Tuesday, August 8

Smokey Hot Vegan Red Lentil Soup

This recipe for Smokey Hot Vegan Red Lentil Soup is so easy to make. It cooks up quick, tastes delicious and is kid approved.

Our tomatoes are ripening almost faster than we can pick them. I should add, we planted 16 cherry tomato plants, and 34 other tomato plant varieties. Don't ask me what I was thinking. Really, I can't give you an answer, other than we started them from seed and I couldn't handle the idea of "wasting" one of our precious baby plants.

We gifted quite a few plants to friends and I've been busy canning salsa's and diced tomatoes like it's my job. I plan to give a few gallon sized bags of cherry tomatoes away, but I also want to use up and save as much as I can too.

This recipe is perfect for those of you who may have an over-abundance of cherry tomatoes coming in from the garden right now.

It's also perfect for those of you wanting a nutritious, filling plant-based meal option. We are not Vegans (though I was a strict vegan for a while in my past), however we do make plant based meals multiple times each week. It's incredibly healthy, sustainable and less expensive than a meat based meal.

Scroll down to make this easy, tasty vegan lentil dish.

Smokey Hot Vegan Red Lentil Soup

2 TBSP Avocado Oil
1 Large Red Onion Chopped
2 lbs Cherry Tomatoes Cut in Half
1.5 Cups Red Lentils
4 Cups Vegetable Stock
1 Tsp Smoked Paprika
1/4 Tsp Cayenne Pepper Flakes
Salt & Pepper to Taste
Fresh Basil (for garnish - optional)

1) In a large stockpot or skillet with a tall edge, sauté the chopped red onion until caramelized over medium/high heat.  Season with salt and pepper.

2) Reduce heat to medium and add the tomatoes. Let simmer for a bit until most of the juices have been released.

3) Add red lentils, smoked paprika and pepper flakes, followed by one cup of vegetable stock. Simmer until most of the liquid is absorbed and then add another cup of stock. Continue doing this until the lentils are soft and tender.

4) Serve hot and garnished with fresh basil if desired. We found the basil added depth to the dish and really was a great addition.

Wednesday, August 2

Right Now

Right now, the garden is producing a TON of food, and as a family, we have been busy preserving the bounty. You'll notice if you click on the label "right now" at the bottom of this post, I have been blogging about our "right now's" for quite some time. I think it's fun to go back and look at these, it brings me back to those moments, almost like a visual journal.

Here are a few photos from the last week or so around our little homestead...

The older two children like to spend time with me out in the garden, as well as the kitchen. They always have.

My youngest however, has declared she will never be a gardener, she doesn't have time for that. She's going to be a rock star. If I want to, I can bring her vegetables after her shows. Really, these were her exact words. She may still come around, but it will have to be on her own terms. I don't force the kids to garden or participate in anything homesteading related they don't willingly want to. That is, aside from age appropriate house chores, for fear they may end up resenting it down the road.

The carrots pictured above were washed, peeled, cut into sticks and put in a large bowl of water in the refrigerator. They stay fresh and crisp for an incredible amount of time this way. This works with chopped lettuce and pretty much any other greens as well. It also makes for quick, easy and healthy snacking for everyone in the house. I'm proud to say not a single carrot went to waste, and that bowl was huge.

There has been a bit of jam making, but not nearly as much as I would like. I'm going to get adventurous and try some unusual combinations this year. I'll be sure to share those when I do.

Here are links to the recipes for the jars you see pictured above...

** The pickle relish was made with a Mrs. Wages spice packet. **

My youngest won't help in the yard, but she's more than happy to help make things pretty label. We buy most of our grains and flours in bulk. My poor neighbor ended up with a 50lb bag of oats on his doorstep the other day and walked it over to us. I'm sure he thought we were crazy when I told him what it was.

Buying organic can get expensive, so to cut costs, we buy bulk when we can. This should last us all year. I store the gallon sized bags in our freezer to help preserve freshness. We do this with whole wheat flour as well.

Why is it so important to buy organic?

Commercial oats and wheat are heavily sprayed with pesticides prior to harvesting. Even though they are hulled and for the flour, milled, a large amount of pesticide residue is left on the grains. It's worth every extra penny to me, to know that when I feed my children (with their tiny bodies that can not handle as much pesticide residue as an adult), they are ingesting wholesome, clean and pesticide free food.

Not sure what to do with all those oats?

After we chopped up all the carrots, I gave some tops to the chickens and the rabbit. The only one interested in them was the dog. She scared off the chickens...

Then promptly turned her nose up at the carrots. These were cleaned up and the chickens went back to happily searching for bugs.

Sunday, July 23

Easiest Way to Find Tomato Hornworms

Want to know the easiest and fastest way to find every Tomato Hornworm in your garden? Read on...

If you have a garden and you grow tomatoes or peppers, chances are, you've encountered the hornworm. You probably also know just how frustrating these guys can be, devouring your whole plant in a matter of what feels like hours (it's probably longer than that, but with a little nibble here and a little nibble there, they will ruin the whole plant fairly quickly).

I refuse to use any sort of pesticide in our garden - to me that defeats the purpose of growing your own. So, aside from the Neem Oil mixture, I'm left hand picking these huge dudes off my tomatoes and peppers. Which would be fine, if I could actually see them. Truly, I don't know if I dislike them because of the damage they do, or because it's almost impossible to find them all. They have achieved an ultimate level of camouflage, that's for sure.

Until now that is.

Chris and I were talking about the garden one night after the kids were in bed and we were having a little pity party over our eaten up plants. I've been nursing these plants for six months now, they're like little babies. It's really hard to watch all your hard work get destroyed in a matter of days and not feel like you can do anything about it. All of a sudden his eyes lit up and he said "I think they glow! Let's buy a black light flashlight and try it out." I looked at him all dumbfounded and said "They make black light flashlights????"

Guess what? They do! They glow and yes, they make black light flashlights. You can buy one here.

Once it's dark out, just walk outside and shine your little flashlight over your plants. The hornworms pop out like neon. Seriously, it's like an 80's flashback garden party.

In the last 5 days, Chris and I have removed 23 hornworms using this method. We are finding them when they are super small right now too, which was impossible before.

Now go buy yourself a flashlight and go Hornworm hunting - you'll thank me later, trust me.

Friday, July 14

How to Get Rid of Japanese Beetles

** This is a super easy way to get rid of thousands of Japanese Beetles quickly and without having to spray pesticides. **

If you have any kind of fruit or berry bush, I'm sure you know exactly how frustrating Japanese Beetles are. They come in swarms and devour plants until there is nothing but a skeletal structure left. Last year I looked all over Pintrest for different recipes to protect our blackberries and fruit trees. I found one mixture that worked well, but had to be applied pretty much daily to keep these gross little pests away. I also happened to pull a bunch of ligaments in my foot trying to avoid a swarm of them after spaying. Wet grass and slick shoes don't mix my friends.

This year I wanted to try something easier, and a little less hands on with the bugs. Amazon is typically my first go to for products, and I was excited when I found these traps. I ordered two because we have quite a bit of space to cover.

I took this picture right after I hung the bag. I had beetles following me to the post from my front door - this thing works that great.

This was the following morning. I think it's worth noting I set the bag up around 8:30pm the night before. I'm convinced this bag was filled to the brim hours after installing it. Side note, I was gagging while taking this picture and fully utilizing my zoom option on my camera.

Seriously, look at that. It makes my skin crawl, which is problematic because just by looking at this photo, it's pretty clear I needed to either change the bag or come up with another idea.

I went with another idea...

I decided to try hanging a garbage bag over the shepherds hook that the bag was attached to. This worked, until an hour later the bag was so heavy that the drawstring was closing the opening at the top.

A few minutes of motivating self-talk and with the moral support of my older daughter, I was able to poke holes in the top of the bag and attach them to the frame of the trap so the drawstring couldn't close completely. I'm sure we looked crazy. The two of us kept getting close enough to get dive bombed by the bugs, only to yelp and run back to a safe distance. It took a bit, but we did it.

That's a lot of bugs.

These Japanese Beetle traps work really well, so much so, that I would suggest keeping them at least 100 or more feet away from the plants you want to protect. The directions say 30 feet is enough, but I would argue that. To see the exact bags I used, click here.

Here's one of our bell pepper plants. I couldn't bring myself to end a post on a garbage bag full of bugs. A garbage bag I need to go empty at that. Wish me luck...

Wednesday, July 12

Easy Beet Hummus Recipe

** Make this easy beet hummus in just a few minutes - it's so good! **

 It's safe to say I'm the only person in my house who LOVES beets.

My kids could take them or leave them, and my husband won't go near them. That being said, I try not to go crazy planting them. I only have a few left to pull  (more seeds will go in the ground in a couple weeks for a Fall harvest) and this afternoon I realized I hadn't made my favorite beet hummus this summer. The coolest thing about hummus, aside from being delicious, is that you can freeze it. I didn't know that until last year. So now I can make a huge batch of this and freeze portions to enjoy during the winter. This recipe is super simple, all you need is a food processor or high powered blender. I used my Vitamix for this.

**Scroll down for the detailed recipe**

Here's everything you need. I'm a visual person and enjoy seeing process photos, so incase you are too, here you go.

See, I even put everything in a bowl and arranged it to look nice, just for you. Normally I would just toss everything in the blender and go.

My very trepidacious taste tester and hand model.

The fact that she ate this, knowing it had beets in it, and went in for a double-dip makes this a mom win for me. Remember, no one else in my house likes beets...

Here's the best part - you can freeze it! I line a cookie sheet with either this slipat or parchment paper, plop a large spoonful of hummus on it and then put it in the freezer. A couple hours later, just pick them up and put them in a freezer baggie. It's all portioned out, so it won't go to waste if no one else in your house likes beets either. It thaws perfectly in the refrigerator.

Beet Hummus Recipe

3 Cups Garbanzo Beans (or 2 cans)
2 Cloves of Garlic minced
3 Roasted and Cubed Beets
3 TBSP Olive Oil
1/4 C Lemon Juice (about 2 lemons)
1/4 C Toasted Sesame Seeds (or 2 Tbsp Tahini)
3/4 Tsp Cumin
1/2 Tsp Salt
1/4 Tsp Red Pepper Flakes
1/4-1/2 C Warm Water

1) Toss everything in the blender or food processor and pulse until the hummus has a semi-smooth consistency.

2) Slowly pour in the warm water while blending/processing until it is super smooth.

That's it!

Sunday, July 9

Natural Organic Insecticide That Actually Works

**Scroll down to see the recipe for this all natural organic insecticide**


    Last year was our families very first garden. I remember being so excited during the Spring, all of our cold weather crops were ready to harvest and we hardly had a single pest to deal with. The weeds were minimal, and in my inexperience I couldn't help but wonder to myself why everyone made such a big deal about gardening - this was easy!

   Fast forward to late June early July, ummmm hello Japanese Beetles (I tore ligaments in my foot avoiding a swarm of them - seriously), Tomato Horn Worms (I thought it was the cutest thing ever until a friend promptly told me to remove it immediately - by the time I got there, it had devoured three quarters of our banana peppers), Spider Mites (resulting in gross looking sickly tomato plants) and aphids - oh the aphids...

   These garden pests knocked me off my proverbial garden stool pedestal faster than I care to admit. I tried a few different natural things, but ended up  succumbing to the idea that we just wouldn't have huge harvests and I would have to do a lot of the bug removal by hand.

   Over the winter I did a lot of research and came across Neem oil.  Neem oil will repel and manage over 200 different types of garden pests - that's a lot! It is also a fungicide and when applied correctly it will help with root rot, black spot and sooty mold. To read up on this more, click here.

   Once the temperatures started to rise and I knew the bugs were on their way, I whipped up this super simple inexpensive Neem oil solution. I have been applying it about once every 5 days or so, very lightly and while there are still some bugs, for the most part, my plants are growing strong without any issues.

   The best part of all, this is safe for both people and animals. Below you will find the recipe I use. If you click on the highlighted items, it will take you to the actual products I use. I make this in a half gallon mason jar and then use a funnel to transfer it to a spray bottle. This just reduces the amount of times I have to remake the solution.

Natural Organic Insecticide

1 Half Gallon Mason Jar
2 Tsp Cold Pressed Organic Neem Oil
2/3 Tsp Organic Castile Soap
Warm water
Long spoon or something to stir the mixture in the mason jar

1) Fill the half gallon mason jar almost to the top with warm water (the warmth helps integrate the oil and soap).

2) Add the soap to the water first (this matters - otherwise you will end up with a clumpy mess) and mix.

3) Put the long spoon into the water and start stirring, while stirring quickly, add the oil and mix well. After this you can put the lid on the jar and give it a few more vigorous shakes.

4) Using a funnel, add the solution to the spray bottle and then you are good to go.

You will need to shake it up a bit before spaying quite a few times, but it's really easy. As a precaution, it is recommended to test out a section of each plant before applying to everything. In some rare cases, the solution may interact negatively with the plant. I have not had that happen yet, but it's always better to be safe.

** I have recently become an affiliate with Amazon. So if you purchase an item from a link you find here, I will receive a very small percentage of the sale - with no extra charge to you. **

Wednesday, July 5

Homesteading update

 It has been soooo long since my last update, so please bear with me - this will be a long post and full of photos.

Over the last year, we have been working diligently to get our little homestead up and running. I hesitate to call it a homestead at this point, because we still have a very long way to go until we are self-sufficient. That is however, the ultimate goal, and we have to start somewhere, right?  I feel like we've made large strides over the last year, so here is a very condensed update.

We started near the end of Winter by placing a tarp over the area of the garden we wanted to expand.  We let it sit until all the grass underneath had died off. With the grass dead, we tilled the area and then picked out the rocks. I'm not talking pebbles either - look at my little self-professed "Rock Queen" below...

In the future, we now know we should be tilling and adding the soil amendments in the Fall so it has time to decompose. We learn something new all the time - that's part of what I love about gardening. I couldn't keep a plant alive to save my life three years ago, so this is HUGE for me.

We added organic mulch and peat moss to the soil and then raked it all in, doing our best not to trample the freshly tilled soil.

(I love my helpers so much)

A few days after mixing the soil, I went out and made rows of hills and transplanted all 80 (yes I'm hoping to spend days canning away this summer) of our tomato and bell pepper plants. They were started from seeds we had left over from last year. We put red onions, spinach, carrots, beets, basil, peas and string beans out at this point as well. I started late this year and could have had the cold weather crops out sooner - hopefully I stay on the ball next year. We again moved the tarp to kill off more grass.

 Shortly after this, our less than a year old dryer broke (of course it did) and we had to wait a month and a half for the parts and service. Buuuut, hello silver lining (there's always a bright side), this was the exact encouragement my husband needed to build a clothesline. I had been begging since we moved in - so I'm super excited about this.

The plan is to paint it white so it matches the other things we've built (just a little bit of Type A going on in this house).

 Speaking of other things we've my husband has built, here's my older daughter's rabbit hutch. I love it, and so does her rabbit. The free DIY plan came from Rouge Engineer - you can view the original here.

Caramel the rabbit resting in the shade. Don't worry, she gets out on adventures around our house and has a never ending supply of fresh veggies and hay.

Our ladies a.k.a. the chickens, have been laying consistently for months now and bring in about 8 multi-colored eggs a day. They're the goofiest little things to watch and thankfully, so far, have stayed out of the garden.

 They did like to lay in between the garlic plants over the Winter and Spring, but thankfully all the garlic survived and we had a pretty good harvest.

Fresh garlic tastes amazing and is so incredibly easy to grow. You need to try it, I promise you won't be disappointed. We have the garlic curing on a wire shelf in our house right now.

Last week we expanded on our fruit orchard. There are a total of 20 plants - 10 raspberry (multiple varieties) and 10 blueberry (multiple varieties).  Behind the berry patch are 4 pear trees and 5 apple trees - again, in multiple varieties in an effort to increase fruit yields. We only have one single pear out there though. I know I didn't prune them correctly over the winter, so I have some studying to do.

The kids and I were giddy when we found ripe blueberries already attached to the young bushes.

We also added three plum trees, these are next to peach trees we put in last year.

Back to the ever expanding garden. My favorite place here.

We will definitely be using a different layout next year. We want long straight rows and plan to use irrigation tape to keep the soil evenly watered. Right now it's a bit of a hodge-podge of vegetables.

I'm super sad about our strawberry bed. I let it go and it's so crowded out, we only ended up with a small handful of berries. The plan is to drastically thin it out and hope for a better turn out next year.

We will likely add a few more raised beds next year as well.

As far as future projects this year, a chicken tractor is in the works and likely to be finished in a day or so. We plan on raising meat birds this summer. We will hopefully have some sort of hoop house or row covers too.

We have a lot going on, and interesting things to share. I started working out of the house this Winter and haven't had much time to write. I have the summer's off though and plan to update regularly and share recipes and homemade remedies. Please come back and see what our little family has been up to.

One last photo of an amazing sunset.
There is never a shortage of beauty here in the Ozarks, I love it.