Archive for the ‘agriculture’ Category

This week we focused on the Outdoor Hour Challenge Crop Plants #1Clover that is at the Handbook of Nature Study website.

Throughout this post, three different typefaces are used:
– Bold – are words from the Handbook of Nature Study website.
– Italics – are words from the book titled Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock.
– Regular – are my own words.

Inside Preparation Work

1. Read in the Handbook of Nature Study pages 591-598.
These pages cover three sections in the Handbook of Nature Study but are closely related. I encourage you to read all the pages even if you do not think you have the particular clover in your area. Use your highlighter to mark sections you found interesting and that at some point you want to share with your children in the follow-up activity.

You can do an internet search for each of these kinds of clover so you and your children will know what you are looking for during your Outdoor Hour time this week. I use Google Images.

=>White Clover
=>Red Clover (Vermont’s State Flower)
=>Buffalo Clover
=>Crimson Clover
=>Rabbit Clover

This is some information from the Handbook of Nature Study that I found interesting and shared with the girls:

– Clover has for centuries been a most valuable forage crop; and…it has been the special partner of the bees, giving them honey for their service in carrying as pollen.

Those blossoms which are lowest, or on the outside of the head, blossom first.

White Clover

– All of them have upon their roots the little swellings, or nodules, which are the houses in which the beneficient bacteria grow. 

– If we pull up or dig out the roots of alfalfa or…clovers…we find upon the rootlets little swellings whic hare called nodules, or root tubercles.

– Each nodule is a nestful of living beings so small that it would take twenty-five thousand of them end to end to reach an inch.

– Even a little swelling can hold many of these minute organisms, which are called bacteria.

– The bacteria…are…underground partners of these plants.  The clover roots give the bacteria homes and places to grow, and in return these are able to extract a very valuable chemical fertilizer from the air, and to change its form so that the clovers can absorb it. The name of these substance is nitrogen.

– Clover roots, which penetrate very deeply, protect land from being washed away by…heavy rains.

– Clover foliage makes a thick carpet over the surface of the soil [and] prevents evaporation and thus keeps the soil moist.

– [Sweet clover has] a perfume so sweet, so suggestive of honey…in the blossoms. It may be the species with white blossoms or the one with yellow flowers.

Field of sweet clover in
Custer State Park, South Dakota.

– [It is] beneficial alike to man, bee, and soil.

– [Sweet clover can grow] on soil so poor that it can only attain a height of from two to four feet; but if it…gets foothold on a generous soil, it rises majestically ten feet tall.

– The blossom stalk…is at first an inch or so long, packed closely with little green buds having pointed tips.  But as soon as the blossoming begins, the stalk elongates, bringing the flowers farther apart.

– [White clover has] flowers [that] are all in one bunch, the tip of the stalk making the center of the clover head.

Clover growing in the backyard.

– The leaves are very pretty.

White clover leaves.

– The white clover, in common with other clovers, has the…habit of going to sleep at night.  Clover leaves fold at the middle, the three drawing near each other, looks like going to sleep.

Olivia looking a clover leaf she found.
They each picked a young leaf and older leaf
and compared the markings.
(The older ones have a more pronounced design in white on each leaflet.)

– The clover head is made up of many little flowers; each one has a tubular calyx with five delicate points and a little stalk.

Clover head made up of tiny little flowers.
This one is in the backyard.

– The outside blossoms open first; and as soon as they are open, the honey bees, which eagerly visit white clover wherever it is growing, begin at once their work of gathering nectar and carrying pollen.

New clover with the outside blossoms opening first.

– White-clover honey is in the opinion of many the most delicious honey made from any flowers except, perhaps, orange blossoms.  So valuable is the white clover as a honey plant that apiarist often grow acres of it for their bees.

Outdoor Time

2. Your outdoor time this week can be spent in your yard or at a near-by park.
Look for areas of lawn or pastures that may include clover. You may find clover at the edges of trails as well so keep your eyes out as you have your outdoor time this week.

We use to have a beekeeper who had several hives here.  This past winter was particularly difficult for the bees, and he lost all the bees. So, this is the first year in many years that we haven’t had bees here.

Beehive 2
One of the beehives that was here for many years.
After this past winter, which was very difficult,
there are no longer beehives here.

One of the years, he suggested planting white clover near the bees. The clover has since spread throughout different areas of the farm – the nature trail (which is used as a pasture during the late-fall and winter), backyard, and main pasture.

Clover growing in the backyard.

3. Another subject for your outdoor hour time could be the honeybee. The relationship between clover and honeybees is a beneficial one and if you can observe bees in the clover you have witnessed a great partnership.

We did a study about bees several years ago, learning about the different types of bees, and the different stages of honey (from the bees gathering the nectar to harvesting). This was a fun hands-on lesson that had the girls pretending they were bees as they visited different activity stations (e.g., clean the hives, drink nectar).

This time we went out and sat by the clover for a while to see if any bees visited the flowers.  We didn’t see any in the backyard.  However, later while I was mowing on the nature trail where there’s a combination of white and red clover, there were some bees visiting the red clover.
4. Pollen can be a topic for your outdoor hour time if you don’t find clover or honeybees. You can review Outdoor Hour Challenge #18 if you need help knowing where to look for pollen.

We found plenty of clover so we didn’t focus on pollen during this nature study.

Follow-Up Activity

5. After your outdoor time, make sure to discuss with your children what interested them from their nature study this week. They may be more interested in learning about something they observed and our job as parents is to help them answer their questions. Use the Handbook of Nature Study by looking up the topic in the index or the table of contents.

In the Handbook of Nature Study, on page 593, there is a section on nodules. The nodules will be found as little “swellings” on the roots of clover. These nodules have an important job which is explained in the Handbook of Nature Study on the same page. Make sure to read this section to yourself so when you have your follow-up activity you will be prepared to talk about nodules.

Sophia wanted to know if you can eat clover. Told her that it is edible so she tried some. “Please do not take a picture of me eating clover,” she said. She tried it and said it had a “pleasant” taste…”kind of sweet.”

Sophia holding some clover and
wondering if it was edible.

Found some recipes for ways that clover can be used for eating. Since there’s an abundance of clover on the nature trail, we will pick some of that later this week and make some recipes using clover. In the mean time, there are recipes listed below that use clover.
5. On page 594 in the lesson, #3 suggests that you take up the clover plant and look at its roots. This would make a great addition to your nature journal. Sketch the whole clover plant and then perhaps one of the flowers.

The girls picked several clover plants and leaves to draw in their nature journal and observe closer with a magnifying glass indoors.

Olivia holding a clover leaf and blossom
that she brought indoors to draw.

We did not dig any of the clover plants up since it was so hot outside (almost 90 degrees). On a cooler day, this would be an interesting thing to do.
6. On page 598 in the lesson, #5 suggests that you tie a string around a clover head that has not yet blossomed. This way you can observe the same flower over a period of several days. You could record each day’s observations in your nature journal either in words or as a sketch.

There were many clover plants in different stages of growth in the backyard. The girls looked for ones at the early stages of growth, middle, and end.

Sophia looking for clover in different stages of growth.

Optional activity: Find some clover honey at your grocery store and enjoy it on bread or in some herbal tea.

We enjoyed some honey that was produced from the bees/hives on our farm.

Other activities

I read on Healthy Home Gardening that “Native Americans used whole clover plants in salads, and made a white clover leaf tea for coughs and colds. Leaves of white clover are edible, raw or cooked. The young leaves are best harvested before the plant flowers, and can be used in salads, soups etc.

“They can be used as a vegetable, cooked like spinach. Flowers and seed pods have been dried, ground into a powder and used as a flour or sprinkled on cooked foods such as boiled rice. The young flowers can also be eaten raw in salads. The root can be eaten if cooked first.

“A sweet herb tea is made from the fresh or dried flowers. It is considered delicate. The dried leaves impart a vanilla flavor if mixed into cakes etc.”

The recipe below is from the Manataka American Indian Council

Clover Soup


2 cups clover flowers and leaves
1 onion, chopped
3 tablespoons butter (we used dairy-free butter)
2 pints water
3 potatoes, peeled and quartered
Salt and pepper to taste


Clean and dip clover flowers and leaves in cold salted water. Remove and cut into pieces. In a large saucepan, sauté flowers, leaves and onions in butter.

When all is softened add water, then potatoes, and season with salt and pepper. Cook gently for 20 minutes. Drain the cooking liquid and save it.

Puree potato mixture and dilute with the cooking liquid, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil, the reduce heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Can sprinkle with grated cheddar cheese if desired.

White Clover Salad

Make a fresh salad using lettuce and onions from the garden.  Sprinkle white clover blossoms on top.

White Clover Tea

White clover has many health benefits. According to the Peterson Field Guide of Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs, American Indians used leaf tea for colds, coughs, fevers, and leukorrhea. In European folk medicine, flower tea is used for rheumatism and gout. Like red clover, white clover contains the estrogenic isoflavone genistein which has cancer-preventative properties and antioxidants.

To make white clover tea:

1. Pick fresh flowers and leaves.
2. Rinse.
3. Place in a tea kettle or small pot with water.
4. Heat to almost boiling.
5. Strain into tea cup.
6. Add sugar or honey (if desired).

We enjoyed learning about clover and its benefit to bees and environment.  It was an added bonus to learn about its use throughout history by American Indians as well as other in folk remedies.  I’m sure that when we use the blossoms in a variety of food this weekend, it will be something that we will remember for a long time!


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Welcome to the fifth week of our Fun in the Summer Sun event!

Each Monday until September 7th
Mama to 4 Blessings along with Harvest Moon By Hand,
Adventures of Mommydom, Sweet Diva, and Sweet Phenomena
will be hosting Fun in the Summer Fun link up events.

Here’s the line up:

1st Monday of each month: link up your “Kid-friendly summer activities”
2nd Monday of each month: link up your “Kid-friendly summer crafts”
3rd Monday of each month: link up your “Kid-friendly summer recipes”
4th Monday of each month: link up your “How to stay cool in the summer heat”


This week the focus is on kid-friendly summer activities.  Some of the things we’ve enjoyed doing during the past week include:

Visiting a Buffalo Farm

Sophia sitting on the Eichten’s mouse.

On Wednesday, we visited Eichtens farm which is an all-natural artisan cheese company and buffalo farm. They produce a Dutch Gouda and a variety of other European-style cheeses.

Olivia sitting on the dairy cow statue.

The bison at Eichtens are totally free from any growth hormones, antibiotics, or other medications. Their animals are raised on native pasture grasses (grass fed), and hay/oats. They raise the feed the bison consume.

Some of the buffalo herd at Eichten’s.
There were quite a few young ones in the herd.

According to Eichtens’ website, “A strong relationship between the human and buffalo has existed for thousands of years. Bison sustained the lives of the explorers and settlers going west as well as the Native American.

The older and younger animals sat right next to one another.

“They were believed to be the most important of the wild animals in the development of North America. Once an integral part of the Native Americans’ way of life, the American Bison is again a central part of the lives of many Americans today.

The girls wanted to sit on the buffalo statue.
They weren’t the first one with the idea – there was a
well-worn path from the dirt road to the buffalo.

“The Bison stand as a symbol of the American West, an animal of survival and our American Heritage.”

Picking Strawberries

Olivia holding some strawberries she picked.

Also on Wednesday, we picked two flats of strawberries. 

Sophia looking for strawberries at the berry patch.

We’re going to make a variety of food from the strawberries as well as eat them plain.  This year, we’re going to try canning a strawberry-lemonade drink so the fresh strawberry taste can be enjoyed during the winter.

Providing an Abode for the Toads

We’ve been seeing hundreds of baby toads here, and came across an idea for helping the toads survive the hot, summer heat.

Olivia holding a baby toad.

In the May 2007 issue of Family Fun, one idea for children to enjoy their backyard is to make a home for toads.  As the article noted, “These hungry amphibians can be a big help in keeping garden pests, such as slugs, grubs, and potato beetles under control.  Entice them to hang out around your plot by creating a shady retreat.” 

American Toad Found While Gardening
American Toad that we found in the garden
when we were planting flowers.

The article continued, “Pick a spot that’s protected from the wind and where the soil is moist, and dig a few shallow depressions.  In each one, lay a terracotta flowerpot on its side and then fill it partway with sandy soil.”

Now it’s your turn!  What kid-friendly summer activities does your family enjoy doing?

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Every Friday starting on July 1st through the middle of August, there’s a Smart Summer Challenge going on at Pink and Green Mama,  Naturally Educational, and Teach Mama.  The goal is to do daily educational (yet fun) activities with your children. 

As the challenge says, “The learning activity can be as simple as reading a book, or doing a simple science experiment, or as involved as packing up the crew and visiting a museum or hiking your local park. It’s as involved as you want it to be, and our focus is to help parents realize the important role they play in helping their kids avoid the summer learning slump.”

They have daily suggestions for ideas if you need inspiration, and each ties into a weekly theme.  This week, the theme was “You are on the Map.” 

During the past week we did the following activities:
Sunday – Did 4-H projects for the county fair.  Both the girls finished their embroidery projects – Olivia made an embroidered pillowcase and wall hanging; and Sophia made an embroidered stuffed dog.
Olivia’s embroidered elephant.

Olivia embroidered the first letter of her name
as well as flowers, leaves, and vines.

At 8 and 10 years old respectively they’ve been doing embroidery for a few years now and enjoy it.

Today’s map location:  home (to do the project).  Embroidery, itself, though is believed to have originated in the Orient and Middle East at about the same time. Chinese embroidery dates back to at least 6,000 BC. (Source)

Monday – Olivia learned to do papercutting with an exacto knife for one of her 4-H projects.  This was a challenging project because the knife has to be held a certain way in order for it to cut properly.  After cutting the image of the horse, she layered black and blue paper behind the cut-out sections to create the picture.

This is the paper cutting that Olivia made. 
She cut the image out of white paper with a knife and
then punched holes with a paper punch along the top and bottom.
She put black paper behind the horse and
then blue paper behind the entire picture.

Sophia spent the majority of the day preparing food for her 4-H demonstration about using herbs in cooking/baking, medicines, and personal care products.

Sophia doing a 4-H demonstration about herbs.
She showed how to make cucumber-basil-ginger herbal water,
sage tea, and lavender spray. In addition to these items,
the club members and parents could sample
chocolate chip mint cookies and iced mint tea.
All the herbs used were from our garden.
Both the girls did a demonstration in front of about a dozen people on Monday night. 

Olivia loves to do puzzles, so she did a demonstration titled
“How to Eat a Puzzle.”
She showed the 4-H members and parents how to make
a puzzle sandwich, and then
invited them to eat their first puzzle piece. 
Puzzle sandwich that Olivia and I made together.

They will do the same demonstration at the County Fair on July 13th.

We also visited two farms where 4-H members live.  One had rabbits, horses, dogs, and cats.  The 4-H member focused on sharing information about her rabbits and showing them at the fair.

The girls listening to a presentation about rabbits.
Rabbits are on their list of animals they’d love to have.

The other place we visited was a dairy farm.  The girls both learned a lot about raising and showing dairy cows; and now want to do the dairy project. 

Olivia is taking a look at a three-year old cow.
They would start out with a spring calf to show next year (one that is born in March-May 2012; and show it in July 2012).
This is the size calf that the girls would work with:
about 100 or so pounds.  Not the huge 1,500+ pound ones.
Today’s map location:  three different rural towns in Minnesota (including home).  Olivia’s paper cutting projects has ties to China.  More information about paper cutting is HERE. 4-H began in 1902 in Clark County, Ohio.  More information about 4-H is HERE.
Tuesday – The girls enjoyed having two friends over.  They introduced them to Bailey and Hoss (the pony and miniature horse), played a game, climbed trees, had a picnic in the fort, and searched for and found lots of frogs and toads. 
In the afternoon and evening, we spent time reading.  One of the books we read was Arabian Nights: Three Tales by Deborah Nourse Lattimore.
Today’s map location:  Today was spent at home.  One of the stories we read takes place in ancient Cathay (known today as China). The other stories were set in fictional locations.
Wednesday – We picked strawberries at a nearby patch and learned about strawberries.

Sophia holding some strawberries that she picked.

We also went to a buffalo farm and were so excited to see lots of young ones in the pasture.

Buffalo in the pasture.

In the late afternoon, we had a backyard picnic while enjoying the sounds of nature.  The strawberries and picnic tied into our on-going nature study that we do (we try to do at least one nature study per week using the Handbook of Nature Study).

Having a picnic on the deck.

Today’s map location:  two small towns in Minnesota (one for the patch and picnic; and the other for the buffalo farm.

In addition, we can add Brittany, France (where the garden strawberry was first bred) to the places we “visited” this week.  The garden strawberry is a cross between two varieties – one from North America and the othe from Chili.  The former is noted for its flavor while the latter was noted for its larger size.

For the American bison (also known as the American buffalo), the location is North America.  At one time, their range was roughly a triangle between the Great Bear Lake in Canada’s far northwest, south to the Mexican states of Durango and Nuevo León, and east along the western boundary of the Appalachian Mountains. Due to commercial hunting and slaughter in the 19th century, the bison nearly went extinct. Today, buffalo can be found in reserves, on farms, and a few national parks.

Thursday – Sophia had a harp lesson in the morning; we went to the library to return some books and check out more books; and learned about Vietnam a bit in the afternoon.  We are finishing up our multi-year around-the-world geography study. 

Some of the postage stamps from Vietnam that
Sophia has in her geography book.

We skipped ahead from U to W back when Prince William and Princess Catherine were married (since Prince William’s mother was from Wales)…and then continued on with X, Y, and Z (Mexico – since no countries in the world start with the letter X; Yemen; and Zambia). 

Realized we didn’t do V…so we began learning about Vietnam today. 

Today’s map location:  two cities and one rural town in Minnesota for the harp lesson, library, and at-home study.  We also learned about Vietnam today…so we “traveled” back to the east.

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I’ve been gradually working my way through the house over the past seven months now trying to simplify and organize each room.  Sometimes it doesn’t take as long as I anticipate.  Other times it can be rather slow-going.  This is the case with the kitchen…where it is a cupboard-by-cupboard process. 
Variety of rices and whole-wheat noodles.

This month, I’m doing an online workshop about how to eat healthier.  Part of my personal preparation and goal was to clean several of the cupboards to get rid of the food that didn’t fit into a vegetarian-vegan lifestyle as well food that was just plain…well…unhealthy. 

My daughters and I went shopping one Saturday and purchased items from the perimeter of the grocery store (e.g., lots of produce) as well as dried vegetables and whole grains.  Once home, I pulled all the canning jars that weren’t being used.  Olivia and I transferred the contents to the jars.  Midway through the process, I ran out of lids (thus, the wax paper and metals bands). 
Jars filled and ready to be placed in the cupboard.

I labeled each of the jars with the contents.  This is especially helpful when it comes to the different types of flours.  At this point, they look an awful lot like one another.  Rye flour…amaranth flour…whole wheat flour…even white cornmeal.  Not much visual difference.

Wheat and some of the flours used in bread-making.

What I like about this method is that I can easily find the items now.  Before, when I was making homemade bread, I had to take out each of the baggies of flour that I got from the co-op and read the words I wrote on the twist-tie that noted the type of flour.  It was inefficient and a waste of my time.  But I simply didn’t make the time to organize my bread-making ingredients.

Canned food in the cupboard – oats, flour, dairy-free milk powder,
beans, nuts, and dried fruit.
One of the challenges of this kitchen is that it is small and cupboard space is rather limited.  The home was built in 1890 (yes, 1890…not 1990), so the design is a bit dated.  However, I have some back-up shelves in my home office which I use for all my quart-size homemade canned goods (e.g., tomato sauce, applesauce, peaches, pears, honey). 
In the living room, there is a floor-to-ceiling storage unit that has two shelves filled with homemade canned jams, jellies, salsas, and other items I can during the summer. 
Sophia, Olivia, and I are planning on doing more canning this summer when produce is plentiful and less expensive…and we can get it directly from the farmer (or grow it ourselves). Needless to say, I’ll have to make more space for additional canned goods.  At least I have three months to organize and simplify other parts of the home.

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About 14 years ago, in the middle of January, twin lambs were born here.  Having adopted the parents from a petting zoo (where they were neglected and maltreated), I was still working on developing trust with them.  They were reluctant to get too close to any human being.  Until Oreo was born…

Oreo – the first lamb born at Harvest Moon
It seemed like once Oreo was born, his ewe-mother (“Woolite”) allowed me to help her care for her newborn lamb.  It was critical that she accepted my help since the nights were well below zero. 
Keeping the sheep – “Dacron” (the ram) and Woolite – along with Oreo in the barn was the safest thing to do.  The trio learned very quickly that I was the food source (hay, water, and grain) and the one who made sure they were warm (with a heat lamp and lots of straw). 
Once the weather was warm enough again (above zero) and Oreo was a few days older, the sheep went outdoors again.  This trio – plus many who came after them – provided many hours of enjoyment not only to me but to family, friends, and others who visited the farm.
Woolite with another lamb, “Dali Lamba”
who was born in the spring one year
In looking at past pictures I had scanned and uploaded to my computer many years ago, I came across a few wonderful surprises:  pictures of my parents, niece, and nephew who participated in one of the Grandparent-Grandchild camps I coordinated here at the farm.
I forgot I had these pictures, and, in finding them, they brought back memories of some very happy times. I remember having up to about 50 chickens wandering around the yard and pasture – finding bugs and grass to eat; laying eggs; and taking dust baths in the dirt.
A mother hen watches and protects her chicks.

Some of my favorite memories are when a couple of the more “broody hens” would sit on some eggs for quite a long period of time.  Eventually, a bunch of little chicks would hatch, and then the mother hen would have a new job:  teaching the little ones where to find food and how to stay safe on the farm. 

A chicken coming to get a closer look at my parents, niece, and nephew
on one of the Grandparent-Grandchild Days at Harvest Moon.

As I looked at through some of the (many) pictures taken while I offered camp programs (some just for youth, others for grandparents with grandchildren), I feel incredibly blessed to have had the opportunity to work with motivated and positive teenage camp counselors who wanted to make a difference in the lives of children. 

I am equally fortunate to have had the opportunity to work alongside talented artists who inspired children and teens to explore the arts – visual, dance, music, and theater.  The talent that was shared with youth – who would now be in high school or college, or be college graduates – was impressive.  I’m hoping that children and teens who were part of the camp program look back and have some good memories of their time at Harvest Moon.

Two generations working together to make a birdfeeder.

What was nice for me to see when I was looking at pictures from the Grandparent-Grandchild camp were of seniors working and learning with youth – both generations were having fun and learning together.  One of the activities that the grandparent-grandchild teams did was to learn about birds and how to feed them.

I found two pictures – one of my niece with my mom; and one of my nephew with my dad – working on a project together.  They were creating simple birdfeeders in which they spread peanut butter on a cardboard tube and then rolled it in birdseed.

Working together on a birdfeeder.

These feeders and other ones were sent home with the participants so they could put them in their trees and watch the birds eat.  A simple pleasure – feeding and watching the birds – but one that my dad instilled in me as a child.  It’s one that still lives on today.

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Today’s focus of the No Impact Week Experiment is food and lessening one’s carbon footprint. 

As a mother who homeschools her two daughters, I particularly appreciated this interesting article by Shannon Hayes about one homeschool family’s quest to eat locally and an educational trip they took where the children eagerly ate snails.  As Shannon said, “Each year at this time, we pack up the kids for a journey that is one part celebration of the close of the growing season, one part homeschool study.”

This article, 8 Ways to Join the Local Food Movement, by Sarah van Gelder offers some great ideas.  Some of them I’ve already done, and others I’m definitely going to try this spring and summer when the growing season begins again.  (Right now the ground is covered with a good foot of snow.)

From Lawn to Lunch

One idea offered in the article was to “convert your sunny lawn to a lunch box by removing the turf in long, 18-inch strips. Cut the edges of each strip with a sharp-bladed edging tool. While one partner rolls up the grass like a jellyroll, another slices through grass roots with the edging tool. Remove about an inch of rooty soil with the top growth. When the roll gets heavy, slice it off and load it in a wheelbarrow. 

“Make beds 10 to 20 feet long and six to eight feet wide (so you can reach the center from each side). Mulch three to four-foot wide paths between beds (grass left in the path will infiltrate your beds) to accommodate a wheelbarrow.”  The turf can be added to the compost pile. From there, prepare the garden beds for planting.  Further instructions are at the link above.

This is such a great idea!  The garden would be easily accessible from both sides and make weeding and harvesting so much easier. 

Olivia Holding Basil
Olivia holding some basil –
one of the many things harvested one night from the garden.

This past year, Sophia, Olivia, and I planted vegetable gardens in three spots: the existing raised beds next to the driveway, in the butterfly garden in the backyard, and in an old flower garden on the east side of the front yard.  The first two gardens did very well, but the last one was too shady and didn’t produce much. 

There are many sunny spots in the backyard, and this spring it would be good to add another spot where we can plant more vegetables. 

In the meantime, I’m thinking about the delicious salads and cornbread that I enjoyed for many lunches. The majority of the ingredients for the salads came right out of the garden:

Cornbread with Salad
One of the many lunches I enjoyed during Summer 2010
using fresh produce the girls and I grew in the garden.
This is something I’ve never done, but love the idea (it’s from the article noted above): 
Party with Your Preserves

Ten quarts of pumpkin puree in the pantry, and not a jar of tomato sauce left? Throw a canning swap party. Here are some tips and recommendations from foodroutes.org:
Plan ahead.

Gauge interest with your friends early on. Then remind them throughout the planting, growing, and harvesting season to set aside extras for canning and swapping.

Don’t be afraid to grow a lot of something.

If you’re a budding salsa artist, plant that extra row of tomatoes. Or if you see a good deal on a box of local pears—get them.

Try new recipes on your swappers.

Canned Peaches Pears and Applesauce
Canned applesauce, peaches, and pears.

Bust out that crazy 5-alarm salsa verde recipe you’ve always been scared to try. Make sure to can extra so you can pop a jar open for samples.

Be aware of what constitutes a “fair” trade.

This is simple. You’re all friends and canners who know how time-consuming canning can be. Be open and ask what your neighbor feels comfortable receiving in exchange for one jar of Grandma Edie’s apricot chutney.

Think outside the Ball Jar.

Not everything at the canning swap party has to be pressure-canned or boiled in a hot water bath. Dried items, homemade baked goods, and candies are all eligible. You’ll be amazed by what can be preserved from the season’s bounty.

Shop Outside of Supermarkets

The article suggested that you could “ask around at farmers markets, look for road-side food stands, and U-pick places. Watch for hand-painted signs. You may find a wide variety of freshly harvested foods and get to know new communities and regional traditions at the same time.”

One of my favorite memories of the past summer was visiting Amish farms in Cashton, Wisconsin.  My parents and daughters went to many different farms, and purchased fresh produce – much of it well under the price in the grocery store.

Following a Buggy
Following an Amish buggy on the way to different farms in the Cashton area.

Several years ago, we joined at CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm.  My daughters were a bit too young at the time to fully appreciate fresh vegetables on their plate, so (unfortunately) there was more food waste than I was comfortable with.  So, I’ve taken a break for a couple years now, but am thinking that 2011 would be a good year to begin again. 

One of the CSA farms also had a gleaning program where we could pick all the tomatoes we wanted that were not being used so they wouldn’t go to waste.  This was wonderful – and a huge source of savings.  I ended up canning and drying a considerable amount of tomatoes. 

This website helps locate CSAs across the United States.  I was happy to find 43 listings near me for a variety of CSA farms as well as ones that offer organic or natural products – some even year round! 

Share Your Table

The article also suggested that “the best antidote to fast-food culture is as close as your table. Invite friends and a few strangers to a local-foods potluck. In good weather, eat outside. Share an evening of conversation and enjoy the good life.” 

There was also an interesting article about a man who lives in Paris and invites people over every Sunday evening.  A changing group of about 50-60 people from around the world have joined him over the past 40 years.  Here’s the article.

One of the steps suggested today is to eat locally.  In January in Minnesota, there’s not a lot growing naturally.  Out of curiousity, I wanted to see the NRDC’s (National Resoures Defense Council) list of local food and produce available in early-January in Minnesota.

Supposedly, the following are growing in Minnesota: Apples, Beets, Cabbage, Carrots, Mushrooms, Onions, Raspberries, Rutabaga, Sweet Potatoes, and Turnips.  These are all summer and late-fall crops – not middle of January crops.  So much for that idea.

One Evening's Harvest
Ingredients from the garden that were used
to make dinner one night this past summer.

Next recommended step:  look at the Sierra Club’s list of ways to eat well.  My favorite suggestion from the list is:

Make Your Own and Try New Recipes

As the article said, “Most of the best recipes on Earth were created by peasants who wouldn’t be able to read the directions on a modern food package…The truth is that cheap, healthy, and tasty meals, from cereals to sautés to soups, can easily be made from scratch.”

I agree!  Last night for dinner I made some homemade pumpkin spice bread and a pastry filled with a variety of ingredients – including sauteed onions and fresh parsley.  It takes a bit longer to prepare items from scratch, but the good thing is that I know (and can pronounce) all the ingredients that are being consumed.  There were no chemicals or preservatives in any of the ingredients.

Cranberry Pumpkin Bread
Pumpkin Spice Bread with Cranberries

The pastry was a new recipe from a Russian cookbook.  The girls learned about Russia (as part of a homeschool unit study I’m doing with them where they learn about a different country each month…they’re on “T” now), and there are still a couple of Russian recipes we want to try.

The No Impact Week Experiment Challenge had the following ideas for making a change in one’s eating habits:

Eat More Vegetarian Meals

It was suggested to try vegetarian meals for the entire week, for one day, or even just 2/3 of the meals in one day. 

Vegetarian Lasagna Rolls
Vegetarian lasagna rolls with spinach and homemade tomato sauce

Find Ways to Use Your Oven For Shorter Time Periods

I already try to make multiple items at one time when I have the oven on.  However, it was suggested to put the food in during the preheating stage and turn off the oven early and let the food continue to cook in the warm oven.  That’s a great idea!  I’ve done that with homemade rolls (made from yeast) and it helps speed along the rising process. 

Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls
Homemade sourdough cinnamon and raisin rolls

Save Money and Can Your Food

This is something I do each summer and fall.  A couple years ago, I even tried canning my own ketchup and apple pie filling in addition to canning the regular items (peaches, pears, jams, salsa, tomatoes, applesauce).  I’d like to try more recipes this year; and invest in a pressure cooker so I can can vegetables.

Apple Pie Filling
Canned Apple Pie Filling

When Eating Out, Ask for Tap Water

Instead of asking for bottled water, request tap water when eating out.  This is such a simple action, but one that does make a difference.

According to an article by YES! Magazine, “Bottled water is marketed as superior to tap, but public water supplies are actually cleaner, less expensive, and more environmentally responsible, according to organizations like Take Back the Tap, Food and Water Watch, and Stop Corporate Abuse.” 

“The 38 billion plastic bottles sold in 2005 used 900,000 tons of plastic,
which required more than 1.7 million barrels of oil for transport.
More than 75 percent of discarded water bottles end up in landfills
where they take up to 1,000 years to decompose.”
~ The Pacific Institute

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This week I’m participating in the No Impact Week Experiment – a one-week carbon cleanse. It is a chance to see what a difference no-impact living can have on one’s quality of life.

It’s not about giving up creature comforts, but an opportunity to test whether the modern “conveniences” one takes for granted are actually making one happier or just eating away at one’s time and money. 

If you’d like to participate as well, click HERE and you’ll be taken to a page where you can register for free and receive an online book that gives lots of great ideas and links.

Today’s challenge is doing more with less.  There’s a video called The Story of Stuff which is an interesting look at how to live a lower-impact life.

In the online book, there’s a series of activities that are suggested for each day.  The first activity was to list the things I need to buy this week. Here’s what comes to mind:

– Classes and enrichment activities for Sophia and Olivia.
– Gasoline for the car.
– Movie tickets for Mom, Dad, and me to celebrate Dad’s 79th birthday.
– Gift and card for Dad’s birthday.
– Milk.
– Dog food for Gretel.
– Hay for Bailey and Hoss.
– Bark chips for Bailey and Hoss.
– Washer and dryer.
– Homeschool conference fee and hotel reservation.

The next step was to list the things that I can wait a week to buy.  Here’s what I can wait on:

Classes and enrichment activities for Sophia and Olivia – the classes don’t begin until next month, so I can wait a bit longer before enrolling them.  Who knows…perhaps by waiting, I’ll change my mind and decide that we could do something else together that is equally as fun and educational.

Washer and dryer – I can wait until January 15th when a coupon expires that would save quite a bit of money. In the long-run, a new washer and dryer will use less water and propane since they will be more energy-efficient and have a larger capacity than the small washer and dryer I’m currently using (and have since 1996).

Homeschool conference fee and hotel reservation – I can fill out the registration form and book the hotel, but wait to pay for both until closer to the conference time.

Milk – I don’t have a cow to milk. I have some powdered milk in the cupboard that Olivia will drink. I’ll use that for the week.

The third step was to look at the list of things that I will need to get this week. The challenge of the No Impact Week Experiment is to figure out how to get the items second-hand, borrow, or make them myself. 

Movie tickets for Mom, Dad, and me to celebrate Dad’s 79th birthday. I have a gift card that my mom and dad gave me for the movie theater. I’ll use that instead of paying with cash.

Gift and card for Dad’s birthday – Perhaps I can make a gift and card for him rather than purchasing something he doesn’t need. He loves to watch the birds, so I could easily make some batches of suet for the birds and put them in his feeders when I visit on Thursday.  He also loves music, so I could play some songs on the piano for him (he and my mom gave me ten years of piano lessons when I was growing up).  I’d like to make something else…but I’m not sure what yet.

Out of the list of things that I need to get this week, some things I must purchase:

Dog food for Gretel – Changing her food abruptly to homemade dog food could result in stomach and digestion issues. This would be something that could be transitioned to if I felt it would be cost-effective and healthier for she and Montague.

Hay for Bailey and Hoss – Hay is a consumable product, so there’s no purchasing it second-hand or borrowing it. Making bales of hay is something I don’t have the land or equipment to do. I can purchase it from my neighbor, though, which saves money and transportation costs since He lives right next door.

Bark chips for Bailey and Hoss – Same thing as hay…it’s a consumable product. What I can do is purchase the bark chips when I’m on my way to do other errands and from a local small business. In that way, I save money and transportation costs by grouping errands together.

Gasoline for the car – Wish I didn’t have to purchase gasoline this week. However, I’m going to be taking my parents out to celebrate my dad’s birthday. They live 50 miles away, so it does take a good amount of gasoline to visit them.

Other activities and ideas that the No Impact Week Experiment suggested for today include:

Shop Less, Live More

One idea was that instead of shopping to do something enjoyable or clean a closet. Today, I started putting away the Christmas decorations. Although I like the holidays and Christmas decorations, I also enjoy seeing counter-tops, bookcases, and shelves cleared off. Honestly, I rather have them bare than cluttered with things.

I also worked a lot in the kitchen; and washed and put away the dishes. Throughout the month of December, it seemed like I couldn’t keep up with things because of the activities I was doing with the girls. Taking a block of time and cleaning was good for me today. Seeing things put away and the counters clean is less stressful…and much more peaceful for me to look at.

Make Your Own Body and Cleaning Products

It’s interesting this was suggested because Sophia, Olivia, and I started making bath salts this weekend. A line of bath products will be introduced through Harvest Moon by Hand (my shop) within the week. I’m excited about this because it is aligned with what I enjoy doing, what I have been trained to do (I’m a certified aromatherapist), and something that is fun to do with my daughters.

Use Hand-Me-Downs

Yesterday, Sophia, Olivia, and I went through their rooms and collected a huge trash bag of items that can be donated to the local second-hand shop. Today, we went through a closet and found another trash bag of clothing to donate. The items that are sold at the second-hand shop fund a non-profit organization’s programs that help support families and individuals in need.

Just as I donate to the store, I also shop there and have found some great deals on clothing (most recently a beautiful Liz Claiborne sweater for only $4), clothing for the girls’ dolls (often times only $1-$2 compared to $5-10), and books (only 25-50 cents).

For Must-Have Purchases, Buy Locally

For a couple of the items on the list (the hay and bark chips), I plan to purchase them locally as I normally do. The hay is from my next door neighbor who is a farmer. The bark chips are from a small, local business that provides feed and agricultural needs to farms and families in the area.

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