Free Garden Management Spreadsheets

I’ve had a vegetable garden since 2009, but it’s been mostly haphazard. I kept very few notes about what worked or didn’t work, what I’ve done about pests, how many seeds I planted, etc. It turns out, those things are helpful to know. With a few notes, I can plant an appropriate amount of plants (20 squash plants is overkill for 2 people…), get ahead of pests before they cause too much destruction, and just overall have a healthier and more productive garden. So, I finally created some spreadsheets to help me stay organized!

Free Garden Management Spreadsheets | The King's Table

The pages aren’t anything fancy — no special colors or graphics — but they get the job done. I created them in Google docs so that I could access them on any device with internet, and I don’t have to keep up with sheets of paper or remember where I put my garden binder (tried and failed with that). 

Just click here to access them. To edit the sheets for yourself, open the link and click “File.” If you have a Google account, click “Make a Copy,” and it’ll send an editable version to your Google drive. If you don’t have a Google account, click “Download as” and “Microsoft Excel.” You probably won’t need every sheet, but I hope something in there is useful for you.

There are 15 pages in the file:
Expenses — All about your garden spending
Seed Inventory — What you have and where they came from
Observations — Appearance of pests, beneficial insects, and other observations
Soil Amendments — Location and amount of fertilizers and soil amendments
Seed Sowing Guide — Your expectations and recommendations for planting
Sowing Schedule — Date, amount, type, and description of what you’ve sown
Transplant Schedule — Sowing, planting, and harvesting your transplants
Perennials — Sprouting, blooming, and harvesting of your perennials
Yield (by variety) — Total yield of one type of plant
Yield (all plants) — Total yield of everything you grow
Weather — Frost dates, floods and droughts, unusual weather, etc.
Varieties — The varieties you’ve tried, which ones you liked, and which aren’t worth planting again
Pests and Diseases — The problems that your plants have encountered and whether or not your solutions worked
Notes — Do’s and don’ts for the next growing season
Wishlist — The things you’d still like to buy or find for your garden

Do you already keep notes about your garden and harvest? Do you prefer to type them or handwrite your notes?

Free Garden Management Spreadsheets | The King's Table

 

 

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Outdoor Sowing: Alternatives to Starting Seeds Indoors

My green-eyed monster of jealousy peeked at me this week. While scrolling Facebook, I saw lots of seedlings from fellow gardeners. I want seedlings, but I can’t start seeds indoors. For some, sunlight or space are issues. For me, the problem is the moisture level. After mold exposure in 2008, I have a low tolerance for mold and mildew, and the increased moisture from indoor seedlings brings old symptoms back. I really don’t want to buy tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and other plants, and I don’t want to wait until after the last frost date before planting seeds. Fortunately, there are other alternatives. Some of these options allow for planting directly in the ground, while others are geared toward planting in pots to transplant later.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through a link, I may receive compensation at no extra cost to you. See my policies for my information.

Outdoor Sowing: Alternatives to Starting Seeds Indoors | The King's Table

Spring and summer annuals are often started indoors either because frost is still expected or the soil hasn’t warmed up enough for the seeds to sprout. If indoor sowing isn’t an option, try one of these alternatives.

Winter Sowing

Winter sowing is my favorite concept for starting seeds outdoors, and one day, I’m going to do it for most of my garden. The seeds that have endured winter seem to produce hardier plants than the ones I’ve sown in spring. Basically, you plant seeds in transparent containers (like 2 liter bottles), water them well, and set them outside. Then you can forget about them until spring. When the temperature is right, they sprout on their own. For a more in-depth description, Get Busy Gardening has a step-by-step guide to winter sowing

My double-paned mini greenhouse from a coffee creamer bottle and a water bottle

My double-paned mini greenhouse from a coffee creamer bottle and a water bottle. It’s useful for planting summer annuals a few weeks before the last expected frost.

Mini Greenhouses

A mini greenhouse is a transparent bottle that’s placed over a seed. Cut the bottom off the bottle, and gently shove it into the ground around the sown seed. It needs to be at least an inch in the ground so that it won’t blow away. Check the bottle daily in case you need to water the soil, and remove the bottle if the leaves start to touch the sides. Between the heat and moisture, the leaves can burn if touching the sides of the bottle. For summer annuals, I plant with mini greenhouses a few weeks before the last expected frost. Frosts and cold winds are still expected for my area, so I double insulated the seeds with a water bottle plus a coffee creamer bottle. If it gets below 30, I can cover it with a 5-gallon bucket.

The greenhouse was destroyed in a tornado. | The King's Table

I used to have access to my neighbor’s greenhouse, until a tornado came through last year.

Greenhouse

A greenhouse is a great choice if there’s space outdoors. It can be a permanent structure with a heating unit, or it can be a simple set-up of pallets wrapped in clear plastic.

Cold Frame | The King's Table

My temporary cold frame from bricks and a piece of glass from a window

Cold Frame

Cold frames are typically boxes with clear, hinged lids that are tilted for maximum exposure to sunlight. A common height is 12 inches in the front and 18 inches in the back. Like greenhouses, these can be permanent structures or rigged with something like bricks and a window. My cold frame will only be used for a few weeks, so I just laid the window pane on top rather than bothering with a hinged lid. If ants are a pest in your area, it’s worth noting that they’re attracted to the warmth and protection of cold frames. You may find an infestation after a storm or cold front. 

Low Tunnel or High Tunnel

For tunnels, metal or PVC pipes are bent in an arc over the garden bed and are covered with fabric or clear plastic sheeting. A low tunnel is usually 2-4 feet high. A high tunnel is basically a taller version of a low tunnel, so you can walk through it. Mother of a Hubbard has an interesting comparison with 10 reasons low tunnels are better than cold frames

Indoor/Outdoor

If daytime weather is warm enough but nights are too cool, you can start seedlings in pots outdoors and bring them indoors at night. It helps to have a rolling cart that the seedlings can stay on for a few weeks. To encourage sprouting by retaining warmth and moisture, slide the pots into Ziploc bags or other transparent containers. But open them slightly to vent them if heat or moisture build up too much.

Warm the Soil

Heat-loving summer crops won’t sprout (or will have delayed sprouting) if the soil is too cold. Raised beds will be warmer than trenches, so plant those first seeds higher — either in beds or in small mounds of soil. Also, while mulch is great at regulating soil temperatures during extreme hot or cold weather, layers of mulch will prevent the soil from heating quickly in the spring. Pull back the mulch at least a couple of days before you plan to plant seeds. Lastly, you can warm the soil by covering it with clear plastic or black fabric a few days before planting. If you’re going to plant only a couple of seeds, you can place a black plastic pot upside down over the spot instead of a sheet of plastic. Covering the soil with plastic, fabric, or inverted pots all work best on sunny days.

All of these tips, with the exception of a fabric-covered low tunnel or covering the soil to warm it, will need to be vented as the weather warms up, typically on days that are sunny and over 40F. Otherwise, you risk cooking your seedlings after they sprout. Venting can mean propping a door open, pulling back a side of plastic, or taking off the lid of a mini-greenhouse bottle.

With each option (besides warming the soil), the seedlings will need to be hardened off before fully braving the elements. Don’t skip hardening off. Even if the plants are used to bright sun and warm/cool temperatures, they will still need time to adjust to the wind.

Bonus Alternative: Barter

If you haven’t already noticed from my How to Barter post, I’m a big fan of trading. A lot of gardeners start more seedlings than they need, so ask around to find a friend who will either grow extra for you or who already has extra. Offer to trade something they can use. Or if they haven’t started seedlings yet, offer to supply the seeds, soil, and/or pots.

Do you start seeds indoors? Or do you use alternative methods of growing?

 

How to Have Fewer Dirty Dishes

I love to cook and bake, but I would love it more if someone cleaned my kitchen afterwards. I have a habit of leaving piles of dirty dishes in my sink for a few days, hoping leprechauns or a fairy godmother will whisk them away while I sleep. It hasn’t happened yet, but I still have my fingers crossed. In the meantime, I’m learning to use fewer dishes while instilling a system of emptying/filling the dishwasher more frequently. As an added incentive, did you know dirty dishes can cause debt?

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through a link, I may receive compensation at no extra cost to you. 

Saving Time in the Kitchen: How to Have Fewer Dirty Dishes | The King's Table

Rinse, Dry, and Put Away
Some dishes don’t need the whole treatment of soap and hot water. If you’ve used a measuring cup or spoon to scoop a dry or nonhazardous ingredient (like oats, spices, etc.), just rinse it off after using.

One Cup per Day
My husband used to go through 3 or 4 drinking glasses every day. Reduce the amount of cups you wash by having family members reuse their cups. To distinguish the cups, use a different type for each person or use these color-coded bands (or just use different colors of rubber bands).

Depending on the food, plates and bowls can be reused during the day, too. Have a designated spot for each person’s dish so they can grab it for breakfast and lunch (and maybe even dinner or dessert). If a designated spot doesn’t work, try using a different type of plate for each person or write their initials on the bottom with a Sharpie marker. 

Reuse
If your family takes nonperishable goods like crackers or granola on-the-go, reuse the container for a few days before washing. This can mean plastic or glass containers, plastic sandwich bags, or
reusable cloth bags. Depending on the food (like sliced fruit or PB&J sandwiches), the container can also be rinsed with hot water and used the next day instead of being thoroughly washed.  

Pack Leftovers with Care
When it’s time to put away leftovers, pack them in ready-to-use containers. Separate the food into individual portions and place in containers that can be stored, reheated, and eaten from. My favorites are
glass Pyrex storage bowls. They can go straight from the freezer to the microwave at work for an easy lunch. 

Plan for Multiple Uses at One Time
If you’re going to get out the food processor or other appliance to make a meal, look ahead to your meals for the next couple of days. Is there something else that can be prepped? Then you’ll only have to wash the appliance once for the week instead of two or more times.

If you scrape the sides well, many tools and appliances (blender, food processor, mixing bowls, etc.) don’t even have to be rinsed in between your multiple uses. A tiny bit won’t be enough to change the flavor of whatever you’re making next. The exceptions are strong flavors like cayenne or other spices. Also, be mindful of prepping foods after an appliance has held raw meat — do the meat last. 

Look Out for One-Pot Meals
If your cookbook is full of recipes that require a dozen bowls and pots, it may be time to revamp your meals. One-pot recipes can be just as tasty without so much mess. Look for one-pan skillet meals, soups and stews, slow-cooker meals, and casseroles. I’m a big fan of this
Southwestern Spaghetti Squash, though I often add leftover chicken. It uses a skillet, along with the empty squash shell.

Prep and Freeze Common Ingredients
Many recipes require a pan just to saute garlic and onions or to brown ground beef. Do  large batches and freeze in meal-size portions. Ice cube trays are great for freezing small amounts of garlic and onions, and one cube is approximately 2 tablespoons. Just pop them into a bag or freezer-safe container once frozen. 

Only Set Out Necessary Cutlery
This may seem like a “no, duh” tip, but I’ve been to plenty of dinners where everyone gets a fork, spoon, and knife whether they’re all needed or not. What tools are actually needed for the meal? Is there soup or something else for the spoon? If there aren’t large chunks of meat to cut, it’s okay to skip the knives or put only one or two in the middle of the table for whoever wants them. And you can put one knife with the butter (or other condiment) instead of giving everyone their own butter knife. 

Share a Plate
If you and your spouse share well, you can use just one plate between you. It can make for a more intimate meal since you have to sit closer together. The smaller portions of snacks are also conducive to shared plates for the adults or kids, like the 
monkey platters of finger foods.

Disposables
I’d rather say “protect the Earth!” than encourage disposables, but I can’t lie and say I never use them. Paper plates, plastic cutlery, foil-lined pans, and
crock-pot liners can be sanity-savers when you feel there isn’t time to wash dishes. Paper or cloth napkins are also useful in place of plates for dry meals like sandwiches.  

Own Fewer Dishes
I collect kitchen supplies so this one is hard for me, but it works. The more dishes and small appliances you own, the more you’ll use. The fewer you own, the more you’ll learn to reuse and make do with what you have. When you own just a few, they also can’t pile as high in the sink so it becomes less intimidating to wash them. And you’re forced to wash them because you run out of clean dishes faster.

Cook and Serve from the Same Pan
Unless you need to make it look super nice for a dinner party, you can serve food straight from the pan it was cooked in.

Reuse Your Tasting Spoon
When preparing a new meal, it’s common to taste-test throughout the cooking process. Instead of getting a clean spoon every time, refill your tasting spoon with the spoon you’ve been stirring the mixture with.

Buy Divided Plates for Picky Eaters
Some people need a plate for part of their meal, a bowl for the soupy stuff (think creamed corn), and a smaller bowl for sauces or gravies. Nothing can touch. Buy divided plates for these people, so you’ll only have one dish to wash.  They come in plastic or porcelain.

Buy a Scale
Instead of dirtying multiple measuring cups, buy a food scale and weigh your ingredients. Need a cup of milk or other liquid? Weigh out 8 oz on your food scale.  Keep a chart in the kitchen with common measurements and their weights.

What are your tricks for using fewer dishes when cooking? How else do you save time in the kitchen?

 

Plant Identification – How to be 100% positive about an ID

Almost every book, blog post, or article about foraging for wild edibles will contain a warning: Do not eat a plant unless you are 100% sure of its identity. The majority of plants are safe to eat, but there are some poisonous ones. And if consumed, some of those poisonous ones can have dire results, including death.

This warning has turned some people off from foraging, because they’re afraid of making a mistake. For beginners, a backyard may look like a sea of green, one type of plant indistinguishable from the next. How can you tell it all apart and know with 100% certainty which is edible?

There’s good news. Plant identification really isn’t difficult once you know some basics.

You can often identify a friend or family member with just a glance because you know their defining characteristics. Hair color and texture, skin color, height, weight, and the way they walk. Plants are the same. Spend some time observing them, noting the defining characteristics, and you’ll be able to pick out your favorites with a quick glance.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through a link, I may receive compensation at no extra cost to you.

Plant Identfication - How to be 100% positive about an ID

The best advice for learning to identify plants is to look, look, and look some more. Look at every part of the plant during different stages of its life cycle. Write down what you see and take a few clear photos. Make note of characteristics like the following:

  1. Stems and leaves are hairy or smooth (hairless)
  2. Stem shape – Cut a section of stem and look at the cut part. Is it round, square, or something else? Smooth or ridged? Solid or hollow?
  3. Clear or milky sap – Cut a green stem and look at what comes out
  4. Leaf shape
  5. Leaf margin (the edges of the leaves)   
  6. Simple or compound leaves 
  7. Alternate, opposite, or whorled leaves    
  8. Other leaf descriptions
  9. Color of flower and number of petals (Here’s a more in-depth look at flower terminology.)
  10. Color, size, and shape of nut/fruit (if any) 
  11. Bark pattern (when identifying trees)
  12. Time of year
  13. Environmental factors (dry, wet, hot, etc. which will effect size and speed of growth)

The list of characteristics could go on and on, including things like direction of leaf veins, color of leaf undersides, type of root system, and much more. If you find a plant that you want to identify, make note of every characteristic that you observe and take a few clear photos of different plant parts. Whether you go to an online source or ask someone local, the extra information will help.

Once you know something about parts of a plant, how do you find out if it’s edible or not? There is a treasure chest of resources, including books, bloggers, Facebook groups, and YouTube videos. If you find a local wild foods instructor, start there, since they’ll have info targeted to your area. A few of my favorite books are listed below, but look for a book that’s specific to your region.

Books
Nature’s Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants by Samuel Thayer
Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods From Dirt To Plate by John Kallus
Wild Edibles: A Practical Guide to Foraging, with Easy Identification of 60 Edible Plants and 67 Recipes by Sergei Boutenko

Many foraging bloggers offer great descriptions for identifying plants, like Eat the Weeds, 3 Foragers, and The Foraged Foodie. I also have a Pinterest board: Wild Edibles – Identifying and Using Them. When you read something in a book or blog, compare it with others to make sure the info is accurate. Check multiple sources, since some writers will take from others when they don’t have personal experience.

Plant identification groups on Facebook are a big help when narrowing down plant ID. However, don’t blindly accept what you’re told. Double check the plant characteristics to see if the group has identified it correctly. Try the groups Edible Wild Plants, Plant Identification, Plant Identification and Discussion, and Plant Ident 101. There are also groups geared toward a specific country or region.

There are websites where you plug in the characteristics, and they name plants matching that description. These sites can provide a starting point, though I’ve rarely found them to be spot-on with an ID. Try What Tree is That? from the Arbor Day Foundation and  Weed ID from the University of Missouri. There are also numerous apps offering plant identification, though I’ve never tried them and the reviews are spotty.  Like the sites, they can provide a starting point but double check the responses. A site or app cannot compare to your own observations.

Wood Sorrel | The King's Table

Wood sorrel

All plants have defining characteristics, but they also have characteristics that vary by variety or species. Take wood sorrel for example (in the Oxalis family). One distinct characteristic is the heart-shaped leaves. No matter the variety, the leaves will always be the same shape. But depending on variety, the flowers can be white, yellow, pink, or violet. Bloggers and other writers will write about the type common in their areas. You could be told to look for pink flowers when the yellow flowered variety grows in your backyard. This is why it’s important to find a local wild edibles instructor and to obtain a descriptive book of your area’s plants. Online writers are a good place to start, but local resources can tell you which variety to look for.

Learn about toxic look-alikes. Some poisonous plants look a little similar to wild edibles, so it’s important to know what to look for. You don’t want to assume it’s a different variety of a wild edible when it’s actually a completely different plant. For example, poisonous spurge is occasionally mistaken for the edible purslane. But once you know what to look for, it’s easy to tell the difference.   

Before consuming a plant, it’s important to know which parts are edible, if any special preparation is necessary, the best time to harvest during the plant’s life cycle, and if it’s edible in large amounts or only smaller doses. Just because someone says “acorns are edible” doesn’t mean you should crack fresh acorns and eat them by the handful. Know the details. Yes, acorns are edible, but they need to be soaked (i.e. properly prepared) to remove the bitter tannins.

So, how can you identify an edible plant with 100% certainty? Observe and read. Look closely at the plants, and read what other foragers have to say. NEVER force a plant to fit a description by thinking  “Well, it meets 2 out of 3 characteristics.” Lastly, try a small bite after you’ve positively identified the plant. People can react to anything, so see how your body responds before you eat a full meal of it.

What are your favorite foraging or plant identification resources?

Related Posts:
Identifying Sheep Sorrel
Identifying Henbit

Bartering – What, Where, and How

It seems I always have excess of something…except money. So, an easy way to get rid of my excess and get more of the things I’m lacking is to barter. Or trade. Or swap. Whatever you want to call it, it’s not difficult once you know a few tricks.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you sign-up or make a purchase through the links, I may receive compensation at no extra charge to you.

Bartering - What, where, and how to trade | The King's Table

What to Trade

Everyone has something to offer, so think outside the box about what you can trade. Almost any item (physical or digital) or service can be traded, as long as you legally have the rights to it. Obviously, don’t trade something that isn’t yours. Here are some examples to get you started:

Job-type services like carpentry, proofreading, photo shoots, consultations, computer maintenance, etc.

Chores like lawn mowing, baby sitting, washing the dogs, garden or farm tasks, cleaning, and running errands

Food or household products, like extras from couponing, gardening, farming, cooking, or baking. You can also trade food preservation, such as giving homegrown apples to someone if they’ll make you a couple of jars of apple butter.

Handmade crafts or artwork. It can be something elaborate like handmade furniture to something small like greeting cards.

Used items in good condition that you no longer need

“Outside the box” stuff – On the barter site Simbi, some people trade for opinions, advice, feedback, or simply someone to vent to.

Where to Trade

Opportunities to trade are everywhere as long as you’re willing to ask. For those uncomfortable with asking, start with the online sites and groups specifically geared toward bartering. If you don’t mind asking, try any of these:

Your own family, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances. Ask around for what you need or post a request on social media. Even if they don’t have it, they may point you to someone who does.

Facebook barter and swap groups – local or national

Special interest groups and clubs — Check local publications for announcements from local clubs. Otherwise, Facebook and Meetup.com are good places to find groups.

Craiglist — Unless someone says “no trades” in their descriptions, it can’t hurt to ask if they’d consider bartering.

Online trade sites like Simbi, U-Exchange, Tradeaway, Paperpack Swap, and TimeBanks

Etsy, if you have a store on it. There are Etsy groups for trading between artists and crafters.

Yard sales – Common household products are great trading items, since most people need food and toilet paper. Offer to trade homegrown produce, extras that you’ve gotten from couponing, or a gift card that you were given but won’t use.

Festivals or markets where you’re a vendor — Many vendors are up for trading with each other toward the end of the festival. Tell other vendors you’re up for trading if they want to check out your booth.

Community swaps – I’ve been to plant swaps and a homestead swap in my area. Some towns have swaps for food, handmade crafts, toys, and clothing. I’ve even heard of women’s accessory swaps and tool swaps. If you can’t find one, considering inviting your friends and hosting your own.

Tips for Better Trading

Be specific. If someone asks what you can trade, don’t respond with “I don’t know. I have lots of stuff. What are you looking for?” People either can’t think of what they need on the spur of the moment, or they have a list of hundreds of things they could use – most of which you probably won’t have. Before offering to trade, know the kinds of things you want and what you have to offer.

Make sure both parties walk away happy. Know the value of what you’re trading (what you’re offering and what you’re receiving) so that neither feels cheated at the end. If someone seems hesitant to trade, don’t push it. You can also offer a partial trade, where you pay for part of the item and trade for the rest.

Agree on the details. If it’s maintenance work, is the cost of parts included? Are revisions included if it’s a service like web design, graphic design, or proofreading?

Set a time frame. Both parts of the trade must be completed by a specific date instead of “someday.” If it’s an ongoing trade, agree to a certain length of time and then review the terms, to see if both parties want to continue trading.

Write down the agreement, so both parties have a copy. It prevents disputes if someone remembers the trade terms incorrectly.

How It’s Worked for Me

Just for inspiration, here’s a sample of some of the trades I’ve completed:

Watercolor painting for a handmade purse (Etsy)
Homegrown green beans for a fig tree (Craiglist)
Maintenance work for a gift card (from a friend)
Dried garden peas for handmade soap (local homestead swap)
Dried beans for bell pepper plants (yard sale)
Daylilies for aloe vera plants (local plant swap)

Note: If you barter regularly or involve your business in it, the IRS wants its cut. Keep records of your trades, and consult an accountant or tax preparer before filing.

Have you done any trading or bartering? Is it something you would do again?

Wild Edible: Henbit

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) has taken over my garden at the moment. The little purplish pink flowers are pretty and it’s nice to have that bit of color while waiting for other things to sprout, but does it have to grow everywhere? I pull one, and three more appear in its place.

Henbit does have one saving grace — it’s edible. It’s not a weed that I eat a lot of, as it’s a bit too “green” for my tastes. I prefer it in smaller amounts, like how we use herbs, rather than larger amounts like vegetables. But at least I know that if the worst happened and my spring leafy crops failed, Henbit is an alternative. I’ve finely chopped Henbit and mixed it with other greens in a frittata, and soon I plan to try this henbit pesto recipe from The Foraged Foodie.

Wild Edible: Henbit -- How to identify and eat this common weed | The King's Table

Henbit is an annual that grows in late winter or early spring. It’s in the mint family, but it doesn’t taste like mint. Its flavor is more similar to kale. The stems, leaves, and flowers can all be eaten raw or cooked, but older stems can be tough. The clumps of leaves are also chewy, so I prefer them finely chopped or pureed, like in pesto or a smoothie.

There isn’t much nutritional info available for Henbit. Unlike your grocery store greens, it’s not well studied. It’s said to be high in iron and various vitamins. In general, wild greens are more nutritious than their cultivated relatives.

How to Identify Henbit

Wild Edible: Henbit - How to identify and eat this common weed | The King's Table

Henbit, before and after it blooms

The easiest time to identify Henbit is after it blooms. The flowers are tiny and may be pink, purple, or reddish. Minuscule pink or purple hairs are on the upper part of the flower and small dots are on the lower part. My sister and I used to call them bunny flowers because we thought they looked like rabbits if you turned them upside down.

Henbit flowers | The King's Table

Henbit flowers

The stems are square and green, turning shades of purple, red, or brown as they age. Multiple stems grow from a single taproot and may grow up to 18″ tall. They typically stand erect but may flop over and grow more parallel to the ground.

Wild Edible: Henbit - How to identify and eat this common weed | The King's Table

Henbit – the whole plant

Leaves grow opposite each other and are a little hairy. The upper leaves clasp the stem while lower leaves are attached by a petiole (small stalk). The leaves are round in shape, and the margins (edges) are scalloped with rounded teeth. The veins of the upper leaves are recessed, giving a wrinkled appearance. The upper and lower leaves are typically spaced a good distance apart.

A henbit stem, just before the pink flowers form. | The King's Table

Henbit, just before the flowers form.

There are no poisonous lookalikes to Henbit. It’s sometimes confused with Purple Dead Nettle or Ground Ivy, both of which are edible.

As always with wild edibles, never eat something unless you’re 100% sure of its identification. Also, eat just a couple of bites the first time you try a new weed to make sure you don’t have a reaction. People can have reactions to absolutely anything, even if they’re not prone to food allergies.

Wild Edible: Henbit: How to identify and eat this common weed | The King's Table

Need more pictures or information about Henbit? There are articles at Eat the Weeds and Edible Wild Foods.

Can you find Henbit around your home? Have you tasted it yet?

More wild edibles at The King’s Table:
Sheep Sorrel

Berry Pink Yogurt Bowl with a Secret Vegetable

Fact: Vegetables are important and nutritious and all that.
Fact: I would much rather have a gooey, sweet cinnamon roll for breakfast than a healthy plate of vegetables.

This is my compromise.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you click a link and make a purchase, I may receive a small amount of compensation at no extra cost to you. See my full disclosure statement here.

Berry Pink Yogurt Bowl with a Secret Ingredient -- an easy way to have a veggie with breakfast | The King's Table

This yogurt bowl has been my go-to lately when I’m craving something sweet for breakfast and don’t want to take the time to bake. The secret ingredient: beet powder.

Vegetable powders are so easy to add to meals. A sprinkle here, a spoonful there. Two teaspoons of beet powder is equal to approximately one serving of beets. The powder is packed with similar nutrition as the fresh stuff, but I don’t have to suffer through a bowl of roasted beets. No offense to you beet lovers, but I haven’t yet acquired a desire for their flavor and texture. Beets are particularly beneficial for the liver and gall bladder, and they were recommended to me a few years ago because of heartburn and digestive discomfort. With all of the other changes I made, I can’t say if the beet powder helped those particular problems, but they didn’t hurt. Beets are also high in folate, manganese, and potassium, among other nutrients.

Berry Pink Yogurt Bowl

Ingredients
1/2 cup plain yogurt (regular or Greek)

1/3 cup or more of berries, fresh or frozen (thawed)
1/2 to 1 tsp almond or vanilla extract (I prefer 1 tsp almond, but that can be a strong flavor for some people.)
1 to 2 tbsp add-ins (I like hemp seeds and unsweetened shredded coconut.)
1 tsp honey (more or less to taste)
1/2 to 1 tsp beet powder — I use Frontier Organic Beet Powder from Vitacost. (If you have a sensitive palate and don’t like beets, start with 1/2 tsp.)

Directions
Stir together the yogurt, vanilla or almond extract, honey, and beet powder. Top with berries and add-ins.

Sit in a peaceful spot and enjoy!

Besides the yogurt, I bought all of the ingredients from Vitacost. They often have good sales, and you’ll receive free shipping for purchases over $49. Start at Top Cashback, and you’ll receive a percentage of your Vitacost purchase back.

What are your favorite add-ins or flavorings for yogurt?

This post is linked to the Healthy Living Party at A Bountiful Love.

3 Years with a Hugel Bed: Lessons Learned

A hugel bed (also known as hugelkultur) is basically a garden bed filled with logs. In theory, the logs will absorb rainwater like a sponge, allowing for less frequent watering of the bed. As the logs break down, they provide a steady stream of nutrients. To make a hugel bed, dig about a foot down into the soil. (To avoid digging, some people have just built the bed on top of the soil or created a small frame like a raised bed.) Place logs, branches, and sticks into the trench. Cover the logs with upside-down turf, grass clippings, compost, manure, leaves, etc. Top with soil and mulch, and then plant your seeds.

3 Years with a Hugel Bed: Lessons learned about gardening and hugelkulture | The King's TableFor a more in-depth look at hugelkultur, check out Inspiration Green. It shows some successful beds and gives recommendations for types of wood. RichSoil.com also has good advice about hugel beds.

Some people report amazing success with hugel beds, and others declare them as failures. I’ve had mediocre success but have learned a few things along the way that should make the bed perform better in the future.

1. Mulch doesn’t like to stay on the bed. I’ve tried combinations of leaves, grass clippings, weed cuttings, and wood chips. All it took was one storm to wash the mulch to the base of the bed. Leaves were the worst choice, and grass clippings held on the longest. Dense plantings help keep the mulch in place.

2. Some plants have grown well for me on the hugel bed and other plants haven’t. Kale, radish, and lambsquarter have been the most successful. Tomatoes and squash died from lack of water after the mulch disappeared. Plants with deep taproots can be planted toward the top of my hugel bed, but shallow-rooted plants do better near the base.

3. Hugel beds = shaded areas. The height of the bed causes various areas to be shaded throughout the day. If planned correctly, this can be helpful during the hot summer months.

4. Mice love the hugel bed. There are crevices between the logs that dirt didn’t fill in, so I find new mice holes in the side of the bed every year. There are fewer crevices as the dirt settles and the logs decompose, so I’ve only seen one hole this year. The mice haven’t caused a problem except the time they dug a new hole near a plant and uprooted a couple of radishes. My bed has about 3 layers of logs. To prevent mouse-sized crevices, I should have added compost, manure, or soil in between the layers of logs instead of just on top.

5. Ants love the hugel bed during wet weather. When the soil is too wet, ants turn to the hugel bed for protection and build mounds on top of the bed’s mulch. I sprinkled diatomaceous earth on them, which caused them to move their mound 2 feet over. They think they’re clever, but I have a 25 pound bag of the stuff.

6. Some people theorize that the logs will trap nitrogen in the initial stages of decomposition, causing a nitrogen deficiency in the plants. I haven’t found this to be the case, but I occasionally water the beds with diluted urine just in case.

I haven’t found the hugel bed to be as user-friendly as a regular garden bed, so I’ll keep it but I won’t build another one. Or maybe I’ll figure out the trick to a successful bed and change my mind.

Do you have a hugel bed? What are your thoughts and experiences with it?

Free and Frugal Gardening: Fertilizer and Mulch

Fertilizer and mulch – 2 very important things for a productive garden. Fertilizer is a necessity, especially if you expect to grow veggies in the same place for more than a year. Mulch isn’t always necessary but is incredibly helpful, especially in certain climates. It balances soil temperature, reducing extremes of hot and cold, and it retains moisture. Last summer, my garden went almost 2 months without rain, and I watered it only a handful of times because of the mulch. My neighbor’s garden without mulch required daily watering, and the plants still suffered.

Free and Frugal Gardening: Fertilizer and Mulch | The King's Table

Fertilizer and Soil Amendments

There are plenty of ways to get free fertilizer instead of investing in bags of Miracle Gro, and your homemade ones may include some minerals that aren’t in the typical bags of NPK formulas (Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium).

  • Diluted human urine and wood ash — these make an almost-perfect combo for veggie plants. Dilute the urine at a ratio of 10:1, like 10 cups of water to 1 cup of urine.
  • Crushed or powdered egg shells — Egg shells add calcium, but they take many months to break down. Crush them finely and sprinkle or mix them into the soil in the fall.
  • Compost – Make your own pile and add it to the garden, grow directly in the compost pile, do trench composting throughout the garden (basically burying your kitchen scraps in different places), or steep finished compost in water for compost tea. Here’s a step-by-step guide for using compost tea.
  • Epsom salt – It adds magnesium. Dilute to 1 tbsp in a gallon of water, though I admit to just sprinkling a little around the plants before it rains. If you’re used to getting great deals at CVS, Walgreens, or another pharmacy store, getting cheap Epsom salts there will probably be easy for you.
  • Nitrogen-fixing plants — These plants absorb nitrogen from the air and put it back into the soil once they die and decompose, providing nutrients for other plants. The legume family are common nitrogen fixers, including peas, beans, and clover.
  • Other nutrient-adding plants — Seaweed and comfrey are touted for their garden-enhancing nutrients. Just chop and place around your plants or lightly dig them into the soil.
  • Fish entrails — Do you like to fish or know someone who does? Save the heads, entrails, bones, etc. and bury them where you plan to plant corn.
  • Manure — Almost any type of bird or herbivore can provide free fertilizer, though read up on your type since some manures need to sit longer than others before being applied to the garden. Consider horse, cow, chicken, rabbits, gerbils, chinchillas, ducks, pet birds, etc.
  • Aquarium water
  • Cooking water – like when you’ve boiled pasta, beans, or veggies
  • Animal bones – Bags of bone meal in the store come with a hefty price, but if you make chicken stock or beef stock, you already have a free source. After simmering the bones for broth, crush them and mix them into the soil. If you don’t make stock, you can bury your bones whole. They’ll take longer to break down, but they’ll actually have more nutrients than the bones used for broth. Bury them deeply so an animal doesn’t dig them up.
  • Shellfish waste — shrimp shells, crab shells, etc. Again, bury them well so that an animal doesn’t dig them up.

Mulch

Depending on the type of mulch you choose, it will perform double-duty and add nutrients to the soil as it breaks down.

  • Cardboard and paper — This includes printer paper, newspaper, notebook paper, and shredded paper. These make a great bottom layer of mulch, especially if you’re suppressing weeds.
  • Wood chips, bark, or sticks
  • Grass clippings
  • Pine needles
  • Straw
  • Weeds – Pull them or cut them down before flowering, and let them decompose in your garden. Also called “chop and drop.”
  • Leaves – To prevent being blown away in the wind, freshly raked leaves will need to be weighed down with something heavier, like wood chips, pine needles, or cut weeds. Shredded leaves or old ones that are partially decomposed and matted together will stay in place better.
  • Dried bean shells
  • Peanut and nut shells — Black walnuts contain a chemical called juglone that can inhibit growth in many plants. Other trees in the walnut family, including pecan, butternut, and bitternut hickory, produce some juglone as well, though not as much as walnuts.
  • Corn husks
  • Small rocks and pebbles — especially for your paths
  • Pine cones, sweet gum briars (the spikey balls common in the South), and other prickly things — These can be used in low-maintenance perennial beds. The briars may keep cats and critters out of the bed, though some animals are stubborn and walk through anyways.

What do you use for fertilizer and mulch?

Related Posts
Free and Frugal Gardening: 5 Lessons Learned
Free and Frugal Gardening: Plants and Seeds

Free and Frugal Gardening: Plants and Seeds

I can’t have a completely free garden, because every year there is a plant (or 2 or 3…) that I just want so badly and don’t want to wait for a free resource to come along. I splurge occasionally on seeds or a plant, but I also use these tips to stay within my budget.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, I receive a small amount of compensation at no extra cost to you.

Free and Frugal Gardening: Plants and Seeds. How to get garden plants for free or really cheap. | The King's Table

Know How to Propagate and Save Seeds

Learning to save your seeds and multiply your own plants will save a bunch of money in the future. It’s not difficult, once you learn the basics. However, some plants require an extra touch or step, so research specifically which plant you want to propagate or save seed from.

The grocery store is one place for cheap plants and seeds, since you can regrow or save seeds from certain foods. Dried beans are the easiest seed to grow from the grocery store, and they’re often cheaper that what you get from seed catalogues. However, seed companies will likely have fresher seeds, which will have a higher germination rate.

Swap, Trade, Barter

Many towns hold annual plant swaps, which is where I’ve gotten most of my perennial herbs. Check GardenWeb to see if there’s a swap near you. If you’re a brand new gardener with nothing to swap, ask the organizer if you can pick up any leftovers. Also, lookout for non-traditional plant and seed exchanges, since they’re sometimes included with special events at homestead and garden festivals, plant nurseries, or farmer’s markets.

If you don’t have local swaps (and don’t want to start your own), GardenWeb has a section for online exchanges — Check under “Exchanges and Trades.” There are also seed exchange groups on Facebook, like the Great American Seed Swap/Trade Project, The Serious Seed Trader, Free Seed SwapSeed Swap, and Seeds and Plants for Sell or Swap (USA). If you have no seeds to trade, some people will exchange them for a little extra postage.

Ask for Freebies

Gardeners are generally friendly people who don’t mind giving plants away. If you see a plant you like while you’re out and about, ask the owner if you can take a cutting or gather seeds (if it’s the right time). Keep supplies in your car, like pruners, gloves, and plastic bags.

Be Vocal

People won’t know to give you plants and seeds if they don’t even know you’re a gardener. If you know a fellow grower, ask about their garden. Then slip in how you wish you could afford different plants. They may surprise you and offer cuttings or divisions of theirs, or you can offer to trade if you know they have something you want.

If your significant other gives flower bouquets for special holidays, talk to him/her about giving you rooted plants instead. Or learn to root rose cuttings.

Know When to Look

Plants are typically divided in the fall and pruned in late fall or early winter. Those are the times to check Craigslist, Facebook, and other garden or bartering groups for plants and cuttings.

In February and March, some garden bloggers offer seed giveaways. Many have low entry numbers, so try your luck if you see one. Garden blogger groups on Facebook sometimes have posts about the giveaways. SeedsNow also has regular giveaways of their seeds, though they often have a higher number of entries.

Cheap Finds

Some people rave about the clearance deals on half-dead plants at Lowe’s or other big box stores. If you find a great deal, that’s awesome. I’ve personally never had good luck there, as the pickings were too slim or the plants were way too far gone. But I always look when I’m there, just in case.

In the Spring, gardeners often sell their excess seedlings at yard sales and flea markets for cheaper than you’ll find at nurseries and big box stores. School plant sales (sometimes held by the Future Farmers of America, or FFA) often have low prices, too.

Watch for sales, especially when placing seed orders. I’m a big fan of SeedsNow. They have .99 sampler packs, frequent coupon codes, and amazing Black Friday deals. For something closer to home, Walmart and dollar stores usually have seed packets for .25 or less, and their other seeds are often steeply discounted in late spring.

Keep Your Eyes Open

For a few years, I’ve wanted paw paw trees (They are fruit trees, native to the southern US), but the cheapest I found them was $30 each…and you need 2 to pollinate for fruit production. $60 was more than my yearly garden budget, so I’d basically given up on having paw paws. Then I saw a promotion from my local electric company – 2 free paw paw trees!  No strings attached; we just had to pick them up on the designated day. They weren’t skimpy little seedlings either but were already a few feet tall. Moral of the story: You never know where free garden supplies may come from, so keep your eyes open.

How have you gotten free or cheap seeds and plants? I’d love to hear how you stay within a budget!

Healthy Eating on a Budget – Over 50 Tips for Saving Money

cSometimes shopping with a budget can be a game, with a thrill of excitement at how little we spend for so much stuff. I’ve been known to dance in excitement over a great deal.

Healthy Eating on a Budget - Over 50 tips for saving money while eating well | The King's Table

If we keep this mindset on every shopping trip, though, it can harm our health and community. When shopping for food, keep these 3 things in mind:

  1. Junk food may be cheaper, but it has fewer nutrients per ounce and per calorie. This means you have to eat more of the junk than you do healthy foods. Junk costs less, but you have to buy more.
  2. You can sometimes talk a local farmer into lowering prices for you, but remember this is his livelihood and he deserves a fair wage.
  3. The money you spend on healthier foods is also investing in your life. When you provide your body with great nutrition, you’ll likely have more energy and strength to enjoy yourself and possibly have fewer medical costs in the future.

With that said, it is definitely possible to eat healthy on a budget. You’ve probably heard many of these tips already, but here they are as inspiration and motivation to keep at it, no matter how tight your budget is.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through a link, I may receive a small compensation at no extra cost to you.

 Make It Yourself

1. Look at processed foods – all of those boxes and ready-to-eat meals that you buy – and see if you can make any yourself. Salad dressings, yogurt, bread, and ice cream are good examples. When deciding whether store-bought or homemade is cheaper for you, take into account how often you eat the item and how expensive the ingredients are.

2. Use trusted recipes. This is especially important if you’re not an experienced cook or baker. Use recipes from big names like Taste of Home or use highly rated ones from sites like AllRecipes.com. Read reviews when available, since many readers give great advice and trouble-shooting tips. You’ll waste less if the recipe is good.

3. Use your homemade goods as a bargaining chip. “You have an apple tree? Have you ever made your own apple butter?” (Let’s assume they say no, but that they’d like to someday.) “If you share a bushel of apples with me, I can make you a couple of jars of apple butter.”

Waste Less

4. Make a plan for leftovers. Have a “leftovers night” for dinner, plan to have the extras for lunch, or see if it can be frozen. You paid hard-earned money for that food.

5. Use scraps. Freeze bones and vegetable scraps until you have enough to make your own broth or soup. Freeze fruit scraps until you have enough to go in smoothies or for making your own fruit vinegar.

6. Use all edible parts. Did you know you can eat the green tops from carrots and beets? Some local farmers will give edible green tops of root vegetables away or sell them dirt cheap because most people don’t want them. 

7. Prep your foods in advance, especially for snacks. Fruits and vegetables are more likely to be eaten if they are already washed and cut, which means less waste.

8. Substitute foods instead of buying new. Many fruits and vegetables are also interchangeable in recipes, so use what you have. I used chopped radish seed pods in place of green peas in a chicken pot pie. Joy of Baking has a huge list of ingredient substitutions for baking.

9. Eat until you’re satisfied, not stuffed. Overloading your body with excess food has no benefits.

10. Opt for nonfood rewards, preferably free ones. You’re not hungry, so why reward yourself with food?

11. Eat mindfully. Notice what you eat, appreciate the flavor, and chew it well. You eat more when you’re not paying attention, and you miss out on the enjoyment of it.

12. Look at other ways to save money in the kitchen, like having cloth napkins and not turning the oven on in the middle of a summer day. You don’t just pay for food — you pay for the electricity, water, and disposable goods, too. We go through lots of bags for my husband’s lunch, so these reusable sandwich bags are on my wishlist. 

Use Cheaper Foods

Healthy Eating on a Budget - Over 50 tips for spending less while eating well | The King's Table

13. Oats, beans, rice, and bananas are fairly cheap foods. So are the ones on this list (though not all foods on this list will be healthy choices for everyone).

14. Buy cheaper meats, such as whole chickens instead of just breasts. Then use the bones to make homemade broth.

15. Use meat as a compliment to the meal instead of as the star dish. Soups, stews, pasta or grain dishes, and casseroles are great for this.

16. Make the meat go farther by adding vegetables to it. In meatloaf and meatballs, oats, crackers, breadcrumbs, or grated vegetables can be used. The blog Six Figures Under shows how to stretch meat farther by adding pureed vegetables.

17. Keep your eyes open at yard sales, flea markets, and pop-up roadside stands. Couponers and gardeners sometimes have excess that they’re willing to sale more cheaply than the grocery stores.

18. If you need a little fruit or vegetable puree for baking, try a container of baby food (besides pumpkin, which is cheaper in a can). With a sale, it may be cheaper than buying fresh produce, especially if you don’t have a use for the leftovers.

Use Mother Nature

19. Grow it yourself, and grow it cheaply. Anything you grow (and use) will help with food costs, and it also gives you something to barter with.

20. Forage. Food that’s free and healthy? How can we pass this up?! Many healthy foods are cut down as weeds or bypassed as ornamentals. Take a local foraging class to learn what is in your area, and do not eat anything wild unless you are 100% sure of what it is. Fallen Fruit shows locations of public places to forage, and Eat the Weeds is a good resource for learning to identify wild edibles.

21. Grow edible flowers. They are a highly underused resource, abd they’re pretty in your yard and in your salad. Home Cooking has an edible flower chart. They won’t fill you up, but they can spruce up a bland meal.

Plan Ahead

22. Plan your meals ahead of time so you’re not relying on take-out and boxes of processed foods.

23. Prepare snacks or meals to take with you if you will be away from home for longer than 2 hours.

24. Plan for busy nights and sudden emergencies by keeping a couple of homemade meals in the freezer that just need to be heated.

25. When going out to eat, look online at the restaurant’s menu so you’ll have an idea of your options. Also look for coupons or discount gift certificates at Groupon or other discount sites.

26. Know the general prices of your meals — or at least know which are cheap vs. costly. Have a list of cheaper meals in your arsenal, so you know which foods to turn to when you’ve overspent.

27. Keep a wishlist, and take advantage of holidays that have gift giving. If someone asks what you want, never say “oh, nothing. You don’t have to get me anything.” Has that line actually stopped anyone from buying something? Instead, you’ll likely end up with a gift you don’t want or need. You can give specific answers (like a spiralizer  or immersion blender) or general responses (“I could always use a gift card to Whole Foods or something else that makes healthy eating easier.”)

Shop Right

28. Don’t shop when hungry, of course.

29. Make the drive worth it. If a store has organic strawberries on sale for $1.50/lb, the savings of 1 pound isn’t worth the time and gas to get there. Either find more things to buy from their sales ad or call ahead to make sure they have enough in stock for you to buy in bulk.

30. Know the best prices. Until you are familiar with how much you spend on your typical foods, keep a list of prices so you’ll know a good deal when you see it.

31. Get familiar with a variety of stores and markets. You may do most of your shopping at one place, but it’s good to know what else your community offers. Check out farmer’s markets, farms with their own stores, pick-your-own farms, ethnic food stores, discount and bargain stores, and other local places. Azure Standard has great prices if they have a drop off in your area. 

32. Buy items that you’ll use. Something on clearance isn’t a good deal if it gets shoved to the back of your fridge until it expires.

33. Buy quantities that you’ll use. A gallon of milk costs less per ounce than a half gallon, but if you consistently pour out sour milk, buy the smaller size.

34. Buy in bulk when the price is low. For really large quantities, call the store at the beginning of the sale so the manager can order the proper amount. If the item is perishable, buy in bulk only if you know you have the time and resources to preserve it.

35. Check the unit price. In theory, larger packages are cheaper per ounce than smaller packages, but great sales on smaller packs can change this.

36. Use coupons when available. Saving Star has digital coupons to attach to your store cards, and it offers one healthy option each week. Ibotta, a cashback app, has been known to have healthy deals. Checkout 51 is another grocery cashback site, though they have a minimum $20 cashout. Also, some companies will mail you coupons if you email them with compliments or complaints (or you simply ask for coupons).

37. Know your store’s coupon policy, since some stores allow you to use a manufacturer coupon and a store coupon on the same item.

38. Bring sale ads to price match, if the store allows it.

39. Use a credit card, but only if you do well budgeting your money and paying off your card every month. Choose a card that gives cash back for your purchases.

40. Buy frozen foods. When on sale, they’re often cheaper than their fresh counterparts, and you don’t have to worry about using them right away.

Go Online

Healthy Eating on a Budget - Over 50 tips for spending less while eating well | The King's Table
41. Many online retailers are cheaper than what you get in brick-and-mortar stores. My favorites are Amazon, Walmart, Vitacost, The Raw Food World, and Mountain Rose Herbs.

42. Shop through cash back websites before making an online purchase. Join at least 2 sites, since each one offers different percentages and stores. My favorite 3 are TopCashBack, ShopAtHome, and Ebates.

43. Check out blogs dedicated to finding healthier deals, like The Greenbacks Gal.

44. Follow my Pinterest board, Healthier Eating on a Budget, or other relevant boards.

Store It Properly

45. Buying in bulk is only useful if you can keep the food from perishing before you’re ready to consume it. Dry foods with a dehydrator or your oven. You can make things like beef jerky, garlic powder, and fruit roll-ups.

46. Freeze your bulk buys and leftovers with help from this guide: Can You Freeze That? So you don’t have to thaw more than you need, freeze food in small portions, such as in ice cube trays, quart-sized freezer bags, or small glass containers.

47. Store whole grains, beans, dried herbs, etc. in air-tight containers. If your home is prone to mice or other critters, avoid storing anything in plastic bags, since animals and insects can easily chew through them. Sanitized 2-liter bottles are a cheap alternative for storing dry foods.

48. Learn how to properly store your fruits and vegetables so that they stay fresh longer.

Barter and Share

Healthier Eating on a Budget - Over 50 tips for spending less while eating well | The King's Table

49. Ask a local farmer or hobbyist gardener if they’d be interested in trading. Join Simbi, a fairly new bartering community, and see my tips at Bartering: What, Where, and How.

50. Make it known to neighbors, coworkers, friends, and family that you would happily use their excess garden produce (just don’t become obnoxious by reminding them daily). Be friendly to people, and they’ll be more likely to remember you when they have extra. Send a thank you note when they give you something, so that they’ll know to consider you next time, too.

51. Ask. If you see a tree dropping ripe fruit or nuts, ask the owners if you could pick or buy some. Just be polite, not pushy. The Real Farmhouse has a great etiquette guide for getting free produce through gleaning. 

52. Buy in bulk with someone. It can be cheaper to buy a whole cow or 25 pounds of grains instead of smaller portions. To make it a manageable size and cost, ask your family and friends if they want to split the cost.

Whew, that’s all I can think of for now. How do you save money in the kitchen?

This post is linked to the Healthy Living Link Party at A Bountiful Love.

Free and Frugal Gardening: 5 Lessons Learned

I grew my first vegetable plant in 2009 as a way to cut our grocery bill. I was a newlywed right out of college, with no big-time job prospects and plenty of student loans. It made sense to grow a garden with the least amount of expenses, so we had to get creative in some areas. No bagged Miracle Gro or easy pre-built garden beds; they were out of my budget. But I had to come to terms with a few things.

Free and Frugal Gardening: 5 Lessons Learned

1 – A cheap garden may not by pretty. I took what I could get, which means things were going to be mismatched. I had to accept that I wouldn’t have raised beds of all the same materials or nice gravel on all of my pathways. Also, no matter how pretty annual flowers are, I didn’t splurge on a plant whose only purpose is to be colorful. The plants and seeds that I bought had to be edible (or medicinal, if the price was right). I could only get flowers if someone gave me cuttings or I got them free at a plant swap.

2 – I had to be vocal. I typically lean more introverted than extroverted, but people have to know what I need if I want free garden materials. I talked to people about gardening, comparing notes with others about what worked for them and what I’m doing. I made it clear that I was looking for certain plants and materials, so these people thought of me when they had things to get rid of or were dividing plants.

3 – A free garden takes more time to set up. Instead of buying a plant whenever I wanted, I often waited until I found someone with cuttings or extra seeds. Seven years after starting the garden, there are still MANY plants that I plan to get. If I had an extra $1000, I could have bought them all in 2009. Also, instead of going to one store to buy all of the supplies at one time, I drove to different houses on different days to pick up the materials. (Make sure the gas money is worth it before doing this.) I wasn’t able to mulch the whole garden at one time. Leaves were my main source of mulch and people rake on different days, so I got a few bags of leaves one week and more bags the week after. Also, a cheap garden means more DIY stuff, which usually takes extra time compared to premade supplies.

Daylily from The King's Table

I received daylilies during a free plant swap in my city.

4 – I needed a budget, because completely free gardening wasn’t going to happen for me. Maybe a set of seeds didn’t sprout, a free supply of fertilizer fell through, or there was a plant that I just really, REALLY want. Every year, I’ve splurged on something, so a budget makes sure I don’t splurge too much.

5 – You don’t really need much to begin gardening. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the idea of raised beds, fertilizer, plants, seeds, compost, hand tools, row covers, trellises, fencing, and every other cool garden supply. However, the only things that are absolutely necessary are soil, water, seeds, and light (but even soil is negotiable, such as in hydroponics). Yes, unique containers and raised beds are nice. Store-bought soil amendments will help your plants grow better and produce more fruit. A trellis for those cucumbers would be helpful instead of letting them grow on the ground. But if you are absolutely stretched for cash, none of these are necessities. After the necessities, I’d invest in soil amendments, a trowel, and gloves, but your growing medium and personal gardening preferences will determine what you need most.

Gardening for free is possible, but I prefer inexpensive or frugal gardening. It forces me to be creative and less wasteful without feeling deprived. When I have a little extra money for gardening supplies, I ask 3 questions before buying anything. First, how necessary is the item? Second, how difficult would it be to get a free substitute? Third, how many hours do I have to work to pay for the item? In other words, do I want it badly enough to spend those hours working?

Why do you garden? Is it for cheaper produce, the love of gardening, or something else?

Wild Edible: Sheep Sorrel

I was weeding a garden bed this morning and found new sprouts of sheep sorrel. It’s tasty, so I considered leaving it, but it can also be invasive. My desire for spring vegetables won, so the sorrel was pulled. But no worries, it’ll pop up somewhere else.

Sheep sorrel is a great weed to know. With easily recognized leaves that taste similar to lemons, they’re often the first wild edible that people learn.

Wild Edible: Sheep Sorrel

Sheep Sorrel was originally the common name for Rumex acetosella, but nowadays, it may also refer to Rumex hastatulus. With similar shaped leaves, the two are often confused. Other common names are Sour Grass or Sour Dock. Rumex hastatulus is also called Heartwing Sorrel. Both have edible sour leaves, so the photos of this post may be of either variety.

Both types have pointy-tipped leaves with a pair of lobes pointing outward from the leaf base. The leaves are hairless and typically have long petioles. They are shimmery when viewed in the sun, as if someone sprinkled fine glitter on top. The leaf shapes have been compared to arrowheads, swords, and sheep heads – hence the name Sheep Sorrel. The narrow part of the leaf is the head, and the lobes are the ears. The size and shape of the leaves will vary greatly based on growing conditions.

The photo below is of new leaves, which grow in a basal rosette close to the ground. They emerge in the cool weather of early spring or fall. The presence and distinction of the lobes may vary on young leaves, but they often become more pronounced as the plant ages.

sheep-sorrel1

Smaller, narrower leaves grow along the stem of the plant. Stem leaves grow alternate of each other, and often don’t have as defined of lobes on the sides (shown below).

Sheep Sorrel Leaves

The tiny flowers on the stalk turn shades of red as they mature. If you’re driving along and see a field speckled with red, it may be sheep sorrel, like in the photo below.

Field of Sheep Sorrel

The flowering stems are ridged and often tinted red. Most sites say sheep sorrel flowers from March to November, but this will vary by location. I’m in zone 7 with summers up to 100 degrees F, and the plants die back in the mid-summer heat. I normally see flowers in late spring and mid to late fall.

Flowers of Sheep Sorrel

Both Rumex acetosella and Rumex hastatulus are typically grown as perennials. R. acetosella is native to Eurasia and the British Isles but is now common through much of the US. Its roots are more mat growing, and the flowering stems rarely get above 18 inches high. R. hastatulus is native to North America. It has a taproot and grows 2 feet tall or more. R. hastatulus has winged seeds (hence the name Heartwing Sorrel) while R. acetosella does not.

The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. Over consumption (massive amounts) can cause abdominal cramping, stomach pain, or diarrhea. If your doctor has put you on a low oxalate diet, consumption of sheep sorrel is not recommended. When cooking sorrel, cast iron or aluminum cookware is not recommended, as the metal can cause a metallic taste by interacting with the oxalic acid of the leaves.

Sheep Sorrel Leaves

The roots can be dried, and then made into a tea or powder. Supposedly, this powder can be used to make noodles, but I haven’t found anyone who has tried this yet. The seeds are also edible, but they are too tiny to do much with.

So why consume sheep sorrel leaves? Mainly because they taste good (if you like sour things), but they also have many purported health benefits.

What is it good for?

Sheep sorrel contains vitamin C, vitamin A, calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, and a small amount of zinc. It is also an excellent antioxidant and contains compounds that may be effective against bacteria, viral infections, and intestinal worms.

Traditionally, the leaves have been used for inflammation, as a diuretic, and for help moving food through the digestive tract. A tea made from sorrel roots has been used to improve diarrhea and excessive menstrual bleeding. However, few scientific studies have been done to see if the plant is as effective as herbal practitioners have claimed over the years.

Rumex acetosella is a main ingredient in the cancer-fighting Essiac tea. The best decoctions use 25% of the root and 75% aerial parts, but products with the root are uncommon. The leaves can be harvested multiple times, but digging up the root kills the plant. It’s not profitable for farmers to harvest the roots, and the varieties that use the root are expensive because of this. (To buy with sorrel root, here’s the Regular Essiac Tea and the Extended Essiac Formula.)

How can you use the leaves?

I have a few suggestions:
1. Toss a few raw leaves in a salad or smoothie
2. Steep the leaves in a tea
3. Make Sorrel Sauce for Seafood or Cooked Vegetablesfrom Mother Earth News
4. Use recipes that call for garden sorrel or other sorrels, such as this Sorrel Soup from Leda Merideth

Have you tried sheep sorrel? Do you eat other wild edibles or weeds?

Why Are Healthy Foods So Expensive?

Americans, myself included, are used to cheap foods. That’s one area of our budget where we feel we have some control and can reduce spending. But perhaps it’s this mindset that needs changing, since you get what you pay for.  Would you consider buying a car that falls apart from the smallest ding, just because it was cheaper? Not likely. It’s a poor value for your money, and it’s unsafe. We can’t survive without eating, so why don’t we put the same priority on food? That bag of cookies with nutrient-depleted wheat, genetically modified sugar, chemical preservatives, and artificial flavors is the cheap car.

Why Are Healthy Foods So Expensive? | The King's Table

Still, the question remains: Why are healthier foods so much more expensive?

First, a definition of healthier. It could mean no artificial ingredients, organic, grass fed / pasture raised animal products, or produce grown in nutrient-rich soil. Each definition has different factors that influence price.

1. Subsidies – The Biggest Reason

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) distributes approximately $25 billion of tax money every year to the farming industry. A subsidy is money given by the government to farmers and farm-land owners to assist them. The initial idea was so the price of food would remain low and competitive, and farmers would be able to make decent wages even if crops failed. Unfortunately, the idea has been corrupted. Downsizing Government has a more in-depth look at how subsidies are abused, if you’re interested.

Subsidies are provided for over 100 crops, but a few of the main ones covered are the ubiquitous wheat, corn, and soybean. These subsidies mean select foods can be super cheap for the consumer, like the junk foods that rely on these ingredients. But in a roundabout way, subsidies discourage farmers from finding the best practices, so crops may be grown in nutrient-depleted soil and sprayed with plenty of chemicals.

2. Organic costs extra for the farmer and food manufacturer.

“Certified organic” is a legal term, and growers and producers have to undergo inspections in order to use it. This can be a costly process from several hundred to a few thousand dollars, along with a certification fee that must be paid each year. That’s not counting any extra expenses for meeting organic requirements, such as researching new pest management techniques or finding sources for organic ingredients.

3. Modern ingredients have been bred to have higher yields.

If you start looking for nutrient-rich varieties like your ancestors had, you’ll end up paying more because farmers get less per plant or animal. Many modern varieties of grains, produce, and animal products have been hybridized or manipulated for higher profits, often to the detriment of nutrients. Examples of products with inferior nutrient profiles are modern wheat bred to have more grains per stalk, super-sized tomatoes that travel without bruising, and animals that fatten faster than their grass-fed counterparts.

4. Chemicals are cheaper than the real deal.

Healthy foods are flavored with herbs, spices, whole foods, and healthy fats, and the costs for those add up. It’s cheaper to have an alternative, like MSG or a flavor packet (listed as artificial flavors) to mimic the real foods.

5. Whole foods have a short shelf life, so more is wasted.

Junk foods have preservatives, which equals a longer shelf leaf and a longer opportunity to be sold. Fresh whole foods may go bad within a couple of days, and farmers and food sellers have to price items so that they don’t take a loss when products are wasted.

So what do you think? Is the higher price worth it? Can you think of other reasons that healthier foods are more expensive?

Luckily there’s hope for our food budgets! Check out Healthy Eating on a Budget — Over 50 tips for saving money while eating well.

Einkorn Wheat – What it is and why I use it

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through a link, I may receive a small amount of compensation at no extra charge to you.

Einkorn Wheat | The King's Table

 

Einkorn has been eaten for thousands of years, but it’s come back to the mainstream only recently. It was one of the first crops domesticated by farmers about 10,000 years ago, and it fell by the wayside as hybridization led to wheat strands with higher yields. Wheat has undergone the most change over the last 100 years, and modern wheat is now very different from that original einkorn. These changes have produced a wheat that is harder for many people to digest, thanks to a different gluten profile (among other differences). Jovial Foods, the company responsible for reintroducing us to einkorn, has much more info about the grain. Those with a wheat allergy or gluten sensitivity may be able to eat einkorn. It varies from person to person. However, it’s not recommended for those with Celiac disease. Einkorn contains a different protein profile, but it stills has gluten.

Because einkorn has a smaller yield than modern wheat, the cost is higher. Is the expense worth it? For me, definitely so. If I eat modern wheat for 2 consecutive days, I feel miserable. Everything aches, my chest burns, and my mood is “you better stay away from me!” I don’t get like that with einkorn wheat. Okay, I might have those effects if I ate einkorn every single day for months, but I’m not going to try that. I talk about why in my post Eat All the Foods! My Kind of Diet.

I buy Jovial brand of whole einkorn berries from Amazon – 10 pounds for about $26, when it’s available – and grind it into flour at home. You can also buy the flour or berries from Vitacost (4% cashback if you shop through TopCashBack), Tropical Traditions, and Einkorn.com.

It needs to be said that baking with einkorn is different than using modern wheat. Since the gluten profile is different, breads and such don’t bake quite the same. It’s a very sticky flour when wet, and less liquid is typically needed in recipes. (The founders of Jovial Foods have taken care of this problem, too, and produced an einkorn cookbook.) Homeground flours, though, usually absorb more water than all-purpose ones. So, in my experience, I can use the normal amount of liquid in recipes if I use homeground einkorn. The factors seem to balance out.

Have you tried einkorn yet? If you’ve baked with it, did you find it difficult to use at first?

The Edible Radish Plant – How to Eat More Than the Root

It’s almost time to plant radish seeds in my area, and as always, I wonder if this will be the year that I learn to like the root vegetable. I’ve tried it a few different ways, and the only time it’s okay is if it’s completely hidden in a dish. But that’s okay, because I don’t grow radishes for the roots.

Did you know the entire radish plant is edible?

Edible Radish Plant

 

The leaves, flowers, and seed pods can all be eaten raw or cooked. They have a peppery flavor, like a milder version of the root vegetable. If you’re like me and don’t like the root, try the above-ground parts.

Most varieties of radishes have little prickly hairs on the leaves, especially as the plant gets older, so I don’t recommend them for salads. Fortunately, the prickliness disappears when cooked or when the raw leaves are pulverized, like in this radish leaf pesto from Chocolate and Zucchini. The flowers and flower buds, however, make a pretty last minute addition to salads. The blooms wilt quickly, so refrigerate them if you’re not using them immediately.

Radish Plants

Flowering radish plants, after heavy winds blew them into a tangled mess.

Radish leaves are tender, especially when young, so cook them in recipes that call for other tender greens (like in place of spinach). You can pick leaves individually throughout the growing season, or you can harvest the leaves all at once when you gather the roots. Separate the stems from the root vegetable during storage, or else the bulbs will continue to draw moisture and nutrients from the leaves.

Now for my favorite part of radish plants: the seed pods. They’re crunchy, like a peppery version of a sugar snap pea. They’re great in salads or as a snack with vegetable dip. I’ve also chopped and added them to cooked dishes like stir-fries, chicken pot pie, and vegetable soups. Much of the peppery taste disappears with longer cooking times, so they add something green to the chicken pot pie and soups but don’t contribute much to the flavor. Seed pods will be ready to pick about 2 months after planting. Depending on the size and texture you want, they can be harvested shortly after they appear or you can wait a week or so until the seeds have developed more.

The stems are technically edible, but I’ve never tried them. I imagine they’re rather fibrous and tough, but they could probably be juiced with other vegetables for a homemade V8.

Have you eaten the above-ground parts of the radish plant, or are you ready to? How would you cook or serve it?

Eat All the Foods! My Kind of Diet

At various times over the last decade, I’ve tried a variety of diets, including gluten-free, paleo, vegan, and vegetarian. And I came to one conclusion: I like food, and I don’t like to remove entire food groups. For various health reasons, some people need to remove different food groups, so I’m not knocking any diet. I’m simply going to share what’s working for me.

eat-all-the-foods

Thanks to mold exposure that wrecked havoc on my digestive system, I have a physical reaction to almost any food that’s eaten consistently. Nuts, berries, coconut, bananas, squash…the list goes on. I can’t eat them for multiple days in a row. You know those menu plans that list the same thing for breakfast every day of the week? They’re not for me.

But it’s all okay, because as I’ve tried different ingredients, I’ve realized how much I like variety. I’m on a lose rotation die. A strict rotation diet allows you to eat the same food every 4 days – meaning if you ate anything with eggs on Monday, you couldn’t eat them again until Friday. I don’t do that. I might feel marginally better if I did, since there are some things I still eat too often, but I think the stress of following a strict rotation diet would cancel out the benefits.

For me, a lose rotation diet simply means I have a wide variety of foods on hand, and I keep a menu plan to make sure I have a semblance of a rotation.

Throughout the week, I may eat whole wheat waffles, gluten-free bread, and paleo brownies. Muffins may have eggs and cow’s milk, or they may have a chia seed egg-substitute and milk alternative. Nothing is strictly off limits, as long as it’s a God-made food. (I try to avoid most chemical foods, but I don’t beat myself up about it when I do eat the junk.)

Pros: Variety is the spice of life! Every food has a different nutrition profile, and by eating a variety, I’m less likely to be deficient or have an excess of a specific nutrient. And I’m less likely to develop an intolerance to a food, since that’s becoming more common nowadays when you eat the same foods day in and day out. I can also make do with what’s on sale, since I’m used to cooking/baking with different ingredients.

Cons: My grocery list is wide and varied, and it requires plenty of space to keep so many different kinds of food. I’m thankful to have a large pantry and a chest freezer. However, it can be difficult when family members want to cook for me. “Can you eat cashews?” they ask. Well, not today. I’ve eaten them for the last 2 days, and I know from experience that a third day will cause an uncomfortable reaction.

All of that to say, you’ll see different kinds of recipes on this blog in the future. Some may follow specific diets, and some may have ingredients that you’ve never heard of or considered. Things like lambsquarter, mesquite, and teff. Or squash powder, jicama, and purslane.

So what about you — do you follow a specific diet? Are you strict or fairly loose about it?