Why You Should Plant Heirloom Seeds

Seed buying and gardening planning time are upon us. The two popular choices for seeds are either heirloom or hybrid. I prefer heirloom seeds, for several reasons. Many home gardeners aren’t sure what to pick.

Hybrid and GMO seeds work for many people. I know dozens of people who use these varieties for their small gardens at home. However, if your goal is to create a natural garden, heirloom seeds are the way to go. Several benefits make them superior to any other choice. Let’s take a look!

Handed Down from Generations

Many heirloom seeds carry a story with them. Some families save the same seeds for decades. Kids plant the seeds from the plants of their parents, and it continues down the line. Most heirloom seeds are at least 50 years old and have never been crossbred or altered in any manner. GMO seeds are altered.

Heirloom seeds are a way to preserve history. The plants our ancestors once grew are slowly disappearing. Using heirloom seeds, especially those with a rich past, allow you to embrace and remember our past.

Heirloom Seeds are Renewable

If you want to save money and homestead on a budget, heirloom seeds are a necessity. You might spend more in the beginning purchasing seeds, but heirloom seeds come with the ability to preserve and save the seeds from the crops you liked the most that year.

A renewable source of seeds allows you to become self-reliant for your crops. You don’t have to depend on any store for more seeds, even though I always purchase more every year. We love Baker’s Creek Seeds, and I always want to try new varieties. That isn’t a necessity though!

The Flavor is Better

Some might argue this point, but it is obvious to our family. Heirloom vegetables and herbs have a better, unique taste when compared the hybrid plants and seeds available in stores. Many of the plants have distinct flavors that are impossible to find in other plants.

The tomatoes in the store taste nothing like the tomatoes I grow in my garden. The tomatoes at a farmer’s market explode with flavor, while the ones at your local grocer tend to be less than amazing.

The Plants are More Reliable

So, you head to your local store and grab a few packs of seeds. These particular seeds originated in Spain, but you aren’t aware of that at the time. You are located in Kentucky! Now, you go home and plant rows and rows of green beans. Unfortunately, those seeds don’t produce the way you hoped because of an attack from local pests.

When you save your heirloom seeds year after year, they slowly adapt to your region. They can survive attacks by pests and diseases easier. At the end of the season, you pick seeds from the most successful plants in your garden. In the end, you get a better, locally adapted strain of veggies for your garden.

 

Our family has amazing success every year using all heirloom seeds. Do you use heirloom seeds? Let me know about your experience – good and bad!

10 Seeds to Start Directly in Your Garden

Seed starting is typically one of the right tasks a gardener begins with in the year, aside from order those seeds. I love starting seeds; it means that full gardening season isn’t very far off. I look forward to the time when I can prepare the trays and lights for my seedlings. At the same time, I am so glad that there are so many direct sow vegetables.

What is a direct sowing vegetable? It is simply a plant that you plant the seed directly into the ground outside rather than starting inside. That means you get to skip the first 8 weeks of pampering inside. It is a true win-win!

Technically, you can direct sow any seed, but it will delay your harvest and growth. If you direct sow tomato seeds in May rather than using a seedling plant, your harvest may not happen until September rather than August.

Luckily, there are several direct sow vegetables that I start each year. Here are my favorites!

Leaf Lettuce

Growing lettuce is simple, and there is no reason to start it in a pot inside. All you need to do is make shallow trenches and sprinkle the seeds in a row. As the seeds start to sprout, you’ll want to thin them out, allowing the plants plenty of space to grow.

Lettuce is a great choice for succession gardening. You can plant a row every two weeks, giving yourself a fresh supply of salads almost all season.

Spinach 

Spinach is full of vital nutrients and antioxidants for your body. You can eat it raw in salads (with your fresh grown lettuce), or you can cook it in dishes. We love spinach cooked with tomatoes and bacon in our pasta. Yum!

Spinach needs full sun or part shade. You want to make sure that you water your spinach plants consistently. It tends to want to bolt during the summer, so try to pick heat-tolerant varieties. You can also plant it behind your trellis, ensuring the plant does get some shade each day.

Corn

Corn is an easy-to-grow plant that everyone loves, especially kids. It is best to plant corn in blocks or rows. Corn is a warm-season crop, which means you must wait until the final frost date has passed for your zone. Ideally, the soil temperatures should be around 60 degrees F. You may have to wait a few weeks after the final frost date to plant to ensure good germination rates.

Beans

I love green beans! They are one of my favorite veggies all year round. You get to pick between bush and pole beans. Pole beans grow from long vines and need a support system.  They are great if you are short on space.

Bush beans tend to produce their crop quicker, giving you the chance to get several harvesting if you use the succession planting method.

When you plant your beans, it is wise to soak them in a bowl of water a few hours beforehand. Doing so allows them to germinate quickly. Sow the first round in early spring, as soon as the dangers of frost is past.

Beets

I will be honest; I’m not the biggest fan of beets personally. However, they sell well at farmer’s markets and some of my family members enjoy them. So, I plant a small section each year. Beets are a cool weather crop, and it is important not to forget that. You should plant them early, as soon as the ground is workable.

Beets can be sown every three weeks for a continuous harvest. Just like beans, you can soak beets for a few hours in water before planting to encourage faster germination.

Carrots

Carrots can be tricky because they need fluffy, obstruction-free soil to grow larger, straight carrots. The seeds are small and difficult to space because of their size. However, they are worth the time investment. Who doesn’t want homegrown carrots in their fresh chicken soup?

Carrots are a cool-season crop, planted a few weeks before the final frost date. Make sure to water well after you plant. It is important to thin your seedlings as soon as they are two inches tall. Typically, you need to try to thin to three inches per carrot.

Cucumbers

Another plant you must include is cucumbers! Cucumbers scream summertime. They’re perfect with some tomatoes and olive oil for a tasty salad.

Cucumbers are warm temperature plants, so you do have to wait until the threat of frost passes. Cucumbers can grow in mounds or grow up a trellis. I always pick to grow mine up a support system to save space.

Zucchini

Some people like to start zucchini inside, but in my experience, they do better when directly sown in the garden. Zucchini plants don’t like to have their roots disrupted, and it can slow their growth when you transfer a seedling into the garden.

Zucchini typically grow in mounds, and they need at least three feet per mound. These plants are overproducers, so you might have zucchini coming out of your ears. Just like cucumbers, zucchini are warm-season plants, so wait until the final frost date passes before planting.

Peas

My kids love peas right off the vine, and so do I. They are such an easy crop to plant if you have little kids. Their little fingers are perfect for pushing pea seeds into the ground. Peas typically require a support system and produce tall vines.

Peas are a cool weather crop, so you want to plant them a few weeks before your final frost date. They also make a great fall crop because of their tolerance of cool weather. Peas should be planted about an inch deep. These are great for beginning gardeners!

Radishes

Radishes are such an underrated vegetable. People don’t know to use them, so they don’t grow them. Radishes are great, easy addition to your salads. You can also roast them with other veggies.

The best thing about radishes is that they grow super fast. Some varieties take less than three weeks to grow from seed to harvest! That is impressive. Kids get a kick out radishes, and it gives them the chance to see their hard work actually pay off.

Radishes are cool weather crops, and they need planted in the ground a few weeks before the final frost date. They also are great for a fall crop.

 

The list is far from exhaustive. There are other choices you can plant in the ground, such as different squashes and greens. However, if you are trying to minimize how many seeds you have to start inside, include all of these on your list for your garden!

Naturally Treating a Yeast Diaper Rash

A few days before Christmas, Connor and Caelyn came down with croup. Caelyn has croup each winter because of her asthma, but it was Connor’s first encounter with the joyous viral illness. At the same time, the doctor said his ears looked infected.

Yay! Just what any mother wants to have is two sick kids over Christmas break. Typically, I would try to treat an ear infection myself before turning to antibiotics, but desperate times, folks! I didn’t want a miserable baby over the holidays. So, she prescribed us some medications and off we went home.

She prescribed a stronger antibiotic than I typically use for an ear infection, but I didn’t think much of it. However, two days later, I noticed a rash developing on Connor’s butt. Being a mom of three kids, I know my diaper rashes. Instantly, I told Andrew he had a yeast rash. I stopped giving him the antibiotics immediately and started treatment.

Yeast can be hard to kick! There are times when you will need a prescription cream. I’ve had to use those before as well. However, some yeast rashes will respond to natural treatment options. Here are some things to try!

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How to Naturally Treat a Yeast Diaper Rash

Lots of Diaper Free Time

First, you want to give your baby plenty of diaper free time. Connor is almost two years old; he loves to be naked. Yeast loves warm, moist environments, like your child’s diaper. Diaper free time dries their butt and helps get rid of that yeast-prone area.

Frequent Changes

Babies can’t be naked all the time. Connor wishes he could be, but that’s not practical a toddler not potty-trained. If you put a diaper on your baby, make sure you change him often! Every hour to hour and a half is ideal. You want to avoid that moist, warm location as much as possible. Cleanliness is crucial for ridding your baby of yeast.

Bleach Your Cloth Diapers

I know; I’m breaking some cardinal rule to cloth diapering. I’m a rebel, but hear me out. Yeast can live in cloth diapers. I’ve done it several times where I would treat the yeast rash and it would keep coming back. The diapers weren’t helping the issue. Add some bleach to your first rinse cycle to kick that yeast!

Reduce Sugars and Carbs

Yeast also loves sugar. Don’t we all? If your child is on solid foods, consider his diet. It is wise to reduce carbs and sugar for the next few days.

Probiotics

Your child will benefit from a probiotic. If you are breastfeeding and the child is not eating solids, you should take the probiotic! They sell gummy probiotics which make it even easier for your child to take them. Also, give your child some probiotic yogurt, just make sure the sugar content isn’t too high.

*You can also use yogurt, plain with probiotics, as a cream on your child’s butt! It might seem strange, but it’ll feel great.

Avoid Chemicals and Fragrances

Wipe your child with warm water and nothing else. It can lead to worse irritation. I made that mistake over Christmas and my son’s butt paid the price for my mistake.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is naturally anti-fungal, the best thing to get rid of yeast! You can use it plain as your child’s diaper cream. Another option is to mix a few drops of tea tree oil into the coconut oil, so long as your baby is over six months old and its very diluted! Tea tree oil is also anti-fungal and anti-bacterial, a double whammy for the rash.

 

If your child’s yeast diaper rash isn’t going away within a few days, consider a call to the doctor. Sometimes, yeast is so persistent that you need a prescription cream. However, starting a regime of cleanliness, air time and coconut oil should kick it before it gets bad!

 

Fluffy Homemade Pancakes in 15 Minutes

Pancakes are one of my favorite breakfast foods. You can customize them with different toppings. Strawberries and chocolate chips happen to be my favorite. I never said I eat healthy all the time!

Purchasing pancakes from the store is far from budget friendly. A large bag of pancakes costs around $5 in the store. While you do get between two and three dozens, those pancakes are flatter than.. well.. a pancake. I don’t know about you, but I love fluffy pancakes.

For the longest time, I didn’t make pancakes often because none of the pancake recipes turned out wrong. Then, they took forever. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have an hour each morning to make breakfast.

Finally, I found the perfect recipe over a year ago, and the pancake heaven doors opened. The pancake angels sang and I was finally able to make fluffy pancakes quickly for my kids. My recipe makes around 12, depending on the size you make your pancake. Large or small, these are amazing!

Fluffy, Homemade Pancakes

The perfect and easiest recipe for homemade pancakes! 

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
Servings 12

Ingredients

  • 2 Cups Flour
  • 2 TBSP Sugar
  • 2 TBSP Baking Powder
  • 1 TSP Salt
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 1/2 Cup Milk (might need a bit more for consistency)
  • 1/4 Cup Cooking Oil

Instructions

  1. 1. Whisk together all of your dry ingredients. 

    2. Add in the eggs, milk and cooking oil. Whisk well. Don't worry too much about clumps, but ensure everything is thoroughly mixed.

    3. Heat up your pan or griddle and spray with a non-stick spray. Medium is perfect to avoid burning.

    4. Ladle the batter onto the griddle. I use a 1/4 cup measuring cup because I think it makes great sized pancakes! 

    5. Cook each side until golden brown, which is usually a few minutes for each day. 

    6. Serve and enjoy with syrup and all of the toppings of your dreams! 

Looking for some other great recipes? Check out amazing banana muffin recipe. The kids love these for breakfast too!

7 Veggies Beginning Gardeners Should Grow

When you first start gardening, you might wonder what vegetables are the easiest to grow. My first year, I assumed everything was easy. Soon, I realized that I was wrong. Many plants have different requirements that I wasn’t ready or prepared to give to them. In fact, I had no idea plants could require anything other than sun and water.

There are seven veggies that I recommend for all beginning gardeners. These plants are easy! Most of the time, they grow abundantly and will help you feel more confident to expand your choices during your second year of gardening.

Here are my top picks for Veggies Beginners Must Grow!

Peas

I love growing peas. They made the cut my first year gardening, and I’ve been growing them every year since. Peas tend to be hard to mess up, at least in my experience.

Peas are a cooler-weather crop, so you will plant them two to three weeks before your final frost date. They can handle the cooler temperatures. Peas also make a great choice for a fall garden! Kids can learn how to plant peas as well. I line the peas up for my kids in the area I want, then watch as they push them into the ground with their fingers and cover back up with soil. Weeks later, I find my kids picking the peas off the vine and eating them fresh!

Lettuce

Do you love salads? If so, don’t skip the opportunity to grow your own lettuce. Lettuce is an ideal choice if you want to learn how to use succession planting, which will give you a fresh, continuous harvest throughout the growing season.

Most lettuce and greens grow very easily. The hardest part is thinning out the seedling – those seeds are small! Also, lettuce prefers cooler temperatures, so they can go to bolt during hot weather. The ground has to stay moist.

Lettuce is another plant that you will plant prior to the final frost. Plant a new row or two every two weeks to give yourself a continuous supply of fresh greens!

Radishes

Radishes tend to be an underrated choice for gardeners. Many people don’t like them unfortunately. Radishes are delicious baked or shredded into a salad with that fresh batch of lettuce.

Depending on the variety you pick, radishes can be ready to harvest in less than three weeks. That’s impressive! They make an awesome choice for kids who are impatient to see a harvest.

Just like peas and lettuce, radishes are a cooler-weather crop that you can start before the final frost.

Green Beans

Finally, a warm weather crop! I love green beans. My kids don’t love when I have pots of fresh green beans that need the ends snapped off. Little hands help lighten my load for sure.

When growing green beans, you can select between pole and bush beans. Pole beans are fantastic for those who need to save space. However, in my experience, bush beans produce a better harvest. I dedicate an entire garden bed just to green beans.

As soon as the final frost date has passed, you can plant your green bean seeds. There is no reason to start the seeds ahead of time; just plant them right into your garden. Read the packet to ensure you are spacing them appropriately. Some people plant a row week to stagger the harvest, allowing them to better preserve the green beans.

Zucchini

I’ve never had a bad zucchini harvest. In fact, it seems as if I always end up with too much zucchini on my hands.  I end up having to give away zucchini to everyone who will take some off of my hands. There is only so much zucchini bread, chips, and boats I can create! Plus, I can only freeze so much shredded zucchini before my husband tells me to stop.

Some people like to start to their zucchini seeds inside. You can do so if you want a seedling ready for planting by the final frost date. Start them two weeks before that time. You don’t want to start them any earlier because zucchini become root-bound easily. I prefer to start the seeds right in the ground!

Cucumbers

Do you love pickles? Cucumbers are your go-to choice them! Cucumbers should be planted right into the ground once the danger of a frost passes. I love vining cucumber plants. All you need is a trellis or a make-shift fence that allows your cucumbers to grow upwards. Cucumbers grow very well vertically!

Tomatoes

My last pick for beginning gardeners is tomatoes! Yes, tomatoes can be a bit finicky at times. They don’t like standing water. They don’t like too much water. They don’t like cooler temperatures. However, if you have a hot summer with normal amounts of rain, you should have a successful tomato harvest.

Tomatoes, to me, can be a bit tricky starting from seeds, so I typically tell my friends to first try started seedlings from a trusted nursery. After that, you can dive into starting them from seeds. If you have a successful tomato harvest, you will have tomatoes coming out of your ears! Tomato sauce, salsa and diced tomatoes are in your future.

If you are beginning gardener, what do you plan to plant this year? Experienced gardeners, what do you recommend for newbies? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Homestead Tasks Month-by-Month

The new year has arrived, and it is time to start preparing! I know I am ready for 2018; 2017 brought a lot of pain for us. We ended our year with a small house fire that displaced us for almost a month. We are ready for the new year.

Part of the new year involves making plans for our small homestead. Each year, we try to find ways to expand and grow. Something that keeps me sane is creating a month-by-month plan with the tasks I know need completed then or rather soon. Your task list will look different than mine, based on the animals or things on your homestead.

Right now, we have large garden, a small fruit patch, herb gardens, maple trees to tap and chicken flock. If you have other animals, your list will look different.

So, let’s take a look at the tasks you may want to complete each month if your small homestead looks like mine!

January

January is a month of renewal for us. We are in the dead of winter right now with temperatures reaching into the negatives. This month is a time of relaxation after the crazy holidays.

  • Look at seed catalogs and make selections
  • Make sowing and succession calendar
  • Create a transplanting schedule
  • Try your hand at indoor sprouts
  • Turn your deep litter method
  • Continue upkeep of compost
  • Work on your crafts
  • Pick up a new skill such as cheese making or baking bread!

February

February brings us closer to gardening season, which makes me happy! The tasks list will start to grow soon and I know it.

  • Make sure you ordered your seeds!
  • Depending on your gardening zone, you might start some seedlings.
  • Prepare your greenhouse
  • Try some indoor herbs!
  • Keep working on your crafts while you have extra time!
  • Pick another skill to develop this month.
  • Purchase baby chicks or make plans
  • Prepare brooder
  • Prepare to tap maple trees

March

March begins the mad dash to start the garden in our zone! March is also when we are going to have a new baby this year, so it should be a fun year!

  • Sow in greenhouses or under heavy-duty hoops
  • Start a majority of your seeds inside
  • Build your new garden beds
  • Get more baby chicks because you never can have too many!
  • Might be able to clean chicken coop if weather if warm.
  • work in compost to soil if workable!
  • Tap maple trees and boil down sap.
  • Plant fruit trees!

April

For people in zone 5, April really starts gardening season. Finally, things can be planted outside, and it feels amazing. Here are some tasks.

  • Sow spring crops such as lettuce, peas, carrots, and more.
  • Plant potatoes
  • Continue taking care of your chicks and introduce to existing flock
  • Start any seeds left based on your calendar you made in January!
  • Dandelions and violets tend to pop up. Time to make dandelion infused oil, dandelion jelly and violet jelly!
  • Clean out your old compost and start new.
  • Consider what organic mulch you want to use.
  • Harden seedlings that will be planted in May.

May

May is when most of your warmer weather crops can go into the ground. I love May! You can typically ditch your hoodie and catch some nice sun rays.

  • Start squash, pumpkin, and melon seeds.
  • Sow more greens based on your succession planting plans!
  • Make sure you get most of your seedlings into the ground including warm weather crops like tomatoes, peppers, corn and more!
  • Integrate chicks if you’ve yet to do so.
  • Develop a watering schedule.
  • Create a weeding schedule that works for you.

June

June typically brings the first harvests of your work. Nothing is better than the first time you can bring crops inside from what you planted. I love that feeling!

  • Harvest crops that come up such as carrots, peas, beets, and lettuce.
  • Preserve the harvest!
  • Preserve strawberries – time to make some strawberry jam!
  • Continue succession planting certain crops.
  • Start fall garden seedlings inside.

July

July is such a fun month. Our son’s birthday falls on the 4th of July, and there are several birthdays this month, including mine!

  • Raspberries, blueberries and blackberries may be ripening. Time to make jam!
  • Give zucchini to everyone you know, because it overproduces every single year!
  • Continue to harvest as often as you can, especially green beans!
  • Harvest some of your herbs and dry.
  • Remove your pea vines. Plant lettuce, spinach or another fall crop there.
  • Put your fall brassica crops outside. It may be too hot, so consider hoops for shade. Keep the ground moist.
  • Preserve as much of the harvest as possible!
  • Sow fall root crops

August

August is the final month of summer, in my eyes, even though we know it doesn’t technically end until September. That might be because of all the years I dreaded returning to school in August.

  • Transplant all of your fall crops into the garden beds.
  • Continue to harvest and preserve like a crazy person!
  • Stop watering those dry beans so they actually dry up.
  • Tomatoes will eat up your time this month.
  • Harvest, dry and preserve herbs.

September

September is when things slowly, and I said slowly, start to slow down. School is in full swing around our house and we can enjoy some cooler evenings.

  • Create herbal teas and tinctures with the dried herbs you’ve harvested.
  • You can direct sow some fast growing crops, like lettuce or radishes.
  • Build some cold frames to keep growing lettuce longer.
  • Plant your cover crops.
  • Cure and store your harvested pumpkins. Get ready for Halloween!

October

October brings the first frost for many areas of the United States. That means a lot of your crops are going to be done and things start to slow down. You might be singing hallelujah and that’s ok!

  • Use row covers as needed for crops still growing.
  • Sow in your cold frames.
  • Now is the time to make homemade vanilla extract!
  • Prepare and plant your garlic. Mulch the beds.
  • Prepare your beds for the upcoming winter. Lay leaves or other mulch that will decompose over time.
  • Prepare the deep litter method for your chickens while it is still warm.

November

By November, all of your plants will be out of the ground, unless you have lettuce growing in those awesome cold frames.

  • Time to relax. You’ve been at it for awhile. Enjoy those jars of canned goods!
  • Reflect on your gardening season.
  • Make sure everything is harvested including kale and brussel sprouts.
  • Manage your chickens. Remember to watch temperatures and freezing water.
  • Start crafts and projects for Christmas.

December

We made it! The end of the year. December is a beloved month for us. Advent is close to our hearts.

  • Make crafts with the family.
  • Create your own Christmas ornaments and gifts.
  • Pick veggies from cold frames.
  • Start your garden plans for the following year. It’s never too soon to plan!

Where I Have Been

I have been absent for over three months. That was never in my plans! I love writing, and I cannot wait to get back into the swing of things. My plans are extensive. However, we had a bit of a surprise….

Our family is welcoming another addition coming in March 2018! To say that we are over the moon is a simple understatement.

We discovered that we were expecting shortly after July 4th after we returned from our cabin trip to the lake. Shock gave way to excitement. Some of you might know that we lost a sweet baby in March of 2017!

So, the first few weeks of the pregnancy were scary for us. We told no one, even our parents, that we were expecting. The thought of experiencing another miscarriage shook me to the core. It was truly horrible.

In early August, we had a wonderful ultrasound that showed a healthy growing baby. We waited until the end of August to announce to outside friends.

The first trimester and a majority of the second trimester has been difficult for me. The first trimester was mostly full of extreme nausea, food aversions and extreme exhaustion. Exhaustion isn’t a great thing for a mother with three other kids underfoot.

The second trimester has been slightly better, but I can say I’ve never been this tired during a pregnancy ever. Plus, I still have the worse gag reflex and bouts of nausea.

Did I mention we know what we are having? Oh I didn’t? Let me show you!

Baby #4 is a GIRL! Bring on dresses, sweet bonnets and flowers. Mama has another girl. That means we will have even teams – girl, boy, boy, girl! Chances are this sweet baby will be the final addition, so we are so excited (and surprised as you might tell from my husband’s face in the picture above).

Anyway, I have plans for the horizon. We have around 16 weeks until sweet girl makes her debut. Keep an eye out for some great things coming your way!

9 Reasons Why Your Hen Stopped Laying Eggs

Raising chickens is a huge learning experience. My husband and I thought we had it all figured out. They’re just chickens after all! Then, one day, the nesting boxes were almost empty. We thought it was strange but figured it was a fluke. The next day proved it wasn’t a one-time event.

I was pretty baffled. Why did my dependable girls suddenly stop laying eggs? We needed those eggs, so we had to figure it out quickly. What did I do? First, I called my grandma who raised chickens on a farm for half of her life.

Then, I turned to Google. Google is everyone’s friend. There were the answers I needed. I was surprised that there are multiple reasons a hen stops laying eggs! Let’s take a look so we can solve the problem fast!

Reason 1 – Winter Causes Lack of Light

So, if it is wintertime, you’ve already figured out your issue. Many breeds continue to lay through the winter, but the production slows down greatly.

A hen needs 14 to 16 hours of daylight to lay a single egg. In the dead of winter, she may be lucky if she receives 10 hours. It is a natural period of slowing down. Many people like to add supplemental light, but I also pick not to do so. I believe that chickens are designed to have this decrease. Ultimately, not supplementing with light allows the chicken’s egg laying to span over more years.

Ultimately, it is up to you to decide if you want to supplement. Just keep in mind that changes in weather and light can lead to a decrease in egg production.

Reason 2 – Temperature

Temperature, just like the light, is a huge factor in your hens’ egg production. If you have a sudden spike in temperature, hens can stop laying eggs. Our girls tended to dislike anything about 90 degrees really. I don’t blame them!

Likewise, really cold days can cause a decrease in egg production. Your hens have to adjust to the temperature.

Reason 3 – Diet Issues

If it isn’t wintering time, your next step should be to consider your feedings and supplemental choices. Chickens need a steady diet of fresh food and water. If you forgot to feed your chickens for a day or two (humans do these things), hens can stop laying altogether.

If your feeding schedule wasn’t disrupted, another good step is to make sure that your hens are eating quality food. They also need to have regular access to greens and foraging for bugs. Even though it is fun, avoid giving too many treats. It can stop them from eating their healthy food. Instead, send the kids to pull weeds to feed to the chickens. That’s being productive!

Chickens need a balanced diet, just like you and I! They need to have appropriate amounts of protein, calcium, and salt. Remember, fresh water is crucial for egg production.

Reason 4 – Broody Hens

I love a broody hen, but that broodiness stops egg production. Instead of laying eggs, your hen is now focused on defending and hatching those eggs for the next 21 days or more.

You can try to break a hen of her broodiness, but I prefer just to let her go. Broodiness is a great way to create a self-sustaining flock. Also, it can take days or a week to break the broodiness. Letting her hatch the eggs is less work for you!

Reason 5 – Molting Time

Do your girls suddenly look just plain ugly? It might be time for molting. Molting is normal, but they often look as if they had hard few days. It isn’t a time when your chicken flock looks the best.

Molting is when your chickens shed their old feathers and grow new ones. As you can imagine, it takes a lot of energy and time for a hen to grow new feathers. Sometimes, to compensate for the energy sucker, hens will stop laying eggs.

Don’t worry; molting will be over soon, and eggs will start again soon! Molting often goes along with season changes. Our chickens tend to molt around fall or late summer.

Reason 6  – Age of Your Hens

Hens won’t steadily lay eggs for their entire life. At some point, they enter chicken retirement, or so I call it. Hens lay steadily between six to nine months (depends on breed) up to 2 years old.

Don’t worry; chickens do lay eggs after they are two years old, but it does tend to slow down. It isn’t abnormal for chickens to lay up to 7 years old. We have chickens that are four and five years old still laying steadily, but not daily.

It is up to you whether you want to keep chickens who entered egg-laying retirement. If you only have room for a small flock, it can be hard to keep a chicken that isn’t productive. It is an individual decision; there is no right and wrong answer!

Reason 7 – Pests and Diseases Invade

Another major reason that your hens stopped laying eggs is that there is a pest or disease bother your flock. The two most common issues are lice and mites. A really bad infestation can stop a flock from laying regularly.

There are some signs that your flock is sick. Here are some things to identify:

  • Abnormal poop
  • Not laying eggs
  • Coughing or making strange noises
  • Quits eating or drinking
  • Chickens are unable to stand up

Colds in chickens often produce slim in their nose area. Chickens will breathe with their mouth open due to nose blockage. You might notice their combs turning pale or constant itching.

Reason 8 – Changes in Routine and Life

Chickens are like kids; they love routine and habits. If you change their routine, egg production could change. Changing or redesigning their coop can disrupt production. We added an addition and moved their run; our chickens didn’t like that for a few days!

Another change could be when you introduce new chickens to the flock. Sometimes, hens will go on a strike and stop laying eggs. How dare you add new chickens! Luckily, chickens will adapt if you give them a few days or week.

Reason 9 – Predators

There is a chance your girls are laying eggs, but a predator is eating them. Predators love fresh eggs as much as we do. Snakes are famous for eating eggs. It can give you a startle to find a snake in your nesting box.

If you think this is your issue, the best step is to figure out how predator-proof your coop. Try to add more hardware cloth, extra netting and close up any holes where they might enter. These predators are small and smart!

For us, our issue was that we disrupted their routine. We changed their coop design and added new members within days of each other. Our girls apparently were protesting all of the changes! They started laying again within days. Our breakfast table was thankful for the start up again!

6 Reasons Your Tomatoes Aren’t Ripening

Tomatoes are my arch nemesis. I work hard each year to plant enough tomato plants to provide the right amount of tomatoes I need for canning. Without fail, something goes wrong. Sometimes, my tomatoes don’t turn red. One day, blight infected my tomatoes. It’s always something.

For me, I like to find the answer to my questions. Why is something happening, or not happening in this case? In the case of tomatoes not turning red, there are some definite reasons.

Why Tomatoes Turn Red

There is a whole, scientific reason why tomatoes turn red, but let’s sum it up to make it easier to understand.

Lycopene is a chemical naturally found inside of fruits and vegetables that cause them to develop their color. Lycopene isn’t just found in tomatoes; it is in watermelons, apricots and more. Almost 80% of the lycopene you need in your diet is found in tomato products.

Believe it or not, your body processes lycopene better when it is heated. Sources such as ketchup and tomato sauce are perfect for getting lycopene into your diet!

Why do you need lycopene? It is valuable in the fight against heart disease, as well as some cancers (colon, pancreas, bladder, ovaries, and breast to name a few).

6 Reasons Why Your Tomatoes Aren’t Turning Red

One: Longer Time to Maturity

On each seed packet, you will find an average time for maturity for every vegetable you plant. You might be tempted to overlook this date, but I encourage you to pay attention! Certain varieties take less time to mature.

If you have a shorter growing season, you will want to select varieties with a shorter maturity time. It is a good idea also to plug in some longer growing varieties. You can rest assured knowing the shorter varieties will at least yield some fruits for you.

Two: Temperatures aren’t Hot Enough

Tomatoes love warm temperatures, which is why you can’t plant them until well after your final frost date for the season.

Unfortunately, our weather in Ohio has been rather unpredictable, and chilly summers are becoming an issue. As I write this, it is the beginning of August and the high for the day barely touched 80 degrees. That is insane!

Sometimes, you will notice your tomatoes turning pink but never reaching the redness needed to indicate ripeness. They lack in flavor, but they will typically ripen if you leave them on your countertops.

Three: Temperatures are TOO Hot

On the flip side, your tomatoes can be too hot for your tomatoes to ripen. High temperatures happened a few years ago, leaving my harvest in ruins. Yes, they love the heat, but they don’t want to roast on the vine.

The ideal temperatures for ripening are 70 to 75 degrees F. Once the temperatures go higher than 85 to 90 degrees F, the plant is unable to produce the correct amount of lycopene to create the right pigments. The green ones on your vine will stay green for a long time.

Four: You Picked Tomatoes That Aren’t Red

If you grow heirloom plants, there are a lot of varieties that aren’t red. You can buy tomatoes that ripen to pink, yellow, white, orange, purple, and green! They make great additions to the dinner table and farmer’s market stand.

It is easy to forget what varieties you plant. You need to mark each variety, so you know what to look for in ripeness. For example, we always grow Brandywine tomatoes. Brandywine ripens to a beautiful pink, but they never turn red. If I forgot, I would let the entire harvest go to waste waiting for red tomatoes to arrive.

Five: Blossom End Rot

Do your tomatoes have black lesions on them, small or big? If so, you have blossom end rot. It is a disease caused by low calcium in your soil. It is highly suggested that you add natural sources of calcium to your soil during the growing season.

Blossom end rot also forms from uneven watering. If you have frequent downpours of rain, blossom end rot can result.

Six: Plants Don’t Receive Enough Sunlight

Another possibility is that you selected a bad location for your tomato plants. Tomatoes love heat and sunlight. The plants need at least seven hours of direct sunlight per day.

You might have picked a great location, but planted them too close together. Tomato plants need at least 18 inches to two feet apart, depending on the variety. Large plants, like the Brandywine, need two feet apart to receive adequate sunlight.

 

If all else fails, you can take some of your green tomatoes and put them in a cardboard box with a few ripened tomatoes. It should encourage the tomatoes to turn red! I know how it feels to have dozens of plants full of green tomatoes and end up with a pitiful harvest.

Canning Healthy Chicken Broth: Simple Instructions

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Chicken broth has dozens of nutritional benefits. Instead of purchasing cartons and cans from the store, learn how to can chicken broth at home!

We often make batches of chicken broth for soups. I try to make homemade chicken and dumplings at least twice a month. It is a great, easy meal and allows me the chance to make extra chicken broth.

To make homemade chicken broth, you first need to cook a whole chicken. Some people like to roast a chicken for dinner then put it in a pot to boil once the meat is picked off. I have a different method!

In a large pot of water, I boil:

  • a whole chicken
  • 2 to 3 large, diced carrots
  • 3, large stalks of celery
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, minced
  • half of an onion, sliced
  • 2 TBSP salt
  • 1 TBSP pepper

I boil everything together for typically three hours. At this time, I take the chicken out of the water and pull off any meat. From this, we typically make soup or chicken and dumplings.

Then, I put the carcass and new vegetables into the crockpot. You want to leave it on high for 4 to 6 hours or on low for 8 to 10 hours. The chicken broth will be delicious!

At this point, you could simply enjoy the broth for soup that day, or you could can the chicken broth, which is my usual choice.

Canning chicken broth is very simple.

First, take your jars and wash them. This step seems silly, but inspecting your jars is important. Any imperfection or crack could cause your jars to break or explode in the canner.

Chicken broth is a low acid food, so you have to use a pressure canner. Don’t worry; using a pressure canner really isn’t that hard! Every pressure canner comes with a manual for detailed instructions.

Once your jars are washed, fill up your pressure canner to the indicated line inside of your canner. Your chicken broth should be simmering. Before you put the broth into the jars, you will want to strain out the fat. Some will still make it into the jars, but you do want to try to get as much out as possible.

Then, ladle the chicken broth right into the jars. You should leave a one inch headspace in your jars. Make sure that you wipe off the rims of the jars before putting on the lids and rings! If there is anything on the rim, your jars won’t seal correctly.

Now, it is time to put those jars into your canner. At this time, refer to your manual instructions. You want to make sure you are using the canner correctly. However, most require you to turn it to medium high heat and let steam vent out until the lid locks. You then cover the valve and let the pressure build.

Process the jars at 10 pounds of pressure for 20 minutes if you are using pints. For quarts, process them for 25 minutes.

After, take them off of the heat and let the pressure decrease naturally. Don’t remove that valve cover! If the pressure decreases too rapidly, your jars can break.

Freezing vs. Canning Chicken Broth

I know plenty of people who prefer to freeze their chicken broth. I understand that. It is easy. Just stick the broth in bags or plastic containers. There is no need to process anything.

I prefer to see lovely jars of canned broth on my shelves because it reminds me of being self-sufficient. Plus, I don’t have to worry about losing power and losing all of my hard work! You can freeze it if you are short on time. It will take the same in the end.

Do you can your homemade chicken broth? We love to have jars available for when sicknesses hit. There is nothing like warm chicken broth when your stomach hurts, or heating up a jar for quick soups during the winter time.