Monday, November 25, 2013

Growing Market-Ready BASIL

After 19 years of Market Gardening, I am having a hard time saying good-bye to basil.  :-}  For many years, one of my "hats" has been being known as "The Basil Lady"  ;-D.  But life plans evolve, and in this one case, a sensitivity to basil has grown from too many years of harvesting hundreds of pounds of basil, with bare hands.  So the first rule of growing large quantities of basil is... find some thin, comfortable, washable gloves!

Great basil starts with good seed selection.  My favorite seed source over the years, for basil, is Johnnys Seeds.  I always grow at least 2 varieties, one being the sturdy Nufar.  Why?  Different basils will do better, grow differently, at different points of the summer.  A minimum of 2 varieties will help even out your marketing season!

Good soil preparation is key also.  Plan as if for any greens... loose soil, good pH, good fertility, balanced micronutrients.  Soil testing can help.

Basil is EXTREMELY cold intolerant.  It turns lovely fall colors if the temperature falls below 38... not  at all marketable!  Being in SW Montana... basil takes a lot of preparation and monitoring to keep it growing vigorously and well.  Plan to have your beds in a full sun area, hoophouse or fabric covered beds preferred.  Basil likes humidity, but too much humidity with too little of airflow sets the stage for mold diseases to attack.  We like to space the basil 12" apart within a row, with the rows at least 12" apart.... plants alternating in each row such that they're more like 15" apart on a diagonal.  In other words, Row1 will have basil at 12", 24", 36", etc.  Row 2 will have basil at 6", 18", etc.

For us, 260 basil plants have managed to consistently produce 6-10# of basil per week, from July 1st until frozen out.

We microirrigate our basil... daily when temps are over 90 degrees in the hoop house, but for shorter lengths of time (so the ground doesn't get too wet).  Since Montana air is super dry in summer, we also hose spray down our basil beds twice a day... with the second spraying being at least 2 hours before dark.  Please note that we have water from a deep well... drinking quality.  Spraydowns may not be permitted if you're using surface water to irrigate.  We do not spraydown on harvest mornings, nor do we harvest unless the basil is 100% dry (or it will not keep well at all).

Our basil has always been started indoors mid to late March in Eliot Coleman's soil block recipe, on a heating mat until germinated.  The baby basil grows at about 65-70 degrees.  The temp is lowered to about 55-60 a couple of weeks before planting time, and the plants pinched back for bushier growth.

Basil is fragile.  Rather than keep moving trays in and out to help acclimate it to hoop house, I wait for a cloudy day in late May or even early June, depending on the year, water the beds, plant the basil transplants, turn the water on again for another 30 minutes while I COVER the baby plants with agrifabric for both warmth and shade.  In a couple of days, when the basil are getting over the shock of being bothered (and they are drama queens about it!), I start a week or more process of giving them early morning and late afternoon sunlight... maybe 30 minutes at first, and keep working it up until they are in full sun all day long.  They WILL sunburn if you go too fast on this step.  If cold nighttime temps threaten, the cover goes back on for the night.  It's best to have these covers draped over some low hoops to avoid damaging the basil.  Once the temperatures stay more consistent, go ahead and remove the covers completely, or you'll have a source of bugs and mold under the cloth where it lays on the ground!

Be diligent hunting first thing every morning for GRASSHOPPERS, who adore basil.  Grasshoppers move their slowest at dawn.  If you can afford to insect screen your hoop house, that greatly helps.  "Semaspore", a locally made bran with a bacteria on it that slowly kills grasshoppers, is highly recommended for spreading all around your basil plants (even your farm).  If you sprinkle the bran ON the basil, it tends to glue itself on... not marketable!  Compost any basil the grasshoppers have eaten and/or defacated on... not marketable.

Be diligent screening for aphids as well.  At the first sign, bring in a couple thousand lady bugs to do their job  :-).  They are far more effective and gentle on basil than any other organic control.

When your basil is finally ready to harvest, there is a double cut method that is needed to both keep your basil growing rapidly, and to make the basil as attractive as possible for market.  With a sharp scissors (I use sewing scissors), snip a basil tip 1-3 nodes down from the tip, RIGHT above the next node (with it's new growing points).  Then hold the cut basil over your alleyway, and cut the stem a second time RIGHT under the bottom leaves.  Remove any poor looking leaves, or any flowers (which are edible but not preferred in the store), and drop into a sterile weighing tub/bowl.  With practice, this goes VERY fast.  I always have ready, in the shade near the basil, a postage scale on a box (ie- off the ground), and a sterile 20 gallon tub with a clean damp cloth inside, waiting for the cut basil.  With practice, I can usually tell when I have 1/2 pound of cut basil in the weighing bowl.  I weigh it, adjust as needed, mark where I'm at (it's a pain to reweigh if you lose track, LOL), dump into the tub, and cover the cut basil with the damp cloth.  This is all best done well before the hoop house/basil heats up.  Wilted basil does not keep nearly as long as cool basil!

If you have more than a pound of basil in the tub, it will generate it's own heat.  Deliver ASAP or put in a cooler if you have one.  We pull out the damp towel out at delivery.

Once you've delivered, it's worth the time to go back and clean up leaves and the bulk of the cut stems off the ground, so no disease takes hold.  Pull out and throw into the garbage (not compost bin) any plants you've come across (and marked!) as starting to mold.  The disease will spread like lightening if you don't.

Hope these tips help whomever become the next "Basil Lady/Guy"  ;-).

Using Essential Oils Safely

This is such an important topic... when using ANY essential oils from ANYwhere.

I've extensively researched, and trust, the purity level of the high quality, therapeutic level essential oils I have used for the last 2.5 years (I can direct you to a source privately).  There are likely several essential oil companies that buy SOME of their essential oils from tested, safe sources also.  I don't know much about other companies, so I can only speak for the one I know well.  It can be very enlightening to compare various essential oils.  Please DO check the ingredient list of any company's essential oils?   They sure don't have to say if they're diluted with water.... but they should list if they're diluted by carrier oils (like jojoba or almond oil), and/or have other additives.

And please do skin test any essential oil for sensitivities you may have, before ever trying it internally?  I do this by rubbing one drop on the skin inside of my elbow.  Have a carrier oil handy if it's too "hot", or starts to cause a rash.  Carrier oil will dilute it.  Water will not!  Check your elbow again in 3 hours.  No reaction?  Then you should be able to use it on the neck, stomach, feet, etc... wherever you need it most... without dilution.  If it was too hot, use it diluted.  If you show a sensitivity, please try a different essential oil that can address what you need.  That's one of the huge perks of essential oils... their chemical complexity lends to multiple "side benefits"  :-).

Many essential oils should be diluted for children, elderly, and those that are sensitive.  A rough guide to a 3% diluted solution is 3 drops of essential oil to 1 tsp of carrier oil.  For an approximate 1% solution, use just 1 drop of essential oil in 1 tsp of carrier oil.  Mixes can be done in a shot glass... stirred... and then use the amount you wish to, and store in your medicine cabinet.  Leftovers should keep for a day or two.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

LOWER Your Chemical Exposures -- Cream Deodorant!

One batch of this homemade deodorant lasts quite a while!  So you may want to halve or quarter the recipe to trial it  ;-).

This is a blend that has been working extremely well for months now for a man who does a lot of outdoor, hard, sweaty work.  A woman who shaves and also works outdoors.  And a 15 yr old teen boy!  We are quite impressed!!

Everyone is taught to dip in fingers from a clean hand to put on the opposite armpit (ex: right hand dipped in to rub into the left armpit).  This deodorant is EASY to make once you line up the ingredients, INEXPENSIVE, keeps well, works, smells good, and has side benefits from the essential oils used  :-).  We're never going back to commercial!!

We use certified, high quality, therapeutic level essential oils (ask me privately for the source) because I don't want any adulterer essential oils on my skin… nor do I want to use non-therapeutic level oils.

So here's my current blend, that is working VERY well for us    :

1 Tbsp beeswax pellets or shavings
1/3 c. extra virgin coconut

melt the above on low heat, remove, and stir in:

1/3 c. baking soda (switched to Red Mill... had a slight burning sensation with Arm & Hammer on shaved arms)
1/3 c. arrowroot powder or organic corn starch

and pour and stir briefly into a 4 oz jar that has:
10 drops Frankincense essential oil
8 drops Lavendar essential oil
5 drops Lemon essential oil
one opened capsule of vitamin E oil

How to buy GREAT tasting LOCAL produce, for less :-)

As a gardener since I was knee-high, and as a Market Gardener for more years than I care to count, I forget that many people do NOT have that connection to growing your own foods.

Agriculture is big business.  After all.... people need to eat, and they need and demand a consistent source of a wide variety of food!  So thousands of small farms decades ago merged into mega farms that can provide food for Americans (and export) at incredibly low prices compared to many places in the world.  Even organic food production is becoming big business, either on mega farms, or with central packaging combining produce from many farms.

But the mega business model can also lead to mega outbreaks of disease carried on produce, a lowering of produce quality (think shipped tomato versus local garden), ambiguous labeling (think 'all natural') and a need to focus on less variety variation (ie - one type of bean) for more efficient harvest, processing and packaging.  If a store is a distance from the packaging plant... add in the cost and use of fossil fuels for transporting.... versus getting produce from a local farm/garden.

In most areas of the US, "little" farmers still produce.  :-)  You can find their produce in local stores committed to supporting local farmers.  You can also find them through ads and farmer's markets.  The more support for local farmers, the more people who will WANT to "grow extra", leading to more local farmers.  Transportation use and costs are reduced.  For example, I farm over 1/2 acre with once/year rental of a tractor with a rototiller.  Some minimal small rototiller use is done, as well as maybe 3 mowings a summer of a green manure crop planted for crop rotation purposes.  Electricity for well water is used, as needed.  My wholesale market is 8.5 miles away.  That's it.  Everything else is hand labor.

And because of the smaller farm size, and hands on labor... troubles are usually noticed sooner and dealt with.  Accidental contamination issues may still happen, but chances are they are quickly noticed and taken care of... with any affected produce composted.  After all... what local farmer wants to invite liability to their very own farm?

So how does supporting your local farmer help you??

1.  Shop local farmer's markets.  The produce has usually been harvested within the previous 24 hours, and prices are usually less than store retail for the same exact produce.  DO expect to pay more than big box store price for good, local produce.  The taste, freshness, and nutrient differences are worth it  :-).

2.  Ask questions!  After talking to plants all week... most market gardeners like to talk  ;-D.  If they are "Certified Organic", most of your questions have already been asked for you  :-).  You can trust the label.

If you want organic.... ask the non-certified grower what fertilizers were used?  What pesticides?  What their source of water is?  Do they use any treated seeds?  Organic seeds?  Under the USDA regulations, only farms that will gross (not net) under $5000 in a year are allowed to call themselves "organic", or else they must be Certified Organic.  But many farms out there (raising my own hand) either used to be Certified Organic before costs and paperwork escalated, and/or still grow according to organic standards.  They'll go by names such as "local sustainable", "chem free", etc.  So ask away.... YOU are the "inspector" in such cases.

And no... Miracle Gro is NOT organic.  And yes... fully composted animal manure is perfectly awesome for produce... not gross.  ;-D

Get to know your local growers.  Then support the ones that grow to your own values, or better  :-).

3.  If a grower's growing methods meet your standards, ask about other purchasing options.  Do they allow pick-your-own?  Do they give a discount for bulk purchases?  A discount for produce picked up at the farm?

But please DO EXPECT to pay more for their produce than the mega-farm produce sold in your local box store!  As a grower... I'd love to be able to say I make minimum wage at my job.  But the reality is.......... rising seed costs, rising supply costs, rising electricity costs (to run the well), expensive pesticide solutions when the unexpected happens (like $72 for a shipment of predator bugs to wage war on a first time spider mite explosion in my hoophouse this year), and good ole mother nature's erratic hits (hail, drought, smoke from forest fires reducing the sunlight, early or late frosts, high winds, you name it).... all lower my net profit.... a lot.   Harvest time is not the only "work time" involved in that tomato you're about to enjoy.  There's also fall cleanup, winter planning, spring planting and weeding, and summer weeding, watering, pest control, and more weeding.  If Market Gardening is a farmer's sole income, they need to be paying for health insurance out of any profit also... there's no boss paying benefits (or vacation time!) for them.

4.  Does the local farm sell their Grade B produce?  (the not-so-perfect ones).  

Here is an example of our own market garden's grade A (bottom) and grade B Burpless Cucumbers.  Grade A goes to the local Community Food Coop.  Grade B goes into our family's meals, or is wholesaled to a kitchen, or is dropped off at the local Food Bank.  Hopefully only rejected foods, that we wouldn't eat either, are composted or are fed to our llamas.

This option will depend on YOUR tolerance, and understanding, of what is not-so-perfect.  We once had a lovely lady want strawberry culls for jamming.  But then she complained that some of the cull berries were underripe!  We steered her to ripe-to-overripe, sorted, strawberries at regular wholesale prices, since she was a volume buyer.  Happy customer, happy farmer  :-).

5.  And lastly, if a local grocery store or natural foods store is supporting local farmers by buying and displaying their produce.... please do realize the grower is likely only getting about 60% of retail price? The store has tons of overhead costs, like employee wages and benefits, utilities, advertising, shelf space preventing them from selling something else instead, and loss if the produce doesn't sell... since they're ripe and won't keep long.  So if the mega-farm strawberries are $3/pint sitting right next to the local, just picked strawberries for $4/ consider supporting your local farmer (and the store supporting them), while enjoying better, fresher flavor?  And if you want to purchase multiples/bulk of an item... do ask the produce manager if a bulk discount is available?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

LOWER your Chemical Exposures - Shaving Cream

We've been having successes, and a couple of fails  ;-D, in my ongoing quest to lower the chemical exposure from everyday cleaning products, everyday health and beauty products, and pharmaceutical medicines in our family.  I want to start documenting the ones that WORK for our family.  Hopefully one or more help your family too!  :-)  And bonus... I can find the recipe again when I need it, LOL.

An  EASY change from store boughten SHAVING CREAM to one that is not that difficult to make, store, use... and is inexpensive.  We use certified, high quality, therapeutic level essential oils and blends in our "on the skin" products… to avoid both ineffective essential oils, and adulterations.

You will need to line up:

1/4 cup extra virgin Coconut Oil (we use Nutiva's Organic... excellent for cooking too).  This is a white solid at room temp
1/4 cup refined Shea Butter (yellow or white solid, organic or not).  We order this from Aroma Tools or Amazon.  Some local stores may carry it... make sure it's 100% shea butter.  You'll use this one in other recipes  ;-)
1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil

Optional 100% pure, therapeutic essential oil (EO) additions:

6 drops of Rosemary EO plus 2-3 drops of Peppermint EO for a Rosemary-Mint cream
6 drops of Lavendar EO plus 2-3 drops of Peppermint EO for a Lavendar-Mint cream
up to 10 drops of any creative EO combination  :-)

Optional: a vitamin E capsule

And a 4oz glass jar if adding EO's.  Plastic is okay if not.

Using a glass measuring cup or corningware, melt the Shea Butter and Coconut at low heat until ALMOST melted.  Remove from heat and stir occasionally until completely melted.  Add in the olive oil and EO's.  Poke a hole in the vitamin E capsule and squeeze into the mixture.  Stir and refrigerate until hard.

Remove from frig and pop out into a small mixing bowl.  Wait 5 minutes or so, blend, then whip.  Scrape the whipped mixture into your storage jar, label, and store in a cool, dark place where you shave.  DONE!  Clean up beaters and all pans with a paper towel before washing them... it's easier.

This small amount will actually go a long ways!  The razor will stay fine if soaked in a bit of hot water right after use, before drying off.  Let me know how it works for you.  :-)

Monday, April 29, 2013

Prepping Established Raspberries

If you have not yet tackled the job of getting your raspberries ready for another season, here is how I tackle the prickly job (wearing gloves and a long-sleeved shirt/jacket!).

Our raspberries were starts from Nourse, planted in trenches with compost added.  The rows are six feet apart.  In between the rows, the ground is covered with landscape fabric topped with pine bark chips for mulch.  We have used straw mulch in the past, but it does tend to "compost" itself, and let more weeds come in.

The goal in renovating your raspberry bed is one good cane per foot for maximum berry size, flavor and plant health.  This is what one faces come the spring snow melt:

It's fairly easy (if tedious) to prune out the little-finger-sized canes, the peeling, dead looking canes (they bore berries last year and won't again), and the ones growing outside your intended row.  Once you've removed all of the definitely-unwanted canes, prune the tops down to your preferred height.  For us, that is approximately 3 feet tall.  Any taller, and the branches tend to bow down to the ground when full of berries... where local critters then pick more than I do!

So now your row should start looking like this:

If your plants are healthy, you have lots of strong, sturdy canes to choose from.  This is where some "art" comes in.... you need to choose which canes to prune out (at the base again) until you're down to approximately one cane per foot.  I pull back leaf mulch around the canes at this point.  Once all of the branches are finally removed (our kids LOVE the bonfire  :-)  ), it's time to lightly rake the leaves off of the mulch (again, for plant health and less future compost for weeds to grow in).  And you're almost there!:

Irrigation needs to be connected (raspberries like LOTS of water during fruiting!).  We use t-tape drip irrigation, with the t-tapes connected to the white PVC header pipe pictured in the distance.  Microirrigation (with emitters) also work well.

Fertilizer needs to be added.  Our llamas provide what we need for rich llama manure compost  :-).  Fish meal provides an added Nitrogen boost.

And the trellis either needs to be established, or the wires tightened, or the string replaced so all is ready for a heavy load of berries come summer!  :-)  (see above picture for our very simple design).  You CAN do without a trellis, but picking is slower and trickier.  ;-)

We throw out "semaspore" from Planet Natural a few times each May and June to naturally reduce grasshopper populations.  Shiny bird tape tied here and there to flutter in the wind help repel birds.  We really have no other pest problems with our raspberries here in southern Montana.

And your end result this summer will hopefully look like this (2012 crop)!  :-)  Happy Berry Growing!

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Secrets of a good Raised, Covered Bed

As I start to plan retirement from intensive Market Gardening, (NEVER from gardening :-) ), I want to pass on a few "trade secrets" learned by experience and experimentation. :-) As we finally move back into early spring here in Montana, getting our 4' wide, 48'long, 18" tall raised bed up and running is one of the first projects on the longggg outdoor todo list.

After reading "Square Foot Gardening" about the same time I needed Physical Therapy following a 1000 pint hand-picked strawberry season in our Market Garden (OUCH!), I was VERY interested in both getting those strawberries up off the ground ;-D, and getting rid of the intensive, on the knees, weeding process needed twice through every spring when one raises perennials without chemical use.

I found easy to follow plans for building raised beds here: . We made our first raised bed 18" tall, and made the corner posts longer, of course. Since the beds are first made upside down... we did that on our relatively flat gravel driveway near the final bed site. We used mostly used redwood from someone's deck remodeling... stain almost completely worn off and placed to face the outside of the bed. Since most of the boards were 12' long 2X6's, we built 4 units... planning for joining the middle sections... with braces, as shown, at the 6' mark of each board. Purchased 4X4 redwood posts were cut such that they went 6" into the ground when placed upright. They were cut 18" even for the 6' mark bracing spots. 3.5" and 4" decking screws were used to attach all the pieces of wood together.

After each section was moved into place and leveled onsite... they were attached to one another to make one long 48" bed. This bed has been in use for 2 years now, and is very solid.

Then hardware cloth (similar to chicken wire but thicker) was placed on the bottom of each bed to help prevent rodents from tunneling.

WHAT WE'D DO DIFFERENTLY >> Grass and Field Bindweed became an issue EVEN through 18" of soil! We had tilled the soil around and under the bed several times prior to installing the bed, but as you can see in the picture... they renewed before we could finish the bed. We eventually laid down landscape fabric on both sides of the bed, and covered it with natural pine chips. Now I would do that AS the bed is established.

In Montana's short growing season, we need to capture all the early and late heat possible. I found 3/4" outdoor PVC conduit (the grey hoops) that would fit inside 1" PVC piping cut into 12" pieces. We found conduit clamps (inexpensive) to attach the PVC footlong pieces inside the beds... even with the top of the beds. 1.25" decking screws were used. Two hoops were placed in each 6' bed section, as shown in the picture. Once you get your covering cloth, you can slip the pipes back out and cut them to the length needed... or measure ahead of time. More on covers later. But keep the hoops IN while you fill the bed with soil, or the insert holes may plug up.

Basic bed done!!

"Square Foot Gardening" recommends a fill of 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 mixture of different composts, and 1/3 vermiculite. Ex.pen.sive for such a big bed! We had locally dug coarse sand-gravel delivered to our gardens. Without a tractor here, and no other innovative idea cropping up, I moved bucket after bucket of the sand mix into the bed by hand ;-}. Great heavy lifting exercise! So the first 10-11" of the 18" bed is straight sand-gravel mix. Then I used a small tarp, laid over each 6' section, and filled the tarp with 1/3 peat moss, 1/6 OMRI approved compost, 1/6 our own llama/mini horse compost, 1/6 vermiculite, and 1/6 the same sand-gravel mix. Shaking the ends of the tarp helped mix the recipe. Sliding the tarp out dumped it into the bed. This was repeated until all of the bed sections were filled to within 1-2" of the top of the bed.

WHAT WE'D DO DIFFERENTLY >> We have good loamy soil. Weed seeds were a concern, but the soil texture is good. We will be making OUR raised bed soil mix 1/2 our own soil from now on... with the other half consisting of the same recipe as above. Why? Besides less expense, the recipe used above dried out too quickly in our low humidity. And a little blew away each time :-O in strong winds whenever covers were not on and plants weren't anchoring the soil mix. Otherwise... all plants grew beautifully in this recipe :-).

STILL IN THE EXPERIMENT PHASE: We were so impressed with the production, and the better use of MY back with the raised bed, LOL, we built 2 more. One is 12" tall, and the other is 6" tall. 12" may be the "right" size? The 6" bed allows watermelon and pumpkins to drape off the side easily :-), BUT it also filled up with our pine wood chip mulch every big wind :-(. The mulch is not blowing into the 12" or 18" beds. So for that reason... we'll be raising the height of the 6" bed as soon as we locate more redwood 2X6's in need of a new use.

Info on covers, watering and plantings to come in future posts. Happy Gardening!!

Monday, April 8, 2013

The World of Computer Blogs and FB pages! Oh My!!

Wow! Please have patience with me as I try to figure out the crazy, not-always-intuitive, ins and outs of blogging and setting up a business FB page, etc!

I've already learned one VERY important lesson to share with you'all. I played with lots of potential blog names, etc, and checked on my final choice "Heavenly Essentials" :-). It was available as a .com name, a blog name, and a FB page name, AND as a Montana registerable DBA (Doing Business As) name! Yahoo! So I quietly set up the nonpublished FB page, the unadvertised blogsite, and sent off my DBA registration. As soon as approval of the DBA name arrived in the mail, I went to register the .com name. Taken and parked and offered for sale at a steep price!! :-O My other, oddly named, private blogspot name is "parked" also?! I suspect a sneaky bot...

Lesson learned... google possible names to see if they're in use or not, but lock up the .com name FIRST.

Hence the "z" in Essentialz, LOL.

Now if I can only learn how to do the business FB page, while not messing up the news feed for my much more private, personal FB page...

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Which Would You Rather Use?

A few months ago, I was talked into purchasing a "Blue Oil", that is advertised to help dissolve tension and ease tired muscles, with the included products Peppermint and Chamomile. It smells good, looks good, and is mildly effective in my experience. It wasn't until I got the magnifying glass out that I could read the ingredient list:

Then I discovered that DoTERRA developed an essential oil blend called "Deep Blue". The listed ingredients are:

Wintergreen, Camphor, Peppermint, Blue Tansy, German Chamomile, Helichrysum, Osmanthus. That's it. No filler oils, no chemicals/pesticides, no blue dye needed. (for topical use only).

Yes, it costs more, but I use much, much less of it per application (usually ONE drop into 1/2 tsp of carrier oil, such as extra virgin coconut oil melted in my hand, will cover the tight muscles needing it). It smells amazing. And it works very well, in our experience.

Which would you rather use?

Saturday, March 23, 2013


Life is BUSY when you're a mom to children with a few extra challenges thrown in, and our home is no exception ;-D. My main focus is our 4 children (3 still at home), and our daughter-in-law and 11 month old grandson, as well as my best friend and husband of 32 years and counting :-). Our children are all adopted, and are ages 21, 17, 14 and 8. I don't want to talk about them specifically in this forum, but we deal/dealt with challenges like RAD, vision and hearing impaired, severe Sensory Integration Dysfunction, PTSD, autism, ADHD, undiagnosed neurological issues, asthma, allergies, jaw deformation, vascular anomalies, IEP's and more! Keeping up with everyone, their therapies, doctors, specialists, equipment, and latest research results keeps me young ;-D.

I (Cindy) have been a gardener since my Dad got me involved at about age 5 in central Illinois. :-) I have now gardened in IL, ND, southern GA, and MT! Hubby, Phil, grew up on a wheat and cattle ranch in northern MT. The current gardens (two hoophouses and three 48 foot long beds included) were started in 1994. We did Farmer's Markets for many years... until it became more work than fun for our children. I now am about 90% wholesale... to the two Community Food Coops in Bozeman, MT. Our specialties have evolved over time, and currently include red and purple sweet peppers, basil, burpless cucumbers, winter squash, raspberries, aronia berries, shallots, gourmet beans, and floral bouquets. Our fertilizer sources are the compost made from the droppings of our 6 llamas and 3 mini horses, and "green" manure. The only pest controls needed in the 2012 growing season were for deer, and for aphids inside one hoophouse. The deer proved tough to convince... even teenage boy socks did not deter them for more than 2 days at a time ;-D. The aphids were fun to control! I released several hundred lady bugs, and within 2 days, I could not find anymore aphids :-). Outside of the help of the 2 younger boys, my right hand man in the gardens is Phil.

Twelve seed trays are already going indoors, despite the snow and nighttime temps in the teens lingering outside. I love this time of year! The intense work, outdoors, will begin mid-April. Our 2 non-heated hoophouses should be all planted by the end of May, and the first crops ready to harvest by late June :-). Growing in the foothills of the Bridger Mountains, our growing season is all-too-short, and challenging. But with creativity, watchfulness, and care in variety selection...the rewards can be great in good years :-).

My INTENTIONS with this blog are to cover hard-learned gardening tips, my journey experimenting with pure high quality therapeutic essential oils in various uses and homemade products, promote the adoptions of kiddos around the world with special needs, and whatever else seems worthwhile blogging (to me, LOL). Enjoy!