Know Your Zone! USDA Plant Hardiness Primer

Where do you fall on the map? And do you know why it’s important?

Moving from one zone to another can be quite the shock. If that's you, embrace the change and garden accordingly.

Moving from one zone to another can be quite the shock. If you’ve changed zones recently, embrace the change and garden accordingly.

Living on Acre 1222

Brand new second edition! in stock now at or Lehman’s in Kidron, OH.

It’s important because you can see the cold temperature ranges over time in your geographic area. Just this one piece of information can help you make several decisions, no matter if you’re running a small farm or an urban homestead. You can start to plan what to plant, and when to plant it.

When you review at the average temperatures over time for your zone at the National Climatic Data Center, you can then know even more, and plan further ahead: when to get your peeper chicks next spring, for instance, or the best time to cull livestock for the freezer. (Believe me, it’s not something you want to do on a steaming hot day.)

Want to put in a second-season garden? Depending on your hardiness zone, you may want to get started right away.

Gorgeous...and practical. And in stock now at or Lehman's in Kidron, OH. Supplies limited!

Gorgeous…and practical. And in stock NOW at or Lehman’s in Kidron, OH. Supplies limited!

Folks in the far Northwest, Great Lakes and Northeastern regions know that once summer’s heat starts to fade, the first frost won’t be too far behind. They’re planting now, and it’s sturdy stuff. Kale, in all its permutations, leads the pack, but you’ll see the odd broccoli and carrots too. Harvested at fingerling size, there’s nothing sweeter than a carrot that’s had a bit of frost.

Lucky folks living in the Southwest, South and Southeast regions have a little bit more time, and can often squeeze out some more delicate fall crops: lettuces, peas and radishes.

As we’re all building a simpler lifestyle, we should use all the resources at our disposal to do it efficiently. The Old Farmer’s Almanac is a great start, but if you want hard data, it’s out there. And it’s free for the taking from many federal, state and county government sources. Get digging–and get all the facts you need!

Stirring Up Change, Right Here In Amish Country

Around 2002, the world as we know it changed. That’s when the Natural Peanut Butter Mixer came on the scene. Sure, it’s a little thing. But sometimes, it’s the little things that can smooth out life’s hills and valleys.

Bob Witmer is the guy responsible. At the time, he was managing a local non-profit, but he’d come up with a couple of good ideas that made great products. They’re all like the Natural Peanut Butter Mixer: solutions to the small things that make you crazy. Continue reading

Pure Water: How To Do It On Your Own

Old Settler keeps cistern water pure! Treats up to 5,000 gallons, in stock now at

Old Settler keeps cistern water pure! Treats up to 5,000 gallons, in stock now at

I belong to a group that works on community resilience in the face of climate change. At our last meeting, the subject of water came up. Now I live in the northeast and, generally, water is not a problem. Too much water can be an issue but not having access to water is rarely on my radar screen. Our land is bordered by a small stream and a larger river. It would be work but I could always get water. Clean water is another issue.

The headwater to the river is only a few miles from my house and there isn’t anything of consequence between here and there so pollution isn’t a problem. Still, animals die and defecate and campers are sometimes irresponsible with wastes so one has to assume that any water source, wherever it’s located, is contaminated. So how would I plan to purify my water? Continue reading

How Do YOU Make Apple Dumplings?

Lehman's 55th Anniversary Cookbook

A similar recipe to Mom’s apple butter is in Lehman’s 55th Anniversary Cookbook. Click here to see more.

When I was about 8, I realized I could bake, and that I was pretty good at it. So my Gran and I sat down, and went through the recipe box. I remember that school was about to start, and that Mom and I had just made apple butter with the thin-skinned little yellow apples (and a few pounds from the market).

“Grandma, how do you make apple dumplings?” My Geezer and my bro were big fans of anything apple that Granny made, and her apple dumplings and apple pie were at the top of the list.

“Oh,” I remember her saying. “That’s easy. You make a kind of pie crust, and doctor up a few apples.”

And so we did. Continue reading

Get Schooled In Meatless Mondays

Yes, it’s that time of year again! This article originally appeared on August 27, 2012. Hope it helps you make the transition back to a fall routine this year too.  –Editor.

Back to School Meatless Monday
September is an odd month. It can still be as hot as summer but the mornings and evenings can be chilly, hinting at autumn. Whereas in August you are buying new pens, pencils, tablets, binders, schoolbags, lunchboxes and all the other equipment to start the new school year, by September it’s a done deal. We are all back into the routine of school runs, bus schedules, car pools, after school activities and homework.  Life can be a bit fraught while everyone gets used to their new routines. Continue reading

“But Why Bother?”

Want to try caramel popcorn yourself? has several GMO-free varieties! Click for more.

Want to try caramel popcorn yourself? has several GMO-free varieties! Click for more.

I am a bit distracted. Our farmer’s market is well underway, and this isn’t my first season. Still, there are a lot of last minute things that have to be at, well, the last minute. Bread baking in particular has to be done just before we leave. I make a wonderful chocolate/caramel popcorn that is also best done no more than 24 hours before being consumed. What I have been doing is making jelly, jams, sauces and candy as well as finishing up some hand creams and salves. Labeling everything is the most time consuming part of all. Continue reading

Hardy Rosemary For More Than Food, Garden

rosemary flowers springThe woody evergreen rosemary fills the garden with spicy scents, and activity. Butterflies and bees love the blooms that are commonly blue but also come in pink and white. This lends it to be an ideal plant to use in flower gardens, and cut as hedges and topiaries.

We do not always think of rosemary as a plant to use in crafts. It is a great medium to use in the art of bonsai.  The hardiness and woody texture of rosemary allows the intricate cutting and shaping of the creating the desired shapes. And the quick growth of the plant gives nearly immediate gratification to bonsai gardener. Continue reading

The Pickled “Beet” Goes On

Finished pickled beets have a lovely color.

Finished pickled beets have a lovely color.

I guess I went a little bit overboard but really, this time it’s not my fault. I planted the beets eight weeks ago and we immediately had a month of constant, unrelenting rain.

Fearing the worst and not wanting to be beet deprived I replanted in another bed. As soon as the seeds were in the ground we had a month of Texas-style heat here in Western Massachusetts.

Once again I assumed a failed crop so I replanted again. Of course a few days back, I happened upon bed number one and discovered a terrific crop of beets. And the second bed has sprouted too, and now I find myself with an embarrassment of beets. It’s far too early for any of these beets to go in the root cellar; I’ll plant a late crop for that so these ‘early’ ones will need to be pickled. And pickled and pickled. Continue reading

Easy Bread And Butter Pickles Simply Delicious

Saving the Seasons is available now at or Lehman's in Kidron, Ohio.

Saving the Seasons is available now at or Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio.

Canning holds a lot of sentimental value for me—the popping lids and steaming kettles of food evoke warm memories of my mother’s and grandmothers’ cozy kitchens and home-canned goodies. That alone makes it worthwhile, but canning has other benefits as well. Buying large quantities of fruits and vegetables in season saves money on our yearly grocery bill. I like knowing where my food comes from and what’s in it.

Pickles are one of my must-can items every year. Home-canned pickles delicious and easy to make, they are considerably cheaper than store-bought pickles and free of the corn syrup, preservatives and artificial colors often found in commercial brands. Continue reading

Add Pop To Your Pickling With Fermented Dills

Click here to get this national bestseller at

Click here to get this national bestseller at It’s THE book to have if you’re into fermenting.

There seems to be a rapidly growing movement toward returning to traditional methods of preserving foods, such as canning, dehydrating, root cellaring, and even… fermenting.

Fermentation particularly seems to be an unfamiliar concept in our fast-paced culture today. Often times when Americans think of something being fermented, they equate it to being rotten or spoiled. We forget that sauerkraut, in fact, is a fermented food. And it’s highly nutritious for you, as are many fermented foods! Almost every culture around the world incorporates fermentation in their daily food preservation techniques. Americans are slowly beginning to re-learn this forgotten art. Continue reading