Tag Archives: Fruit

The Homesteading Bucket List Part 2: 25 More Practical Country Living Projects

The Country Living Bucket List Part 2

Ready for 25 more skills to build on the ones you mastered previously? This set is considerably more advanced than the first, so take your time and be prepared for the learning curve.

26. Prune a Fruit Tree

Although more involved than pruning cane fruits, pruning fruit trees is still quite essential to keeping your trees productive and healthy. Be sure to study some diagrams carefully before you tackle this one. Every cut you make will affect your harvest for better or worse for years to come.

Helpful Resource

Pruning Fruit Trees
Handy free document with illustrations from K-State.

27. Build a Fence

Good fences make good farms. Fencing the garden is a must to keep animal pests at bay. Fencing the yard is highly recommended if you have pets. Fencing the perimeter of the property discourages trespassers. One type of fencing that is better avoided at first, however, is permanent fencing subdividing pastures. Most grazing management experts recommend that beginners use only portable fencing to break up pastures for the first three years or so, as there is a strong tendency to overdo it when starting out, creating logistical mayhem in the long run.

Helpful Resource

How to Make Osage Orange Fence Posts
Making your own fence posts can be surprisingly easy.

28. Learn an Intensive Gardening Technique

Intensive gardening methods seek to maximize the yields of produce per square foot of growing space. These methods were usually created in response to the inefficiencies of traditional row gardening, which was developed based on commercial horticultural implements. For making the most of small areas, intensive gardening techniques cannot be beat. Consider some of these possibilities:

  • Biointensive gardening.
  • Container gardening.
  • Interplanting.
  • Lasagna gardening.
  • Mittlieder method.
  • No-work gardening.
  • Raised bed gardening.
  • Square foot gardening.
  • Soil bag gardening.
  • Straw bale gardening.
  • Succession planting.
  • Tire gardening.
  • Vertical gardening.

29. Work with a Team of Draft Animals

What can draft animals do for you? Plenty. Two areas where draft animals still excel today are in small-scale grain growing and in sustainable logging. For farms with an agritourism bent, draft animals have considerable educational and entertainment value, as well.

Helpful Resource

Draft Animal Power for Farming
Important information to know before you get started, conveniently available in a free PDF download.

30. Grow Grain

You would be surprised at how little space it takes to meet a family’s annual grain needs! Furthermore, raising your own grain can be a way to avoid pesticides and GMOs while taking advantage of the impressive nutrient profiles of traditional grains that may be hard to find at the grocery store.

31. Freeze Eggs

Once your layer flock hits its stride, you will probably start wondering what to do with all those eggs. Freezing them is an incredibly simple way to save them for the winter, when your chickens will be taking a holiday. Frozen eggs are quite satisfactory when used for baking or scrambling.

Helpful Resource

How to Freeze Eggs
Step-by-step instructions.

32. Sell Homegrown Food

This is not an easy task, but fortunately it doesn’t have to be done on a large scale. If starting a full-fledged food business is not for you, sell a dozen eggs to some close friends. If you are more ambitious, set up a produce stand or sell grassfed beef to a restaurant.

Helpful Resources

Starting & Running Your Own Small Farm BusinessStarting & Running Your Own Small Farm Business
A 10-step overview covering everything from business plans to product pricing to sale venues. Read our full review.

Farm Fresh
Plenty of ideas for marketing grassfed meat and milk. Read our full review.

Kansas Department of Agriculture Licensing Guides
Important information to know before making your first sale. (If you are not in Kansas, check your state’s department of agriculture for a similar resource.)

33. Make Homemade Bread

Making bread does not have to be complicated! While some home bread bakers are true artisans, working with carefully crafted recipes and doing every step by hand, those who are pressed for time or inclination can use a bread machine.

34. Plant a Cover Crop

Whether you grow vegetables or grains, a cover crop is a great way to improve your soil—naturally! Cover crops can offer numerous benefits in the way of nitrogen fixation, weed suppression, and organic matter building.

Helpful Resources

Cover Crop Decision Tool
A superb online tool that factors in your objectives, climate, and soil conditions. Highly recommended for growers of both grains and vegetables.

Cover Crops for Vegetable Growers
Useful site from Cornell that profiles 17 cover crops that work well in the garden.

35. Sew an Entire Garment

Again, keep it simple, especially to start. Make it easy on yourself by starting with a purchased pattern. Also, invest in some internet tutorials and how-to books before you pick up the thread. As a final time-saving tip, consider buying a sewing machine, particularly if you think you are likely to sew regularly in the future. A sewing machine can make garment repair and creation quick and easy.

36. Learn to Quilt

This time-honored tradition can be a great creative outlet! Furthermore, there are plenty of kits and books to get you off to a good start these days. If an entire quilt seems like a daunting first project, consider a pillow instead.

37. Build a Root Cellar

It seems like nearly every homesteader’s dream involves a root cellar. And it’s a great way to keep your produce fresh throughout the long winter months when you can’t garden as much!

Helpful Resource

HomeMadeHomeMade
This handy project book includes tips and plans for building your own root cellar. Read our full review.

38. Shear a Sheep

Shearing is something of a lost art, with few professional shearers left. Fortunately, thanks to a growing interest in country living across America, the skill of shearing still has a bright future among hobby farmers.

39. Learn How to Spin

Once you’ve sheared your first sheep, it is only logical to learn how spin the fleece into yarn. Unfortunately, spinning wheels can be very expensive these days. However, the drop spindle is an affordable alternative, especially if you want to test your level of interest before making a considerable investment.

40. Hatch a Batch of Chicks Yourself

There’s nothing like raising your own chicks from eggs. This is an area where you have quite a few options, too. You may want to purchase fertile eggs from a hatchery, or you can let your own rooster and hens do the work. You can bring the hatching process indoors with an incubator, or you can opt to let a broody hen provide a more natural experience.

Helpful Resource

The Broody Hen Versus the Incubator
A comparison of the advantages of each option.

41. Make Ice Cream

Even if you don’t have farm-fresh milk available, you can still make some mighty tasty ice cream with cream from the store. Many gadgets for making ice cream exist these days, and most come with recipes to get you started.

Helpful Resource

Ice Cream Ball
This is a fun way to make ice cream, but it does involve some exercise and some patience.

Stocking UpStocking Up
The third edition of this classic includes tips on making ice cream. Read our full review.

42. Make Cheese

Again, even if you don’t raise dairy cows or goats, you can still make cheese at home. If you are completely new to the process, consider starting with a beginner’s kit.

Helpful Resource

Stocking Up
The third edition includes quite a bit of cheesemaking information, including specifics on cottage cheese, ricotta, cream cheese, semi-hard cheese, and cheddar. Read our full review.

43. Learn How to Dehydrate Fruit

Many fruits can be dehydrated at home, and often without much investment in equipment. If you are new to food dehydration, consider starting out with your tried-and-true home oven. Other dehydrating options include solar drying, freeze drying, and using a special electric food dehydrator.

Helpful Resources

Stocking Up
The third edition of this old classic includes a considerable amount of information on your many dehydrating options. Read our full review.

Drying
This part of K-State’s Food Preservation site offers links to information on equipment, methods, storage, and more.

44. Make Jam or Jelly

Making homemade jam or jelly is not only a way to preserve fruit, it is also a way to achieve unique flavor. However, food safety considerations are crucial when making jam or jelly, so be sure to read up before you start!

Helpful Resources

Stocking Up
Includes very practical information on making jam or jelly. Read our full review.

Jams & Jellies
This part of K-State’s Food Preservation site has information on working with apples, cherries, peaches, and a variety of berries, along with general information on the various steps of the jelly-making process.

45. Learn to Knit

This is an easy and rewarding skill to pick up, and a natural next step after learning to spin. Start with something really simple, such as a washcloth or scarf, and before you know it you’ll be making everything from socks to sweaters.

Helpful Resource

Kids KnittingKids Knitting
Not only is this inviting, easy-to-understand book a great way to introduce children to a productive craft, it is a superb way for an adult to get started, too! Read our full review.

46. Learn to Crochet

And if you’re going to learn how to knit, learning how to crochet is also a natural choice!

47. Sell a Handmade Craft

Already selling food? Selling crafts is even easier. Considering adding your handmade items to your farm product lineup or setting up shop online.

48. Make an Entire Meal with Only Homegrown Ingredients

This is the ultimate goal for many homesteaders, and it is one that will require some planning. You will likely need a homegrown grain and some homemade butter to make bread or some other baked good. For a dinner, you will also want home-raised meat and a sampling of produce from the garden. For a breakfast, you might consider farm-fresh eggs and some homemade jelly.

49. Learn to Ride a Horse

While not absolutely essential on many homesteads, horseback riding can be excellent recreation, and it can be useful if you raise a larger herd of cattle. Consider this one a reward for a lifetime of homesteading well done.

Helpful Resource

The Basics of Western RidingThe Basics of Western Riding
While you will definitely need a more advanced guide at some point, this should get you started. Read our full review.

50. Teach a Country Living Skill to Someone Younger Than You

Here’s your chance to give back. Whether you pass your knowledge along to your children, to an apprentice, or to a blog reader, sharing your expertise will help ensure that country living skills are handed down through the years.

The Homesteading Bucket List Part 1: 25 Practical Country Living Projects

The Country Living Bucket List Part 1If you love country living, you probably enjoy reading websites and magazines that regularly feed your interest and give you new ideas of things to try out. After all, there are always new skills to be learned, and you never know what will become your next favorite project, hobby, or venture!

While your homesteading bucket list can (and should) be unique, you may find that the following suggestions spark an interest that you didn’t even know you had. You’ll also find helpful resources for jumping into many of the projects. The projects are roughly organized with the idea that the skills will complement and build upon one another.

We will feature 25 projects this week and 25 more next week for an even 50.

Have fun!

1. Start a Country Living Library

The perfect starting point! Reading broadly is the key to knowledgeable country living, and therefore the key to success. Want to get the most bang for your book-buying buck? Start with a few classics with philosophies that appeal to you—those that provide inspiration and a broad feel of what you are aiming for in your country living adventure, whether that is a slower lifestyle, a farm that pays the bills, or just a source of healthier food. Also pick up a few beginner-friendly how-to books on projects that you intend to pursue in the near future, such as gardening, cooking, or chicken-keeping.

Helpful Resources

Top 10 Books for Beginning Farmers
This list includes titles on gardening, field crops, livestock, food preservation, starting a farm business, and more.

The Homestead Bookshelf
Our steadily growing selection of the best books on country living out there!

2. Learn About Five Alternative Agriculture Concepts, Practices, or Systems

Once you have a library, you’ll be ready to explore the many options available for those looking to farm a little differently. You will likely want to mix and match to adapt to your unique circumstances. However, each of the different systems has much to offer. Topics you might research include:

3. Create a Budget

Living within your means is a huge part of country living. Take some time to plan how you will pay off any and all debt, and then start saving!

4. Start a Vegetable Garden

No matter how little land you have, you almost certainly have enough room for a vegetable garden, even if it consists solely of a few pots on a porch. This is probably the most rewarding country living project you can tackle.

Helpful Resources

Starting a Garden or Orchard
This series walks you through the basics of water, workload, location, logistics, and plant selection.

How to Plan a Garden
A step-by-step guide to mapping out a successful first garden.

5. Plant an Herb Garden

And while you are working on your vegetable garden, be sure to make room for a few herbs! Your herb garden does not have to be a separate feature of your property. Many herbs can protect your vegetables from insect pests if grown as companion plants.

6. Plant an Apple Tree

A dwarf apple tree is fairly easy to care for compared to other fruits, and it will reward you for years to come.

Helpful Resource

Planning Your Fruit Garden
Just the basics from K-State.

7. Build a Small Shed, Coop, or Other Shelter for Livestock

Livestock require shelter, and many country handymen enjoy building their own. What you build will obviously depend on what you intend to raise. Just keep in mind that simple is often best.

Helpful Resources

HomeMadeHomeMade
Includes many basic projects that will come in handy on your new homestead! Read our full review.

Free LSU Building Plans
These structures tend to be larger and more involved, but there is still plenty of useful material here.

8. Start a Flock of Laying Hens

What homestead would be complete without laying hens? This rewarding project is truly a must—homegrown eggs are infinitely superior to commercial in appearance and peace of mind, not to mention nutritional value.

Helpful Resources

Choosing a Breed of Chicken
Tried-and-true tips for selecting breeds that will meet your needs.

How to Welcome Your Mail-Order Chicks
A step-by-step procedure for getting your baby chicks off to a good start.

Storey's Guide to Raising ChickensStorey’s Guide to Raising Chickens
An essential book for the beginning chicken-keeper! Read our full review.

9. Build a Birdhouse

A backyard full of birds is a place of beauty. Furthermore, these delightful creatures will do their part in keeping insect pests under control. Have a little extra time on your hands? Make a few more birdhouses than you need and give them away as Christmas gifts to those nature lovers on your list!

Helpful Resource

The Complete Book of Birdhouse ConstructionComplete Book of Birdhouse Construction
Very concise illustrated guide with detailed plans for homes for house finches, great crested flycatchers, purple martins, phoebes, downy woodpeckers, wood ducks, and bluebirds, as well as specifications for many more. Read our full review.

10. Use Native Plants for Landscaping

Native plants have a tremendous advantage when it comes to landscaping—they are exceptionally well adapted to your area! When setting about beautifying your place in the country, consider some of the hardy plants that are native to your soil and climate.

11. Make Compost

Composting is not as difficult or mysterious as many books would lead you to believe. While there are many advantages to a precisely controlled hot compost pile, cold composting is a forgiving method that can have you looking like a pro in no time!

Helpful Resource

The Complete Compost Gardening GuideThe Complete Compost Gardening Guide
This friendly book makes composting easy! Read our full review.

12. Raise Earthworms

Earthworms are a gardener’s best friend! If you just want to introduce the children to these fun and fascinating animals, keep it simple and house some worms from your backyard in a clear jar with some garden soil and kitchen scraps for a while. Serious about raising earthworms? Try vermicomposting!

13. Identify the Plants in Your Pasture

What’s the best pasture grass to start with? Often it’s whatever is already occupying the place! Learn what plants, useful and toxic, are on your land, and use that information to find out how to manage your native pastures to advantage.

Helpful Resource

Grasses of Kansas
Our own guide to Kansas grasses, their characteristics, life cycles, ecology, uses, and hazards.

Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses
A very useful website with concise information and photos galore!

14. Press Flowers

While you’re in the pasture, collect some plants to press and store in a nature journal. Not only is this a fun craft, it will help you master plant identification over time.

15. Dry Herbs

Many gardeners believe that the flavor of homegrown herbs dried in small batches and stored for short periods of time is far superior to that of dried herbs that have sat on the grocery store shelf for a while. Fortunately, the skill of drying herbs is not a difficult one to acquire, and these days there are many methods, ranging from hanging up bundles of herbs in an airy place to using sophisticated solar dehydrators.

16. Save Heirloom Seeds

The practice of saving seeds to plant and to share is a time-honored one. Some old vegetable varieties are only around today because one dedicated gardener thought they were worth preserving. Make sure your favorite heirloom plants are still around for future generations by saving the seeds!

Helpful Resource

Vegetables
Our guide to growing vegetables includes step-by-step instructions for saving seeds.

Basic Principles of Breeding Heirloom Vegetables
Information on ensuring a healthy gene pool when saving heirloom plants, for the truly dedicated seed-saver.

17. Start an Indoor Container Garden

Even if you have space for a large outdoor garden, there are still advantages to growing a few plants in pots indoors. Herbs are often more convenient when placed within arm’s reach of the cook. Indoor container gardening can be a simple way to extend the growing season. Also, container gardening makes growing some plants, such as citrus trees, possible regardless of your climate.

18. Make Your Own Mulch

There are many types of mulch that can easily be made at home. Shredding discarded newspapers and collecting lawn clippings are two options within reach of nearly every homesteader. With the right equipment, you may also be able to cut your own straw or chip your own wood mulch.

Helpful Resource

A Brief Guide to 13 Common Garden Mulches
Learn about the pros, cons, and best applications of over a dozen mulches, some of which are easy to make yourself.

19. Build a Cold Frame

There’s a reason homesteaders love cold frames—they are easy to build and highly effective at extending the growing season. Don’t neglect this valuable addition to your country lifestyle!

Helpful Resource

HomeMade
Includes plans for a cold frame. Read our full review.

20. Put Up a Bird Feeder

Bring some cheer to your place during those cold winter months (and enjoy the satisfaction of doing a good deed while you’re at it!). Bird feeders can be surprisingly easy to make.

Helpful Resource

The Backyard Bird Feeder's BibleThe Backyard Bird Feeder’s Bible
This fun and friendly book includes numerous do-it-yourself bird feeder projects, and it will even tell you what your favorite birds prefer to eat! Read our full review.

21. Cut and Use Firewood from Your Own Property

Many find cutting firewood to be a very satisfying way to heat their own homes. Keep in mind that not all firewoods are created equal. Hardwoods are much more efficient than softwoods, and seasoned wood is highly recommended for a nice, clean burn.

22. Mend a Garment

Clothing mishaps are inevitable on a small farm, so it’s best to be prepared. Learning these simple skills can extend the life of your clothes considerably:

  • Sewing on a button.
  • Stitching a tear in fabric.
  • Patching blue jeans.
  • Darning socks.

23. Make a Piece of Furniture

Here’s a winter project that can quickly make you very popular with your relatives! Furthermore, making your own furniture can provide you with the satisfaction of owning one-of-a-kind pieces that fit perfectly into your home.

24. Learn to Tie Basic Knots

Knot-tying is a very useful skill for those who spend time working outdoors. Even if gardening is your only country living project, you would be amazed at how useful a good knot can be.

25. Prune Cane Fruits

To maximize the health and productivity of your cane fruits, such as blackberries and raspberries, regular pruning is recommended. Fortunately, it is also quite an easy skill to learn.

Helpful Resource

How to Prune Blackberries
Step-by-step instructions for both winter and post-harvest pruning.

A Rainbow of Natural Dyes

A Rainbow of Natural DyesCraftsy folks frequently share a do-it-yourself ethic. While it’s always easier just to buy cheap, pretty yarn at the craft store, some (particularly homesteaders) prefer to create their own dyes. In fact, if you own sheep or other fiber animals, this may be a logical next step to adding value to your products.

You can even take the dye-it-yourself project a step further by harvesting the materials for your own homemade dye! Many dye materials can be grown in the garden or collected on a nature walk.

Looking for a specific color? Here’s where to find it. You will notice that some colors are altered by the mordant used. A mordant is a substance used to fix a dye onto a fabric.

Red

  • Avocado skin and seed: Light pink.
  • Roses: Brilliant pink with mint and lemon juice to activate alkaloids.
  • Lavender: Brilliant pink with mint and lemon juice to activate alkaloids.
  • Pink or red camellia blooms: Strong pink to magenta with salt and lemon.
  • Fresh dandelions: Magenta.
  • Sumac fruit: Light red.
  • Pokeweed fruit: Rust with chrome as a mordant.
  • Bamboo: Turkey red.
  • Madder root: Garnet red with chrome as a mordant.
  • Beets: Deep red.

Orange

  • Giant coreopsis: Bright orange.
  • Yellow onion skin: Bright orange with tin as a mordant; burnt orange with alum.
  • Butternut bark or seed husks: Light yellow-orange.
  • Lilac twigs and bark: Yellowish orange.
  • Shredded carrots: Rich orange.
  • Red onion skin: Reddish orange with alum as a mordant.

Yellow

  • White mulberry bark: Cream with with alum as a mordant.
  • Osage orange wood: Pale yellow.
  • St. John’s wort tops: Bright yellow with chrome as a mordant.
  • Goldenrod flowers: Bright yellow with tin as a mordant.
  • Tumeric: Very bright, vibrant yellow.
  • Dandelion flowers: Soft yellow with alum as a mordant.
  • Elderberry leaves: Soft yellow with alum as a mordant; deep yellow with chrome as a mordant.
  • Plantain: Dull yellow with alum as a mordant.
  • Fennel flowers and leaves: Mustard yellow with alum as a mordant.
  • Coneflower leaves and stems: Gold.
  • Red clover: Gold with alum as a mordant.
  • Marigold flowers: Gold with chrome as a mordant.
  • Red onion skins: Gold with chrome as a mordant.
  • Sage tops: Deep yellow with chrome as a mordant.
  • Dock roots: Deep yellow with alum as a mordant.

Green

  • Foxglove flowers: Apple green.
  • Peony flowers: Pale lime green.
  • Queen Anne’s lace: Pale green.
  • Hydrangea flowers: Celery green with alum as a mordant plus copper.
  • Fresh sage tops: Green-gray with iron as a mordant.
  • Fresh yarrow: Olive green with iron as a mordant.
  • Marjoram tops: Olive green with chrome as a mordant.
  • Coneflower blooms: Brownish green.
  • Peppermint: Dark khaki green.
  • Sorrel roots: Dark green.
  • Bayberry plant: Dark green with iron as a mordant.
  • Fresh dock leaves: Dark green with iron as a mordant.

Blue

  • Geranium: Blue-gray.
  • Fresh elderberries: Blue-gray with tin as a mordant.
  • Dogwood fruit: Greenish blue.
  • Indigo: Deep true blue.

Purple

  • Basil: Purplish gray.
  • Huckleberries: Lavender.
  • Elderberries: Lavender.
  • Red or black mulberries: Royal purple.
  • Red cabbage leaves: Rich purple.
  • Dark red or purple hibiscus flowers: Reddish purple.
  • Pokeweed berries: Deep reddish purple.
  • Very dark purple iris blooms: Dark bluish purple with alum as a mordant.
  • Blackberries: Strong purple.

Brown, Gray, and Black

  • Tea: Ecru.
  • Dried fennel seeds: Very pale brown.
  • Birch bark: Light brown to buff.
  • Tea bags: Light brown or tan.
  • Weeping willow wood and bark: Peachy brown.
  • Plantain: Camel with chrome as a mordant.
  • Pine tree bark: Medium-light brown.
  • Dandelion roots: Warm brown.
  • Broom sedge: Golden brown.
  • Fennel leaves: Golden brown with chrome as a mordant.
  • Yellow onion skins: Brass with chrome as a mordant.
  • Yellow coneflower head: Brass to greenish brass with chrome as a mordant.
  • Wild plum root: Rusty brown.
  • Red onion skins: Dark tan with chrome as a mordant.
  • Goldenrod shoots: Deep brown.
  • Beets: Deep brown with ferrous sulfate as a mordant.
  • Butternut bark: Dark brown when thoroughly boiled down.
  • Dried oregano stalks: Deep brown to black.
  • Black walnut hulls: Deep brown to black.
  • Carob pods: Dark gray.
  • Iris roots: Black.
  • Sumac leaves: Black.
  • Oak galls: Strong black.

Conclusion

This is a very small sampling of the natural dyes that exist, but it is sufficient to demonstrate that the plant kingdom offers an entire rainbow of colors just waiting for harvest. If you are willing to dye your own fiber, you will never run out of new options for achieving your favorite colors.

How to Prune Blackberries

How to Prune BlackberriesAs winter continues to linger, some of you may be taking the opportunity to prune the orchard, including the small fruits, while the plants are dormant.

But before we tell you how to safely chop away at your blackberries, let’s address the different varieties of blackberries. Traditionally, most blackberries have borne fruit on two-year-old canes, called floricanes. Recently, however, some ever-bearing varieties have been developed; these bear fruit on one-year-old canes, or primocanes.

Primocane varieties have the potential to bear two crops—one in the summer from the second-year canes and one in the fall from the first-year canes. This is why they are considered ever-bearing. While this initially sounds like an advantage, fruiting on the first-year canes is typically only beneficial in northerly climates with late springs. Fruit from primocanes gets off to a later start start than fruit from floricanes, enabling it to ripen in the cool fall when moisture is abundant. After harvest, the canes are typically cut to the ground, as northern growers generally do not want to deal with the sparse summer harvest of the second-year canes.

However, primocane blackberries typically suffer in quantity and quality in climates where summer temperatures hit 90°F. Under these conditions, floricanes have the advantage due to their greater heat tolerance. This is probably why K-State blackberry variety recommendation lists typically only include the tried-and-true floricane varieties.

Therefore, we will only address the pruning needs of standard floricane blackberries in this post.

 

You Will Need

  • Pruning shears.
  • Lopping shears (good for tougher wood and reaching into brambles without getting scratched).
  • Gloves (thick ones if you are dealing with thorny varieties!).

 

Instructions

Winter Pruning
  1. Cut down all dead, diseased, or weak canes. Make sure your cut is as close to ground level as possible.
  2. Thin out the remaining live, healthy canes to leave about four to six inches of space between every cane.
  3. Trim lateral branches back to a length of 12 to 18 inches. Err on the shorter side if you frequently have problems with breakage. Not only does this part of the pruning process result in sturdier branches, but it will encourage the plant to put more energy into growing big, luscious berries rather than longer branches.
Post-Harvest Pruning
  1. Cut down all canes that bore fruit during the summer. They will not bear again, and removing them immediately after harvest can reduce the risk of disease. You should have no difficulty identifying the canes that bore fruit, as they will likely have evidence of old flowers and fruits remaining on them. They will also have very hard, woody stems. Make sure your cut is as close to ground level as possible.
  2. Cut down all canes that have escaped the beds.
  3. Trim new canes (thick, fleshy, greenish canes that did not bear fruit during the growing season) back to a height of four feet. If the first-year canes are less than four feet tall, just nip off an inch or two of the tip. This encourages the growth of lateral branches, which is where the next season’s fruit will grow. It will also cause the cane to thicken up and become stronger and less top-heavy.
  4. If you are using a trellis, this is a good opportunity to train the canes.

 

A Few Final Tips

If your blackberry plants are healthy, feel free to compost the pruned material. Just be sure to chop up anything hard or unwieldy to encourage faster composting. But if your blackberries are suffering from any disease issues, you will probably want to burn the pruned-out canes to avoid the spread of disease.

Regularly cleaning your pruning shears is advisable when dealing with diseased plants. Use a solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water.

 

Helpful Resource

Raspberries and Blackberries
Handy illustrated report from K-State that includes pruning directions.

Eat Your Colors: Blue and White, Plus Menu Tips

Eat Your Colors: Blue and White, Plus Menu TipsHaving fun eating your reds, oranges, and greens? On to blues and whites!

 

Blue and Purple

Blue and purple colors in produce are created by the pigment anthocyanin. The darker the color, the greater the amount of pigment present.

Nutrients found in the blue/purple group include:

  • Fiber.
  • Flavonoids.
  • Vitamin C.

Blue/purple fruits and vegetables are serious soldiers on the front lines of your body’s defense systems. They keep the immune system in peak condition, actively fighting carcinogens and combating inflammation throughout the body. The blues and purples improve the absorption of calcium and other minerals, keep the blood pressure balanced, and keep the digestive system running smoothly. They may also promote circulatory health by preventing clotting. To top it off, the anthocyanins concentrated in these fruits and vegetables have been linked to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.

Eager to tap into the powers of the blues and purples? Try some of the purple varieties of this produce:

  • Asparagus.
  • Blackberries.
  • Blueberries.
  • Cabbage.
  • Eggplants.
  • Figs.
  • Grapes (and raisins).
  • Plums.
  • Peppers.
  • Pomegranates.
  • Potatoes.

 

White

Can white fruits and vegetables offer any nutritional value? Yes! They receive their unique color from anthoxanthins—pale pigments with antioxidant effects.

Check out some of these nutrients:

  • Allicin (a natural chemical that promotes heart health).
  • Beta glucans (necessary for white blood cell health).
  • Potassium.

The whites have surprising amounts of immune-boosting ability. Furthermore, they offer nutrients critical to maintaining a proper balance of hormones throughout the body.

What fruits and vegetables have white varieties? Try some of these:

  • Bananas.
  • Cauliflower.
  • Corn.
  • Dates.
  • Garlic.
  • Ginger.
  • Kohlrabi.
  • Mushrooms.
  • Onions.
  • Pears (brown-skinned varieties).
  • Potatoes.
  • Shallots.
  • Turnips.

 

Suggestions for Eating Your Colors

Take a look at the color of your current diet. Could it best be described as beige? That probably means you are eating too much processed and packaged food (e.g., crackers). Time to incorporate the rainbow into your diet!

There is no specific formula to follow here. The key word is variety. The idea is to regularly incorporate a mix of colors into your diet, and this can be incredibly simple. One recommendation dieticians sometimes make is to check your grocery cart and make sure you’re buying several categories of produce—if you only have one color represented, swap a few items out with produce of other colors before you make your purchase. Gardeners, notice that each category includes both cool-season and warm-season plants; if you aim for variety in your planting schedule you should be able to harvest a rainbow throughout the season.

Note that to gain the maximum benefit from most of these fruits and vegetables, you should eat the skin whenever possible, as that is where many of the pigments and nutrients are stored. We recommend using this natural veggie wash to remove wax, dirt, and other contaminants first.

What about winter? Never fear! Frozen fruits and vegetables retain much of their color and nutritional value, making frozen produce a viable and very healthy option for those times when you just can’t get it fresh.

Cooking up a balanced blend of vitamins and minerals can be simple! Just enjoy a mix of colors on your plate on a daily basis.

 

Helpful Resources

Vegetables
Our own guide to growing, storing, and preparing produce simply.

Cookbooks
Need more tips for making the most of fruits and vegetables? Try out some of these real-food-focused cookbooks.

What is Permaculture?

What is Permaculture?As you enter the field of sustainable agriculture, one term you will come into frequent contact with is permaculture. Permaculture is a very complex, systems-oriented topic and is thus difficult to summarize without leaving out any pertinent information. This discussion is intended to be merely an introduction.

In short, permaculture seeks to imitate natural systems and take a holistic approach to sustainable living and growing food. This emphasis on natural design results in a system that can be modified and applied anywhere around the globe (thus its appeal to urban gardeners). No design element is emphasized more than another because the key lies in the interaction of elements. In other words, the whole is larger than the sum of the parts.

The word permaculture was originally a portmanteau word combining permanent and agriculture. It is now considered a combination of permanent and culture, reflecting an expansion of the system into all aspects of society.

Note that, while permaculture is usually organic in nature, it is much more than simply growing things without chemicals. What is typically regarded as “organic farming” is often a prime example of a focus on one part of the system to the exclusion of all others.

A Little Background

The roots of permaculture go back as far as interest in sustainable farming practices. The term itself, however, originated from the subtitle of a 1929 book by Joseph Russell Smith, Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture. The concept of forestry agriculture sparked interest among those seeking ways of making farming sustainable.

Besides forestry agriculture, other ideas and systems from the early and mid-1900s that may have influenced the various renditions of permaculture include:

In the late 1960s, Australian scientist Bill Mollison and his student David Holmgren began their observations of the rise of industrial agriculture and its consequences. A brief examination of the loss of biodiversity, topsoil, and water quality associated with commercial farming convinced them that a more sustainable system needed to be developed. As a wildlife biologist, Mollison was particularly disturbed by the effect farming was having on natural ecosystems. However, he quickly came to the conclusion that he wanted to respond with a positive solution rather than impotent rage. The result was the term permaculture (coined in the mid-1970s by the scientific duo) and the system it represented.

Permaculture has continued to evolve since its creation. One of the earliest changes came in the 1980s, when the focus shifted from farming specifically to society as a whole.

Permaculture is now popular among sustainable farmers across the world. Elements of permaculture design have influenced many more farmers who do not adhere dogmatically to any particular theory (e.g., Joel Salatin).

The Three Core Tenets or Ethics

  1. Earth care. This implies provision for all forms of life. The idea is that a healthier earth will better enable humans to thrive. This first tenet of permaculture trickles down into all aspects of the system. While permaculture recognizes that not everyone is in a position to grow all of their own food, it does require that all choose to make purchases that are compatible with a healthy environment.
  2. People care. This implies that all people should have access to the resources necessary for life. Enjoyable lifestyles free from tedium are also a priority. Permaculture emphasizes that all people have value and should be treated with respect. It also encourages strong community ties, fostered by local trade.
  3. Fair share. This implies that no one should take more than they need from the system and that all should return what they do not need back to the system. Permaculturists tend to view the third tenet as the antithesis of the industrial model.

The 12 Principles of Design

  1. Observe and interact. Food systems truly customized to our unique circumstances cannot be achieved without observing how nature works. This demands that the farmer slow down and take time to think, rather than constantly rush from one to-do to the next.
  2. Catch and store energy. Surplus energy should be harvested and stored for times of need, whatever form it takes. Solar energy can be captured in a cold frame or greenhouse. Water energy running out the downspout can be stored in barrels or cisterns. Nutrient energy in the form of surplus animal manure can be conserved in the form of compost.
  3. Obtain a yield. Work without an adequate return is a waste. Permaculturists fully expect to eat the fruits of their labor. They may even trade or sell the surplus. They also tend to expect a harvest of intangibles, such as satisfaction with their work.
  4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback. No one escapes responsibility for their own actions.
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services. Examples of this principle include saving seeds, growing mostly perennial plants, and building a house out of local natural materials.
  6. Produce no waste. Permaculturists are often advocates of recycling and composting everything from paper to dinner scraps to household wastewater. They are also big fans of labor efficiency—the system is typically designed with a view to letting ecosystems sustain themselves with as little effort as possible.
  7. Design from patterns to details. Stepping back and observing patterns and interactions comes first in permaculture. The details can be filled in as necessary.
  8. Integrate rather than segregate. Permitting interactions between different parts of the system promotes sustainability. Permaculture seeks to build “guilds” of symbiotic plants and animals rather than a patchwork of “vegetables here, chickens there, and corn field over yonder.”
  9. Use small and slow solutions. The bigger the design, the more inputs it will require to keep it running. This principle precludes allowing huge multinational corporations to handle the world’s food supply (even the world’s organic food supply).
  10. Use and value diversity. Diverse food systems are less likely to collapse under pressure than monocultures. Furthermore, diversity within the system maximizes efficiency. Diversity is reflected in the emphasis of permaculture on layers of food production. For example, a tree canopy will be supplemented with an understory layer of smaller shade-loving trees followed by a layer of shrubs such as berry bushes. No permaculture system can ever be labeled “cash crop farm,” “poultry farm,” “pig farm,” etc.
  11. Use edges and value the marginal. Permaculture practitioners believe that the transition zone from one ecosystem to another is often the most productive part of either ecosystem. This principle is utilized by maximizing the area devoted to edges and borders. For example, a pond might be constructed with a meandering shoreline to increase the amount of area devoted to the transition zone between land and water.
  12. Creatively use and respond to change. In fact, despite its emphasis on “permanent,” permaculture allows for relatively little permanence, mimicking nature’s pattern of ecological succession. Livestock is rotated, crops are rotated, etc. Even fruit tree plantings are mixed up, with different species and varieties intermingled.

The Benefits

Permaculture advocates often list the following benefits of their system:

  • Innovation.
  • Better quality of life for the farmer due to increased variety and lowered risk of crop failure.
  • Beautiful natural landscapes.
  • Adaptability to any environment, even an urban backyard.
  • Inexpensive production.
  • Reduced labor requirements.

The Challenges

It has been noted that a permaculture system is only as good as the designer. Because permaculture is inexorably founded on ethics and observation, the whole system breaks down in the hands of the unethical and the unobservant. The permaculturist must be willing to continually learn, grow, and plan.

Permaculture and agroforestry are not inherently synonymous (although one might think so reading some descriptions of permaculture systems). Permaculture is, by design, adaptable to any ecosystem. But the heavy emphasis on creating forests may present a challenge to those seeking knowledge on practicing permaculture in native grassland environments. Building a grass-based permaculture system will require particularly close attention to nature and some dedicated research.

And, of course, conventional agriculturalists argue that permaculture cannot match the yields of modern farming methods. But they are not the only ones. Some biologists also note that the natural forests permaculturists seek to mimic are not capable of feeding the world—in fact, that is why humans developed agriculture.

Again, this post is merely an introduction to a complex topic. Permaculture is an involved subject in and of itself; plus it takes on a variety of forms as it is adapted to varying circumstances. Farmers of all stripes and beliefs use permaculture, and the system tends to reflect their different values. If you are interested in permaculture, take the time to search for a presentation that will fit with your values, as well as your natural ecosystem.

Helpful Resource

You Can FarmYou Can Farm
This book from Joel Salatin is an excellent demonstration of permaculture-influenced agripreneurship. Read our full review.

Eat Your Colors: Red, Orange, and Green

Eat Your ColorsTired of counting calories? Some health experts are now proposing an alternative—counting colors.

The pigments that give fruits and vegetables their varied, luscious hues are associated with nutrients important for peak health. Eating a variety of colors helps ensure that we receive a balanced mix of vitamins and minerals.

Here are some common colors and their associated nutrients.

 

Red

Some red fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes and watermelons, derive their color from lycopene, an important antioxidant. Others, such as grapes and strawberries, receive their rosy hue from anthocyanins.

The red family of nutrients includes:

  • Folate.
  • Lycopene.
  • Quercetin (a natural antioxidant and allergy fighter).
  • Vitamin C.

This nutrient group contains important antioxidants that remove free radicals from the body and reduce the risk of some types of cancer and tumors. Fruits and vegetables in the red family are associated with lowered blood pressure and LDL cholesterol levels. They appear to have beneficial effects in arthritis patients.

Ready to eat your reds? Try the red varieties of some of these fruits and vegetables:

  • Apples.
  • Cherries.
  • Cranberries.
  • Grapefruit.
  • Grapes.
  • Radicchio.
  • Radishes.
  • Raspberries.
  • Rhubarb.
  • Onions.
  • Peppers (sweet or hot).
  • Potatoes.
  • Strawberries.
  • Tomatoes (including sauce; cooking tomato sauce lowers vitamin C levels but enhances the absorption of lycopene).
  • Watermelon.

 

Orange and Yellow

Nutrients commonly found in this color family include:

  • Folate.
  • Carotenoids, including beta carotene.
  • Flavonoids.
  • Lutein (protects the eye from cataracts and macular degeneration).
  • Lycopene.
  • Potassium.
  • Vitamin C.

This group can be divided into two groups—citrus and everything else. Citrus does not boast the beta carotene levels of vegetables like carrots, but it is much higher in folate and vitamin C.

Not surprisingly, there are many antioxidants and immune boosters in this group. But there are more goodies that you will find here! The orange/yellow group promotes the building of bones and connective tissue, and it helps ensure healthy pH and blood sugar balances in the body. And, of course, the lutein and beta carotene in carrots and other orange produce will keep your eyes healthy by protecting them from cataracts, inflammation, and age-related degeneration.

Try some of the orange and yellow varieties of these plants:

  • Apricots.
  • Cantaloupe.
  • Carrots.
  • Corn.
  • Lemons.
  • Mangoes.
  • Nectarines.
  • Oranges.
  • Peaches.
  • Peppers.
  • Pineapples.
  • Potatoes.
  • Squash (summer and winter).
  • Sweet potatoes.

 

Green and Yellow-Green

That beautiful green color in fruits and vegetables comes from the pigment chlorophyll.

Here are some of the benefits of eating your greens:

  • Beta carotene.
  • Calcium.
  • Fiber.
  • Folic acid.
  • Isothiocyanates (natural compounds that stimulate the liver to flush out carcinogens).
  • Lutein.
  • Vitamin C.
  • Vitamin K.

Note that this group can be subdivided into two categories—green crucifers (plants in the mustard family) and yellow-green noncrucifers. The crucifers are rich in isothiocyanates, while the noncrucifers supply an abundance of lutein.

This group boasts superb immune-boosting powers. And the high fiber levels associated with these plants will have a positive effect on your digestive system, as well.

Make sure some of these greens have a place on your plate from time to time:

  • Apples.
  • Artichokes.
  • Arugula.
  • Asparagus.
  • Avocados.
  • Broccoli.
  • Brussels sprouts.
  • Celery.
  • Cucumbers.
  • Grapes.
  • Green beans.
  • Green onions.
  • Honeydew.
  • Kiwifruits.
  • Leeks.
  • Lettuce.
  • Limes.
  • Okra.
  • Pears.
  • Peas.
  • Peppers.
  • Pistachios.
  • Spinach.
  • Watercress.
  • Zucchini.

 

Next in series: Blue and white, plus menu tips

The Attack of the Squash Bugs

The Attack of the Squash BugsSquash bugs can devastate garden cucurbits in an amazingly short amount of time. While they typically leave the melons and cucumbers alone (unless they’re really hungry), the pumpkins and squash of all varieties collapse and die as massive amounts of squash bugs suck their juices. As they feed, the bugs also release bacteria that further weaken the plant. Squash bugs may even ruin squash fruits by poking them full of holes with their needle-like mouths.

One female squash bug can lay up to 40 eggs at a time. Multiply that by the number of female squash bugs in your garden—or not. Crushing the squash bug causes it to release a disagreeably pungent odor. Picking one up will stain your hands an orange-ish color.

As if all this wasn’t bad enough, some gardeners report that the squash bugs continue to make themselves a nuisance during the winter months by moving into the house.

 

Where Did They Come From?

The squash bug’s native range extends from the Atlantic to the Rockies and from Canada to South America. For reasons that remain unclear, squash bugs are becoming increasingly prevalent across the entire United States. They can occur anywhere a garden can be found and are now considered a real threat to squash in most states.

 

Preventing Squash Bugs

Garden sanitation is an essential line of defense against squash bugs. Any dead or diseased plant matter left lying around the garden will attract them, so prune and compost anything that is not green and healthy. Keep the weeds cleaned up, as well. At the end of the season, destroy the old squash plants and let the chickens pick through the soil.

Row covers will physically block squash bugs from plants. However, they must be secured well to prevent access. They will be ineffective if placed on the plants later in the season, as the chances are pretty good that there will be bugs hiding in the soil or mulch.

Growing your squash vines vertically on a trellis helps to some degree, as it provides fewer hiding places for the squash bugs to lurk.

And, of course, remember that bugs are far less likely to infest healthy plants than weak ones. Maintain plant health in your garden through proper watering and soil nutrition.

 

Controlling Squash Bugs

The most effective method of control on an existing squash bug population is to hand-pick and destroy as many bugs and eggs as possible—every single day. Washing the soil around the plants first will drive the bugs up off the ground into the open where they are more easily discovered.

You can increase your chances of success by combining this technique with the use of diatomaceous earth (DE). A generous coating of DE will kill squash bugs. Sprinkle it liberally on all of the plants and also across the surface of the ground to deter new bugs from moving in. A solution of dishwashing liquid will also work, but has the potential to severely damage the plants if not completely rinsed off the foliage after the bugs have died.

Unfortunately, once an invasion begins, it is very difficult to control, so prevention is the best solution. As long as the cause of the recent national squash bug invasion remains unidentified and unaddressed, however, American gardeners will likely be doing battle every summer.

 

Helpful Resource

Dustin-Mizer
A useful tool for applying diatomaceous earth in the garden.

3 Reasons to Mulch Your Garden

3 Reasons to Mulch Your GardenIf you are new to gardening, you definitely need to give mulch some consideration. There are good reasons that many experienced gardeners use mulch. In short, mulch is good for both you and your plants. Here’s why.

 

Reason #1: Mulch Keeps Weeds in Check

Mulch covers up bare soil and keeps weed seeds from germinating. If any weed does manage to sprout, it stands a good chance of being smothered. And as for those few weeds hardy enough to poke their leaves up through the mulch, they will be spindly and rooted in moist, loose soil, and therefore easy to pull.

For this reason, mulch is a must around and in between all garden plants. However, it is important that by mulching you don’t introduce the very problems you are trying to solve. Choose a quality source—hay with weed seeds in it, for instance, is likely to give you a headache in the long run. Whatever type of mulch you choose, apply it thickly. A dense mulch such as wood chips can be spread on 6 inches deep; a light, airy mulch such as dry straw will need to be a foot deep to be effective.

 

Reason #2: Mulch Improves the Soil

Bare soil is typically not healthy. If it contains any clay in it, lying exposed to hot suns, drying winds, and pounding rains is a sure recipe for hardpan. In fact, the weeds that spring up on bare soil are nature’s tools for healing it and providing it with a protective cover.

Mulch works to improve the soil in both the short term and the long term. In the short term, it prevents the soil from hardening into a brick, thus providing an immediate improvement in soil structure and aeration. It also moderates the soil temperature, creating a more friendly habitat for garden plants and soil-building earthworms.

In the long term, mulch decomposes and adds vital nutrients and organic matter to the soil. It is staggering how much healthy soil can be built over one gardening season just by the use of mulch and compost. As your soil grows and improves, your plants will become healthier and more vibrant, better able to ward off the attacks of insect pests.

 

Reason #3: Mulch Keeps Soil Moisture Even

In wet weather, mulch is a useful tool to keep your plants from being drowned. As rain falls, the mulch intercepts the drops, preventing them from compacting the soil and forcing them to trickle down slowly to root level. In the process, the mulch itself will absorb some of the excess moisture. The organic matter added to the soil by decomposing mulch will also help out by allowing any surplus rainfall to drain away from the level of the roots, ensuring that the plant has adequate oxygen.

In dry weather, mulch is a must because of its water-conserving properties. Mulch protects the soil from rapid drying due to sun and wind. Without mulch, you may have to water your entire garden every day in the summer. With mulch, you can water less frequently, promoting deeper root growth that will in turn make your plants even more drought-hardy.

 

Are You Sold on Mulch?

Give it a try for one gardening season—you won’t go back!

For best results, we recommend cedar mulch around perennial plants, such as berries, asparagus, and some flowers. In parts of the garden where you will be rotating crops frequently, such as in the vegetable beds, use weed-free wheat straw.

And remember, apply your mulch six inches to a foot thick for best results.

Food Preservation

Food PreservationPreserving the food we grow at home or buy in bulk from a local farmer can seem daunting to the beginner. We know that food safety is important, but how do we achieve it?

This food preservation site from K-State has the answers. Many resources have been combined into one convenient location.

Learn more about:

  • Canning.
  • Curing and smoking.
  • Dehydrating.
  • Food business.
  • Freezing.
  • Jams and jellies.
  • Pickling.
  • Special diets.

On each of these topics, choose from an extensive list of resources, including PDFs, videos, and external links.

Just to give you a sampling of the questions you can find answers to:

  • What special methods do I need to use to can low-acid fruits?
  • How do I build my own smokehouse?
  • How do I make beef jerky safely?
  • How long can I store frozen foods?
  • Is it safe to use a pickle recipe written before 1994?
  • Where can I find good jelly recipes?
  • How do I make my own horseradish sauce?
  • Where can I find canning instructions that are safe to use?
  • What is the science behind canning?
  • How do I adjust canning times for my altitude? (No, Kansas is not flat!)
  • What are the regulations on selling home-preserved foods at the local farmers market?

Also, every other month you will find a new issue of the Preserve It Fresh, Preserve It Safe newsletter—two pages of seasonally relevant advice and sometimes a recipe.

A great resource for the dedicated home canner, with plenty of other information for those looking for simple but safe ways to preserve the harvest.