Seed Saving 2015

It’s only been 2 months since my last post (only), and a lot has been happening garden-wise since then. Seed saving has been underway for quite a while now and I’m learning that it’s nowhere near as difficult as I thought it was. It’s been really fun just kind of letting the garden go and watch it transform further than I’ve ever let it. Below you’ll find lots of pictures of my seed saving experience so far this year and how the plants have transformed (I’ve skipped the obvious by not bothering with how to gather seeds from plants like peppers and tomatoes. Most people already know where and how to gather these).

ARUGULA

Arugula flowers appear first

Arugula flowers appear first

...then green seed pods start to form down the stalk...

…then green seed pods (with green seeds inside) start to form down the stalk…

...then start to dry and turn brown.

…then start to dry and turn brown.

Once dry, the pods easily break open to expose tiny, brown seeds.

Once dry, the pods easily break open to expose tiny, brown seeds.

BROCCOLI

Broccoli florets bloom into beautiful, yellow flowers...

Broccoli florets bloom into beautiful, yellow flowers…

...and eventually, large, long pods begin to form on the stalks just like arugula. They will eventually turn brown and easily open to release small, brownish-black seeds.

…and eventually, large, long pods begin to form on the stalks just like arugula. They will eventually turn brown and easily open to release small, brownish-black seeds.

CILANTRO

Cilantro flowers

Cilantro flowers

As the flower buds die off, green seeds begin to take their place.

As the flower buds die off, green seeds begin to take their place.

Once they start to turn brown, uproot the plant, create a mesh bag, and turn upside down to catch any seeds.

Once they start to turn brown, uproot the plant, create a mesh bag, and turn upside down to catch any seeds.

Shake or pick off the remaining seeds so that they are caught in the bag.

Shake or pick off the remaining seeds so that they are caught in the bag.

DILL

Dill will produce tiny, delicate, yellow flowers that eventually turn into seeds.

Dill will produce tiny, delicate, yellow flowers that eventually turn into seeds.

Seeds will turn brown as they dry.

Seeds will turn brown as they dry.

Dill seeds

Dill seeds

ONION

Onions produce a beautiful, round head of white flowers.

Onions produce a beautiful, round head of white flowers.

These flowers eventually close up and house tiny, hard, blac seeds.

These flowers eventually close up and house tiny, hard, black seeds.

LOOSE LEAF LETTUCE

Once lettuce has started to bolt, flower buds start to appear.

Once lettuce has started to bolt, flower buds start to appear.

lettuce buds 2

After small, yellow flowers bloom, they start to close up again and become white and "fuzzy".

After small, yellow flowers bloom, they start to close up again and become white and “fuzzy”.

Gently pull on the white threads (or just pluck the entire flower head) to expose the seeds attached to the ends.

Gently pull on the white threads (or just pluck the entire flower head) to expose the seeds attached to the ends.

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Homesteading 2015 Update

I’m still a bit in shock over how well the garden has been doing this year. Except for our herbs (which I can’t seem to grow enough to keep up with my addiction), everything is growing really, really well. I’m finally starting to get some delicious looking cherry and brandywine tomatoes.

Cherry tomatoes

Cherry tomatoes

Brandywine tomato

Brandywine tomato

I don’t feel that the tomatoes I planted in hanging baskets to try out vertical gardening are growing to their full potential due to how shallow the baskets are. I tried mounding the soil high so that the roots had more room to grow, but more and more of it just washes away every time I water them. Looks like I’ll have to head to the internet to look up better ideas for next year.

I have NEVER had any luck whatsoever growing lettuce, so when I set out to grow enough to actually get a few salads this year, I took up space in 4 of our 8 raised beds just for lettuce…..and I think every…single…darn….seed….grew. I seriously missed my calling this year and could’ve made a fortune at farmer’s markets with all the lettuce we’ve had. I’ve even had to give a lot of it away!

Mesculin mix and onions

Mesculin mix and onions

Red lettuce, arugula, and lettuce mix

Red lettuce, arugula, and lettuce mix

Every gardener can probably relate to the excitement of first starting to see fruit on their plants (such as cantaloupe), and becoming even more excited once you realize you somehow missed seeing the growing of certain plants and all of a sudden have a good sized fruit on your hands. That’s how I felt when I checked our cantaloupe the other day. I knew there were plenty of baby melons growing, but was pleasantly surprised to find one had all of a sudden had a growth spurt.

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Since I’m trying vertical growing with our melons this year and have seen numerous times where other gardeners made little hammocks to help support the weight of the melons, I went to grab some tulle fabric to do so. While actually placing the hammock around the melon, I discovered ANOTHER melon the same size that had been hiding on me (yay!)

Melon hammock for vertical gardening

Melon hammock for vertical gardening

Our broccoli and cabbage are also doing quite awesomely, but I kind of had a feeling there wasn’t anywhere near enough room to plant enough broccoli to support our addiction to it.

Broccoli

Broccoli

Cabbage

Cabbage

If putting the time and effort into growing broccoli was going to be worth it for us, I knew we needed to expand the garden. Thankfully, my husband responded to the idea quite easily, and I set out to build more raised beds. Now, I have to brag about this a little bit because I am NOT mechanically inclined at ALL. I can barely use a tape measure half the time. So, the fact that I managed to whip out what you see in the picture below is practically a miracle. I used recycled wood from a barn on the property that was being torn down and just tried to copy by sight what my husband already had built.

My very own, (poorly) hand-crafted raised beds!

My very own, (poorly) hand-crafted raised beds!

In addition to expanding the garden, we’ve also been working on building a new and better chicken coop after our last one got destroyed (long story)–and by “we” I mean my husband ūüôā He pretty much has built the entire coop from the ground up all on his own, and I’m pretty amazed at his skills. And the biggest bonus to this new coop? It’s right in our backyard instead being across the road or up the hill where it was a huge inconvenience. One of my coworkers and new-found friends is also raising chicks at the moment for us so we can expand our flock (super excited!) Check out the evolution of our new coop below, and enjoy!

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Taking a break from working

Taking a break from working

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Chicken run entrance

Chicken run entrance

Nesting area

Nesting area

Holding area for new chicks

Holding area for new chicks

The finished coop!

The finished coop!

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The Beginning of My Seed-Saving Experience

Blame our garden for the time lapse between this post and the last. It’s been keeping me extremely busy, but I’m loving every minute of it. Some days I wonder if perhaps my husband is secretly paying someone behind my back to tend to the garden when I’m not around, because I’ve NEVER had this much success before. There was only one time I was concerned we might lose everything due to the crazy weather we’ve been having. Everyone has been joking about how it’s only rained twice so far this year–once for 2 days and then again for 2 months. A few weeks ago, it put down much more rain than the ground could hold and the path between the raised beds actually became completely filled with water as well as a lot of the area around the garden.

No bueno

At what point do you decide to build an ark?

I was REALLY wanting some fresh cilantro to use with our dinner this day, and of course I waited until after the flooding started to go and get some. I had to put a rain coat, sledding pants (since they’re water proof), and knee-high boots on just to make it out to the garden. The water was well above my ankles in some spots, but thankfully it started to go down pretty quickly once it finally stopped raining. And surprisingly, all that water did wonders for the garden.

Back to present times and I already have several plants that are going to seed…and I’m super excited about it. Until I actually get to do it and do so successfully, the thought of keeping a close enough eye on my plants to save seeds from them for next year causes me a lot of anxiety. Why? Because I don’t have a clue what the heck I’m doing ūüôā I understand the basic concepts behind flowering and seed production, but every plant produces seed differently. For example, most people know where and when to look for seeds from plants like tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, etc. But, to watch for seed production on cilantro is another story. I had no idea how quickly after flowering the plant would produce and drop its seeds, so I prematurely bagged the flowers just in case and almost killed the entire plant.

Cilantro flowers

Cilantro flowers

Thankfully, you don’t have to watch cilantro for seeds quite as closely as I thought. An article on http://www.motherearthnews.com suggests hanging the plants¬†upside down over a container or bag for gathering once half the seeds have turned grayish-brown.

Cilantro seeds (also known as coriander) a little too early to pick

Cilantro seeds (also known as coriander) a little too early to pick

Arugula is a plant I was completely clueless about gathering seed from and was concerned I had missed my chance since most of the flowers have already wilted away…that is until today. I was so excited to see long pods (and lots of them) growing out from the stems with plenty of seeds in them that I ran into the house just to tell my husband the news. Obviously, he was nowhere near as excited as I was, but he at least tried to amuse me ūüôā

Arugula flowers

Arugula flowers

Arugula seed pods. Yay!

Arugula seed pods. Yay!

Some of our other lettuces have also started working towards flowering.

Beginning of lettuce flowers

Beginning of lettuce flowers

Loose leaf lettuce flowers

Loose leaf lettuce flower buds

Have some seed saving tips or tricks to share? Feel free to post them in the comments. Happy Homesteading!

Homemade Weizenbier with Orange

If you haven’t yet had the chance to check out the home-brewing basics post, be sure to do so here¬†before reading on. It’ll give you all the basic information you need to understand what’s going on below.

There are different approaches to brewing beer depending upon your own personal preferences. Kits are the simplest way to go, especially for beginners, or you can go all out and aim for all-grain brewing where you steep your own grains to create a malt “extract” rather than using the thick, syrupy, condensed extracts that are typically used in kits.¬†We’re going to start off with a simple, Brewer’s Best kit recipe for a wheat beer (with a few personal changes) to keep things simple.

**Before you do anything to start your first batch of home brew, be sure to wash and sanitize all equipment. This helps prevent cross-contamination both to prevent unwanted, off-flavors due to foreign invaders and to ensure you’re not culturing something in your fermenter that could make you sick.**

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WEIZENBIER

Makes 5 gallons

  • 6.6 lbs wheat LME (liquid malt extract), 2 cans
  • 1 oz German Hallertau hops
  • 0.5 oz German Hallertau hops
  • 1 sachet Munich yeast
  • 3 oz orange peel (not in original recipe)
  • 5 gallons filtered water
  • 5 oz priming sugar (used at bottling to give the yeast more food so they can produce CO2 to make your beer all fizzy)
Brewer's Best Weizenbier kit

Brewer’s Best Weizenbier kit

  1. Pour 2. gallons of water into a pot and bring to a gentle boil. Add ONE can of wheat LME and stir until dissolved. You now have wort.

    Sticky, gooey LME

    Sticky, gooey LME

  2. The hops must be added in stages to control their flavor, so you’ll want to¬†have a timer handy to help you keep track. Add 1 oz of German Hallertau hops and boil for 40 minutes. Add the remaining malt and boil for 15 minutes. Add the orange peel and boil for 5 minutes, then add the last of the hops and boil for 5 minutes more.¬†Total boil time = 60 minutes.¬†
    Brew schedule

    Brew schedule

    20150525_130346

    Wort + hops

    Wort + hops

  3. Cool the wort to 70 degrees F by putting the pot in an ice bath (or fridge). Transfer the wort to your fermenter by filtering through cheesecloth, trying to leave as much sediment behind as possible.

    2.5 gallons wort in fermenter

    2.5 gallons wort in fermenter

  4. ¬†Finish cooling the wort by adding enough water to bring the wort to 5 gallons. Be sure to check the specific gravity (SG) as you add water to ensure you don’t dilute it too much. Your SG at this point (your original gravity¬†or¬†OG) should be between 1.047-1.051. I’m a taste-tester and tend to taste EVERYthing at every stage of it’s making…beer included. It’ll be quite unpleasant at this point due to the potency of the hops, but feel free to have a little taste of your wort to get used to how it the flavors transform as it ferments.
    SG 1.047

    SG 1.047

    SG 1.051

    SG 1.051

    Measure SG at the meniscus of the water

    Measure SG at the meniscus of the water

  5. Once your wort is cool enough, sprinkle the yeast on top and stir to mix. Fill your airlock with water (or cheap vodka for a self cleaning airlock) to the line, fit it into your fermenter lid and secure the lid over your fermenter.
    Airlock

    Airlock

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  6. Your airlock should start bubbling within 24 hours. This is CO2 being released. (At this point, it’s ok to shout, “It’s alive! It’s ALIVE!”). After a day or so, transfer to wort into a secondary fermenter also fitted with an airlock, leaving behind as much sediment on the bottom of the bucket as possible. The bubbling in your airlock will start to slow after a few days and eventually stop (usually about 1 week. If you don’t have a hydrometer, your brew should be ready to bottle once there is no activity in your airlock for 48 hours). At this point, take a¬†final gravity¬†(FG)¬†reading. Once your FG has reached 1.011-1.015, you’re ready to bottle your beer.¬†20150525_115102
  7. Prepare your priming sugar by lightly boiling it in 2 cups of water. Because I didn’t have a full 3 oz of orange peel at the beginning of the recipe, I added an additional 1 oz of orange zest to the priming sugar solution as it simmered. Before adding the sugar to your wort, siphon the wort into another container to leave behind even more sediment to ensure a clearer beer. Strain the mixture into your wort.
  8. Clean and sanitize your bottles and siphon your brew into each, leaving about 1 inch head space to allow room for the CO2 being produced. Use a bottle capper to apply crown caps. 20150609_19051920150609_193530
  9. Label your caps and place bottles in an area around 64-72 degrees F for about 2 weeks. Check the carbonation level at this point. If it doesn’t seem carbonated enough, allow to sit for another week or two. (A local brewer told me that beer tastes better as it ages and mellows out, so leaving the bottles sit for a few months is ideal…if you can wait that long!)

    You now have beer!

    You now have beer!

ei

The Post You’ve Been Waiting For–Home-brewing Basics

Home-brewing and wine making can be interesting and fun hobbies, but they can also be a little intimidating until you’ve been exposed to doing it yourself. I got my start with homemade fermented beverages a few years ago through wine making after learning you could do such a thing at home and my husband bought me a starter kit. This was also time frame when I had zero interest in anything related to beer. Before that, I had tried some lighter beer styles, but just couldn’t acquire a taste for it and was a hardcore wine fan. It wasn’t until we came across a show called Drinking Made Easy (which broke my heart when it ended–long live Lamprey and McKenna! Oh, and Pleepleus, too.) that I developed an appreciation for beer. I started trying different styles and understanding where the complex flavors came from. Of course, I had to try to do it myself and was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to get started. Now, I’m sort of on the other end of the spectrum and have been primarily making beer rather than wine.

What Makes Beer “Beer”?

Making beer can be as complicated or as simple as you want. Having said that, I’m going to keep this as sweet and simple as possible to prevent information overload.

  • Yeast–This is what feasts on the sugars in your brew to produce CO2 and alcohol. There are many, MANY different types of yeasts that can be used depending on the style of beer you’re brewing, each having specific temperature requirements and offering different flavors. Keep it simple and just use what your recipe calls for, which should easily be found online. As you try different beer styles, you’ll start to pick up on the types of yeasts that are needed.
  • Malt— This refers to grains that have been sprouted and then dried and roasted. The degree to which the malted grains are roasted is what determines the type of flavor they’ll give your beer (kind of like roasting coffee beans). Barley is the most common grain used for beer brewing, but wheat and others can also be used. Malt provides the sugars for the yeast to ferment and is typically found in whole grain form or as a concentrated syrup called malt extract.
  • Hops–These are the female flowers of the hops plant and contribute a bitter flavor to beer. When we first visited a brew shop, the owner asked us if we rented our home and ,if so, informed us to warn our landlord before our brewing session¬†because hops can smell rather similar to, well…Cannabis.¬†Just like yeast, there are many, many different types of hops, each with their own flavor characteristics. (**KEEP HOPS AWAY FROM DOGS as they can be highly poisonous!!) Alpha acids are what give hops their bitter flavor and are measured in different ways (this is where it can get as complicated as you feel like making it). Here are some potential acronyms you might see on home-brewing recipes:
    • AAU, or¬†Alpha Acid Units
    • IBU, or International Bitterness Units
    • HBU, or Homebrew Bitterness Units

All of these units have complicated formulas involved in determining how much bitterness a certain type of hop might have.The good news is that home-brewing recipes and kits already have this figured out for you, so all you need to worry about is adding the hops when the recipe says.

  • Water–self-explanatory. Throw all of these ingredients together and you have what is called¬†wort.

Basic Styles of Beer

Don’t dwell on this information starting off, but rather use it to determine what styles you might like to try. There are two broad categories of beer, each with different subcategories of styles. Below are a few examples:

  • Ales–yeast ferments at the top of the wort and prefers warmer temperatures (65-75 degrees F)
    • Wheat beer–made with wheat and typically flavored with orange and spices, often lighter in color and flavor
    • IPA (India Pale Ale)–bold, bitter hops flavor, not great for newbies
    • Porter–very dark beer, strong malt flavor with hints of coffee, chocolate or caramel
    • Stout–a stronger version of porters
  • Lagers–yeast ferments on the bottom and prefers cooler temperatures (45-55 degrees F)
    • Pale lager–light color and flavor, most common style consumed in the US (Miller, Bud)
    • Amber lager–maltier in flavor and more amber in color, low bitterness
    • Pilsner–similar to pale lagers but hoppier

Basic Equipment and Start-up Costs

  • ¬†Fermenter ($25)–This is just a fancy term for a plastic bucket to ferment your wort in. They’re typically found in 2-gallon or 6.5-gallon sizes. Having more than one is a great idea.
6.5-gallon fermenter

6.5-gallon fermenter

  • Plastic carboy ($20-25)–This is used as a secondary fermentation vessel. Siphoning your wort from your primary fermenter (the bucket) into the carboy leaves dead yeast cells behind once fermentation has started. improving not only the clarity of your beer but also the flavor. I forgot to take a picture of our’s, so check out this link instead¬†http://www.amazon.com/RiteBrew-Plastic-Carboy-Gallon-PET/dp/B0057OVVQQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1432607657&sr=8-1&keywords=plastic+carboy.
  • Airlock (about $2)–Airlocks are designed to allow air (CO2) to escape from your fermenter while preventing anything from getting into it to prevent contamination. Just fill to the line with water before attaching to your fermenter.
  • Hydrometer ($7) and Test Jar ($5)–These two items aren’t absolutely crucial when you’re first starting off if you have a time reference to follow, but definitely become more necessary the more you get into brewing. A hydrometer measures specific gravity (SG) which simply tells you the density of a liquid in order to determine the level of dissolved particles in that liquid. Pure water has a SG of 0.0 since there is nothing dissolved in it. As you add ingredients such as sugar (in the form of malt for brewers), the SG of that liquid will increase. When you add yeast and they start to consume that sugar, the SG will start to lower as there is not as much sugar dissolved in the liquid anymore.
Left: hydrometer. Right: airlock.

Left: hydrometer. Right: airlock.

Hydrometer close up

Hydrometer close up

  • Bottles ($13-15, depending on size) and bottle caps ($6 for 144)–Prices for these can vary drastically depending upon the size of bottles you get, the style (EZ cap vs regular), and where you get them from. We prefer to use 22oz bottles because it makes bottling 5 gallons of beer go much faster. We’ll also save non-twist-cap bottles from beer we’ve bought to help save on cost. If your non-home-brewing friends plan on trying some of your beer, have them bring you a bottle or two that they’ve saved in exchanged for a bottle of your beer.
  • Beer capper ($15)–We use a basic, handheld capper that’s cheaper than fancier contraptions and works just great. Just pop a cap in it, place on a bottle, and press down to seal.
  • Siphon ($6)–A proper siphon will help you leave behind any sediment on the bottom of your bucket when transferring to a secondary fermenter as well as make bottling easier.
Capper, bottle, caps, and siphon.

Capper, bottle, caps, and siphon.

  • Friends to drink your beer (FREE!)

APPROXIMATE START-UP COST: $104-111

When you consider that all of your equipment (with the exception of the bottle caps) is reusable, the cost to get started with home-brewing really isn’t bad. Recipe kits are typically more expensive than buying the individual ingredients, but they already come with a recipe. You can buy kits that include equipment and ingredients for making your first batch¬†for around $110. Brewer’s Best has some great kits as well as Midwest Supplies.

Stay tuned for a recipe to try your first brew!

Gardening 2015!

Hopefully the exclamation mark at the end of this blog title isn’t overly ambitious. We’ve gardened for several years (correction…we’ve “gardened” for years), but the last few have been pretty rough. Late frosts, swampy springtime, too hot summers, blight–you name it and we’ve lost most if not our entire garden in the past year or so to it. But, this year…this year will be different (or so I hope). We’re focusing on more functional gardening and landscaping to make our homestead a little more balanced and harmonic.

One of the biggest changes we’ve made this year is to install “greenhouse boxes” that can be used to start seeds earlier and allow certain plants to grow later into the year (or at least that’s the plan). My husband is quite the handyman, so once we realized we couldn’t afford a full-fledged greenhouse quite yet, he agreed to make me the next best thing for the garden. Thankfully, there’s plenty of random pieces of wood lying around the farm we live on, so really the only things that needed bought were the greenhouse plastic and corrugated plastic to put on top of the boxes for better support from our crazy climate here. We decided to make some of the boxes hinged as well for easier maneuvering, so hinges are included in the cost analysis as well. Below is a picture of the greenhouse boxes.

garden boxes 1The two boxes in the front are attached to hinges which are attached to a separate, stronger piece of wood which is attached to the raised bed so that I can easily lift them up and down myself since I’m the head gardener. You can see the small props used to hold the boxes up. In the background are more boxes that can be used for more plants or for taller plants, but are a little more difficult to maneuver. (Unfortunately, we just had a freak but brief storm with high winds blow through and now our largest box is laying much further down in our yard than its original resting place. Eek.) Overall, I believe the boxes cost close to $300 to make–still a bit more than we would’ve like to have invested at this point, but hey…it gives us more incentive to really try to get things right this time.

One of the hinged boxes propped up.

One of the hinged boxes propped up.

The entire garden is surrounded by chicken wire which works great for keeping little veggie-munching critters out. Something different this year that I hope works out is throwing thyme seed down between the rocks of the walkway. Thyme is such a pretty ground cover and would be a functional, great tasting weed controlling option.

To help out the more shade-loving plants, we’ve built two supports to fit into two of the beds to allow peas to grow on one and cantaloupe on the other (I expect to have to construct little melon hammocks to help support the fruit). Underneath will be the shady plants. You can see the viney plant supports in the pictures below.

garden view

This support will be used for cantaloupe. Underneath we have planted arugula, parsnips, and red onions.

This support will be used for cantaloupe. Underneath we have planted arugula, parsnips, and red onions.

The pea trellis was made (all on my lonesome!) using an old chicken wire window from a barn that was torn down. It's not exactly quality craftsmanship, but I'm just happy to still have all my fingers after hacking away at this. Underneath will be onions, lettuce, and carrots.

The pea trellis was made (all on my lonesome!) using an old chicken wire window from a barn that was torn down. It’s not exactly quality craftsmanship, but I’m just happy to still have all my fingers after hacking away at this. Underneath will be onions, lettuce, and carrots.

I also gathered some gorgeous, aged manure with a little straw and soil for mixing into the beds to help fertilize and break them up. The garden looks so much healthier now.

Sexy dirt

Sexy dirt

We also realized that our old cold frame would come in handy as a composter just off the back porch. The layout of our house is a little different, so the kitchen and living quarters are all upstairs, which means I can just walk onto the back porch now and drop my cooking scraps right into my new composter.

composter_1

composter 2

And if you’re a fan of Big Lots, they have some incredibly adorable pots that can be used for herbs or flowers. It was a good thing I was a little broke at the time I went into the store because I definitely would’ve bought every last one of them.

pots 2

Aren’t they cute!?

Pots 1

 

Wish us luck for a successful harvest this year. Happy Gardening!

 

Why Start a Container Garden?

Twin Acres Homestead

Over the years we have been developing and expanding our ‚Äėbig‚Äô garden, but it‚Äôs located¬†away from the house and not easily accessible to grab fresh veggies for a quick salad. ¬†I‚Äôm hoping to change that this year by adding some container gardens on our deck.

Since I love potted plants but have no extra money right now to go and buy new ones, I have decided to use the many different containers that we have accumulated over the years and plant container vegetables.  This will benefit us in two ways, it will provide the plants I want on the deck, and it will allow for easy access to our salad veggies.

The other benefit I’m looking forward to is that the kids will be able to grab a snack quickly outside.  I remember growing up we were always told that if we were hungry, go get something from the garden.  Most of our…

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