Mar 12, 2018

Why You Shouldn't Worry About GMO Seeds in Your Garden

the difference between GMO seeds, hybrid seeds, heirloom seeds, open-pollinated seeds
It's that time of year when people are buying and starting seeds for their vegetable gardens, and it seems everywhere I go someone is asking "Where can I buy non-GMO seeds?" Trust me, friends; this is something you don't have to worry about.

It's not that I'm pro-GMO. I'm definitely not. (When humans play God it always ends badly. And where are the studies showing a lifetime of eating GMO food - or pesticide-ridden food, for that matter - is safe? Hint: No such studies exist.)

But here's the deal: GMO seeds are not available to home gardeners. That's right: You can't buy GMO seed unless you're a commercial farmer.

The reason for this is simple: Profit. The creators of GMO seed want to make a whole lot of money from them. Therefore, they don't want just anybody being about to grow GMO food. I know this because they regularly sue farmers who accidentally grow GMO food in their fields because the wind or a bird or some other natural thing makes GMO seed fall on their property. GMO seed costs more than traditional seed, and the makers of GMO seeds want to keep it that way.

No, little ol' backyard gardeners like you and me can't get our hands on GMO seed. worries!

What is the Difference Between GMO Seeds and Non-GMO Seeds?

To help clarify further, let's talk about the differences between GMO, hybrid, heirloom, and open-pollinated seeds...because this is where a lot of the confusion about GMOs sits.

GMO seed: Seeds that are created in a lab. These seeds could never be created in nature...never. GMO plants may have DNA from non-compatible plants, as well as from animals and bacteria. (Learn more about creating GMO seeds here.)

Hybrid: Hybrid seeds and plants have been around for a very long time. Hybridization often happens in nature, because wind or animals cross-pollinate plants. Hybrids can also be created by humans, when the process is used to bring out special traits in a plant. (For example, a human might cross a tomato that is particularly disease-resistant with a tomato that is especially tasty and, if she is lucky, come up with a tomato that is tasty and disease-resistant.) No laboratory is needed to make a hybrid. Instead, gardeners simply remove the male portion of a flower to create a "mother plant" and push the male portion of a different flower into it. (Learn more about cross-pollinating plants here.)

Hybrid plants are not the best for seed saving because hybrid seeds aren't usually true to the parent plant. For example, if you collect seed from that hybrid tomato I mentioned above, the offspring plants probably won't have all the good qualities of the parent plant - and may have some of the bad qualities from the hybrid tomato's ancestor plants.

Heirloom: Seed from an older variety of plant, handed down for generations. All heirlooms are open-pollinated.

Open-pollinated: A hybrid seed that was created by insects, birds, wind, humans, or any other natural process. Open-pollinated seeds are excellent for seed-saving because they tend to be true to the parent plant. While all heirlooms are open-pollinated, not all open-pollinated seeds are heirloom.

One Last Thing

Because someone will bring it up. GMO seeds might be a real concern if you live near commercial farms growing GMO crops - because the wind or animals could potentially drop GMO seed into your garden. If you're in this situation and you see seedlings where you didn't plant them - especially if they are GMO crops (corn, soy, sugar beets, papaya, zucchini, yellow summer squash, canola, or cottonseed) - pull them immediately and burn them.

Mar 6, 2018

How to Dehydrate Zoodles & Other Vegetable Noodles

How to dehydrate vegetable noodles
This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information. Thank you for supporting this site! 

In case you haven't noticed, zoodles (a.k.a. zucchini "noodles") and other vegetable "noodles" are all the rage right now. Vegetable noodle makers (called spiralizers) are huge sellers on Amazon and big box stores, and you can even buy pre-cut vegetable noodles in the frozen food section of grocery stores. There's no doubt veggie noodles are easy to make and a healthier option than traditional noodles. But did you know you can preserve them for your pantry? Oh yeah.

First: How to Make Zoodles and Other Vegetable Noodles

Years ago, before I'd even heard of a zoodle, I exchanged traditional lasagna noodles for thinly sliced zucchini. All you need to make these is a sharp knife and a steady hand. (Slice 'em thin!) But for spaghetti-like "noodles," which is what most people mean when they talk about zoodles or veggie noodles, it's really best to use a vegetable spiralizer. There are about a gazillion of them on the market, but here's the one I have, and it works very well.
Making zoodles with a vegetable spiralizer.
Basically, you just stick washed veggies in the spiralizer and crank the machine. Out come spaghetti-like "noodles," leaving just the core of the veggie as waste. (But as homesteaders, we know this won't go to waste! It will go in the compost bin, or we'll give it to the chickens or pigs or dogs.) And ta-da! You have zoodles.

One word of caution, though. Zucchini is, unfortunately, one vegetable that can be GMO. If you wish to avoid that, you have a few options. You can either buy organic zucchini from the grocery store (legally, organic veggies can't be GMO), or you can buy from a trusted local farmer, or you can grow zucchini yourself. I recommend the later, because zucchini is super-easy to grow, and there are varieties that are appropriate even for the smallest garden spots.

In addition to hand cutting or using a vegetable spiralizer, you could use a julienne peeler to create your zoodles. However, peelers often make zoodles that are quite thin - and thin zoodles dehydrate into almost nothing, which means you may end up with mush when you rehydrate them.
Zoodles store well in a food storage container in the fridge.

Once you've made your zoodles, the next step is to either eat them fresh (read tips for cooking zoodles here) or store them. They store surprisingly well in a covered food container in the fridge. I've had them last more than a week this way. But for longer term storage, dehydration is your friend.

Dehydrating Zoodles & Other Vegetable Noodles

The trick to dehydrating zoodles effectively is to put them on your food dehydrator's trays in little "nests." This makes them easy to get on the trays, and easy to store, too. (If you've simply sliced zucchini into lasagna-noodle style strips, just lay them flat on your dehydrator's trays, making sure they don't touch.)
Zoodles dry best when formed into "nests."
I use a wide mouth canning jar ring to make nests.
To help determine how big the nests should be, I use a wide mouth canning jar ring as a sort of template. This ensures the finished product stores easily in a jar - and keeps me from making the nests so big they take forever to dry. I place the ring on the dehydrator tray, add some zoodles, then remove the ring. If you make the nests too tall, they may impede putting additional trays on your dehydrator. Also, be sure the nests don't touch, or they'll end up sticking together.

Set the dehydrator at 135 degrees F. and dry until the zoodles are entirely crisp. To test for doneness, break a zoodle. No moisture should come from the break.
Don't let the "nests" touch, or they will stick together.
To store the dehydrated zoodles, place them in a wide mouth canning jar and secure the lid. Store in a dry, dark location. Dried zoodles last at least a year in storage. If you live in a moist or humid area, I suggest adding a desiccant pack to each jar, to help prevent the zoodles from rehydrating while in storage. (Zucchini is particularly prone to this problem.)
Zoodles shrink considerably when dehydrated.
The zoodles are done when they are crisp.
Store dehydrated zoodles in an airtight jar.
To use the zoodles, you may toss them, dry, into soups, stews, or heated pasta sauce. There's no need to rehydrate with water, under these circumstances. If you want to add zoodles to, say, a stir-fry, you'll need to first soak them in a little water. Another option is to boil dried zoodles for about 3 minutes; some people feel this makes them more like traditional pasta. Or simply cover dried zoodles with boiling water, place a lid over the bowl, and let the zoodles sit for about 15 minutes, or until tender. In the three later cases, be sure to squeeze the rehydrated zoodles before adding them to the pan, or the end result may be quite watery.

Feb 28, 2018

How to Grow and Use Parsley for Food and Medicine

How to Grow and Use Parsley for Medicine and Food
This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information. Thank you for supporting this site! 

Flat leaf parsley (petroselinum crispum) is one of those herbs I used to omit from every recipe that called for it. I didn't figure it made much of a difference, flavor-wise - and most recipes only called for a small amount, yet I had to buy a large bunch at the store. I didn't want to waste food or money. But when we moved here, one of the herbs already growing on our homestead was a large clump of parsley...and I have to admit, it's one of the easiest-growing plants I've ever had. It comes back earlier than any other edible, is care-free, and produces abundantly. I'm not one to let such a blessing pass by, unused. So recently, I've been researching the best ways to use up a lot of parsley.

How to Use Fresh Parsley

First and foremost, I'm learning to use fresh parsley leaves. No longer do I omit parsley from recipes. In fact, I'm learning to add the herb to most of what I cook. Eggs for breakfast? I add a sprinkling of chopped parsley. Tuna or chicken salad for lunch? I stir in chopped parsley. Soup or stew or casserole or any type of meat for dinner? I add chopped parsley. Salad as a side? I include some parsley leaves.

And as I do this, I'm finding that parsley adds a freshness and brightness to each dish that was previously missing.
Remove the leaves from the stems when cooking with parsley. Courtesy of Kelley Boone.

There are also some dishes that feature parsley prominently. These include:

Parsley (English) Pesto
Parsley Butter
Parsley Salt (made the same way I make celery salt)
Chimichurri sauce
Cream of Parsley Soup
Parsley Salad
"Green Goddess" Sauce
Fried Parsley

Parsley pesto. Courtesy of Katrin Gilger.

Preserving Parsley

I find the easiest way to preserve parsley is to dehydrate it. I simply remove the leaves from their stems, lay them in a single layer on an electric dehydrator tray (this is the current model of what I use) and dehydrate at 95 degrees F. until crisp. I store the dehydrated leaves whole, in an air tight jar in a dark, cool location. To use, I simply crush the leaves in my hand and sprinkle into whatever I'm cooking. (Crushing herbs before storing them ensures the loss much of their flavor and medicinal properties.)

Some people prefer to freeze parsley. I've done this by simply throwing whole leaves in a freezer bag, and then breaking off however much of the herb I want when I'm cooking. But you can also chop up parsley leaves and place clumps in an ice cube tray to freeze. Once fully frozen, transfer to a freezer bag. You may also mix the leaves with a little olive oil before freezing them in an ice cube tray.

Parsley roots are edible and medicinal.
Eating Parsley Root

The root of the parsley plant looks very much like a parsnip (or a tan carrot). I have yet to try it, but some people say it tastes like a mixture of celery, carrots, and turnips. The root is typically harvested in winter or early spring and is eaten much like other root vegetables. Remember, of course, that if you take the plant's root, you are effectively removing parsley from your garden - so if you want to keep growing the plant for its leaves, be sure to only remove the root in order to thin out a clump of parsley.

Here are some recipes to try:

Parsley Root Soup
Parsley Root Fries
Mashed Potatoes and Parsley Root
Roasted Root Vegetables
Parsley Root Stew

Parsley Medicine
Parsley root, seed, and leaf are medicinal.

Parsley is a pretty powerful little herb. It's packed with antioxidant flavonoids, phenolic compounds, folate, iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium, as well as vitamins K, C, and A. Traditionally, it's considered a "bitter" herb, good for aiding in digestive issues. Herbalists use it to reduce inflammation, improve or prevent anemia, boost immunity, and treat kidney stones, bladder infections, bloating, gas, gout, acid reflux, constipation, and PMS. Parsley also has antibacterial and antifungal properties.

When used as medicine, parsley leaves are often brewed into a tea, or used as an essential oil. Parsley seeds are also used in traditional medicine, especially for normalizing menstruation and treating menstrual pain. (Never use garden seeds for medicine, as they are usually sprayed with chemicals.) Parsley roots are medicinal, too, and herbalists use them mostly in the form of a tincture.

How to Grow Parsley

Like most herbs, parsley is extremely easy to grow. However, the seeds are a wee bit tricky to germinate: First, soak the seeds overnight in warm water. Direct sow outdoors in the spring or sow indoors 6 - 12 weeks before the last spring frost.

Plant seedlings in containers or directly into the soil. The plant isn't picky about soil, but prefers it rich in nitrogen. Grow in full sun or part shade. If your winters are harsh, mulch the plant well or it will die when temperatures drop.

Harvest stems before the plant flowers in the late summer or fall, or the herb will probably take on a bitter flavor. To keep parsley from growing "leggy" always cut off stems at the base of the plant.

CAUTION: It's possible to be allergic to any plant, and parsley is no exception. Some people experience contact dermitis from touching parsley, while others experience an allergic reaction to eating it. One side effect of having an allergic reaction may be the sensation that parsley is very spicey. Parsley oil should never be used during pregnancy and those experiencing inflammatory kidney ailments should never consume parsley in large doses.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, nor should anything on this website ( be considered medical advice. The FDA requires me to say that products mentioned, linked to, or displayed on this website are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information on this web site is designed for general informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for qualified medical advice or care. There are no assurances of the information being fit or suited to your medical needs, and to the maximum extent allow by law disclaim any and all warranties and liabilities related to your use of any of the information obtained from the website. Your use of this website does not constitute a doctor-patient relationship. No information on this website should be considered complete, nor should it be used as a substitute for a visit to, consultation with, or the advice of a physician or other qualified health care provider.

Feb 22, 2018

Creating a Canning Kitchen

Preserving Kitchen, Summer Kitchen
This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information. Thank you for supporting this site! 

Since we moved to our mountaintop homestead in the summer of 2016, we've planned to create a canning kitchen - a place set aside just for preserving our homegrown food. The original structure on our homestead, which appears to date from the 1950s or 60s, seemed the logical choice. Until recent years, people had lived in it, so while it doesn't have a toilet (they used the woods instead), it does have electricity and plumbing. It already housed the washer and dryer, the dog-washing tub, and a wonderful old sink. All it really needed was a cook, a lot of clean up.

Why I Want a Canning Kitchen

So why, you may ask, do I want a separate area just for canning and preserving? My reasons are many:

1. It prevents the house from getting uncomfortably hot during canning season. (Our house has great passive-solar properties, so we definitely don't need to warm things up in summer!)

2. It prevents my tiny kitchen from becoming more crowded. I simply don't have room to store all my canning tools and supplies inside the house - but there's plenty of room for all that in the canning kitchen.
The original structure on our homestead...which is now a canning kitchen.
3. Did I mention I have a tiny kitchen? I can can in it, but it's definitely tricky.

4. If I have a canning kitchen, my house kitchen need not be a constant mess during canning season.

My hubby worked hard to make this preserving kitchen happen, and I am grateful!

How We Did It
I wish I'd taken a proper "before" photo. This is a shot after the building was already largely cleaned up.

The first step to preparing the canning kitchen was to get a new roof on the building, since the old metal roof was leaking like crazy when we bought the place. Then we had to remove copious amounts of junk left behind by the previous owners. Sadly, most of it went to the dump because it was just too far gone to do anyone good.

Next, there was the question of the stove. For canning, an electric coil stove is best. I'd tried canning on our house's gas stove (fueled by propane) and it took forever to get the water to a it ate up a lot of propane, and our tank is small. Last summer, my husband set up a turkey fryer burner on the porch. That was nice in that it kept the house cool, but it was extremely difficult to get the burner low enough in temp that liquid didn't siphon out of the jars while canning. Plus, I still had to warm liquids and cook any foods inside, bring jars inside and fill them, and then walk them outside to put in the canner. A bit of a pain.

The area I chose for my canning stovetop.

My hubby got pretty annoyed at me once or twice because I refused to buy used coil top stoves we saw in thrift stores. I just figured we weren't ready for them yet...and as it turned out, I think we ended up with something better: One of my husband's co-workers had a drop-in stovetop, which he gave us for free. Free is good!

The neat vintage sink already in the building.
Now we needed to figure out where I wanted the stove and how best to make a counter for it. I chose to have the stovetop near the already-existing sink, but with a little workspace in-between. (Eventually, my hubby will probably put a pot filler, like this one, directly over the stovetop, so I don't have to lug a canner full of water around.) And it just so happened there was a really solid old door sitting around among the junk in the building. My husband thought it would make a great counter, and he was right!

Door turned counter.
He built sturdy legs for the door-countertop (using materials we had on hand), and we thought initially we'd buy some laminate to finish the top. But ultimately my husband decided to sand the door down and give it coats of protective linseed oil. The result is totally gorgeous! It will require new applications of linseed every season, but we're okay with that. Cheap and beautiful is good!
The door was originally an ugly 1970s dark brown. But once sanded...

it is lovely!
Look at that gorgeous grain!
I love the original hole for the knob. Upcycling is cool!

Eventually, I hope to have closed cupboards beneath the counter, for storing kitchen towels and such.

Where my hubby's tools sit in this photo is my vintage work table.
But otherwise, it's a job completed! I have an old, broken rake (we found about a gazillion of them on the property) to hold utensils, an old school house chalkboard (nifty, though I'm not sure what I'll do with it), and a vintage 1950s laminate kitchen table to use as a workstation. I also have my dehydrators in the building, as well as my juicer, scales, and similar kitchen tools. And have I mentioned that the view is fantastic? I can't wait for preserving season to come!

A rustic utensil holder.
What a  view!

Feb 17, 2018

Weekend Links & Updates

Playing Miss Hannigan in Annie.
In which I share my favorite posts from this blog's Facebook page.

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information. Thank you for supporting this site! 

On practising (i.e. "repeated exercise in or performance of an activity") sin:

"No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him...the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil...By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God nor the one who does not love his brother."

1 John 3:4 - 10

* I've been rather absent, not only on the blog, but also on Facebook and Instagram. I'm sorry! I haven't forgotten you, I've just been a bit overwhelmed. As I mentioned a while ago, I've been rehearsing for a local production of Annie, plus doing all my usual homeschooling, working from home, and homesteading. As if that weren't bad enough, I've been SO sick! In fact, the whole cast of the show is quite ill; I've never seen anything like it. I blame it on having lots of little kids running around, plus tiny, crowded dressing rooms with no ventilation. All my usual herbal preventatives and cures haven't worked, and I ended up with a bad sinus infection (that's has me partially deaf...fully deaf in one ear for a couple of days) and had to get on a course of antibiotics. Oh, and when I saw the doc he freaked out because my iron levels were so low, and the iron supplements he has me taking make me vomit. Fun times! Well, actually, yes. Despite illness, I'm having a fantastic time pretending to be mean to little girls :)  (P.S. People are very quick to blame my diet for any health issue I may encounter, but I've been anemic since before going keto. The root cause is excessive menstruation.)
Our (pet) buns.
* On Super Bowl Sunday, my daughter let her pet Polish rabbits mate. If you're never seen rabbits mating, get thee to YouTube right now. It's hilarious. The male often gets at the wrong end, and when he's done, he faints. We suspect the bunny mating "took" because our doe, Pickles, is acting aggressively toward our buck, Buddy. We're talking punching, growling, and attempted biting. This is normal pregnant doe behavior. (Some does will even castrate bucks that dare to come near.) Let's hope Pickles other maternal instincts are strong, too!

An excellent novel!
* At least being sick gave me a chance to sink into a new book (A Refuge Assured) by one of my favorite novelist, Joceyln Green. She writes so well - and not only did I learn about an aspect of history I was unfamiliar with (French refugees coming to the U.S. during the French Revolution), but Joceyln gives me a lot to ponder about liberty and whether it can be abused. I highly recommend her books!

* Have you ever tried baking with a wood stove?

* How to plant trees in spring.

* This looks like such a great, easy gift idea. How to make personalized candles.

* 5 Regrets You Don't Want to Have if Your Kids Walk Away from Faith. Some excellent reminders here.

Oldies But Goodies:

* Gardening hacks you should ignore.
* How to grow epic tomatoes!

Jan 31, 2018

Cauliflower Rice "Mac & Cheese" - Keto, LCHF, Low Carb Recipe

Cheesy Cauli-Rice
I've now gone down 5 clothing sizes - a wonderful side effect of reversing my diabetes by eating a keto (ketogenic) diet. Happy dance! An awful lot of people are interested in how I've taken control of my health through diet, but most of them, upon hearing how I eat, say, "Oh, I could never give up potatoes" or "I couldn't live without pasta." I find this sad, largely because the keto diet is pretty effortless. It's incredibly freeing to no longer crave carby foods, nor feel constantly hungry because of them. Keto is so satisfying, you honestly don't miss all those old comfort foods.

And you can create new comfort foods that are  FANTASTIC, yet so much healthier! Enter my cauliflower rice "mac & cheese." Creamy, cheesy goodness, people! And all from a low carb veggie. Rice "Mac & Cheese" Recipe

Cauli-rice from 1 medium cauliflower head (learn to make your own here, or buy about 24 oz. in the frozen vegetable section. Just be sure prepared cauli-rice has no added ingredients)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups grated Cheddar cheese (or any cheese of your choice)

1. Melt about 2 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet placed over medium heat.

2. Add the cauli-rice and cook until soft and translucent, adding more butter if necessary to keep the "rice" from sticking to the pan.

3. When the "rice" is tender, add the cream and grated cheese. Cook, stirring occassionally, until the cheese melts and the mixture is bubbly. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm.

Makes about 5 servings. Estimated nutrition, according to SuperTracker: 248 calories; 11 g. protein; 7 g. carbs; 2 g. fiber; 21 g. fat.

Jan 25, 2018

Avoiding Food Waste by Understanding Food Expiration Labels

What Food Expiration Dates Really Mean
Americans waste a lot of food. According to Forbes, enough to fill the Rose Bowl every day - a total of 30 - 40% of all our food. Even worse, much of that food is perfectly edible. And one of the biggest reasons we waste food is our great fear of food poisioning.

While it's obviously smart for consumers to use caution when eating food that could make them ill, we can prevent a lot of food waste simply by understanding the types of "expiration labels" found on food products. For example, the following labels tell consumers nothing about a food's safety:

"Sell by" 
"Best if Used By" 
"Best By"  
"Guaranteed Fresh By"

Instead, each of these labels indicates that after the printed date, the product may not be as fresh - still safe to eat, mind you, but not of as high in quality.

Canned foods often have a “Pack” date; this is designed for the manufacturer's use and has nothing to do with either safety or quality.

Only foods withExpires On” or “Expires By” dates are helpful in indicating safety. If something is eaten after the indicated date, it could potentially cause food poisoning. However, if the product is frozen before the expiration date, it may be consumed much later than the date indicated.

General Guidelines

Cook or freeze meat and seafood within 2 days of purchase. 

The USDA says eggs are safe for up to 5 weeks after their expiration date, if kept in their original box in a cool refrigerator. However, there is a simple test to determine whether eggs are safe to eat: Place them in a cup of water and see if they float. (See complete instructions here.)

If kept unopened, butter can last for months. But if you're not going to use it right away, it's a great idea to freeze it.

Milk is usually safe up to one week after the “sell by” date. If milk is reaching its expiration date and you won't be able to use it before it goes bad, freeze it.

If kept unopened, hard cheeses last for at least 4 weeks. Over time, they may taste more sharp. If cheese develops mold, cut off all the affected part and eat the rest. Grated cheese may be stored in the freezer and used for cooking. (Freezing changes the texture of cheese, so you wouldn't want to eat previously frozen cheese in, say, a sandwich.)

If you have vegetables that tend to go bad before you use them, consider whether they freeze well. For example, I used to have trouble with bell peppers and onions going bad. Now, I chop them up the day of grocery shopping (or the day after) and pop them into the freeze. Added bonus: This makes cooking meals faster! Not sure how to freeze veggies? Visit AllRecipes for tips.

Another option for vegetables or fruits that are about to go bad is to dehydrate them. Dehydration is easy and cost effective; learn how here.

Experts say baking powder should be replaced around every 6 months, but I find mine lasts much longer. To test if it needs replacing, mix 1 teaspoon of baking powder with ½ cup of hot water. It should bubble instantly. The same thing goes for baking soda; test it by dropping ¼ teaspoon into 2 teaspoons of vinegar. It should bubble right away.

Commercially canned foods often last up to 5 years, and home canned foods last virtually forever, as long as they remain sealed. The nutrients in the food will very gradually diminish. However, if canned goods are kept at a high or low temperatures, they will spoil rapidly. Keep them at 50 - 70 degrees F. Rust on cans or lids may indicate air can get to the food, which in turn means the food could be spoiled. Commercially canned high acid foods, like tomatoes or citrus, are more likely to spoil than low acid foods like canned pears. Toss any cans or jars that are bulging. Watch the video below for more tips on discerning whether home canned food is still safe to eat.

Still not sure about a food's expiration date? Check out

DISCLAIMER: This article is designed to offer friendly advice. I am not a doctor or scientist, nor an expert on foodborne illness. Please use common sense before eating anything and always err on the side of caution. I cannot be held liable if you eat a food mentioned in this article and become ill. Isn't it sad that I have to post a disclaimer?

A version of this post originally appeared in October of 2009.

Jan 17, 2018

Why and How to Prune Blueberries

Pruning Blueberry Bushes
This post may contain affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information. Thank you for supporting this site!

"He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful."

John 15:2

When we purchased our mountaintop homestead about a year and a half ago, we were blessed to discover four blueberry bushes. Not all of them are large, but they are an excellent addition to the potted blueberry plants we brought with us from suburbia. (Because if there's one thing I've learned about blueberries, it's this: I can't ever seem to grow enough of them for my family!) Last year, for the first time ever, I even had enough blueberries to preserve a few for winter...Happy dance!

Still, the blueberry bushes that came with our property hadn't been pruned in years, so last weekend, I gave them a good trimming. Why prune blueberry bushes? Well, pruning will eventually make your harvest bigger - and the individual berries will grow bigger, too. Pruning also helps keep the plant healthy, warding off disease. Plus, a well pruned plant is also considerably easier to harvest from.
My blueberry bushes were a tangled mess. Pruning was in order!

When to Prune Blueberry Bushes

The best time to prune is when the bushes begin forming buds. For me, that's right now. If your winters aren't as mild as ours, you probably won't see buds until early spring.

How to Prune Blueberry Bushes, Step by Step

1. Begin by removing all dead branches. This encourages new growth and keeps the plant productive and healthy.

2. Now remove any branches that cross each other, especially if they are touching. If you let crossing branches stay on the plant, it becomes harder to find fruit and may prevent (and will always slow) ripening of the berries.

3. Next, remove branches that point toward the center of the bush. Such branches reduce air circulation, which can cause disease. In addition, a more open bush gives more light to the fruit, which helps berries ripen.

The large buds are future blueberries. The small stubs are future leaves.
4. Finally, remove any branches that don't have new growth. They may not be dead, but if there are no buds on them, they are sucking energy from the plant without giving you the benefit of food.

What to Do with Blueberry Prunings

You may wish to burn or chip your blueberry prunings. Wood ash is a great addition to organic gardening soil, and chips are a wonderful mulch. But you might also want to keep at least some blueberry branches for homestead rabbits or pets like hamsters or guinea pigs. These creatures have teeth that continue to grow throughout their lifetime; chewing branches is absolutely necessary for them to keep in tip-top shape - and blueberry branches are safe chewing material.
I'm saving these prunings for our rabbits.

Fertilizing Blueberry Plants

After you're done pruning, take a few minutes to fertilize the plants. Blueberries love acidic soil, and very few of us have enough acid in our gardens to make them productive and happy. (Not sure what the acidity is in your soil? Use a simple home test kit; I use this one. For blueberries, the soil pH should be at least 5.5.) Coffee and tea grounds can help add acid to the soil. Even better is an inch or two of Sphagnum peat. You may also use commercial fertilizer that's made especially for blueberries and rhododendrons. I use Down to Earth's all natural acid fertilizer. Just sprinkle whatever fertilizer you're using around the base of the plant, then water it in well. (Don't dig it into the soil, or you risk damaging the plant's root system.) Having trouble getting your soil acidic enough? Plant blueberry bushes in very large pots, instead. We did this successfully for many years.

Related Posts
* How to Grow Honeyberries
* Mini Blueberry Pies