Planting Tomatoes

Living life on the edge, some hope, and lots of work

In my eagerness and optimism, I started my tomato seeds entirely too early. Currently they are long, leggy and ready to bust out of their Solo cups.

I have been checking our weather forecasts frequently. Trying to navigate our final frost. There is rain heading our way and I want to plant before it hits.

Feeling optimistic (and having a plan to cover my tomatoes on chilly nights) I decided to get some plants in the ground today.

If only it were as simple as digging a whole. There is much more involved with this previously tilled garden and clay soil.

Preparing the Soil

I loosened the clay with a pitchfork, pulling weeds along the way. Then I raked in kelp meal, rock phosphate, and pelleted chicken manure. This will add minerals and nutrients to the soil.

I added an aspirin and some Epsom salts to each tomato hole. You can read more about the benefits of these HERE and HERE.

The soil is depleted so I am doing all I can to give my plants and strong start.

It felt good to work in the ground and get started with this growing season.

Showing Promise

My oldest son was helping me in the garden and asked where I planted my 25lbs of potatoes. I walked him over to the spot and discovered potato plants popping up.

It worked! They are growing. Now I will need to add more aged straw with horse manure later this week to cover these sprouts. I will also need to keep the weeds at bay, so they don’t overtake my potato plants. But these green leaves have given me some hope.

More Work to Do

And then I turn around and see all the weeds that will need to be addressed before the rest of the garden gets put in.

Ugh.

I could use a tiller, but I am aiming for the least disturbance of the soil that I can manage. Whenever I have pulled weeds, I have found tons of worms and I would hate to lose them to some aggressive tilling.

A garden is hope and promise and lots of hard work. It is worth it.

Dandelions and Duck Eggs

Stuff to get excited about.

I suppose most people think of dandelions as weeds. I happen to know that they are one of God’s gifts. I am always excited to see them after a good rain and some sunshine. Then I know it is time to forage the flowers to make dandelion oil.

Dandelion is one of the first plants that introduced me to the healing properties of the plants around us. My first exposure to practical herbalism.

These simple flowers are known to reduce inflammation among other things. When the flowers are covered in oil and warmed the oil becomes infused with this anti-inflammatory property.

Several years ago, when I first read online about making dandelion oil, I thought “I can do that.” I kept my eyes peeled as I drove my boys to and from soccer practices. I found a bonanza at one of their soccer fields. I was thrilled to learn that this was also a “no pesticide” park. I happily filled my grocery bag with dandelions during my son’s practice while the other parents looked at me out of the corner of their eyes and surely thought I was nuts.

I took the flowers home and let them air dry overnight. The next morning, I put them in a glass jar, covered them with olive oil, and placed the jar in a sunny window. This step allows the sun to warm the oil and the warm oil pulls out the goodness of the flower. After a few weeks the oil is ready to be used. It can be used as is or turned into a salve. I use dandelion oil and a few other ingredients to make a salve I call Lion Balm. We use it on sore muscles, bruises, aches and pains.

I make this salve every year.

This week I found dandelions in my yard. Yay! I am so excited. But I am not going to pick these first flowers. Instead, I will let them go to seed in the hopes of multiplying my dandelion plants in the future.

Yep, I am that crazy person that cultivates dandelions.

I encourage you to look around for dandelions in your yard or neighborhood. Maybe, do some foraging and make your own dandelion oil. It is an easy first step towards learning more about the herbal gifts God has blessed us with.

If you would like to make your own dandelion oil, you can find more information on the Mommypotamus page: How To Make Dandelion Oil (And 5 Ways To Use It) (mommypotamus.com)

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About two months ago, I purchased a flock of chickens from a family that was downsizing in preparation for a move. This flock of birds came with two ducks. I was told their names are Minnie and Daisy. I asked if the ducks laid eggs. The owner replied, “Once and it was really good.” Hmmmm.

Well, it looks like I got a pair of pet ducks. Ideally, all our animals on the farm have a role to play, I am not really interested in feeding a bunch of freeloaders. We will have to see what happens.

Our relationship was off to a cool start. The ducks did not trust me and would studiously keep at least 6 feet away from me at all times.

That was until they figured out that the food comes from me. And it is pretty good food. Then their attitude changed from one of mistrust to joyful declaration of my approach. If they hear me walking towards the chicken run they announce “QUACK, quack, quack, quack, quack” as they waddle their way towards me.

O.K. So that’s really cute and endearing. But they still aren’t laying eggs.

As I would feed and water the birds, I would tell them they needed to pick up their slack. For a while I had nine birds and was only getting two eggs a day. (Of course, three are roosters, but that’s another story.) Feeding all those birds makes those two eggs quite expensive.

The ducks have taken up residency under the chicken coop. Plenty of space. Keeps them warm and dry. A pretty good place for a duck.

Once in a while I look under the coop for eggs. Chickens don’t always lay in their nests and perhaps one or two were laying under the coop. I also still held out hope for the ducks.

Then I found them! I looked under the coop and saw two eggs.

Exciting!

I got down and reached under. One. Two. Wait, I feel more. Three. Four. Dig a little more…5, 6, 7!

What?!!

They had been laying. But the nest was so deep that I didn’t see it until these last two on top were visible.

A total of six duck eggs and one chicken egg (the green one). I feel bad for giving Daisy and Minnie a hard time. I have no idea how long have they been down there. Are they still good? There is an easy way to tell: the float test.

Put your eggs in a large bowl filled with water. If they float, they are too old. If they stay on the bottom, they are perfectly fine. As you can see, mine are on the bottom (no floaters) so we are safe. I gave them a good wash and put them in the fridge.

I normally store my eggs unwashed on the counter. This is how eggs are stored throughout most of the world. There is this magic that a chicken does as she lays her egg. She surrounds it with a protective coat called a “bloom.” The bloom prevents bacteria from penetrating and helps preserve it. Washing the egg removes this coating. So washed eggs go in the refrigerator.

Farm life is marked by the simple excitement of dandelions and duck eggs. I’ll take it.

Rendering Lard

And more Hope.

A few years ago, if someone told me I should render lard I would have told them they were nuts. A few weeks ago, when I realized I needed to render my own lard, I thought it would be hard to do.

I have since learned that rendering lard is easy to do and makes sense under some circumstances.

Let’s back up a little…

At a Christmas party last year, I met a new friend who raises and milks goats. We discussed our various interests and I mentioned that I would like to try making soap with goat’s milk. She said she loves milking the goats but has too much going on right now to make soap. She then offered to give me the goat’s milk she had stored in her freezer.

Score!

So, I set about researching how to make goat’s milk soap and quickly learned that another key ingredient is fat, usually in the form of lard. Hmmm, where do I get lard…

Soon after that I was working with the farmer I purchased our pigs from and mentioned my desire to make soap and lack of lard. She had a freezer full of lard and was happy to give me some.

Score!

Now MY freezer is filled with goat’s milk and pig fat. All I need is time to learn.

This is where rendering lard comes in. It is the first step in making my own soap.

Rendering lard?

Basically, you are cooking pork fat until it is liquid. Then scooping out the liquid and straining it until only solids (cracklins) remain.

It is like saving your bacon grease to be used for something else.

It was super easy.

The hardest part of rendering lard was the length of time involved. It is an all-day process that requires you to stir the lard in a crock pot about every 30 minutes. I was not able to finish in one day. I turned the crockpot off and left it on the counter overnight to finish the next day. No problem.

These instructions from Melissa K. Norris at Pioneering Today were easy to follow. How to Render Lard and Why You Should (melissaknorris.com)

I need lard for soap right now, but I have another reason for trying my hand at this.

We currently have two pigs that we are raising to breed. That means we will have lots of pork in our future and much of pork is fat. So, I will have a lot of lard in my future. It is important to me to use all our resources. If managed well, nothing goes to waste. Rendering lard and learning to use it in soaps, cooking, and baking is part of this process.

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They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength,

they will soar as with eagles’ wings;

They will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint.

Isaiah 40:31 (NAB St. Joseph Ed.)

Hope arrived at our house six days ago (see previous post). She was about six days old and not able to stand on her own. Since that time, she has worked diligently to get herself on her feet. She has grown stronger each day, fallen often, and improved immensely. She summons her energy, taps into her instinct, and keeps trying. And in between her Herculean efforts she rests.

It has been such a lesson to watch this little lamb try so hard. To watch her muscles strain and fail. To see her tail flit back and forth at her little triumphs. It has made me ponder the will of those who overcome immense physical challenges. The fortitude required. The getting up each day to try again.

It is truly humbling to watch. So exciting. Such an honor.

We are grateful for this lamb called Hope and remember that our Hope is in the Lord.

My Bag of Tricks

The tools I use to support our immune system during cold and flu season.

(I am not prescribing medical advice. Back in the day, before we could type our symptoms into the computer, we used to share this information with each other and much of our knowledge was passed down from our parents and grandparents to us. Here I am sharing what works for my family.)

It is safe to say, I have thought more about our immune system’s ability to fight viruses in the last two years than I have in my previous 50 years. I try to arm my family with the tools they need to support their immune systems when a cold or virus comes our way. I will share three of my tried-and-true protocols, one protocol I’ve had in my back pocket since March 2020, a new protocol for prevention, and how despite all these, recently pharmaceuticals were still a necessity.

I don’t take supplements daily. I do try to get sunshine, exercise and a variety of whole foods that provide my body with the nutrients it needs. But there are times I feel a cold coming on. It could be a soreness in the back of my throat, feeling fatigued or a little fuzzy, or perhaps another member of the household has a cold. That is when I pull out my bag of tricks.

My Three Tried-and-Trues

Vitamins:

Vitamin D3 – 1,000-3,000 IU/day

Vitamin C – 500-1,000 mg 2 x daily

Quercetin – 250mg/day

Zinc – 30-40 mg/day

At the onset of symptoms, this combination is what I reach for first. If I am feeling a little “off” or another family member is sick these prove to be effective for me. In most cases I am able resolve the issue before it can develop further. You can find this protocol on the FLCCC website HERE. I now make sure I always have these on hand.

Hot Tea:

As a child, I learned to treat my colds with hot tea, lemon, and honey. These proved to relieve my symptoms, but I had no idea at the time how they aided my immune system. I have move past just the lemon and honey and have added more tools to my toolbelt. You can certainly add the tea of your choice, but my latest trend is just hot water with different immune supports added in.

The basic drink:

Fresh ginger – anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant

Lemon slices – Vitamin C

For an extra boost add:

Tumeric (1/2 tsp or to taste) – anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial

Raw Honey (to taste) – anti-bacterial and anti-fungal

Vitamin C crystals – for an extra Vitamin C boost throughout the day.

In addition to the immune support, drinking tea throughout the day will sooth the throat and keep you hydrated. Win-win.

Thieves Oil:

I have been intrigued with Thieves Oil for a while. Bloggers on the internet sing its praises for fighting off a cold or flu. I finally gave it a try when I found this DIY recipe HERE by Small Footprint Family.

Since making my own blend I have added it to our hand soap, diffused it in a pot of hot water, and mixed it with coconut oil to apply to the throat, chest and back as needed. While I would not call it miraculous, I do believe it helps my body naturally fight off viruses and bacteria.

Something I Had in My Back Pocket

Clearing the Lungs

My oldest son and his bride have been visiting for the past week. During this time he developed a low grade fever and a bit of a sore throat, but nothing debilitating. We gave him vitamins and he was still able to help outside on the farm. But the fever wasn’t going away, and slight congestion was added to it. So, I started plying him with the ginger/lemon hot drink in addition to the vitamins. A few mornings later he woke us saying he was having trouble taking a deep breath.

You do not want to hear those words these days.

I immediately got out of bed, had him lay on his stomach and Mr. J applied firm but gentle thumps to his lungs. I had learned of this technique in March 2020. It is a protocol nurses use to prevent pneumonia. Laying on one’s stomach and tapping the back loosens any mucus that has settled there.

It worked!

My son immediately felt relief and was able to breathe more freely. He started having productive coughs. The mucus was coming up and out. We continued having him lay on his stomach throughout the day, thumping on his back. By days end, his breathing was much improved.

With this further development in his illness, we added turmeric and honey to his hot water, started applying the coconut and Thieves oil to his back and pulled out a new trick.

A New Preventive Protocol

1% Povidone/Iodine Nasal Spray

Povidone-iodine as a 10% solution is readily available at your local pharmacy. To make it a 1% solution I mixed 1 Tablespoon iodine and 9 Tablespoons distilled water in a clean glass container, then poured it into a clean cosmetic spray bottle. This can be used as a nasal spray or mouthwash. Find more information HERE. Just don’t swallow.

I began hearing of this protocol at the end of last year. This spray, used twice daily, will kill off the viruses that develop in your sinuses. So, 4 squirts in each nostril morning and night, will effectively stop that virus in its tracks. This is my kind of strategy. So, before Christmas I picked up what I needed from the grocery store, just in case.

Now, with my oldest son getting worse, it was time to give it a try. He applied the spray several times a day (to stop replication of a virus) and the rest of the family used it twice a day (as a prevention).

I can say that the rest of us are still healthy and symptom free. So, in that way it was effective. However, despite everything I threw at it my son’s fever and sore throat continued to get worse.

The next day, I come back to the homestead from errands in town to find out that he looked at his tonsils in the mirror. They are white and spotty. Tonsilitis. Ugh.

It’s not a virus, it’s an infection.

So, this morning, we head into town. Thankfully the clinic was able to see him right away. He was correct. Tonsilitis.

The nurse declares that his are the worse tonsils she has ever seen.

Friends, what a mom failure.

Mind you, this is the son that, at the age of eight, had the worst ear infection the doctor had ever seen. The boy must have a high pain tolerance! It never occurred to me to check his tonsils. My kids’ colds never developed that way. Until now. And in a big way. So, while I failed today, I will add that information to my toolbox going forward. Look at tonsils when there is a sore throat.

Thankfully, my oldest son typed his symptoms into the computer and was able to identify his ailment.

Thankfully, the nurses were able to provide him with the pharmaceuticals he needs to gain relief and overcome this infection.

But I made sure to tell him that after the antibiotics have destroyed his gut biome, he needs to be sure to get yogurt to build it back up. Afterall, we have got to support our immune system.

What tools do you use during cold and flu season? What is in your bag of tricks?

Sugar & Salt Body Scrub

This body scrub takes minutes to make and will make you feel like you have gone to the spa.

For most of my life I was a St. Ives Face Scrub gal. It could always be found in my shower. Then, about 5 years ago, I was gifted with some homemade sugar scrub. I have never turned back. Soooo easy to make and you probably have all the ingredients on hand. This recipe is easy and customizable, the perfect introduction to making your own skin care products.

I look forward to using this scrub on my face every morning. It always feels like a special treat. It leaves my face clean and moisturized and I love knowing all the ingredients are natural.

You can find the original recipe here from one of my favorite bloggers. Shae at The Elliot Homestead makes this homestead lifestyle look graceful and elegant.

I have made a few adjustments to the original recipe to make it my own. I added an additional 5 drops of Peppermint essential oil, because I can’t get enough of that scent this time of year. It gave this scrub a slightly tingly feel on my face, so if your skin is sensitive you should stick to the original 20 drops. I also added a teaspoon of Vitamin E oil for the extra benefit to my skin since I use this scrub on my face.

I think gathering some girlfriends and making this scrub at a ladies get together would be super fun. Maybe an activity for a girl’s birthday party and the guests get to take home a container filled with their own scrub. Or double the recipe to make a jar for yourself and one to give as a hostess gift. So easy and such a treat!

You can personalize this recipe by using your favorite essential oils. I would suggest you keep your oils to a total of 40-45 drops for this recipe.

To use this as a face scrub, I scoop about a tablespoon out with my fingers, rub between my two hands, and apply to my face, neck, and upper chest. This recipe lasts me for about a month with daily use. I usually double my recipes and they have stored well in a cool, dark place for about 2 months.

Now it’s your turn to give it a try. You can do it!

Peppermint Sugar and Salt Body Scrub

Gather the following:

  • A medium sized bowl
  • 1/4 cup measuring cup
  • fork to mush ingredients together
  • sugar
  • salt
  • coconut oil
  • essential oils of your choice
  • Vitamin E oil (optional)
  • 8oz container for the final product (I like to reuse cosmetic jars, but a shallow glass mason jar or plastic screw top container will work)

Peppermint Sugar & Salt Scrub Recipe:

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 20 drops lavender essential oil
  • 25 drops peppermint essential oil
  • 1 tsp Vitamin E (optional)

How you do it:

Measure sugar, salt, and oil into your bowl.

Thoroughly mush together with a fork until well blended.

Add essential oils and Vitamin E (if using) and mix again with your fork until the oils are evenly distributed.

Scoop into your container.

That’s it. Enjoy!!!

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I source my essential oils and cosmetic ingredients from Mountain Rose Herbs.

Soothing Peppermint Salve

Salve-ation for rough, dry hands

The backs of my hands were looking rough – dry and flaky. It could have been all the hot water I used mopping our wooden floors when we moved in last month. Maybe it was too much digging in the dirt preparing the garden beds for the spring. Or perhaps the chill outside coupled with the warm dry air inside. Whatever the cause, I needed a fix fast.

Fortunately, I came across a post from one of my favorite blogger/podcasters, Mellissa K. Norris of Pioneering Today. This “homemade peppermint salve for dry skin” was the cure I needed for my rough, dry hands.

There was a time, when lotions and shower gels from my favorite mall store were always on my Christmas wish list. But then I began to notice that the lotions didn’t really moisturize my skin. I learned that my favorite bath products were actually toxic – filled with ingredients I could not identify and that could actually cause me harm over time. At about the same time I became aware of how easy it is to make your body products and set about learning more. Soon I was making herbal salves for my family and sharing them with friends. If I can do it, you can too.

But I don’t have the time.”

I hear you on that, my friend, and have made a few extra tins in case someone you love needs some dry skin salve-ation.

First, let’s see how easy it really is.

Gather the herbs: I had what I needed on hand. The peppermint, calendula, and chamomile were from my garden in California, and I have an abundance of plantain on our land in Tennessee. I love growing my own herbs for these homemade salves.

Clockwise: peppermint, plantain, calendula, and chamomile.

Infuse the herbs in oil: I usually use the Kirkland brand organic extra virgin olive oil. There are two methods for infusing. Solar infusing in a glass jar takes a few weeks, but uses the sun to warm the oil. Warming the oil in a double boiler for a day or so takes less time, but uses electricity. For this batch I made a double boiler out of my crockpot and warmed the oil during the day over the course of two days turning the crockpot off at night and covering the oil with a cloth.

Using my Crockpot and glass mixing bowl as a double boiler.

Strain the herbs from the oil: Using cheesecloth, a colander, and a Pyrex measuring cup I strain the oil. Make sure to bring the ends of the cheesecloth together, twist, and squeeze to get all the infused oil goodness. The Pyrex measuring cup comes in handy here since it lets you see exactly how much infused oil you have after squeezing it through the cheesecloth and you don’t have to transfer the oil before the next step.

Straining the infused oil.

Add beeswax and other ingredients: Beeswax is added to make a solid, spreadable salve texture. I place the Pyrex measuring cup in a larger pot filled about halfway with water, making another double boiler. Heat the water to almost boiling. This slowly warms your oil and melts the beeswax. When it is completely melted add any other oils. I tweaked the original recipe a bit – adding more Vitamin E oil and some Apricot Kernel oil for their skin nourishing benefits. I used a little more beeswax than the recipe, making a firm salve that can be used sparingly and goes a long way. The Peppermint essential oil helps sooth irritation and itchiness as well as adding a soft minty smell. I use Mountain Rose Herbs to source any products I don’t have on hand.

Extra add-ins.

Melting beeswax in a makeshift double boiler.

Pour into containers: Pour your oil into several containers and allow to cool. Test it on your skin. I think you will love it and want to share with your friends. I purchase my tins from Specialty Bottle, but you can also reuse empty cosmetic jars or other small glass containers.

Salve-ation!

Do you have rough, dry skin that needs some all-natural goodness? I have some extra tins from this batch. Shoot me an email or leave a comment and I can send some your way.