Our Mission:

Our Mission: To enable individuals and communities to take an active part in the cultivation of systems that provide the highest quality fruits, vegetables, herbs and other yields, in a way that benefits themselves, cares for the land and environment, and provides a surplus to use, share and reinvest into the system.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Operation: Toad - A Rescue Mission

Thought you were lost...
After our walk the other night, I checked on the caterpillars and the gardens.

It was such a nice evening. For some reason I glanced into the hole where our scarecrow had once been and saw movement.

What is this?!?!

On closer inspection I saw a white throat swallow and a quiet squeak rose from the hole.

A toad!  How did he get in there?

I've rescued many from our window wells but this seemed like a pretty small hole to get stuck in.  He must've stumbled in just perfectly backwards.

Being careful not to bury him, I moved some soil from around the opening. Then I got the potato fork and gently popped the hole and surrounding dirt from the ground freeing him.

I almost stepped on its little brother/sister/friend in the process...


Little brother?
OK guys, you're free!  
                   Go eat some bugs!!! 
This large fellow we discovered today sure has been eating well.  About the size of a tennis ball, he ate several ants while we watched!

Did someone say 'eat some bugs'?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Favorite Gardening Quotes

Crazy weekend here with my truck in the shop, sick dog as well as the typical weekend activities and chores I tried to get done.

Here is a quick video of a quiet moment I stole to watch the swallowtail larvae eating.  They sure are growing, and eating so much.  I hope there will be plenty of food for them to grow large enough to pupate!
Also here is a list of some of my favorite gardening and farming quotes I've saved over time.  Enjoy!
"No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden. I am still devoted to the garden. But though an old man, I am but a young gardener." Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Charles Wilson Peale

George Washington wrote, "...to be a cultivator of land has been my favorite amusement."

There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace. ~Aldo Leopold

 The one small garden of a free gardener was all his need and due, not a garden swollen to a realm; his own hands to use, not the hands of others to command." - J.R.R. Tolkien,The Lord of the Rings, Sam Gamgee

To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves. ~Mahatma Gandhi

A garden is a delight to the eye and a solace for the soul. - Sadi

Gardening is the purest of human pleasures. - Francis Bacon

Creating your own urban farm is as simple as planting your flowerbeds with edibles. ~Greg Peterson, My Ordinary Extraordinary Yard: The Story of the Urban Farm, 2009

It is a golden maxim to cultivate the garden for the nose, and the eyes will take care of themselves. ~Robert Louis Stevenson

When I go into the garden with a spade, and dig a bed, I feel such an exhilaration and health that I discover that I have been defrauding myself all this time in letting others do for me what I should have done with my own hands. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Gardening is civil and social, but it wants the vigor and freedom of the forest and the outlaw. ~Henry David Thoreau

Gardening is a way of showing that you believe in tomorrow. - Author Unknown

Gardening is medicine that does not need a prescription ... And with no limit on dosage. - Author unknown

Gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes. -Author Unknown

Essential advice for the gardener: grow peas of mind, lettuce be thankful, squash selfishness, turnip to help thy neighbor, and always make thyme for loved ones. ~Author Unknown
Gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do.  Plus you get strawberries!  -Ron Finley

Life begins the day you start a garden. ~Chinese Proverb
On your mark,
                         get set,

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Rain Barrel Recharge

Good day to empty rain barrels!

Short post this week but I wanted to get it out before we ran out of daylight if you're in the central Iowa area.  That way you'll have time to empty those rain barrels with your super powered rainwater into your planting areas or even lawns.

Although we've had a pretty wet year so far we have had a stretch of drier weather now.  Rain is also in the forecast on Tuesday for central Iowa.  That being the case, now would be an excellent time to use up your captured rainwater to water plants. We can use this great water that we've saved, instead of the municipal water with the chlorine and other chemicals that could interfere with your plants vigor.

Good rule of thumb (depending on the size of your system) - if rain is in the forecast in a couple days, use that nitrogen-rich rainwater you have stored to water your plants.  Then you will have the storage capacity to catch the new rain water.  Ideally you also have an overflow system to divert and store the water in your organic material rich soil of your garden beds.

When I went to empty mine today I found quite a surprise. The dill that grows around our rain barrel had quite a number of black and tiger swallowtail butterfly larvae.  Eleven!

Hopefully you'll find a surprise in your yard, too!

Have a great week!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Mosquitoes, Help!

Its a bird, its a plane, its... no not Superman, but a huge Mosquito!
This big guy paid me a visit the other night.  Most pesky mosquitoes aren't this big, but all leave an annoying itchy bite that will last for several days.  Some people are more reactive than others and it seems they are the preferred victims of these blood-suckers!

Growing up we used a ~98% DEET mix, which you could feel burn when you applied it.  Dad said it was similar to the stuff they used in Viet Nam (lots of great chemicals used over there back then).  It sure kept the mosquitoes away, which were unbelievably bad with the Iowa River and its backwaters on and near my family's property. 

Unfortunately, when putting up firewood on hot humid days you would sweat it off pretty quick so it would need reapplied often.  Although effectiveness can last for several hours, some people experience adverse reactions to DEET, or other repellants so be sure to follow the directions on the container.  Consult your physician or local health department about use on children.
Luckily in the suburbs, we don't have the numbers of mosquitoes encountered in my youth.  And even with the wet rainy year we've had, we haven't had the population as high as in years past.  But even a few can make for an itchy, miserable night sleep.

What are some ways to control mosquitoes without using dangerous chemicals?
One completely chemical-free way is to bring out some fans to your deck or patio.  Mosquitoes find it hard to navigate the turbulent airflow and will avoid the area.  But, if you leave venture too far out of the breeze, watch out!

Other ways to control mosquitoes is to bring in some natural allies.  We can encourage bats to take up residence by building a bat house.  A fun family activity that can expose children to bats in a real and informative way.  These little furry fliers can eat up to 600 mosquitoes per hour!

Dragonflies are also voracious mosquito eaters and can consume their body weight every thirty minutes!  Dragon flies need water to breed, so consider a pond or rain garden and include water lilies, cattails, snake weed and swamp milkweed.  If you don't have a water feature consider taller plants, or even some garden stakes, for perches.  (Concerned about raising more mosquitoes in your pond? See the organic Bt dunks at the bottom of this page)

Don't use "bug zappers" which kill pests and beneficial insects indiscriminately!

We use a combination of methods at our home, like wearing long sleeved shirts or timing activities off peak mosquito hours, if possible. 

Mostly though, what helps us enjoy the outdoors annoyance free is by spritzing ourselves with this homemade recipe using essential oils.
     10 drops Purification essential oil
     10 drops Peppermint essential oil
     5   drops Lemongrass essential oil
     Splash of vanilla extract
     4oz water
     Mixed in a glass spray bottle
     Shake Well each time before use.

We use Young Living oils for their high purity and quality, which you can purchase here.

Enjoy your time outside!


Concerned about raising more mosquitoes in your pond?  Consider these Bt Dunks from Amazon (affiliate), which target only mosquito larvae and are certified for organic gardeners.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Abundance of Green Beans!

Its that time of year again!  The gardens have been rocking and the last of the lettuce has been used with the first tomatoes for some awesome BLTs.
Nice haul!
It has been a funny year though. I put in tomatoes and peppers during a stretch of warm weather that warmed our soil to 55° and a forecast for more that put us past our last average frost date.  But it was too early, it didn't last, so they were cold stunted and have been slow growing ever since.  There were also really warm temperatures early, causing our spinach to bolt before we got many homegrown smoothies made.  It's also been super wet with lots of rain and therefore slugs. 
Three Sisters - Corn, beans, squash and more...
But, I've heard lots of people having bumper crops of green beans this year.  We too are collecting baskets full every few days.  I may have planted too many too... :)  but I really wanted to make sure I had a good companion for our sweet corn. 

You can always blanch them for a few minutes and freeze them for fresh homegrown taste through the winter, but lately we have been using them nearly as fast as they come in a new favorite recipe!

Garden Green Beans with Bacon and Onion
I'm not a chef and all measurements are approximate (but I don't think you can screw this up)
  1. Rinse, trim and cut (as desired) green beans - about a gallon, maybe two pounds
  2. Add to a large pot, cover with water and bring to a boil
  3. While the beans are heating
    • dice half pound of bacon
    • brown in a large skillet
    • chop one medium onion
    • add to skillet and cook with bacon
    • remove up to half of the grease
  4. Once the beans come to a boil, continue boiling for 8-10 minutes or until firm but tender.
  5. Drain beans and mix well with the bacon and onion mixture
I think you could also add spinach or lambsquarter when you mix it all together for a vitamin and mineral boost.
You can tell from the nearly empty pan that these have been a major hit at our house.  The picky eaters enjoy them, as well as those who weren't always the biggest fans of fresh green beans.
Hope you enjoy!

Don't forget, if you have more than you can eat or store, you can find a food bank that accepts fresh produce through AmpleHarvest.org.