attracts a number of beneficial insects like hover flies which feed on aphids. The female hover fly likes to lay her eggs close to an aphid infestation. After hatching, which only takes a few days, the larvae starts feeding on the aphids immediately. Now, it would be hard for us to know when this is all going down but say we did, we would be able to tell a difference in aphid population in just a few days. Resulting in happier and healthier plants.

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Staggering your planting in almost any crop is smart (in my opinion). Especially if you’re needing continuous flow and to stay out of the grocery store. I mean who wants 20 heads of lettuce ready for harvest all at once (unless you’re running a CSA or something like that)? And for that matter we want a continuous nectar source for our honey bees and for our hover flies. If we provide them with the optimum habitat then they will stay. Its a win-win, for them, us, and our garden. So I guess a win-win-win.

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When planning our apiary we decided buckwheat/wildflowers would be the perfect pair. At first we planted a 20’x50′ plot of buckwheat. A few weeks later, we sowed a 50’x 100′ plot. We also planted buckwheat around a lot of our trees, around our brambles, blueberry rows, and even around and in-between our potato rows. So far, although early, everything is looking good. It’s hard to give an accurate comparison from last year to this year with only having my memory to compare. I try to document things but lets face it… that’s really hard to do. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t. BUT, it’s really smart to keep a garden journal and if nothing else log a garden blueprint. So you know what was planted where and what worked and didn’t for the next planting.

And did I mention that it’s one of the more affordable seeds and that its non-gmo? Check with your local mill. We purchased a 50 lb bag for around $45. If you’re new to cover crops or haven’t given your soil a break in a while… try your hand at buckwheat. It’s an easy to grow crop that gives back to the soil, your harvest, and you.

 

Pickle Me Beet

Beets. Omg. I have loved pickled beets since I was a wee little girl. The earthy taste along with the tanginess and how about that rich bold color?! Could easily be one of my favorite veggies.

I typically make my pickled beets to eat fresh. I never make enough to can. I just leave them in the fridge and eat as a snack or for dinner. They dont last long!

Before we harvested our beets from the garden I would go to Trader Joe’s and pick up a 1lb bag of organic beets for like $1.98. I don’t know if that’s a good price in comparison to buying in bulk but you can’t beat that for a healthy snack.

For me, 1lb will make 1 1/2 quarts. It’s so quick and easy.

 

Pickled Beets (refrigerator)

1lb organic beets

2 cups apple cider vinegar (you’re welcome to use white vinegar but the taste may be slightly different)

2 cups water

1 cup sugar

2 teaspoons salt

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》》Prepping your beets: If your beets come with the stems and leaves still intact then cut the stems about an inch or two above the root. NOTE: If you cut into your root prior to boiling, your beet will bleed out and you will lose the majority of your color.

Next wash thoroughly. And thoroughly again. You may even want to get a rag and scrub that dirt away. There’s nothing worse than a gritty beet.

》》Boiling your beets: Set your stovetop on high. Place your washed beets into a large pot completely submerged in water. Place them on your stovetop and boil until tender.

Once they’re tender, remove from heat and let cool. (I use tongs and move the beets to a cutting board to cool.)

》》Cutting your beets: First, you want to trim off the beet stems and peel your beets. They will be extremely hot so please allow time to cool.

It’s up to you how you’d like to cut them. Sliced or quartered.

Once they’re cut to your liking start dropping them into your mason jars. If you don’t have any you can buy them here or here.

》》Making your pickling solution: Over high heat, combine all ingredients and stir until the sugar has completely dissolved. NOTE: You can add more sugar if you’d like them a little sweeter. I prefer mine with a bite.

Once the sugar has dissolved use a funnel and ladle your mixture over the beets. Use an old mayo lid to twist onto the jars or a lid and ring that came with your mason jar sets and slide those puppies into the fridge.

》》They should be ready to enjoy in about 24 hours and gone within 48 😉

NOTE: If you have any brine leftover, you can store it in the fridge up to four-six weeks. I would heat it before using with your next batch.

 

My next post will be about utilizing your pickled beet brine to the fullest.

Here’s a hint: They are great on salads, sandwiches, wraps, pintos, hamburgers… Any ideas??

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Make the perfect sweet potato row

Sweet potatoes are probably my husband’s favorite root crop. We first introduced them to our homestead last year amongst our other veggies in our garden by our house. We didn’t do much other than plant the plants in a tilled up garden like any of the other plants. At the end of the year after the green foliage died we harvested small yields of our first sweet potatoes. Although small, we were still happy because we were somewhat successful.

Root crops require special attention. Maybe not to the plants themselves but the soil. We did a lot of research before planting this year and we found a method that seems to be the best! And makes the most sense.

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Once our shipment of over 100 plants (yikes!) came in we took a rake and made 25′ lines. We made these rows by going down both sides of the line and pulling the soil up about 8-12″. Once we had a huge 25′ long mound of fresh loose soil we took the back of the rake and knocked the peak off making a smooth platform for us to plant the potatoes. Now keep in mind these rows are made on top of 5″ of tilled soil. Allowing optimum growth for the sweet potatoes. Root crops need loose soil to grow. If you confine them with compacted 5″ deep soil they are not going to grow in a uniform shape or have high yields. Trust me we know! Using our new method of course took a lot longer but only makes sense and I can’t imagine doing it any other way. Adding 8-12″ of soil for these potatoes surely will help them grow to the best of their ability, make weeding easier, and harvesting a breeze.

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We also planted our seed potatoes, onions, and carrots like this. I’m very anxious to see how everything turns out!

Use your calendar for more than your vacation days

Yesterday as I was putting O in her stroller I thought to myself how lucky I am. DSC_0690 I used to sit behind a computer staring at my calendar counting down the days until our next camping trip. I remember come garden time I would map out my garden over and over in my head and onto paper. There’s no telling how many times I told myself, “I wish I could just be at home working in my garden.” DSC_0696 As I buckled her in and we approached our garden I realized how lucky I am. I have the ultimate job… caring for our little girl and managing our homestead. I can now layout our garden and plant in one day versus planting after I’ve worked all day and throughout a week or two. I can also schedule my planting to know when to expect harvest from each plant versus having things come in ready to harvest while we are on vacation.

It never fails for that to happen. So yesterday I went through my seeds and counted out on the calendar marking the expected harvest day for each seed. The only crop that may come in while we are out-of-town would be corn but at least I know and can plan for someone to be here and pick the garden while we are gone.

I'm pretty sure I asked him to lift up his shirt and model for me.
I’m pretty sure I asked him to lift up his shirt and model for me.
Tilling our front garden.
Tilling our front garden.

Daniel tilled our garden the day before yesterday and got our potato patch ready. Ahhh there’s something about fresh moved dirt. I love it. I guess it’s just the farmer in me. Normally I would let the soil sit for a few days allowing the weeds and grass to die but I couldn’t resist. O and I planted green beans, cow peas, onion sets, spaghetti squash, and three different types of corn.

Our potato patch.
Our potato patch.
Potato patch soil.
Potato patch soil.

So far we’ve spent $27 on seeds and we have several stowed away for a fall planting. I still have to get a few more seeds and some tomato and pepper plants. We’ve been searching for a local that’s selling plants but we just don’t have many here that are selling organic plants.

By this fall we are hoping to have a green house. This would allow us to grow year around and start more plants from seed. It’s always been a goal of ours but with both of us working we could never make the time to build one. I’m hoping in the end I can have our garden at its finest under $100. That’s nothing compared to what is spent at the grocery store and this garden will hopefully shrink that expense.

When planting your garden remember to pay attention to the ‘Days to Harvest’ on your seed packet. Get a calendar just for your garden if it helps. On the day you plant, count the days that’s listed on the packet from that day and write what should be harvested that day onto the calendar. A lot of factors will play a role into whether you’ll harvest that day or not like weather, rain, etc. But if nothing else you at least have a guideline to go by. I even make plant markers and write.. what it is, the date I planted it and how many days till harvest and put them by the plant rows. I know some may say this is redundant but with how busy we get its nice to look back and have a memo.

My calendar for July so far
My calendar for July so far

Just an update on our raspberries… We have blooms!!

Our raspberries are blooming!
Our raspberries are blooming!
Our raspberries are blooming!
Our raspberries are blooming!

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Less is more

It’s about that time.

I planted a few rows of various leafy greens several weeks ago and they’re finally a few inches tall just begging to be thinned out. Thinning is so hard for me! I see these beautiful plants pushing up behind the soil showing their colors and now I have to pull some up.

gosh Tina.

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Thinning your rows is very important. By practicing this throughout your garden you’re allowing the appropriate amount of room for growth. Plants don’t have to compete for water, space, or nutrients. When I’m in an overly crowded room I feel like I can’t breathe. The same concept goes for plants… if they’re over crowded they can’t get good circulation around their roots.

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We spend too much time and money in our plants and garden for them to be competing for space, nutrients and only being half as good as what they could be.

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When your plants are a few inches tall refer back to your seed packet – so don’t throw any packets away yet! Your packet will elaborate on the plants thinning requirements. I simply pinch the plant at the root and lift up. Pulling the entire plant up exposing the roots. You don’t want to wait too long to thin out because you could take a risk of damaging other plants. Over time with lack of space the plants roots may become bound together with its neighboring plants and once you pull one up you could damage the root system of another. We don’t want that. We need them thriving!

If you haven’t started your garden yet it’s okay. You have time. When you do, keep your packets they have viable information on them! Your packet will guide you from planting your seeds to harvesting your crop and when it can’t… I will!

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Adding raspberries to your homestead

Have you seen the going price for raspberries right now? $4 for half a pint. 4 ounces! Good grief. Just think if you had your own raspberries to add to your summer berry harvest. Haul them out to the local farmers market and score! People would flock to your tent. Offering local organic berries to your community, raspberries at that. You would have something special.

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We planted two raspberry plants and a grape vine last year. We just knew that the grape vine would do well but we were unsure about the raspberries. To our surprise, it was just the opposite. We planted them when they were just 2′ tall and this spring they have over 9′ canes and plenty of them. It’s crazy. Their growth caught us off guard making us realize that we had to build a trellis asap!

If you’re wanting to grow raspberries, a trellis is a must. I’m sure they will grow and bear berries without one, but a trellis will help them grow healthier berries, provide a higher yield and make harvesting easier.

There are several different styles you could go with; we decided that a V-shaped trellis would work best for our plants.

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We started with 4 posts that we cut a few years ago for a barn we were working on. While that project was put on hold, another got started – and finished! We dug four holes, two on each side, about 3′ deep. Allowing the posts to rest in the holes at an angle forming what looks like a “V” on each end. Daniel then took 2 scrap 2×4’s and screwed one into the two posts on each side, immobilizing them while the we cemented the posts in. He then cemented each post. It took 2 bags of cement for all 4 posts.

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We had to go to Lowe’s to scope out potential hardware. We were shocked at how much wire was going to run us. We explored all of our wire options standing there in the aisle of what seemed like hours. Finally, we decided on clothes line wire.

We made our trellis around 43′ long and needed 3 runs of wire on each side. So we snagged 6 bags of the coated clothes line, which by luck happened to be 50′.

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Luckily, I have an amazing husband. He’s so knowledgeable and hard working. He knew exactly what we needed to rig our lines up: 6 turnbuckles, 12 eye bolts, and 12 wire clamps.

Daniel then screwed in the eye bolts on each post (3 on each – 12 total). Then he clamped the 6 separate wires through 6 of the eye bolts. On the opposite side of the wire that has already been clamped, he attached the turnbuckle and ran it all the way out. As he ran the wire through the turnbuckle he pulled it as taught as he could and secured it with another wire clamp. Now he was able to tighten the turnbuckle picking up any slack and finish with trimming the excess wire. He did this with the remaining 5 lines.

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With already having the posts we were able to save around $40. The hardware and cement ran us around $80. We really thought we would have been able to come out even cheaper but didn’t really “shop around”. The wire that you typically would see on a trellis was going to run a lot more than $80 alone. So we opted for the cheaper, less appealing, because we knew we could make it work.

As your raspberries grow and the canes reach each level of your trellis, you’ll want to use a bread tie to attach the cane to the wire. This keeps it off the ground and allows it to continue to grow upward towards the next level of your trellis. If you follow my blog, I’m sure by now, you’re making your own bread. If not, be sure to save the bread ties off of the loaves you purchase. If you do make your own bread, you can purchase ties from about any “box store”

 

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Each cane only lives for 2 years. Once they turn grey you will want to trim the cane off. You should also scope out your land before you plant your raspberries plants. They shouldn’t be planted within 600 feet of wild blackberries. So get familiar with your land, plant away from the blackberries and look for areas that will receive full sun.

Others will love your raspberries as much as you do! These others will happen to have fur. Yep, rabbits. They will eat your plants UP. So, set up rabbit gums to catch them or plan on hunting them one night. Rabbit is a very tasty meat to incorporate into your diet. If you’re not into that, then you can always sell them.

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People around here pay $5-$10 per rabbit. Whichever way you choose, you’ll need to decide on something because once they find your plants you will need to find a way to save your raspberry plants. You spend way too much time and money to let these little fellas ruin them. I’ve learned that you can’t be “soft” if you’re going to try to be self sustained because you will only end up with your feelings hurt. So do it for the sake of your plants. As they benefit from the lack of rabbits you can also benefit from the harvest of them!

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Adding a berry variety to your homestead is a great thing. From the health benefits of raspberries to the rarity of them at the market, you’ll be adding something special to your homestead. Not to mention how much fun it is picking them!

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Transplanting – Regrowth and Rebuild.

I can always remember having blueberry bushes growing up as a child. I also remember my family dabbling in strawberries, peach trees, and blackberries. There were only two fruits that grew effortlessly and vigorously, blackberries and blueberries. I don’t remember much about our strawberries production. Maybe because the experience was so short lived due to the very reason of poor production. Or maybe it was too much maintenance. I’m not sure. But the peach trees did produce. Just not the plump fruit that when bitten into juice runs out and down the corners of your mouth. They were small, very small. I’m sure the pit made up 75 percent of the fruit. They made great throwing objects for me and my brother. Often at each other. However, I do remember a family member collecting what little fruit those trees were able to produce to make wine. At least they didnt go to complete waste.

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For me, summer just wouldn’t be the same without blackberries and blueberries. Our blackberries grew wild along a fence separating our property and a neighbors pasture. Over time they have grown full and hearty. Not only the bushes but the fruit too. Goodness, some of the berries measure from fingertip to knuckle. There’s just something about fresh picked wild blackberries that make this country girl want to get out the flour and rolling pin! In the summer my dad will call and say, “Ashley, I’ve been picking blackberries this morning. I picked over a gallon. Want me to bring it over?”. What he really means is, “Ashley, will you please make me a blackberry pie?”.

Ohhh the blueberries. I’m pretty sure they’re supposed to be called bushes but ever since I was little our blueberry bushes just kept getting bigger and bigger. My dad is 6’7″ and these bushes now tower over him. Goodness at what point are they considered trees?!

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These three bushes produce so many berries it’s crazy. It doesn’t seem like 3 bushes could provide that much fruit. Although, our neighbors and friends pick off of them and they still provided us with a bountiful supply. Each year you will see new shoots peaking out of the ground beneath the lowest blueberry limbs. Their mint green and gorgeous purple stem cannot be mistaken. Ahhh they are so pretty. Each year they’d come up and each year my dad would clip them.

Ever since I got married these traditional summer pickings became next to extinct. That is until we started transplanting blueberry shoots from a mother plant of one of the three plants from my dad’s house. We started with transplanting just one shoot maybe 2 years ago. I told Daniel it probably wouldn’t start providing fruit for 3 years. I was wrong. It started bearing fruit last year. While not a lot but setting the bar a little higher each year to come. This past weekend we transplanted 6 shoots. I’m pretty sure I saw that at the hardware store they sell blueberry bush transplants for almost $7 each. Wow, we are already in the ‘good’ with a savings of around $42. Perfect! I can only hope that these will take hold and flourish as the bushes did back at home. For these bushes to grow abundantly and provide my growing family with fresh juice, jam, and treats would sure be a God send. Not only be a potential source of income for our homestead.

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If you’re interested in transplanting blueberry shoots this should be done in early spring before (as my dad would say) the sap is running. If you’re unsure when that is you can always look up transplanting blueberry shoot recommendations for your area online.

Next you have to find a mother plant.

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Hopefully, a friend or family member has a mother plant with available shoots for your picking. Of course this would save you money. Once you find a mother plant with shoots you’ll want to take a shovel and go out from the base of the shoot about 6 inches to a foot.

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Then dig up all the way around the shoot keeping that same distance from the base to loosen the shoot free. You will be cutting through its root system at this time. Don’t worry they should take hold once you get them back in the ground.

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Okay, you have your shoot(s). Find an area with full sun for your transplant. Now you’ll need to dig a hole double the depth and width of what you dug up with your shoot. This allows fresh loose soil for your newly cut roots to move more easily through.

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At this point you’ll need to fill the hole with loose dirt until your transplant sits flush to the ground. Once this is complete you’ll want to fill in around the plant with soil. Viola! You have successfully transplanted a blueberry shoot! Now it’s very crucial to water your transplant. Don’t wait. Water heavily the day you transplant. If you can’t transplant the day you dig up your shoots you may be able to wait a day or so if you wet the roots and soil then wrap it up with a plastic grocery bag. Planning ahead and doing it in the same day is best. Now you can mulch around the base to hold in moisture and your done!

Happy transplanting!

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