6 Common Seed Starting Mistakes

Starting seeds is one of my favorite times during the year. It means winter is finally coming to an end and the start of my favorite season – gardening season – is upon us. However, seed starting can be tricky for newbies. It can be tricky for me at times as well!

I’ve had many people tell me that they tried to start their seeds at home, but they always failed. There are several mistakes that people make all the time that can lead to failure. To increase your success rate, take a look at these common seed starting mistakes and avoid them!

6 Common Seed Starting Mistakes

  1. Starting Them at the Wrong Time: Every gardener needs to know their USDA Hardiness Zone and your average last frost date. Then, you need to know the best time to start each plant before that date. Every plant is different! Some need to start 10 to 12 weeks BEFORE your final frost date! The plants need to be old enough to transfer to their outdoor garden location.

If you start your seeds too early, they will too large for their pots or they might become root bound. Their growth could be stunted. Timing is crucial.

  1. Using the Incorrect Dirt: You can’t go outside and scoop out dirt from your garden. Seeds need special type of dirt because they are more prone to diseases and infections.

One of the most important factors is using a sterile soil. Otherwise, you risk passing a disease to your delicate seedlings. You also could bring insects in from outside. Who wants bugs in their home?

Don’t waste your time. Start your seeds in good potting soil! Your seeds need nutrients to start. You can buy high quality seed starting soil. For extra nutrients, add worm castings or compost.

  1. Failing to Keep The Correct Moisture Level: Dry soil won’t lead to healthy, sprouted seedlings. As your seeds are sprouting, you have to keep the soil moist at all times. If the soil dries out, you need to add moisture quickly.

At the same time, you don’t want to add too much water once your seeds are sprouted and under the grow light.

When you are germinating your seedlings, it is best to cover your pots with plastic. Doing so keeps the moisture and humidity levels higher, giving you a better chance of a high germination rate.

TIP: Don’t pour water over your seedlings. Instead, use a spray bottle to mist your plants. Doing so mimics natural rain and creates even moisture. You can also pour water directly onto the water around the seedlings rather than over top.

  1. Not Providing Enough Light: No matter what you think, you don’t have enough natural light in your house to correctly. Seedlings require a lot of light! You can purchase an artificial grow light or use a higher strength light bulb. Your lights should be kept close to your seedlings, ideally 2 to 3 inches, and gradually raised as your plants grow taller. You need to keep the lights on for 12 to 16 hours per day!
  2. Planting Too Deeply: Seeds are particular in how they want to be planted. Seed packets typically can give you all of the information you need, including how deep to plant in the soil. If the packet doesn’t tell you, you should be cautious and plant no deeper than two or three times as deep as the seeds are wide.
  3. Forgetting to Label: This mistake seems so simple, but most seedlings look very similar. Once you have raised seedlings for a few years, you might be able to tell them apart once they sprout. However, you won’t be able to tell the different pepper varieties apart. Labeling your seeds is important! One of the best methods is popsicle sticks. They are simple and readily available.

Everyone commits at least one of these mistakes when they first start seedlings. You might be making more than one! Fix your mistakes before you even start your seedlings this year.

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 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 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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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.


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 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!

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 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 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 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!


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 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 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 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 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 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 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.


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.


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!

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.



Canning Green Beans: Raw Pack Method

We are in the middle of prime green bean season, where our plants are overflowing. Canning green beans allows you to put them up for casseroles and easy side dishes later in the year.

Canning green beans is different than canning jams and jellies. You will need a pressure canner; a water bath canner cannot safely can green beans. Green beans are a low acid food, which means botulism can grow faster.

If you are new to pressure canning, canning green beans is a great introduction. I prefer the raw pack method. What is a raw pack method? It means you will put the raw veggies in clean jars to the indicated headspace and fill the rest of the jar with boiling water. The pressure canner does all of the cooking for you.

Sound simple? Well, it is! Let’s get to it!

How to Can Green Beans – Raw Pack Method

First, you want to snap your green beans. You have to do this whether you plan to freeze or can these veggies. Snapping green beans can feel like a never-ending task. Kids help make this job easier and quicker!

After the ends are snapped off, you will want to wash them thoroughly, removing any dirt. At this time, put a pot of water on the stove to boil. You also will want to clean your jars. When you use a pressure canner, there is no need to boil or sterilize the jars beforehand. Just clean them and inspect for cracks and chips.

Once cleaned, it is time to fill up your jars! The jars fill better when the green beans are between one and two inches long. Fill the jars up, leaving one inch headspace at the top. Headspace is important for pressure canning!

You will want to add salt to the jars. I tried no salt before and the beans were bland, consequently those beans were great for casseroles, but not side dishes. Try 3/4 to 1 TSP of canning salt per jar.

Now is the time to put the indicated amount of water into your canner (check your manual), and turn the canner on medium to start heating up the water. After you add the salt, ladle in the boiling water, leaving the one inch headspace! After filled with boiling water, use your included tool for checking headspace or a wooden skewer to move around the jar, popping air bubbles.

Wipe off the rim of the jar and put on the lid. Your jars are ready to go into the canner!

Processing the Green Beans

Put your jars into the canner and close the lids. At this point, it is best if you follow your canners instructions. However, most of them follow the same type of instructions. You need to allow the canner to gain heat, and it will push out steam until the lid is locked. You need to put the valve over on top, allowing it to gain pressure.

Green beans should be processed at 11 pounds of pressure for 20 minutes for pints or 25 minutes for quarts. Your manual should have specific times; make sure that you double check! You need to process them for the correct amount of time to ensure any bacteria and spores are killed.

Once the jars are processed, turn off the heat and allow the canner to de-pressurize on its own. It can take up to 30 minutes for this to happen. Once unlocked, make sure that you open the lid AWAY from your face. The steam could burn you!

Lift the jars out of the canner and place them on a dry towel. Doing so helps to avoid breaking from the shock of the temperature change. Let the jars set for 24 hours.

Canning green beans couldn’t be easier! We had a small batch this time, but by the end of the season, our shelves will be lined with jars.

What do you prefer – frozen or canned green beans? Let me know in the comments.


7 Dangerous Canning Mistakes You Are Making

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Each day, I see articles floating around encouraging dangerous canning mistakes that could cause someone to get sick. If you happen to make one of these mistakes, you might regret it.

Canning is fun and exciting. There is something so refreshing and rewarding about seeing shelves of brightly colored jars. It feels even better when the jars are full with produce you grew throughout the year. A lot of hard work goes into those canning jars.

The last thing you want to do is make a dangerous canning mistake that could lead to you or a loved one getting sick. So, I want to go through some of these canning recommendations that I see frequently.

Before I get started, I know someone will think or say “well, my grandparents did it and they lived.” That is probably true. Chances are your grandparents and great-grandparents did some of these dangerous canning mistakes.

But, we know better now.

Scientists, through extensive studies, have created safety recommendations that ensure what you are canning doesn’t contain dangerous bacteria. The National Center for Home Food Preservation is one of those research institutes that are taking the time to make the safety recommendations.

Cases of poisoning and death from bad canning is rare; that is true. But, it happens! In 2015, an Ohio church potluck experienced a botulism outbreak that caused one death and 20 illnesses. The outbreak was due to badly canned produce. It happens, and you don’t want it to be you or your family that falls victim.

So, let’s take a look at the mistakes you want to avoid.

Mistake # 1 – Flipping Jars Upside Down to Seal

Unfortunately, I still see people recommending this route for sealing jars. It is true that your lid will probably seal, but that doesn’t guarantee it is a solid and secure seal. The jars might seal at first, but later come unsealed. Then, the food will spoil without you realizing.

The biggest reason you don’t want to make this mistake is that the liquids aren’t at high enough temperatures to kill off dangerous spores in the food. One of the reasons that you immerse the jars into a canner is to kill off bacteria. You want the temperature to be so high that no mold can continue to grow.

Mistake # 2 – Reusing Lids that Are Meant for One Use

I know; no one wants to buy lids for each jar. However, the lids you buy from Ball or Wal-Mart aren’t meant to be reused. There is an exception to this rule – Tattler Lids. These lids are more expensive, but they are meant for multiple uses and worth the investment. If you use the wrong lids multiple times, your seal won’t be secure, and your food could spoil. Seriously, no one wants that to happen.

Mistake # 3 – Canning Untested Recipes

Developing your own canning recipes is hard and risky. Using old recipes is also dangerous. You want to make sure you have the right level of acid, the right headspace, processing time and more. I highly recommend that you use reputable recipes. When I first started canning, I purchased the Ball Canning Book. Their new book called – The All New Book of Canning and Preserving – has 300 recipes. It is a wonderful resource with safe canning recipes.

Mistake #4 – Using Paraffin Wax to Seal the Jars

Please, if the recipe tells you to use wax to seal the jars, walk (or close it) away immediately. I understand the idea behind it. The wax is supposed to create a secure seal to keep air out and stopping the growth of bacteria, supposedly. I know that my grandmother talked about doing this when she was younger.

Just like flipping the jars, using paraffin wax doesn’t destroy the bacteria and spores already inside of the food. You can’t guarantee the food is safe, so stick to the lids and rims!

Mistake #5 – Canning Milk, Butter and Flour Products

You might see cream of mushroom canned in the stores and assume you can safely can it at home. The answer is a huge NO. Why? It is because companies create their canned goods at a much higher temperature than we could ever generate in our homes.

One of the most common mistakes I see is an article floating around recommending canning butter by ladling melted butter into jars and flipping them over. There is a whole lot of wrong going on there.

Butter is a low acid food, which means it has to be pressure canned! Botulism loves lower acid, so it can thrive in that environment. The same goes for milk. You cannot safely can milk by heating it and putting it into jars. As it stands right now, there are no safe ways to safely can milk and butter.

The same goes for flour products. You might want to can chicken noodle soup, but it isn’t possible to do at home what they do in large factories. Instead, opt to can chicken soup and add the noodles later.

Mistake #6 – Not Checking for Air Bubbles

It might seem like a silly step. Do air bubbles really cause a problem? The answer is yes, they do. You can run the tool included with your canning set in your jar or use a sterilized butter knife. Air bubbles can give space for spores and bacteria to thrive and live. The step takes 30 seconds, just do it!

Mistake # 7 – Using a Water Bath Canner for Low Acid Food

The last mistake might be the biggest and most dangerous. It is a pet peeve of mine. There are dozens of foods that you cannot safely can in a water bath canner. The difference comes from the acid in the food. The higher amount of acid, the less likely botulism can survive. Foods that have a pH level of 4.6 or HIGHER need to be canned in a pressure canner.

This means your produce in the garden, such as green beans, carrots and corn, must be canned in a pressure canner. If you are canning soups or meat, a pressure canner is necessary. If you opt to use a water bath canner instead, the temperatures will not be high enough to kill off the botulism spores. Even if you boil the jars for hours, it still isn’t enough.

Jellies, jams and pickles are meant for water bath canning, not your produce, meats or soups.


I hope you aren’t making one of these 7 dangerous canning mistakes. If you are, remember that once we know better, we do better. Now that you know the method is unsafe, you can change and ensure your family eats only safely preserved foods.

Creating Your Successful Suburban Homestead Dream

Homesteading in the suburbs can feel like an impossible feat. You have dreams of living off the land, raising your own meat, and being self-sufficient. How is doing any of this possible when your neighbors are close?

I understand; I felt this way for a long time too. When we purchased our house on a single acre, that was all we could afford. Land is expensive here with the booming fracking industry. No one wants to cough up land unless it is for a small fortune.

When the homesteading bug bit me, I felt frustrated. I couldn’t accomplish anything with an acre! My husband encouraged me to look at what other people were doing to homestead with an acre. I purchased the Backyard Homesteading book and started surfing Pinterest – isn’t that what everyone does when they feel frustrated?

To my surprise, there are hundreds of suburban homestead articles, and all of them made me realize one thing. I could do this, and you can do too.

A few years later, we are still slowly working on our homestead. Each year, we add something and learn something new from the year before. Homesteading is a personal growth process as well, one that I didn’t expect.

If you are ready to start your suburban homestead dreams, here are my top tips.

Take a Look at Your Land Attributes

Instead of looking at the size as a hindrance, look for the positive features. For example, our front yard is a quarter of an acre, and it receives full sun. It is flat with rich soil, the ideal spot for our garden. I tried to garden in our backyard, but I gave up after a few years. The neighbors might think that turning my front yard into a garden is strange, but it works.

We also have maple trees on our land. We have a hill on our property, which is perfect for sled riding. The back of our property has a spring, heavily wooded area and plenty of shade. What does your property have going for it?

Focus on One or Two Tasks at a Time

If you’re like me, it is tempting to start everything at one time. You want to plant a quarter acre garden, buy goats and chickens, plant a fruit orchard and berry patch, grow culinary and medicinal herbs, and sell at a farmer’s market. Ambitious, much?

Unfortunately, that’s not practical or smart. You will get burnt out quickly. Instead, pick two tasks you want to focus on for that season of the year or even that year. Do you want to get started with vegetable gardening? Build and plant two to four raised beds. Don’t immediately plant 16 or more. Gardening takes a lot of work and practice. Start small and grow.

Do you have the space for chickens? Start off with a small flock. Yes, you will want to buy all the chickens. Learn how to take care of a small flock first.

Don’t Go into Debt for a Suburban Homestead

This one is huge. Debt is a hindrance. We are in the process of paying off our debt. It is unwise to add more debt to your household during the creation of a suburban homestead. Learn how to do things creatively and cheaply, or save up the cash until it is feasible.

Focus on Skill Building

Homesteading is more than just gardening and raising animals. It involves the developing of skills that encourage living a more self-sufficient lifestyle. What type of skills can you develop for your suburban homestead?

·         Learn how to crochet, knit or sew.

·         How to preserve the harvest through canning, freezing or dehydrating.

·         Starting seeds inside of the house.

·         How to forage for wild greens and herbs.

·         Using dried herbs (purchase online until you can grow them) to make herbal remedies, teas, infused oils and more.

·         Make your own cheese.

·         Bake from scratch.

·         Make your own soaps and personal products.

One of the key things about homesteading is that you want to avoid going to the store as much as possible. You are going to use up what you have, or learn how to make it yourself. Why buy cheese at the store when you can make it at home? You might be thinking, how does that help my homestead? When you can get a milk goat or cow, you already will have the skills to start making cheese or processing the milk.

Make Goals and a Plan

This part is huge! Life without goals and a plan is hard. Homesteading without them is even harder. How do you decide where to expand unless you have a specific goal in mind? Here are a few examples.

·         You set a long term goal to produce half of your grocery needs in five years. Each year, you add something new to reach that goal. Each year, you expand your garden, add more chickens, raise meat rabbits, make space for a goat, plant an orchard, and more. A plan allows you to figure out what you need to do each year to meet this goal.

·         You might want to produce more of your own energy and cut out the middle man. So, you have to learn the laws for your city and start investing in solar panels. You might want to purchase and install a wood burning furnace. If you have a spring on land, you might decide to dig a well. A plan is essential.

Get Your Neighbors Involved

Unlike country living, life in the suburbs involves neighbors within close proximity. You can view this as a hindrance or a benefit, depending on your attitude and outlook. Our one neighbors catch our rabbit that is an escape artist. That’s something, right?

Your neighbors can either support or destroy your dreams, so get them involved. Sell them eggs first. If your lettuce bed is overflowing, tell them to come out and pick some. Give them surplus zucchini and tomatoes. Show them that having a small homestead isn’t an annoyance; it benefits everyone.

Hopefully, your neighbors will be interested in joining as well. If so, you are in luck. Starting a neighborhood cooperative is a dream for me. Instead of everyone having the same things, you each trade and swap. I might have a huge flock of chickens, but you have multiple hives of bees. I give you eggs; you give me honey. If your neighbors are interested in what you are doing, don’t hesitate to talk to them about getting involved!

Expect Failures and Setbacks of a Suburban Homestead

As with any dreams and plans, you should expect setbacks and failures. Last year, almost my entire crop of tomatoes died. That hurt and I had to buy multiple bushels of canning tomatoes from my friend. Two years ago, almost an entire flock of chickens were killed by a pack of raccoons. That was a huge setback.

We can mope around, or we can just roll with the punches. Through the hard times and setbacks, you will learn. We learned our chicken coop was not predator proof and adjustments had to be made.


Homesteading in the suburbs isn’t impossible. Just like homesteading in the country, it requires planning, lots of hard work and time invested in making it work. With some ingenuity, creativity, and dedication, you can make your suburban homesteading dreams come true, slowly and steady.


Step-by-Step Guide: Freeze Fresh Cabbage Heads

For a long time, I avoided growing cabbage because I felt like I couldn’t use it fast enough. We love stuffed cabbage rolls and cabbage roll soup, but we can’t eat a whole garden of cabbage in a few weeks! Sauerkraut isn’t a family favorite. Then, one day I learned that you can freeze fresh cabbage heads, and my world changed.

Yes, it is possible! Learning how to freeze fresh cabbage heads is easy. It takes a few hours, so I suggest doing it on a day you aren’t super busy. However, most of the time is when the cabbage has to drain or soak.

Here are the steps! You aren’t going to believe how easy it is.

How to Freeze Fresh Cabbage Heads

First, you have to harvest the heads. That is very easy, taking 30 seconds per head at most! Then, I bring them inside. After they’re inside, I take off the four to five leaves. Then, they need to soak in water, typically for at least two to three hours.

Even if you think your cabbage was pest free, there is a good chance a few slugs or cabbage loppers found their way into your cabbage heads. I move the heads around in the water. Soaking kills the slugs inside of the heads. See this little buddy who thought catching a ride was a fun idea? He was wrong!

After the heads soak, take them out and let them drain for a bit. Next, you need to cut them into quarters. It is important that you keep the core inside of the cabbage. Without the core, your leaves are going to fall off in the water. You don’t want that to happen; trust me.

While you are cutting up the heads of fresh cabbage, you need to get a large pot of water boiling on your stove. Also, full up a side of your sink with ice cold water. You are going to blanch the heads by moving them from the boiling water right into ice water, which abruptly stops the cooking process.

Once the water is at a rolling boil, put the cabbage heads in. My pot fits three to four at a time. Let each head come to a boil for 3 minutes then move them directly to the ice bath. Continue this process until all of the heads are blanched.

After blanching, make sure all of the cabbage heads are cool to the touch. I drain out all of the water and let them sit in the sink or a colander for a few minutes. It helps drain out all of that excess water! I give each of the cabbage heads a bit of a squeeze to help get out the water.

Now it is time to get them into their freezer bags. If you have a food saver, this task is perfect for it. We don’t, so I stick three in each bag. Make sure to squeeze as much air out of the bag as possible. Then, add a label with the date you froze them!


Freezing fresh cabbage heads is easy! If you want to have fresh cabbage later in the year, this is the perfect way to preserve it. We use the heads throughout the winter for hearty dinner meals and soups.

How do you preserve fresh cabbage?