Saturday, September 13, 2014

Garden Insects: Good vs. Bad

Do you ever look at a bug and wonder, "Is this good or bad?" I have started a pinterest board to help identify those insects, what they are good for or what problems they cause. I have several links with insects from egg to adult and each is labeled "pest" or "beneficial". I plan on adding to it for as long as I find new insects.

Follow my insect board here

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

How to Make Kombucha

After buying kombucha at the natural food store (at $3.50 each!) it was an economical decision to start making it myself. It's much easier than you might think. In fact, if you can make sweet tea, you can make kombucha.

Since I was given a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), I didn't have to make one myself, but there are simple instructions at Food Renegade. You can even buy SCOBYs on eBay.

Ok, now that that's taken care of, prepare to be underwhelmed by the complexity of basic kombucha making.

Basic Kombucha Recipe

1/2 gallon filtered water, divided
5 small bags of tea (black, green or white. I like white the best)
1/2 cup of organic cane sugar
SCOBY stored in 1/4 cup fermented kombucha
1 half-gallon glass jar

  1. Bring 1 quart of water to a boil and add tea bags. 
  2. Boil for 7 minutes. 
  3. Remove tea bags and stir in sugar until dissolved.  Allow to cool to room temperature.
  4. To a half-gallon jar, add the brewed sweet tea, SCOBY and kombucha.
  5. Fill the rest of the jar with filtered water.
  6. Cover the jar with cheesecloth or a  paper towel and secure with a rubber band.
  7. Place the jar in a dark place (the inside of a kitchen cabinet works perfectly) and wait let ferment. I let mine sit for 9 days, but start tasting after 7 days to make sure you have fermented it to your taste. The longer it ferments, the more sour it gets.
  8. Remove the SCOBY, pour the kombucha into individual jars or cover and refrigerate.  
  9. Store the SCOBY in a dark place, in a jar with a lid, with 1/4 cup of kombucha.

Let me warn you, don't drink the whole thing in a day! Kombucha is one of those things you need to build up to. It has live bacteria which will work in your gut to battle bad bacteria and help digest your food more efficiently. The influx of too much good bacteria at once will lead to stomach upset, and no one wants that. Start with a few ounces a day and work up from there.

Have you ever tried kombucha?
Have you ever made kombucha? Share your favorite recipe!

**note: I don't have any affiliation with this site, and they do sell retail products but I've found some wonderful information and recipes at KombuchaKamp

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Plague Tonic

Plague Tonic: The Cure for What Ails Ya

Every year I make a batch of plague tonic. It's an ominous name, isn't it? I like it. I mean, heck, if it was used to treat the plague I figure it can help me after regular visits to the bank and grocery store. Last year I had a ready supply all winter and not one of us got the wide-spread flu or stomach virus that seemed to have folks around us dropping like flies.

The health benefits of these concentrated ingredients include: anti-fungal, anti-viral, promotes blood flow, and boosts the immune system. You could easily add a shot of this to your daily routine and see improvements in overall health. In the winter I take one ounce (a normal shot glass) first thing in the morning. Within seconds I actually feel any congestion I have draining, ear pain goes away and all lightheaded/dizziness ends almost immediately. If I feel a cold coming on, I take 3 shots a day until symptoms stop. The few times I felt like I might be getting sick, I followed this protocol and felt better within 3 days, never having gotten the worst of the virus. Keep in mind, I also rested during the time that I felt sickly, which helps the body fight off the bad guys.

Normally I aim to get my winter batch ready by the end of October, but it seems there's a nasty virus going around early. And here I am without my tonic ready. I may not have gotten it ready for this round of viruses, but I will be making my winter batch this weekend with garlic, jalapenos and horseradish from the garden. I will buy my Bragg's apple cider vinegar, fresh ginger an onion from Ozark Natural Foods.

Strained and ready to drink!

Songbirdtiff's Plague Tonic


Equal parts garlic, white onions, peeled horseradish (fresh or in a jar), peeled ginger root and jalepenos (with seeds)
Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar (must have "The Mother") for fermentation.


The ratio is 2 parts of vinegar to 1 part vegetable mixture, so if you have 1 pint of veggies, you'll need 2 pints of vinegar.

Chop everything in a food processor, then mix well. Place all ingredients in a jar, and fill with Apple Cider Vinegar. Shake well, cover, and let sit for 2 weeks, shaking at least one time a day.

After the 2 weeks have passed, strain out the liquid, cover and store the jar someplace dark, like a cabinet. (If you like the flavor of the ingredients you can add the solids to other ingredients to make salad dressing, marinades, etc.)

Chopped ingredients
Write the date on the jar with a dry erase marker

Strain liquid into another jar for storage and toss or save the solids.

What do you to to avoid winter sickness?

**The original recipe is linked on my Pinterest page

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Thursday, September 4, 2014

September Gardening

September Gardening

We have reached that glorious season when the days are still warm, but the nights are cool. Mosquitoes, my arch nemesis, are starting to die off, and I can work in the garden until mid-morning before sweating. We are also reaching the countdown to the first frost date. For NW Arkansas, zone 7a, our first expected frost date is around October 30. That gives us about 50 days before we can expect a frost, so when you are considering planting, remember to look for 50 days or less on the “days to maturity” section of the packet, or plant items that are frost tolerant.

Veggies that can be planted outdoors this month:

  • Lettuce
  • Arugula
  • Parsnips
  • Spinach
  • Radish
  • Kale
  • Mustard
  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Cauliflower (from transplants)
  • Broccoli (from transplants)
  • Cabbage (from transplants)
  • Collards
  • Bok Choi
  • Pak Choi
  • Swiss Chard
  • Kohlrabi
  • Turnips
  • Peas
  • ALL flower seeds that require stratification

Garden Maintenance Tasks:

  • Continue harvesting. Right now I'm still harvesting tomatoes, okra, tomatillos, kale, peppers, cucumbers, and herbs.
  • Prepare for canning. If you want to try preserving, now is the time. Tomatoes and peppers in particular will be putting out their last big harvests in the next month.
  • Plant cover crops in empty garden space. Winter crops such as Austrian winter peas and common oats really need to be planted before the end of September for best results. They will grow until the first hard freeze, die back over the winter, then come back in early spring. This keeps the soil environment active, promotes early growth, and since Austrian winter peas are legumes, they add nitrogen to the soil. 
  • Check the mulch in existing gardens, if you can see the soil it's too thin...add more. Also, consider stocking up on extra mulch (I like straw) for protecting those plants you plan to overwinter. 
  • Plant strawberries. This is a great time to get runners from gardeners with existing strawberry beds and plant them. I planted 40 last Sunday. Strawberries are among the earliest producers in spring.
  • Catch up. With the nice weather, you might need an excuse to spend more time outside. This is a great time to trim low hanging branches, clean out beds, and remove weed trees.
  • Save seeds for next year.

What will you plant this month?

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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

September Garden Plan

This month we are making the big switch from the summer garden to fall. I don't grow a lot in the fall, but I will be planting peas, lettuce, turnips, mustard, kale and arugula. All the beds that won't have fall crops this year will be planted with a cover crop of Austrian winter peas to keep the soil loose and active this winter.

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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Month in Review- August

Month in Review- August

This has probably been the best August I've ever experienced in the garden. Typically, at this point in the year, it's been so hot and dry that many of my plants are exhausted. While had a few hot weeks there at the end of August, it was, for the most part, very decent. We had rain when we needed it, and the heat really helped the summer crops produce more fruit. I hardly had to water this year, which has been so strange! Strange in a good way. We've been getting gallons of food every other day, so I've been putting away a lot for winter, which has always been my goal for this garden.


 I can't say that we've really had any major problems. Sure, we've had a few fruit worms, but not many. I've seen a lot of ants in the straw mulch, but I haven't seen any damage to my plants so they must have another food source. Allowing nature to balance herself has really worked in my garden. I don't have many pest problems and I use absolutely no pesticides, organic or conventional. Recently, my milkweed plant was taken over by what I think are harlequin bugs. I'm glad it's on the milkweed and not any of our edibles. As I do, I'm leaving them so that a natural predator will sweep in and take care of the situation.



Growth rates have been excellent this month. We've gotten lots of tomatoes, melons, peppers and okra. 


Many of the annuals are pretty spent, so I've removed most of the nasturtiums and cosmos. Perennial blooms are still going strong.

Other Problems:

Oddly enough, I just can't think of any big problems we've had this month. Having enough rain has really made it a great year to garden.

To do Differently Next Year:

Companion planting was a total flop for me. I wanted to see if companion planting might work in place of mulching to make the most of the space I have. What actually happened is that there was too much competition for nutrients. I'll go back to one crop per bed next year. Lesson learned.

How was August in your Garden?

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Thursday, August 7, 2014

What to Plant this Month- August


For the past few years I've been exhausted by August. It was a struggle each year with pests, heat and drought. This year... well... it's been relatively easy. In fact, through most of July I've hardly spent time in the garden because there just weren't many problems. The main issue I've had is actually due to a lack of heat. My tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers have been slow producing (or not producing at all, in the case of my cukes). Because of all the rain we've had, I've had bacterial issues with my cucumbers. My toms are growing, but slowly. Regardless, I've had enough for my family and to sell a few garden boxes each week. I guess we can call that a success.

Since it's been an easy summer, I'm still full of energy to garden. That means we should have a full fall garden. I plan on adding some low-rows for growing food well into the winter. Here's a list of crops you can start this month for a fall garden. I have them divided between direct sowing outdoors and starting seeds indoors under grow lights. Note: Cabbage can easily be started either way.


  • Lettuce
  • Kale
  • Parsnips
  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Cabbage
  • Collards
  • Turnips
  • Cilantro
  • Parsley
  • Peas

 Indoors to transplant:

  • Herbs for indoor winter growing
  • Cabbage
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower


August maintenance consists mostly of keeping things alive and clean. 

  • Continue harvesting vegetables
  • Continue dead-heading ornamentals
  • Fresh mulch may be needed in preparation of fall planting
  • Water consistently (if needed)
  • Protect areas where spent/failed crops have been removed. I like to put down layers of newspaper or cardboard topped with mulch in areas that won't be planted for a while to protect and feed the soil.
  • Propagate roses
  • Manage pests
  • Weed control
  • I'm usually so ready for the end of August because that's when things start to cool down a bit. this year is the exception. The summer has been unusually cool so I'm in no hurry for autumn. Still, I'm always excited for a change in seasons. 

    What are you planning on growing in August?

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