Image by Ylanite Koppens from Pixabay

When I was new to starting seeds, I ran across advice on the importance of sterilizing both your seed starting mix and the containers into which it went, in order to kill off any pathogens that might be in your mix. This, ostensibly, was to prevent the dreaded damping off. Damping off causes young seedling to rot right at the soil line. The plant simply falls over at the weak point in the stem and dies. Once the plant is infected, there is nothing you can do to save them.

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Finished mustard. Rustic and delicious.

I’m a fan of making your own mustard. It’s honestly one of the easiest condiments to make, it’s very safe, because mustard, on its own, is so naturally antimicrobial, and the variations are practically endless. I have more background on making your own mustard, along with a beer mustard recipe here.

I use Dijon mustard in various recipes that call for it, and as an emulsifier in salad dressings. Many years ago now, I went looking for a DIY Dijon mustard recipe. Traditional Dijon (named for its city of origin in France) is made with verjuice, the acidic juice from unripe grapes. (Verjuice has been on my list to make for a while now). This is NOT that recipe.

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Being involved in food system work, not to mention making toiletries and soaps for close to 20 years, I’ve been part in a lot of online forums and groups over the years, learning and also teaching as my own knowledge grew.

A LOT of people start to garden or make their own toiletry products because they don’t trust what is in the store. They don’t feel that what’s in the stores is “safe”. And once they grow their own carrot or make their own soap, they start looking around at other stuff in their life and ask, “How can I make THIS product myself too” or “What can I buy that’s safer than what I’m using now”.

This includes things like deodorant, shampoo, laundry soap, dish soap, toothpaste, hand soap and food of all kinds. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen a “I’m looking for something with NO CHEMICALS” comment.

I think, based on years of seeing these posts, that what most people mean by “natural” is ingredients that are unaltered or minimally processed and could be found in nature in its existing form. Things like essential oils that are simply distilled by pressing or steam, or an egg from a chicken that was running around outside on grass.

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Image by Comfreak from Pixabay

If you were to draw a venn diagram of my interests and the more crunchy granola all natural crowd, there would be a lot of overlap. We both care deeply about taking care of our planet, each other, and ourselves, including what we put in and on our bodies. Targeted online advertising recognizes this, and shows me things that sometimes make my eyes roll. Because while all of the above is true, I’m also have a degree in biology and a deep belief in science and data.

So when I see claims like, “Beeswax candles clean the air,” well, it I get a little bit twitchy. Clean the air how? It makes it sound like the candle is somehow removing something found in the air, therefore leaving the air more pure.

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It’s been a minute since I’ve added to my deep dive into garden plant families. If you look back through the posts, you’ll find we’ve already covered the mints, the brassicas, the nightshades, the alliums and the parsley family (the series is listed under “gardening” on the DIY Homesteading tab above).

It’s time to talk about one of my hands down favorite plant families, Fabaceae, also known collectively as the legumes, aka beans, peas and their kin. If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know I have a deep love affair with most dried beans. One that isn’t showing any signs of abating since my early childhood bowls of ham hock and beans and my love of refried beans at a Mexican restaurant (truly, its how I benchmark the restaurant – if you can’t get this simple staple right, everything else falls short).

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It’s not a looker, but it’s a surprisingly satisfying weeknight supper.

Many years ago, I worked for a non-profit environmental education organization. The first time I had this dish, the founder of the organization, who was vegetarian and a force of nature, brought it to a potluck. I’m not normally a tofu lover (and I’ve even gone so far as to make it from scratch from ground soy beans) but I loved it in this dish and asked her for the recipe. Here are her original directions:

  • Cooked rice
  • 1 can diced tomatoes (flavored)
  • 1 package baked tofu (Italian or other flavored)
  • 1/2 pack feta cheese
  • Artichoke bottoms
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 package raw spinach
  • Garlic powder
  • Jack or other cheese, shredded

Mix all ingredients and place in a baking pan. Add water/bouillon if seems too dry. Bake at 350 until hot and crispy.

Ha. Not a lot to go on, but honestly, you don’t need much to go on. This recipe is infinitely variable and hard to mess up.

Here’s my more fleshed out version.

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Main broccoli head harvest mid June. These heads ranged from just over a pound to up to two pounds each.

I keep a seed inventory spreadsheet that goes back to 2003. On that 2003 list? Waltham 29 Broccoli. Broccoli and I go back a long time. It was one of the first vegetables I learned to love. I even ate it back in high school, when the list of vegetables I would eat was very short. I preferred it smothered in packaged cheese sauce back then. We mostly eat it in a stir fry now, but I’ve also made broccoli soup a time or two, and it often just shows up as a sauteed veggie side with whatever dinner we’re having. It’s a kitchen workhorse, and I freeze some of my crop every year.

Every year I start broccoli in my greenhouse, and ever year I have a few extra seedlings to sell. And every year most of them languish and don’t end up in a garden. I never understood this, until this year when I joined several online beginning gardening groups. I’ve come to realize that a lot of people have a hard time growing broccoli. They try it once, have a bad experience, and so never grow it again. So I thought I’d write up a few tips.

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Image by Photo Mix from Pixabay

My husband hates cucumber pickles. Me? I’m kind of so so on them. I don’t like dill pickles on my hamburgers (sweet pickle relish is OK). Sometimes a dill pickle spear that comes with a sandwich will taste amazing. Sometimes terrible. I’m never sure why. Dill is far down the list for my favorite fresh herbs. I’ll choose rosemary, thyme and cilantro any day. Even sage and parsley get more use in my kitchen.

So when it comes to making pickles, I don’t do a lot of it. I’ve tried all manor of recipes for boiling water bath canned dill pickles over the years, including the new technique where you pasteurized them at 180 for 30 minutes instead of boiling them, and I’ve never been all that excited about the results. The texture is never as crisp as I’m looking for. I’ve tried all the tricks including a grape leaf in the jar and using pickling lime.

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An early (and kinda sad) farmers market booth, from 2011

While I incorporated my business in 2010, I didn’t sell my first product until June 1st, 2011. So I recently passed my 10 year anniversary of being in business! I was fielding a question online from a new business woman about selling herbs and spice mixes, and it got me to thinking. What are the top ten things I’ve learned from being in business for 10 years?

In no particular order…

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This is a poor butchered willow from my neighborhood. It will never look normal again. It’s not near a house. I have no idea what prompted the owners to do this.

Years ago, while living in Parker Arizona, I noticed that there were a lot of trees pruned to look like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. As a tree lover, it just seemed wrong on a gut level, and I didn’t understand why anyone would do that to a tree.

Our yard there had a large mulberry tree out front that had been topped in the recent past. We got a knock on the door asking if we wanted our “tree cleaned up” to which I responded “absolutely not”. We let that tree do its thing, even though the shape never looked right. Southern Arizona is an unforgiving climate, with daytime temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit for 5 months out of the year. The last thing this tree needed was to have all of its branches removed. The last thing we wanted was a reduction in shade.

Once we took the 12 week (now 17 week!) Arizona Master Gardener program in 2020, we better understood the ins and outs of why topping trees is such a bad idea. I’ve been meaning to write a blog post on this for a very long time. The recent butchering of some mature sycamores in front of a winery in our town prompted me to finally put this piece together.

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Jennifer Kleffner

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