Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Tips for Planting the Summer Vegetable Garden

Here in southern New Mexico, we pass our last frost date near the beginning of May, so it is time to plant the summer garden. This will be my family's 9th year of vegetable gardening, and in that time we have learned many lessons on what makes gardening successful here. Every location has its own unique challenges, yet there are some basics that every garden needs, including good soil, the right amount of water, and plenty of sunshine.

Plan It Out

Each year, before we start planting, I take a little time to plan out the garden. When it comes time to actually plant, there are always a few deviations from the plan, but the initial planning gets us started in the right direction. When planning our garden, I make sure to do each of the following:

  • Take stock of old seeds - We always seem to have some old seed packets from previous years of gardening. We typically find that most of the old seeds will still germinate well for a few years beyond the "Best By" dates on the seed packets. If we're unsure, sometimes I will test a few seeds to make sure they will germinate by planting them in a small pot indoors where I can water them daily in the weeks leading up to our last frost date. 
  • Plan for companion plants - One way to help plants thrive is to plant "companion" plants which are mutually beneficial to each other. For instance, tomatoes will benefit from being planted near parsley and dill, and would enjoy the afternoon shade offered by sunflowers. Basil likes to be planted near tomatoes. For more ideas, check out my article on companion planting with herbs
  • Get a rough idea of plant placement - We always make sure to plant the summer garden in a location with at least 6 hours of sun per day. Although we've tried experimenting with raised bed gardening and container gardening, we have found planting in the ground to be our most successful method for summer gardening. To reduce pests and diseases, we also make sure not to plant the same type of plants in the same location year after year. Based on the expected size of each type of plant, I will make a rough plan of where different types of plants will be located.

Prep the Soil and Add Compost

Good soil is key to a flourishing garden. The ideal soil will have plenty of nutrients for the plants, will drain away excess water to prevent root rot, and will also retain enough moisture to keep the plants from drying out too much between waterings. Although I have experimented with several no-till methods, I generally find it beneficial to turn over the dirt in my garden annually down to a depth of about 12-18 inches. This ensures that the ground is not too hard-packed so that roots can easily grow, and it also helps to mix nutrients evenly into the soil since certain areas may have been depleted by previous plantings.

Overly sandy soil drains too quickly and the plants can dry out too much, whereas areas with a high clay content in the soil can have the opposite problem of draining very slowly and becoming very hard-packed (which makes it hard for roots to grow). Since the native soil in my garden area is very sandy and highly alkaline, I amend it each year to improve its nutrient-content and water retention. Compost and peat moss are both excellent additions to my garden soil. [In places where the native soil is acidic, peat moss would not be a good addition to garden soil (since it is highly acidic)].

Compost is my favorite soil amendment, as it adds many nutrients to the soil as well as humus (which helps with water retention). Compost can be expensive if purchased by-the-bag, but by having an active compost pile it can be produced at home with vegetable scraps and yard waste. Another good option to check into is whether or not there is compost available at the city landfill. In my area, we can get compost for free at the city landfill.

At our house, we let our chickens do the work of composting for us.
Using a method I learned about in The Small-Scale Poultry Flock, we have deep mulch in our chicken coop, which consists of leaves and other dried vegetation from around our property. The mulch combines with kitchen scraps and chicken manure to make compost. The chickens do most of the work of turning and mixing the compost; I only occasionally need to turn over the soil under the roost areas where the manure can start to pile up. Because we live in the desert, I do need to water the mulch fairly regularly in the hot months to ensure that the compost is moist enough. With this deep mulch method, I was able to harvest 5 wheelbarrows full of beautiful compost to be used in our summer garden this year.

Each year, I add more compost to my garden so that over time, our garden soil is improving year by year. One caution when using compost is to make sure that it is fully composted before planting vegetables in it to ensure it will not burn the seedlings. A good general rule of thumb is to amend the soil with compost and then wait 1-2 weeks before planting.

Get to Planting

Once the soil is ready, we can start planting! Some plants, like tomatoes, are planted individually with plenty of space between plants. Other plants, such as corn and beans, are planted in rows. And then squash, cucumbers, and melons are planted in hills. Seed packets for each type of plant include instructions for how deep to plant the seeds and how far apart they should be spaced.

We typically plant everything from seed except for tomatoes. When transplanting tomato plants, it is a good idea to plant them much deeper than other seedlings. The bottom of the main stem (which includes some leaves) should be buried in the ground. This will give the tomato plants a head start as roots will grow off the main stem.
This year, the edible plants we're growing will be:
  • Tomatoes 
  • Pumpkins 
  • Cucumbers 
  • Sunflowers and Marigolds 
  • Sweet Potatoes 
  • Watermelons
  • Green Onions
  • Carrots 
  • Bush Beans
  • Basil, Thyme, Oregano, and Rosemary

Make it Beautiful with Flowers

Planting flowers in the vegetable garden makes the garden beautiful to look at and it aids the vegetables, too. For instance, sunflowers can provide late-afternoon shade for tomatoes, marigolds can benefit strawberries, and zinnias can attract lots of beneficial pollinators. Nasturtiums are also great to plant as bugs are more attracted to them than to the veggies. My daughter, especially, loves to plant lots of flowers in our summer garden.

Set up the Watering System

Where we live, the yearly rainfall is only 8-11 inches so supplemental watering of the garden is absolutely required. I have experimented with many different types of watering systems for our garden, including sprinklers (which end up using the most water), watering with a hose by hand (which I find time-consuming and laborious), and drip irrigation (which doesn't work particularly well in our very sandy soil as the water drains straight down rather than spreading to an area around each emitter). Thus far, my favorite watering methods are using soaker hoses and/or sprinklers in combination with an automatic timer. In areas where the soil has more natural humus content, drip irrigation may be a good match.


Once we are done transplanting and our seeds have started growing well, it is highly beneficial to apply a layer of mulch to the garden. Mulch helps to keep the ground from drying out too much, and it also keeps the plants off of the moist ground. I have successfully used alfalfa hay, shredded wood, broken down sticks/vegetation from our property, and pine needles as mulch in our garden. One key is to make sure that I apply the mulch over the top of the soaker hoses, which allows the moisture to be retained very well in the ground.

Get the Kids Involved

Gardening is an integral part of our homeschool curriculum. When kids are involved in the garden, they gain an appreciation and understanding of where their food comes from. It teaches them about the life cycle of plants, lets them feel responsible and confident, and gives them skills for their own gardening endeavors as they grow up.

My children have each had their own gardening space in our family's garden since they were 3-years-old. As they grow older they are given larger areas to garden in each year. Many family memories have been made when we are working alongside each other in the family garden. And my children are immeasurably proud when they get to harvest food for our table from their own gardens.

Watch it Grow and Enjoy the Harvest

Once our garden is planted, it's time to enjoy watching it grow until the foods are ready to harvest. Years ago, a friend gave me the great idea to keep a gardening journal. Each year, I record what was planted, when it was planted, and how it faired. This helps me keep track from year-to-year of what worked best, which specific varieties did not tolerate our climate well, etc.

Vegetable gardening is beautiful and healthy way to be involved in the production of healthy foods. It allows us to celebrate the seasons as we observe the cycles of growth, abundance, and decay. For our family, gardening is a tradition that enriches our lives as well as our relationships with each other and our land.

Do you have a vegetable garden? What are your favorite things to grow?

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Poutine: French Fries with Gravy and Cheese (gluten-free : nutrient-dense)

Last semester when my family "visited" Canada on our homeschool world trip, we discovered poutine, which is essentially french fries topped with gravy and cheese. This semester, while focusing on the United States,we discovered that poutine is also a treasured food in the northeastern states. New Hampshire even has a poutine festival!

When making the homemade oven fries, I use a combination of refined coconut oil and sunflower oil. Coconut oil is über healthy, but its smoke-point is too low to use it alone. By combining the coconut oil with sunflower oil, the overall smoke-point of the oil is higher so I can achieve a nice crispness to the fries by cooking them at a high temperature.

Poutine is not gourmet, and not even particularly pretty, but it is SO good! My family does a happy dance every time I make poutine. I hope you and your family enjoy it as much as we do.

Serves 3
Make the Oven Fries:
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Wash and dry the potatoes. Remove any bad spots. Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise.
  3. Slice the potatoes thinly, a bit less than 1/8-inch thick. Spread them out on two baking sheets. I like to put the smaller pieces (from closer to the ends of the potatoes) on one baking sheet and the larger pieces on another baking sheet, since the smaller ones tend to cook faster.
  4. Drizzle the sunflower oil over the potatoes. Add the coconut oil, and mix all around to make sure the potatoes are well-coated with oil. I find that using my hands work best for this. 
  5. Spread the potatoes back out to make sure they are in a single layer. Sprinkle with finely ground Celtic sea salt.
  6. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the edges of the potatoes are starting to brown. 
  7. Remove the potatoes from the oven (one sheet at a time) and flip over the potatoes. Then swap the placement in the oven (whichever sheet was on the upper rack should now go on the lower rack). Bake again for ~10-15 minutes longer. The smaller fries will tend to cook faster than the larger ones, so they'll probably be done a few minutes before the larger fries.
  8. While the fries cook, prepare the gravy as described below.
  9. As soon as the potatoes are done baking, sprinkle them again with salt.
  10. Place the cooked fries on a paper-towel-lined-plate to drain off most of the excess oil. 
Make the Gravy and Prepare the Cheese:
  1. Cut the cheese into smallish cubes and set aside.
  2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. 
  3. Whisk in the rice flour and allow to cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently.
  4. Whisk in the chicken bone broth. Add the salt and bring to a boil. (My homemade chicken broth is not salted. If you are using salted broth, make sure to reduce the amount of salt accordingly.)
  5. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for a few minutes to let the gravy thicken.
  6. Reduce heat to low, stirring occasionally, until the fries are done.
Assemble the Poutine:
  1. Divide up the fries evenly onto plates. Do NOT eat any fries yet, or you'll never stop 'cause they are addicting!
  2. Top the fries with the Mozzarella chunks.
  3. Spoon gravy over it all. There will likely be a little leftover gravy, but better too much gravy than not enough.
  4. Serve and enjoy! Some perfect accompaniments would be marinated cabbage salad or a green salad topped with honey mustard mayo dressing.

*Traditionally, poutine is made with cheese curds. However, I can't purchase cheese curds locally at any of the stores where I shop, so I have substituted Mozzarella. 

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Monday, April 10, 2017

Homeopathic Remedies for Treating Vaccine Reactions

Although my husband and I have made an informed decision not to vaccinate our own children, I believe that the decision of whether or not to vaccinate is a fundamental right of parenthood. For parents who choose to vaccinate, or for people who are compelled to vaccinate by law, I wanted to share information about how homeopathy can be used to treat vaccine reactions.

Click Here to View Vaccine Flyer

Vaccine Reactions 

The unfortunate truth is that vaccine reactions do really occur. Sometimes the negative effects are obvious, and other times the effects take longer to develop and have a detrimental effect on long-term chronic health. According to the National Vaccine Information Center [1]:

 "Some vaccine reaction symptoms include:
  • Pronounced swelling, redness, heat or hardness at the site of the injection;
  • Body rash or hives;
  • Shock/collapse;
  • High pitched screaming or persistent crying for hours;
  • Extreme sleepiness or long periods of unresponsiveness;
  • Twitching or jerking of the body, arm, leg or head;
  • Crossing of eyes;
  • Weakness or paralysis of any part of the body;
  • Loss of ability to roll over, sit up or stand up;
  • Loss of eye contact or awareness or social withdrawal;
  • Head banging or onset of repetitive movements (flapping, rubbing, rocking, spinning);
  • High fever (over 103 F)
  • Vision or hearing loss;
  • Restlessness, hyperactivity or inability to concentrate;
  • Sleep disturbances that change wake/sleep pattern;
  • Joint pain or muscle weakness;
  • Disabling fatigue;
  • Loss of memory;
  • Onset of chronic ear or respiratory infections;
  • Violent or persistent diarrhea or chronic constipation;
  • Breathing problems (asthma);
  • Excessive bleeding (thrombocytopenia) or anemia."

Can Homeopathy Really Help?

Homeopaths have long known that there are specific homeopathic remedies that can help counter the negative effects of vaccines. For instance, in the 1800's homeopathic remedies were found to work well to counter the negative effects of the smallpox vaccine. J. Compton Burnett M.D. even wrote a whole book filled with cases where homeopathic Thuja was able to reverse vaccine-induced damage in his book, "Vaccinosis and Its Cure by Thuja", published in 1884 [2].

Disclaimer: The uses of homeopathic remedies described in this article are provided for educational use only. 

Thuja - The Top Remedy for Ailments From Vaccination

Homeopathic Thuja occidentalis is the remedy most often considered for ill effects from vaccines. As described by Catherine Coulter in Portraits of Homoeopathic Medicines Vol. 3, "Although it was originally noted for its helpful effects in negating smallpox vaccine reactions, "Thuja has proved to be invaluable in a number of the wide range of physical and neurological disorders whose onset can be traced back to the time of inoculation: repeated middle ear infections, eczema, asthma, enuresis, chronic nasal catarrhs or diarrhea, sleep or eating problems, head-banging in infancy and excessive rocking in the older child. It is either the prime remedy for a particular affliction, the cleanser after inoculation, or a supportive remedy to Silica, Sulphur, and others" [3].

Dr. Margaret Tyler also wrote of numerous cases of vaccinosis cured by the use of homeopathic Thuja in her book, Homoeopathic Drug Pictures [4]. Some examples from her book include the following:

"Small girl, ever since vaccination, pustules on legs, or alternately, when these disappeared, epileptic fits. Thuja quickly cured.  
"Small boy, purulent onychia [infection in the fingernail], very intractable. Nail removed and thumb healed. Then abscesses in different parts of the body, till it was discovered that he had been eight times vaccinated by a persistent and conscientious G.P. Thuja promptly ended the trouble... 
"Years of incapacitating headaches in the mother of a very noisy family of young children. Much vaccinated. Was given Thuja. This was some thirty years ago. Seen recently. 'Never had a recurrence of those headaches.'"
Clearly, Thuja is a hugely beneficial remedy for dealing with negative after-effects from vaccination.

Other Helpful Remedies

Beyond Thuja, homeopathic Silicea is one of the more prominent remedies for dealing with vaccine reactions. Silicea is known to have helped with post-vaccination convulsions, nausea, diarrhea, skin eruptions, and swelling of the upper arms. Other remedies such as ArnicaLedumCalcarea carbonicaMezereum, and Sulphur are also known to be helpful in treating vaccine reactions. The homeopathic form of the vaccines themselves has also been used by some homeopaths with good success, such as using homeopathically potentized DPT vaccine. Some more remedies that can be helpful after vaccination are described here and here.

The whooping cough (pertussis) vaccine, which is the "P" in the DPT, Tdap, or DTaP shot, is known for producing more negative after-effects than other vaccines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website acknowledges that "mild problems" occur after the DTaP shot in up to 1 out of 3 children, and also lists "moderate" and "severe problems" which are known to occur in lesser numbers [5]. In Portraits of Homeopathic Medicines Vol. 2Catherine Coulter recommends the following uses of homeopathic remedies to counter the negative effects of the whooping cough vaccine:
"If the parents decide to vaccinate the child against whooping cough, homoeopathic remedies can play a significant preventive role in mitigating the vaccine's ill effects. Several procedures are possible. Hypericum, the principal remedy for nerve injuries, can be administered in medium potency prior to the injection, thus minimizing damage to the central nervous system. Shortly after the injection the remedy to give is Ledum ('ill effects from punctured wounds': Boericke), also in medium potency, to counter the ensuing high fever or inflammatory reaction. Thuja can also be administered preventitively, to avert or minimize future ill-effects of vaccination; it should be given soon after the shot, before any symptoms have developed.
"If the child reacts violently to the vaccine (high fever, high-pitched screaming, excessive drowsiness, fainting, convulsions, holding of breath, etc.), either Ledum should be repeated more often or other remedies should be tried: Belladonna for the high fever, Chamomilla for "arrested breathing suddenly in children' (Kent), and so forth." [6

Disclaimer: The uses of homeopathic remedies described in this article are provided for educational use only.  

Dosing Information

As a general rule of thumb, 30c is a medium potency that can be used successfully for most people. However, for newborns or anyone with hypersensitivities, lower potencies (such as 6c) may be more appropriate.

Typically, if there is no obvious improvement within 3-4 doses of any particular homeopathic remedy, the remedy should be discontinued.

With all homeopathic remedies, the least number of doses is always the best. Anytime there is a noticeable improvement, dosing needs to be slowed down and observation is key to determining when to give any further doses. Homeopathic remedies work by stimulating the body to heal itself; once the body has started healing itself no more remedy is needed unless the symptoms start to regress (or unless there is a plateau, where the symptoms get better to a point but then stop improving).

Disclaimer: The uses of homeopathic remedies described in this article are provided for educational use only.  I am not a doctor or licensed healthcare professional. I am a homeopathic practitioner whose services are considered complementary and alternative by the state of New Mexico. The uses of homeopathic remedies described herein are provided for educational use only.  


[1] National Vaccine Information Center, If You Vaccinate, Ask 8! What You Need to Know Before & After Vaccination, retrieved from
[2] Burnett, J. Compton, M.D., Vaccinosis and Its Cure by Thuja; With Remarks on Homoeoprophylaxis, The Homoeopathic Publishing Company, London, England, 1884.
[3] Coulter, Catherine R., The Child and "Vaccinosis", Portraits of Homoeopathic Medicines, Vol. 3, pp. 107-116, Quality Medical Publishing, Missouri, USA 1998.
[4] Tyler, Dr. M.L., "Thuja", Homoeopathic Drug Pictures, pp. 1012-1024, B. Jain Publishers Ltd., New Delhi, India 2004.
[5] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Possible Side-effects From Vaccines, retrieved from
[6] Coulter, Catherine R., Silica Appendix, Portraits of Homoeopathic Medicines, Vol. 2, pp. 102-106, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, USA 1988.

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Friday, April 7, 2017

Wyoming Baked Beans (grain-free : gluten-free : dairy-free : nutrient-dense)

My children and I are continuing our homeschool unit on the United States, and that means I have the opportunity to find more family favorite recipes from the regions we are studying. The latest recipe is Wyoming Baked Beans. I created this recipe the way I often create new recipes: by looking at several recipe variants of a dish and then mish-mashing them all together in the way I think will appeal most to my family's tastes. So I would say this recipe has been inspired by recipes for Wyoming Baked Beans, rather than being an authentic recipe for that region. 

Wyoming Baked Beans combines beans, beef, bacon, and vegetables, with a tasty tomato-based sauce. This dish could be a main course or a side dish. Everyone in my family enjoyed this recipe. 

Wyoming Baked Beans
Serves 6-8
  1. In a large bowl, cover the beans with plenty of filtered water and the baking soda. The beans will soak up quite a bit of water, so be sure to add plenty. Cover and allow to soak overnight. This important step reduces the phytic acid antinutrient in the beans.
  2. Drain and rinse the beans. Place the beans in a medium-large pot, cover with filtered water, and bring to a boil. Skim off and discard the foam. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, stir in 1 Tb salt, and cook until the beans are soft, about 1.5-2 hours. Stir occasionally.
  3. Drain the cooked beans, reserving the liquid for later use. 
  4. In a large (4 quart) oven-safe pot, sauté the bacon for a few minutes until the fat has been rendered (melted). Meanwhile, chop the onion.
  5. Add the onion to the pot and sauté in the bacon grease for about 5 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, chop the celery and carrots.
  7. Crumble the ground beef into the pot. Add the carrots, celery, 1 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper.
  8. Brown the ground beef for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.
  9. Meanwhile, combine the ketchup, molasses, allspice, apple cider vinegar, and Dijon mustard. Stir to combine.
  10. Sprinkle the sucanat over the meat and vegetable mixture. Stir in the ketchup mixture and 3/4 cup of the reserved bean liquid.
  11. Put a lid on the pot and bake at 300 degrees for about 1 hour 15 minutes. If the beans look too dry, stir in a bit more of the reserved bean liquid. Remove the lid from the pot for the last 15 minutes of baking. 
  12. Remove from the oven, stir the pot, and allow to cool a bit before serving. Marinated cabbage salad and/or fresh vegetables dipped in homemade ranch dressing pair well with this recipe.

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