Tiny homes for families is a topic that has come up more and more often in recent years. People are increasingly interested in the idea of downsizing as a family. The rise in housing prices and the lack of available housing seems to be the culprit. Not to mention the fact that ‘bigger is always better’ doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. At no more than 500 square feet, tiny houses boast unique and functional designs that are often eco-friendly. But how can this small space work for a number of people, let alone an entire family? Let’s take a look at why they work:
Note: This is a guest post submitted by the Tiny House Society, which is dedicated to
promoting the concept of tiny and minimal living as a means of protecting the Earth.
Runamuk is proud to partner with THS to bring you this content.
Tiny Living is Cheaper
The reality is, it’s expensive to become a homeowner nowadays; tiny houses can be a great solution to affordable housing. There are a number of ways it’s possible to own a tiny:
Buy a new tiny house. A new tiny house is far more affordable than a new residential home!
Buy a second-hand tiny house. Just when buying a car, buying a used tiny home can save you money if you know what to look for.
Buy a tiny house shell. A semi-finished tiny house is an excellent choice if you aren’t comfortable with the structural component, but want to do the finishing touches yourself.
Build your own tiny house. This can be the most cost-efficient method if you have time, patience, and the know-how. You can also take pride in knowing you designed your own tiny home!
Tiny Living Gives you Flexibility
If you live in a tiny house on wheels, your home is mobile like an RV. Your tiny house on wheels will take you there whether your partner gets a job across the country or your kids need to go to a school in a new town.
Tiny Living Teaches Planet-Friendly Behaviors
Living in a tiny house cultivates mindful living in terms of your effect on the environment in everyday life. Understanding how you accumulate waste in a small space is essential to managing clutter. You’ll think twice before buying goods wrapped in heavy plastic packaging! Additionally, a tiny house that’s designed to go off the grid is often equipped to use renewable energy as a back up. These are all excellent teaching moments for your kids or loved ones!
Tiny Living Brings You Closer Together
While it’s important to know when you need space, the benefit of living in a tiny house with family is that you’re more likely to communicate than hide from a situation. Additionally, family dinners are a natural occurrence no matter where you sit. As for activities, tiny living also goes hand-in-hand with an outdoor lifestyle. Nothing brings people together like a good ‘ol outdoor adventure!
Living with less allows us to focus on what we value most in life; our family, the time we spend, or the things we consume. While tiny living may not be perfect for every family, it certainly is a way of living that provides a unique opportunity to learn and grow together!
Do you have experiences with a tiny home? Feel free to leave a comment below to share with our followers! Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest from Runamuk directly to your inbox; or follow us on Instragram for a glimpse at the day-to-day goings ons at this bee-friendly conservation farm!
Last Thursday evening I finally fed some of my home-grown shoots and sprouts to my boys! Score one for mom! Yay me! Woot woot!
Hey─you gotta take those victories where you can get them. Parenting is hard enough without the added pressures of trying to provide your children with a diet low in processed foods. And I say “low” in processed foods because so much of what’s available now at the grocery store is processed that it’s incredibly difficult to feed your family real food exclusively.
It took a little longer than I would have liked, but 6 weeks into the #WinterGrowingChallenge I made a big salad to go with our dinner and it was consumed by the household with gusto.
I admit that I also picked up a package of organic spring mix at Hannaford to fill out the salad a bit more. My 2 sons are turning 15 and 11 in February this year, and they’ve reached that legendary adolescent stage of their development where they can consume a man’s-sized helping of food and still ask for more. Or for desert lol. However I was able to add 5 trays of shoots to the mix: pea shoots, radish, micro mix, broccoli and cress, as well as plenty of alfalfa sprouts I’d grown too.
I shredded up a home-grown carrot and sliced one of my own onions, and topped it with shredded cheddar cheese. The boys had a choice between 2 vinaigrette dressings that I’d made up a couple weeks before (see recipes below!): a Sweet Dill Vinaigrette and a Garlic & Ginger Balsamic Vinaigrette.
There were some cherry tomatoes I’d splurged on too, but they were a colossal disappointment. I knew when I picked them out they would fall short of the high-quality vegetables my fellow farmers and I are producing at the local farmers’ market. But I was not prepared for how far they fell short. These cherry tomatoes were terrible. They were bland and watery─more like a grape in texture─and no tomato flavor to speak of. I couldn’t even eat them. What’s more, I think the majority of those darn tomatoes are still sitting in the refrigerator right now all but untouched. They’ll wind up as chicken food.
That was the last time I’ll buy cherry tomatoes at the grocery store.
The Kid Test
The boys consumed their salads with gusto; accompanied by oven-roasted potatoes and winter squash seasoned with rosemary and thyme and it was scrumptious. They’ve been raised on home-grown vegetables and for the most part will eat what I provide, but the shoots were new and a one point BraeTek, the younger brother, says to me:
“Mom…?” He held up a leafy pea shoot, “What’s this?”
“It’s a pea shoot,” I told him happily, gesturing to the grow rack where the trays of shoots in various stages of growth were displayed before the kitchen window. “I grew it right here. They’re full of nutrients and they’re really good for you.”
“Oh,” he said. “I like them.” And he popped the thing in his mouth with an impish smile.
There you have it folks! The shoots pass the Kid Test!
The #WinterGrowingChallenge runs through February, and you can bet that I’m intending to feed my family a few more salads between now and then. Meanwhile, try these homemade vinaigrette salad dressings! They’re so easy to make for yourself, and devoid of unnecessary preservatives. I’ll keep mine for up to a month in the refrigerator without any issues, but just use common sense folks─if it smells funny don’t risk it.
Sweet Dill Vinaigrette
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon dried dill weed
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon onion powder
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
I actually multiply this recipe by 4 and end up with two-thirds of a pint-sized mason jar filled with dressing, which lasts for quite a while.
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 clove crushed garlic
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1 pinch salt
ground pepper to taste
add desired fresh herbs
This recipe actually calls for “white balsamic vinegar”, but I’ve only ever used the regular balsamic vinegar, which actually produces a slightly sweeter vinaigrette.
I’ve been using these 2 recipes long enough that I’m less precise with the measurements now, and have done a far amount of experimenting with different herbs and vinegars too. For example, I know I like to also add a little cornstarch to thicken the dressing a smidge; and often when they’re available I’ll mince fresh garlic or ginger or other fresh herbs to use in my salad dressings. It’s all about taste and personal preference, really─like so many other instances in life.
Small Changes Add Up
The fact is, unless you’re making everything completely from scratch─breads, snacks, entrees, condiments─you name it─it’s practically impossible to completely eliminate processed food stuffs from your family’s diets. If you send your kids to school you have even less control over what they’re eating.
Let’s not forget the financial aspect either, or the fact that Americans spend less time cooking than any other nation in the world. Some of us don’t even know how to cook!
Yet, we need not beat ourselves up over what we’re not doing. Instead, let’s accept where we’re at and just keep working at making small changes in our daily habits. Over time these small changes will add up to some pretty significant changes in attitude and habits. And the more you do, the more you’ll be able to do. Believe me!
Thanks for reading and following along with Runamuk’s story. Feel free to leave a comment below if you have questions or if you have something to share! Be sure to subscribe to the blog by email so that you never miss a post!
11 days after sowing my first seeds for shoots as part of my #WinterGrowingChallenge, I am still patiently waiting for those leafy-greens. I’m fairly lusting after a pea-shoot salad with my favorite homemade balsamic vinaigrette dressing─maybe with a little crumbled feta. The idea makes my mouth water even now. There was one thing I overlooked however, amid my own enthusiasm for growing greens through the winter…
I followed all of the instructions, just as I laid them out in my recent article: How to Grow Shoots for a Supply of Leafy Green Vegetables this Winter. I used Peter Burke’s “Year Round Indoor Salad Gardening” as a reference manual and followed his guidance through the whole process. I pre-moistened the soil, soaked my seeds, and on Tuesday, December 11th before I left for the Call Center at Johnny’s Selected Seeds I pressed my seeds into the soil and covered them with wet newspaper. I tucked the trays into a dresser drawer I’d freed up for the project, and then waited patiently.
There was one thing I neglected to take into consideration though. We’ve had a very mild autumn this year; the temperatures here in central Maine have been abnormally warm. Old Man Winter must have caught wind of my project though, and waited til I had sown those first seeds before moving into Maine with a vengeance. Earlier this week we received our first snow-storm and since Tuesday temps have been in the single digits; this is the coldest weather we’ve seen since March.
When I organized the Winter Growing Challenge I wasn’t thinking about how cold it can get in this old trailer during the winter. Even with the woodstove the temperature hovers between 60-65 most of the time. During an Arctic Blast however, it can be a challenge to get the room above 50. I had expected to have tender greens within a week, but tucked away in a drawer across the room from the woodstove my shoots have been slow to grow.
Nonetheless they are growing. I will have salad, and I will grow my own leafy-green veg this winter.
Check back soon! I’ll be sharing that balsamic vinaigrette recipe, as well as the opportunity to win a “Winter Growing Kit” during the week of the Winter Solstice! Subscribe to this blog by email so that you don’t miss anything!
The further I travel along this road toward an increasingly sustainable lifestyle, the more I learn about food and good health. I want to provide my family with healthy fare so they can reach their full potential─that was the reason I started gardening in the first place. I’ve learned to feed my children from the garden during the summer, to store and preserve the harvest for the winter, and we’ve learned to eat less meat, and less processed foods. But nothing beats the health benefits of eating fresh greens, so I’ve been working to increase our family’s access to those nutrient-dense greens all year.
Those who have been following along with Runamuk’s story know that I’ve extended my growing season by using row-cover and greenhouse film on a couple of my garden beds. The plan is to be able to harvest from that all winter this year, and so we’ve sown a variety of cold-hardy greens including kale, tatsoi, radishes, spinach, mizuna and a lettuce mix for good measure.
In addition to that I’ve decided to take up the Winter Growing Challenge and I’m planning on growing shoots and sprouts this winter to further supplement our family’s available greens. I’m inviting you to follow along with our progress as we make space in our kitchen this winter for trays of green veg and jars of tender sprouts. Learn how easy it can be to grow your own food; then gather your courage to try it too. We can do this together.
I, Sam(antha) Burns─farmer, beekeeper, gardener, blogger, and Mom to 2 rowdy young men-to-be─challenge myself to grow more food this winter. I am challenging myself to grow shoots and sprouts in order to provide the most healthful and nutrient-dense diet I can, on my limited budget, and in tight quarters.
Join me in taking up the Winter Growing Challenge, grow more food this winter to feed your family fresh veg for a healthier and more sustainable, self-sufficient life.
Who Can Play?
Anyone!!! From the homesteader or the home gardener, to the individual who has never grown anything before─I’m inviting you to follow along with my Winter Growing Challenge, learn from my adventures (and misadventures) and give it a go. Grow your own shoots and sprouts this winter, share pictures of your tender green shoots to Instagram to share your excitement. Post to Facebook your recipes for creative new ways to use your fresh greens; share your experiences and encourage others around you to take up the Winter Growing Challenge too!
When & Where?
For 3 months, beginning the first week of December and running through February, I will be posting that story once a week for you to follow here on the Runamuk blog. There will be new how-to articles that I hope will inspire you to give growing shoots a try, as well as recipes, and links to resources to help you grow your own fresh greens this winter. I’d recommend you subscribe to receive new posts from Runamuk directly in your in-box so that you don’t miss a thing!
I see another giveaway in our future! To help other home gardeners get started with growing your own greens this winter, I want to give a few of you the gift of a pound of pea seed for shoots from Johnny’s Selected Seeds! Check back soon for the details on that!
Let’s Do This!
Nearly 80% of Americans say that sustainability is a priority to them. People are waking up to the pervasive financialization of the food system and the dangers of a diet made up of processed foods. We are increasingly opting to purchase organic or locally grown or grass-fed. More and more households are choosing to cultivate gardens in their backyards, and urban farming is on the rise. Growing our own shoots and sprouts during the winter is just one more way we can improve our own self-sufficiency. It’s one more way we can take a stand against the corporate consumer-based system, and one more way we can eat healthier for a long and happy life.
Join me! Follow along with my Winter Growing Challenge 2017! Leave a comment below if you want to play along!
If you’re as serious as I am about growing your own food you might be considering extending your season with a fall garden. Maybe you’ve never heard of fall gardening or season extension; maybe you think the whole idea is absurd? Here in Maine, many old-school gardeners don’t plant til Memorial Day; they spend their summers in a flurry of harvesting and canning, are done with the garden by October and eat canned or frozen vegetables the rest of the year. If that’s the case you’re missing 3 seasons worth of gardening when you could potentially be producing fresh vegetables to feed yourself and your family. That’s right, you can garden through ALL the seasons with just a little strategic planning.
Extending your season simply allows you to grow more food. It allows you to eat fresh vegetables longer, which is healthier for you because they’re higher in nutrition than canned or frozen foods. Whether you’re striving to stretch your food budget or working to increase your own self-reliance, a fall garden is going to offer you the opportunity to grow fresh vegetables later into the fall and winter.
Fall Gardening Tips
#1 Know your expected first-frost date: Knowing when to expect that first frost in the fall allows you to determine when to plant a crop─or even if there’s time for a particular crop. If you’ve been gardening for a few years you may already know when to expect frost, but if you’re new to gardening you can ask a fellow gardener or use this free online calculator from the Old Farmers’ Almanac.
#2 Look for days-to-maturity on seed packets: Most seed companies include growing information specific to the breed and variety on the back of the seed packet. Knowing the days-to-maturity of the crop you are planting allows you to time the sowing of your fall crop. If you can’t find that info on the packet you can usually find it on the seed-company’s website or you can even google the crop to get an idea of when to expect to be able to harvest the crop.
#3 Use a calendar to count back: Take the number of days-to-maturity and beginning on your first expected fall-frost date, count back on a calendar to find out when you should sow the crop.
#5 Select cold-tolerant crops: Some crops thrive in the heat of summer (tomatoes, peppers, squash, etc.), while others do better in the cooler temperatures of the spring and fall. Typically that’s the roots and greens family, brassicas and peas; that’s a lot of different kinds of vegetables that you could be growing. Check out the selection of recommended varieties for Summer Planting for Fall Harvest at Johnny’s.
#6 Think long-term: Plan your garden strategically, with the intention of following a spring or summer crop with a crop for the fall. For example: I have a bed of lettuces, radishes and turnips I had planted first thing in the spring that is now finished producing those crops. I’ll sow my winter storage carrots there and I can cover them with agribon to grow them late into November.
#7 Keep it moist: Getting some of these cool-weather loving crops to germinate in the heat of high summer can be tricky even to the most experienced growers. Don’t let those beds dry out─maintain consistent moisture levels─and timing a watering around 10 or 11 in the morning can help to keep the soil temperatures low enough that those seeds can take root.
#8 Employ season-extension tools: You can grow so much with just a few wire hoops and a length of Ag-19 row cover for frost protection that it’s well worth the investment. To learn more about using row-cover to extend your growing season check out this article I wrote called: Agribon in the Garden. Watch for Johnny’s annual sale on season-extension supplies to catch a break on the price of the row-cover itself; they usually run that sale beginning in September.
Give it a try!
Just imagine how much more food you could be growing with a fall garden! Whatever the motive behind your garden, it’s easy enough to continue growing fresh vegetables later into the cold season. Why not give it a try and see for yourself?
Have you grown a fall garden before? Feel free to leave a comment below to share your experiences with season-extension!
Farmers and gardeners are discovering the benefits of using agribon in the garden. Also known as “row-cover”, this lightweight fabric is the key to extending your growing season and protecting crops from insects. I’ve used it in the past on brassicas to deter the cabbage loopers and had great success. This year I am using row cover on my cucurbit-family crops to protect them from cucumber and squash beetles always seem to devastate my tender young seedlings. I’m hoping the insect barrier will give my vining crops an advantage that results in an increased yield from a crop-family that I’ve had mixed results with in the past.
What is it?
Agribon is a non-woven fabric that is ultra light and resistant to exposure to the environment. Made of “spun-bonded” polypropylene fabric. Agribon allows the grower to keep crops inside a tunnel where the environment is warmer inside than the external temperatures. It comes in different grades which offer varying degrees of protection while still permitting light, water and air to pass through. This barrier protects valuable crops against insects, low temperatures and wind.
Note: This stuff is changing the way farmers today grow food. Check out this excerpt from Eliot Coleman’s book “The Winter Harvest Handbook”. For pricing, sizes and such, check out the “Row Covers & Accessories” page over at Johnny’s Selected Seeds.
AG-15 is recommended for insect control. Allowing 90% light transmission.
AG-19 is used for general frost protection. It allows 85% light transmission and is good down to 28°. Many growers use this to extend their growing season on either side, and as overwintering protection for crops like strawberries, spinach and other greens.
AG-30 works well as overwintering protection down to 26°.
How do you use it?
With a length of pvc, emt, or #9 gauge wire stuck into the ground on either side of the garden bed to effectively create hoops─the fabric can be laid over the hoops and anchored to keep it down. You can use whatever you prefer to anchor it: some growers lay a shovelful of soil along the edges, but that can be a time consuming endeavor whenever you need to check on crops. Many growers have found that a small bag of sand every four or five feet is ideal in keeping the agribon down, but you could also use rocks, bricks, or whatever you can get your hands on to weight down the sides. Just be careful not to tear the fabric as you work with it, the lighter AG-15 is a very gauzy material and tears easily if you’re not mindful.
Pest Control: If you’re using the AG-15 to protect crops from pests you need to be sure to get it on at the same time as planting in order to prevent pests from discovering the crops and getting trapped inside the agribon with them. Don’t wait a day or a week to put it on the susceptible crops, chances are the pests will have already found it. And you must anchor it on all sides with no gaps in order for it to be effective.
Season Extension: Use the AG-19 to create low-tunnels where you can keep a variety of cold-tolerant crops late into the fall. In this article on the MOFGA website Elliot Coleman overwinters crops in low tunnels using twin beds under hoops, sowing cold-tolerant crops in early October and covering them with hoops and row-cover. Then around Thanksgiving he adds a second covering of greenhouse plastic which protects the crops, allowing them to be overwintered so that they can begin growing in March and are ready to eat in the spring. Elliot says that if you live in areas with heavy snow-load (like here in Maine), use twice as many hoops to support the row-cover and plastic through the winter.
In this article about growing under row cover in which Paul Gallione─a colleague of mine from Johnny’s Selected Seeds─reminds growers that Agribon…
is not a “set it and forget it tool. There is no substitute for human observation. Be aware─especially as the season heats up:
Is it hot out, or has it been dry for a period? Rain and sprinkler spray permeate the fabric, but so does up to 90% of sunlight. It’s warmer inside – plants might get thirstier.
What crop is it and what stage of development is it at?
Does it need your attention? does it need to be vented? does it need supplemental water?
If you’re conscientious with it, you can get a few years from your agribon. The AG-15 for insect control is really lightweight, gauzy material so you need to be especially careful with this one as it’s going to be more prone to tearing. If you avoid pinning them down (creating holes in the fabric to anchor it), and if you fold it carefully and roll it back onto the original roll the stuff came on─you can save it for next year and really get your money’s worth.
Using agribon means it takes just a little bit more time and effort to put in your crops or to maintain them throughout their growing period, but the benefits are tremendous. With just a few hoops and a length of the AG-15 you can effectively keep pests off your crops, allowing the gardener to avoid pesticides.
At Runamuk, I’m hoping for an increased yield from these squash plants since they won’t have the pest pressure to set them back. Winter squash is a favorite food of mine, in addition to being a valuable crop because of it’s ability to be stored long into the winter. It was worth the time and expense to me to cover these beds and try for an improved yield from this crop.
Using the same set up and a heavier grade fabric such as the AG-19, you can grow well into the winter. With a little strategic planting you can be harvesting fresh greens for your family in January with 2 feet of snow on the ground─without a high tunnel or hoop-house! That’s pretty amazing if you ask me and sounds like a good way to help feed my family, reducing my food bill and increasing the amount of fresh vegetables we are able to eat in the depths of winter. It’s long overdue for me to try winter growing, so I’ve committed to the idea of setting up a low-tunnel later this year. Check back this fall/winter to read about that upcoming project here at Runamuk!
Have you used Agribon or floating row-covers? Did you love it or loathe it? Feel free to share your comments below so that others may learn from your experiences!
Chickens are often the first livestock to be added to a homestead and have been laughingly referred to as the gateway livestock. However the benefits of adding a flock of chickens to your backyard, homestead, or beginning farm, are no laughing matter. Chickens bring some serious good ju-ju with them and open the door to a number of opportunities for the sustainably inclined.
1. Improved soil condition & fertility
For a homesteader or farmer, one of the greatest benefits (aside from egg-production) of keeping chickens is the remarkable improvement to your soil. Wherever chickens go they’re forever scratching and digging as they hunt for food, pooping as they go. The poop is then worked into the soil via that same scratching and digging. Chickens are experts at mixing manure with mulch; they’re gas-free, noise-free tillers (and the noise they do make you won’t mind!), and they do a great job of cleaning up the garden after the growing season is done.
2. Pest and disease prevention
Chickens are natural foragers: they’re always on the hunt for spiders, ticks, beetles, grubs, worms, grasshoppers, etc. They’ll keep the pest population down for your family and your livestock by grazing on weeds and insects; homesteaders and farmers can take advantage of this by rotating chickens on pasture following other livestock to control fly and parasite problems.
3. Increased self-sufficiency & sustainability
With a minimal investment in time and money, chickens allow us to operate a closed-loop system for each and every household, homestead, or farm. Through the recycling of food and yard waste, we can keep more waste out of landfills; one city in Belgium even gave their residents chickens in an effort to save money on waste disposal! Not only can we produce our own eggs─but when the chickens begin to age we can put those birds in the freezer for meat and further reduce, possibly even eliminate our dependence on the industrialized food system.
4. Knowing how your food was produced
When you raise or grow your own food you have control over exactly what goes into producing that food. You’ll know what went into those eggs─whether it’s organic or non-GMO feed, whether those birds were kept in cages or raised on pasture─and you won’t feel guilty because you’ll know the quality of life your oven-roasted chicken had. You can raise your flock according your own specific priorities and adhere to your own unique principles in the production of your own food.
5. Income for your budding farm-business
If you’re a beginning farmer, or even just a homesteader looking to earn a little money on the side, adding chickens to your operation is a relatively quick and easy way to generate some income. Chickens require a minimal investment since you can house them in all sorts of creative ways to cut costs on infrastructure, and they require very little of your time each day to keep the birds healthy and happy. Many folks like to start with chicks which are cute and fluffy and cost about $3/bird, but if you’re willing to spend a little more money you could get established layers and an immediate source of income.
Open the gate!
Not everyone can grow their own vegetables or raise their own livestock for eggs or meat, but for those who not only have the space and time, but also the inclination to live and work toward a more sustainable lifestyle─chickens are the ideal place to start. Chickens really are the gateway livestock for the simple reason that they are the perfect first step for the new homesteader or beginning farmer. With their low-cost set up and easy maintenance chickens allow the farmer to learn as they grow, becoming comfortable handling livestock and becoming familiar with the ebb and flow of life in tandem with animals and nature. What’s more, in addition to the farm-fresh eggs are the added benefits of soil-conditioning, a ready source of fertilizer, pest and disease prevention, and when the birds have outlived their usefulness they become food for the farmer. Chickens are a no-brainer for the backyard and homestead, and an important cog in a diversified farming operation. I say open that gate!
Do you raise chickens too? What’s your favorite reason to keep them?
I’ve been eating sprouts during the winter for a number of years now. Sprouts are a quick and easy way to provide the family with fresh veg all year long regardless of where you live. They’re pure, fresh, and nutrient-rich food that can be produced easily whether you’re 3 or 103. I like to use the jar method because I already have a bunch of mason jars handy, and I’m willing to sacrifice a cupboard close to the sink to keep them handy for easiest propagation.
People have been growing sprouts for more than 5000 years; in 2939 BC the emperor of China wrote about the versatile qualities of sprouts─and to this day sprouts are still one of the most nutritious foods on Earth. That’s because sprouts increase in nutritional content as they grow, especially in vitamins A, B-complex, C, E, and K. The vitamin C in sprouted peas increases 8-fold in 4 days─compared to dry peas. In sprouted wheat, the vitamin B-complex increases 6 times and the vitamin E 3 times in just 4 days of sprouting. Many different minerals abound in sprouts in an easily digested form having already been processed by the sprouts for your body’s immediate use.
When eaten raw, sprouts provide a storehouse of enzymes, and homegrown sprouts are the freshest, most assuredly organic food available to you. It just makes good sense to keep them in your home and utilize this easy food source.
I buy my sprouting seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds where they have a wide selection to choose from, and the sprouting seeds have all been tested for the presence of E. coli and salmonella. That’s important because these seeds are being used in a different manner from the seeds you’re using to put in the ground and the potential is there for those bacteria to take hold if we’re not careful.
What you need:
Sprouting seed of choice: check out Johnny’s sprouting seed selection here.
Glass jar or other such container: wide-mouth glass canning jar, quart size.
Lid: made of cheesecloth, muslin, or nylon screen, secured with a rubber band or canning lid rim, or a special sprouting lid which screws onto the jar and has a built-in screen, which makes rinsing easy
Drainer: we use a small plastic dish strainer to set the glass jars in for draining after they’ve been rinsed.
Air & water: should be easy enough!
Space & darkness: I prefer to designate a cupboard next to the kitchen sink for my sprouts. Usually the lowest shelf houses the jars and strainer with the growing sprouts, and the shelf above that is where I store my packets of sprouting seed and other related sprouting-equipment.
General rules for sprouting
There are a number of different methods to grow sprouts. I prefer the jar method because I happen to have numerous canning jars handy, but with any of the methods you will follow the same basic procedure.
1. Measure & cull: Check out this sprouting seed pdf from Johnny’s; they give you the quantity of seed and the estimated yield for 11 different varieties of sprouting seed. You should measure out your seed for sprouting and check it over before putting it in the jar. Pick out any stones or dead-looking seeds.
2. Wash & skim: Put the seed in your chosen jar and fill it three-quarters full with water. Swish and swirl the seed around to rinse them clean. Pour of the UFOs (unidentified floating objects).
3. Soak overnight: Soaking times vary depending on the seed size, but generally the common denominator is 8 hours or overnight.
4. Drain: We’re using cheesecloth and rubber bands on our sprouting jars; you can easily adjust the cloth to suit the seed you’re sprouting. The smaller the seed the more layers of cheesecloth you need. We just cut large squares and fold them to fit, then we fix it to the top of the jar with a rubber band. Drain off the soak water. This water is rich in water-soluble vitamins and minerals so if you have houseplants you might consider saving it and using it to water you plants with; it will give them a nice boost.
5. Rinse & drain: 2-3 times a day you need to rinse your sprouts with room temperature water. Cold water will set the sprouts back, and hot water will kill them. Use room temperature water to rinse them for about 30 seconds, then drain the water off again. Sprouts are very forgiving, so if you forget to rinse them one time it’s not the end of the world.
6. Sun: If you’re growing leafy sprouts like alfalfa, clover, cabbage, kale, radish, spinach, mustard, and turnip, as well as the more difficult chia, cress, and flax. Your sprouts will eventually grow leaves, and when exposed to light those leaves will begin to develop chlorophyll. Simply keep your sprouts next to the window on the fourth and fifth day cycle or on the fifth and sixth days. I find that even just one day in the sun is enough to green up my sprouts. Beware that some sprouts─like fenugreek─turn bitter and tough when exposed to light.
7. Hull (optional): Often this is unnecessary and some folks skip this step altogether─considering it less trouble to simply eat the fibrous hulls along with the sprouts. However if you choose to remove the hulls you can do it either rinse-by-rinse or all-at-once at the final rinse. To remove hulls rinse-by-rinse begin on the third or fourth day by affixing the widest mesh possible to your jar and flush water through the jar. Many of the hulls will float up and out the top. You can also fill the jar with water and skim the floating hulls off with a spoon. To remove hulls at the final rinse put them in a bowl in the sink and fill it half-full with water. Loosen and agitate the sprouts to comb out the hulls. The trick with this is to hold the sprout midway under water so that they neither sink nor swim.
8. Cull & store: The final rinse should always precede the harvest by at least 8 hours. Never refrigerate wet sprouts─this can lead to mushy and moldy sprouts after just a couple of days. Store dry sprouts in the fridge.
9. Clean the jar: Be sure to wash your sprouting jar with hot soapy water between each batch, rinse clean and allow to dry before use.
10. Begin again: Keep the cycle going for a continuous supply of fresh, organic, nutrient-rich vegetation for your consumption.
Eat more sprouts!
I’m making every effort to eat a less processed diet─a diet in which I’m either growing my own or sourcing as much of my food as much as possible from local farmers. Eating more sprouts is a quick and easy way to provide a form of fresh vegetables that are nutrient-rich and they’re so versatile.
My goal is to grow and eat more sprouts every day, and to get my family to eat more sprouts. I love sprouts on my sandwiches and in a salad. Check out this great website with lots of recipes for using sprouts in everything from stir-fry and salads, to tortillas, pizzas, soups and sandwiches. Everyone should eat more sprouts!
Do you grow sprouts too? Which are your favorites and how do you like to eat them???
An expression of art and science, gardening is a practice that dates back to the start of civilization, and is both creative and economical. With the ever-increasing trend towards green and sustainable living, gardening is enjoying a resurgence–if you’ve been considering taking up the habit, I hope this is your year! If you’ve been toying with the idea of gardening but need a little incentive, let me tell you why it’s a good investment of your money and time, and how you can get started right now.
Why you should garden
Self-expression: No two gardens are exactly alike because no two gardeners are exactly alike. Any garden will be based on the principles, values, and methodologies that the gardener possesses. You can get as creative or scientific as you please with your garden, with no one to tell you you’re doing it wrong.
Environmentally friendly: Growing plants in your backyard is good for your local ecosystem. Your garden offers habitat and food for local wildlife, and studies have proven that backyard gardens are key components in the conservation of our native pollinators. Growing your own food also means you’ll be less dependent on the industrial food system, which helps to reduce our need for oil.
Quality & freshness: When you grow your own food, you can monitor the health and vitality of your plants to ensure the best possible produce. You can reduce or eliminate the need for pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Growing your own means you can experiment with different varieties for new flavors, allowing you to create gourmet meals for your family and friends. And if it’s fresh food you’re after, it doesn’t get better than vegetables harvested in the afternoon for dinner the same evening–or a carrot straight from the garden!
Family oriented: Having a garden in the backyard is a wonderful way to teach children where their food comes from; it entices them to be more adventurous with their food. Vegetables they might otherwise have turned their noses up at, may now become their favorites simply because they were able to watch them grow. You can get the whole family involved in the garden–it’s a great way to get outside and have fun!
Establishing your new garden
Once you’ve decided that you’re ready to “dig in” and start your first garden, you’ll want to cover the basics before you actually begin putting plants in the ground. There are many different methods and styles of gardens available for you to choose from, if you’re short on space you may want to go with a small raised bed–say 3-feet by 8-feet. And to make the most of that small space, you’ll want to utilize the square-foot method.
Note: If you’re gardening in a small space, I recommend you check out this article from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.
Regardless your choice in garden style, there are a few things to consider.
Location – Where you place your garden is very important, as vegetables require a minimum of 6 hours of full sunlight daily–8 is preferred. Watch the sun to determine where it rises and sets, look for shade cast by trees and buildings, and situate your garden accordingly.
Proximity – Think about your garden’s proximity to your water source, tool storage, and the drop-off point for in-puts such as manure.
Water – For best results, your garden is going to need plenty of water. If you don’t have access to a spigot for a hose, you could set a water collection tank up on stilts and let gravity feed the water into your hose or irrigation system.
Soil type – Most soils are fine for gardening, but it’s a good idea to do a soil test (preferably in the fall, to give amendments time to mature before planting begins). Contact your local county extension office for a test-kit and instructions on how to take your soil sample, as well as information on where to send it.
Tools – You’re going to want a few basic tools to get started with: a spade, garden fork, hoe, trowel, hoses, and a wheel barrow all come in handy in the garden.
To till or not to till?
When you take into consideration the fact that there are 900 billion microorganisms in a pound of soil, you begin to understand that the soil is alive with life. You soil is the life-blood of your garden, it should be nurtured, cultivated, and treated with respect.
Personally, I use the tiller to break new ground. Otherwise, if I don’t have to till, I don’t. I like to use a garden fork or a broadfork to loosen the soil in the spring, and to work in compost or manure–otherwise, I mulch it and leave it be–allowing the organisms to proliferate.
The beginner’s garden
If you don’t own a tiller, perhaps you know someone who does, but if not, don’t fret–often hardware stores or garden supply stores have rototillers available to rent. Sometimes you can find a local handy-man who offers rototilling services.
But how big should you make your first garden?
The Farmer’s Almanac recommends a 10-foot by 16-foot plot for the beginning gardener. A plot that size can feed a family of four through the summer, with a bit extra for canning, freezing or sharing with friends and family.
It’s best to start small and simple when you’re just starting out. Resist the urge to grow too big too quickly, which can be overwhelming and lead to an over-run, neglected garden that sets you up for disappointment and running the risk of abandoning your project. It’s easiest to start with the mainstream row-method, and work your way up to wider beds and different growing methods.
Planning your garden
This is the fun part of gardening; gardeners everywhere look forward to January when they can pour over seed catalogs and use a pencil to lay out their gardens.
What will you grow?
Make a list of all the vegetables you’d like to grow. Consider what your family likes to eat. It’s best to start with crops that are easy to grow like lettuces, cucumbers, beets and carrots, radishes, swiss chard, spinach, kale, green beans, summer squash, and tomatoes. Some crops may produce more than one crop per season, such as beans, lettuce, spinach and tomatoes.
Put it on paper
Use graph paper to sketch your garden to scale. You can divide your 10×16 plot into 11 rows, each 10-feet long and running from north to south to receive the best possible sunlight.
Group plants together
It can be beneficial to group plants into families; grow all of your brassicas in one part of the garden, nightshade crops in another, roots and greens can be grown together, all of your legumes (peas, beans, and potatoes), and vining crops like cucumbers and squashes. Typically crops of the same family require similar growing conditions, and grouping plants like this allows for easier rotations.
Allow appropriate spacing
On your graph paper mark down the spacing between plants to determine how many seedlings or how much seed you will need. Keep in mind that plants that grow taller will shade low-growing crops and plan your layout accordingly. Avoid spacing plants too close together so that each crop is not crowded and fighting for nutrients, water, and sun.
Sowing and harvesting
Before you put anything in the ground, you’ll want to know the first and last frost dates for your area. You can contact your local extension office, or try this frost-date calculator from the Farmer’s Almanac. To help you determine when to plant each crop, use this interactive seed-starting calculator for free from Johnny’s Seeds.
It’s helpful to know when each crop will reach maturity so that you can harvest your vegetables at their peak. Check the seed packet or the catalog for the “days to maturity”, count off the days and weeks on a calendar, and mark on your garden plan the estimated harvest date. This does take some time, but it’s incredibly helpful information later in the summer when you’re looking at your beets–for example–and wondering if they’re ready.
Knowing the days to maturity and when to harvest also allows you to set up planting so that crops will be ready for harvesting when you are. Some gardeners want crops to “come in” all at once for easy processing, while other prefer a continuous supply of fresh produce throughout the summer. Gardeners can stagger plantings, or plant a succession of sowings to get more than one harvest or to extend the season.
Maintain your garden
Even more than the sowing of seeds and transplants, maintaining your garden once it’s in is perhaps the most challenging aspect of the craft.
The key to success is to keep a “clean”, weed-free plot. Weeds inhibit the growth of your vegetables, sucking up valuable nutrients and water your crops need to grow healthy and produce fruit. Don’t allow grass surrounding your garden to get long and over-run, since slugs and snails love to hide there and will raid your crops at night. If possible, create a “no-man’s land” around your garden–where you or the birds can easily pick them off. Make time every week for weeding, and try to make daily trips through the garden to monitor your crops for pests and diseases that can affect your harvest.
Use mulch to suppress weeds, retain moisture in your soil, and build up your soil’s vitality. There is a wide array of mulches to be had–newspaper and cardboard, wood chips, landscaping fabrics–again it comes down to personal preference and methodology, and the choice is yours.
Timing is everything when it comes to harvesting. If you miss the window of opportunity your vegetables will be past their peak in flavor and texture, and there’s nothing more disappointing than woody green beans! Even worse–insects, birds, and other wildlife may dine on your vegetables rather than your family savoring your gourmet vegetables over dinner.
A “growing” opportunity
Gardening offers families the chance to connect with nature, to better understand where food comes from. It’s a great way to protect the environment and live more sustainably. Establishing a new garden is an opportunity for healthier living, and while the recent trend may seem like a fad, gardening is one activity that had held true through the history of mankind. Heirloom seeds saved by generations who came before us, allow us to experience this history through our food. Cultivation practices once forgotten in the face of technology are returning to us, connecting us to our ancestors. If you’re ready to take the plunge into gardening and cultivating even a portion of your own food requirements, then give yourself a pat on the back and have fun with the journey that now lays ahead of you.
This is part 3 in our “Establishing a New Farm” series, you can view part 1 here, and part 2 by clicking here.
Have you ever met a wealthy farmer? Ever seen a farmer driving a flashy new sports car? or any brand new vehicle for that matter? Not likely. People do not become farmers to get rich.
Most farmers are doing it because they love the lifestyle, or they’re passionate about what they’re doing. While you can earn a living doing what you love, typically money is tight for farmers–and this is the reason behind farmers’ tendency to be innovative and resourceful. Not because it’s fun or trendy–but because farming costs money! Animals need to be fed, fencing is expensive, equipment is expensive, and new projects require supplies to get started. Farmers need to stretch their budgets, and so many look for alternatives before they break down and head to Tractor Supply to purchase equipment.
What is Farming Innovation?
Farmers are amazingly resourceful. Innovations emerge out of the farmers’ experiences and wisdom based on his or her analysis of their own situation.
An innovation is an idea, a practice or object that is perceived as new by an individual or others in a given system. Regardless of the time period that the idea or practice was originally developed, when a person first becomes aware of it, it is an innovation to that person.
For example–all of the old ideas and concepts that are cycling back into popularity is innovation for a new generation.
Innovation is using something old in new ways, or applying something new to successfully produce a desired social or economical outcome.
Ingenuity, inventiveness, and creativity all go hand-in-hand with farming and homesteading.
To cope with today’s markets and economy, farmers are coming up with creative solutions to their problems, and they’re building farms that suit their needs and the needs of their community. Despite naysayers, small and sustainably-bent farmers are proving themselves in a world geared toward industrial agriculture, and paving the way for others to follow suit. And with the average age of the American farmer at 57–we desperately need to be encouraging the younger generations to follow this career path and lifestyle.
Creative farming at work:
Chicken tractors – these lightweight structures are moveable and can be dragged across the pasture, offering the birds a chance to free-range while still providing the shelter and protection of a coop. Many new farmers are utilizing chicken tractors because the method not only gives the chickens fresh forage in the form of grasses, weeds, and insects which broadens their diet and lowers their feed needs, but at the same time delivers soil propagation for the pasture through the pecking, scratching, and fertilization services the chicken provides.
Urban agriculture – people are beginning to realize that farming and homesteading can take place anywhere, on any scale. Urban farmers can be located in or around a village, town, or city, and their farms can involve anything from animal husbandry to aquaculture. Roof-top gardens and roof-top beehives are two examples of urban farming, but there are a variety of ways that farmers are gaining ground in America’s urban areas.
Rotational grazing – this is the process of moving livestock strategically from one paddock to another, allowing the vegetation in previously grazed pastures to regenerate. Using lightweight electric fencing, more and more farmers are opting to rotate their livestock to encourage even grazing patterns throughout a paddock, discouraging weed competition, and then allowing for resting periods between rotations to maintain the health of their pasture’s forage.
Season extension – anything that allows the crop to be grown beyond it’s typical cultivation season. This can include row covers, hoop-houses, cold-frames, mulches, and raised beds. These season extension methods (particularly cold-frames) have been utilized in Europe for ages, and were recently popularized by Eliot Coleman in his book, Four-Season Harvest. Innovative farmers are pairing tools like hoop-houses with cold-loving crops like brassicas and greens to offer their communities fresh produce later and earlier in the season.
Vertical gardening – a great method for urban gardeners who are working with a smaller space, vertical growing of crops allows vegetable to grow upwards, therefore leaving space in your garden for other crops. There are a number of benefits to vertical gardening, from easier pest control and harvesting, to reduced waste of produce that might have otherwise been hidden in the foliage of low-growing plants. Crops like tomatoes, peas, cucumbers, beans, gourds and melons all do well trellised.
Agritourism – a form of niche tourism that is considered a growth industry in many parts of the world, agritourism involves bringing visitors to the farm for some kind of agriculturally-related activity. The activities that fall under this category are wide-ranging, but a few of them include farm stays, corn mazes, pick-your-own operations, and any number of farming or homesteading workshops.
CSA programs – many new farmers are offering CSAs–otherwise known as Community Supported Agriculture–because they afford the farmer an influx of funds at a time of year when it is so desperately needed. Through these programs, individuals pledge to support the farm, subscribing prior to the growing season for a share of the anticipated harvest. Once harvesting begins the subscribers receive weekly shares of vegetables and fruit.
Voices of Experience
I asked my interviewees what some of the resourceful ways they’ve found to accomplish projects with little to no money, and Tom Roberts from Snakeroot Organic Farm in Pittsfield, Maine, came back with some examples of his own creative innovations:
Recycling like a maniac: picking the dump, getting customers to bring us used pots, using old greenhouse plastic for some building roofs and sides, using short boards for shakes, straightening bent nails, recycling potting soil.
Learning to use poles cut from our woods to erect building frames and farm tables.
Becoming the town repository for fall leaves, instead of townsfolk taking them to the landfill.
Learning html so I could build my own web pages from scratch.
As you can see from Tom’s description–recycling and repurposing are great ways to save money on your new farming venture. Think outside the box. Look for free materials wherever you can–the dump or local recycling center; often you can find free or inexpensive materials at yard sales or garage sales, or on Craigslist, Uncle Henry’s, Freecycle, etc.
The library is a great source of knowledge that can help you learn how to tackle new projects, you may find building plans, DIY guidance, and generate brainstorming toward your own innovative ideas. There are many, many books related to farming, homesteading, and sustainable living which will help you learn what you need to know.
Online farmers have an array of great resources. YouTube has videos for every topic under the sun. FarmHack is an open-source community for farmers who freely share their inventions and ideas; Pinterest, a visual database that allows users to collect and store photos, articles, videos, and more. Check out the Homestead Bloggers’ Network for advice and idea from farmers all over the world!
While there is a whole host of resources online and in books–don’t forget that innovation can come to you in real life too. Talk to other farmers and homesteaders, go to the farmers’ markets, join a local seed-savers’ group, participate in agriculture-related events (for example–here in Maine, MOFGA hosts their “Common Ground Fair” every September where farmers gather to sell their wares, and knowledgeable speakers and demonstration events teach the public more about organic farming and sustainable living).
Don’t forget that once you’ve built it and raised your livestock or produce crop–you still need to sell it, and to do that you need to market your farm and products. John Suscovich over at Farm Marketing Solutions is a good resource for learning more about how to go about that. And check out this YouTube video from Cornell Small Farms.
These are just a select few examples of some innovations resourceful farmers have come up with. Obviously, when it comes to farming creativity it is only your own imagination and resourcefulness that limits you. So explore new concepts in books or online, talk with other homesteaders and farmers to see what other people are doing, you may be able to adapt someone else’s concept to suit your own needs and purposes. Brainstorm and experiment! While you may never be a “wealthy farmer”–pinching pennies through innovation and resourcefulness goes a long way toward helping you earn living doing what you love most to do.
If you have tips, tricks, or suggestions for great farm innovations that you’d like to share–please leave a comment below!