DIY neem spray

20130316-133232.jpgHere is our super easy and super-effective homemade insecticide recipe!

Gather your materials

Bucket Neem seeds Pepper Chili powder Garlic Cinnamon

Blend with a splash of water. Pour into your bucket and add water.

Ferment for a day or so.

Strain and spray on pest-sensitive crops. No need to spray willy-nilly. Just use it where it's really needed, or you risk killing beneficials.

It's best to spray in the morning or evening because the hot sun will break down the molecules, decreasing its efficacy.

We spray this often, like every day or so and have seen a huge improvement! Read our post on using grow cloth and soap sprays for more on our pest battles!

Making Greek yogurt

Yogurt is so easy to make at home, and if you have your own milk, there's no reason to buy it. If you don't have your own milk, it still might be cheaper to make. Gather materials Crock Container that will fit in the crock Towel Leftover yogurt, at least a half cup Milk to fill the container Oven

Preheat your oven to the lowest temperature setting and turn it off when it's about 100. I just guesstimate and it works fine. We want to create a warm environment but not so hot that it kills our cultures.

Heat the milk on the stove until its hot, but you can still stand to put your finger in it.

Put the yogurt in the container and stir the warm milk into it.

Wrap the container with the towel and set it into your crock. I put a lid on the container and the crock.

Leave it all in the warm oven and let it sit for 8-10 hours.

When you come back to check on it, it should be thicker and yogurty but it will likely be rather runny. I put mine in a ketchup bottle and use it as a condiment. I also like to use it in smoothies.

If you like thick Greek yogurt, there's one more step. Drain it, like you would cheese to get the extra whey out.

Double up your cheese cloth and place it in a colander, and place that in a bowl. Pour your yogurt in there, set a lid on top and leave it all in the fridge for a long time. Check frequently until its the consistency you like.

Of course, there's a use for that whey! Have you noticed that cooking with real foods is a lot of work because you can't throw anything away and there ends up being a million sidesteps? We raise our own chickens, so every time we kill a batch, we have to make liver pâté and chicken stock. So back to the whey.

Squeeze a lime into it and a few spoonfuls of sugar and leave it in a covered jar for a few days. Taste until the microbes have eaten some of the sweetness--until it tastes good to you--and then enjoy whey lemonade!

Making goat cheese

20130315-143450.jpg I haven't written a post in a long time, but I've been busy! The twins are six weeks old, and Leon is 14 months old so they take up most of my day. Then there's laundry (3 babies in cloth diapers) and cooking and finding time for personal hygiene, and sweeping, dishes....

It's overwhelming and never ending, and that doesn't include our farm business. Thankfully Carlos has been able to work full time in the garden and my sister is here to help with harvesting and deliveries. I'm still getting used to being housebound and adjusting to my new role as farm wife and mother. On the one hand, I am ambitious and career oriented and resentful of being "just a stay at home mom", but on the other, I don't want to add to my already considerable responsibilities.

Anyway, while browsing YouTube we discovered a great video on making goat cheese that makes use of a wild plant we have growing all around us. Making cheese seems like something I can do from home that will contribute to our farm business.

Our first attempt at goat cheese came out delicious. Not to exaggerate, but everyone who has tried it says its the best cheese they have ever tasted.

Here's what we did:





Carlos milked our four milking goats twice a day and saved it up in the refrigerator. Normally our baby gets to drink it, so we had to water it down a little more for him and substitute with homemade rice milk. It only took two days until we were ready.

First we heated up 2 gallons of milk until it was very hot but I could still stick my finger in it. Scientific, I know. Meanwhile, we had crushed up berries from the lovely trompillo plant which is a native plant that can be found in sunny wet locations, like the edges of farms or irrigation canals. We let that sit in about 2 cups of suero (whey), from the previous batch of cheese. You can use water if this is your first batch. If you don't have trompillo, you can use store bought caujo .

Then we dumped the caujo into the hot milk and let it sit for about an hour and a half. You'll know it's ready when you see a translucent liquid forming on top of the milk. Next, we stirred the caujo with a spatula to break up the coagulated milk into big chunks.

On the side we set up a colander inside of a bowl such that there's space under the colander. In the colander we laid the cheesecloth. Using a wide flat spoon with holes, we scooped the chunky milk into the cheesecloth.

The suero began to drain. I gathered the corners of the cloth and twisted to help the liquid drain. In the picture we tied the cloth but you don't have to. This time I wrung it out a few times and then just let it sit.

After a few hours it was thick and moist but the suero had nearly drained completely. I scooped the cheese into a mold, added salt, and mixed it up by squeezing with my hand. That's it! It went into the fridge where it will dry a bit more.

We saved all the whey to make cream cheese. I heated up the whey until its just about to boil and then let it sit. When it's ready I'll do the same thing I did with the cheese except I'll double the cheesecloth. I can't wait to see how it turns out!

It's so satisfying to make cheese at home!

Brewing compost tea

I have a goal to move towards a more sustainable, permaculture-oriented style of agriculture. This involves using cover crops to add habitat for beneficial insects and to take up space that would otherwise be taken by invasive weeds. Cutting cover crops and laying them in place also adds mulch to the earth which is then broken down slowly and made available to your plants in a year or so. This is how compost is made in the wild. Next time you're under a tree whose dead leaves haven't been raked away, brush the leaves away and scratch in the dirt. You'll notice about a centimeter-thick layer of compost. Underneath that the dirt is hard and probably too hard to scratch with your finger. That's an easy way to identify where the compost ends and the dirt begins. I have yet to actually begin experimenting with cover crops. We apply compost to build nutrients in the soil, but watering or spraying with compost tea is an even faster way to get nutrients to your plants. It's also a way to inoculate your soil with the good microbes that live in the compost.

You can buy a fancy compost tea brewer; you can make one with an aquarium pump; or you can do it with a bucket and a stick. Here are instructions for the hillbilly method:

1. Gather your materials Bucket Finished compost (it's important you use the best compost you can so that it's full of good microbes). Fabric for straining paint Stick for stirring

2. Fill the bucket about a fifth with compost and add water. Leave room at the top so it doesn't spill when you stir.

3. Stir often! Keep the bucket in a place you'll walk by often to encourage you to stir it more often. We want to encourage the aerobic microbes to live, which means they need oxygen.

4. After 24 hours your tea is ready to use. Strain it and dilute it 10 to 1.

You'll want to apply it to your plants right away! Water at the roots while the soil is wet. Alternatively, spray it onto the leaves, getting under the leaves as well. Plants absorb a lot of nutrients through the leaves so this a great way to give them a quick feed.