Back Porch Hydroponics – Part 1

From the moment Angela and I decided to pull up our suburban stakes and embrace the homesteading lifestyle, one of the projects we wanted to do was set up a hydroponics system.  I have been fascinated by them since the first time I saw a system online and researched the benefits of growing plants in a water based system.  We have watched thousands of videos, seen some of the most elaborate set up’s you could possibly dream of and some ingenious DIY cost effective systems.  Although we have plans for a more permanent hydroponics system with even the potential of integrating fish to make it a true aquaponic’s operation, we decided to start small, work out the kinks and then progress from there.

With all of the variations you can go with, we chose to go with a variation of the Floating Mat System.  We wanted something which would be cost effective, easy to set up and maintain but yet capable of producing an abundance of veggies in a short period of time.  Here’s how we did it!

There are countless mediums you can use with the floating mat system, we decided to go with 4 18-Gallon Rubbermaid Totes due to their compact size and the depth needed to allow room for the roots to grow.  One of the concerns you will face with hydroponic systems is algae growth.  Since we went with the floating mat system, we do not have pumps aerating the water.  So to assist in slowing this down, we chose to utilize the black totes which will block the UV rays from affecting the water.  About a month or so ago Angela had ordered some Hydroponic Soilless Pots in anticipation of our system.  While looking for a good medium for the pots we came across the Extra Large Foam Noodles and immediately knew this is what we needed.  The inside diameter of the noodle was the perfect size for the pots and would provide enough buoyancy to keep the pots from being submerged once the plants began to mature.

We cut the noodles into roughly 1 inch pieces, allowing enough of the cup to be exposed to the water and afford the roots ample room to grow.  Obviously this system is not one you would use for your root type vegetables such as carrots and radishes,  but is perfect for the leafy goodness of lettuces and such.  We went through our sees and decided on Rocky Top Lettuce Mix, Roughwood Improved Green Glaze Collards, Ridgeline Organic Romaine Lettuce and European Mesclun Salad to start off our hydroponics planting session.  Once all of the disks were cut, we filled each of the cups roughly 2/3 with Premier Peat Moss added our seeds and covered to the top of the pot.

 

Now comes the moment of truth!  We guesstimated on how big we felt the plants were going to get, so for the 3 lettuce containers we went with 9 pots in each and for the collards we went with 6.  Planting hydroponics is somewhat like planting in a traditional garden.  You have the option to do a direct seed into the ground or to start your plants inside and plant once they are ready to transplant.  For our first crop we went with the seeds directly into the hydroponics system.  One of the wonderful aspects of growing hydroponically is the quick turn around from seed to harvest.  If all goes well, we will have harvest-able crops within 5 weeks, which means starting at about week 3 we will start our next round in the house allowing the seedlings to begin growing and then transfer them to the totes as we harvest.  If all goes as planned we will quickly be over run with lettuce and collards. To maintain good nutrients and pH balance within the totes, we are armed with a Hydroponic Nutrient TDS Meter and Blue Gold Hydro Organic Liquid Mineral & Nutrient  to ensure our crops stay extremely happy!

Well, there you have it.  Hidden Truth Farms is officially in the hydroponics business!  Be on the look out for updates over the next couple weeks to see our progress.



 

It’s Wild Blackberry Pickin Time

Yum…It’s Blackberry Pickin’ Time!

Yup around here the blackberry bushes are loaded with wild blackberries right now.  This morning as I went for my morning walk I saw several blackberry bushes just waiting for someone to come along and pluck the ripe berries from their vines.  It’s a bit tricky though, most of the blackberry bushes are heavily guarded by these nasty thorn spiked weeds that stand tall & proud to guard those juicy berries.  I came up to the house grabbed my boots, Berry Picker Scoop &  Berry Basket and Colander , headed back down to the awaiting bushes.  All the while thinking about what I’m going to do with all those berries.  After about 30 minutes of picking I came back to the house rinsed my berries in the berry basket & colander,  let them dry a bit and placed the berries on a cookie sheet lined with my Silicone Baking Sheet Mat to allow them to flash freeze without sticking together. Once these babies are frozen they are much easier to use in my favorite recipes.  My daughter, Tatianna loves to bake I asked her to make some of her delicious blackberry lemon scones, recipe below.  I don’t know about your part of the country,  but here in North Carolina it’s super humid right now, while she bakes I decided to mix up a pitcher of Blackberry Mojitos that recipe follows as well.

It can be a bit treacherous of course these bushes are strategically placed just out of reach.  Watch out for hidden dangers like over grown drainage ditches to creepy crawlers in the grass and weeds.  But once you come away with your bounty of blackberries the work is most certainly worth the adventure.

Blackberry Lemon Scones

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup butter, cut into pieces
grated zest of a lemon
1 large egg
3/4 cup milk, use more if needed
a big handful of blackberries

Directions

Preheat oven to 425F.  In a bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.  Add the butter and blend it with a fork, whisk, pastry blender or your fingers (or do it all in the food processor, if you have one), leaving some lumps no bigger than a pea.

Crack the egg into a measuring cup and add milk to make it a cup.  Stir it together with a fork and add to the flour mixture; stir with a spatula until just barely combined.  Add the berries and stir a couple more times, then drop the sticky dough in large spoonfuls onto a silicone baking sheet mat.  Sprinkle the tops with coarse sugar, if you like.

Bake for about 20 minutes, or less if you made small scones, until golden.

Recipe courtesy of dinnerwithjulie

Blackberry Mojitos

Ingredients

Serves: 2 servings

2 tbsp fresh mint leaves
2 tbsp granulated sugar
4 oz rum
½ lime, quartered
2 tbsp fresh blackberry juice (I pressed the blackberries through a strainer to get the juice)
Club soda
2 mojito glasses or 2 tall glasses

Directions

Place 1 tbsp mint leaves into each mojito glass.  Pour 1 tbsp of the blackberry juice into each glass. Squeeze a little of 2 lime quarters into each glass.  Then drop the lime quarters into the glasses.
Pour 1 tbsp sugar into each glass.  Press with a muddler.  Add 2 oz of rum to each glass.  Add ice to each glass until it is ¾ full.  Top off with club soda, shake,  then add the mixture back to the glasses.

Recipe courtesy of thisgalcooks

~ Angela


 

If you can’t eat it, why grow it?

When it comes to landscaping, there are two kinds of people.  Those who could spend hours on end cutting grass, trimming bushes and flowers, proudly posing next to their recently awarded yard of the month club sign.  Then you have others who would rather cement the entire yard, paint it green and call it done forever!  Fortunately for us, we enjoy our time outside piddling around the homestead constantly looking for ways to maximize what we have been blessed with.

Drive through our area and you will see the front of most homes will be decorated with rose bushes, juniper shrubs or hydrangeas, just to name a few of the more popular foliage selections.  But if you sit back and think about it, besides the visual aspect, what need are they fulfilling for you and your family?  As homesteaders, especially those who are more in an urban environment, utilizing you’re space to its full potential is the key.  One overlooked area which is prime for this is the flower bed area around your porch.  It is extremely easy to find plants to fill up your flower bed that are not only beautiful to look at, but will provide sustenance for you’re family.  Were going to cover a few of our favorites, both for cooking at medicinal uses, that will provide for years to come.

Rosemary

At a glance

This is without question one of our favorite herbs to use.  Rosemary is reasonably hardy in cool climates and can withstand droughts, surviving for long periods of time without water.  You can find either upright or trailing forms of Rosemary; the upright forms can reach 5′ tall, and serve as beautiful hedges. The plant flowers in spring and summer in areas with mild temperatures, but the plants can be in constant bloom in warm climates; flowers are white, pink, purple or deep blue.

Cooking

Rosemary is is a very aromatic and pungent herb, with a strong flavor, so you do not need to be heavy handed in its use.  Its leaves have pronounced lemon-pine flavor that marries well with  lamb, garlic, and olive oil. You can stuff poultry with whole springs or on top of fish while cooking.  Chopped finely , you can add it to bread dough, and of course any pasta sauce to give it a nice fragrant flavor.  Rosemary infused oil is amazing for cooking or as a dipping oil for bread.  But our favorite is rosemary and garlic pan seared steak! (Yes, there will be a recipe coming for that!)

Medicinal

There is a book out there we recommend everyone go out and buy called Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs.  It is one of the best referenced you can find for medicinal herbs, with detailed instructions on how to identify, grow and the medicinal uses for herbs.  The rosemary herb is one of the most beneficial plants you can find.  For centuries it has been identified for its ability to improve concentration, memory, cellular uptake of oxygen, eases headaches and migraines.  It is also known to be a circulatory stimulant, acting as a circulatory stimulant, and useful for issues related to cardiovascular system, poor circulation and low blood pressure.  Tea’s and tinctures are the most popular ways to ingesting rosemary.

Lavender

At a glance

Lavender is one of the more popular household herbs you will find for their beautiful flowers and aroma the plant itself gives off.  The most popular species of lavender which surprisingly a member of the mint family, known as Lavandula angustifolia.  It can grow between 3 – 6 foot tall, and produces a fragrant pinkish – purple flower, and is the inspiration for the color lavender.  There are a  wide range of uses for the flowers and evergreen like leaves from oils, perfumes and when dried, prevents moths from attacking your clothes.


Cooking

In the past lavender was generally used as a garnish or in salads and dressings, but recently those in the culinary world have found new ways to incorporate it into various dishes.  The “greens” of the plant have been found to be a milder version of rosemary and a great compliment to it when included in pork and fish dishes.  It also makes a wonderful herbal tea and added to goats milk makes for a wonderful cheese.  The flowers can be dried and added to baked goods and deserts, especially chocolate.  Also the nectar from the flowers are highly attractive to honey bees, which in turn creates a very fragrant and sought after honey.

Medicinal

Lavender is well known for its calming effects.  Massage therapists around the work incorporate it into their therapies to assist in relieving tension, stress while warding off depression and melancholy.  It also is effective as an antibacterial and antifungal agent.  It assists in treating a multitude of infections to include staph, strep colds and flu.  You can also mix combine it with tea tree oil to treat fungal infections such as ringworm and nail fungus.  It is also effective in relieving indigestion and helpful with calming stomach muscle spasms associated with IBS and Chrohn’s disease.  And who doesn’t love a shower or bath with some fresh homemade lavender goats milk soap!

Wormwood

At a glance

Wormwood is a herbaceous, perennial plant with fibrous roots. The stems are straight, growing from 2 – 4 foot tall, it has a grooved, branched, and silvery-green appearance.  In the 19th century it was used as the main ingredient for absinthe, a strong spirit made from wormwood, anise and fennel.  Ernest Hemingway, Vincent van Gogh and Pablo Picasso were all known to drink absinthe and some feel it help induce their creativity due to its hallucinogenic effects. Although absinthe is illegal in the U.S. it can still be found in Europe.  Wormwood contains thujone, a GABAA receptor antagonist that can cause epileptic-like convulsions and kidney failure when not used correctly and ingested in large amounts.

Cooking

With the exception of absinthe, there are no other viable uses for Wormwood in cooking but is known and used strictly for its medicinal purposes.

Medicinal

The medicinal applications for Wormwood are vast.  Studies have shown that herbal drug artemisinin, which is derived from wormwood, can kill iron-enriched breast cancer, making it a potential natural cancer treatment option for women with breast cancer.  It is also used to eliminate intestinal parasites such as pinworms and roundworms and wormwood essential oil contains an antimicrobial activity  which can fight E. Coli and Salmonella.  Studies show that herbal remedies like wormwood are as good or even better at fighting small intestinal bacterial overgrowth or SIBO symptoms.  Research has also found that it is excellent for individuals who suffer from Crohn’s disease with controlling and in some cases helping it go into remission.




St. John’s Wort

At a glance

Perforate St John’s wort is a herbaceous perennial plant with extensive, creeping rhizomes. Its stems are erect, branched in the upper section, and can grow to 3 feet tall. It has opposite, stalkless, narrow, oblong leaves that are are yellow-green in color, with scattered translucent dots.  The dots are conspicuous when held up to the light, giving the leaves the ‘perforated’ appearance.  Despite its medicinal applications and benefits, some consider it an invasive plant.  It eaten in large quantities, it can be hazardous to live stalk and grazing animals.

Cooking

There are no culinary applications for St. John’s Wort.

Medicinal

It is a well known fact that St. John’s Wort is extremely effective in the treatment of depression, there is research being conducted on the expanded benefits.  Studies have found St. John’s Wort helps with menopausal mood swings, addiction and withdrawl, hormonal withdraw, anti-inflammatory agent and as a topical to treat burns, scrapes and bruises.  Cancer research has recently begun putting more faith in the role that St. John’s Wort could possibly play. Research has shown a definite correlation between the prevention and treatment of leukemia with consistent use of St. John’s Wort supplements. Any cancer-preventing substance is highly valued, and this research will certainly be ongoing.

 

These are a few of the herbs and plants we currently have growing around our home and garden.  Maximizing the space you have is extremely important and finding alternative areas for your various herbs and plants can give you’re home a beautiful landscaped look while at the same time offer many culinary and medicinal resources.  Hope this helps with a little in-site and happy planting!

~ Brian and Angela

*Disclaimer:  Prior to using any medications whether synthetic or natural, be sure to consult your physician to ensure they are right for you.




 

A stroll through the garden

When we came home from church today, we decided to spend the day in the garden.  Well, truth be told, we began dismantling the greenhouse.  While out there, we took the time to really take a look at how our babies were doing.  No need to say a whole lot, just take a look at how everything is really taking life!

Our Roma’s are loaded down
Our newest babies
This beauty tasted soooo good on our bacon egg sandwich this morning!
We love some squash!
We had a visitor…..we named him Steve!
Medicinal herb’s are a must in every garden
Green Maters! Cant wait
Yellow is becoming our favorite color!

There you go ya’ll.  Wanted to share a little of what we have going on here at HTF.  Things are about to explode around here, come on by and visit, you will probably leave with some goodies!

~ Brian and Angela